I wanted a bit of sweet-salty crunch with the salad we made as part of our Christmas Eve dinner this year. After bouncing options off my husband I opted for a quick online search where I found this recipe that sounded promising. A bit of on-the-fly modification produced a tasty result.
Stovetop Spiced Pecans
Servings: 1 cup nuts
Prep time: nada
Total time: less than 5 minutes
- 1 cup whole pecans
- 1/3 cup light brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. water
- 1/2 tsp. Ceylon cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper for finishing
- Place a non-stick skillet over medium heat and add the pecans. Toast for about 1 minute, swishing the nuts around the pan frequently. Transfer to a plate.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the skillet, allow the sugar to melt and swirl to combine the spices.
- Return the nuts to the pan and toss to coat. Allow to cook for another minute until the nuts are well-coated with sugar and spice.
- Transfer nuts to a rimmed baking dish lined with parchment or a silicone mat. Spread the nuts out so they don’t touch. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper to taste.
- Allow to cool for 30 minutes and then transfer to a sealable container.
Let these cool at least a minute or two before tasting; the sugary coating is lavatastic when it first comes out of the skillet.
Don’t get hung up on the word pesto. While it traditionally made with basil and pine nuts the word can refer to any “sauce” made from a similar blending or pounding process. Words evolve, just as we now make pesto in a food processor instead of a mortar and pestle.
The original recipe called for a cup of walnuts. We have a friend who is allergic to black walnuts so we don’t risk it even though supermarket walnuts rarely contain black walnuts. A mix of nuts works perfectly well, just give them a nice toasting before you add them to the food processor.
The basis of this recipe comes from the Uncommon Gourmet’s All-Occasion Cookbook. I often turn to it for parties when something a bit different from the usual finger food.
I used an individual cheesecake pan to make these. I suspect a 9″ springform pan would work OK. The original recipe suggested using a deep-disk pie pan so you could always give that a go.
At least three of our guests raved about how good these were. All 12 were eaten; always a good sign.
Peanut Butter Mascarpone Pie
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 2 1/2 hours
- 1 1/2 cups pecans, divided
- 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 8-10 full crackers)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp. Vietnamese cinnamon
- 4 Tbsp. room temperature butter
- 1 cup heavy cream, whipped
- 1 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 8 oz. mascarpone cheese, brought to room temperature
- 1 /12 tsp. vanilla
- To make the crusts start by preheating the oven to 350°F. Spray each of the pan openings with baking spray.
- Toast pecans in a skillet until lightly browned and aromatic. Roughly chop; set aside 1/4 cup.
- Pulse the remaining pecans in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the crumbs, sugar and cinnamon; pulse 3 or 4 times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until well mixed.
- Put about 2 tablespoons of crumb mixture into the bottom of each cup on the baking pan. Compact crumbs into the bottom of each opening. It’s OK if a bit comes up the sides.
- Bake for 10 minutes; rotating half way through baking. Transfer pan to a rack and allow to cool completely before filling.
- While crumb base cools you can take the mascarpone cheese out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature.
- To make the filling start by whipping the heavy cream in a stand mixture until stiff. Transfer to another bowl and set aside.
- Beat the remaining ingredients together using the stand mixer until fluffy. Manually fold in the whipped cream.
- Top the crumb bases with filling; fill to the top. Smooth the top with the back of a butter knife. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set; at least 2 hours or as much as overnight.
- When you are ready to serve run a thin knife along the outside edge of each cup. Push the bottom of the pie up, remove the metal plate and set on a serving plate. Garnish with the reserved pecans.
I had leftover crumb mixture; probably because I made the individual pies rather than a single pie. You could try making two-thirds of the crumb mixture.
While reacquainting myself with the Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates cookbook I came across their recipe for spiced coconut date bars. I thought they would fit in with our holiday party buffet offerings so I set out to make the recipe. The results are pretty tasty.
Here’s my version of their recipe. I’ve adjusted the amounts and written the recipe up in my own words.
Coconut Date Bars
Servings: 25 pieces
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes (plus 30 minutes to cool after baking)
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 12 oz. Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
- 200g all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup “old-fashioned” rolled oats (not instant or 1 minute oats)
- zest and juice from one tangerine
- 1/2 cup unsweeted coconut flakes
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 8″ square baking pan with baking spray.
- Spread chopped pecans in a single layer on an unoiled sheet pan and transfer to the oven. Cook for 6 minutes, shaking pan every two minutes. When you can smell the nuts they are probably done. They should be lightly browned. Set aside for the moment.
- In a medium saucepan combine dates and 3/4 cup of water. Bring to a simmer over low heat and cook for 15 minutes. Stir occassionally until the dates are soft.
- Combine the flour, spices and baking powder in a large bowl. Whisk gently to combine.
- While the dates are simmering away you can make the crust & topping (it’s the same mixture). Add the butter and brown sugar to the bowl of stand mixer with a paddle attachement. Turn on to low to combine and then turn to medium for 5 minutes until butter has lightened in color. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture; beat until combined. Add the oats and pecans; beat until combined. The result will be a crumbly mixture with lots of lumps.
- Meanwhile, back to the dates. When they are done add the tangerine zest/juice and the coconut. Stir to combine and set aside.
- Dump about two-thirds of the crust into the baking pan and use the buttom of a measuring cup or glass to compact it into a firm layer. Spread the date mixture over the crust. Crumble the final third of the crust mixture over the top of the date mixture.
- Bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees after 15 minutes. The top should pick up a golden hue and the edges may turn dark brown when the dish is done. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
- Use a knife to cut around the edge of the bars. Then cut the bars into 5 columns and finally 25 squares.
I found the easiest way to cut the bars was to transfer them to a cutting board. You’ll actually need 2 cutting boards to accomplish this. After cutting around the edges of the pan to loosen the bars place the first cutting board over the pan. Hold the pan and board together and flip the pan upside down. Gently lift the pan; the date bars should stay on the cutting board. Now place the second cutting board on top of the date bars and, again, flip the bars upside down. Remove the first cutting board and the date bars should be upside right with the crumb topping on top.