Monday, February 09, 2009

Sweet and Spicy Nuts



I guess it must have been the recent Super Bowl and it's avalanche of party food suggestions that got me thinking. Seems there was no shortage of wings, with a world's tour of spices, sauces and crispy coatings. Our local supermarket even bumped aside half of the salad bar to make way for WingStavaganza. Pre-seasoned wings and delectable dips, microwave ready in five (count 'em 5) finger licking flavors. Chex Mix seemed to revive itself from holiday ashes, some with an Asian rice cracker twist, others sugared up with M&M's and chocolate covered raisins. Several chili cook-offs were rumored to have been thrown down. Why, even a football shaped cheese ball was passed across my inbox. I missed all of it.

Those of you among Big Mary's oh-so-intimate circle of friends, know of my emotional allergy to group gatherings (aka parties). Combine that with a determined lack of enthusiasm for football, and it's easy to see the natural progression to my Buffalo Wing deprivation. I come to my anti-social orientation genetically if not honestly as my father was determinedly a family act. Like a hibernating bear he was most content huddled in his den with wife and family within growling distance.

Not so Mama Magel, for whom "the larger the gathering - the better the party" seemed more her mantra. This obvious conflict of social energies proved an ongoing low level of frustration in their otherwise pitch perfect love affair. It's a conflict often stirred up between the Handsome Venezuelan and myself.

Unfazed by my father's reticence, my mother had what could genuinely be called an ace up her sleeve in the form of the very retro phenomenon known as The Bridge Club. Several times a month (in her heyday), Mama Magel enjoyed the company of 7 or more lady friends for an afternoon or occasional evening of neighborhood critiquing, woman banter and card playing. Looking back, it strikes me as a decidedly 40's through 60's sort of thing. Only ephemerally related to the recent enthusiasm for poker playing.

These bridge parties were society for my mother and her friends in Springfield, Ohio; though she did draw the line at attending bridge parties at "The Springfield Club", deeming them too snooty for her tastes. Nonetheless, even her home based parties warranted dressing up, dusting off the Noritake china cups, using the "good" playing cards, making a fancy lunch WITH dessert and purveying snacks that rose above the pretzel sticks and Goldfish crackers we were used to.

For Mama Magel a "fancy" lunch might be Chicken a La King in Pepperidge Farm Pastry Shells (decidedly hard to locate in 1960's Springfield), or a composed open faced sandwich with her famous 1000 Island Dressing. A typical dessert was often a Chocolate Refrigerator Cake or the achingly sweet Peach Cream Pie. But the snacks were a constant, Planter's mixed nuts and Brach's Bridge Mix.

What really was in that Bridge Mix? Wikepedia describes it as a type of candy that is an assortment of nuts, fruits, and cremes all covered in chocolate. Hmmm, my memory dishes up something a little less refined involving vaguely flavored fondants, tough little wads of coconut, and a not half-bad fruit gel all covered in a paraffin laced chocolaty coating. Ambrosia to young FatBoyEddie who was forbidden to touch even one piece until after Bridge Club. Happily the ladies never failed to leave mostly untouched candy dishes as they departed.

While Big Mary's taste buds have refined themselves since those youthful days, hopefully it is not to the level of the snooty dames at The Springfield Club. And though I may shrink from large social gatherings and Super Bowl parties in particular, I still look forward to delicious nibbles when gathering on a smaller scale. If Mama Magel were still dealing hands. bidding suits and taking tricks around the Bridge table, I'd have to send her a pound or two of these Sweet & Spicy Mixed Nuts

Sugar Spiced Nuts

1 large egg white
1 tablespoon water
1 pound raw nuts
2/3 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed

Preheat oven to 250*.
In a medium bowl beat egg white with water until frothy. Toss in the nuts and mix well. Transfer nuts to a sieve and let drain for 2 minutes.
Meanwhile combine sugar, salt and spices. Put nuts and sugar mix into a bag and shake to coat the nuts well. Place on a baking sheet pan, distributing evenly and place in oven. Bake 15 minutes, toss nuts with a spatula and place back in oven. Lower temperature to 225* and bake for 1 hour more. Toss nuts occasionally as they finish baking.



Savory Spiced Nuts

1 large egg white
1 tablespoon water
1 pound raw nuts
1/3 cup superfine sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin seed
1 teaspoons ground coriander seed


Preheat oven to 250*.
In a medium bowl beat egg white with water until frothy. Toss in the nuts and mix well. Transfer nuts to a sieve and let drain for 2 minutes.
Meanwhile combine sugar, salt and spices. Put nuts and sugar mix into a bag and shake to coat the nuts well. Place on a baking sheet pan, distributing evenly and place in oven. Bake 15 minutes, toss nuts with a spatula and place back in oven. Lower temperature to 225* and bake for 1 hour more. Toss nuts occasionally as they finish baking.


I can claim with a pure conscience that Big Mary's nuts have been held in high regard across all 5 boroughs on New York City. And now they are available to you whenever you desire them. HA!

To gild that nutty lily here's my recommendation. Use walnut halves (and macadamia nuts if your budget allows) when making the sweet version. And use natural whole almonds and pecan halves in the spicy version. Combine them in equal weights and put those out when the "girls" come over.

If you get them good and dry in the oven they'll last at room temperature in an air tight container for several weeks. Alternately you can freeze them. I've never seen them last long enough to worry. Finally, know that you can substitute regular granulated sugar for the superfine, but really don't we all strive to be superfine?

Happy snacking my cherubs!
And Contented Eating
Big Mary

All photos and copy Copyright 2011 Big Mary's Kitchen

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

back in the day of susan holland, i would gather all the uneaten nuts and olives off the tables into a ziplock bag i brought from home. casey and i would portion out a small handful while we played gin or watched sex in the city. they always seemed to disappear faster than i wanted. those spicy nuts have such a sense memory for me, encapsulating a moment in time in a flavor. I really do love you mary. BOZ

Siciliana In Training said...

Thank you Mary. All I can say is MORE MORE MORE

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