Taste, texture and nutrition in tiny packages add crunchy kick to recipes

January 23, 2013 9:28:55 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Have you ever felt like just going nuts? (Not the zany kind of nuts, but the culinary kind.) With all the delicious walnuts, almonds, pecans, peanuts and what not out there, it's no wonder. Each variety has its own distinct flavor, texture and aroma that can enhance dishes from entrées to desserts. Many qualify as healthy snacks on their own. Even the Mayo Clinic website tells us most types of nuts are miniature packages of nutrition.  


Pound for pound, almonds are the most nutrient dense of all the tree nuts, says nutsforlife.com. Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium, which may help prevent heart disease. Pistachio nuts and pine nuts are packed with fiber. Pecans can help lower cholesterol. Cashews are loaded with fiber and protein. And according to the National Peanut Board, peanuts provide more than 30 essential vitamins and minerals. You get the picture. Lucky for us, most of them are delicious, too. 




Dressing up dishes 


Today's recipes feature nuts in a salad, entrée and desserts. Add depth and taste to delicious salmon with sliced almonds. Or enjoy the essence of Bananas Fosters transformed into a bar cookie with cream cheese frosting. The classic dessert gets its flavor by pairing bananas and rum, but if you need to skip the alcohol, rum extract can be used.  


Peanut lovers will like the chocolate peanut delight's brownie-like crust packed with nuts and topped with a fluffy peanut butter layer, whipped topping and more nuts. 




To toast or not to toast 


Toasting is a step that can turn good into great. Toasted nuts are crunchier and more flavorful; they're also less likely to sink in cakes and other batters, says southernfood.about.com.  


Specifics and times can vary from source to source, but bonappetit.com recommends spreading nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roasting at 350 degrees until golden. Suggested baking times range from five minutes for pine nuts and 7-10 minutes for almonds, to 10-15 minutes for pecans or walnuts. Nuts like almonds, cashews and pecans can also be toasted in a heavy, ungreased saucepan on the stove top, stirring often over medium heat until golden brown and fragrant. 


Southern Food's instructions for toasting in a microwave call for placing 1 cup of chopped nuts on a paper plate and microwave uncovered on high for three to four minutes, or until they smell toasted.  




Nutty ideas 


Other suggestions for adding crunch to your day include crumbling macadamia nuts into your next risotto, or use walnuts next time you make pesto and add it to grilled meat. Sprinkle almonds or cashews through a stir fry. Crumble pecans or walnuts into a yogurt dessert topping and serve with fruit. Try crumbled macadamias or pistachios on your grilled fish. Bake blueberry bread with pecans.  


In a rush? Grab a small handful of nuts for a dose of filling protein, fiber, unsaturated fats, vitamins and mineral -- and give a nod of thanks to Mother Nature for this portable snack. 








2 individual portions salmon (3 ounce servings) 


1/4 cup sliced almonds 








  • Melt butter in sauté pan. Very lightly brown almonds and set aside. 


  • Dry salmon and season with salt and pepper. Brown on both sides. 


  • Pile almonds on top of salmon in the skillet. Place skillet into oven preheated to 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes (depending on thickness) until done all the way through. 


    (Source: Paula Rhodes, Salad-in-a-jar.com) 








    Prep Time: 20 minutes 


    Total Time: 45 minutes 


    Makes 16 (2-inch) bars 




    For the bars: 


    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened 


    1 cup dark brown sugar, packed 


    1 egg 


    1 tablespoon dark rum or 1 teaspoon rum extract 


    1 cup flour 


    1/8 teaspoon baking soda 


    1/2 teaspoon baking powder 


    1 teaspoon cinnamon 


    1/4 teaspoon salt 


    1 cup bananas, diced 


    1/2 cup (2 ounces) pecans or walnuts, chopped 




    For the frosting: 


    2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature 


    4 ounces cream cheese, softened 


    1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed 


    1 teaspoon rum or pure vanilla extract 


    1 teaspoon cinnamon 


    1 to 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted 


    Pecan halves for garnish 




  • To make the bars, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour 9-inch square pan (see Note).  


  • In large bowl, beat together butter and sugar with electric mixer until creamy. Add egg and rum (or extract). Mix to combine.  


  • In small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture. Mix in bananas and pecans, then stir to incorporate.  


  • Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove pan to a wire rack to cool completely.  


  • To make frosting, in large bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, sugar, and extract with an electric mixer. Beat until light and fluffy. Add cinnamon and 1 cup confectioners' sugar; blend until smooth (careful; over mixing will cause separation). Add additional confectioners' sugar to create desired consistency.  


  • Spread frosting immediately over cooled bar cookies. Cover and store bars in refrigerator for up to three days. When ready to serve, cut bars into 2-inch squares. If desired, top each square with a pecan half.  


    Note: For a thicker bar, use an 8-inch square pan.  


    (Source: About.com) 








    Prep time: 15 minutes plus chilling 


    Bake time: 30 minutes plus cooling 


    Makes 12-15 servings 




    1 package chocolate cake mix (regular size) 


    1/2 cup butter, melted 


    1/4 cup milk 


    1 egg 


    1 cup chopped peanuts, divided 


    1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened 


    1 cup peanut butter 


    1 cup confectioners' sugar 


    1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk 


    1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 


    1 carton (16 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed, divided 


    1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips 


    4-1/2 teaspoons butter 


    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 




  • In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, butter, milk and egg until well blended. Stir in 3/4 cup of peanuts. Spread into a greased 13-by-9-in. baking pan. 


  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. 


  • In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, peanut butter, confectioners' sugar, condensed milk and vanilla until smooth. Fold in 3 cups whipped topping. Spread over the crust; top with the remaining whipped topping and peanuts. 


  • In a microwave melt chocolate chips and butter; stir until smooth. Stir in vanilla until smooth; drizzle over the dessert. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours before serving.  


    (Source: Karen Kutruff, tasteofhome.com) 








    1/2 cup chopped walnuts 


    1/4 cup cranberries 


    1/4 balsamic vinegar 


    1 cup red onion, chopped 


    1 tablespoon white sugar 


    1 tablespoon Dijon-style prepared mustard 


    1 cup vegetable oil 


    10 cups mixed greens, rinsed and dried 


    2 Red Delicious apples, cored and thinly sliced 


    Salt and pepper to taste 




  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 8-10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until lightly toasted. 


  • In a food processor, combine the cranberries, vinegar, onion, sugar, and mustard. Purée until smooth; gradually add oil, and season with salt and pepper. 


  • In a salad bowl, toss together the greens, apples, and enough of the cranberry mixture to coat. Sprinkle with walnuts, and serve. 


    (Source: allrecipes.com)

    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.