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.
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
(Source: Paula Rhodes, Salad-in-a-jar.com)
BANANAS FOSTER BARS WITH PECANS
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 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
Note: For a thicker bar, use an 8-inch square pan.
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 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
(Source: Karen Kutruff, tasteofhome.com)
APPLE WALNUT SALAD
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
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.