It’s still November, but I (and I’m sure many of you) are in full Christmas mode.
I get really stressed out about Christmas shopping, or really, any gift giving. I don’t go in stores unless I have a specific purpose and once in the store, I go straight to what I’m there for so generally I don’t notice what’s out there or what’s new or have ideas about what I should be getting for people. I’m also a pretty terrible shopper for myself, partially because I have eclectic tastes, which leads me to buy a lot of random things and then have buyers’ remorse a couple of months down the line.
But I really enjoy cooking. I cook dinner from scratch six days a week — seven, if we don’t have any social plans out. When I worked in an office, I frequently would bake and bring things into work to share. I find cooking relaxing, and purposeful, and to be the most nourishing (both for body and spirit) thing I can do for my family and friends.
So why the heck do I get so wrapped up in trying to find the right “stuff” for the people I love? This year I decided I’m going to share my love through food. Christmas is on a Tuesday this year, so that means I have four Wednesdays counting today to share some great recipes for homemade food gifts!
I don’t know about you, but I’m still a little full from Thanksgiving. The weekend before Thanksgiving we went to two food-themed parties, and then I hosted Thanksgiving, went to another awesome Thanksgiving with friends the day after, and hosted a Thanksgiving leftover party the next day. Right now I need more gym time and less food time.
So this week’s food gifts are all about nuts, which you can dress up as either salty or sweet, and pack more protein than carbs. Most people like to snack, but snacking with nuts feels more responsible.
First up, a simple recipe for making your own herb roasted almonds with thyme, salt and olive oil. Budget-friendly tip: Look for a grocery store with a bulk food section — you will get nuts, especially raw nuts, at a much better price this way. Any time you’re roasting nuts, keep the oven light on and stay parked by the oven to make sure you don’t burn them, because there’s a fine line between well-roasted and gross.
For another sugar-free recipe, I thought these chile lime spiced nuts looked yummy. The flavor comes from chili powder, cayenne, a bit of cumin and lime zest. The end result is going to be a bit spicy, smoky, with pockets of tartness from the lime. Delish.
Moving into the sweet side, I’m excited to make these peanut butter chocolate almond clusters with sea salt. This one might take a bit of practice, as the method is to arrange the nuts in a group on wax paper, put a tiny dollop of peanut butter on top, then pour melted chocolate on top and give it a quick sprinkle of sea salt. This one might go easier with a helper, so call a friend and double up on the recipe and have fun making them together.
And finally, a sweet but not over-the-top recipe for cinnamon coconut roasted pecans. Here you melt butter and maple syrup and cinnamon together, then mix in the pecans and shredded coconut. Really stir it well so the coconut doesn’t get all clumped together. Pour little dollops of the mixture on parchment-lined baking sheets and then let the oven toast them into little candied nuts.
Herb roasted almonds
1½ cups raw whole almonds
1½ teaspoons hot water
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more for the pan
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet or cast iron skillet with olive oil.
Stir together the salt and hot water in a medium bowl to dissolve the salt.
Add almonds and herbs to the salt water and toss until well coated. Spread the almonds in the baking sheet or pan in a single layer. Roast for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice until almonds are toasted. Take care not to burn them.
Remove almonds from the oven and put back into the bowl along with two teaspoons olive oil and more salt to taste. Toss until well coated. Cool and serve.
Chile lime spiced nuts
2 cups mixed raw nuts
Grated zest of one lime plus juice of half the lime
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a bowl, combine all ingredients and stir to coat nuts with seasonings. Spread seasoned nuts evenly on baking sheet in a single layer.
Bake for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Pack into mason jars and store in the fridge.
Peanut butter chocolate almond clusters with sea salt
1 cup roasted and unsalted whole almonds
7 to 8 ounces good quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
Creamy peanut butter*
Coarse sea salt
Line several large baking sheets with parchment or wax paper.
Create small clusters out of the almonds on the lined baking sheet. I used about four almonds per cluster. Top each cluster with a small dollop (about ½ teaspoon) of peanut butter.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or the microwave until smooth.
Spoon the melted chocolate over each cluster covering the nuts and peanut butter. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and place the baking sheets in the refrigerator to allow the chocolate to set, anywhere from 10 to 20 or so minutes.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four weeks.
*Note: Peanut butter should be soft but not runny where it easily slides off a spoon. If needed, use a microwave to soften.
Cinnamon coconut roasted pecans
4½ tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
10 ounces raw pecans
3 tablespoons shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Melt butter, maple syrup, salt, cinnamon together and let simmer to thicken. Mix in coconut flakes and pecans to coat.
Spread on parchment paper covered baking sheet. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, flipping once.