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That's Just Nuts!

Little legumes add a twist to crowd pleasers by Allison Carter | October 22, 2014 at 1:30 a.m.
Staff Photo Spencer Tirey Simple, sweet and nutty cheesecake bites get most of their sweetness from the crust, making them just a tad more rich-tasting than a typical cheesecake. The nut crust is gluten free and pre-cooked, making it a bit more cookie-like than the usually graham crust.

Sometimes you feel like a nut. And right now, you should.

Today is National Nut Day. No, it's not a celebration of coworkers or far-away family members but rather a celebration of the nutty goodness that makes up our favorite spreads and butters and childhood sandwiches.

But they're not just tasty.

Nuts, like peanuts, almonds and walnuts, are a good source of protein, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to have health benefits. Nuts are also considered a "perfect protein" which, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, means these contain essential amino acids our bodies need to function properly.

Like eggs, meat and cheese, these little protein nuggets help build muscle, regulate blood sugar and metabolism and reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering overall LDL cholesterol. The legumes are also a great source of vitamins E and B, fiber and magnesium, which aid in digestion and boost energy.

The CDC suggests adults should consume between 45 and 56 grams of protein daily, which is about 10 to 35 percent of the daily recommended calorie intake. And nuts are a great, natural way to do it.

But they get even better.

As October winds down and fall comes chilly upon us, family get-togethers and office cookie swaps become a regular occurrence. Luckily, these shelled joys are the perfect addition to sweet, delicious and not-so-nutritious baked goods that are sure to delight the crowd of nuts in your life.

It worked in my office.

Peanut Brittle

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup water

1 cup peanuts

2 tablespoon melted butter

1 teaspoon baking soda

Grease cookie sheet with shortening and set on counter near stove. Do not line cookie sheet with wax paper or foil. It will stick to the brittle.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, salt and water in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart pan. Place candy thermometer in mixture.

On high-medium heat, boil mixture, stirring frequently. When mixture reaches around 250 degrees Fahrenheit (20 minutes), add peanuts and continue to cook and stir until the candy reaches 300 degrees.

While the candy is coming to temperature, mix butter and baking soda in small bowl. Once candy mixture is at 300 degrees, pour in butter and stir until dissolved.

Immediately pour out candy onto greased cookie sheet. Using a spatula, smooth out brittle and allow to stand 1 hour at room temperature until hardened.

Break brittle into pieces and store in an airtight container for up to three days or a week in the refrigerator.

Note: If you want to be fancy, try sprinkling the peanut brittle with mini chocolate chips or replace peanuts with another nut like chopped walnuts or pecans. Spices can be added to change the flavor. Add one teaspoon Sriracha chili sauce for a bit of a kick, or 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract for a sweet variation.

Peanut Butter Bread

2 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 cup milk

3/4 cup peanut butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add egg, milk and peanut butter; stir just until combined. Pour into a greased 8-inch by 4-inch loaf pan.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.

Notes: My bread didn't rise much. Instead, I ended up with a very dense, short loaf. This bread is a little on the bitter side, but tastes out of this world once sliced, toasted and topped with a little raspberry jam.

Gluten-free Almond Cookies

1 1/4 cup almond flour

2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

2 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 300 degrees

Mix together the almond flour and sugar, pressing out lumps.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg white, vanilla, and salt with an electric mixer until it forms soft peaks. Fold the egg white mixture into the almond/sugar mixture.

Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the lined or greased baking sheet. They will spread some so be sure to leave about 2 inches between them.

Bake for 30 minutes, checking frequently after 20. Cool on a wire rack.

Notes: These cookies are apology cookies to dear friend Laura Roland, who can't eat gluten but still graciously accepts my wheat-loaded cooking when I forget this fact. These cookies are actually quite good and will be making an appearance at her home soon.

Recipe adapted from the Gluten-free Cook

Almond Tuile

2 egg whites

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup flour

1/3 cup butter, melted

1/4 cup slivered almonds

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Beat egg whites in a bowl at medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar, almond extract and salt until smooth. Slowly add flour until smooth. Add butter, one tablespoon at a time until batter is well mixed. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Drop batter by teaspoons 3 inches apart on well greased cookie sheet. Spread batter into small 11/2 inch circles with spoon or spatula. Sprinkle with almonds.

Back for 6-8 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Note: Traditionally, these cookies are formed into a curved shape. The achieve this, once they are still hot, press cookies over rolling pin or soda can to form a curve. Allow to cool completely. These cookies are a good treat for anyone on a diet as well. At only 35 calories each, they aren't as sinful as most cookies.

Nutty Cheesecake Bites

19 ounces cream cheese, softened

3 eggs

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla


1 cup almond meal

1/2 cup slivered almonds

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup melted butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Crush slivered almonds. In a mixing bowl whisk together the almond flour, almonds, baking soda, salt, sugar and cinnamon. Add the butter and combine with a spoon.

Line a muffin tin with liners. Push the almond mixture into the bottom of the liners. Bake for 10 minutes to set.

Lower temperature to 300 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, add cream cheese, vanilla, sugar and eggs. Beat until light and fluffy. Spoon mixture into the muffin tins with prepared almond crust. Bake for 40 minutes.

These can be topped with melted chocolate, caramel, fresh fruit or eaten plain.

Note: This was my first attempt at making cheesecake, and according to a certain business reporter, it was a good first go. This recipe is very simple and creates a cheesecake that is not overly sweet but very rich -- one bite is definitely enough!

Recipe adapted from Southern Living

Peanut Butter Cupcakes

181/4 ounce yellow cake mix

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/3 cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees for dark or nonstick pans). Place paper baking cup in each of 24 regular-size muffin cups.

In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, oil, eggs and 3/4 cup peanut butter with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, then on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups (about two-thirds full).

Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely.

Note: Starting with cake mix is the easiest way to make a peanut butter cake, but it can taste, well, boxy. To make the mix taste like homemade, replace the water with milk and vegetable oil with melted butter. This can be done with any store-bought cake mix and makes it taste like homemade every time.

Peanut Butter Frosting

1/2 cup butter softened

1 cup creamy peanut butter

3 tablespoons milk

2 cups powdered sugar

Place the butter and peanut butter into a medium bowl, and beat with an electric mixer. Gradually mix in the sugar, and when it starts to get thick, incorporate milk one tablespoon at a time until all of the sugar is mixed in and the frosting is thick and spreadable. Beat for at least 3 minutes for it to get good and fluffy.

Note: If you have time, this frosting is so much better than any store-bought. If you don't, mix 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1/2 cup peanut butter with 1 can of vanilla or chocolate frosting. Refrigerate frosting for about 15 minutes before spreading to allow it to set.

Apple, Gruyere and Pistachio Tarts


1 box refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box

1 large red apple, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

4 ounces gruyere cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

3 tablespoons butter

2 medium shallots, finely chopped

3 tablespoons chopped pistachio nuts

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped sweetened dried cranberries

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

Heat oven to 400 degrees

Remove pie crusts from pouches; place flat on work surface. With rolling pin, roll each crust into 12-inch round. With 3 1/2-inch round cutter, cut 20 rounds from crusts, rerolling scraps as necessary. Press each round into ungreased standard muffin cup.

In medium bowl, stir together apples and cheese; set aside.

In 8-inch skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots; cook 2 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Remove from heat; stir into apple and cheese mixture.

Spoon a heaping tablespoon apple-shallot mixture into each crust-lined muffin cup.

Bake 24 to 27 minutes, or until crust is browned and cheese is melted. Cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove tarts from muffin cups to serving platter.

In medium bowl, stir together nuts, cranberries and thyme. Spoon scant teaspoon nut mixture over each tart. If desired, garnish each tart with small sprig of thyme. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes: If you have never tried Gruyere cheese, this is the way to do it. Gruyere has a very thick and meaty flavor which can be pared down by the sweetness of the fruit.

Recipe adapted from Southern Living

NAN Life on 10/22/2014

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