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Gingerbread Spiced Nuts: It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot like Christmas

IMG_2074If you asked me to wax poetic about the glory and beauty of the holiday season, believe me I could go on for a while.

The smell of hot chocolate, the glow of lights dangling from rooftops and tree branches alike, the frantic brain-racking to try to remember how many gifts you need to be, the helpless distraction by cute stocking stuffers that I end up just buying for myself usually.

Ah yes the holidays.

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But I think it is safe to say that the holidays are also the most wonderful time for foodies around the world. Food is a holiday centerpiece, and I use that word in a fairly liberal piece. Yes, food can be a literal centerpiece (i.e. a Thanksgiving dinner with the gorgeous glazed turkey towering over the mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce). But, food is also an integral part to so many traditions and memories.

I mean, think about it. “The Christmas Song” begins so truthfully with mention of delightful roasted chestnuts. One of my fondest childhood memories is of ski trips (having grown up in Washington State, land of stunning snow-capped peaks) and the breaks we would have between jumping on lifts. We would sit in the lodges, faces rosy from the cold, and sip on delicious hot chocolate and drink warm bowls of soup as Christmas music echoed from the speakers around the lodge.

And the holiday spices. Never has soul-warming gingerbread flavor been so well-complemented for a time of the year, which spurred me to make these nuts.

I’ve been on a nut-making frenzy. Have you realized that food is a perfect DIY holiday gift? These nuts are the epitome of this. Easy to package in mason jars or gift bags, and bursting at the seam with holiday flavor. They are holiday perfection.

Okay, I know I said I wouldn’t wax poetic about the holidays, so I’ll stop here before my writing turns to mush. Have a recipe, my readers.

IMG_2074Gingerbread Spiced Nuts (Adapted from Aggie’s Kitchen)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups nuts (I used 1 cup walnuts, 1 cup pecans, 1 cup roasted cashews)
  • 1/2 + 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 + 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground all spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • big pinch coarse salt
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Beat egg white until foamy, but before soft peaks form.
  3. Add oil and salt into egg white and mix it in.
  4. Add nuts to a egg white mixture and make sure all are coated.
  5. In a small bowl, combine spices and sugar. Add to nuts and toss well until nuts are completely coated.
  6. Bake in 250 degree for 45 minutes until fragrant. Toss halfway in between (and also make sure to rotate your pan if your oven is known to be uneven) Let cool before serving.

 

 

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O Beautiful, For Spacious Pies

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Blueberry pie, click image for recipe

Oh what I meant skies, not pies. But yes, it’s almost the 4th of July y’all! And in honor of that I feel the need to help you out a little bit. Trust me, I know the frenzy you feel. Grill recipes, pie recipes, treat recipes, snack recipes, goodness gracious how many times must I visit the Martha Stewart website before I can finish my menu!

But, wait, I’ve been baking for more than 2 years now, I should have some things…

What about some Mixed Berry Boy Bait?

Mixed Berry Boy Bait

I’m a pretty big fan of  blueberries. How great that it’s such a 4th of July classic, eh?

But that doesn’t mean blueberries are all! Check out Lemon Basil Shortbread Hearts. A delicious food to bring for a picnic if you’re one of those people heading out to parks to check out the fireworks this year.

Lemon Basil Shortbread Hearts

What if you’re going to a park and need picnic food? Well besides shortbread, look at peach crumb bars!

Peach Crumb Bars

Oh and drinks are on me too in the form of virgin mojitos.

Virgin mojitos

Maybe you’re looking for a summery cake that is just as aesthetically pleasing to the eye as it is to your taste buds? Try a ridiculously simple Summery Fruit Cake.

Summery Fruit Cake

I feel like I’ve covered most of my summer favorites for baking that you could surely incorporate into your own 4th of July menu. And just some last few options that might interest you:

Peanut Butter Blondies

Brown Butter M&M Brownies (AKA Celebration Brownies)

If I sound extraordinarily happy, do not be surprised. I am.

I have my first student job!

Where? My college’s Commuter Services. To put it in short, I’m going to be the girl giving parking directions at sporting events. You can read that in Natalie language as: my debut in the American working world, flexible weekend hours, and free football tickets!

Promise you won’t laugh at me if I tell you that I’ve never been to a football game even though I’ve already finished my freshman year in college. Yeah I told you already, I’m a college nerd (points to the little chant on my blog header).

So bring out those conic party hats and your biggest smile and celebrate with me. I have this mental pie of college life. At the start of freshman year, it was an empty pie tin. Then I took classes and another slice was added, then I did research and another slice was added, then I made friends and another slice was added, and so on. The most recent slice has been my student job. I hope that by the end of my college years I will have a full pie to eat all by myself. (Why would people use “puzzle pieces” as metaphors when you can use “slices of pie”?)

I think I’ll bake a cake (or a pie) when I get my first paycheck. And then I’ll start saving for things like medical school, housing, and a Vespa.

Funny that you should ask, but I really do want a Vespa. If you’ve ever heard  Helmut Fritz’s French song “Ca m’enerve”, you would probably want a Vespa too. In short, he rides around on his little Vespa and rants about French society.

You don’t have to be a Frenchie to appreciate his sarcasm francais.

Okay, well my first employment was only one of the things I wanted to celebrate with you.

I’m also done with summer classes!! It’s a party, uh-huh. It’s like I had summer break for most of June and most of July, pressed the pause button, and now I’m back on summer break until September 29. Fabulous.

Isn’t that just bomb? (I love using the word “bomb” now. “Bomb” trumps “awesome” or “cool” in my colloquial dictionary.)

Today I just celebrate life. I went to a retirement home and wheeled the loveliest ladies around on their wheelchairs into the garden and pulled them closer to flowers so they could smell them. I was so full of happiness, I was afraid I would bubble over with smiles.

And then I got home and found a bag of M&Ms and my sister’s iPod. So I turned on my Ke$ha, Katy Perry, and all of that mainstream upbeat music and started baking like there was no tomorrow.

Brown Butter M&M Brownies (Inspired by Sugar Plum)

2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1.3 cup M&Ms

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line an 9×9-inch baking dish with foil; coat foil with cooking spray or butter.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat; continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes or until butter browns and starts to foam. Remove pan from heat. (It’s brown butter, yo! More about that later.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, using a mixer on high speed, beat egg yolks and sugar for 3 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Beat in brown butter and vanilla for 1 additional minute. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in flour mixture until well combined – about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and 1/3 cup M&M’s until combined. Spread batter evenly into prepared dish.

Bake 15-16 minutes or until well risen and set. Remove dish from oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Makes 18 brownies

If you read the recipe above, you would have noticed that I did something peculiar with my butter. I browned it. Ohhhh!

Well I was first inspired to brown butter by 17 and Baking’s Sugar High Friday challenge. And then I looked it up and couldn’t find many recipes with brown butter that seemed particularly, umm, tasteful. So I just went along my way until I saw Sugar Plum’s brownie recipe that called for melted butter.

Hold it! I could totally use brown butter instead of melted butter! So I browned my butter. Here’s a not-so-lovely pic of the butter in the midst of browning.

Well isn’t that just something? Believe me. It smells better than it looks (that’s something you don’t hear everyday), but it does. A nutty, warm aroma. Mm-mm! With M&Ms? Oh yeah.

So celebrate, my friends. Because I’m celebrating and I would feel bad if I were celebrating alone.