A star turn for Mr. Peanut & Co.

Times Staff Writer

PARDON the pun, but who isn't nuts about nuts? If you need proof, just put out a bowl this weekend. It might be overshadowed by the guacamole or seven-layer bean dip. But check back in a bit, and just a few lonely nuts will remain.

That's why I'm always looking for great recipes. So I about fell over when I found Sally Sampson's "Party Nuts!" (Harvard Common Press, $9.95), a thin, hardback book of 50 (50!) nut recipes. No more ripping a recipe out here, filing one away there -- 50 in one place. And though the brightly colored pages held enticing photographs, the recipes themselves were the real attraction: They looked easy. Most of them simply required a quick seasoning and baking. Even my mother, who also couldn't resist the book, rejoiced. Her decades-old recipe for candying holiday nuts was shuffled to the back of the recipe box.

Sampson, a writer for Cook's Illustrated magazine, began experimenting with nut recipes after falling in love with some sweet roasted pecans from a friend. Eventually, she writes, there was almost nothing she would not put on a nut (and indeed, you don't doubt that when reading some of the ingredients, such as coconut or balsamic vinegar). She got so into nuts that besides publishing the book, she started her own snack nut business, Sampson's.

Soon I too was turning out pans and pans of nuts as I tried recipe after recipe -- rosemary walnuts (made with fresh rosemary); classic sugared nuts (my favorite recipe in the book, good for any time of year); BBQ pecans (made with ketchup); coconut curried nuts ("addictive," claimed a colleague); hot cayenne Tabasco almonds (very spicy -- a Super Bowl party natural).

I couldn't stop. The nuts were so easy, so different, so certain to bring comments, not to mention some oohs and ahs from the tasters. (What cook doesn't want that?)

Some of the recipes were a little weird, though. The soy-glazed walnuts, baked with soy sauce, melted butter and sugar, didn't really glaze. The shellacked balsamic pecans, which Sampson says have an appealing sourness from balsamic vinegar, had an unappealing sourness that led to their prompt dismissal from my kitchen.

Sampson also includes tips with each recipe -- what to sip when noshing or how else to use them, such as on top of ice cream or in granola.

Other than a bout of nut-making for the Super Bowl, though, I have slowed down -- but not because I am nutted out (is such a thing possible?). But my cute little nut book has come unbound. The pages are falling out, and now my nut recipes are scattered like before.


Classic sugared nuts

Total time: 50 minutes

Servings: 16 (4 cups)

Note: To toast nuts, spread them on a baking pan and toast at 350 degrees until fragrant and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

2 egg whites ( 1/4 cup)

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

4 cups lightly toasted pecan halves

1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Place the egg whites in a large stainless steel bowl and whisk until frothy. Slowly whisk in the sugar and salt until thick. Fold in the pecans and toss until well coated.

3. Transfer the pecans to the baking sheet and arrange in a single layer. Place in the oven and bake, stirring gently every 15 minutes, until the meringue covers the nuts with a chewy, pale golden brown coating, 35 to 40 minutes.

4. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes, then remove the nuts from the pan with a metal spatula and set aside to cool before serving.

Each serving: 197 calories; 80 mg. sodium; 0 cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 15 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 2.04 grams fiber.


Hot cayenne Tabasco almonds

Total time: 50 minutes

Servings: 8 (2 cups)

2 cups raw whole almonds, blanched or skin on

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons hot sauce, such as Tabasco

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Place the almonds, butter, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, mustard and pepper in a large bowl and toss until the nuts are well coated.

3. Transfer to the baking sheet and arrange in a single layer. Place in the oven and bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until the nuts are darkened but not burnt, about 45 minutes.

4. Remove from the oven, immediately loosen the nuts with a metal spatula, sprinkle evenly with the salt, and set aside to cool before serving.

Each serving: 253 calories; 491 mg. sodium; 8 mg. cholesterol; 21 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 3.89 grams fiber.

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