Sweet and Spicy Mixed Nuts

We gathered with a few friends over the weekend in what we decided was our first annual Ugly Christmas Sweater party. I proudly donned a fuzzy bright-red sweater with a picture of a cat in a Santa hat. The sweater said Meowy Christmas and my boys insisted on taking my picture holding our two cats.

The party wasn’t even really a party, just good friends getting together a little last minute, mostly impromptu. We all wore our ugly sweaters, laughing at what we came up with to wear, talking about upcoming holiday plans, who was staying in town, who was making a trek somewhere to visit family. We shared a meal and played a few games, laughing until tears streamed out of our eyes and our sides hurt. It was the simplest night but that holiday spirit, which can feel a little elusive sometimes in the rush and busyness of the season, was right there. It felt good to pause our busy lives for an evening and just be. We shared good food, we made a few memories, we connected with people we love and care about. Isn’t that what the holidays are supposed to be about?

I love making a few homemade treats to give as gifts during the holiday season. Even better if said treat can pull double duty as an appetizer or dessert for a holiday gathering. These sweet and spicy rosemary infused nuts check all the boxes. You can make a big batch and divide them into little jars for the perfect little gift for a hostess, teacher or the mailman. Or you can use that same big batch and fill bowls as an easy snack or appetizer for a football party or holiday gathering.

I stumbled across Ina Garten’s Chipotle and Rosemary Spiced Nuts a few years ago when looking for recipes for a party. I made a batch and watched as the bowl disappeared in a matter of minutes. I’ve tweaked the recipe over the years to make it more my own. To keep things simple and easy, I buy mixed nuts from Costco but you can go to your local grocery store and buy whichever nuts you like from the bulk bins. For this recipe I used cashews, pecans, almonds and pistachios.

Sweet and Spicy Mixed Nut

  • 6-7 cups mixed whole nuts (I recommend cashews, pecans, almonds, walnuts and shelled pistachios)
  • 1⁄3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground cayenne powder
  • 4 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or spray liberally with cooking spray. In a large bowl combine mixed nuts with the maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice, cayenne powder and rosemary. Toss to coat the nuts evenly, then spread evenly on the sheet pan. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Roast the nuts for 25 minutes, stirring twice with a large metal spatula, until the nuts are glazed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with a little more kosher salt (about 1 teaspoon). Mix well with the spatula, setting aside at room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking as they cool. Store in an air-tight container for up to a week.

To give as a gift, fill small glass jars with nut mixture. Seal with a lid and tie a festive ribbon around the jar.

Orange Almond and Dark Chocolate Shortbread

Woah…didn’t quite mean to take an almost month long break. Life you know? I’ve got a couple recipes to get caught up on and then next week I’ll get back on schedule (in theory).

Happy Saturday friends. No snow here but we’re headed out to find some in a bit.

We have an annual tradition the weekend after Thanksgiving to drive up towards White Pass in search of a Christmas Tree. We buy the $5 tag from the Ace Hardware in Naches, fill a thermos with hot chocolate and bundle the kids up from head to toe. We’ve been doing this every year for close to 10 years, driving deep into the forest past Clear Lake, to our special spot, bumping along a rutted-out forest service road.

When we finally get to our spot, the kids and dogs spill out of the car, usually fussing over a missing glove or cold feet but the fresh air and wide-open space takes over and within seconds they are whooping and hollering, running in and out of trees insisting each one they see is the ‘perfect’ tree.

Once negotiations have been made and a tree is agreed upon, we cut it down and load everyone back up to head home. It’s a tradition we all look forward to and I love to look back at photos from over the years, seeing my children as babies, bundled up in snowsuits, toddling tentatively through the snow. These days they lead the charge, darting up and over logs, throwing snowballs, making passionate pleas as to which tree should be chosen.

As much as going out in search of our Christmas tree is a tradition, so is laughing over the inevitable ‘Charlie Brown’ status of our wild tree. This year’s tree is no exception, full of big holes between the branches and one side a bit lackluster in branches. Somehow every year, the tree looks pristine in the mountains and always surprises us once it’s in the house. It’s all part of the charm and fun (I hope). I laugh thinking about what stories my kids will tell someday.

Once the tree is up, holiday prep goes into full swing around my house. And number one priority (ok not really, but it’s one of my favorites) is making lots and lots of cookies. This week’s shortbread cookie is adapted from Martha Stewart. I took the liberty of adapting the recipe a little bit, but that’s the beauty of shortbread, it’s a blank slate for whatever kind of flavors you want to add. Candied ginger and lemon zest would be lovely, as would classic vanilla. Dried cranberries and white chocolate is another house favorite. Play around and see what you come up with, you can’t go wrong.

Orange, Almond and Dark Chocolate Shortbread

  • 2 sticks unsalted room temperature butter
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest (about 1 orange)
  • ¾ cup slivered almonds
  • 6 ounces dark chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons half and half

Make the dough: In a mixer bowl, beat butter, sugar, almond extract, vanilla extract and salt until smooth. With mixer on low speed, add flour and orange zest; mix just until a dough forms. With a wooden spoon, rubber spatula, or your hands, gently mix in almonds.

Freeze the dough: in between two pieces of waxed paper, form dough into a flat rectangle about 12 inches in diameter or until the dough is about ¼ inch thick. Put the cookie dough in the freezer for 30 minutes (or the refrigerator for at least an hour) before baking.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove dough from freezer. You have two options to create cookies. Use a sharp knife and cut dough into small even squares OR use a cookie cutter to make shapes out of the dough. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet at least 1 inch apart. Bake until edges just begin to turn golden, about 15-20 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet; transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely.

In a microwave safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips and half and half in 30 second intervals. After each 30 seconds, stir the chocolate vigorously until the chocolate is just melted. Dip the cookies halfway in the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to harden completely before storing.

Pie Anyone Can Make

With the holidays just around the corner, I thought I would offer a couple of desserts you can easily make for the holidays. I have a little confession to make. I am terrible with pie crust. The ability to form the crust and make it look even halfway decent is seriously out of my wheelhouse. So instead of fighting what seems impossible, I’ve learned to improvise. Instead of a perfectly shaped pie, I make crostatas or galettes which is simply pie dough rolled out, and then piled high with fruit. The edges are folded rustically around the fruit and then baked. No pie dish, no edging. Simple, delicious, and pretty in its own way. The other way I get around pie crust is to make a cookie crust. There’s something special about this pumpkin pie recipe. The crushed gingersnap cookie crust is a lovely compliment to the creamy and sweet pumpkin custard.


Pumpkin Spiced Apple Crostata

• 2 cups flour

• ¼ cup granulated sugar

• ½ teaspoon kosher salt

• 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cubed

• 6 tablespoons ice water (3 ounces)

• 6 cups thinly sliced apples (mix of sweet and tart)

• 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

• 1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

• 2/3 cup brown sugar

• Juice of 1 lemon

• ¼ cup pumpkin puree

• Pinch of salt

• 1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water

In the bowl of a food processor with a metal blade combine flour, sugar and salt. Pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter to the flour mixture and pulse 12-15 times until the butter is the size of small peas. Do not overmix! You want chunks of butter. Turn the food processor back on and slowly pour the ice water in, stopping the machine as soon as the dough forms. Take the dough out of the food processor and place on a heavily floured cutting board. Form the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator while you prep the apples. (You can make the dough a day or two in advance. When you’re ready, take the dough from the fridge and allow it to rest on the counter for about 30 minutes until it warms up enough to be workable.) I have long trusted Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame with my pie crust needs. This is her recipe, which I’ve made for years and it’s never failed me.

Cut apples into thin even pieces. No need to peel the skins but go ahead if you would prefer. In a large bowl gently mix the lemon juice with the apples. In a small bowl, mix together sugar, spices, salt and pumpkin. Pour over apples and mix until the apples are evenly coated.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Roll pie dough out into a ½-inch thick rectangle (don’t worry too much about shape, just get it as close as you can). Place dough on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Spread the apple mixture evenly over the dough leaving a 1-inch border of dough all around the perimeter. Fold and seal the edges of the dough over the fruit. In a small cup whisk together one egg with a splash of water and brush the edges of the crust with the egg wash. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the apples are cooked through and the sauce is bubbly. Use a toothpick to make sure the apples are soft.

Let the crostata cool on the counter. Serve with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce.


Pumpkin Pie with Gingersnap Crust with Spiced Whipped Cream

• 8 ounces store bought gingersnap cookies

• 6 tablespoons melted butter

• 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

  • 2 eggs

• 1 cup canned pumpkin purée

• 1 cup brown sugar

• 1 cup heavy cream

• ½ teaspoon cinnamon

• ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

• ½ teaspoon nutmeg

• 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

• Pinch of salt

In a food processor, pulse the gingersnap cookies until they are broken into a fine crumb. With the food processor on, pour in the melted butter until a dough ball starts to form. Sprinkle in pumpkin pie spice and pulse three more times.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 9-inch pie pan with cooking spray. Press the gingersnap dough evenly into the pan forming a crust. In a large bowl mix the brown sugar, pumpkin and spices together until well-mixed. Stir in heavy cream. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the pie crust. Bake the pie for about 40 minutes, rotating it in the oven halfway through. Use a toothpick to check doneness. When the custard does not wiggle anymore and the toothpick comes out clean, the pie is done.

To make the whipped cream, place 2 cups of cold heavy cream in the bowl of a mixer. Add two tablespoons powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and ½ teaspoon nutmeg. Turn the mixer on high, mixing for about 5 minutes until peaks form in the cream. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Allow the pie to cool on the counter. Store in the refrigerator covered until ready to serve. Slice pieces and garnish with a dollop of spiced cream.

Christmas Cinnamon Rolls

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Sometimes a memory comes with a taste. And for me, holiday memories will always taste like a gooey warm cinnamon roll packed with raisins and nuts.

Growing up, one of my fondest memories was sitting on the kitchen counter, the Christmas tree glittering from the living room, watching my father patiently roll out the dough for these special rolls, begging him to let me sprinkle the cinnamon or raisins.

In our family, this recipe is made only during the holiday season and can’t be tasted until Christmas morning. No exceptions.

My grandmother’s chicken-scratch handwriting is still barely legible on the three index cards she used to write down the recipe. Today, those cards are worn and tattered after years of being splattered with melted butter and flour.

In the last couple years, I’ve taken over roll duty in my family, and its one I take seriously. The only change I’ve made is we get to sneak a bite or two before Christmas morning. We call them cinnamon rolls, but purists might call them a sticky bun; either way the rolls are sweet and delicious, decadently buttery and oh so satisfying.

To make the dough:
• 1 cup milk
• 2¼ teaspoons dry active yeast
• ¼ cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• 2 large eggs, room temperature
• 4 cups all-purpose flour
• ½ teaspoon salt

Heat milk in a small saucepan over low heat until warm but not hot (about 105 degrees). Pour into large mixing bowl. Sprinkle yeast over milk and let sit until dissolved — approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Melt ¼ cup butter and let cool slightly. Whisk butter, sugar and eggs into milk mixture. Stir in the flour and salt, mixing the ingredients until well combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
Proof the dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for several minutes. Return dough to an oiled large bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel to let the dough rise to twice its volume — about 30 to 40 minutes.

To make the filling & form the rolls:
• ¼ cup butter, melted
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon cinnamon
• ½ cup raisins
• ½ cup chopped pecans (optional)

Once the dough has risen, punch it down and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a large, ¼-inch thick rectangle. Spread ¼ cup butter evenly over the dough using a spatula. Sprinkle the brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins and pecans evenly over the dough. Starting at one long side, roll the dough onto itself, forming a log. Pinch the seam and ends to seal. Use a serrated knife to cut the dough crosswise into 16 equal sections.

For the glaze:
• ¾ cup butter
• 1 cup brown sugar
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter, brown sugar, salt and vanilla together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Mix together using a whisk. When sauce has congealed, divide sauce between two greased, 9-inch pie plates. Arrange eight rolls per pan. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in size — about 45 minutes.
Once the rolls have risen, uncover them and bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until rolls are golden brown and the glaze is bubbling. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Invert rolls onto a plate so the cinnamon rolls are “glaze side up” and serve warm.