September 9, 2015

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Dear friends,

I was too hot and too lazy to cook much of anything last week besides a truck load of candied, spiced nuts. I mean a lot. My friend Dorena and I made about 35 cups’ worth for Michele Sandridge’s surprise 60th birthday party.

Although the recipe is not difficult, it is more involved than just tossing some nuts, spices and sugar in a skillet and stirring until the sugar melts. That’s how I usually make spiced nuts. This time I made a sugar syrup to pour over the nuts and spices in a bowl, then transferred the mixture to a baking sheet and baked it until the syrup hardened. The result is a cross between peanut brittle and regular spiced nuts, and it’s addictive.

Before Dorena has a chance to rag me about how “I” made the spiced nuts, I confess that she made most of the batches. The nut-making ran late into the evening, and my energy flagged.

Michele is worth the effort. We’ve been through a lot together since we became friends about 15 years ago. We made three wedding cakes in our underwear (it was hot) and sprayed my kitchen cabinets with batter. We made and served a coconut-chocolate cake at a charity function in a pink flamingo-themed outfit (her) and a grass skirt and coconut bra (me). We canned jelly in the heat of August. We shared Friendsgiving on many a crisp November day. We grieved together when my mother was dying, and rejoiced together in the birth of her granddaughter.

Some of my wackiest times in the kitchen have been with Michele. She is also an extraordinary human being, and I’m not alone in my admiration. More than 200 people showed up wish her a happy birthday Sunday. Her sisters and a co-worker threw the party and did the heavy lifting. Dorena and I just made a few nuts.

Speaking of nuts, Dorena and I are making zany kitchen memories, too. At one point we heard a noise in the driveway and I timidly tiptoed out to check on my car. Dorena barged past me with a baking sheet held aloft in her be-mittened fist.
“This is hot,” she warned loudly. “I’ll hit him and burn him at the same time.”

Keep that woman away from the potato masher.

The candied nuts didn’t go as far as I thought they would. They seemed to have settled in the container overnight. The mystery was solved the next day when Tony and I hopped in the car to visit the Canfield Fair. He reached in the back seat and hauled out a quart container of the candied nuts.

“You spent a lot of time making these,” he said defensively. “We can’t just give them all away.”

THE BEST CANDIED SPICED NUTS

•    4 cups inexpensive roasted, salted peanuts
•    1/2 tsp. salt
•    1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
•    1/4 tsp. cumin
•    1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
•    1/2 cup sugar
•    1/4 cup water
•    1 tbsp. butter

Line a large baking sheet with foil and grease well. Combine peanuts, salt, pepper, cumin and cayenne in a medium bowl. Combine sugar, water and butter in a medium saucepan. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a hard boil and boil for 1 minute without stirring.

Pour sugar syrup over nuts and spices in bowl and stir well coat every nut and distribute spices evenly. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Stir nuts and bake 5 to 10 minutes longer, until syrup is sticky but not liquid.

Remove nuts on foil sheet to a counter to cool. When cool, break up with hands and transfer to a tightly lidded container for storage. Makes 4 cups.

HELP U COOK

I use a wide range of nuts, a little at a time. I can’t keep all of those nuts fresh, so I freeze them. A quick toast in the oven removes the stale texture and any off flavors they pick up in the freezer. Toasting, I think, improves the flavor of even fresh nuts. Just spread them on a baking sheet and bake at 350 to 400 degrees until the edges begin to brown.

The papery skins on some nuts, such as walnuts and hazelnuts, can be bitter when toasted. To remove most of the skins after toasting without going – well, nuts – rub the warm nuts in a dish cloth.

MAILBAG

From Jodie Grasgreen DeLamatre:
While the rest of the higher education world is looking for more sustainable/healthy food for their students (http://food-management.com/production/antioch-strives-meal-program-fit-colleges-philosophy), our beleaguered University of Polymers is privatizing to bring Steak ‘n Shake and Chick-fil-A to their students. Ironic that they couldn’t figure out how to manage their food service since they actually have a major in hospitality management.

Can’t wait to try your seafood boil.  Have done many Ohio-style clambakes, which are similar;  will try this soon!

Dear Jodie: I’ve been waiting for a backlash to the University of Akron’s ridiculous decision to wipe out its food service department and replace it with a mass-food contractor and fast food. Why aren’t people riled up about this? More jobs are going down the tubes, along with the income generated from the many community events catered by the dining staff.

Here’s what Gary Goldberg, director of dining services and administration, had to say in March in the Buchtelite about the inadvisability of outsourcing dining services: “You talk about millions of dollars that we give back (to the university) every year. And from our relationship with students, it’s not the same when it’s an independent company. They’re not bleeding blue and gold…it’s just a different dynamic. I think (outsourcing) is a very short-sighted approach to something that’s not actually a problem.”

From Anne Caston:
Since zucchini are so prolific in these parts, it’s no wonder there is always an abundance of recipes for them and still more demand for new ones.  With that in mind, I wanted to share a recipe that my mom used for years for a Zucchini (mock apple) Pie.  It’s so easy that even a non-baker like me can make one and it’s a great way to use up those extra-large zukes that may not be as tender as the earlier-picked ones.  And, you might even fool your family into thinking they are eating apple pie!

ZUCCHINI “APPLE” PIE

•    1 large zucchini
•    2 tbsp. flour
•    1 1/4 cups sugar (I prefer brown sugar)
•    1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
•    1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
•    2 tbsp. lemon juice
•    Dash of salt
•    Dash of nutmeg
•    9-inch unbaked pie shell

Topping:
•    1 stick (8 tbsp.) margarine or butter
•    1/2 cup sugar (again, I use brown)
•    1/2 cup flour

Peel zucchini; cut lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Cut into slices to resemble apple slices. Cook 10 minutes in enough water to keep from burning. Drain. Mix remaining ingredients with zucchini and pour into pie shell.

For topping: Pulse margarine, sugar and flour in a food processor and crumble over pie. Bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes.

From Pennie:
Your column last week inspired me to share my favorite sweet use of zucchini. So easy! All you do is process your peeled or mostly peeled zucchini until it is a puree. You may want to drain it a little if it is really wet. Then just substitute it for pumpkin in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe. I use the recipe from the Libby’s pumpkin can — not the ready-made pumpkin filling, but the one with just pumpkin.

I used to make it when my kids were small. They would love it. Then I would tell them that it was zucchini pie, not pumpkin pie and they would freak out and refuse to eat any more. I was able to fool them twice but no more than that.

It tastes like pumpkin but with a more delicate flavor. The color is a little darker than pumpkin after baking — not green but not orange, either. It is just delicious.

Dear Pennie: Thanks for teaching me something new. I never would have guessed zucchini could be pureed and used as pumpkin.

From Amber in Fla., formerly Bath:
Speaking of squash, an elderly aunt, now deceased, made a wonderful summer squash, tomato, and cheese casserole. Sadly, I never thought to ask for recipe. Anyone have one?

Dear Amber: I don’t have a cheesy squash casserole in my repertoire. If someone sends us a recipe, I’ll pass it along.
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