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Ta Ta, Taters. Go Nuts for Nuts.


French fries — and potatoes in any form — are a great way to gain weight, a study says.

Do you want fries with that?

Is there a more beautiful sentence in the English language? They could be pencil-thin fries with super crisp outsides and practically nothing inside. They could be steak fries, meaty and large with plenty of fluffy, steaming potato bursting in each bite. They could be fried in beef tallow, roasted with garlic mayonnaise on the side, or even baked with a generous sprinkle of sea salt on top, and they would still emit their siren’s song, calling one and all.

Calling us to our doom, apparently. Or at least to obesity.

That was the conclusion of a federally funded study Harvard University conducted over a 20-year period. The findings were released last week in the New England Journal of Medicine (subscription required).

Fries were the evil enemy of the study, as they were associated with a 3.35-pound weight gain over four years.

Potato chips were bad, too, but here’s the really hard-to-digest news: Potatoes in any form packed on the pounds. That’s right: Boiled potatoes, baked potatoes, potato salad, mashed potatoes, baked potato chips … You name it; if it had potato attached to it, it was going to stick with you for a long, long time. You would even gain less weight eating cake than eating a baked potato with nothing on it, the study reported.

How can a potato with no fat and a host of beneficial vitamins and nutrients cause you to gain weight? The same way that fat-laden nuts (peanuts are not a nut) were cited among the good foods that cause you to lose weight, if eaten regularly. And the answer is, fat doesn’t cause fat. The body doesn’t work that simply. Not all fat grams are bad. Not all calories work the same way.

People not in the nutritional field have known this for ages. In the 19th century novel, “Anna Karenina,” the vain Count Vronsky rigidly adheres to a low-carbohydrate, eschewing potatoes in particular, as a way of maintaining his dashing officer’s figure. In “Vanity Fair,” one of Becky Sharp’s lovers follows the same path, though war proves more fatal than a potato to him.

When my doctor got after me recently about not monitoring my diabetes more closely, the first words out of his mouth were, “No potatoes, no white flour, no corn, no rice.” He didn’t include sugar on that list, because sugar isn’t as bad as the other foods mentioned. Why? Because sugar acts like sugar in the blood stream. It’s not great, but it doesn’t linger there like some time bomb waiting to screw up your system when it feels like it.  The rest of those do.

Incorporating more nuts into your diet could help you lose weight, a new study says.

Rice was not mentioned in the Harvard study, but refined white flour was. That would place many breads on the market (some whole wheat breads also include white flour, so you have to read labels closely or ask) and pasta on the list of baddies, though some at least one news agency (the Washington Post) that picked up on the story decided to show a white pasta salad as a healthy alternative.

Corn got its knocks indirectly. Sweet drinks, most made with corn syrup, caused weight gain as did red meat, which is raised on corn unless you are buying grass-fed.

Another factor related to weight gain was the amount of sleep one gets. If the total is either less than six hours a night or more than eight, then you should expect to be heavier. Smokers gained less, though the less said of that the better. (I gained plenty when I quit 19 years ago.) Those who had at least one alcoholic beverage a day were also more likely to add weight, though no breakdown was given of beer or wine versus hard liquor.

A few foods included in the weight loss study were, unsurprisingly, fruits and vegetables (potatoes are not a vegetable; get over it), whole grains and yogurt. Yogurt, in fact, was the biggest help with weight loss, though, once again, no information was offered on whether it was yogurt in general or a particular style (full fat versus fat-free).

The bottom line in terms of weight loss was another message people don’t want to hear: Exercise is the best diet there probably is. Those who walked instead of parking it in front of a TV or laptop keep the pounds off. So, I guess we should also get phones with access to the Internet and read articles like this while walking.

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Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts


Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts

“Most North Americans think habanero = fire,” Rick Bayless writes in “Fiesta at Rick’s” (W.W. Norton & Sons, $35). “I think habanero = aroma of tropical fruit and flowers … plus some pretty searing heat. By roasting habaneros (along with garlic) and blending them into seasoning, we’ve already mitigated their heat without doing too much damage to that beautifully aromatic flavor. Adding a touch of honey soothes the heat to a very manageable glow.

“Still scared about using habaneros? Try using two or three serrano (or two small jalapeño) chiles instead. And if your macadamia nuts come salted, cut the salt in the seasoning by half.”

These can be made a week in advance and stored in an air-tight container before servings.

Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts (Macadamias al Chile Habanero y Ajo)

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 to 2 fresh habanero chiles, stemmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups (about 1 pound) roasted macadamia nuts

Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. In a dry skillet, roast the unpeeled garlic cloves and chiles over medium heat, turning them regularly until soft and blotchy-blackened in spots, about 10 minutes for the habanero, 10 to 15 minutes for the garlic. When the garlic is handleable, peel off the paper skin. In a mortar or small food processor, combine the garlic and habanero. Pound or process to as smooth a mixture as possible. Add the oil, honey and salt and pound or process to incorporate thoroughly.

In a large bowl, combine the macadamias and flavoring, stirring to coat the nuts thoroughly. Spread the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake —stirring occasionally — until the nuts are toasty smelling and the flavorings have formed a shiny, dryish coating, about 20 minutes. Cool.

Makes about 3 cups.

From “Fiesta at Rick’s” by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless

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A Trio of Spiced Nuts Brightens Any Fiesta


A trio of spiced nuts.

During Fiesta or any party time of the year, it helps to have a few recipes you can make ahead and be able to serve whenever guests drop by.

And what goes better with margaritas than something with a little bite?

I recently tried three spiced nut recipes from celebrity chef Rick Bayless, which he has included in his new cookbook, “Fiesta at Rick’s” (W.W. Norton & Son, $35). Each one can be made in advance and stored in an air-tight jar until needed.

A few words to the wise when it comes to making any candied or spiced nut. Don’t let your attention stray, or you could end up with a burnt tray of nuts. If you don’t know if the nuts are ready yet, err on the side of caution and removed them sooner than later. The heat of the cookie sheet will continue to cook the nuts even after it has left the oven.

Chilied peanuts with toasted pine nuts

When I made Garlicky Habanero Macadamia Nuts, I left them on the tray for a second or two too long, and the color darkened. They weren’t burnt, but they weren’t as pretty as they could have been.

My test of the Chipotle-Roasted Almonds also had a little too much sauce on them, which make the nuts sticky in the humidity. The flavor was great, but make sure your almonds are sparingly coated. If they feel too gooey going into the oven, then you may want to add a few more almonds into the mix. (You might also want to blanch the almonds first, a step I forgot somewhere along the way.)

Most importantly, get creative. Recipes are guides, not blueprints. For the Chilied Peanuts and Pumpkin Seeds, I didn’t have pumpkin seeds to go with the spiced peanuts, but I did have pine nuts. I toasted the same amount and tossed them into the mix. You could use anything from buttery Chex Mix to tiny pretzels to fried peas, and get good results.

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Who Can Resist a Healthy Dessert of Dark Chocolate Bark with Walnuts?


"Heart-healthy walnuts."

This dessert, made of “antioxidant-rich dark chocolate” and “heart-healthy walnuts,” “will certainly satisfy any chocolate lover’s dream,” writes Arthur Agatston in the new “The South Beach Diet Super Quick Cookbook.” And, yes, it’s super quick to make.

Dark Chocolate Bark with Walnuts

3/4 cup walnuts
6 ounces bittersweet dark chocolate, finely chopped

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 8 minutes or until fragrant. Cool, then coarsely chop.

Place 4 ounces of the chopped chocolate in a medium glass bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir, then microwave for 30 seconds longer, or until just melted. (If the chocolate hasn’t melted, microwave an additional 20 seconds.) Add the remaining chocolate to the bowl, stirring until melted. Stir in the walnuts.

If you don’t have a microwave, melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Then stir in walnuts.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or waxed paper. Spread the warm chocolate mixture onto the baking sheet into a 6-by-9-inch rectangle.

Refrigerate for 10 minutes or until firm but not brittle. Cut or break into about 20 jagged pieces and serve, or refrigerate for later (the bark will keep for about 2 weeks in an air-tight container).

Makes 20 pieces.

From “The South Beach Diet Super Quick Cookbook” by Arthur Agatston

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Chex Mix Is a Classic for Good Reason


Chex Mix

When I was growing up, this was the party mix served by my mother and plenty of other mothers. I gravitate toward a bowl whenever I see it served.

Chex Mix

3 cups Corn Chex
3 cups Rice Chex
3 cups Wheat Chex
1 cup mixed nuts
1 cup bite-sized pretzels
1 cup bite-size garlic-flavored bagel chips
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix cereals, nuts, pretzels and bagel chips. Set aside. In an ungreased large roasting pan, melt butter in oven. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder and onion powder. Gradually stir in cereal mixture until evenly coated. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool, about 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container.

For microwave: Mix cereals, nuts, pretzels and bagel chips in a microwavable bowl. Set aside. In a small microwavable bowl, microwave butter uncovered on high for about 40 seconds or until melted. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic powder and onion powder. Pour over cereal mixture. Stir until evenly coated.

Microwave uncovered on high 5 to 6 minutes, thoroughly stirring every 2 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool. Store in an airtight container.

For variations on this classic, from Taco-Seasoned to Cranberry-Nut-Cinnamon party mix,  click here.

Makes 24 (1/2 cup) servings.

From Chex

(photo: Jeff Golenski)

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Need a Quick Yet Elegant Dessert? Try Making a Tart


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Making an elegant tart for the holidays can be easy, if you set your ingredients out beforehand. When you do that, it’s simply a matter of adding ingredients into your mixer. Your dough is ready in a matter of minutes, and your tart will be baking before you know it.

This is a variation of an Italian dessert called fregolotta. (For recipe, click here.) I first came across the recipe in one of pastry chef Cindy Mushet’s cookbooks, but I’ve tinkered with it so much that it has become my own. For example, I found the original recipe a little stingy on fruit. A friend who has copied the recipe found my version equally stingy, so feel free to add as much or as little as you would like.

The first step is to make sure your butter and your jam or jelly are both at room temperature before you start. This makes the process of assembling everything so much easier.

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First, cream your butter for about 1 minute at a medium speed, then add the oil and whip for another minute. This allows air into the butter and it will make your tart lighter. Slowly add the sugar and salt. I like to use a coarse salt because the combined flavor of salt, butter and fruit when you bite into it is spectacular.

Now is the time to add the almond extract. If you are allergic to nuts or just don’t like the flavor or texture, you can substitute vanilla at this point and omit the almond slivers from the topping

Reduce the speed to its lowest level before adding the flour. This is a must to prevent flour from spraying back at you.TartHOWTO4TartHOWTO5

Once the flour has been incorporated and your dough has formed, remove 3/4 of a cup of dough and press it onto a plate. (If your dough has crumbled, which can happen because of the butter and the humidity of the day, just leave it in crumbles.) Place this in the freezer, so it’s good and cold when you place the tart in the oven.

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Then press the dough in your tart pan or 9-inch baking pan (can be square or round). Cover with whatever amount of jam you wish (room temperature jam is easier to spread and won’t tear your dough). To me, the tart is about the flavor of butter, though who can resist fig, raspberry or apricot preserves in the mix? You aren’t limited in your choice of what to use. It could be cherry, a perfect partner with almond, or marmalade

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Crumble the dough from the freezer on top. Sprinkle on your almonds and bake. The baking process depends on the type of oven you are using. An electric oven will usually bake the tart in half the time of a gas oven. You’ll know it’s done when the dough takes on a more golden glow

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You can easily double this recipe. I’ve tried to triple it before, because I make about 100 of these as presents each year in various sizes, but my Kitchen Aid bowl is not big enough to hold all of the ingredients and mix them without flour flying everywhere.

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If you want to add a snowy touch, sprinkle powdered sugar on top, but only before serving. The moisture of the tart will absorb much of the powdered sugar after awhile. This tart keeps unrefrigerated for several days.

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(Photos: John Griffin & Nicholas Mistry)

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Aw, Nuts: Ice Cream’s Texture Gets a Boost


chocolatewithnuts1When I was a kid, a trip to Baskin-Robbins was a big treat because I got to choose some sort of exotic ice cream that went beyond the generic choc-van-straw we would get at home.

My two favorites were always Jamoca Almond Fudge and the unnaturally colored Pistachio Almond, largely because they both had nuts, which were a luxury item all those years ago. They are still luxurious in ice cream, as are buttered pecan, which polls have shown to be almost as popular as No. 1 vanilla and No. 2 chocolate.

Nuts offer more than flavor to ice cream. If that’s all you wanted, you could just add almond extract and be don’t with it, right? Nuts offer texture, something crunchy and rough to complement the smoothness of the cream.

Another plus is that nut don’t freeze the way that fruit chunks do.

They remain an appealing addition to ice cream, but a few modifications are called for. No green food coloring in the pistachio is a big plus. And no chemically flavored chocolate syrup gumming up the chocolate almond is another.

If you’re really nuts for nuts, like I am, you can take the finished ice cream and roll it in more crushed almonds, pecans or pistachios.

Here are three nutty recipes that are easy to make and worth the wait until the ice cream has ripened.

Play around with all three and tailor them to your taste.

chocolatewithnuts2Add some shredded coconut to the chocolate almond. If you use toasted almonds, add a light touch of cinnamon. Add a little extra cocoa powder to give the ice cream a dark chocolate flavor; or subtract a little if you want a milk chocolate flavor.

Add caramel syrup at the end of the pecan mixture to give it a praline-type flavor. Adding cajeta is another winning combination. Or top the finished product with toasted coconut.

If you like the combination of pistachio-almond, add some almond extract to the cream mixture or some almonds to the pistachio paste. This recipe below is for a gelato, not an ice cream. If the occasionally greasy or slick texture of some gelati isn’t to your liking, blend the egg-cream base of the Chocolate Almond recipe with the pistachio paste.

Chocolate Almond Ice Cream

4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 cup  sugar
2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup cocoa powder sifted
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup toasted almonds

Beat eggs, and add sugar, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Scald the cream and milk. Slowly add 1 cup of the dairy mixture to the eggs mixture to temper the eggs.

Add the egg mixture back to the remaining milk mixture. Stir in cocoa, heat just to steaming. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and almond extract.

Chill for 4 hours.

Pour into freezer container. Add toasted almonds. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to freeze the ice cream.

Adapted from thatsmyhome.com.

Butter Pecan Ice Cream

2 cups pecans (1/2 pound), finely chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toast pecans in a shallow baking pan in middle of oven until fragrant and a shade darker, 7 to 8 minutes. Add butter and salt to hot pecans and toss until butter is melted, then cool pecans completely (they will absorb butter).

Whisk together brown sugar and cornstarch, then add eggs, whisking until combined. Bring milk and cream just to a boil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, then add to egg mixture in a stream, whisking constantly, and transfer custard to saucepan.

Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thick enough to coat back of spoon and registers 170 to 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 2 to 3 minutes (do not let boil).

Immediately pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and stir in vanilla, then cool, stirring occasionally. Chill custard, its surface covered with wax paper, until cold, at least 3 hours.

Freeze custard in ice cream maker until almost firm. Stir together ice cream and pecans in a bowl, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

From epicurious.com.

Pistachio Gelato

The following recipe comes from David Lebovitz, a celebrated pastry chef and author of “The Perfect Scoop.” Unlike many ice cream recipes, this one does not use eggs. And there’s a reason for that, he says: “The main advantage is that not using eggs means the flavor’s focused squarely on the pistachio with nothing to distract from those perfect scoops of it. Except your spoon.”

2 cups whole milk, divided use
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
7 ounces Bronte pistachio paste (see note)
A few drops of lemon or orange juice

Make a slurry by mixing the 1/4 cup of the milk with the cornstarch, mixing until the starch is dissolved and the mixture is smooth.

Heat the rest of the milk in a medium-sized saucepan with the sugar.

When it almost starts to boil, stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook at gentle simmer for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat, scrape into a bowl, and chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

Once chilled, whisk in the pistachio paste and just a few drops of citrus juice until smooth.

Freeze the gelato in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: When buying pistachio paste, look for one that’s at least 40 percent pistachios. And if ordering online, don’t confuse it with a liquore called Crema di Pistacchio di Bronte, which is a drink. Pistachio paste is not available at Central Market, Whole Foods or Williams Sonoma locally, so if you want to make your own, see the recipe below.

Makes about 3 cups.

From David Lebovitz

Pistachio Paste

This is the pistachio version of almond paste. If you want your paste to not be green, soak the pistachios overnight, and then remove the skins with a tea towel. If you leave the skins on, you end up with a product whose color can best be termed “unfortunate.” On the other hand, if you are using pistachio paste in a recipe and want the end product to be green, you might want to leave the skins on.

1/3 cup pistachios
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons water

Grind the pistachios in a food processor for 1-2 minutes, until it’s a near fine powder. Add the sugar and incorporate into the nuts.

This step is critical. Add water to mixture in the processor, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the paste has the consistency of marzipan. You want to err on the side of too little water rather than too much. The paste should not look liquidy, and should be easily held and shaped when in your hand.

From www.accidentalhedonist.com.

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