Muhammara (Walnut-Red Pepper Spread)

muhammara book

Ten years ago, when our nut driven adventure began, we both combed through the troves of recipes compiled by our families.  “Anything with nuts, anything with nuts” we chanted as we flipped through yellowed hand written index cards and indecipherable shorthand notes.  A few stood out, genuine treasures that kindled childhood memories and compelled us back into the kitchen to recreate them.  One of the best was from Andrea’s grandmother, the Muhammara, a red pepper and walnut dip that is redolent with pomegranate molasses and freshly ground cumin.  We made big batches, and along with some sesame coated crackers and sweet nut filled cookies, we packed it up and sent it off to all publishers who were considering our book.  When our book deal was signed, our editor gleefully told us how much she loved it.  We knew it was a winner, and we were right.  With its terra cotta hue and its fragrant flavor, it has gone from dip to chicken salad dressing and has found its way into countless catering menus on the way. You can find the recipe on page 73 of our book.

muhammara trader joes 2Ten years later, the previously unknown Muhammara can be found in half pint containers on the shelves of Trader Joe’s, stocked among the countless varieties of hummus and dips.  And yesterday, a recipe similar to ours has appeared in the Dining Section of the New York Times. ( Clearly, by most measures, Muhamarra has arrived.  Are we trendsetters, ahead of the curve as nut aficionados?  Maybe.  But we certainly know what delicious is!


“Featherlight” Peanut Butter Pancakes

Rosa Parks PancakesRosa Parks, the famous civil rights activist, loved peanut butter in her pancakes.  Her forthright thinking and no nonsense attitude  changed the racial landscape of the 1950’s south, bit by bit.  She was a complex woman, full of keen observations of her place and time.  Many of these thoughts were recorded in hand written letters and notes scrawled on stationery, or scribbled on scraps of paper in pencil or pen. After some legal wrangling, her papers were purchased and are now on loan to the Library of Congress. As an archivist pours through the boxes of papers, a clearer picture of our country’s figurehead of integration has emerged.  Her family walked a fine line between abject poverty and a more genteel down- at – the – heels lower middle class existence.  Money was tight, ethics were paramount, and Rosa liked to cook.

On the back of a small brown envelope, the kind you would get cash in from a withdrawal at the back, is written a recipe in Rosa Park’s hand, for ” featherlight pancakes”.  Here is it:

Featherweight Peanut Butter Pancakes, by Rosa Parks

Makes about 18,  4-inch pancakes

1 cup flourRosa Parks Pancakes in process

2 tablespoons baking powder

Pinch salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1 egg

1/3 cup peanut butterRosa Parks pancakes 3

1 1/4 cup milkRosa Parks Pancakes 4

1 tablespoons oil or melted butter

  1. In a small bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients and stir well: flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
  1. In a separate small bowl, mix the egg and peanut butter until well combined. Whisk in the milk and oil until smooth.  Fold and stir in to the dry ingredients.
  1. Bake on a warm (275° F) lightly greased griddle until golden, and flip, cook until firm. Serve warm, with maple syrup and more peanut butter, if you choose.

Finding a recipe like this amongst Rosa’s writings is of interest in so many ways.  First, she had the inclination to cook, or by writing down and keeping the recipe, the desire to cook even when her activism was at a peak. The recipe seems so current, even though it was written in the late 1950’s, we just had to try them.  Yum…their name “Featherlight”, became clear, light and delicate with a surprise of peanut butter within.  Rosa was a  visionary, understanding and working to change the racial make up of the south.  And she seems to have been a visionary in the kitchen, mixing kitchen staples affordable to most anyone in the south,creating a special breakfast treat.  February is Black History month, and February 4 was Rosa Park’s birthday.  A fitting tribute, and celebration of both.



#Family Culinary Traditions

IMG_5333I’m lucky to have friends who honor their family’s culinary traditions.  We are still nibbling on the few remaining Polvorones made by Madeline Dominiani for Christmas this year.  Madeline is the true keeper of her mother’s culinary history.  Hailing from Gilbratar, Madeline’s mom would first soak Spanish almonds in warm water and then laboriously slip off their skins one by one.  The blanched almonds would then be lightly toasted in the oven.  While the almonds were set aside to cool, flour would be carefully browned in the oven as well.  The toasted almonds would be ground to a crumbly paste in a mortar with a pestle and then mixed with the golden flour. Madeline now grinds the almonds in a coffee grinder kept for just this purpose, the mortar and pestle left behind as historical artifact.  In goes sugar and lard, and the dough is then shaped into thick discs that beautifully hold their shape in the oven.  The finished cookie tastes steeped with history, the lard gives an indefinable depth, and all of the toasting just elevates the simple flavors.

My favorite tradition of the Polvorones is the first thing you see when Madeline presents these treats.  Each cookie is neatly swathed in white tissue paper, twisted at the ends, and the ends are trimmed into fringes. The unwrapping of every one is like a delicious and festive gift.  The making of Polvorones is an honored custom in Madeline’s household, and it has been taught to the succeeding generations.  I am the lucky recipient of these morsels at the Christmas season, and hope to be for years to come.

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Pecans #NutSnackoftheWeek

pecans pumpkin pie spiced

4 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons canola oil

2 cinnamon sticks

6 whole cloves

Two slices freshly peeled ginger, about ¼-inch wide

4 cups pecan halves

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoons sugar

½  teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

  1. Preheat the oven to 300° F
  2. In a small saucepan, mix together the 4 tablespoons sugar, water, oil, cinnamon sticks, cloves and ginger. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until the sugar is fully melted about 2 minutes.  Set aside and allow it to steep for about 10 minutes.
  3. Place the pecans in a large bowl. Strain the syrup over the pecans to remove the cinnamon, cloves and ginger.  Toss to coat the nuts completely.
  4. Transfer the pecans to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment and lightly coated with non-stick spray. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until they begin to brown. During the baking, take them out of the oven 2 or 3 times to stir so they bake evenly.
  5. While the pecans are baking, mix the salt, 1 tablespoon of sugar, cinnamon, ginger and cloves together, and set aside until ready to use.
  6. Remove the pecans from the oven and immediately toss them with the spice mixture. Cool the nuts completely in the pan on a wire rack.  The pecans can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Creamy Crunchy Nut Butter Dip #NutSnackoftheWeek

creamy crunchy nut butter

In the fall, we are always looking for tasty ways to use our abundance of freshly picked apples. Sliced and dipped in our Creamy Crunchy Nut Butter Dip, our crisp apples make a great breakfast, mid day snack, or night time treat.

2 cups reduced fat Greek yogurt

1 cup natural nut butter, almond, peanut or cashew (or any you prefer)

4 tablespoons maple syrup or honey

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

½ cup chopped nuts (almonds peanuts or cashews)

Serve with sliced crisp apples

  1. Combine the yogurt and the nut butter in a small mixing bowl and stir well to mix.
  2. Mix in the maple syrup, vanilla and nuts (reserving a few to sprinkle on top)
  3. Serve immediately with slice apples.

Recipe reprinted from In A Nutshell: Cooking and Baking with Nuts and Seeds by Cara Tannenbaum and Andrea Tutunjian. Copyright © 2014 by Cara Tannenbaum and Andrea Tutunjian. With permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Nutcentric Trail Mix #NutSnackoftheWeek

One of our favorite things to snack on is this Nutcentric Trail Mix.   It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s healthy!

nutcentric trail mix

Nutcentric Trail Mix

½ cup lightly toasted sunflower seeds

½ cup  lightly toasted pumpkin seeds

2 cups lightly toasted coconut flakes (large unsweetened are best)

2 cups lightly toasted walnut pieces

1 cup lightly toasted whole almonds

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl, and stir well to mix.

Store in an airtight container or resealable bag and enjoy for up to one week, if it last that long — yum!

Nuts by the Seaside

I just returned from a quick trip to Cape May, New Jersey on a perfect day that was part summer, part fall.  Clear light blue skies, warm sun, a touch of coolness in the air, fewer tourists than before Labor Day, and lots and lots of nuts.  The Jersey Shore has always had dozens of candy shops, mom and pop stores on small town boardwalks that sell countless flavors of salt water taffy and fudge.  The little pieces of pale hued taffy are wrapped in white waxed paper and twisted at the ends, the fudge is displayed in hefty slabs, cut and sold by the ounce.  But in the three stores that I popped in to, displays of nuts rivaled the taffy and fudge, nearly every one of our 16 favorites piled high behind the glass barriers, side by side with the sweet treats.

Salt water taffy has a long history as a seaside delicacy, although the name is misleading. There is neither salt nor water in most any of the flavored morsels.  Legends about the confection date from over 100 years ago, with origins in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  It is hard to tell when nuts and seeds joined the sweets in the boardwalk shops.  Nuts are a perfect snack.  They may not have the long history of taffy and fudge in these shops, but i think they are just if not more appealing.  And they may not have their roots along the Jersey Shore, but to me, those beautiful, breezy beaches are a great place to snack on them.