And I mean that literally. BFFT and I did quite a bit of entertaining this week, for which I am apologizing profusely to Chester (my liver). I figure that if Chester has a name, I'll be less likely to terrorize him in the future. Why Chester, you might ask? Well, for no reason other than it's sufficiently obscure that I have never known - nor am I likely to know in the future - someone by that name. Anyhow, in the process of experimenting with various appetizer recipes (I was obsessed with dips for awhile but decided to change things up a little), I recently discovered the wonders of spicy nuts. Despite that they are time-unintensive and can be made several hours ahead without compromising flavor, texture, warmth, et cetera, guests inevitably devour them. There may even be a risk of the nuts overshadowing the meal itself!
Our first dinner party was Wednesday evening with two friends (another couple) who live in the area. I prepared an Indian-themed menu, which included homemade naan (good but in my opinion not quite restaurant caliber - I'll blame my lack of one of those special Indian ovens, even though I don't know for certain whether they actually exist!), pureed spinach with chickpeas, dhal (curried lentils), pistachio rice, tomato chutney, and a mango lassi parfait for dessert. But the real showstopper, based on feedback from everyone involved, was the roasted nuts I served over drinks beforehand. The recipe is from the January 2008 issue of Fine Cooking.
Indian Spicy Nuts
4 c unsalted cashews (I only had about 1 cup, so I used a mix of cashews and almonds)
1 large egg white, beaten slightly
1/4 c granulated sugar
4 t garam masala
1 1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 to 1 t cayenne pepper (as you may have guessed, I went all out here!)
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325 degrees.
In a large bowl, toss the nuts with the egg white, coating evenly. Add the sugar, garam masala, salt, and cayenne. Toss again to combine.
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Spread the nuts on the baking sheet and roast, stirring every 5-10 minutes and breaking up clumps if they form, until nicely browned, 25-35 minutes (I did 30). Break up any clumps again while the nuts are still warm. When the nuts have cooled, put them in a serving bowl, and cover if making ahead.
For your viewing pleasure... this actually looks like the picture from the magazine!
The second dinner we hosted was Friday night, with (gasp!) seven people total. This time I decided to follow a Mediterranean theme and served rosemary walnuts, mini-caprese (one cherry tomato and mozzarella ball per toothpick, sprinkled with chopped fresh basil and brushed with a little olive oil - I usually grind some black pepper to top them off, but this time I forgot), risotto with spinach and manchego cheese (which I couldn't find, so I used asiago instead - no one seemed to notice, and there were some tough food critics among us!), pear and arugula salad, roasted asparagus with figs and goat cheese, and tiramisu. Although our guests purportedly enjoyed everything on the menu, in keeping with my nutty personality (ahem, blog post theme) here is the walnut recipe. It's from The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl, a birthday present that BFFT gave me a few years ago.
2 1/2 T unsalted butter
2 t dried rosemary, crumbled
1 t salt
1/2 t cayenne
2 c (about 8 oz) walnut halves
Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a baking sheet with sides in oven (I cheated and used the microwave). Stir in rosemary, salt, and cayenne. Toss walnuts in butter until well coated and spread out into one layer. Bake for 10 minutes, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Sorry, no picture for this one. They were gone before I knew it (I should have realized that was what would happen if I put them right in front of four men who really like to eat!), but that's a good sign, no? Speaking of men, it's time to sign off and figure out what to make for dinner. Because I'm taking a temporary hiatus from wine, at least one other man in my life besides BFFT (yes, Chester) will reap benefits from whatever culinary concoction I come up with.