Usher in the New Year With Candied Walnuts or Pecans

Every year I make a big batch of cookies to use for host/hostess gifts. And every year, they somehow disappear before the holidays actually arrive. I’m not sure how—I think the dogs are eating them. At any rate, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

What this means is that I’m often left short handed when party time rolls around, like the New Year’s Eve party I’ve been invited to. Fortunately I almost always have walnuts or pecans in my cupboard, and can whip up a batch of candied nuts in no time.

To be honest, people like them more than cookies. They’re not only delicious, but healthier (at least compared to cookies). The sugar and butter are balanced at least somewhat by the fiber and oils in the nuts.

This recipe is more forgiving than some candy recipes. If you cook the candy a little past the soft ball stage, it will still be fine.

Candied Walnuts or Pecans

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups walnuts or pecan halves, toasted *
  • Butter a large baking sheet with sides and set aside.

Combine the sugars, water, butter, salt and cinnamon in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook to the soft-ball stage. (A candy thermometer registers 235 degrees F, or a small amount of the syrup dropped into cold water forms a soft, pliable ball.) Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Stir in the walnuts, making sure they are all coated with the candy.

Scrape candied nut mix onto the buttered baking sheet in a single layer. Use 2 forks to separate the candied walnuts. Let cool.

Store in an airtight tin or other container.

Makes 4 cups.

* To toast nuts, spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they smell toasted. Pour into a bowl and let cool.

Pumpkin pie in a cup

I adore pumpkin pie spice, that fragrant blend of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves or allspice. One whiff evokes the brightly colored hues of autumn, my favorite season, and the aromas of Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.

I use it in pumpkin pie, of course, but also in cookies, bars, apple dishes—and coffee. I’m not generally a fan of flavored coffees, but Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte is very nice indeed. It also contains a goodly dose of sugar (something I have to eat and drink in moderation) and costs $4 a cup.

So I make my own version at home. It’s easy to do. Just add a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice per cup of coffee directly to the grounds before brewing. (I’m assuming you have a drip coffeemaker.) Brew as usual, and sweeten to taste with sugar or Splenda.

It’s not Starbucks, but it tastes good and smells great while it’s brewing. Pumpkin pie spice-spiked coffee is a wonderful way to wake up to a crisp fall morning.

Mashed Potato Beef Stew

It began one stormy and windswept Halloween night.

I took my two kids out trick-or-treating and left a pot of beef stew on the stove, with instructions to my husband to stir it every now and then.

Trick-or-treating in such miserable weather turned out to be hard work, and it was pretty late by the time we got home.

I looked for the potatoes I’d added to the stew, and they were nowhere to be found. Turns out they’d gotten so soft that they simply dissolved as my husband stirred the long-simmering stew.

My kids declared it the best stew I’d ever made, once again proving that sometimes the best dishes are created by mistake.

Ever since then, beef stew thickened by mashed potatoes has been a favorite in our household.

Mashed Potato Beef Stew

Makes 4 to 5 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into bite-size pieces
1 1/2 cups peeled, sliced carrots
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence, or herb mix of your choice
1 cup water
1 cup red wine (or water)
4 medium boiling potatoes (about 1 pound)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil. Dust the meat lightly with flour and add it to the oil in 2 or 3 batches, cooking it until lightly browned. Remove meat to a plate.

Add carrots, garlic and onions to the pot and cook over medium heat until onions are softened.

Add water and wine if using, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add meat back to pot, bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to very low, partially cover, and cook for 1 hour, stirring 2 or 3 times and adding more water as necessary to keep stew from sticking.

Peel the potatoes and cut into bite-size chunks. Add to the stew and stir. Partially cover and cook over very low heat for an additional hour, stirring occasionally and adding a little more water if necessary to keep stew from sticking, or until meat is tender and potatoes are very soft. Use a large spoon to mash the potatoes into the stew.

Serve hot.