The Cook in Me: A Mixed Bag of Nuts, Hopes and Dreams for the New Year©
A Mixed Bag of Nuts, Hopes & Dreams for the New Year
SPICY MIXED NUTS AND SPINACH CON QUESO WITH WARM TORTILLA CHIPS
It's almost time to wrap up the holidays for this year. I hope that each of you celebrated with loved ones and that you've all maintained good health. It seems that every year they (the holidays, not the loved ones) sneak up on us more quickly than the last. But I guess that’s part of the aging process. Time passes more and more quickly, or at least it seems like it. The weeks and months fly by, and before you know it, another year is behind you. I think that is why I am a firm believer in making every minute count—you never know how many more you have left. When I turned fifty, I told my sons and their families that the extravagant Christmases were over. The best gift I could give to them, and that they could give to me was time. Time spent together is not something you can buy. It is not something that will break and be discarded with yesterday’s trash. It is, however, something that can live on in memories and photographs, and cherished forever.
They say that there is nothing more permanent than change, and that nothing else meets with more resistance. I’ve often wondered why that is. As a child, change is met with mixed emotions. Most children can’t wait to grow up as it seems that adults have all the privileges. “When I grow up, I’m going to . . . .” Yet children need the security of knowing that their world is safe. When we’re adults, we’re hesitant to see the boat rocked by change. Many times change in the workplace signals downsizing, rightsizing, and loss of jobs. Too often we become comfortable with the status quo; it’s predictable, secure. There’s comfort in knowing what to expect. But change is inevitable; it is the only thing that brings progress.
Big changes happened for me in 2012. After suffering a slight stroke several years ago, and as is typical of many people as we age and lose loved ones, I've come to realize that my family is more important than a career, and that relationships are more important than possessions. For those reasons, I moved from Ohio to Florida. For the first time since I was 12, I'm not working at a "real job." At this point in my life, I'm fortunate that I can kick back, enjoy life and do what I want to do. My children are grown, there are no more orthodontist payments to make, college educations to finance, pensions to fund, or mortgages to pay. But because I'm not old enough or ready yet to retire, I'm evaluating the coming year and what it might have in store for me. My “past life” included jobs ranging from clerical staff in our church office at the age of 12 to litigation attorney, from college professor to private investigator and from catering and teaching cooking classes to freelance writing. It may sound like a diversity of careers, but what they all have in common is that they're all service oriented positions. I love working with, and helping people. As I've gotten older, I've narrowed the area of service, however, to things I really enjoy, i.e., teaching, cooking and writing. I don't miss the rat race, the stress or the overhead. I do miss the people. But with the audience I'm reaching with my little articles, I couldn't be happier. I envision a classroom out there and an audience that is interested in what I have to say. That makes my day, everyday, and I thank you for following my blog postings.
So what will 2013 bring? What hopes and dreams do I have for the coming year? Aside from the standard ones like good health to everyone, peace in the world, freedom from debilitating ilinesses and diseases, safety in all you do, and success in all your endeavors, I have a few more. We have a new baby coming in our family. In February, my first Great-Grandchild will be born. Yes, you don't have to say it, but I know you're thinking it: I'm really too young to be a Great-Grandmother. But since no one asked me my opinion as to whether I thought I was old enough to have a Great-Grandson, I'm just going with it! I hope that he is healthy, has 10 fingers and 10 toes, and is not a difficult birth for his mother. To his parents, I wish joy as parents, and in enlarging their family. May they continue to provide a loving, supportive home for their children and for each other. To his half-sister, I wish a loving sibling relationship. There will be the typical sibling rivalry, but in the end, most of us would admit that it is wonderful to have siblings.
For my Grandson who is graduating in May, I wish success in pursuing his degree and in acceptance to Graduate School in Psychology, and in all that he does. I am sure that he will go far in whatever career he eventually chooses, but it can't hurt to wish him success and hope that he will meet and surpass even his highest dreams. To my Granddaughters, I wish continued success in their schooling and in their musical and athletic ambitions. I wish them a smooth road through puberty and into adulthood. I wish all my Grandchildren happiness in whatever and however they decide to live their lives. I hope that they will not have to suffer disappointments, failures, and hardships; but on the other hand, these experiences build strong character, and if it has to be, so be it.
For my two Sons and their Wives, I wish continued success, happiness, love and joy in their relationships with each other and their families. Although my Sons live across the country from each other, I hope that they will continue to build and maintain a close, loving relationship with each other. I think that as parents all we really want to see for our children is their happiness and contentment in their lives. Any expectations that I might have had when they were young were only that: my expectations. Those fell by the wayside years ago when I realized that I had two beautiful, intelligent Sons who were fully capable of knowing what they wanted, and how they were going to achieve it. As their Mother, I couldn't ask for any more. I am very blessed.
The recipes I'm providing today wrap up my holiday series for this year. Next month we're going to start tackling some Classic Comfort Foods--winter selections like Soups and Breads. However, the recipes I am sharing with you today bring the year's entertainment season to a close. And what better way than by ending the year with a New Year's Eve party ushering out the old and bringing in the new. Hence, the mixed bag of nuts in the recipe for Spicy Mixed Nuts below. Now, some of you who know me may think I'm referring to myself, as I've been told on more than one occasion that I'm nuts, and frankly, to me that's a compliment! In reality, I'm referring to the variety of nuts you'll want to choose when making this nibble to place by your bar or beverage station. I must confess, this is not my recipe. However, it is one that I swear by, as I have been serving it seemingly since forever during the holidays, and at parties all year round. I've adapted it simply by adding less salt than the original recipe calls for. In fact, if I use already-salted nuts and salted butter, I do not use the Kosher Salt at all. The basic recipe (only 1/4 the quantity of the one I've given you below) is from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins ©1984, 1985 by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins (one of my go-to books for entertaining and recipes for years).¹ I believe I've served these nuts every Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year since I first bought the Cookbook in 1985. They have just enough spice to make a perfect accompaniment to beverages and whet the appetite, and just enough protein to soothe your guilt. As for the Queso Recipe, this is also a knock off that I've tweaked over the years. Because one of my very favorite appetizers of all time is J Alexander's Spinach con Queso with fresh, warm tortilla chips, I've worked at trying to duplicate it. I think the one I'm giving you today is pretty close. If you're like I am, I could make a meal from these two hors'd oeuvres. Add to them the Antipasti platter and Cheese Straws from my previous posting and you've got an easy party for at least 25 guests!
And finally, for you and your loved ones in the coming year, I wish you good health, happiness, and great success in all you do. May all your hopes and dreams be realized in 2013! Happy New Year and Thank You for reading!
©2012, 2013 A Mixed Bag of Nuts, Hopes and Dreams for the New Year by Kathy Striggow
This article may not be reproduced or reprinted in whole or in part without the express written permission of the author.
NEW YEAR'S EVE SPICY MIXED NUTS¹
Yield: 6 cups
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Baking Time: 20-25 minutes
½ cup Unsalted Butter
¼ cup Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp. Ground Cumin
2 tsp. Celery Salt
2 tsp. Garlic Powder
½ tsp. Cayenne Pepper
2 tsp. Seasoned Salt
6 cup Roasted Mixed Nuts (Whole Cashews, Whole Almonds, Pecan Halves, English Walnut Halves, Whole Hazelnuts)², Unsalted
3 Tbsp. Coarse Kosher Salt
1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Line 2 baking sheets with Parchment Paper.
2. Melt the butter in Dutch oven over low heat.
3. All the Worcestershire, spices and seasoned salt (NOT the Kosher salt).
4.Simmer over low heat so that the flavors combine, approximately 5-10 minutes.
5.Add the nuts and stir until evenly coated.
6. Spread the coated nuts evenly on the parchment paper lined baking sheets in a single layer and bake for 20-25 minutes, shaking the pan or turning the nuts occasionally. Watch the nuts so that they do NOT burn.
7. Remove the nuts from the oven and coat with the kosher salt.
8. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container.
9. If desired, warm in the oven for a few minutes before serving.
¹Courtesy of the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook by Julie Rosso & Sheila Lukins ©1984, 1985 by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins
²I personally do not like peanuts, so I don't use them. But if you do, feel free to add whole peanuts to the mix!
SPINACH CON QUESO WITH WARM TORTILLA CHIPS©
Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 25 minutes
1 tsp. Olive Oil
2-3 Cloves Garlic, finely minced
1 bunch Scallions, including Green Tops, finely sliced
1 large or 2 small Jalapeño Peppers, seeds removed and finely minced
1 lb. Velveeta Mexican Cheese (cubed)
12 ounces Cream Cheese, cubed then softened
2 packages (10 oz.) Frozen Creamed Spinach
3 Ripe Tomatoes, finely diced3
1/2 cup fresh Cilantro OR Parsley (or a combination of both), finely snipped (I Prefer parsley)
White Pepper, freshly ground, to taste
¼ to ½ tsp. Cayenne Pepper or to taste (optional)
Thin, Salted Tortilla Chips, Warmed for Serving
Fresh Pico de Gallo, if desired, as an accompaniment to the Queso
1.Heat olive over medium heat.Add garlic, scallions and pepper and sauté until soft, not browned.Set aside.
2.Place cheeses in a Microwave-safe Bowl and Microwave for 2 minutes, or until cheeses begin to melt.
3.Stir the cheeses, then return to the Microwave and continue heating for another minute.Stir the cheeses again.
4.Repeat this process until the cheeses have completely melted.Stir to make sure cheeses are completely incorporated into each other.
5.When the cheeses are completely melted, place spinach in the Microwave and cook according to the package directions for 2 packages.
6.When the spinach is completely heated through, add to the mixture of cheeses.
7.Return to the Microwave and cook for another minute.
8.Remove from Microwave and stir in tomatoes, cilantro, parsley or mixture of both, and seasonings, making sure to adjust seasoning to taste.
9.Transfer the Queso to a chafing dish that has been warmed with hot water, and keep warm over a low flame.
10.Serve the Queso with Thin, Salted Tortilla Chips that have been warmed, and fresh Pico de Gallo, if desired.
11. Think of a New Year's dream with every bite!
3If you're running short on time and want to take a shortcut, 2 cans of diced tomatoes with chiles works well in place of the fresh tomatoes, jalapeños, etc. It's not a bad substitute.
©2012 A Mixed Bag of Nuts, Hopes and Dreams for the New Year by Kathy Striggow
©2012 A Mixed Bag of Nuts, Hopes and Dreams for the New Year by Kathy Striggow
©Spinach con Queso with Warm Tortilla Chips by Kathy Striggow