Cooling down the spice
I have approximately 32 hours to finish my final research paper of the semester, for which I've written just two pages (for the curious, it's entitled "Taste and Class: Food and the Marking of Social Status"). At the same time, I'm studying for a final exam that I get to take a week earlier than the rest of my classmates. If I can just make it to noontime this Friday without losing my sanity, alienating my husband, and scaring the dog, the reward is two weeks of Christmas bliss in the Philippines.
So much to write, so little time . . .
Mr. Noodle and I have been planning this trip since March; it's my first trip back to the ancestral home in nearly 20 years and his first ever. We're both looking forward to leaving school, work and other worries behind in wintry Minnesota to enjoy a tropical, Filipino-style Christmas.
Until then, there's a lot left to do. During past Christmases, I've put up decorations, mailed dozens of greeting cards and gift packages, and made some goodies well in advance. This year, I find myself so short on time that I've managed to write just one card (to my 100 year old foster grandmother) and not a single garland or ornament adorns our home. But I am determined to accomplish at least one of my traditional Christmas tasks: making treats!
The adage "It's better to give than to receive" is so very true: I probably derive more enjoyment from making homemade gifts than the recipient may get from the end result. A column in last Sunday's Minneapolis Star-Tribune made a rather disparaging equation between stealing and crafting as last resorts for gift-giving, underscoring the fact that for some, homemade presents are not always the most desired and inferring a correlation between the monetary value of an item and the level of regard one has for the recipient. When I decide to create a gift, I try to keep in mind what would please the other person first and allow me to express my skills second. To that end, and given the limited time I have right now, I chose to make the following recipe as gifts for our neighbors. It's easy to make, incredibly versatile and, judging from past giftees' responses, irresistible!
Sweetly Spiced Chipotle Almonds
This recipe is adapted from one created by Chef Robin Schmitz of Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, NC. The original recipe called for pecans and cayenne pepper but the beauty of this treat is its versatility: in addition to cayenne and chipotle, I've also used Cajun seasoning and would like to try ground Ancho chile pepper. Try your own combo of spicy and sweet!
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1.5 - 2 tsps** ground chipotle pepper
pinch of salt
2.5 lbs whole almonds (preferably unsalted)
**This gives a nice bite to the almonds, appropriate for children or heat-sensitive palates; increase as desired for added kick!
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat.
2. In a large heavy sauté pan over medium heat, mix water, sugar, chipotle and salt together. Stir until mixture comes to a gentle simmer and sugar dissolves completely.
3. Add almonds and stir well so that all the nuts are covered with sugar mixture. Continue to stir constantly until water has completely evaporated and the nuts are well-coated.
4. Immediately transfer almonds to the baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes. Watch carefully as the nuts can easily burn. Stir the almonds around to ensure that they cook evenly.
5. Remove from oven and cool completely before serving.
Crunch time at its best!