Good Nuts, Bad Nuts

I was into nuts this weekend–mostly because I bought wine glasses.

See I had wine in my fridge left over from my party. But I felt weird drinking the wine in my circular non-wine glasses. I didn’t have wine glasses. So I went to Fish’s Eddie and bought some wine glasses for cheap. I celebrated this purchase by pouring myself a glass of wine. This happened on Friday.

But it was late afternoon–pre-dinner—and I was hungry. I didn’t want to drink wine on an empty stomach. So I decided to eat nuts.

I decided to cook the nuts in an improvosed manner. I dumped pecans and walnuts into a skillet. I cranked up the heat. I let them toast for a few minutes, then I added 1 Tbs of butter. The butter sizzled. The nuts cooked in the butter. I added some sticks of Thyme I had in the fridge; I sprinkled generously with sea salt and cayenne pepper. The resulting nuts were really tasty: a weird freakish accident of the kitchen that went splendidly with the wine.

Saturday night I attempted to repeat the magic. I realized what I’d done the night before: I made my own version of the Union Square Cafe nuts everyone writes so much about. That recipe tells you to toast the nuts in the oven for 10 minutes, add them to a bowl of butter, brown sugar, cayenne, Rosemary and salt and toss everything togehter. There is no skillet.

But what do the folks at The Union Square Cafe know? I’m the Amateur Gourmet!

So I decided to repeat my skillet magic. Only this time I’d add brown sugar too. I followed the same process from the night before—the nuts first, then the butter, I had no thyme left, but I sprinkled with salt, cayenne and then brown sugar. That’s when problems arose.

For example: the brown sugar started burning. I dumped the nuts into a bowl. Here they are:


They don’t look half bad, do they? And they didn’t taste half bad either. Except for the burning–that wasn’t so swell.

But there’s something about cooking nuts in a skillet with butter that leads me to believe it’s superior to the toasting them in the oven and adding butter later method. The nuts get crispy and carmelized and fragrant. I’m on to something here, I think. Or maybe it’s just the wine?

9 thoughts on “Good Nuts, Bad Nuts”

  1. What a beautiful caramelized color…perfection is so OVERRATED! Forget the Union Square Cafe’s recipe…you are afterall…The Amateur Gourmet, so…DO AS YOU PLEASE…everything is UBER enjoyable…Cheers!


  2. I had the following in a 3 star restaurant in Alsace (in Europe we have only upto 3 stars – Michelin ranking) and just replicated myself with great success: Take a non stick skillet, dump sunflower seeds and sugar, toast until sugar caramelises (use a wooden spoon and don’t let the sugar burn!) and then sprinkle with some fleur de sel. Delicious to nibble with wine!

  3. I’ve made a few versions of these in the past. I often use them as a final finish on salads, especially in the fall. I add ingredients in a slightly different order which may help.

    Melt butter, add the brown sugar and any spices/herbs, mix ’em all together and then add nuts and toast for a few minutes while stirring occasionally. It helps to spread them out until they cool when you remove them from the pan so that they don’t all stick together. :-) My favorites are walnuts and pecans but, as you mentioned, any nut will do!


  4. Ouch! Sorry your nuts got burnt, Adam. Here’s a recipe that you might want to try. Everyone loves these…I make them all the time. They’re great with cocktails, but be sure to use coarse salt, as fine ‘Morton-style’ salt will be too, um, salty.

    Spicy Sugared Nut Mix

    4 cups

    2 cups mixed unsalted RAW nuts (any combination of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia, and cashews)

    1 tablespoon butter, melted

    3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar

    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

    1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup (honey works too)

    1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt or fleur de sel

    2 cups small pretzel twists

    1. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes.

    2. In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, and maple syrup. Add the warm nuts, pretzels. Stir well, then sprinkle on the salt, and mix a but more (but avoid overstirring and dissolving the salt.) There may not seem like enough mixture to coat everything, but the heat of the oven will melt the glaze nicely.

    3. Spread the mixture back on the baking sheet and return to the oven for 12 minutes, stirring once or twice while cooking. Remove from oven and cool completely, breaking everything up with your hands as they cool, separating the nuts and pretzels.

  5. Hi Adam,

    I toasted some nuts the other day with honey, instead of sugar. It works really well and doesn’t get burned so easily.





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