In a Pinch
One of my fondest food memories of the holiday seasons is the big bowl of roasted nuts that would be put onto the family table along with a variety of fruits after every meal. We even had a nut bowl that had special slots to hold two nutcrackers and nut-meat picks. Mom would roast a variety of nuts including walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans and Brazil nuts.
One year, my great-aunt, Jenny, sent us a huge cardboard box of pecans from her home in Albany, Ga. They were the biggest, plumpest, meatiest pecans I had ever eaten, and my grandmother took care to squirrel away the box on the top shelf of the hall closet so there would still be some left for my mother to use in her holiday baking.
One night, when we thought Gram was upstairs, we snuck the box down and began to have a nut feast at the kitchen table. She burst into the room with a scowl and scooped up the box declaring, “Nobody eats these unless I say so. I’m the boss of the nuts!” This struck us kids as so funny that we laughed ourselves sick, and even Gram ended up with a smile. It became a standing family line.
I still associate the taste of roasted nuts with good times and family fun. Around the holidays when people are apt to drop over for a quick visit or a special meal, I always like to keep a good supply of nuts and cheese so we can whip up a quick snack or appetizer that looks and tastes much more elaborate than it is.
You can experiment with different combinations of cheese, nuts and preserves, but it’s hard to beat the classic trio of toasted almonds and orange marmalade on brie cheese baked in a crusty puff pastry. I always add extra almonds because now I’m the boss of the nuts!
- 1 sheet puff pastry
- 4 tablespoons orange marmalade
- 4 tablespoons sliced, toasted almonds
- One 8-ounce brie wheel
- 1 egg, beaten
Lay out the pastry sheet onto a lightly floured board. Roll and trim the sheet until it measures approximately 10 inches by 10 inches. Place the marmalade into the center of the square. Sprinkle the almonds on top. Carefully place the wheel of brie on top of the nuts and almonds.
Fold up the corners and sides and pinch together to seal completely. Trim excess pastry. Turn the package seam-side down on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Roll out the extra pastry and use decorative cutters to make leaves or other shapes.
Brush the top and sides of the pastry dough with beaten egg and place the decorative pieces on top. Brush again with beaten egg. Bake at 350 degrees until the pastry has puffed and turned golden, approximately 30 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving with crackers.
Two variations to try: apricot jam with toasted hazelnuts; raspberry jam with walnuts.