Sunday, July 22, 2012

Irresistibly Deadly Addictive Nuts Cocktail

Once upon a time, when I was back in France working for a large international pharmaceutical company (that was more than 10 years ago!), I was traveling a lot for my job. Since the company policy was to put its employees in business class for any travel longer than 3 hours, I had the opportunity to fly business class a few times when coming to the US. Back then (we are talking pre-9/11), airlines were still pampering their customers a little bit. Nothing like what our parents could have experienced back in the 1980s or even early 1990s... but still at least you felt that they did care about you. Note that I don't fly business class anymore.. so I would not be able to compare but I have experienced the difference in coach class (as I am sure some of you have too!). Sans commentaire!
On one of my business trips to the US, I was served an unforgettable nuts cocktail. Not the usual boring-too-salty peanuts... no, a real little dish of warm mix of fancy nuts! And since then, being nuts about nuts, I have been trying to find a recipe for nuts cocktail. I tried the one where you soak nuts in egg whites. I have tried some of the store-brand pre-mix... but none came close to the ones I had on that flight...   Then again, I am sure that if I were to taste that same nuts cocktail again today, I would not find them that good! This is why it's always dangerous to want to reproduce something you had once a long time ago and tasted soooo good to you! (Even more true when it comes to a dish that your husband grew up with (ie, that his mother or grand-mother made): unless HE makes it,  you are NEVER going to win!! )

I came up with this specific recipe because, one day, I had decided to purchase some caramelized pecans at a store to make a "healthy basket of American goodies" to offer to Europeans (because, yes, to me caramelized pecans are fully associated with American food)... to realize when reading the label (yes, I ALWAYS read the label!), that they were coming from....... Spain! How disappointing!!! Especially, when you know that the US produce more than 75% of the world Pecans (mostly in the Southern states of the US where there is even such an aread called "Pecans belt"!!) I obviously did not purchase these pecans for my friends. It just gave me the idea to try to make my own instead!
Since I don't like things too sweet and that I had this nostalgy of that 2000-era nuts cocktail in mind, I decided to do something both sweet & savory. The result?
Let me warn you (and the people who have had the opportunity to taste them would confirm), these nuts are deadly addictive! If I make a batch for my family or guests, I know that they won't last long! Always a good sign when it comes to cooking, no?
Now, if I could only find a good salty-cocktail mix recipe!! Bon Appétit!

- Raw unsalted nuts: I generally use a mix of walnuts, pecans, almonds and peanuts. You could use hazelnuts, brazilian and sunflower seeds as well. However, I never liked when I used cashews in that mix.
- Cayenne pepper (to taste)
- A pinch or two of salt
- Maple syrup : enough to coat the nuts
- A sprig of rosemary, scissored

  • Pre-heat oven to 350F (175C)
  • Take a baking pan and lay out all the nuts on the pan. If the nuts are on top of each other, you will have to make a second batch.
  • Transfer the nuts in a bowl, add the pepper, salt, rosemary. 
  • Pour enough maple syrup to have all the nuts nicely coated when you mix them (including in the creases). You don't want them to soak in maple syrup, though!
  • Lay the nuts on the baking pan and put in the oven.
  • Cook for 15 mns, stirring every 5 minutes. You should start to see the syrup cristallized but the nuts (especially the pecans) should not be burnt.
  • Cool on a flat non-sticky surface (I use a silpat) before eating. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Food in Pouches? Attention! Danger!

For those of you who had the chance to go to France and maybe enter a French supermarket or witness
school dismissal at 4.30pm,  you might have noticed the little pouches children were sucking in in no time. Pompotes, as they are known in France from the Materne brand that launched them in 1998, have been ubiquitous in France for the last 10 years: most supermarkets carry their store-brand products or other competitive products. They were launched by the Materne company as a brand expansion for their applesauce products. Needless to say that it is a very successful product as most parents have adopted it as THE easy-no-mess-healthy part of their children goûter or pique-nique. To give you an example of how many French purchase them, they are available by boxes of 24 pouches!!
I was so used to seeing them and, yes, occasionally eating one when traveling in France, that they were on the list of the bare necessities people had to carry from France to the US when visiting us to give to my children (along with Cote d'Or Chocolat Noir, Crème de marron, Sirop Teisseire and Bonne-Maman cookies and Demake-Up cotton.)
You can imagine how happy I was to see them appear on the shelves of US supermarkets under the name GoGosqueeZ a few years ago (no, I did not get any samples from Materne to advertize on this website). Needless to say that they are now, as with most French families I know (and the American families that adopted them from the French), part of my children's daily after-school goûter. I order them on in the subscribe & save program so as to minimize costs and make sure that I have enough in inventory for a few-weeks supply! (I don't know if they are sold at CostCo or Sam"s Club but if they are, let me know!) 
More insterestingly, I have followed the non-stop increased offering of additional food available in pouches in the US. Especially babygood: not just the $2 organic fruit-pouch positioned next to the GoGosqueeZ (which, I have to say, had to give up shelving space to fit all these new individually-sold products (read: higher margin for the supermarket).).. but really the mixed-vegetables-plus-grains-and-fruits pouches you can now purchase in lieu of the glass jar (or worse, in lieu of a home-made purée.)
Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against prepared babyfood: I did purchase babyfood jars to complement the home-made meals I was preparing or to take on the road with us...
What I am worried about is the new trend taking shape around me where I see young children sipping on a pouch of vegetables+grains+fruit pouch instead of sitting at a table with their parents/caretakers. Sure, we all have our emergency-I-have-to-leave-now moments where pouches are a good alternative to a less healthy take-out alternative.... but these are to remain occasional. There are parents (read the recent article in the New York Times) who have given up on eating with their children  and are feeding their children food in pouches frequently (children are not stupid: they like the packaging, if not the content! More fun and easier than having to use one's fingers or, worse, a spoon!).  I don't buy the "it fosters independance", désolée... Those of you who used them know well that it does take a little bit of supervision to help a child master the fact that the pouch has to be in her mouth before she starts to squeeze it! (applesauce on t-shirts, anyone???). More seriously, I am a firm believer that taking the time to feed young children by sitting with them, talking to them as they eat their meal, is key to helping them develop good eating habits and table manners! Letting them go around the house with a pouch of spinach and quinoa is aka snacking all day (and a call for a nice green spot on the carpet!)
Where is the structure that a few meals taken, as family, at a table/high-chair provide? Where are the new flavors and textures picked directly in a grown-up's plate? 
So yes, I am the first one advocating the apple sauce pouches as a snack for my children but, had they been available in sweet pea-carots flavor, a few years ago, I would not have bought them (not to mention the fact that they are $$$). So yes to practicality but no to regular meal-replacement. Eating together with your children is key. And yes, unfortunately, like most things with children, the later you start emphazing it, the harder it would be to be accepted... Bonne chance!