mike kostyo

I know food.

roasted orange & cinnamon almonds

I used to be able to name every nut that there was. And it used to drive my mother crazy, because she used to say, "Harlan Pepper, if you don't stop naming nuts..." And the joke was that we lived in Pine Nut, and I think that's what put it in my mind at that point. So she would hear me in the other room, and she'd just start yelling. I'd say, "Peanut. Hazelnut. Cashew nut. Macadamia nut" -- that was the one that would send her into going crazy. She'd say, "Would you stop naming nuts!" And Hubert used to be able to make the sound, he couldn't talk, but he'd go "rrrawr rrawr" and that sounded like Macadamia nut. Pine nut, which is a nut, but it's also the name of a town. Pistachio nut. Red pistachio nut. Natural, all natural, white pistachio nut.

- Harlan Pepper, Best in Show

It's fairly suprising how often the topic of one's favorite nut comes up in conversation. For some reason I was just thinking about how many people I've talked about this with and it's more than a couple. I always say that my favorite nut is the almond, because it's the best, and they always say cashew or macadamia, which are not the best. They are too rich and oily, I think.

Maybe I also like them because they remind me of Christmas, which is the best holiday, no matter your religious affiliation or lack thereof. You are learning so much about what is the best today! Growing up, we always had a bowl of unshelled nuts on a table in the living room during the winter, complete with one of those hinged metal nut crackers sitting on top. My sister and I would eat all the almonds, because they are the best, and our parents would eat the brazil nuts, walnuts and anything else that comes in that mix you get from a bulk bin at the grocery store.

We also have to get a bag of roasted cinnamon almonds from the Christkindlmarket in downtown Chicago on the day after Thanksgiving every year because they are one of my sister's favorite foods. We walk through the market--the weather is always freezing--and when we smell the cinnamon wafting from the little wood hut it reminds us that it's time to stop in and get some nuts to drink with our hot gluhwein.

So maybe you would like to make these almonds and a pitcher of iced gluhwein for your Christmas in July celebration? That sounds like it would be the best.

This version of the almonds calls for orange zest, but you could use any citrus peel. You could try lemon peel with basil or mint in place of the cinnamon and mace, or lime peel with chili pepper for a savory version. They store nicely in an airtight container.

toasted almonds with orange, cinnamon & mace

+ 2 egg whites
+ 4 cups almonds
+ 1/3 cup sugar
+ 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
+ 1 teaspoon salt
+ 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
+ 1 teaspoon mace
+ finely zested peel of 1 large orange

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they are just frothy.

In another bowl, combine the sugars, salt, cinnamon, mace and orange zest.

Add the almonds to the egg whites and toss until the almonds are covered. Add the sugar mixture to the nut mixture and toss to combine.

Spread the coated almonds onto 1 large or 2 medium lightly oiled baking sheet in an even layer.

Bake the almonds for about 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until they are cooked and crunchy. Let them come to room temperature before storing in an airtight container.

makes about 4 cups