Saturday, November 3, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different

The world will end, not with a bang or a whimper, but with a barrage of pecans. There are so many that I’ll never begin to get them all, and will shortly be conscripting children to go after them. I thought of soliciting unsuspecting trick-or-treaters (all you can haul!), but had to teach that night.

At any rate, in honor of the plenitude, I’ve decided to provide recipes. Pecans and everything. Perhaps even Spam, Spam, Pecans and Spam.

Pecan Pie

Use a pre-baked short crust, or a crumb crust made with gingersnaps and toasted pecans. In a pinch, a whole-wheat pastry crust will do. Then pour in your grandmother's pecan pie recipe, because who am I to mess with somebody else's Texas tradition?

Maple Pecan Cheesecake

Dedicated to my favorite cheesecake baker, Sterling Handrick

Make a gingersnap or graham cracker crumb crust as for pecan pie. Bake and set aside.

Mix 16 oz. of Neufchatel cheese (or combine Neufchatel and fat-free cream cheese to lower the fat load), 2 T cornstarch, ¼ t. salt, 1.5 c. maple syrup (use bulk Grade B from Whole Foods for better flavor), 3 large egg whites, ½ c. toasted chopped pecans. Mix cheeses, salt, and cornstarch at high speed, then gradually add maple syrup. Beat in egg whites last, until just blended. Pour into prepared crust, sprinkle pecans on top. Bake at 525F for 7 minutes, then lower the temp to 200F and bake 45 minutes longer or until set. Let cool, then cover and chill for about 8 hours. (Recipe adapted from Cooking Light.)

Pecan Shortbread

Coarsely chop a half cup of cooled toasted pecans (up to 10 minutes at 350F). Add them to your favorite whole-meal shortbread recipe and proceed as usual. If you don’t have a favorite, here’s one adapted from the Crank’s Recipe Book (Oxford: Alden Press, 1982).

4 oz. butter; 6 oz. wholemeal flour (white whole wheat works well); 2 oz. turbinado or raw sugar. Cut butter into flour, add sugar and pecans and work together. Press into 8” round tin, tidy the edges, and then score into 8 portions. Bake at 300F for about 45 minutes. Cut into pieces while still warm.

Salad with Pecans

Toast a cup (or more) of whole pecans; let cool. Mix a salad of sturdy greens (Romaine, endive), cubed pink lady or other tart-sweet apples (unskinned), green and/or red and/or black seedless grapes and/or dried slightly sweetened cranberries (like Newman's Own). Mix up a raspberry or other fruit vinaigrette and toss salad with enough dressing to suit. Add the pecans and toss lightly again.

Salmon Encrusted with Pecans

Chop a cup and a half of pecans finely; add fresh-ground pepper, lemon zest (about two tablespoons), and about a teaspoon of sea salt. Brush salmon fillets (two to four) with good strong olive oil, and spoon pecan mixture over the fish to cover. Press in lightly. Bake fillets at 400F only until hot all the way through, and pecans are toasted (be careful not to burn the pecans or overcook the fish).

Spam with Pecans and Sliced Peaches

My wonderful stepmother, back in the days when we didn't have much cash, could do more with a can of Spam than anyone but the Python crew. My favorite was Spam sliced (not all the way through; leave about 1/4 inch at the bottom of the loaf between each slice) with peach slices slipped between, and then baked. My variation adds chopped pecans on top before baking at 350F for about 25 minutes. The upscale, ecologically more appropriate version would use organically raised ham and fresh peaches, with a bit of turbinado sugar mixed in with the nuts.

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