November & December are SUPER busy months for me, the most professionally & personally nutty time of the year. I’m sure that your experience is completely different. … Ha!
It can be a stressful time of year and while it may seem as though I am suggesting adding more to your overflowing plate, my experience has been completely the opposite. Instead of scrambling every time there is an event, house party, unexpected neighbour drop by with baking, or on the last day before school vacation when I have totally forgotten about the teachers, etc. I have a go-to solution for all of those things. If I buy a few extra ingredients and carve out a little bit of prep time on a rare, spare evening or afternoon, I set myself up to have an on-hand solution for a myriad of holiday niceties.
Re: packaging: I buy a flat or two of canning jars (16oz/500mL for the nuts, a little bigger for the granola). We've passed peak mason jar, I think, but the reality is that they have a classic, simple look, and just about anyone can use them in the kitchen. If you really want to fancy it up, trace the circle part of the lid on wrapping paper, cut it out, and slide it in when you screw on the lid. Boom! You’re crafty.
Winner #1: Spiced Rosemary Nuts
Time: 10 minutes hands-on, 20 more in the oven, 20-30 to cool.
5 cups mixed raw or unsalted nuts (I use bulk mixed nuts with cashews, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, etc.)
4 Tbs. olive oil
3 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tbs. sugar
3 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. salt
1 - 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (less if you are super sensitive, but don't forgo altogether!)
Preheat an oven to 300°F.
Place the nuts in a mixing bowl. In another small bowl, combine the sugar, cumin, salt, black pepper and cayenne. In a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the rosemary and stir until aromatic, about 1 minute. Pour the seasoned oil over the nuts. Add the mixed spices and stir to coat the nuts evenly. Transfer the nuts to a baking pan.
Bake, stirring occasionally, until the nuts are toasted, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool completely. They will never completely "dry" out, but just leave them until they are cool enough before putting them in a jar or bowl.
Credit where credit is due: this recipe is adapted from my most reliable source, Williams-Sonoma.
When I’m invited to an event during the holidays, I do not offer anymore to bring something. Whipping up a salad? I just... no. It’s enough for me to get out the door! The genius of this nuts recipe is that it can be either: an appetizer offering, or a private gift for the host to enjoy.
Winner #2: Cinnamon Pecan Granola
I don't know the original source of this recipe, though I received it from the same place we all get most of our good recipes: an Airbnb host (!). Katie made a (less holiday) version granola and served it to me daily with yogurt and fresh fruit. She even packed me some to go when I had an early-departing flight!
I think there is a similar one in Oh She Glows, but I will always think of it as Katie's LA Granola.
One note: oats do not have gluten, but if your gift recipient has Celiac disease, you need to buy specifically gluten-free oats that have not been contaminated with gluten during growing/processing. I learned this the hard way, though another guest took home the spoils and later dubbed it the best granola she'd ever had!
Time: 5-10 minutes hands-on, 45 more in the oven, 1 hour to cool.
5 cups rolled oats
1 - 2 cups chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 - 6 Tablespoons real maple syrup
6 Tablespoons brown sugar (dark or light is fine)
1/2 cup oil (I like sunflower, coconut...)
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
Heat oven to 325°F. Spray, or lightly brush with oil, a "half sheet" baking pan [not to be confused, as I was, with half a sheet of a baking pan; "half sheet" is the actual term for that big one ;)] or, two rimmed baking sheets.
In a large bowl, mix together oats, nuts, salt and cinnamon. In a separate small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together syrup, sugar, oil and vanilla. Pour mixture over oat mixture and combine well. Stir for at least a minute or so to make sure the oats are completely coated.
Pour mixture onto prepared pan and spread it out into an even layer with your spatula. Then, using a flat-bottomed glass (I use a measuring cup) tap mixture down to press it into the pan, going over the surface several times (I find this gradual "tapping" more effective than firmly pressing into the pan, which can push around the oat mixture and make it stick to the bottom of your pan.)
Bake in upper-middle rack for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake an additional 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
Place pan on a cooling rack and cool for at least 1 hour or overnight. Then pop it out (in the way you pop ice cubes out of a tray) into a very large bowl. It will probably be in a couple of very large chunks, and from there you can break it up into smaller bits. Transfer to a sealed container and store at room temperature for up to a month.
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