Candied Spiced Nuts #improvcooking

Even though it’s October (and the weather is still feeling like August…), I’m starting to think about Thanksgiving. I know, I know, but I get to host this year and I’m pumped! We’re not sure if we’ll have a big crowd or just the four of us, so I’ve got several menus floating around in my head.

I knew this month’s Improv Challenge theme, Sugar and Spice,  was perfect for trying out some of the recipes I’m considering. Sugar and spice is SO fall – apple spice, pumpkin spice – but I couldn’t get these nuts off my mind, so they won out.

This is such an easy recipe – the slow cooker makes it totally hands off. Just mix, let the slow cooker do it’s thing, then spread them out to cool. They were so good – and a perfect pre-Thanksgiving dinner snack!

CandiedSpicedNuts

Candied Spiced Nuts
(adapted from Crunchy, Creamy, Sweet)
Makes 3 1/2 cups

1 1/2 cups almonds
2 cups pecans
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cloves

Grease the crock of a slow cooker and add the nuts. Add the sugars and cinnamon and stir. Add the water and stir until everything is evenly combined and wet.

Cook on high for 3 hours.

Remove nuts to a parchment-lined baking sheet to cool. Sprinkle with remaining  seasonings. Once fully cooled, store in an airtight container.

You can check out the other Sugar and Spice themed recipes that bloggers made here:

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Tuscan Spread

Jake loves dip. Or, as he says it “deeeep!” Anything that can be dipped is a hit – and that extends to spreads, too. It’s common now to get halfway through a meal and then have him start asking for dip. I’ve been keeping things like hummus in the house so we have some healthy options to dip – but sometimes you just need something fun.

This was fun.

It pairs well with crackers and we loved it with cucumbers, too. And it really couldn’t be easier. This is an awesome option for summer potlucks!

TuscanSpread

Tuscan Spread
(slightly adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything)
Serves 10-12 as an appetizer

2 packages cream cheese, softened
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/3 cup chopped black olives
8 green onions, chopped
3 oz. roasted red peppers

Add everything to a food processor and pulse until combined.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Caramelized Onion Tart

I’m pretty obsessed with caramelized onions. Like, if they weren’t destined for this tart, I probably would have just eaten them with a spoon.

This tart is a great option for a holiday appetizer. It’s a nice mix of sweet and savory and warm cheese makes pretty much everyone happy.  This was a definite crowd-pleaser.

OnionTart

Caramelized Onion Tart
(from Annie’s Eats)
Serves 8-12

2 Tbsp. butter
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
Pepper, to taste
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg yolk
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Stir in the onion, thyme, sugar, salt, and pepper.  Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are caramelized and golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a small bowl whisk together the ricotta and egg yolk until smooth.

Roll out the puff pastry sheet on a baking sheet and fold in each edge about 1 inch to make a crust.  Spread the ricotta mixture over the puff pastry and sprinkle about half of the Parmesan cheese over the ricotta mixture.  Spread the caramelized onions evenly over the cheese and top with the remaining Parmesan.  Bake 25-30 minutes, until the puff pastry is golden.  Slice and serve.

 

Cranberry Salsa

I was so excited when I found this recipe. First, it was another no-cooking-involved appetizer that was still fun and festive. Second, I knew any leftovers would be awesome alongside my favorite use of leftover turkey – Turkey Cranchiladas. Seriously, though – can you think of a better day-after-Thanksgiving meal?

If you’ve already have your Thanksgiving menu set, keep this in mind for Christmas. The color is such a beautiful, rich red that would be super festive on a holiday table!

CranberrySalsa

Cranberry Salsa
(from Bake-aholic)
Makes about 2 cups

1 (12 oz.) package of fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 medium jalapeno, seeded and roughly chopped
1 green onion, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp. cumin

Combine everything in a food processor and pulse until you reach the desired consistency. Serve with tortilla chips.

Cranberry Pumpkin Walnut Spread

I’m thankful for a lot. My husband who works so hard for our family in so many ways. My little guy whose smiles just make my day. That we’re all healthy, fed and safe. And my friends – because I really don’t know where I’d be without them.

Last night, we had some friends over to celebrate an early Thanksgiving. Friends I went to middle school with who have loved me since before I’d really learned to love myself. Friends from college who have been supportive of us as we dated, got married and grew the family. And newer friends, who helped me stay sane during the early months of motherhood. It was just a small cross-section of our friends, but as I looked around the table it reminded me just how lucky we are.

I think something that often gets lost in prep for these big meals is that the goal is really to spend time together – not hours cooking. With that in mind, I whipped up a few no-cook appetizers. This one is whipped up in about five minutes and can be ahead of time. For a busy day like Thanksgiving, it’s a definite winner.

CranberryPumpkinSpread

Cranberry Pumpkin Walnut Spread
(from Pen and Fork)
Makes about 2 cups

8 oz. cream cheese
1 cup dried cranberries, plus a tablespoon for garnish
3/4 cup toasted walnut pieces
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients, except cranberries for garnish, in a food processor and pulse until nearly smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with crackers or toast points.