Festive treats delight during the holiday season

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What bliss! Chocolate-covered nuts, fruits, pretzels and marshmallows — harbingers of a delicious Christmas season.

Over the holidays, drop-ins are a likely occurrence – not a tea-and-cookie event but a quick hug and “hello”. These are the perfect times to have a dish of candied nuts on the table for an on-the-way mouthful of delectable sweet crunch. (Maybe a few tiny bags to send along?) Herewith , a group of great goodies to salute the Yuletide season. Enjoy!

Chocolate-Dipped

Nuts

1 pkg. (8 squares) semi-sweet chocolate

1 1/2-2 cups walnut or pecan halves, cashews or whole almonds

Line cookie sheets with waxed paper. In saucepan, over very low heat, melt chocolate. Set pan in a larger container of hot water to keep consistency. Dip one half of each nut (or entire nut) in melted chocolate, placing on prepared cookie sheets. Refrigerate until set. Cover, store in refrigerator.

For Clusters of Mixed nuts, after removing melted chocolate from heat, add nuts to the pan and mix lightly to coat completely.

Drop teaspoons of mixture onto the waxed paper to cool, then chill until firm. Makes about 2 dozen clusters. When I do this I delete the almonds for a more even crunch factor.

Chocolate-dipped Fruits, etc.*

Our illustration shows what’s possible, so take a look and then this following series of instructions will make sense.

Chocolate prepared as for previous recipe

Fruits: Firm strawberries, pineapple wedges, orange slices, well-drained maraschino cherries with stems, dried apricots

*Marshmallows, pretzel twists, orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit peels.

Prepare individual fruits as needed: Core strawberries; cut oranges into 1/3-inch thick slices, then halve the slices for easy dipping right up to the peel; insert festive toothpicks into marshmallows, strawberries and pineapple wedges; choose citrus fruits with thick skins for easier dipping. For pretzels and nuts, simply drop them into the pan then remove with a fork. Drain everything on the waxed paper, chilling the fruit but setting nuts and pretzels aside to dry, then layer in waxed paper to store, keeping cool.

For citrus strips, (peels only), prepare 2 large grapefruit of 3 large oranges as follows:

Remove peel from fruit in long continuous strips; cut into 1/2-inchX3-inch pieces. In medium saucepan, cover peel with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook till tender, pouring off water and adding fresh cold water often (bringing to boil each time). When tender, remove from water and with spoon, carefully remove white inner portion of peels. With a large metal slotted spoon, lower several pieces at a time in chocolate, drain well and lay on waxed paper to dry. Wrap loosely in waxed paper to store in refrigerator. (I love these!)

A caution is in order here as regards the chocolate dipped fruits. These should be made within a day or two of being eaten. The pretzels and nuts are good for the stretch, but fruit can ruin quickly, so plan to make the fruit dips no earlier than the day before serving. By the way, though banana pieces can be dipped and served as per the other fruits, I purposely didn’t mention them because of their short-term lasting ability. Use them fresh but firm and on the day they are to be eaten.

Got a chocolate allergy? Not to worry! Check out the following possibilities.

Candied Walnuts/Cashews

1 cup firm-packed brown sugar

1/3 cup orange juice

4 cups walnut halves

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 15x10x1-inch baking pan; butter sheet of foil or waxed paper, set aside.

In medium bowl, combine brown sugar and orange juice; blend well. Add nuts, tossing to coat. Spread on buttered pan, bake for 10-13 minutes or until bubbly and dark golden brown, stirring occasionally. Immediately spread on buttered foil. Cool completely, break apart if necessary. Store in cool place in airtight container.

Sweet/Spicy Almonds

3 tablespoons cooking or olive oil

2 cups whole blanched almonds

½ cup sugar

1½ teaspoons EACH salt, cumin

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon cane sugar

Heat oil in skillet; stir in almonds and ½ cup sugar. Cook over med-low heat, stirring for 10 minutes or until almonds are golden brown. Pour into bowl. Mix remaining spices and sugar and sprinkle over almonds, tossing to coat. Spread in a single layer on wax-paper lined surface and let stand till cool. Store in airtight container.

Savory Spiced Nuts

2 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Dash EACH of hot pepper sauce and garlic powder

3 cups walnut or pecan halves

Heat oven to 300 degrees. In medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Stir in all ingredients except nuts, blending well. Add nuts, toss to coat. Spread evenly in ungreased 15x10x1-inch baking pan, bake 30-35 minutes until crisp and toasted, stirring occasionally. Cool completely, store in airtight container.

Next week: A most unusual Christmas tree!

Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at bcdailybee@bonnercountydailybee.com. or by phone at 208-265-4688 between the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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