(BPT) - Whether you're roasting them over an open fire or cooking them into your holiday favorites, nuts can be used to enhance almost any recipe. You'd be hard-pressed to find an ingredient with more versatility, as nuts can be used to create a flavor accent or to provide some extra crunch and texture while keeping dishes fresh and light. Whether you're using almonds, pecans or roasted peanuts, the possibilities are limitless.
For celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli, regular judge on Food Network's Chopped and executive chef at The Darby and Butter in New York, the holiday entertaining season provides a great opportunity to share some of her favorite recipes.
'I'm a chef, but I'm also a mom and I want time to spend with my family during the holidays,' says Guarnaschelli. 'Nuts are one of those special ingredients that give a dish an extra special touch, but still allow me to keep it simple.'
This holiday season Guarnaschelli has developed a series of exclusive recipes and tips to show at-home cooks how ingredients like nuts can easily create a chef-caliber dish.
* Healthy holiday snack: Nuts add wonderful flavor and texture when mixed into recipes, but they can also be a healthy snack-season nuts with a little cayenne and quickly roast them in a little olive or nut oil. Try using the Fisher Nuts Freshness Seal Bag - it has a re-sealable closure that will keep the leftover nuts fresh after the package is opened.
* Simply delicious dessert: For a great addition to your holiday dessert table, melt some sugar in a pan until golden brown and stir in some nuts. Transfer the mixture to a baking sheet to cook and then break into pieces for a quick and simple nut brittle.
* Top off a side dish: Parsley and basil are great flavors to finish many holiday dishes. Try chopping parsley with some Fisher almonds for added texture and taste.
* Spruced-up spice rub: For this year's holiday roast, try adding some ground nuts to the spice rub. The nuts can mellow some of the heat from the spice and add needed richness to the mix.
Braised Parsnips with Maple Syrup and Fisher Pecans
'I grew up eating braised carrots with brown sugar, so I always associate them with the holidays,' says Guarnaschelli. 'I love the freshness and unusual sweetness parsnips have and they seem to naturally gravitate to pecans. It's also great to feature pecans in other places besides pecan pie for the holidays.'
8 medium parsnips, ends trimmed and thoroughly peeled
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1/2 cup Fisher Pecan Halves
1/2 cup maple syrup
2-3 cups water
Place the peeled parsnips on a flat surface and cut them in half lengthwise. Heat a skillet large enough to hold the parsnip halves in a single layer and add half the butter. When the butter melts and starts to get brown, add the pecans, cumin and coriander. Stir in the pecans and 'toast' them with the spices for a minute. Strain out the pecans and set aside. Add the parsnip halves and remaining butter to the pan. Season with salt and add the maple syrup.
Continue to cook the parsnips over medium heat for another minute of two. Add some water and continue cooking the parsnips until they are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Parsnips can vary in size so feel free to add a splash of water to finish the cooking process, if needed. Stir the nuts back into the parsnips. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.
For more of Alex's tips on cooking with nuts and special recipes for the holiday season, visit Fishernuts.com/alex.