UNION SQUARE CAFE'S BAR NUTS

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Today I am giving you quite possibly the easiest recipe that you can find on The Vivid Kitchen thus far. We’re taking a break from desserts and baked goods this week in lieu of making something that will work perfectly for your Super Bowl viewing party. I’m talking about bar nuts, and not just any bar nuts but Union Square Cafe’s version of the seriously addicting snack. For those who don’t know, Union Square Cafe is a famous restaurant in NYC and comes from the mastermind restaurateur, Danny Meyer. He later went on to open other highly accoladed spots like Gramercy Tavern and Eleven Madison Park, the latter being a Michelin-starred restaurant. Although Union Square Cafe is a high-end restaurant with a sophisticated menu, their bar nuts are almost as famous as the restaurant itself. A quick google search will show that I am far from the first person to share this recipe, but I’ve found that still, a good amount of people in my circle had never heard of or tried these I introduced them. So, I want to spread the bar nuts love a little further today!

I’ve made these bar nuts at least 15-20 times since I discovered the recipe in my coveted Genius Recipes cookbook from Food52, about 4 years ago. Every time I go to a Cinespia screening at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery where we picnic before viewing a film, it’s a no-brainer among my friends that I will be bringing a batch of the nuts. At my sister’s wedding, I made a HUGE batch of these, enough for 115 people, but with only almonds because we just so happened to find pounds of them in my mom’s freezer. Each table at the wedding had a cheese platter filled with crackers, fruit, and the seasoned almonds (my mom, aunt, and I made each platter mere hours before the ceremony) and it was the perfect appetizer.

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The only problem with these bar nuts is that once you start eating them, you honestly can’t stop. I have no problem stopping myself from eating an entire can of Pringles, and I know I can only eat one single Lay’s potato chip, but with Union Square Cafe’s nuts, there’s no stopping. In fact, I never make them just for Alex and I to have at home because we both will eat nothing else until they’re all gone. And on Thanksgiving, I’m not allowed to make them because putting them out before dinner would ruin everyone’s appetite. Have I given enough proof that these nuts are amazing and that you need to make them?

As for what nuts to use, the choice is yours. You may include pecans, walnuts, Brazil nuts, peanuts, almonds, cashews or hazelnuts. These are all the nuts that are found in Union Square Cafe’s blend. But could you add pistachios or macadamia nuts? Of course you can! You also get to decide how much of each nut you want in your batch: you can have more almonds and less cashews, you can use only pecans, or you can use every single nut I listed above. Just as long as you use 800 grams (1 3/4 lbs. or 28 oz.) worth of nuts, you’re good to go. I find that the easiest way to measure out the nuts is by using a kitchen scale, especially if you’re using an array of nuts.

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It’s important that I note that you need to buy raw and unsalted nuts! We need to toast them ourselves so that the seasoning “paste” we make - consisting of melted butter, brown sugar, chopped fresh rosemary, cayenne pepper, and salt - will adhere to the warm nuts. I made two tiny changes to the seasoning paste which is that I use a bit more butter than what is called for (about 2 tbsp. instead of 1) and I finely chop the fresh rosemary. Over the years, I’ve found that these two modifications make for not only a tastier batch, but allows for the nuts to receive a generous coating of seasoning deliciousness. So that’s why in the recipe below, I have written 1-2 tbsp. of melted butter. I suggest starting with 1 tbsp. and see if it works for you, and if not, remember to add an extra half tablespoon or so the next time you make them! Because there will definitely be a next time.

Make these for your Super Bowl party please! Or any party or get together for that matter. I promise that these nuts will get more compliments than your main dish that took hours to prepare.

P.S. Have leftover fresh rosemary and not sure what to do with it? Make my lemon and rosemary madeleines!

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Union Square Cafe’s Bar Nuts

Makes about 5 cups

Recipe from Union Square Cafe via Genius Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 lb. (800g, 28oz.) raw and unsalted assorted nuts (peanuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts)

  • 1-2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted (see note above)

  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary

  • 2 tsp. dark brown sugar, packed

  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

  • 2 tsp. kosher salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Evenly spread the nuts on a large baking sheet (if all nuts do not fit on one sheet, divide between two and toast at the same time). Toast the nuts for 10 minutes, or until lightly golden brown and fragrant.

  2. Meanwhile, prepare the seasoning. In a large bowl (large enough to fit the nuts), combine the melted butter, fresh rosemary, brown sugar, cayenne pepper and salt. When the nuts are finished, immediately transfer to the bowl with the seasoning and thoroughly mix to coat. Add more salt or cayenne if needed. Enjoy warm, but I think they’re best at room temperature when the coating has settled.

RESTAURANT STYLE SALSA + HOMEMADE TORTILLA CHIPS

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It's been a long and hard week... our family dog, Luka, sadly passed away last Saturday night. I know everyone has their own daily struggles and hardships, and they probably don't want to come to a food blog to read about someone else's problems BUT, I couldn't not say anything about our sweet boy.

We rescued Luka about 12 years ago, and he was actually the first dog that my family ever owned. Before Luka, all my family ever cared about was cats... at any given time from the day I was born, we consistently owned at least two kitties. But around the time I was a sophomore in high school, my mom decided that it was time to get our first dog, and we ended up finding Luka at an animal shelter in Mission Viejo. He was about 6 years old when we brought him home, so he lived a VERY long and nice life. My mom spoiled him like crazy, but we all gave him so much love, happiness, and whipped cream (his favorite treat). And in return, he gave us love, happiness, and a lot of shedded hair. We will miss that handsome pup so much, but I know that every day he spent with us was his happiest day. PLEASE consider adopting your next pet... there are so many animals in shelters that need a loving home.  

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Ok, enough sad talk! Let's move on to today's recipes. 

I don't know about you guys, but I could probably eat tortilla chips and salsa every single day of my life. There actually have been many nights where I was too lazy to cook myself a proper meal, and happily plopped down on the couch with a fresh bag of chips and a big bowl of salsa and/or guacamole. When I'm at home and using store-bought salsa, I'm not too picky about what kinds of salsas I like; I enjoy salsa verde, pico de gallo, etc. etc. But when I go out to eat at Mexican restaurants, I judge each place based on how good their house salsa is; salsa is a very important aspect of Mexican dining.

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Luckily, living in Southern California, I haven't run into the problem of having "bad" salsa, and I can probably name 10 places off the top of my head that crush the salsa game. My all-time favorite house salsas come from two Mexican restaurants here in Orange County: 1) Coyote Grill in Laguna Beach and 2) El Ranchito, which has multiple locations, but my favorite one is located in Orange. The salsas from these two restaurants are amazing to me in their own ways, with Coyote Grill's having an extra kick of black pepper and El Ranchito's having chunks of green onion in almost every bite.

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So, when my sister shared with me a simple, yet perfect salsa recipe that she created by using her new Vitamix, I decided to take that recipe and add my favorite salsa elements to it. The end result came out being insanely delicious! This salsa is definitely restaurant-worthy, if not on the same level: very fresh, a bit of heat, and undoubtedly addicting. I'm seriously surprised that I had leftover salsa to take pictures of for the blog because I couldn't stop eating it. I used my food processor for this recipe because I personally think it yields the best consistency, and makes it much easier than chopping up each ingredient. Don't have a food processor? Just stick to a blender, and I think the results will be similar.

And of course, what goes perfectly with fresh salsa? Warm, straight from the fryer, corn tortilla chips. Everyone should at least give homemade tortilla chips a try because I honestly think making that extra effort really pays off in the end. My only suggestion for making the chips is that having a kitchen thermometer is pretty vital to the process... the oil needs to be at 350 degrees F in order to fry the chips.

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Homemade Tortilla Chips

Ingredients

  • 15-20 corn tortillas, cut into quarters (60-80 chips)
  • Vegetable or peanut oil, for frying
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat up 2-3 inches of oil - enough to cover the chips - over medium heat.
  2. When the temperature of the oil reaches 35o degrees F (a kitchen thermometer will come in handy here), begin adding about 10 tortilla quarters at a time to the pot. Using a slotted spoon or an Asian strainer, move the tortilla pieces around to prevent sticking and to let them evenly cook. After about two minutes, the tortillas will begin to change to a golden brown color and the oil will settle down - this is when the chips are done. 
  3. Transfer the chips to a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet, and immediately sprinkle generously with salt. Continue working in batches until all tortilla pieces are cooked. Enjoy the chips with my salsa recipe below! 

Restaurant Style Salsa

Makes about 3-4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 1-2 serrano or jalapeño peppers, seeds and membrane removed
  • 8 Roma tomatoes, seeds removed
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
  • 3-4 green onions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced

Directions

  1. Add the cilantro, garlic, and peppers to the food processor fitted with the "S" blade and pulse until finely chopped.
  2. Next, add the tomatoes, lime juice, salt, and pepper and blend until no chunks of tomato remains - about 20 seconds.
  3. Transfer the salsa to a bowl and stir in the green onions. Add more salt and black pepper if needed. 

 

RIP sweet Luka

RIP sweet Luka

TRADITIONAL GUACAMOLE

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If I had to describe my perfect date night to you it would start with dinner at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, followed by either dancing or going to the movies (this all would depend on how much food I ate at dinner). I would also probably throw in Haribo gummy bears somewhere in that equation. 

So when the often dreaded question of "What should we have for dinner?" is asked, my answer almost always is naming off five different Mexican restaurants in the area. To me, nothing is more fun than having a round of margaritas and eating one too many chips, all before your plate of carnitas comes to the table.

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Despite all of this, my history with avocados and guacamole has been somewhat of a rollercoaster. When I was little, I was a very picky eater to the point that I'm pretty sure I existed only on chicken tenders and fries for dinner. Even when my family would go out to eat at restaurants, I would still order that exact meal. So when I first tried guacamole at about the age of 10, I was pretty hesitant of the green stuff but it soon grew on me and I eventually became obsessed with it. This obsession was short-lived when my family was all together during the holidays and we had a giant Mexican meal at home. Lil Shawna kind of went ham with the chips and guacamole, and one thing led to the other; before I knew it, I couldn't even look at an avocado without feeling sick.

This food aversion of mine with avocados/guacamole lasted until after I graduated college, so about 12 years! Guacamole came back into my life thanks to Trader Joe's and their free samples where I was able to try their "Guilt-Free" guacamole made with greek yogurt. I guess that version was less in your face with the guacamole flavor and before I knew it I was back to loving guacamole again and adding avocado to everything. Thank you Trader Joe's!

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This recipe for guacamole from Roberto Santibañez is, in my opinion, perfect. It is very straight forward with only 6 ingredients, but recommends using a molcajete (a mortar and pestle). I got mine for a great price at either TJ Maxx or Marshalls (they're pretty much interchangeable to me and I love them both), and I still always see some for sale every time I visit. The molcajete is key to making the "paste" of cilantro, chile, onion, and salt that is added to the avocados, but if you don't want to add yet another tool to your kitchen, you can definitely create the paste with a knife or fork.

Alex and I have made this countless times and even though people are usually hesitant to try our version because they're used to a different guacamole - one with garlic, red onions, and/or tomatoes - 100% of the time we end up being asked for the recipe: it really is that good. Try it and let me know what you think!

Traditional Guacamole

Recipe from Roberto Santibañez

Makes about 3 cups (we always make this portion but it can easily be halved)

Ingredients

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  • 4 tbsp. finely chopped white onion
  • 2 tbsp. minced serrano or jalapeño pepper, seeds included (more or less depending on what you can handle; Alex and I prefer serrano peppers)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt (this may seem like a little, but I'd rather everyone start with less and then season to their liking at the end)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, divided
  • 2 large or 4 small ripe avocados, halved and pitted
  • A squeeze of lime

Directions

  1. In your molcajete, mash together the onion, serrano or jalapeño pepper, salt, and half of the cilantro until it is a paste. If you don't have a molcajete, mash the ingredients together as well as you can on a cutting board with a knife or fork.
  2. With the skin still on, score the avocados in a crosshatch pattern with a knife, being careful not to cut through the skin, and scoop out into a bowl. Add the paste to the bowl and toss together well, and then add the rest of the chopped cilantro and mix with a fork. 
  3. Add a good a squeeze of lime. Taste the guacamole and season to your liking - you may need more salt or more pepper. Enjoy! My favorite way is to eat it with tortilla chips, preferably Have'A Corn Chips.