I think my sister-in-law hates me.
Leah is a perfectly nice woman. She makes my brother happy.
The problem originates with her father. Her parents live in Camden County on a farm and have a small grove of pecan trees.
And there grows the source of my strife.
Every so often after having visited, Leah will bring back bags and bags of big, fat, shelled pecans. They put the store-bought version to complete and utter shame.
So, what’s the problem, you may ask?
The problem is on occasion, the booty will include a bag of pecans which have been salted and toasted in butter.
And any so called self-control that I may tenuously possess goes right out of the window. Soon I find myself diving into that delicious, delicious bag in a downward shame spiral that only concludes when I find myself with buttery hands and face, gazing guiltily into the now empty bag.
The girl (me) can’t help it.
Peanuts can be bitter and in quantity makes me a little queasy. Macadamia nuts are really greasy and waxy feeling and are horrifically expensive to boot. Cashews taste good, but the flavor is kind of one note. Almonds are OK, but to me they don’t play well with others. Pistachios are awesome, but go much better in baked goods and ice cream.
But pecans have many different layers of flavor. When sautéed in some butter with a little salt, they obtain a whole new profile. They enhance every dish to which they are added.
In salads I use them in place of bacon. Pecans are a healthy, flavorful textural addition to rice. Ground up you can use them as a coating for chicken and chops. Ground even finer they add a rich, slightly sweet note to pastry and pie crust.
For Christmas I made pecan sandies for my dad. But another cookie I made for him a while back was an even bigger hit. In addition to the pecans, there’s chewy, tart dried cherries, and chocolate.
And if Leah wants to hate me some more with a couple pounds of buttered, salted pecans — I’m in.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes, and cooks in Durham. Contact her at email@example.com.
Chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies with pecans and cherries
Recipe courtesy America’s Test Kitchen
Makes sixteen 4-inch cookies
1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon table salt
1 ¼ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1 cup dried cherries, chopped coarsely
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped into chunks about size of chocolate chips (about 3/4 cup)
12 tablespoons butter, softened but still cool
1 ½ cups packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. In second medium bowl, stir together oats, pecans, cherries, and chocolate.
3. In mixer, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until no sugar lumps remain. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula; add egg and vanilla and beat on medium-low speed until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl; with mixer running at low speed, add flour mixture; mix until just combined, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on low, gradually add oat/nut mixture; mix until just incorporated. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed.
4. Divide dough evenly into 16 portions, each about 1/4 cup, then roll between palms into balls about 2 inches in diameter; stagger 8 balls on each baking sheet, spacing them about 2 1/2 inches apart. Using hands, gently press each dough ball to 1 inch thickness. Bake both baking sheets 12 minutes, rotate them front to back and top to bottom, then continue to bake until cookies are medium brown and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will seem underdone and will appear raw, wet, and shiny in cracks), 8 to 10 minutes longer. Do not overbake.
5. Cool cookies on baking sheets on wire rack 5 minutes; using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.