Tuesday, April 29, 2014

In the kitchen with pecans: Let's go nuts!

 My grandma is not a cookie grandma. You know, the lovely matriarch who spoils the younger brood with homemade treats chock full of sugar, love and more sugar.

The dishes I remember her making, the ones that made her "famous," are of the heartier variety - pot roast in the pressure cooker, ham and bean soup and vegetable soup. She also had the perfect technique for frying canned potatoes, which went perfectly with cottage ham.

Nowadays, she's (well deservedly) more apt to reheat leftovers from a restaurant or cook up an egg. But, there's still something that she makes - and is expected to. Pecan pie.

Crunchy, caramely pecan pie.

Grandma's pecan pies were a staple at every family holiday, and they were even more popular than the pumpkin at Thanksgiving. For the better part of my life, I believed that the only place for pecans was in a pie shell.

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But I was wrong.

Pecans, which contain the natural antioxidant vitamin E, can go from sweet to savory in recipes such as Sugar Spiced Pecans to Pecan Pesto Pizza to Broccoli Gratin with Horseradish and Georgia Pecans.

For the past month (April is National Pecan Month, after all), I've been a nut job of sorts, trying out as many culinary applications of the nut as I could. I made Banana-Pecan Sourdough Pancakes and broccoli salad (a recent obsession), replacing the sunflower seeds with pecans - so much better. I've also topped salads with pecan pieces for a great crunch and mixed it in with my homemade yogurt. Each time I did, I was adding a dose of heart healthy fats and more than 19 vitamins and minerals.

Oddly enough, the one thing that I didn't make with pecans was pie.

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But I did make something sweet - a fruit and nut bite that combines the sweetness of dates and Turkish apricots with the rich, sweet taste of pecans. Chia seeds add omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and fiber, and a touch of sea salt gives balance.

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Nutty Fruit Bites

8 ounces pitted dates
8 ounces dried apricots
1/2 cup shelled pecan pieces
1 tablespoon natural nut butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons chia seeds

In a food processor, pulse dates and apricots until they start to appear crumbly. Add pecans, nut butter, cinnamon and sea salt to the bowl of the food processor. Grind until the fixture is a fine crumble. Add chia seeds and pulse just until combined. Dump mixture into a 9-by-13 baking sheet and press firmly with the hands. Refrigerate for several hours, or overnight. Cut into 2-inch squares.

Note: The mixture can be formed into balls, as well. It is crumbly but firms up as chilled. If you want more of a binder, add some vanilla protein powder or pulse some quick cook oats when you add the chia seeds.

Disclosure: April is National Pecan Month, and I was provided a sample of pecans by the National Pecan Shellers Association free of charge. I was not compensated for this post.


  1. Yum. I love pecans. Is it wrong I've never had a piece of pecan pie?

  2. My dad would have loved this recipe. I, however, am the allergy queen, and would probably have an asthma attack if looked at the picture too long.

  3. Those look pretty great. We've done a similar thing with dates, dried cherries, almonds, and cooked rice... but might have to try your recipe. It's a great kid snack when traveling!