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Celebrity Chef Alex Guarnaschelli's Secret Holiday Cooking Weapons (Plus a Very Useful Tip!)

If you're going to take holiday cooking tips from anyone, take them from her! (Photo courtesy Fisher Nuts)

Already thinking about your holiday dinner parties, at least the menu part? Here's a fun idea–use nuts for a healthy, tasty twist. That's what Alex Guaranschelli, Food Network host of Alex's Day Off and executive chef of Butter and The Darby in NYC suggests. She's teaming up with Fisher Nuts to show how nuts can add that little something you've been missing to your holiday recipes this year. "I hate when people say nuts have so many calories," she says during a meeting in her super trendy restaurant Butter. "They give you the sensation of being full, and that's what is important. I eat a handful and feel satisfied. With other foods I could eat 1,000 calories worth and still feel hungry." To figure out which nuts work best with certain dishes, follow Guaranschelli's guidelines:

  • Try pecans with veggies that are meaty in texture, like beets, mushrooms, fennel or  sautéed onions.
  • For walnuts, go with one of two extremes. Use them with light and lean veggies (like the asparagus recipe below) or with a super heavy dish, like steak with lemon.
  • If you're choosing almonds, use them on berries or keep the skin on them and add them to your mashed potatoes (they'll mimic the skin on potatoes!).

And a word to the wise for all party planners: "Write out your holiday menu and then cross half of it off," Guaranschelli says. "Wasn't it Coco Chanel who told us to look in the mirror and remove one thing before going out? The same goes with cooking. Give yourself a break and add more later if you need to. Also, pick one thing to make from scratch and be proud of. Cooking should be about enjoying the process, and you can't do that if you are overworked. It's perfectly fine to buy something store bought every once in awhile!"

Read on for two holiday recipes to try.

Perfect for an appetizer or side dish, your choice! (Photo courtesy of Fischer Nuts) Perfect for an appetizer or side dish, your choice! (Photo courtesy of Fisher Nuts)

Asparagus with Walnuts

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Fischer Walnut Halves lightly chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • The juice from 1-2 lemons
  • 1 pound fairly thin "pencil" asparagus, ends trimmed and discarded, cut into 2 inch pieces

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.
  2. Heat a medium skillet and add the oil. When it gets hot (but not too hot), add the walnuts and season with salt. They should bubble and fry slightly in the oil. When you can smell the walnuts, add the paprika and cayenne and lower the heat. Cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly, and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Fill a large bowl halfway with ice cubes and add some cold water. Place a colander squarely inside the ice bath. The colander will keep you from having to pick the asparagus out from amongst the ice cubes in the ice bath. Add salt until the boiling water tastes like seawater. Add the asparagus and cook for 1 - 1 1/2 minutes. You want them to be crunchy. If the asparagus are larger, cook for 1 1/2 - 2 minutes.
  4. With a slotted spoon, remove the asparagus from the water and transfer them to the colander inside the ice bath. Move them around gently so the ice water penetrates the asparagus and accelerates the cooling process. Vegetables take longer than you think to cool so allow them to sit a few minutes in the ice water. Hold a piece of the asparagus in your hand for a few seconds to assure that it’s really cool (even in the center). If the piece still feels warm, allow them to cool longer in the ice bath. Place them on a kitchen towel to drain any excess moisture.
  5. Toss the asparagus in the bowl with the walnuts and the oil. Let this mixture sit in the refrigerator for a few hours or a few minutes. When ready to serve, stir in the juice from 1 lemon. Add more lemon, if desired. Serve immediately.

Nutrition info per serving (1/2 cup): 130 calories, 11g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 100mg sodium, 5g carbs, 2g dietary fiber, 3g protein

Gluten-free foodies will love this dessert, the crust has no flour. (Photo courtesy Fischer Nuts) Gluten-free foodies will love this dessert, the crust has no flour. (Photo courtesy Fisher Nuts)

Pear Crisp with Almonds

Ingredients

The pear filling

  • About 3 pounds Bosc or Anjou pears
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • The juice from 2 and the zest from 1 lemon

The topping

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground, dried ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) lightly salted butter, cut into cubes plus 1 tablespoon for greasing the baking dish
  • 1 cup Fisher Slivered Almonds, chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Place the pears on a flat surface. Peel and core them. Cut them each in half and then into thin slices. Put them in a bowl and toss them with the brown sugar, lemon juice and zest. Toss to blend.
  3. In another bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Add the butter and almonds to the bowl and break it up with your fingers integrating the dry ingredients with the butter and nuts.
  4. Grease the bottom and sides of a shallow square baking dish (8 square inches) with the remaining tablespoon of butter. Layer the pears in the dish and top evenly with the nut topping. Place the dish in the center of the oven and bake until the pears are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. The topping should be golden brown as well, about 40-45 minutes. Set aside to cool a few minutes before serving. Top with additional lemon zest.

Nutrition info per serving (1/2 cup): 400 calories, 19g total fat, 35mg cholesterol, 340mg sodium, 52g carbs, 6g dietary fiber, 4g protein

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