Roasted Cantaloupe Seeds and Spiced Nuts

It has been nearly two years since I mercilessly mocked Fred for thinking that you could roast cantaloupe seeds and was humbled to discover that indeed you could. Now Fred’s quiet triumph is fully complete: I’ve made them, and they’re good.

It started with an impromptu evening with friends last month. Deciding at work to have guests for cocktails and snacks, and having no time to go to the store, I reviewed the pitiful contents of our cupboard as soon as I got home.

There were truffles left over from Christmas, a bit of cheese, and pretzels. There were also several items inexplicably stored in the freezer, perhaps in the faint hope of miraculously improving their quality: rum cake whose unthawed state was distinguishable from its frozen one only by its warmth; Amish Friendship Bread that I’d tried to turn into a cake, which when originally served had most closely resembled two large, round, stale Twinkies encased in chocolate frosting; and homemade wheat bread that had the taste and texture of sawdust suspended in a loaf of Wonder.

In the bottom drawer, however, underneath the vodka bottle and a roast, I hit pay dirt: pecans. It was time for Susan Koenig’s Spiced Nuts.

I’ve lost touch with Susan, but she was a fellow graduate student in the University of Madison English department with me in the 1990s. These nuts were a party staple and a great version of the concept–spicy with just hint of sweet. Here’s the recipe.

Susan Koenig’s Spiced Nuts

2 1/2 c. nuts of your choice (Susan ususally mixes pecans, almonds, and cashews)
2 tbsp. vegetable oil (Susan recommends peanut, but I’ve used just about everything)
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 300. Place nuts in a bowl. Pour oil into small heavy saucepan and place over medium-low heat until warm. Add cumin and cayenne and stir until mixture is aromatic, about 15 seconds. Pour flavored oil over nuts. Add sugar and salt to coat evenly. Transfer to baking pan and spread out. Bake, stirring occasionally, until nuts are toasted, about 20 minutes. Store in airtight container for up to two weeks. Rewarm before on baking sheet in 300 degree oven for about 5 minutes.

As our friends sat around our living room that evening, devouring this wonderful snack, I went into the kitchen to get beverage reinforcements. And I noticed the cantaloupe from our CSA, Britt Farms, sitting plumply on the counter. And a light bulb came on.

I’d been dumping the seeds from our farm cantaloupe into the trash. Suddenly, though, with the taste of those spiced nuts rolling around on my palate, it occured to me that Susan’s spice combination would be perfect on those seeds.

Then came the sickening, slowly dawning horror that this could be a case where Fred was right.

I roasted the seeds anyway. I even let Fred eat them.

Spicy Roasted Cantaloupe Seeds

Seeds from 2 cantaloupes, rinsed and drained (no need to remove all the pulp; it roasts nicely. Seeds can be stored in refrigerator for a week or so, until you have collected enough to use.)
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350. Place seeds in a bowl. Pour oil into small heavy saucepan and place over medium-low heat until warm. Add cumin and cayenne and stir until mixture is aromatic, about 15 seconds. Pour flavored oil over seeds. Add sugar and salt to coat. Transfer to baking pan and spread out. Bake, stirring occasionally, until seeds are toasted, about 20 minutes. Can be served warm or at room temperature.

Still No Calabasa Soup

The Great Calabasa Quest remains unfinished. Last night poor Fred agreed not to go to a movie, even though he really wanted to, because I said I wanted to stay home and cook. Here’s a chronicle of the evening’s events:

5:00 Chicken put in to roast

5:00 – 6:00 Chicken roasts. Cook plays around on the internet. Cook periodically gets up to turn/poke at chicken. Cook has a glass of wine. (Las Rocas Garnacha, which we LOVE.)

6:15 Chicken done. One breast given to neighbor for washing our car. Cook and Fred hover over chicken, peeling off brown, crispy, delicious skin and eating it, along with the wings and tasty bits from the thighs. Cook and Fred are no longer really very hungry.

6:15 – 7:30 Cook balances checkbook while having one more, much-needed glass of wine. Cook discovers she and new spouse cannot eat out again for the rest of the month if all bills are to be paid.

7:30 Cook gets up to make a weird combination of cumin, anchiote chili powder, Hungarian paprika, pepper, salt, cayenne pepper, onion powder (bought specifically for this experiment), garlic powder (again, bought for experiment), and sugar. Cook is trying to replicate powder that goes on barbecued potato chips. It is a shameful fact that the Cook loves sauces and spices and has been known to eat them ALL BY THEMSELVES, something about which she is so embarrassed that she cannot even write about it in the first person. Cook’s idea was to use it for dipping celery in, as Cook is beginning to plump out and has to be careful about snacks.

8ish Cook and Fred sit down to watch Good Night and Good Luck. Poor Fred is actually still hungry, has given up his plan for a movie and nevertheless still has no calabasa soup. He gets more roast chicken and some cheese while Cook munches on celery and spice dip, occasionally eating the spice dip all by itself.

9ish Movie stopped so Cook can get up and put chicken carcass in a pot with water to make stock. At some point tops of celery stalks are also thrown in.

10ish Movie finishes. Somehow it still ends up being 1:00 a.m. by the time Cook and Fred actually go to sleep but all they seem to accomplish is watching two more episodes of Bob Newhart. And straining the chicken stock. And the Cook eats the liver and neck without even sharing it with the sweet, kind husband who gave up a movie for all this.

So this is how our life really goes. Do professional chefs do these kinds of things, or do they just not tell their bad habits to the world?

I came across Michael Ruhlman’s blog today, where Anthony Bourdaine talks about the horrors of various celebrity chefs on the Food Network. Not having cable, I can’t really comment, but the blog was hilarious. Nevertheless, Bourdaine’s lambasting of Sandra Lee and her love of canned food leads me here (while the subject of bad eating habits is still fresh in my mind) to make a few confessions:

  1. I actually like some casseroles that contain cream of mushroom soup and sour cream mixed together, topped with Ritz crackers and butter. There. That feels better. On a side note, I once served such a dish to several foodie friends to settle an argument about whether or not something like that was actually edible, and they had to confess it was pretty good. One did so while scooping leftover sauce out of the casserole dish.
  2. Other things I like (child of the 70s, that’s all I can say): Hamburger Helper Lasagna. Spaghetti-Os. Macaroni and cheese made from a box. Campbell’s Tomato Soup. Spaghetti made from Campbell’s Tomato Soup and Cream of Mushroom. Pies made with evaporated milk and canned cherries on top. Krystal hamburgers.

In confessing these sins, I’m probably forfeiting whatever miniscule chance I might ever have had to gain the respect of someone like Anthony Bourdain or Marc Ruhlman. (Maybe I could regain that by learning exactly how to spell their names.) Not that an East Tennessee trained home cook is likely to have that happen to begin with–but maybe I can improve things by noting that I can make home-churned butter and grew up drinking raw cow’s milk.

There will be no cooking tonight, as we are going to see Babel, as I promised WFW. Most likely dinner will consist of movie popcorn.