Guys, I think need a vacation.
People give me a weird look when I say this. Because I just started a new job. And just moved to a new city. And spent the entire month of May doing nothing but baking. Do I really need a vacation?
Hm, let me think… yes.
Although I love my new job and love being back in Portland, I feel really weighed down by routine. Everyday is the same — wake up, go to work, go to the gym, come home. Even the days that are different — the days where I’ll go out to dinner or go out with friends — ultimately end up the same since we tend to frequent the same bars and restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, I love the places I go to — ultimately, I’m a creature of habit at the end of the day — but I do need something big to break up the monotony every once in a while.
I’ve been daydreaming about New York City recently. I’m kind of due for a visit. For the last few years, I’ve taken an annual trip to the city. I’ve needed to go for various reasons — to visit friends, job interviews, and the fact that my boyfriend’s parents live there.
But the first time this tradition started was actually back in college. My mom and I decided to have a mother-daughter bonding trip to the big city. That was the first time I’d ever been. We did a bunch of touristy stuff — took the boat out to the Statue of Liberty, climbed to the top of the Chrysler building, saw some cheesy musical in Times Square, visited the Met — but what stuck with me and my mom wasn’t some monument or tourist attraction.
It was candied peanuts from a street food vendor:
Candied peanut vendors are ubiquitous in the city. Similar to dirty water dogs, candied peanut vendors are armed with nothing but a portable cart with a wok used for caramelizing peanuts. They sell the candied peanuts in little bags that cost around $1 or so. They’re best when fresh — warm, sweet, crunchy, and comforting.
My mom and I are big eaters. We are Filipino, after all. We need about 6 meals a day to keep us going. And as we walked from site to site, traversing the streets of New York, we got pretty hungry pretty fast. It was these peanuts that kept us going. Every time we would see one at a street corner, we would literally give a whoop, rush over, and buy one. Or two. I think we averaged three packets of candied peanuts a day.
It only occurred to me now to try making this at home:
I was stunned by how easy it was. In fact, I’d say that I even produced candied peanuts that were even better than the ones my mom and I ate in New York. My secret? I bought some raw, unsalted mixed nuts from Whole Foods’s bulk section — so my candied peanut batch was actually comprised of a mixture of candied walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews, and Brazil nuts. Every bite had a different flavor.
So, there you go. All you need is some nuts, sugar, and water, and you have the taste of New York at home. The recipe makes nuts that are best eaten fresh, so you can really taste the toasted, smokey flavor from the caramelizing process. But they also keep well in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
But I doubt they’ll be around that long.
New York Style Candied Peanuts
(Makes about 2 1/2 cups)
- 2 cups raw nuts, any kind you like (I recommend getting a mix, but almonds or cashews particularly stood out too)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- a pinch of kosher salt (or any kind of flaky salt)
- In a wide, heavy-bottomed pan (I used a wok), mix the peanuts with the sugar and water. Cook the ingredients over moderate-high heat, bringing the water to a gentle bubbling but stirring frequently with a rubber spatula:
- The liquid should start to dissolve in around 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how hot your stovetop is.
- Once the majority of the liquid has dissolved, the peanuts will get crusty and sugar will begin to crystalize on the peanuts.
- The peanuts should start to turn dry and sandy at this point.
- Lower the heat just a teeny bit (I made the mistake of lowering my heat too much) to make sure that sugar on the peanuts doesn’t burn and continue to toast the peanuts, scraping up any caramel-colored syrup collecting in the bottom of the pan and coating the peanuts in the syrup as much as possible. The goal here is to eventually get the nuts to turn into a lovely, golden-bronze color:
- Sugar turns to burn easily, so make sure you regulate the heat constantly to prevent the peanuts and sugar from burning. Some tricks are to remove the pan from heat from time to time, as well as tilting the pan constantly to get the syrup to mix in with the nuts easily and prevent it from puddling at the bottom. If the mixture starts to smoke, remove it from heat and stir.
- Right before the peanuts are caramelized and toasted to your liking, sprinkle with a sizable pinch of kosher salt). Stir a couple times to incorporate the salt, before turning the peanuts out to a baking sheet on a cooling rack. Let the peanuts cool completely, then break up any clumps. Best when served immediately.