This is when I turn to food gifts, and my absolute favorite treat to make and give are spiced pecans. Everyone always raves about them, and I've given out the recipe at least a hundred times. They aren't a dessert, so you don't have to worry about the guilt associated with cookies or fudge, and they will keep for a while in a sealed container (though not in my house, as Will wrecks havoc on the spiced pecan stash). They are good to eat by themselves, and I always have a bowl of them at any party I throw. One of my favorite salads is spinach with apples or pears, thinly sliced red onions, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette topped with spiced pecans.
Ely's school has their Winter fundraiser on Saturday and we are having our business's 3rd anniversary party that evening. This morning I made 6 lbs (24 cups) of spiced pecans for the two events, and it only took me 45 minutes. For the baked goods area or for friends, I package one cup amounts in labeled cellophane bags tied with ribbon.
If you buy big bags of pecans (like at Costco) or nuts in bulk, you can easily double or quadruple the recipe below. I've found that 8 cups of nuts (a 2 lb bag) will fit on one half sheet pan.
Adapted from Southern Table by Frank Stitt; makes 4 cups
-4 c. pecan halves
-1.5 tsp kosher salt
-pinch of freshly ground pepper
-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
-1 Tbsp dark brown sugar (if you only have light like I seem to, add a tiny bit of molasses)
-1 Tbsp freshly chopped rosemary leaves (do not substitute dried or leave out)
-1 Tbsp melted butter (if you need these to be vegan, you can just add extra olive oil)
-2 Tbsp olive oil
Preheat oven to 350. Place pecans on a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl. When pecans are done, add to bowl and toss together until thoroughly coated. Return pecans to baking sheet and bake for 2-3 more minutes until toasted and fragrant. Watch carefully, because the pecans can burn in a matter of seconds.