Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

IMG_1627Back in October, I was lucky enough to be a guest instructor at South End Kitchen in Burlington, VT, the joint restaurant and cooking school run by my cousin chef Sarah Langan. Recreational classes have a big focus on chocolate, as South End is run in conjunction with the Lake Champlain Chocolate company. The theme of our class was all things Mediterrean and focused on authentic ingredients like za’atar, sumac, sesame and orange blossom water with local Vermont dairy, eggs and gorgeous produce. Here’s what we made:

  • Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta
  • Shakshuka (Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce)
  • Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Pomegranate
  • Orange Blossom Yogurt with Sesame and Citrus
  • Apple Bitters and Prosecco  – we had to have a cocktail, of course!

Thank you again to the entire South End team for the opportunity! I will definitely be back to Burlington soon.

Here’s the recipe for the toast – perfect for brunch or cut into pieces as an appetizer.

Smashed Winter Squash Toast with Za’atar and Feta

Serves about 8

  • 1 small winter squash, such as kabocha or delicata, cut into 1” pieces*
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes, plus more for topping
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 8 or more thick slices country or sourdough bread (or your favorite artisan bread)
  • 1/2 cup fresh feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon za’atar*
  • Handful chopped fresh mint

Heat oven to 425F. Toss squash with a few tablespoons of oil, a big pinch of salt, pepper and chile flakes. Spread onto a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes until soft and caramelized.

While squash is roasting, caramelize onions. Heat a few more tablespoons of oil in a medium saute pan on medium-low heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until dark and jammy, about 30 minutes. Add a splash of water to the pan if onions dry out. Add vinegar and syrup and cook about 10 more minutes.

In a large bowl, combine squash and onion mixture and smash with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. You want some texture here, not a completely smooth mixture. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Toast bread in a toaster or better yet, drizzled with a bit of oil, salt and pepper and toasted on a sheet tray @ 375F until golden brown. Spread squash mixture onto toast and sprinkle with feta, za’atar and more chile flakes. Finish with fresh mint.

*No need to peel kabocha or delicata (really). If using butternut, make sure to peel.

*Za’atar is a an ancient Mediterranean spice blend typically made with thyme or oregano, sumac, sesame seeds and sometimes cumin. Sumac is a dark red spice that has a tart lemony zing. Za’atar is delicious on grilled or roasted meats and fish, hummus and even roasted sweet potatoes. Find it online, in specialty Mediterranean shops or Whole Foods. Or, makeyour own using this recipe from 101 Cookbook 

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Toasted Hazelnut-Pear Muffins

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I’ve been posting more pastry recipes than usual here lately. No heavy hitters, like crème brûlée (you can typically find me making those at work). When I’m home, I like to bake simple. When I’m not tasked with blind-baking 8 tarts or 32 perfectly set butterscotch pots de crème, I take it easy. Granola, quick breads, healthy-ish muffins – not exactly French pastry, but in real life most people aren’t (and quite frankly, shouldn’t be) eating croissants everyday.

These hazelnut-pear muffins have been in my mental recipe file for awhile. You know when you see a recipe, and then all of a sudden, you see it everywhere? That seemed to be the case with the hazelnut/pear combination. I didn’t want a sugary cake-like muffin, rather I was going for something a bit more wholesome (does that word even exist anymore?) I eschewed my brown butter tendencies in lieu of coconut oil and a generous pour of pure maple syrup. A couple bruised red pears perked right up when folded into the dark, spiced batter. Lemon zest is the secret here. I used Meyer lemon, which has a hint of tangerine flavor, and that bit of citrus added the right amount of interest. Don’t skip the sprinkle of crunch, either. Fish around in your pantry for something, anything, crunchy. Seeds, nuts, grains, they it all add much-needed texture.

These muffins are not flaky French croissants, but they make an excellent late-night or morning snack. Perfect for fueling me through a marathon tart-making session.

Toasted Hazelnut-Pear Muffins

I love these not-too-sweet muffins with a almond-milk latte or cup of tea.

Makes 6 muffins (recipe doubles easily)

  • Nonstick baking spray
  • ¾ cup hazelnut meal*
  • ¾ cup whole-wheat pastry flour**
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch ground cardamom (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest (try Meyer lemon)
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted if solid
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons milk (any type, I used a vanilla almond milk)
  • 2 medium ripe pears, cored and diced into 1/2″ thick pieces
  • 3 tablespoons raw amaranth, millet, quinoa, ground flax, rolled oats, hazelnut meal, chia or a combination
Preheat oven to 350˚ and line muffin tin with paper liners. Spray liners with non-stick spray and set aside.
Place hazelnut meal on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in oven and toast for about 10 minutes, until lightly golden and fragrant. Let cool. Combine with flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, maple syrup, zest, coconut oil, and milk. Pour into dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Fold pears into the batter. Divide muffin batter into muffin cups. Sprinkle with crunchy topping of choice. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

*Bob’s Red Mill makes a great hazelnut meal. If you’d rather, try making your own by grinding hazelnuts in a food processor until powdery (don’t go too far or you’ll get hazelnut butter!)

**While I haven’t tested it, I expect you could swap in a gluten-free all-purpose flour here. I like Thomas Keller’s Cup4Cup.

How to Make Insta-Worthy Avocado Toast

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Last year at Eat Retreat, I found myself in a car, on my way to a vineyard, talking about toast. Yes, as in, toasted bread. The conversation turned to the popularity of cupcakes, doughnuts and most recently, the cronut. We all agreed there was room for a new trend in town. Thanks to bakeries like The Mill in SF and cafes such as Sqirl in LA, there is a legitimate artisan bread movement going on. And the best way to enjoy bread? Toasted, with lots of toppings. My pal Trisha has a lot to say about it here. Whether is marion berry jam (Portlandia, anyone?) or cultured butter and flaky sea salt, toast is getting a major upgrade. My favorite way to enjoy it? With avocado, of course. While there’s nothing wrong with smashing a ripe avocado on toast, there’s something so right about taking it to the next level.

And here we go.

Start by toasting your bread. What kind of bread? The ultimate (in my book) is thick-cut sourdough. Something with a crisp crust and chewy middle. Try and cut it yourself, if you can. I also love a super-thin Danish rye. I don’t have a toaster so I use my broiler and give the bread a flip halfway through. You want a golden, crisp edge. Give it time. While the bread toasts, ready your avocado. You want to make sure the avocado is green under it’s stem. Go ahead, give it a peak when you’re at the store. When ripe, the avo will be pretty soft, like a ripe peach. Cut it like this. Using a fork, scoop about half the avo onto the toast, using the fork tines to spread and smash. It’s all about the fork-smash. At this point, get creative. A sprinkle of flaky sea salt is a must. Give it some heat with fresh cracked pepper, Aleppo pepper, Szechuan pepper, whatever you like most. Hot sauce (I like chipotle Cholula) or sriracha is also delicious. Bonus points for out-of-the box toppings like black sesame seeds, wasabi powder, feta, smoked salmon, toasted sunflower seeds, chia, dried cranberries or hemp. A light sprinkle of soft herbs, baby arugula or micro greens ups the ante (and nutrition). A squeeze of lemon is never out of place. For the ultimate, put an egg on it. And don’t forget to take a picture. #avocadotoast

Game-changing combos:

  • Avo + dark rye + hot smoked salmon + dill + chives + lemon
  • Avo + sourdough + heirloom tomato (when in season, of course) + bacon + scallion
  • Avo + toasted pita + dukkah + feta
  • Avo + tamari rice cake + thin sliced cucumber + sriracha + Togarashi seasoning

Weekday Banana Pancakes

IMG_0885Happy New year, y’all! Excuse the Southern twang, I’ve been escaping the New York chill with a Nashville marathon. Have you seen it? I recently spent some time in Music City, before I’d seen the show. Even if you don’t love country music, there’s all kinds of great music (on the show and, I can vouch, in the real-life city).

Now that the holidays are over, it’s nice to revive some healthy habits. Breakfast is an important meal to me, mostly because it’s an acceptable meal to enjoy with coffee. Sometimes, it’s my only meal of the day sitting down, quiet.  Lunch at work is erratic – kale and quinoa one day and bits of leftover croissant the next. If I’m not working during dinnertime, I’m headed to the gym, rushing back home to make something quick. Chefs…they’re just like us!

These banana pancakes are a riff on a ‘protein pancake’ recipe floating around the Internet. They fill you up with good energy for the morning. The addition of flax, chia and protein powder is a bit utilitarian, but your toppings loosen things up. I love spreading on some almond butter, sliced banana and a sprinkle of cacao nibs. Now, bring on the coffee.

Weekday Banana Pancakes

Makes 1 large pancake (serves one)

  • 1/2 ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 whole egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 T. milk (any type)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 T. ground flaxseed
  • 1 tsp. chia seeds
  • 3 T. vanilla protein powder (I use a raw brown rice protein from Sun Warrior)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Pinch fresh ground nutmeg
  • Pinch Kosher salt
  • Coconut oil or butter, for cooking
  • Optional toppings: Sliced banana, blueberries, toasted walnuts, real maple syrup, plain Greek yogurt, cacao nibs, chia seeds, ground flax, almond butter (my fave)

Directions

In a bowl, whisk mashed banana, egg, milk, vanilla, flax and chia.  In another bowl, combine protein powder, spices and salt. Add banana mixture to dry ingredients and stir well to come.

Heat a medium – to – large nonstick skillet on medium-low heat. Add a few teaspoons of coconut oil or butter to coat the bottom of the pan. Add all the pancake batter, making one large pancake. Cook for about 3 minutes or until lots of bubbles start to form and the edges look dry. Flip (careful!) and  cook for another 3 minutes. Eat with any toppings you like!

Maple Pumpkin Spice Quinoa Granola

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A recent NYMag.com headline stated: “America Hits the Pumpkin Spice Saturation Point”. They’ve got a point. If you’ve been to Trader Joe’s in the past two months, you’ll notice the PS (pardon the abbrev) domination in all manner of prepared foods. From beer to baking mix and frankly, All The Carbs, food marketers have jumped on the PS bandwagon and they’re not getting off.

The pumpkin squash, in itself, is not super flavorful. But when combined with cinnamon-spice and everything nice, it becomes an obsession. In an effort to stay as true to it’s roots (pumpkin pie, remember that?), this granola hits all of fall’s high points. Maple syrup, toasty oats and warming spices create a simple topper for yogurt, ice cream or simply stuffed in your face by the handful (…ahem…) I stopped buying cereal regularly a few years ago, so this tasted liked heaven to me with some almond milk and banana. I got in the habit of adding quinoa to my granola after I ran out of sesame seeds one day. Granola is really a blank canvas for anything lurking in your pantry – so add those sesame seeds, or pumpkin seeds, or dried cranberries. Don’t be afraid of the olive oil here, it’s not going to taste like salad. This recipe can be doubled (or tripled!) and lasts for about a month.

Maple Pumpkin Spice Quinoa Granola

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel)
  • 3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or make your own)
  • 1/3 cup uncooked quinoa (any color)
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup chopped nuts or seeds (optional)
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried fruit (optional)

Heat oven to 325F. In a large bowl, whisk oil, maple syrup, pumpkin, salt and spices. Stir in quinoa and oats until evening coated. Spread onto a large parchment-lined rimmed sheet tray. Bake for about 30-45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so. If you’re using nuts or seeds, add them in the last 10 minutes so they toast. Remove from oven and press down on granola with the back of a spatula. Sprinkle on dried fruit, if you’re using it. Allow to cool completely before breaking up into chunks.

Endlessly Adaptable Scones

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One of my favorite “work perks” is free reign of a fully stocked pantry. I love rummaging through the cabinets looking for snack inspiration. I often make a simple snack for my cooking class students, especially if they’ll be eating towards the end of class. I’ve made countless cast-iron fritattas, crostini variations and cheese plates. But as the weather cools down, the oven turns up. Scones have become my go-to classroom snack lately, and for good reason. They are ridiculously simple to pull together and the flavor combinations are endless. Depending on my mood or the theme of the class, I’ll throw in fruit, nuts, herbs or even cheese. Unlike biscuits, these are more akin to English cream scones, relying on a heavy dose of the white stuff instead of butter. Yet somehow they come out of the oven super flaky and buttery. They would make a perfect addition to your next brunch or alongside a cup of coffee or milky tea. Let me know what flavors you come up with!

 

Endlessly Adaptable Scones

makes about 20 to 24 small or 8-10 medium scones

adapted from King Arthur Flour via Joy the Baker

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream plus more for brushing the top
  • about 3/4 cup of anything (chopped fresh or dried fruit, chocolate chips, toasted nuts, etc.)
  • 1 teaspoon citrus zest (optional)
  • Raw sugar for topping
  • Jam, curd and/ or whipped cream for serving (optional)

Directions:

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, backing powder, salt, and sugar.  Set aside.

In a liquid measuring cup mix together vanilla extract and 1 1/3 cups cream. Drizzle the cream mixture into the dry ingredients tossing and stirring as you pour in the cream.  Add any mix-ins and zest, if using. Toss together.  Add 2 more tablespoons of cream if necessary to create a moist, cohesive, but not sticky dough.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  Gently gather and knead the dough into a dish and press the disk out into a 3/4″-thickness.

Use a small biscuit cutter to cut small 1 1/4-inch circles from the dough disk.  Brush each circle with heave cream and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar.

Place 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Remove from the oven and serve warm.

 

Add-in suggestions:

1 T. orange zest + 1/3 cup dried cranberries + 1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans

1 T. lemon zest + 1/2 cup fresh berries (such as raspberries or blueberries)

For savory scones, you can omit the sugar and add a few handfuls of shredded cheese and/or herbs

 

Salted Maple Crunch Yogurt Bowl

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Over elbow-to-elbow margaritas at my friend Kelly’s birthday dinner, our friend Joey, an avid baker, asked what I’ve been cooking lately. The answer? Not much, kids. You see, for the past month and a half, I’ve been involved in an intensive cooking video project. Truly a labor of love, it has not left much time to eat, let alone cook.

One of the major perks of working in the food business is, well, a lot of free food. What we don’t end up shooting is up for grabs. Random vegetables, half-empty bags of grains and other odds and ends make their way back home with me in the hopes of being cooked.

When the weekend rolls around, I am left with a fridge full of mismatched ingredients What the heck can I make with radishes, hibiscus blossoms and Parmesan? It’s like an episode of Chopped, for real.

This seedy, crunchy, salty sprinkle is the product of my random pantry, breakfast boredom and the latest issue of Bon Appetit. Inspired by Sara Britton, who’s behind the gorgeous site My New Roots, this granola-like topping is perfect over creamy yogurt and fruit. It would also be divine in a leafy salad or on top of oatmeal. What I like about this recipe is that everything is done on the stove-top, no oven required. Now about those radishes…

Salted Maple Crunch Yogurt Bowl
Recipes adapted from Bon Appetit via Sara Britton of My New Roots

Salted Maple Crunch
  • 1/4 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1/4 cup raw shelled sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 2 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • Kosher salt
For the yogurt bowl:
  • Good quality plain Greek yogurt (I like Fage or Olympus)
  • Fresh fruit (I used berries, but pineapple, mango or stone fruit in the summer would be great)
  • Honey or pure maple syrup, for drizzling

Instructions:

For salted maple crunch:

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a dry medium skillet, toast pumpkin and sunflower seeds over medium heat, tossing frequently, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add sesame and fennel seeds and toss to toast, a few minutes longer.
  3. Add maple syrup (it will sizzle) and stir and toss until clumps appear, about a minute. Remove from the heat and sprinkle in chia seeds, stirring to coat. Season with salt. Transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet and allow to cool.

For yogurt bowl:

You know the drill – spoon a big dollop of yogurt in a bowl, sprinkle with fruit, maple crunch and a drizzle of honey.

Whole Wheat Waffles (of Insane Greatness)

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Despite working in the food business, I am surprisingly basic when it comes to kitchen necessities. Sure, I have a food processor, a blender and an ice cream maker, but I prefer old-school elbow grease to modern machinery any day. There’s not much that can not be accomplished with a sharp knife, a heavy cutting board and a couple of pots and pans. The exception? Waffles. You can’t jury rig a waffle. Oh, how I adore my waffle iron. Sure, it’s a single-purpose piece of equipment, but these are waffles we’re talking about, people. I know you’ll find the space, time and appetite to use it – after you try this recipe.

Whole Wheat Waffles (of Insane Greatness)

Adapted from Food52

Makes about 4 large waffles

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 c. cornstarch
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. sugar
2 c. buttermilk, shaken
2/3 c. vegetable or coconut oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flours, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. In another bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Let set for 30 minutes. Cook in preheated waffle iron for about 4-5 minutes (follow directions for your waffle iron). Don’t bother spraying the iron with cooking spray – there’s enough oil in the batter. to prevent sticking. To keep warm, place on a single layer on a baking sheet in a 250F oven.

Winter Vegetable Hash with Poached Egg and Crispy Shallot

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From what I’ve observed, people in NYC really like brunch. I’ve always been a little ‘meh’ about the meal. There’s often a long wait for a table, you feel rushed the entire meal and to be honest, I’m just not big on drinking mimosas at 1pm.

Yet, the other weekend I found myself at Freemans, a tucked away Colonial cottage-turned-restaurant located in an alley (!) in the Lower East Side. As I caught up with a friend over poached eggs and cheddar grits, I suddenly understood the hype about brunch. Weeknight plans often get in the way of our best intentions for a leisurely dinner. But we can all set aside an hour or two on a Saturday or Sunday.

Here’s my take on the veg-heavy hashes popping up at some of the ‘cool kid’ brunch spots. Daytime mimosa optional.

Winter Vegetable Hash with Poached Egg and Crispy Shallot

Serves 1-2

Olive oil
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
Handful or two Tuscan (lacinato/dinosaur) kale, ribbed removed and thinly sliced
3-4 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 tsp (eyeball) fresh thyme leaves (or another herb, like rosemary)
Pinch smoked paprika (optional)
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
Eggs
White vinegar

  1. Bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over low heat. Add shallot and cook until lightly golden brown and crisp (be careful not to burn!) Remove crispy shallots (leaving oil in the pan) and transfer to a paper towel to drain.
  3. Add kale and brussels sprouts to the skillet and saute about 5 minutes, until kale is tender and Brussels are a bit crisp. Add thyme, paprika and salt & pepper to taste. Set aside while you prep the eggs.
  4. Use this method to poach your eggs. It’s the best way I’ve found for beginners (or anyone, for that matter).
  5. Rewarm kale mixture. Serve eggs on top of veggies with the reserved crispy shallot.

Maple-Olive Oil Granola

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I’ve been on a granola-making spree for months now. While my old recipe was good, it was a bit ingredient-heavy and frankly not the best it could me. Enter: Early Bird Granola. This farm market favorite has earned a massive cult-like following, with a price tag to match. Yes, it’s delicious, but in the spirit of DIY (and in an effort to save a bit of cash), I make my own version based on this method from The Kitchn.

‘Olive oil?’ you say. Believe it. The subtle fruitiness of olive oil lends a really interesting depth when combined with pure maple syrup and a heavy pinch of salt. It’s a bit sophisticated; it’s a granola that belongs on dollops of tangy Greek yogurt with winter fruit compote than, say, nonfat key lime Yoplait.

The best part is its’ versatility – you can use any combination of nuts, seeds and dried fruit you like. Let me know what variations you create!

Maple-Olive Oil Granola with Hazelnuts & Cherries

3 cups old-fashion rolled oats (NOT quick oats)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup dried fruit*, roughly chopped (I used cherries)
1/3 cup seeds*, toasted (I used pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup nuts*, toasted and chopped (I used hazelnuts)

  1. Heat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, mix the oats, salt, cinnamon and cardamom. Stir in the olive oil, maple syrup and vanilla.
  2. Spread the granola out on a parchment-lined rimmed sheet pan. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every so often for even color until light brown and toasty (mixture may appear a bit wet, this is OK).
  3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  4. Meanwhile, toast the nuts/seeds. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350F until light brown, about 10 minutes (watch them so they don’t burn!)
  5. Transfer cooled granola in a large bowl, breaking up large pieces into chunks. Gently fold in the dried fruit and toasted nuts and seeds. Store in an airtight container for about 10 days (or in the fridge for about a month).

*You can add any combination of fruit/nuts you like. I love working with dried figs, cranberries, golden raisins and apricots. Almonds, walnuts, pecans and even cashews are all welcome additions. I often throw in some sesame seeds, too, for even more crispiness. I’m working on a cacao-nib & coconut oil version…stay tuned.