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Your new food obsession: Marcona almonds

 Few foods find themselves fortunate enough to land in my “obsession” category these days, as I have tried a great many foodstuffs throughout my long and quasi-illustrious career. However, every now and then a food will rear its ugly head and smack me in the body and soul with its self-complementing tastes, smells and textures that just happen to embody the perfect sustenance. I cry a little the first time that I savor said morsel, and look forward to properly acquiring some more for future meals and snacks.
I guess I had that feeling when I drank Coca-Cola for the first time. The chemistry, the nuances of hundreds of top-secret ingredients and the lore of the amalgamation of South American apothecary and North American marketing prowess all lent themselves to a lifetime of soda fanaticism.
At a similar level, but at a very different time in my life, I tried Marcona almonds. The Marcona is a Spanish almond that I sampled with great trepidation, as I despise California almonds. I find the latter grainy, unpleasant on the palate, pasty and basically do not care for them in any way, shape or form.
Of course, this attitude towards California almonds has put me on the blacklist for the national convention for The California Association for the Acceptance and Tolerance of Grainy, Subpar Almonds (TCAATGSA for short). And so I don’t get sued, as did Oprah with her comments on hamburgers years ago, I welcome you to continue purchasing said almonds. I know that I am in the minority, and this is simply the way I feel.
Oh, sweet Marcona; you elate me. You have held such a place in Spanish lore that you have found yourself quipped about and pondered upon since ancient Roman times. A magnificent force, you blossom from a bitter nut to one that serves us well.
But, what can you do with Marcona almonds? Well, you can roast and salt them, as I have down below, and simply serve them in a bowl. They don’t have the propensity to linger in your choppers all day and force you to rinse and repeat to clean out your mouth. They are a great snack, especially when combined with some dried fruit. If you can find dried Michigan cherries, they make for the best combination. If not, dried cranberries will certainly suffice.
These lovely nuts go great on salads, and if you salt them, a nice, sweet dressing will help to counter that flavor profile. They are perfect in traditional Spanish soups, and I have found that they have a much better texture when pureed.
In restaurants and bars, there is a little trick that sneaky people use to help to increase the level of drinking, and that is through the careful application of salt and spice. The former will naturally make you thirsty, but the operator must ensure that the food is not salty – there is a fine line. The addition of spices to a roasted nut mix will naturally increase thirst, while exciting the taste buds of your customer.
But back to the salad, it is wonderful to watch guests eat their simple starter and see the look of bliss when they bite into the almonds on the plate. After all, how could anyone get excited by an almond? Well, that’s what I used to think, before these delicious tidbits made their way into my life.

Salt-Roasted Marcona Almonds
makes 5 ounces
5 ounces Marcona almonds, unsalted
1 Himalayan salt block
EV Olive Oil, to coat nuts
Coarse Kosher salt, TT

1. Preheat a conventional oven to 400F and a convection oven to 375F, placing the salt block in the oven while it is cold. It is important to heat the salt block slowly to prevent cracking or shattering
2. Toss the almonds in the oil and salt
3. Spread evenly on the heated salt block and place in oven
4. Roast until the almonds have a golden hue and the aromas fill the kitchen with wonderment and joy
5. Remove and allow to cool. They may be a little soft at this point, but they will crisp up as they cool
6. Store in an airtight container until ready to use

Garden Salad with Marcona Almonds
makes 6 salads
1 bag Mesclun/Spring mix
1/4 cup Dried cherries or Craisins
1/2 log chevre or equal amount of bleu cheese
Salt-roasted Marconas from above
1/2 Vidalia onion, fine julienne
1 cup Tangy-Sweet vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Baked, crispy pita chips as crouton, as needed

1. Combine everything except for the croutons and dressing
2. Dress the salad to taste (you may have extra, but it’s easier to make a cup of vinaigrette than a smaller amount)
3. Garnish with pita chips and serve. Eat all remaining Marcona almonds, hiding them from your guests

Tangy-Sweet Vinaigrette
Makes a bit over 1 cup
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon or stone ground mustard
2 tsp. Granulated sugar
1 tsp. Fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. Fresh basil, chopped
1 clove roasted garlic, smashed
3/4 cup Grapeseed oil
Salt & Pepper, to taste

1. Combine everything except the oil and whisk well
2. While whisking vigorously, drizzle in the grapeseed oil and create a simple emulsion
3. Keep refrigerated until ready to use