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OH NUTS . . . NUTS AND MORE NUTS.

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Oh nuts . . . nuts and more nuts.

`Tis the season when it's finally permissable to be downright nutty. No fears of a spouse questioning kitchen credibility. No children raising eyebrows at the dinner fare. No neighbors passing along stories of eccentric behavior.You've finally arrived at the time of year when justifiable nuttiness abounds: nutcrackers, mixed nuts, salted nuts, honey-roasted nuts, smoked nuts, candied nuts, nut rolls, nut pies and nut breads.

Whether dressed in a variety of processed

options or bared to the simple shell, nuts capture a generous share of holiday attention.

And for good reason. Nuts lend a classy finishing touch to holiday baking, provide a distinctive texture to festive entrees or supplement the seasonal snack attacks. From soup to sandwich, appetizer to dessert, nuts make a unique and statement.

Recognized as an entire family or as individual members, nuts contribute to holiday eating pleasure.

Almonds and walnuts are by far the most frequently used nuts with annual production weighing in at 517 and 200 million tons respectively. Pecans take third place with limited production for more exotic nuts such as macadamias, pistachios and pine nuts.

Strangely enough, however, peanut production outnumbers all other nuts combined; but more than 50 percent of the crop is processed for peanut butter.

Popping a peanut from the shell is a two-finger task, but uncovering a Brazil nut is always a challenge. Even almonds and walnuts cling to their shells. Both are easier to shell

if briefly dipped in hot water, but Brazil nuts require a two- to three-minute boiling water bath to simplify shell removal.

Nuts require little processing for inclusion in holiday recipes, but toasting freshly shelled nuts enhances flavor by releasing oils. This process also dries out the nuts for a crisper texture. Roasting nuts for too long though, can destroy flavor. Be careful when toasting, as the nuts will continue to get darker and crisper when they're removed from the oven.

To oven roast nuts, place on single baking sheet at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until nuts produce fragrant smell and change color. Shake pan occasionally so they will brown evenly.

Some nuts, like almonds or hazelnuts take on a different flavor when hulls are removed. To skin almonds, blanch almond for one minute, drain and dry.

Hazelnuts, pistachios and peanuts should be toasted in the oven, rather than parboiled, to remove their skins. Once toasted, the skin will come off easily if the nuts are gently rubbed in a clean kitchen towel.

In addition to blanching and toasting, nuts are often ground for use in a variety of recipes.

Grinding releases the rich, flavorful oil of the nuts, but ground nuts can become greasy if over-processed. To keep nutmeats dry during grinding, add a little of the recipe flour or sugar to keep granules separated.

Julie Rosso and Sheila Lukins, authors of "The New Basics Cookbook," suggest the use of an old-fashioned nut grinder or a nut grater, grinding just a few nuts at a time. If a food processor is used, the authors advise sifting the final product through a sieve to collect larger pieces.

Greater use of nuts in the '90s is predicted by San Francisco chef, Joyce Goldstein of the Square One restaurant.

"One of the big food trends of the 1990s will be the use of nuts," Goldstein suggests. "The appeal of nuts is their texture. Nuts stimulate the palate. We have all grown tired of the bland, simple, doughy foods that make up the typical American diet . . . nuts provide an element of seduction. It's notonly their great crunch, but also their unique ability to be at the same time nutty. This makes nuts an ideal ingredient partner in so many different dishes."

With so many nutty options available, nuts to you for the holiday season.

Thanks to our readers for sharing their nut-filled recipes with the food section:

Jill Walker, Allison Bell, Thelma Rouse, Thelma Thelin, Darleen Masters, Pat Walker, Fay Sargent, Norma Richardson, Donna Carper, Pauline Roberts and Becky Gold.

*****

(Recipes)

ORANGE PECANS

Submitted by Jill Walker, Salt Lake City

Approximate cost: $3.90

Preparation time: 10 minutes plus cooling

Yield: 2 cups

Evaluation: Quick and easy to prepare; a orangy-flavored holiday treat that's perfect for neighborhood gift-giving. Nuts are a bit sticky initially so may need extra time to dry out.

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon orange rind, grated

2 cups pecans

Bring juice, rind and sugar to a quick boil. Drop in pecans and stir constantly over high heat until nuts are coated. Remove from heat and stir another few seconds. Place on buttered cookie sheet; spread and cool.

- Each 1/4-cup serving contains 240 calories; 18 gm fat; 1 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol.