(Click on thumbnails to start slideshow.)
by Robin Devereaux-Nelson

There’s something to be said for nuts. Ask my family. There are quite a few on my family tree. That used to embarrass me. Now I just look at it as icing on the cake. Who wants to be “normal”, whatever THAT is? Life is short. We might as well have the best time we can have while we’re here on this Earth plane instead of worrying what other people think of things we do, say and are.

My Aunt V was a kook and one of my favorites of my dad’s twelve brothers and sisters. I remember Aunt V showing up at a family gathering once wearing camo pants and shirt, a gigantic, glitzy faux diamond peace sign necklace about six inches wide, a leather motorcycle-momma hat (with chains), and combat boots. She was about seventy years old. Now, that’s a lady who knows how to have fun. She didn’t care what anyone thought of her. She lived her life as an artist and crafter in her big, old rambling house and did as she pleased, regardless of what people told her she “should” do, or how she “should” act. I admired her to no end. I still want to be like Aunt V when I grow up.

I think most of us spend a lot of time worrying about what people think of or say about us. We lose our “nuttiness”. We lose the parts of us that make us feel alive and unique, then wake up one morning and wonder how that got away from us.

I happen to be a pretty lucky duck. Life circumstances that may have seemed negative and insurmountable at the onset led me to a pretty magical life. Door closes, window opens. I am in the midst of living my dream of being an artist, writer and silly chef in my kitchen of delights. It rocks. Sometimes I just feel like being a nut, and I act on it. It feels pretty wonderful.

So, this week I challenge you to be nutty. To start you off I bring you a bevy of hazel-nutty goodness. See, if you feel like being a nut, you might as well be a real cool nut like a hazelnut or a pistachio. No simple walnuts and peanuts for my readers, no sir!

Our first recipe is a new one I developed for this season’s Thanksgiving holiday. I hope it will become a new tradition for your family as well. Pumpkin-Hazelnut Swirl is a mildly sweet dish that can be served as a side with your Thanksgiving meal, or as a dessert when topped with vanilla almond milk.

Pumpkin Hazelnut Swirl


2 ½ cups pureed pumpkin
2/3 cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
6 fresh eggs
1 can Carnation evaporated milk (or store brand)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon vanilla
¼ cup hazelnut butter (such as Nutella)
2 tablespoons crushed hazelnuts for garnish, if desired

You may use canned or fresh pumpkin for this recipe. To prepare fresh pumpkin, wash two small (about 1 pound each) pumpkins. The pumpkins used in this recipe were courtesy of Saginaw’s Hemmeter Farms. Cut around the stem of the pumpkin, as if you are preparing to make a Jack-O-Lantern. Discard the top. Cut the pumpkin in quarters and scoop out the pulp and seeds. You can save the seeds for roasting, or discard them.

Place the pumpkin in a shallow baking pan with about 1 – 2 inches of water in the bottom. Bake at 350 degrees for about one hour, or until a fork inserts through the skin easily. Allow the pumpkin until it is cool enough to handle. Peel the skin off the pumpkin and discard. Place the pumpkin in a food processor and process on the HIGH setting until it is ultra smooth. If the pumpkin is very dense you may have to add a bit of water to it while processing. I usually use the pumpkin-water left in the roasting pan for this step. Any left-over pumpkin can be placed in a bag or container and frozen for later use.

Rinse your roasting pan and place about one inch of water in the bottom. Butter a casserole dish and place it inside the roasting pan. You will bake your pumpkin dish in a bain marie, or water bath. Turn the oven up to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pureed pumpkin, sugar, salt, eggs, milk, cardamom and vanilla. Whisk until the mixture is light and creamy. Pour into the casserole dish.

Place the hazelnut butter in a small sandwich or snack bag and squish it down into one corner. Twist the bag to told the nut butter in place, like a pastry bag. Use a sharp pair of scissors or small knife to cut the tip off the bag. Squeeze the hazelnut butter in a swirl pattern onto the top of the pumpkin mixture. It may sink a little, which is okay.

Bake for 60 to 90 minutes, until set. Allow the dish to cool to room temperature in the water bath. Serve warm, room temperature or cold. For a great dessert, place a scoop of the mixture into a pretty dessert bowl and top with vanilla almond milk or whipped cream.


I was the fortunate beneficiary of a dozen of the finest eggs I have seen in a coons age courtesy of the carefully and lovingly raised happy chickens owned by Bay City’s Diana and Rose Hadad. In gorgeous shades of cream, buff, brown and greenish-blue, these eggs had golden yolks that stood up like soldiers in my mixing bowl. They were the perfect base food for our Baked Egg Custard with Frangelico.

Baked Egg Custard with Frangelico


4 farm-fresh eggs
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons plus 4 teaspoons Frangelico or hazelnut liquor
1 ¾ cups hot water (not boiling)
fresh grated nutmeg to taste
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons crushed hazelnuts for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter four one cup custard dishes. In a large bowl, lightly beat the fresh eggs. Add sweetened condensed milk, 2 tablespoons Frangelico or hazelnut liquor, hot water and a pinch of salt. Beat well until smooth and creamy. Pour evenly into custard cups.  Grate a sprinkle of fresh nutmeg on top of each custard. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until just set. Take care to not allow the custard to over-bake and crack.

Remove from oven and pour one teaspoon of Frangelico or hazelnut liquor over each custard. Allow to cool to room temperature. Garnish with crushed hazelnuts just before serving.

Hazelnut Roasted Game Hens

Ingredients (for two):
2 Cornish game hens, thawed
2 tablespoons Frangelico or hazelnut liquor (or substitute Ameretto or almond liquor)
2 tablespoons salted butter
salt and white pepper, to taste
olive oil, for roasting
2 fresh herb bouquets of any combination of:

Lemon balm


Pineapple sage


(For our recipe, I used lemon balm and pineapple sage.)

Drizzle a shallow, heavy baking pan or cast iron skillet with olive oil. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash and dry the birds. Place hens breast side up in the baking pan or skillet. Measure one tablespoon of Frangelico and pour inside each bird. Stuff an herb bouquet into each bird, allowing the herbs to stick out the end like tail-feathers. Use your fingers to butter the breast of the birds. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. You may add a sprinkle of crushed hazelnuts to the birds if desired, before baking.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour until nicely browned. Serve one hen per person.

© Robin Devereaux-Nelson, 2010