Gift givers, start your ovens! This is the week we usually set aside for making our favorite holiday food gifts for neighbors and friends. Over the years, we've done everything from cookies and truffles to granola and hot-chocolate mix.

Not to spoil the surprise, but this year's offering will be spiced nuts — Pumpkin-Spiced Whiskey Walnuts, to be exact. Not only are they delicious and a bit decadent; these nuts are versatile, too. Serve them as a party snack, or make them into an appetizer by sprinkling over baby salad greens. Need a dessert? Dish up vanilla ice cream, and top with caramel sauce and a sprinkle of the walnuts.

We like to present our gifts in small mason jars tied with holiday ribbons. A copy of the recipe and serving suggestions makes a thoughtful addition.

Be sure to plan to make extras: You'll want to give a small gift to yourself. Consider this terrific recipe our gift to you. Happy holidays!

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap. Fast. Good!" (Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016, or send e-mail to [email protected]. Or visit the Desperation Dinners Web site at

Pumpkin-Spiced Whiskey Walnuts

Start to finish: 3 minutes preparation, 10 minutes to bake and 10 minutes to cool

2 cups raw walnuts (large pieces or halves)

cooking-oil spray

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or coarse-ground sea salt)

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin-pie spice

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon whiskey (see Cook's note)

2 tablespoons butter

Cook's note: You can substitute another tablespoon of vanilla extract, rum or rum extract for whiskey.

Preheat the oven (or toaster oven) to 350 F. Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a shallow baking pan covered with cooking-oil spray. Bake, uncovered, for eight minutes. Remove from the oven, and set aside. (Leave the oven on.)

While the nuts toast, stir together in a small bowl 1 tablespoon sugar, salt and pumpkin-pie spice. Set aside.

In a 2-cup glass measure, combine the vanilla and whiskey, and the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar and butter. Microwave, covered with a paper towel on high, 30 to 45 seconds, until the butter melts and the mixture boils. Remove from the microwave, and stir well.

Drizzle the butter mixture over the nuts, and toss to coat. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the walnuts, and toss to coat. Return walnuts to the oven, and bake two more minutes. Remove from the oven, and transfer the nuts to wax paper or parchment paper to cool for at least 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container for up to five days.

Yield: 2 cups

Approximate values per tablespoon: 52 calories (78 percent from fat), 5 g fat (1 g saturated), 2 mg cholesterol, 1 g protein, 1.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5g dietary fiber, 35 mg sodium.

Dist. by United Feature Syndicate Inc.