Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to make Nuts on Horseback (a tasty holiday appetizer) from Cleo Coyle

My "Nuts on Horseback" are pictured above. Each is a little package of amazing flavors and textures (sweet and salty; soft and crispy) perfect for holiday appetizers, cocktail canapé trays, or a delicious amuse-bouche before a fall or winter dinner. So what inspired this recipe?

Cleo Coyle is author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries,
which are set in New York's
 Greenwich Village.
As you know, I’m usually referred to as "that coffee nut," but I’m nuts about other things, too, including the mounted cops of New York. And, no, I am not referring to them as "nuts on horseback." One mounted police officer recently saved a great many lives when he helped stop a car bomb attack in Times Square. Him I’d call a hero on horseback.

Other cities (including Philadelphia, Boston, and San Diego) have retired all of their police horses, but New York is still employing them. The main reason is that mounted cops can go where cars can’t, such as the city's parks and pedestrian malls, including the one in Times Square. 

If you plan on visiting the city for the Thanksgiving Day parade, holiday shopping, or other seasonal activities, keep an eye out for these mounted officers. Here's a photo I took of one in Times Square... 



As for my recipe, you will find it below. Nuts on Horseback is my own adaptation of a retro treat from Victorian England that’s still popular in the UK for Christmas dinners. You can read more about its interesting history below...

~ Cleo 

Cleo Coyle’s
Nuts on Horseback

This is a lovely appetizer for fall and winter: Simply take bite-sized pieces of butternut squash; wrap each in a small strip of maple bacon; secure with a toothpick; brush with pure maple syrup; and roast. 

How much bacon? How much maple syrup? What temperature? I answer all of those specifics in my recipe below and share some tips for making these babies without a hitch.

If you're curious about the odd recipe name, it comes from the recipe that inspired it: Devils on Horseback, in which you stuff a dried fruit (usually a prune or a date) with an almond or with mango chutney before wrapping it in bacon and cooking it. 

As culinary adaptions go (that is, new ones emerging from existing ones) Devils on Horseback was simply a twist on yet another recipe:
Angels on Horseback, in which you wrap a raw oyster or scallop in bacon, securing it with a skewer before broiling it. You can read more about these two recipes by clicking here

In my own version, the "nut" comes not from an almond but from the butternut squash, a delicious winter squash. It's in season now so you should find some nice ones at your local grocery.

And if you’re wondering (as I did) why "bacon" is represented as "horseback" in these recipe names, there are two theories: One is that the bacon wraps around each filling like legs wrapped around a horse. The other comes from English history circa 1066 when Norman warriors, before riding into battle, covered themselves in thick slabs of bacon. They did this for two reasons: (1) to make themselves look grotesque—a bonus for scaring villagers during their invasions—and (2) the bacon, when very thick, also worked as well as leather armor for protection. Apparently, they cooked and ate the bacon—if they survived the battle! Read more here.

Now let’s get cooking…

Cleo Coyle's
Nuts on Horseback

Bacon-Wrapped Butternut Squash Bites

Makes about 80 appetizers


1 butternut squash (2 to 2.5 pounds)

12 pieces maple bacon

3/4 cup pure maple syrup


Step 1 – The Squash: First preheat your oven to 400° F. Peel, core, and slice up your butternut squash into bite-sized pieces. It’s important to make them small enough to cook completely through in the roasting time given. If you wish to use larger pieces, you will need to parboil them to make sure they cook through. See my note below on parboiling. 

Tip on Peeling: Use a Y-shaped peeler for the best results in peeling the squash and make sure you peel away all of the skin and whitish rind, which is bitter. Your pieces should be completely orange.

Step 2 - The Bacon: Cut each strip of maple bacon into thirds. Cut each third into two long strips for 6 pieces per strip of bacon. Wrap the squash pieces in the bacon slice and secure it with a toothpick.

Step 3A MUST: Line a half-sheet pan or baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. The maple syrup will blacken as the appetizers cook and the parchment paper or foil will provide easy cleanup and prevent your pan from being ruined.

Step 4Using a pastry brush, splash each piece generously with maple syrup.

Step 5 – Roast the appetizers in a well-preheated 400° F. oven for about 25 minutes. You're watching for the pieces of squash to cook through without burning the bacon. If you cut your squash slices small enough, this will work. However, if your squash slices are too large, the bacon will burn before the squash is cooked—solution: try parboiling the slices before cooking the next pan of them (see my instructions below).

PARBOILING TIP: If you want your pieces to be larger than bite-size, you can parboil the butternut squash for 3 to 4 minutes (no more!) to make sure they cook through by the time the bacon is cooked. 

(Optional) Directions for parboiling: bring a pot of water to a full, rolling boil. Avoid being splashed with hot water by using a ladle or large spoon to carefully lower your pieces into the water. Cook for three to four minutes and then use a slotted spoon to remove them, douse them in cold water, and drain well. Follow the recipe from Step 2 onward, and you'll definitely want to...

Eat with  joy!

~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
Friend me on facebook here.
Follow me on twitter here
Visit my online coffeehouse here.

To view the
Coffeehouse Mystery
book trailer, click here.

December 3rd...

A Coffeehouse Mystery 

"Top Pick"
RT Book Reviews

A Mystery Guild
Featured Alternate Selection

"...a highly satisfying mystery."
~ Publishers Weekly

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are bestselling
works of amateur sleuth fiction set in a landmark
Greenwich Village coffeehouse, and each of the
12 titles includes the added bonus of recipes. 

The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 

The Haunted Bookshop
, which Cleo writes
under the name
Alice Kimberly

To learn more, click here.


  1. What a clever idea! I'll have to try these for the holidays.

    1. Thank you, Linda, and I hope you enjoy the recipe. They are so easy to make that Marc and I often throw them in the oven for weekend snacking. With the delicious flavors of maple syrup; sweet winter squash; and savory bacon, they really hit the spot...

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      “Where coffee and crime are always brewing…”
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  2. This is a fascinating post, Cleo! So much entertainment and information, and still so salty and crunchy.

    Thanks for all of this. Note to self: get cooking!

    1. Thanks, MJ, I'm so glad you liked the post. It was fun to put together. I mean how could I not know that bacon can double as edible armor?! :)

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  3. The name doesn't do them justice. The looked more like wrapped gems. What a beautiful appetizer.


    1. "Bacon-Wrapped Gems" -- love it! And, well...as many have already pointed out (including my husband): everything is better with bacon!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  4. These look amazingly yummy! I had no idea you could "peel" a butternut squash. That makes it so much easier!

    Daryl / Avery

    1. The Y peeler has made a big difference for me in the kitchen. I switched from a straight peeler many years ago (at the suggestion of a chef) and never looked back. And, yes, it does make the job of preparing the butternut squash so much easier to just peel off that skin. Thanks for dropping in today. Have a great week...
      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  5. I am going to make these for my next book club meeting. That should be a nice winter hot appetizer/snack for the ladies and I love to make something different with recipes from an author as well. Thanks so much for the recipe idea.

    1. That's wonderful, Cynthia! Please say hello to your book club for me--and I certainly hope they not only *read* with joy but eat with it, as well, thanks to you!

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

      P.S. The recipe looks very easy, but it can slip you up if you don't know what to expect. So do cut the squash into bite-size pieces. Make sure to use parchment paper (because the maple syrup will blacken)--just make sure the bacon does not burn. And if you find your first pan of appetizers is not cooking well enough (the bacon browns too much and squash is not cooked through), then parboil the squash pieces first and that should solve the problem! Finally, for convenience, you can always roast these in advance and warm them in a microwave before serving. Cheers and have a great book club meeting, Cynthia!

  6. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.Fridge Southampton

  7. I love the idea of the butternut squash, I usually do devil's on horseback with pitted dates that I put a smoked whole almond into, wrap with bacon, dip in a soy sauce and ginger concoction and roll in brown sugar. Bake until the bacon is crispy, yummy deliciousness! I will definitely try this one during the holidays. Thanks Cleo for another great recipe :)

  8. What a great idea, and it fits with so many different dietary requirements, too. No gluten, and it could conceivably fit into a paleo diet. I am definitely making this for Thanksgiving this year, so thank you, Cleo! I can taste it already. Butternut squash is so yummy. Do you think it would also work with sweet potato? I just harvested my first crop--two measly plants = two big buckets of taters.

    By the way, Cincinnati also still has a mounted police patrol. Their stable is not very far from my home, so I get to see their beautiful horses in a nicely tended pasture occasionally.

  9. What a gem of a recipe! I simply cannot resist making these. Three favorite flavors together--brilliant.