Vegan Mushroom and Black Walnut Tartlets

Mushroom and Black Walnut Tartlets (Vegan)

A hearty vegan paté of earthy mushrooms, black walnuts, and velvety cashew cream is nestled into flaky puff pastry squares to create this crowd-pleasing vegan appetizer: Mushroom and Black Walnut Tartlets.

I’m the kind of person who wanders around a grocery store like it’s my second home. I usually have a list, but it’s just wishful thinking, because I’m never just shopping – I’m also designing. It seems like there is always a new ingredient to try, or something that’s ready to be rediscovered.

This time, I rediscovered black walnuts, an ingredient I grew up with. My grandpa’s large black walnut tree yielded literal buckets of black walnuts every year. He kept them in a shed behind the house, ready to be dried, husked, and cracked on the back porch. Grandma always had bags of black walnuts in her freezer, often using them in banana bread or oatmeal cookies. Black walnuts are the walnuts of my childhood.

Banana bread seemed like a good place to start. I pulled a card from Grandma’s recipe box, which I recently acquired after she passed away this September. I made a loaf with black walnuts, and another loaf with milder english walnuts, per the request of my son Lance who – as it turns out – does not like black walnuts. It was Lance who pointed out why: black walnuts have a funky, earthy, blue-cheesy taste. And Lance does not like blue cheese.

“Hmm,” I thought. “What if I used black walnuts as a stand-in for the flavor of blue cheese?” That would be perfect for something VEGAN!

I was vegan for a short time, and although I am no longer, I have a lasting appreciation and respect for vegan cooking. Nowhere have I found more creative and resourceful chefs and home cooks than in this community. I mean, someone took an ingredient like the leftover water from a can of chickpeas, whipped it into a foam, and now we have aquafaba, a vegan ingredient that’s remarkably like whipped egg whites. (Disclaimer, I have yet to try this, but the preceding link has some amazing-looking ideas. VEGAN MERINGUE, right?)

With the holidays coming up, I wanted to create a savory vegan appetizer. This began with a riff on Todd English’s mushroom puree from The Figs Table, which you should also definitely try. I wanted to create a sort of vegan paté consistency, and I knew I would need an ingredient to stand in for cream. Blending raw cashews in a high-speed blender creates a quick cashew cream. (You could skip this step entirely if you want to use a non-sweetened nut milk creamer that’s ready-made. Go for it.)

If you don’t have a high-speed blender, you should probably soak the cashews overnight in enough water to cover them, then drain the water and add fresh water before blending. Soaking softens them up quite a bit, and will help you achieve a smoother, less grainy puree.

You don’t have to toast the walnuts, and I’ve certainly skipped toasting nuts before – but the extra step is worth it. Toasting brings out the flavor of the black walnuts, and you want as much of that funky cheesiness as you can get.

Lastly, Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry is quickly becoming one of my must-have-on-hand pantry items. It keeps for a long time in the freezer, thaws quickly on the countertop, and is a fun base to use for a quick appetizer or to top a homemade pot pie. When I thought of how easily it bakes up into crisp, flaky layers, I knew it would be the perfect pairing for this paté. And, it’s accidentally vegan!

I hope you enjoy these tasty little bites. Their earthy flavors would be perfect for a winter holiday party. If you make these, show me on Instagram: @birdseedkitchen.

Mushroom and Black Walnut Tartlets (Vegan)
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Vegan Mushroom and Black Walnut Tartlets

Course Appetizer
Cuisine Vegan
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 32 puffs

Ingredients

  • 2 sheets Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry thawed
  • 1/2 cup chopped black walnuts
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 medium white onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 2 tbsp dry red wine
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary chopped
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves chopped
  • 3 oz oyster mushrooms chopped
  • 10 oz baby portobello mushrooms chopped
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt or to taste
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped for garnishing

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

  2. Unfold two sheets of puff pastry. Cut each into 16 equal-sized squares. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and set aside.

  3. Place dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl and cover with hot water. Set aside to soften.

  4. In a blender, combine cashews and 3/4 cup water. Blend at high speed until smooth and creamy, scraping the sides of the blender as needed to ensure an even consistency. Remove cashew cream from blender, add to an airtight container, and set aside. (You will have cashew cream left over. It's necessary to make a larger quantity than you need because the blender can process this quantity more easily.)

    There's no need to wash the blender container at this point - you will be using it to process the mushroom mixture near the end of the recipe.

  5. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Toss the chopped black walnuts into the heated dry skillet. Toast until lightly brown and fragrant, tossing or stirring frequently to prevent burning. Remove nuts from pan and set aside.

  6. Return the skillet to the burner, and raise the heat to medium. Add olive oil and onion. Sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.

  7. Add garlic and sauté two minutes longer, or until garlic is fragrant. Add red wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits.

  8. Add the porcini mushrooms along with their soaking liquid, chopped mushrooms, herbs, pepper, and salt to the skillet. Sauté over medium-low heat until most of the water is absorbed and the mushrooms are soft. 

  9. Remove from heat. Stir in toasted walnuts and 1/2 cup of the cashew cream.

  10. Add mushroom mixture to blender. Pulse a few times to create a coarse puree. You don't want it to be completely smooth; just a few seconds of blending should do it.

To assemble the tartlets:

  1. Arrange puff pastry squares on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush lightly with cashew cream.

  2. Place a tablespoon-sized mound of the mushroom mixture in the center of each puff pastry square. 

  3. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until light golden brown. Garnish with chopped parsley before serving.

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Cheddar Garlic Biscuits

cheddar garlic biscuits - quick drop biscuits with garlic and sharp cheddar cheese

(Disclosure: some of the links below are affiliate links. At no extra charge to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.) 

Breakfast for dinner is a standby meal in our house – the go-to dinner when we didn’t make it to the meat shop, or the ground beef is still frozen. Eggs any style are usually the foundation: scrambled, poached, or over medium (everyone’s favorite.) Meanwhile, hickory-smoked bacon sizzles in the oven. (This is the BEST way to cook bacon – easiest cleanup you can imagine.) Sometimes it’s omelettes, which can be a great way to use leftover bits of roasted veggies, herbs, meats, cheeses, and condiments.

If we’re out of bread (likely) and looking for something to mop up a perfectly-cooked over-medium egg, a quick drop biscuit fits the bill. If you like biscuits, it’s worth making your own from scratch, and you don’t even need to roll and cut them. This recipe is based on the Quick Drop Biscuits recipe from The Joy of Cooking, which I use often. I might even like drop biscuits better than rolled. The shagginess of the batter means you get golden, crispy peaks all over the surface.

These cheesy drop biscuits are not only great with breakfast. They would make a savory accompaniment to a hearty fall soup or stew. They keep well for a few days in an airtight container, but are definitely best when eaten as soon as safely possible right out of the oven.

Cheddar Garlic Biscuit closeup

Cheddar Garlic Biscuits
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Cheddar Garlic Biscuits


Course Side Dish
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 8

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp double-acting baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 4 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/4 cup milk I used 2%.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment.

  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, white pepper, and garlic powder.

  3. Add cubed butter and toss to coat with flour mixture.

  4. Using a pastry blender, cut butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal. 

  5. Stir in cheese, parsley, and cayenne until cheese is coated with flour mixture.

  6. Make a well in the center, and pour in milk. Stir until combined, about one minute.

  7. Drop in 8 rounded mounds onto parchment-lined sheet pan.

  8. Bake 12-14 minutes until lightly browned. Best when warm from the oven!

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Crock Pot Channa Masala

Crock Pot Channa MasalaMy first recipe for channa masala was published in a past blog on September 5, 2010. This is a revised version with new photos – and new sketch notes!

Indian food is my “desert island” cuisine. If I had to choose a single cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, Indian food would be it. (Mediterranean is probably a close second.)

I didn’t experience any Indian food at all in my own rural Illinois hometown. When I went to college, I experienced the classic Indian gateway food called tandoori chicken, served with fluffy yellow basmati rice, and was instantly hooked. And when I was briefly vegetarian / vegan a few years ago, I really came to appreciate vegetarian Indian cuisine, and started cooking it myself at home. With the help of some wonderful Indian and international groceries in our ethnically-diverse college town, I built a useful cache of spices for creating Indian flavors.

Although I love a good Indian restaurant meals, I’ve discovered that real Indian is not necessarily loaded with oil and cream. There’s usually ghee (clarified butter) involved, and I have no objection to that. But I love the control I have at home. If I want to create a creamy dish and lower the fat, I’ll use some pureed cashews. I can usually get by with less butter if I increase the onions, and sauté them until they’re deep golden brown and buttery-soft. I know I’m not creating health food here, but I think I’m getting by with a lot less fat and salt, while pumping up the vegetable content.

The type of fresh, home-cooked Indian food that I’ve come to enjoy is portrayed beautifully on cookbook author Meera Sodha’s Instagram. Her first cookbook, Made in India, is one of my favorites. (Try the paneer first for an easy win. You may not go back to the store-bought stuff.) My favorite page of the book, however, is not a recipe – it’s a photo of Sodha’s mother and her well-seasoned wooden spoon, darkly colored from tending decades of family dinners.

Next week, when I travel to my mom and dad’s house for Thanksgiving, I’ll pick up one of my grandmother’s wooden spoons. I’ll use it to stir this channa masala for my own family. I’m fairly certain that grandma’s spoon never experienced channa masala, but I know it’s seen many warm, welcoming family meals. Tastes change and expand across generations, as we welcome more parts of the world into our kitchens. I hope this big warm pot of Indian spiced chickpeas has a chance to welcome you home, too.

Notes

If your slow cooker has a removable stoneware crock, you can assemble this recipe the night before, store the crock in the fridge, then pull it out in the morning and plug it in. Dinner will be waiting for you in the evening, and your house will smell amazing.

If you find that the channa masala needs to thicken a bit before serving, take the lid off the crock pot for about a half hour and let it reduce.

Crock Pot Channa Masala
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Crock Pot Channa Masala

Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 20 minutes
Servings 8

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp ginger root about a 2-inch piece, sliced
  • 14 cloves garlic
  • 1 small green chile optionally seeded if you like less spice
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 3 tbsp ghee
  • 1 tsp brown mustard seed
  • 1 tsp whole cumin seed
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 tbsp garam masala
  • 4 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tbsp coriander seed
  • 2 large cans chickpeas drained and rinsed
  • 2 21g cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 black cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp amchur powder see note below

Instructions

  1. In a food processor, combine ginger, garlic, green chile, salt, and lemon juice. Pulse until finely minced.

  2. In a heavy skillet, heat ghee on medium-low heat until melted. Add mustard and cumin seeds. Toss briefly, until seeds start to pop. Add garlic-ginger mixture and fry until fragrant.

  3. Add onions, season lightly with kosher salt, and sauté until onions are golden brown and soft, about 10 minutes. (Take care not to let them burn.)

  4. Add garam masala, turmeric, coriander, and a pinch of salt. Bloom the spices with the onion mixture until they are fragrant, about one minute. Turn off heat, and add onion mixture to crock pot.

  5. Add tomatoes and drained chickpeas to the crock pot, along with bay leaves, cardamom pods, and amchur powder. Stir until combined.

  6. Cook on low 8 hours. If desired, leave the lid off for the last 1/2 hour to reduce.

  7. Serve with hot basmati rice.

Recipe Notes

Amchur powder is made from drying green mangos. It provides a sour note to this dish. If you can't find it, a tablespoon of lemon juice added at the end of cooking would make a fine substitute.

Sketch Notes!

I’ve been experimenting with sketch notes for recipes, and they’re so much fun! This is the first sketch I created. It’s not 100% accurate for this recipe, because I forgot the green chile in the illustration and there’s no room to add it. But stay tuned for more sketch notes in recipe posts.

Crock Pot Channa Masala sketch notes

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Jicama Grapefruit Salad with Honey Clove Dressing

Jicama Grapefruit Salad with Honey Clove Dressing

It’s solidly November, but the weather here still changes throughout each week. We’re prepared for anything, from winter-coat winds to days where you accidentally leave your jacket at work.

And speaking of work, I’ve been trying to take a lunch more often. This Sunday, I’m planning a meal prep session. I’m not sure what to cook yet, but I’ll probably make a soup, roasted veggies, a protein or two, and a crunchy salad. So I’ve been experimenting with apples and jicama, which are both easy to spiralize and pair well with the roasted root vegetables I’m planning to make.

The flavors in this salad are a bridge from early to late fall. Spiralized jicama and apples provide a juicy crunch, grapefruit adds a bitter note of winter citrus, and the sweet-spicy honey clove dressing brings spicy warmth.

Jicama Grapefruit Salad with Honey Clove Dressing

Jicama Grapefruit Salad with Honey Clove Dressing
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Jicama Grapefruit Salad with Honey Clove Dressing

Course Salad
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

Salad

  • 1 medium jicama, peeled
  • 1/2 honeycrisp apple, unpeeled
  • 1 pink grapefruit - peeled, segmented, and diced

Dressing

  • 1/4 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp champagne vinegar
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. Spiralize the jicama and apple with the spaghetti blade. (If you don't have a spiralizer, they can be finely julienned.) Add the grapefruit.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. Season with salt to taste. 

  3. Pour dressing over jicama mixture and toss to combine. Serve chilled.

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