Caramelized Shiitake Mushroom Risotto

Caramelized Shiitake Mushroom Risotto

When you’re craving carbs and comfort, risotto is your dish. We’ve made risotto a couple times for the blog before and you all seem to love it. So, with my newfound love for caramelized mushrooms, I couldn’t have imagined a better way to serve up a new spin on risotto. Shall we?

The base for this 10-ingredient, 30-minute recipe starts with warmed vegetable broth, which you can make yourself (for the win), or just grab some store-bought (our favorite brand is Imagine).

Caramelized Shiitake Mushroom Risotto from Minimalist Baker →

Walnuts | In the Pantry

overhead shot of walnuts in different stages including in the hull and cracked.

When it comes to ingredients in your kitchen, it can be easy to forget that non-produce items come with ‘best by’ dates. I’ve witnessed many a spice cabinets with bottles dating back years, if not decades. Olive oil that should went rancid ages ago. And nuts that are questionable at best.

And so, I’m working on a series based around the notion that all ingredients in your kitchen should be treated as if it were kale or tomatoes. Fresh is best and care needs to go into all ingredients you keep on hand. Knowing how to store and use in a short order is everything!

First up: walnuts! While I use these nuts year-round in my house, I find an uptick during the cooler months. They also pair so wonderfully with the earthy flavors of fall. Use walnuts to make a solid cream sauce, make nut-milk, or add in granolas and toppings.

Walnuts: The Varieties

There are two overarching kinds of walnuts: English (Persian) and Black Walnut. The English variety are the common, store varieties. These walnuts are thought to originate in the Middle East but thanks to English traders, spread throughout the world (and also picked up the ‘English’ name).

Black walnuts are actually native to the United States. I actually grew up with a beautiful black walnut tree in my backyard in Illinois. These types of walnuts were a staple in diet and medicine by indigenous people.

The difference? English walnuts are more mild in flavor and easier to shell. This combination is why almost all walnuts sold in stores are a variety of English walnut. However, if you have a chance to try a black walnut, do it. One of my favorite desserts is a chocolate chip cookie made with black walnuts.

Walnuts: The harvest

99% of all walnuts grown in the United States are grown in California. Walnut harvest happens primarily in September/October. There are 30 different varieties grown from the English walnut family but you wouldn’t be able to tell once all the walnuts hit the market. Walnuts are a fresh produce item. This means they hit shelves only a 5 to 6 days after being harvested.

The harvest process is straightforward. Large harvesters shake the walnuts from the trees which then get swept up and sent to a drying facility. At the facility, the walnuts are stripped of their outer green hull, rinsed, and dried to an 8% moisture level. This stabilizes the nut and makes it ready for processing.

After the drying process, walnuts are sold in their shells or processed out of the shell into halves or pieces. These are the walnuts you can find in your bulk bins and on store shelves.

Of note, very few walnuts are grown organic. Many California farmers use cover crops/grasses to amend the soil but when it comes to the trees, soft/targeted pesticides are used for a specific type of insect. However, because of the green hull and the tough brown shell, pesticides are unlikely to end up on the final product (unlike items that often find themselves on the dirty dozen list).

Buying and Storing Walnuts

Once walnuts end up in your care they need to be in cold storage. Walnuts have a high fat content which leads to a rancid product fairly quickly. Plus, the cold storage helps keep in the flavor you would lose at room-temperature storage.

Walnut halves/pieces can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer for up to a year. I prefer to cycle through them a bit quicker and will keep a container in my refrigerator no longer than six months.

When shopping for walnuts in the store, look to see if the bag has a harvest date or best-by date. If the nuts are over a year old or if the best-by date is coming soon, I’d look elsewhere. If you’re buying from the bulk bins at your local co-op, ask for a sample that you can taste/smell. You want a walnut that has a warm, kind of sweet flavor.

How to tell if a Walnut is rancid?

Tasting and smelling a walnut leads to: how can you tell if a walnut is rancid? This is one of those times you need to trust your instinct. If the walnut has a sharp, oxidized smell- it’s bad. If it smells bad, it’s probably bad. As for weight, fresh walnuts should have weight/firmness to them while older walnuts are lighter/dried out.

Walnut Topping

Using Walnuts in Cooking

Toppings/Salads: The most obvious but still delicious, walnuts make for a solid companion to grain bowls and salads. Walnuts add a nice crunch and bit of warm flavor. Try toasting the walnuts beforehand to keep a good crunch in salads.

Walnut Cream/milk: As with most nuts and seeds, walnuts make for a wonderful nut-cream/milk. Walnuts, when blended with a bit of water, take on a nice, nutty flavor. The sauce is definitely a star in any recipe, a bit different from the mellow cashew cream.

Texture/’Meat’: Walnuts add a perfect texture to replacements for meat. they are a key player in my favorite lentil bites, nut burgers, and occasionally my favorite crumble recipe. I usually use walnuts and pecans interchangeably/together in these recipes.

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Lentils folded into Yogurt, Spinach, and Basil

There is a tiny, thoughtfully curated bookstore on a North-west corner of San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood. I was a few minutes early for a lunch nearby and couldn’t help but pop in for a quick browse. Five minutes later I walked out with Lunch at the Shop: The Art and Practice of the Midday Meal. It is an inspired volume by long-established Seattle book store owner Peter Miller celebrating the simple pleasures achieved by taking and appreciating (what I consider) a proper lunch. The emphasis is firmly put on food that is simple, fresh, thoughtful, and often communal. Said another way – lunch doesn’t need to be complicated or elaborate to be meaningful.

Lentils folded into Yogurt, Spinach, and BasilLentils folded into Yogurt, Spinach, and BasilLentils folded into Yogurt, Spinach, and Basil

Taking time for lunch. This book struck such a note with me because there are few things that can make more of a difference in your day than this gesture. It’s something I believe in, and something I do my best to put into practice whether I’m sitting down by myself, with a few friends, or with many. There is something incredibly positive and optimistic about this small volume with the happy, tomato-red cover. On a practical level it is filled with thoughts and advice on how to eat well, pace your day, and stock your work pantry…but it comes together into something beyond the sum of its sections and chapters. I love that it exists as a reminder of how important this break in the day can be – how it can help relationships grow, how it can help energize, nourish, and revive, and how in-sourcing lunch can bring a bit of magic to a work environment.

Lentils folded into Yogurt, Spinach, and Basil

I made the Lentils folded into Yogurt, Spinach, and Basil. A double batch, in fact. It was enjoyed on walnut bread, tartine-style, for multiple days. Friends that can’t handle wheat or gluten can enjoy this combination on appropriate crackers or wrapped in a sturdy, fresh leaf of romaine lettuce. It has lentils, loads of spinach (arugula is great too), herbs, and Greek yogurt – a hearty, healthy, satisfying line-up of ingredients that set you up strong for the rest of the afternoon!

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Farro Risotto with Walnut Cream and Roasted Butternut Squash

Close-up shot of a butternut squash farro risotto.

Post sponsored by Bob’s Red Mill. See below for more details.

There’s nothing quite like a comforting bowl of risotto. There are endless seasonal flavors and thanks to a myriad of whole grains, many bases you can use. A creamy, vegan risotto is within reach thanks to help from a bit of farro and an easy walnut cream sauce.

Whole Grain Risottos

Traditionally, risottos are made with arborio rice. This variety of rice has a high level of starch which translates into a creamy risotto everyone knows and loves. However, it’s rare I have arborio rice on hand. This has led to a lot of exploration into whole grain risottos.

Whole grains, such as spelt, farro, and einkorn work well after they’ve been cracked slightly. By cracking the grains, a small bit of flour forms which simulates the creaminess of the arborio rice.

Alternatively, pearled grains like barley and farro work without the cracking. These are whole grains that have had some of the outer layer removed which means they aren’t true whole grains, but are still delicious!

Farro for everything!

For this risotto, I’m using Bob’s Red Mill Farro. This pearled farro makes for a delightful warm and creamy risotto. Farro does take a bit of time to cook but if I’m using it in salads or grain bowls, I’ll make a large batch ahead of time. Farro holds shape and texture well even a few days after cooking.

Beyond risottos, I like to use farro in hearty salads, grain bowls, and even vegetable bakes. Try this cheesy zucchini bake, Roasted Acorn Squash Salad with Pecan Vinaigrette, or as a base for this Berbere Chickpeas and Chard.

What’s with Walnut Cream?

Beyond just the arborio rice, risotto’s creaminess often comes from a bit of added cheese. However, it doesn’t always have to be this way. For this farro risotto, I’ve swapped cheese for an easy to make walnut cream sauce.

This cream sauce is a lot like the ever-popular cashew version. I love using walnuts, though, for their unique flavor. It’s the perfect fall treat and butternut squash companion. Best of all, walnuts softer texture purees into a lovely smooth cream sauce.

Squash or Sweet Potatoes

Finally, if you’re not in the mood to tackle peeling butternut squash, there are alternatives. Swap butternut squash for sweet potatoes, carrots, or another variety of squash that doesn’t peeled, like delicata. All of these work well with a good farro risotto.

Side-angle shot of farro risotto with roasted butternut squash.

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Disclosure: This recipe was created in partnership with Bob’s Red Mill. All thoughts and opinions are my own. It’s content like this that helps me keep this site running to provide the vegetarian recipes you see every week. continue reading

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Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

This is my take on tortilla soup – a full-bodied, spicy vegetarian broth envelops a nest of baked tortilla matchsticks. Many tortilla soup recipes call for egregious amounts of shredded cheese, but I’ve found that a bit crumbled goat cheese or greek yogurt lends just the right amount of creaminess, without throwing everything entirely out of whack nutritionally. And you can take the toppings in a number of tasty directions.

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

There are a thousand ways you can remix this recipe based on your personal preferences or what looks good at your local markets. If I’m after a one dish meal, I’ll add some grilled (or smoked) tofu, or a poached egg. If I feel I need greens as well, I’ll toss in some shredded chard or spinach. For a more typical take you might (instead) finish the soup with sliced avocado and/or cilantro, chopped white onions, and a squeeze of lime.

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

This is clearly what happens when a tortilla soup meets a California pantry – you can either flare it out with salted yogurt, sliced avocado, and a squeeze of lime (above). Or take it in another direction altogether, and top the soup with cherry tomatoes and crumbled goat cheese (below). That being said, I’m hoping my remix will inspire you to try you own using whatever ingredients you might be inspired by. Use the broth as your base and play around from there.
Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

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Raw Carrot Cake with Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting

Raw Carrot Cake with Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting

It’s here: the raw cake of my dreams. Raw Vegan Carrot Cake!

It’s tender, it’s cakey, it’s naturally sweetened, it’s topped with an optional but swoon-worthy vegan cream cheese “frosting,” and it’s all yours in just 10 basic ingredients and 30 minutes. Let’s do this!

The base of this cake starts with blended dates and walnuts. Then we add shredded carrots and plenty of vanilla and spices for added warmth and flavor.

Raw Carrot Cake with Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting from Minimalist Baker →

Savory Scones with Chives and Feta

100% whole wheat savory scones that are delicious and have amazing texture? It’s not too good to be true. All you need is a bit of flour knowledge!

Side angle photo of golden, savory scones filled with feta and chives.

Recently, I was part of a small workshop about local flours/grinding. It’s something I’m quite passionate about for many reasons, not limited to taste and nutrition. For this particular event, I was lucky enough to work with some beautiful Chiddam Blanc de Mars (soft white) flour from Capay Mills. Lucky for me and you, I had a bit of flour leftover and decided to make scones.

Wheat Flour 101: Hard/Soft and White/Red

For those who need a quick primer on wheat flour, there are MANY different varieties within the wheat category but they primarily fall into two overall categories: Red versus white and hard versus soft.

The color difference of red and white is at the kernel level but translates into flavor differences. White wheat was developed from red wheat by removing the red bran color. White wheat has a bit softer, less pronounced flavor compared to red. Red wheat also has slightly higher protein levels compared to white. This makes red wheat great for hearty, whole-grain bread and white for slightly more delicate baked goods.

On top of color, you can have hard and soft wheat. Hard wheats have higher protein levels making them perfect for breads that need that structure and elasticity. Soft wheats are much lower in protein counts which translates into a delicate flour. This makes them perfect for pastries.

And so, when talking about whole wheat pastry flour, I’m really talking about soft white flour. This delicate, low-protein flour is the perfect pastry/baked good companion. For a recipe like scones, it’s a great 1:1 for all purpose flour. The end result is 100% whole grain but still buttery, delicious layers. If you’re looking for a decent source for this kind of flour, I recommend Bob’s whole wheat pastry flour.

If you’re curious about grains in general or locally grown California grains, I recommend checking out the California Grain campaign.

 

Scone Texture

As mentioned in the flour section, scones are all about texture. I’ve had my fair share of horrible scones. Many coffee shops sell what I call knock-off versions of scones that are rubbery or dense. Sweet or savory scones should have a golden, crisp outside and flaky buttery layers inside.

To achieve this, there are two primary things to note. The first, you cannot overwork the dough. One of the keys is to ensure there are still pockets of butter in the dough. Our bodies are warm and easily melt butter. This means, work with/touch the dough as little as possible once the butter is worked into the flour. You can also use a food processor for cutting the butter into the flour- I just like the feel of the butter/flour together.

Secondly, when shaping the scones, folding is key. Without folding, the layers won’t be created. This is actually a step I’ve skipped in the past but it’s too important. Without those layers, the scone won’t bake properly.

 

Savory Scone Elements

Finally, most scones out there are sweet but I love the savory element. It’s like a biscuit that’s been filled with all the most delicious things. You can play around with ingredients a bit in these savory scones.

Swap the feta for another sharp cheese- I suggest cheddar. You can also add other types of produce/herbs. Stir in roasted squash or sweet potatoes before folding or freshly minced rosemary. Of course, if you’re a sweet scone kind of person, you could make these lemon poppy seed scones or black raspberry oat scones.

Side angle photo of golden, savory scones filled with feta and chives with blue coffee mugs and chemex in the background.

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7 Halloween Cocktails You’re Less Likely to Regret

I went down the Halloween cocktail rabbit hole the other day, and (wow!) there are some spooky, wild drinks out there. You might encounter Glowing Jell-o Shots, or candy corn cocktails, or even an eyeball punch. There’s no shortage of cocktails you’d probably regret the next day – weird mixes of alcohols, overly sweet, lots of gummy worms in drinks, etc. So, I thought I’d do a quick round up of Halloween cocktails that were a bit less theme-y, ones that still had some ghoul and ghost, but also seemed delicious.

1. Cardinale (PUNCH)
Blood red, and bone dry. Get the recipe here.

Halloween Cocktails You're Less Likely to Regret

2. Blood Orange Test Tubes (Martha Stewart)
I love the test tube delivery here, with the downloadable labels. Get the recipe here.

Halloween Cocktails You're Less Likely to Regret

3. Jekyll Gin Glowing Cocktails (Delish)
This twist on a Gin Daisy glows in black light! Gin, grenadine, lemon juice, and tonic water. Get the recipe here.

Halloween Cocktails You're Less Likely to Regret

4. Pirate Mary (Food & Wine)
Yes to this cocktail. There’s a nested recipe in the ingredient list, but it’s no big deal (aside from sourcing the yellow tomato juice ;)…Get the recipe here.

Halloween Cocktails You're Less Likely to Regret

5. Kombucha Dark & Stormy (101 Cookbooks)
These are so delicious. Essentially, a twist on the classic cocktail make with strong ginger kombucha in place of ginger beer. A splash of rum, optional twist of lime, and you’re good. Get the recipe here.

Halloween Cocktails You're Less Likely to Regret

6. Death in the Afternoon (PUNCH)
Two ingredients – absinthe and chilled Champagne. Get the recipe here.

Halloween Cocktails You're Less Likely to Regret

7. Mother’s Ruin Punch (Food & Wine)
If you’re going to go the punch bowl route for your party, this looks gooood. Gin, grapefuit juice, and Champagne. Get the recipe here.

Halloween Cocktails You're Less Likely to Regret

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Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Jammy Eggs

Close-up overhead shot of oven roasted Brussels sprouts and soft-boiled eggs

Post sponsored by Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs. See below for more details.

In the realm of fall cooking, Brussels sprouts are king in my kitchen. We’re constantly eating oven roasted Brussels sprouts as a side or tossing them into grain bowls. They are quick, easy, and delicious. This dish is a slight update on the basic roasted Brussels. It combines fennel-toasted breadcrumbs and perfect soft-boiled eggs for an impressive side (or lunch, if you’re me)!

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