Credit: Eileen Barett photos

My first holiday party of the year wasn’t actually a party, but a culinary workshop (which is a party to me). The evening began with cocktails, a choice of walnut-infused bourbon apple cider or walnut horchata martinis; we were off to a great start!  

At any good holiday party there is quite a bit of mingling, and I met Gordon Heinrich, a fifth-generation walnut farmer who walked us through the process of walnut farming (something he has been doing since childhood). With more than 1,200 acres of farmland, the Heinrich farm harvests millions of nuts a year. Heinrich beamed with pride as he talked about working the farm side-by-side with his children. It made me want to know more—and boy, did I get more.

We were introduced to seven walnut centered recipes, and I was so excited. After all, the holidays are the perfect excuse to try out new recipes. You can share your creations with loved ones and even gift the most successful of your baked goods because people love a homemade treat. I shared with the hosts of the event that I spend a great deal of time in a kitchen, and that baking for others brings me joy. Though I love snacking on nuts, I’ve rarely used them in my baked goods because of the prevalence of nut allergies. So, when I received an invitation to the holiday culinary workshop at the Institute of Culinary Education, I was intrigued by the fact that the main ingredient would be the walnut.

Growing up, there were always walnuts in my home during the holidays. We didn’t bake with them because mom never baked; we would just eat them or use them to decorate. They weren’t my favorite snack, but I ate them because everyone else was eating them, and because I loved the satisfaction of successfully getting one out of its shell. This workshop at I.C.E. gave me a new appreciation for the mighty walnut. Some of my favorite takeaways: walnuts complement both sweet and savory dishes and can add texture, flavor and complexity to any plate. They make a lovely addition to your holiday centerpiece, and they are nutrient dense, boasting 4 grams of plant protein and 2 grams of fiber per serving!

Back to the party, the cooking demo was led by a culinary nutritionist who made a soup, two cocktails, vegan shepherd’s pie, a vegan meatball appetizer, walnut whipped cream and candied walnuts. We typically see nuts used in desserts or with fall favorites like squashes, apples and pears, but there was nothing typical about any of these recipes. I watched as she made “walnut meat” in minutes. While I was skeptical, I found that with the right spices it really mimicked ground beef. The walnut shepards pie and the meatless walnut meatball were my favorites of the night—they are a true holiday gift for all the non-meat eaters in your life.

I’m grateful to the California Walnut Board for cracking open my newfound love of walnuts and for teaching me that my family has been storing them incorrectly for years—store them in your refrigerator or freezer for optimal freshness. Try the recipe below at your holiday party this year and find other great recipes at https://walnuts.org/recipes/.  

Wishing you Happy Holidays from my kitchen to yours!

Walnut Horchata Martini

Ingredients:

Ice cubes

3 ounces walnut milk 

1 1⁄2 ounces vodka

1 1⁄2 ounces coffee liqueur

1 pinch ground cinnamon

Cinnamon sticks, for garnish

Preparation:

1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add walnut milk, vodka, liqueur and cinnamon. 

2. Shake and strain into a glass.

3. Garnish with cinnamon sticks.

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