All posts by Olivia

Protect your pets from poisonous mushrooms

With multiple news outlets reporting that several people have been poisoned by Death Cap mushrooms in recent weeks and the proliferation of other toxic wild mushrooms, the ASPCA has put out a nice article on the subject. Recognizing the symptoms of mushroom poisoning in pets is important. The varieties mentioned in the article are prevalent throughout the country and can be found in your own yard, parks, hiking trails and other outdoor venues. See link below.

Not-so-magic-mushrooms: tips to keeping your pets safe 


Mushroom ragout over creamy polenta

Some say polenta is the precursor to bread, one of the earliest and simplest forms of food. Ancient grains such as millet and spelt were originally used to make polenta, followed by farro, barley and buckwheat that were used predominantly until the mid 16thcentury when explorers returned with maize from the New World. Modern polenta, which claims its roots in Northern Italy, is made primarily using coarse corn meal and resembles American grits.

The preparation has remained virtually unchanged since early times, essentially mixing coarsely ground grain with water to create a paste that can be eaten warm in liquid form or cold as a solid cake. A staple of peasantry for centuries, polenta was mixed in round bottomed copper pots known as paiolo and stirred with a wooden spoon. Today, polenta has reached gourmet status and can be found on menus in many fine dining establishments around the world.

The key to a good polenta is to let it sit on the stove on very low heat for several hours, stirring frequently to achieve a sweet and luxurious creaminess.  Butter is added at the end along with some grated grana Padano or well-aged parmesan. Polenta is incredibly versatile and can be baked, fried, grilled or used warm as a great accompaniment to vegetables, meats and stews.

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1½ tsp salt
⅔ cup coarse ground corn meal
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup shallots, thinly sliced (@ 2 medium)
2 cups mixed wild mushrooms, bite size pieces or 3 oz dried reconstituted
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp herbes de Provence
½ cup chicken, mushroom or veg. stock
1 Tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup grated good quality grana-padano or parmesan

Directions: (Note allow 3½ hours to achieve the perfect polenta)
In a heavy saucepan, heat cream and milk on medium heat until small bubbles begin to appear on the surface. Add salt and whisk hard until you reach a heavy froth.
Add polenta, increase heat to medium high and whisk constantly for 3 minutes until mixture begins to boil.
Reduce heat to very low (if you have a heat diffuser use it here), cover the pot and cook for 3½ hours stirring with a wooden spoon every five to ten minutes. Mixture should be smooth, thick and creamy at the end.

When polenta is almost done, start the mushroom ragout.
In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.
Add shallots and cook until translucent and begin to brown at the edges (@5mins)
Increase heat to medium high, add mushrooms, red pepper flakes and herbes de Provence and cook until mushrooms have released all of their liquids.
Add stock, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 7-10 mins. There should still be liquids in the pan. Sprinkle with chives.
Just before serving, add butter and cheese to the polenta stirring until well incorporated. Note: polenta will thicken as it cools. If too thick, thin it with a little milk.
Spoon polenta into bowls and top with the mushroom ragout.
Serve immediately.


polenta7wild mix rehydrating

polenta8Mushroom ragout over polenta

Food trends 2016

Like fashion, culinary trends reinvent themselves every few years with must haves, new creations and modern versions of old staples. What was once hot (say, coconut water) has fallen by the wayside, foods that were considered waste (carrot tops) are now the darlings of “root-to-stem” chefs, and ethnic foods with their rich colors and flavors are all the rage.

What are the foodie buzzwords of 2016? Here are a few you will most likely hear this year: Açai bowls,  root to stalk, values, kombucha, food waste, koji, spice blends, poke, clean food, high speed delivery, hyper local and heritage cuisine.

Açai (ah-sci-ee) bowls: acai bowl
Froyos and ice cream mix-ins are out, açai bowls are in.  Establishments serving these healthy, filling and delicious bowls are popping up everywhere on the Pacific coast and in large metropolitan areas.  The bowl consists of a thick purée made from Brazilian berries called açai which is topped with fruits, nuts, granola or other breakfast toppings. A favorite of fitness enthusiasts, this superfood bowl packs in nutrients, vitamins, anti-oxidants and a host of other health benefits.

Poke (po-kay or poh-key):poke
Originally from Hawaii, poke is finally coming to the mainland for the rest of the population to discover and enjoy. The traditional dish is served over warm sticky rice and consists of uber fresh, raw, marinated ahi tuna with onions, seaweed and flavorful seasonings. Poke houses are opening up everywhere offering diners the option to build their own bowls using a variety of fish and vegetable combinations.

“Clean” food:
Consumers are more informed than ever when it comes to food, its source and the way it is produced.  They are demanding more and more that their food is “clean” ie free of chemicals, additives, artificial color and sweeteners and that it is not genetically modified (non GMO). Restaurants and retailers will be making huge efforts to source these kinds of foods to serve to their educated clientele.

We’ve had farm-to-table, snout-to-tail as buzzwords in recent years and now root-to-stalk (or root-to-stem) is the ‘it’ phrase used by foodies everywhere.  In effect, root-to-stem means that every part of the plant is to be used in cooking thereby minimizing waste. In the past, tops (and the base) of many root vegetables were removed and discarded, but today you can find a variety of recipes using carrot tops, broccoli stalks and radish leaves in sauces, stocks, creams and dips.

Food values:
Not to be confused with value, consumers are very interested in a company’s or an establishment’s values. Where do they source their food from? Are they sustainable, environmentally friendly, care about animal welfare? Do they minimize waste, support local growers, provide for their employees? Many products and menu items now come with a story about the farmer and his/her practices, a description of the land the food is grown in/on and the promise that no genetically modified organisms were utilized.

Heritage cuisine:
Many chefs are going back to their roots offering reinvented dishes from traditional “old country” recipes while also preserving their cultural heritage. Jewish comfort food is seeing a resurgence, African flavors are hot, ethnic cuisine and Middle Eastern dishes are all the rage. Concomitantly, spice blends and sauces particularly from Africa and Korea will be everywhere includingBerberé, a spicy Ethiopian mix, Korean BBQ sauces and warm spice blends like Baharat.

High speed deliveries:blue apron
No longer limited to late night pizza or Chinese food, high speed food delivery services will continue to expand, particularly in metropolitan areas, offering healthy meals that one can easily prepare at home. Dinner in a box companies such as Blue Apron, Hellofresh and Plated amongst others, provide weekly meals complete with recipes and all of the ingredients needed to make a sumptuous dinner. Chefs and/or in-house culinary teams create many of the menu items, source the product and tailor the meals to accommodate a variety of diets and culinary abilities.

In other predictions for the year, it appears that oatmeal will cauliflower colorsbecome a new favorite as well as cauliflower and brussel sprouts. Farro, amaranth and millet will be added to the ancient grains trend.  Savory ice cream and yogurt will be more main stream as will savory snacks including unusual popcorn combinations, crazy hummus varieties and funky flavored chips.

On the way out in 2016 is sugar and artificial sweeteners, kale, the gluten-free (weight loss) diet fad, flatbreads, coconut water, underutilized fish and low cal entrees. Pasta will also be out of favor being replaced with spiraled veggies and other low-carb/nutrient-dense options. Alternative flours, high fiber legumes and fermented foods will continue to rise in the marketplace as will kimchi, koji (rice inoculated with koji mold) and house-made ice cream.  Artisan soft drinkbutcheries, artisan soft drinks and artisan pickles will also be popular while Japanese and Korean snacks will dominate the snack section in grocery stores. And the one that can’t be explained is the apparent resurgence of the fried chicken! Gulp!

Looks like it will be a good year for the health-conscious, environmentally mindful consumer and an exciting one for foodies everywhere.

Happy 2016.