Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On The Hunt For Wild Mushrooms

Go into any popular fine dining restaurant this season and you will likely see wild mushrooms listed in the menu. Why the sudden surge in popularity, and how “wild” are these mushrooms? My questions led me to research the alluring world of the wild mushroom.

In Sonoma and Napa, wild mushrooms include the more exotic types such as morels, chanterelles, and hedgehogs, to name just a few. And in St. Helena, these wild mushrooms can be found in abundance at the Martini House restaurant. Chef and Co-Owner Todd Humphries says he finds porcini in the fall, matsutake in December, and later in the season, white truffles and black trumpets.

“The feeling of foraging and finding mushrooms is exciting to me,” says Humphries. He enjoys sharing the adventures with his family, and it teaches them to love and respect the earth. His passion for mushrooms is enthusiastically represented in the menu at Martini House.

Martini House even boasts a mushroom tasting menu with interesting combinations such as ginger braised shiitake with Japanese Eggplant, Summer Squash and Sake Broth, (paired with a Riesling), and roasted maitake mushrooms with cipollini onions, fingerling potato chips and sweet garlic sauce (paired with a Syrah).

So if you are one of those adventurous types out to seek your own earth-grown treasure, be cautious and do your research before you go. The best way to collect and eat wild mushrooms (and stay out of the emergency room) is to collect with an experienced local mushroom hunter, says the Journal of Wild Mushrooming.

Here are a few tips from the experts that we all can use.
Don’t store mushrooms in plastic bags. Moisture inside the plastic bags will cause the mushroom to rot very quickly. Instead, place your mushrooms into paper bags, or loose in a basket or aluminum foil.

With the exception of the button mushroom, don’t serve mushrooms raw, says the Journal of Wild Mushrooming; some people will have allergic reactions to uncooked mushrooms.

Mushrooms are a great source of nutrition. They are low in calories, have no cholesterol and are virtually fat and sodium free. Mushrooms contain essential minerals like Selenium, Potassium, B-Complex vitamins, riboflavin and niacin. If that weren't enough, they are high in amino acids and protein too. By cooking mushrooms, digestibility and nutritional value actually increases.

So whether you find your wild mushrooms in the deep, green forest or at your favorite hot spot, enjoy and appreciate these gifts from the earth.

Wine Pairing Tip: With the earthy, organic flavor of mushrooms, try pairing with earthy wines like pinot noir, nebbiolo or Burgundy. One of our current favorites is Lazy Creek Vineyards Table Red wine made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes. A Mendocino County wine that retails for about $20.


Wild Mushroom Polenta

By Chef Emily Buller

This easy-to-make polenta dish makes a wonderful accompaniment to rack of lamb or pork tenderloin.

4 cups water, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. pepper, 1 cup polenta, 2 tbsp. butter, 2 cups wild mushrooms, 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1 cup Parmesan cheese (you can include a truffle cheese included with the Parmesan), white truffle oil and chives to garnish.

Bring salt and water to boil, stirring constantly while you add the polenta. Roast the assorted wild mushrooms on a sheet tray in the oven for approximately 10 minutes until tender with salt, pepper, and olive oil. While mushrooms are hot, add 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and fold in wild mushrooms. Next, top with white truffle oil and garnish with chives. Serve warm.

White beech mushrooms, king trumpet mushrooms, hen of the woods (myatake), oyster mushrooms are wild mushrooms that you can buy at your local farmers market, specialty food stores or Whole Foods. The white truffle oil is available at most specialty food stores, such as Dean and Deluca.

Written by Karen

Friday, April 18, 2008

Springtime Sips

The sun is starting to linger in the evening sky and we're counting more warm days than cold. Thoughts of summer start to linger in our minds. With that come lighter meals made from the season’s freshest produce, lazy days snacking in the garden and crisp, bright white wines. Here are a few of our favorite springtime wines to enjoy those relaxed evenings on the back patio.

Honig Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

One of our favorite Sauvignon Blancs for the price, this one is bright and lively with aromas and flavors of grapefruit and tropical fruits. And we love it even more because Honig has been a pioneer in using sustainable farming methods. $14

Claiborne & Churchill Gewurztraminer

This small, family-owned winery in Edna Valley (outside of San Luis Obispo) makes Alsatian inspired wines including Riesling, Gew├╝rztraminer and Pinot Gris. We love the Dry Gewurtz for its intense aromas and flavors that pair well with almost any springtime meal. $18

Poet’s Leap Riesling

This Washington State gem comes from Long Shadows. It’s crafted by Armin Diel, one of Germany’s most acclaimed Riesling producers. Crisp and flavorful with a vibrant acidity, pair with a spicy Asian stir fry using in-season asparagus. $18

Written by Linzi

Heirloom Treasures

I recently discovered Rancho Gordo. These colorful heirloom treasures take beans to a whole new level. I tried them first at Restaurant ZuZu in downtown Napa. A savory concoction of sausage and lima beans that left me hankering for more.

I went online and found that I could buy beans to my heart’s content directly from Ranch Gordo.
I’ve now discovered a new world of beans with fabulous names like Red Nightfall Bean and Good Mother Stallard Beans. Rancho Gordo also sells herbs, spices and a great chile powder. And if you are confused about what to do once you have a bag of their dried beans in your hand, they have great instructions and recipes on their web site. Check them out online at

Written by Linzi

Local Pairings

When looking for the perfect wine to complement a meal, or maybe the meal to complement a favorite wine, the answer may be as simple as looking at what's in your backyard.

There are many benefits to eating local and seasonal produce, especially with so many new and growing opportunities to buy local and organically grown produce. The Land Stewardship Project, a nonprofit organization aimed at promoting sustainable agriculture and to develop sustainable communities, reports that a growing number of farmers are choosing environmentally sound farming practices instead of higher returns. These practices reduce the negative impact that farming has on our environment and produce safe and wholesome food.

Did you know that several weeks can elapse between the time some of your produce is picked in a distant country and the time you purchase it at the store? Ecomii, a website that promotes buying locally and thinking globally, says that the average distance food travels between its origin and the market is 1,500 miles! More miles equals more fossil fuels used to transport it to your plate. Locally grown foods require little energy to bring to the market and eventually to your plate.

There are many heath benefits to eating local produce too. Produce actually starts losing nutrients the moment it is harvested. Pesticides are often used on fresh produce to extend the shelf life and prevent damage during transportation. The less the food has to travel, the more nutritious it is for you!

Finally, you experience a more intense flavor experience when the produce is fresh and seasonal. When you eat local and seasonally produce, you will get a much richer flavor closer to the produce’s natural standard. As a result, these true and intense flavors might even be easier to pair with wine.

But why not go a step further, and taste a close, regional wine with your local, seasonal dinner? Many of the same rules apply to the transportation of wine as the transportation of food, and many smaller, family-owned wineries are moving towards sustainable and organic farming.

Besides the global impact, knowing that your dinner and wine was cultivated from the same soil, in the same climate, brings a closer understanding and connection to the land and the people. So whether traveling or at home, make sure you taste the local flavors!

Written by Karen