Culinary forecast good for local farms and environment

By Margie Mansure (reporter@mountaintimes.com)



Article Published: Jan. 10, 2014 | Modified: Jan. 10, 2014

The National Restaurant Association just released the results of a survey of nearly 1,300 chefs, forecasting trends for 2014 menus, and sourcing locally produced meat, seafood and produce tops the list.

High Country restaurants are already well immersed in this movement, with 27 locally owned restaurants or caterers listed with High Country Local First ( http://www.highcountrylocalfirst.org).

Even the successful chain, Chipotle Mexican Grill (opening soon in Boone), purchased more than 15 million pounds of local produce in 2012, which it defines as within a 350-mile radius. According to the Chipotle website, the restaurant chain vows to serve food with integrity, which is a commitment to finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment and the farmers.

Environmental sustainability ranked as the No. 3 culinary trend. More cities are offering curbside pickup of food waste for restaurants and residents, which I witnessed in Bellingham, Wash., last summer. Some local restaurants are providing takeout containers made of biodegradable material. The reduction of food waste through nose-to-tail and root-to-stalk cooking, which means using the entire animal or plant, also made it on the list.

It’s about time we offer our children something besides chicken nuggets and grilled cheese, as they form their culinary palates. Healthful kids’ meals are listed as the fourth culinary trend.

Restaurant gardens, or hyper-local sourcing, was ranked as the No. 6 trend. Locally, the FARM Café boasts a half-acre organic food production plot in Valle Crucis, which helps to supply the downtown restaurant with fresh, seasonal produce.

Since consumers drive trends, this culinary forecast shows that individual choices collectively make a big difference. I envision the decline of junk food consumption due to societal attitudes shifting and healthy, sustainably produced food choices becoming more readily available.

While dining out is a real pleasure, some find joy in cooking at home. Cooking allows control over ingredients and the cost. This dish was a recent success for a dinner party. It has a restaurant-like presentation, with cranberries and spinach adding great color. The polenta croutons are delicious!

Shrimp and Scallops Over Greens with Polenta Croutons and Cranberries

To make croutons:
1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy milk
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground rosemary
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups water
Cooking spray

Lightly mist an 8 x 8 baking dish with cooking spray.
Bring the milk and ¾ cup water to a boil in a saucepan.
Meanwhile, combine ¾ cup water and cornmeal in a bowl, and whisk until smooth.
Pour into milk mixture, stirring constantly.
Cook for 5 or 10 minutes, uncovered, until polenta thickens.
Stir in nutmeg, rosemary and salt.
Pour into baking dish and smooth top with rubber spatula.
Let cool, then refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm. This step may be done the day before.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
Invert polenta onto a cutting board and cut into 36 or so slices.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, turning halfway, until golden brown.

To make cranberry sauce:
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen cranberries
1/2 cup apple cider or juice
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (I used fig balsamic from Art of Oil)

In a saucepan, combine apple cider or juice with cranberries and bring to a boil, simmering for 7 to 10 minutes, until cranberries are soft.
Remove from heat and stir in vinegar.

To prepare spinach:
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 leeks, chopped
3/4 pound spinach, chopped
1 teaspoon herbs de province
½ teaspoon salt

Sauté leeks in olive oil for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add spinach and continue to stir until wilted.
Stir in herbs and salt.

To prepare shrimp and scallops:
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ pound shelled shrimp
½ pound scallops
Freshly ground black pepper

Make sure that seafood is as dry as possible to sear.
Sprinkle one side with black pepper.
Cook in a skillet with olive oil over medium heat until both sides are golden.
Place greens on bottom of plate and top with polenta croutons and seafood.
Garnish with cranberry sauce.

Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. For more information, email margie_mansure@ncsu.edu, or call (828) 264-3061.

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