Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fall, Fairytale Mushrooms, and the 2012 Food & Nutrition Conference Workshop

Wild Mushrooms and Pasta with Gremolata - scroll to bottom for recipe

Participants having their chance at the beauties on set...

This is the set photograph. My set-up AND shots done in minus-5 minutes! I need a rematch...
 Roasted Delicata Squash salad - scroll to bottom for recipe

Garlic Chive Cream Cheese-Crème Fraîche Spread with Grissini - scroll to bottom for recipe

Highlighting specific tools, their benefits, and ways to make "the familiar"  in food fresh or new
Photo: courtesy Liz Weiss
Photo: courtesy Rebecca Bitzer
Last week, I taught a four-hour workshop to over 80 registered nutritionists and dietitians as a new addition to their annual conference. With time - though not enough! - for everyone to get hands-on experience at three different sets, a slide presentation (about all kinds of goodies), and discussion on cooking and styling tips, tools, and sourcing  ingredients, it was nonstop. I had a wonderful time. Between sharing my wisdom hard-earned over the years, to running around during a ten-minute break to set up food at each of the three sets and pop a few shots to compare later (aaaahhhhh!! plus thirty or so pairs of eyes watching my every move as I worked my "magic"), I was at my most adaptable best. The eagerness and clarity of attention given to me by this group was so heartening. Thank you everyone, for helping make the day such a success. And, a special thanks to Janet, Liz, and Regan for helping create this essential piece in the conference puzzle.

To prepare, I had a blast getting up early to source the above mushrooms from great wild food gatherers Les Hook and Nova Kim, at the lovely New Amsterdam Market. I also felt a certain satisfaction at throwing together the quintessentially autumn salad of delicata squash, celery, toasted hazelnuts, and pomegranate seeds (which nicely held up - for an hour! - as people photographed it). As a surprise at the end of the day, I gave away all of the props laid out on the tables, passing along a piece of my studio to all who came. Fun!

Here are the recipes:

Wild Mushrooms and Pasta with Gremolata 
Adapted from the New York Times recipe, printed last week

A few handfuls of wild mushrooms of any kind that please you - I used Lobster, Matsutake, Red-capped Scabers, and some Slippery Jacks
Zest from 2 lemons
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
good extra virgin olive oil
a knob of butter
pasta whose shapes will catch the bits of gremolata mixture - think creases and folds, curls, etc. - I used nodi marini, which translates to "mariner's knot", and which you can find here

Combine the garlic, lemon zest, and parsely. Cover and set aside. Heat a couple glugs of olive oil and the butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Brush clean any debris from the mushrooms and slice thinly, and toss them in. Let the mushrooms sweat, and then stir to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add more olive oil or butter as necessary, along with s & p to taste. Meanwhile, boil pasta in salted water timed according to package instructions, al dente. Drain, toss into a bowl with gremolata, adding additional olive oil to lubricate the mixture, and stir in mushrooms. Season with s & p to taste. You may add grated pecorino or parmesan, but with mushrooms this good, their rich flavors are so savory that the cheese would lay them to waste. Add a nice black-fruit round red wine, and you are set.

Roasted Delicata Squash Salad
This recipe is less about specific quantities, and more about what you are in the mood for, proportion-wise...

Delicata squash, rinsed, halved and sliced into 1/4-inch thick pieces
1 pomegranate, seeds removed
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted
celery ribs, sliced thinly on a mandoline
good extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
s & p to taste

Lay the squash half-rings onto a baking sheet. Paint with olive oil and season with s & p. Roast at 325 degrees for a half hour, or until nicely caramelized on one side. Let cool on a wire rack. Toss together the delicata, celery, and pomegranate seeds in a mixing bowl, and transfer to a serving platter. Scatter hazelnuts and drizzle with oil and vinegar. Season with freshly cracked pepper and sea salt, and enjoy.

Garlic Chive-Cream Cheese-Crème Fraîche Spread
...kind of like the best boursin around...

2 8-oz packages cream cheese (buy grass-fed if you can)
2 heaping tbsp crème fraîche (same, here)
2 good tbsp finely chopped garlic chives
s & p to taste

Fold all ingredients together until well combined. Great with grissini, olive bread, tortilla chips, as a veg dip, and with many other foods. Easy-peasy!

I am having so many great experiences. Now that the workshop is behind me, there are many other projects on which to apply the finishing touches, or dive in and create. I will have a story in an internationally produced magazine which you can look forward to in 2013, along with just-completing new branding materials for a lifestyle guru, as well as numerous NYC locations I've scouted and photographed for a website soon-to-launch. There are more great projects coming to fruition....I feel quite grateful at the chance to get creative with all of the wonderful people in each different realm. Wooo-hooo!!!


  1. Those mushrooms look divine! As does the finished dish - my favourite kind of autumn comfort food.

  2. Melina: It was so nice meeting you and helping to coordinate the workshop with you, Janet, and Regan. What a whirlwind. You brought so much knowledge and inspiration to the group. Since returning from FNCE, I roasted Delicata squash Melina style (sliced and roasted) which my son said was better than simply halving, seeding, and baking ... and my co-blogger and I had a photo accepted by Healthy Aperture, Food Gawker, and Tastespotting. I sure hope we can do this again at FNCE next year!

  3. It was an absolute pleasure to have you in this session! My vision for having every RD who works online embrace the importance of visual communications is all the better with you in it :)

    So nice meeting you & looking forward to keeping in touch. Keep me posted on you!!

  4. Thank you!!!

    Liz, you are a sweetheart. I know it felt like a whirlwind - for me too! I am so happy you reiterate the inspiration which people felt. Glad that I am having an effect and that already it is proving worthwhile. :)

    Regan, you are so sweet!! I embrace that vision totally, and look forward to our next collaboration. More soon!

    Little loaf, yum yum. I made mushrooms with bottarga pasta tonight, and with a little scatter of red pepper flakes, some fried sage, and a bit of heavy cream and garlic. Exactly comfort food. Thanks!

  5. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with our group. I was certainly inspired to take my photography skills to the next level. Hope we can do it again!

  6. This pasta looks amazing and so beautiful. I absolutely love all of your photos. Breath taking.

  7. Lobster, Matsutake, Red-capped Scabers - those are brilliant choices you got there, Melina, for "Wild Mushrooms and Pasta with Gremolata". Actually, shiitakes, chanterelles or oyster mushrooms would be just as good. You can also combine them, by the way, for a more tasteful dish. :)

    Mack Shepperson

  8. Melina - just came back to get the recipe for the delicata squash dish that has haunted my memory since this day. Loved the workshop, and hope now that travel and a little hip surgery are behind me to tap what I learned and begin to take better food pictures. Hope you can do an encoure at another FNCE some time. Thank you for imparting what you've learned to us!