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Blend and Extend Tour with Mushrooms Canada and Ontario Beef

Last month, along with a gaggle of food bloggers and nutritionists, I was invited to participate in a farm tour, sponsored by Mushrooms Canada and Ontario Beef to promote their joint endeavour, Blend and Extend. That's a technique of replacing a portion of meat with ground mushrooms in all of your favourite recipes using ground beef. In fact, if you check out that link, you will see a video where I participated in a bit of a blogger battle with Brittany Stager, another avid Blend and Extender. I will not tell you who won because that would just be braggadocious (OKAY I WON) 

Me and two of my peeps, some longhorn cattle and our lunch, provided by Borealis

Our first stop was the award winning YU Ranch in Tillsonburg, Ontario for a peak into their Texas Longhorn operation. Owners, Brian and Kathy Gilvesy are involved in a number of environmental programs like The Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS). Basically, they have committed to doing all they can to promote wildlife diversity, creating a habitat for native pollinator species and keeping the environmental impact of cattle farming to a minimum. In fact, Bryan told us he considers himself more of a grass farmer and the cattle help him maintain his crop by roaming at will and grooming aka eating that grass. We took a walk around the property, got up close and personal with some cows before stopping for lunch.

He also grills a mean slab of beef.

Brian Gilvesy grilled up some of his delicious beef for us and yes, I had a beer just before noon. So sue me.

Beef Fun Facts:

  • Beef Farmers of Ontario represents 19, 000 beef farmers
  • Each serving of beef contains 14 essential nutrients and is packed with protien. Compared to a 75g portion of chicken breast, 75g of beef contains a whopping 200% more iron, 600% more Vit B12 and 700% more zinc
  • to get the same protein contained in a 75g portion of cooked beef (184 calories), you would have to consume 104 almonds (728 calories)
  • half the fat in beef is monounsaturated, just like olive oil
  • the average Canadian eats 39 lbs of beef each year

No visit to a mushroom farm is complete with fetching hairnets

After a tasty blend and extend donair lunch provided by Borealis, we set off for our second stop of the day at the family run Whitecrest Mushroom Farm. I have never been to a mushroom farm so it was pretty eye opening. Like Y Ranch, Whitecrest endeavours to do what they do in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Although they grow about 2 million pounds of cremini and portobella mushrooms annually, they are still considered to be a small, family farm.

Each of their 6 giant growing rooms are filled with aluminum racks of brown mushrooms reaching up to the ceiling, giving off a pleasant, earthy scent. 40,000 lbs are grown in each room every 6 weeks, making it a year round farm as there is no "mushroom season. The mushrooms are grown in a pasteurized substrate meaning they are grown in straw, not manure as I had assumed,  hence the pleasant, woodsy smell. Whitecrest hand harvests all their mushrooms as well which makes me wonder why mushrooms are not $100/lb to be perfectly honest. Feel free to take a drive out to the farm, buy some of their stuff from their small retail store right there at the farm. In fact, you should make an effort to get out and about and meet all of these committed people who devote their lives to producing the food that ends up on our tables. 

Mushroom Fun Facts:

  • 1 portabella mushroom has the same amount of potassium as a small banana
  • Mushrooms are the only produce product that is a natural source of Vitamin D
  • If you put mushrooms in sunlight for a few minutes, they will produce even more Vitamin D
  • Mushrooms are 99% water, low in calories, sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat
  • Mushrooms a source of selenium, copper and potassium
  • There are over 30 species of mushroom that glow in the dark. The chemical reaction called bioluminescence produces a glowing light known as foxfire. People have been known to use these fungi to light their way through the woods.
Our day ended with dinner at Borealis Grille and Bar in Kitchener to sample a couple of the blend and extend items they are featuring on their menu. There is also a mushroom beef bolognese on this menu but you have to go before this special menu disappears on July 15!

YU beef and mushroom burger, beef and mushroom terrine paired with a flight of Ontario beer 

Again, anyone who follows me already knows that I am a huge fan of blend and extend and I routinely replace anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 of the ground meat with mushrooms in my own kitchen. Although the official concept uses beef, I find it works perfectly with all types of ground meat. If your dish requires stability like in a meatball or a burger patty, I wouldn't recommend going higher than 1/3 mushrooms to 2/3 ground meat but in recipes like chilis, spaghetti sauce etc I go as high as 50% mushrooms without any changes in flavour or texture.

extend your grocery dollars by using less meat - make less meat stretch much farther
lowers saturated fat and cholesterol
increases your vegetable intake
adds flavour, boosts umami and adds much needed moisture when using leaner meats

Here are a few examples of how you can see me blending and extending in action:

Manchego Stuffed Smoky Meatballs with Romesco

So, get on the blendatarian train and take the blend and extend pledge!

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