Quick Recipes and Easy

Variety is the Spice of Life

People are creatures of habit and largely base choices on that which is familiar. Although some habits are excellent, cooking the same types of food over and over zaps creativity and breeds indifference in the kitchen. Food is not only necessary for survival, it is also a main source of enjoyment. Making the most of our meals increases pleasure and happiness. If your dinner hour is hum-drum bring something less predictable home from the market. One thing certain to add variety to your meals is broadening your selection of mushrooms. Mushrooms add flavor, texture and nutrition to appetizers, soups, salads and entrées. The possibilities are endless, and the results are fabulous.

Mushrooms are high in fiber and protein, and provide vitamins such as thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), biotin (B7), cobalamins (B12) and ascorbic acid (C), as well as minerals, including iron, selenium, potassium and phosphorus. Maitake, shiitake, and reishi are being researched for the possibility of use for anti-cancer, anti-viral, and/or immunity-enhancement properties.

If you are new to the world of mushrooms, you should know that mushrooms are best when used within a few days of buy. Like other vegetables, it is best to wait until you are ready to use them before rinsing your mushrooms. Remove mushrooms plastic from their container and store in a paper bag, because if they are stored in an air-tight container the moisture trapped inside will cause early spoiling. It is not recommended to freeze fresh mushrooms, but if they are first sautéed, cooled and stored in an airtight container they may be frozen for up to a month. Care should be taken to cleaning your mushrooms, especially morels.

Shiitake, portabella and morels are fantastic mushrooms to experiment with because they are becoming increasingly more available in local markets. Shiitakes are often dried and sold in packages. These must be re-hydrated by soaking in water about 15 minutes before using. The button of the Shiitake mushroom has a smooth and spongy texture. They are a fantastic addition to any dish. Portabella mushrooms are sold both with the stem or just as caps. They are light tan, rounded, with black, visible gills on the underside. As they age and darken the flavor is richer. They are especially fantastic sautéed in butter and wine, or you can grill or roast them. Portabellas not only enhance the beauty of your dinner, but also add a hearty flavor. Morels have small, thick stems with pointed caps and have a lot of texture. Morels may be tan, yellow or black in color and have a nutty flavor. The darker this mushroom, the more intense the flavor. As you gain experience using these mushrooms, you can venture out or order different varieties rather than hunt for them yourself.

Cooking mushrooms is simple and there are several ways to prepare them. Mushrooms taste fantastic when seasoned! Use salt, pepper, garlic, or any other spice or herb that complements your meal. Sautéing is probably the most common cooking method. Place 8 ounces of mushrooms in a frying pan with a tablespoon or two of butter. Cook on medium high heat for a few minutes until soft. Don’t place too many mushrooms in a pan because the heat won’t be high enough to brown them. Equally tasty is grilling, roasting, or broiling mushrooms. Coating the mushrooms lightly with olive oil will keep them from drying out. When roasting mushrooms heat in a 450 F oven for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. To grill or broil, place your pan about 4 to 6 inches from the heat source and cook about 5 minutes. Oil may be added when turning them to ensure even cooking.

It does not take a lot of effort to make your meal more exciting, and adding variety with mushrooms will spice it up. Changing an everyday item for one that is extraordinary will please every pallet and make you look like a gourmet chef!

Emma Snow is a gourmet and freelance writer. Writing for Gourmet Living



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