Mushrooms are a unique source of food and come in infinite varieties. They are a type of living organism that has no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds. Mushrooms are actually fungi and in many countries, that is what they are called. There are countless varieties of Mushrooms that are edible and there are probably just as many or more that are not edible. The mushrooms that are not edible can be poisonous and can cause severe illness or worse, death. For that reason, wild mushrooms should not be picked by anyone other than a trained mycologist.

Mushrooms can be purchased dried, canned or fresh. For a long time, even though there are over 590 species of Mushrooms found growing in California, the only Mushrooms readily available in the United States for consumption were Brown Mushrooms and White Mushrooms. Photos of some of the California Mushrooms can be found on Myko Web, a site that specializes in California Mushrooms. Some mushrooms are so amazingly beautiful that it is hard to believe that they can be poisonous.

With the increasing population growth from Asia and the Middle East, and the rise of the Television Food Shows, our food selections have greatly increased. Today, you can walk into almost any Supermarket and find at least half a dozen varieties of mushrooms readily available. Some of the varieties that you can purchase are Crimini which are small brown mushrooms, Portobello which are a larger version of the Crimini, White Mushrooms, Shitake or Wood Mushrooms, Oyster, Enoki, Chanterelles and Truffles.

Mushrooms can be cooked whole, quartered, sliced or chopped. The Crimini are good in stews, sauteed or stir fried with other vegetables. They are also good served with steak or other types of meat. The Portobello which is essentially a fully grown Crimini are great for Mushrooms burgers. Remove the stems, marinate them in Italian Salad Dressing and then grill them on a stove top grill and serve on Hamburger Buns topped with Provolone Cheese and Lettuce and Tomato. You will get the same satisfaction from this Burger as one with beef and it is much healthier for you. The Portobello can also be stuffed with either a crab stuffing, a breadcrumb and chopped mushroom stem stuffing or a rice stuffing. They are large enough so that one stuffed mushroom can serve as an entre for dinner served along with a salad.

The White Mushrooms can be used in pretty much the same way as the Crimini. The larger of the White Mushrooms are great stuffed for appetizers. They can be served at the table or passed around as finger food before dinner starts or just be part of a great appetizer party. The Shitake which is sometimes called tree mushrooms or forest mushrooms are native to East Asia. They have a unique taste which can best be described as a blend of filet mignon and lobster. Unlike the stems of the Brown and White Mushrooms, the stem portion of the Shitake is too tough and woody to eat, so they should be removed before preparing.

Oyster mushrooms grow in clumps and do have the shape of an oyster and they have a chewy texture. It is not quite certain how Oyster Mushrooms got their name. Some say it is from the flavor and others say that it is from their shape. They were first cultivated in Germany during World War I as a subsistence measure. They are now cultivated world-wide and are especially favored in Asian countries.

Enoki Mushrooms were originally a delicacy in Ancient Japan and were limited to a farming region in the northern part of the country where they grew wild. The Enoki is named for the tree on which it grows in the wild. This is a Japanese Hackberry Tree or Enoki which is its Japanese name. It has only been in the last few decades that a technique was developed to cultivate them and grow them in other areas. The Enoki is popular in Japan, China and Korea. These miniature, slender mushrooms have a crisp texture and create a lovely, fragile, delicate visual effect.

The Chanterelle Mushroom is orange or yellow, meaty and funnel-shaped. It has a fruity smell, somewhat like apricots and a mildly peppery taste and is considered an excellent edible mushroom. The Chanterelle is common in Northern Europe, parts of North American and Mexico and can also be found in Asia and Africa. Many popular methods of cooking chanterelles include them in sautes, souffels, cream sauces, and soups. They are not typically eaten raw, as their rich and complex flavor is best released when cooked. Their flavor essences are fat soluble and therefore they are excellent for sauting in Butter or Cream.

Truffles are probably the most expensive mushroom there is and probably the most unattractive. There are several varieties of truffles including the black and white. The truffle grows underground and to find them, it was traditional to use pigs who love truffles to find them. Nowadays there are dogs that have been trained to hunt them out. The animals find them by their fragrance which is very pungent. When using truffles in cooking, usually only a very small amount is needed. The truffle is shaved into thin slices and used as seasoning for a dish. Truffle Oil can be purchased and used for culinary purposes also. The advantage to using the oil is that it will last longer than a fresh truffle will and the flavor won't be quite as strong.

Mushrooms are a nutritious food in that they are low in calories, contain no fat and contain significant amounts of protein and Vitamin C. Therefore they are great for dieters but aside from that they add marvelous flavor and texture to food. They can be cooked by themselves as a side dish; they can be used as entrees or just to add flavor and texture to other dishes. To prepare mushrooms for cooking, follow basic rules for retaining maximum flavor.

• Do not wash: Wipe with damp paper toweling.
• Do not peel: The skin is very flavorful. If there are any bad spots, cut off only that spot and no more.
• Do not soak: If you do, they will become waterlogged, losing vitamins, as well as flavor. Remember that mushrooms will add flavor and texture to your food and can be a tasty dish by themselves.

With the addition of a little garlic, fresh basil and olive oil, you can create dishes that will be enjoyed by all.

I have been a children's cooking teacher and educator for over 35 years. I teach monthly classes in Westlake Village, California for children, teens and their parents. I love to share my ideas to help kids be safe, learn and have fun in the kitchen. I hold a MS in Nutrition Education and Food Sciences from California State University. In addition, I am a certified member CCP of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

Please check out my website at http://www.sylveeeskitchen.com

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