Kitchen and Spice Masthead

   "Champignon de Paris"
April 23, 2009 - Vol 1, Issue 2
In This Issue
April Special
April Events
A Forest of Mushrooms
The Fifth Taste
Roasting and Sauteing Vegetables
Smart Mushroom Tips
Q & A's
Cookbook Review
Recipes with Mushrooms
Quick Links
Appreciating Mushrooms
The proliferation and acceptance of cultivated mushrooms started as a rather serendipitous happenstance. Around the turn of the twentieth century, an enterprising florist in Kennett Square, PA, Mushroom Portraitsought to optimize his greenhouse space and began cultivating mushrooms underneath his plant benches.  Dark and damp, the conditions proved perfect for mushroom growing. His floral market, New York and Philadelphia, were also perfect targets for this secondary crop. Another surge in mushroom popularity around the mid '70's turned this specialty crop into commodity produce. A crop now worth nearly one billion dollars a year, mushrooms have spread into our kitchens and have been eagerly welcomed. In this issue we'll provide a glossary of commonly available mushrooms, discuss "umami," the fifth taste sensation, and offer instruction on two essential cooking techniques, roasting and sautéing.  We finish with three recipes featuring mushrooms that will have your mouth-watering in anticipation.
"Green" April Specials
Green Specials
April Events
Three Wine GlassesApril 23rd - Wine Tasting - 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
This month's wine tasting features McManis Chardonnay, Leese-Fitch Cabernet Sauvignon, Beyond Sauvignon Blanc and Primarius Pinot Noir.

McManis Chardonnay is crafted in the California style of oak barrels which lends a creamy, buttery flavor to the wine and naturally pairs well with buttery sauces.

Leese-Fitch Cabernet drinks beautifully with reduction sauces and meat, making it the perfect complement to food.
A Forest of Mushrooms
Mushrooms are in a special plant class of their own, fungi.  Most fungi grow on dead and decaying matter independent of sunlight. Ironically, mushrooms are one of the few rich sources of naturally-occuring Vitamin D, the "sunshine" vitamin. No longer dependent on the forest floor for favorable coChanterellesnditions, mushrooms are grown in dark, cool, damp buildings known as mushroom farms.  Mushrooms do not have seeds, but have spores for creating the next generation.  Spores are scattered on specific mixes of sawdust, corn cobs, and other decaying matter.  Runners, known as mycelium, begin to form in the soil. Mushrooms sprout as the "fruit" producing more spores on dark, papery gills located on the cap's underside. It takes four to six weeks for a crop to grow from spore to harvest.

Once the purview of secretive mushroom hunters, mushrooms are standard issue in today's grocery markets.  Until recently, fresh mushrooms meant white button mushrooms -- and they still comprise 85% of the cultivated market. However, in the last several years, the fresh options have expanded greatly.  Below is a brief glossary of commonly available mushrooms to help guide you: (Courtesy of the
Mushroom Council)

Mushroom Chart
The Fifth Taste - Umami
Pronounced "oo-MAH-may," umami is the "fifth taste."  Most of us grew up schooled on the four types of taste sensations: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Anecdotally, the famous French chef, Auguste Escoffier, and the Japanese scientist, Kikunae Ikeda, both hit on umami as the fifth taste, something separate and distinct from the other four tastes. The fifth taste is often described as "brothy," "meaty," or, as the word umami translates, "yummy."  

Tongue MapScientifically, the sense of taste is supported by thousands of taste buds. These specialized receptors are positioned throughout the mouth, particularly on the little bumps, papillae, of the tongue. They are also located on the sides and roofs of our mouths. Different individuals have different quantities of taste buds; an "average taster has about 184 taste buds per centimeter of tongue, a "supertaster" has 425, and "non-tasters" only 96.

The specialized receptors respond to one of the taste types.  What was informally known about umami was confirmed scientifically in 2002 when neuroscientists discovered specific receptors for L-glutamate on the tongue. It is this L-glutamate that comprises the primary umami sensation. L-glutamate is a consequence of glutamate, a component of nearly all organic matter, breaking down as it ages, ferments, or cooks. Glutamate is a common amino acid found in both plant and meat protein structures.  

Umami is also evoked by other micro-elements known as nucleotides, specifically, inosinate and guanylate.  Inosinate is generously found in meat and seafood, while guanylate is found in mushrooms.  The combination and proportion of these chemical elements creates different umami sensations. Chefs seek to amplify the "yummy factor" through the synergistic use of foods rich in the molecular components of umami.  By combining onions, (rich in glutamate) and mushrooms, (rich in guanylate), with a beefy stock, (rich in inosinate), the umami receptors become quite satiated!

Foods containing large quantities of umami elements include fish, shellfish, beef, pork, and chicken.  In the plant world, mushrooms are rich in umami tastes, as well as tomatoes, seaweed, soy beans, potatoes, Chinese cabbage, and carrots. In the dairy world, Parmesan cheese heads the umami list.

Roasting and Sauteing Vegetables
Once was the day that cooking vegetables meant boiling them until mushy and drab in color.  No wonder vegetables disappeared from our dining table! Then, we discovered steaming! Steaming kept vegetables appealing in color and inviting with their crisp-tender texture.  Steaming remains a perfectly healthy and appropriate cooking method.  However, as of late, it's roasting and sautéing vegetables that's taken a prominent role in the kitchen.

Roasting Vegetables - Roasting is a cooking technique invoking high, dry heat to the food at hand. This process evaporates the water in the food leaving the essence of the food in a concentrated form. It's this concentration of flavors and slight caramelization of the vegtables' sugars that makes them particularly flavorful.

How to Roast Vegetables:
Roasting Asparagus
  • Prep your vegetables by peeling, snapping, or trimming.
  • Wash the vegetables well, then pat dry.  We like to allow the vegetables to air dry for a few minutes to ensure that excess water is minimized.
  • Spread the vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet without crowding.  A baking rack may be used if desired.
  • Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the vegetables, and toss gently.
  • Sprinkle sea salt, and add freshly ground pepper.
  • Bake in a 400-425° F oven until the vegetables are just tender.
The key to roasting vegetables is a single layer arrangement. If you have more than a single layer of vegetables, roast in two batches.  It's important that the high heat reach the vegetables -- overcrowding will simply steam them instead of roasting them.

Sauteing MushroomsSautéing Vegetables - Sautéing is another high heat method of cooking that also serves to evaporate the vegetables' water while concentrating the flavors.  As with roasting, the high heat inspires the Maillard reaction, more commonly known as caramelization.  The butter or olive oil deployed in the process also adds to the delectable flavor layers. Similar to roasting, one key to a good sauté is not overcrowding the pan. Add only a single layer of vegetables at a time.  Sauté in two batches if necessary.

How to Sauté Vegetables:
  • Prep your vegetables by peeling, snapping, or trimming.
  • Wash the vegetables well, then pat dry.  We like to allow the vegetables to air dry for a few minutes to ensure that excess water is minimized.
  • Heat a sauté pan over a medium-high burner or flame.
  • Add a small amount of olive oil to the heated pan and allow the oil to heat
  • Add the prepared vegetables; stir or toss to coat with the hot oil.
  • Stir or toss gently during cooking until the vegetables are cooked to tenderness.
  • Sprinkle sea salt, add freshly ground pepper, and serve.
Saute PanUse a high-quality sauté pan that has a broad, flat bottom and sloping sides.  A sauté pan facilitates the tossing of its contents instead of stirring.  Stirring may damage tender portions of the vegetables.  To toss, push the pan forward abruptly so that its contents slide up the sides of the pan.  Catch the airborne veggies in the center of the pan.  The short flight time allows the vegetables to land in a different position and evenly cook on all sides.  With a little practice, your sauté tossing skills will be a source of admiration!

Smart Mushroom Tips
Tip #1:   Use a mushroom brush to clean your mushrooms.  A mushroom brush has softer bristles than typical vegetable brushes. The soft bristles will whisk away any dirt particles without damaging or tearing the delicate flesh of the mushroom.Mushroom Brush

Tip #2:  When buying mushrooms, choose those that look freshest and without any bruising or evidence of excess moisture.  Bruised mushrooms deteriorate quickly.  Excess moisture will also precipitate a quick demise. A cap that is closed indicates a younger mushroom with delicate flavor; an open cap is still quite fresh and will actually have a richer flavor.

Tip #3:  Mushrooms may be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week in their original packaging.  Once the package is opened, store the mushrooms in a paper bag. Avoid storing mushrooms in a plastic bag or container. Allow them to breathe a bit and keep them away from any condensation opportunities.

Portabella BurgerTip #4:  When sautéing or roasting, olive oil, (or other oils with higher smoke points), matches the situation well.  If you like the flavor of butter, use a combination of olive oil and butter; this will raise the overall smoke point while decreasing the overall saturated fat content.

Tip #5:  Use a large Portabella mushroom as you would a hamburger.  Brush the large cap with olive oil, grill for about 4-6 minutes on each side.  Load it up with sliced red onions, roasted red peppers, your favorite cheese, even ketchup or mustard if you like!

Tip #6:  When preparing mushrooms for stuffing, use a melon baller to "scoop out" the gills and any excess flesh. Save the trimmings and stem pieces; chop and add them to the stuffing for added flavor.

Q & A's
Q and A Logo Q:  Can mushrooms be frozen?
Mushrooms should be cooked before freezing.  Sauté or roast fresh mushrooms, spread in a single layer, and freeze.  Once frozen, store the mushrooms in an airtight bag or container for up to a month.

Q:  Why are store-bought mushrooms so dirty?

A:  Mushrooms are grown in a sterilized mix of decaying matter - just like the forest floor.  Different types of mushrooms prefer different soil mixes. The small specs of dirt found on fresh mushrooms are not dangerous - just brush them away with a soft bristled brush. Cleaning the mushrooms prior to packaging and shipping would hasten their demise. Trim the stem end of the mushroom prior to using.Dried Morel Mushrooms

Q:  Is it better to use fresh mushrooms or dried mushrooms?
A:  Both fresh and dried mushrooms will bring dynamic flavoring to your dishes. Given the perishable nature of mushrooms, dried versions are often available with wider variety. Dried mushrooms have more guanylate, therefore, more umami flavor.  Rehydrate dried mushrooms by pouring boiling hot water over the mushrooms and allowing them to set for 30 minutes. Trim the tough stems away prior to adding to your recipe.

Q:  Can I wash mushrooms with water?
A:  Contrary to popular belief, you can wash mushrooms to clean them. Be aware, however, that washed mushrooms may retain excess water especially in the underside gills.  Allow them to drain well and pat dry prior to use. Do not soak mushrooms; they will act like a sponge and absorb water.
Cookbook Review
Fresh Every Day, More Great Recipes from Foster's Market by Sara Foster with Carolynn Carreño. Copyright 2005. Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, NY.
The change in season brings a welcome change in harvests. Access to fresh ingredients increases in a variety of ways - from our gardens, reopened farmer's markets, and seasonal choices at supermarkets. This cookbook celebrates "freshness."  More than a buzzword, or part of the "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" slogan, "fresh" looks good and tastes great!  Building on a style of cooking that begins with what's available today, Foster puts practical reality with a refreshed view of what "home cooking" can be in the enlightened age of nutritional awareness and sustainable food sources. The eight chapters range in breadth: "Breakfast for Anytime,"  "Simple Soups," "Seasonal Salads and Salad Meals," "Seasonal Sides," "Quick and Tasty Meat Main Dishes," "Fast and Fresh Fish, Pasta, and Risotto Meals," "Meals that Cook Themselves," and "A Little Something Sweet."  Ms. Foster encourages us to use her recipes as jumping off points and provides us ample confidence to do so through clear instructions, notes that riff on her themes, and generous suggestions.

Recipes with Mushrooms
Recipes excerpted from Fresh Every Day, More Great Recipes from Foster's Market by Sara Foster with Carolynn Carreño. Copyright 2005. Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, NY. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

SoupWild Mushroom Soup with Sherry and Thyme
At home in spring as well as fall, this soup is delicate and satisfying all at once. We used a variety of mushrooms for maximum flavor. Absent from this recipe is any cream or heaviness. Instead, a portion of the soup is pureed and returned to the pot for natural thickness. The soup's rich flavor is predominantly earthy mushroom enhanced with sherry and an herbal touch of thyme.

Click here to view the recipe.

Click here for a printable version of the recipe.

Jonathan's Grilled Eggplant and Portobello Salad
Mushroom Salad with Fresh Mozzarella
We predict that this salad will be the season's new standard. Grilling the eggplant and Portobello mushrooms lent a smoky complexity to the overall flavor. The simplest of vinaigrettes was simultaneously a suitable marinade and dressing.  We used cherry-sized balls, Ciligiene, of fresh mozzarella to coordinate with the bite-sized vegetables.  This was a great do-ahead dish that only got better as it rested.

Click here to view the recipe.

Click here for a printable version of the recipe.

Roasted VegetablesRoasted Mushrooms with Green Peas and Tomatoes
This recipe makes quick use of your newly honed roasting skills. Colorful and flavorful, the roasted mushrooms, peas and grape tomatoes yield the desired concentrated flavors.  Mastered in the first making, the methods in this recipe are a perfect place to begin applying improvisational roasting skills that will prove useful throughout the spring and summer ahead.
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Click here for a printable version of the recipe.

Wishing you the best as you develop your mycologically-inspired culinary explorations!
Wanda and the Entire Staff
Kitchen & Spice, and Other Things Nice
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