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I'm a Fun-gi

Mushroom are one of those foods that are loathed and loved in equal proportions. I, myself, am a lover, an ardent admirer, a jealous hoarder and a secret eater of a mushrooms. In my constant quest to be a little less environmentally destructive, mushrooms are my go-to meat substitute for that same soul-satisfying, unctuous depth of flavor that you can generally only find in a good steak. I love visiting my Farmer's Market and picking up my mushroom guy's $10 paper bag of mixed mushrooms. They're usually odds and ends and extras that didn't fit in with the other cartons of mushrooms being sold. I never know what I'm going to get and it doesn't really matter because I always prepare all my mushrooms exactly the same way.

So here's the deal with mushrooms. Somewhere along the way, they got this reputation for being slimy. I have never personally encountered a slimy mushroom, but I've heard stories. The problem with those stories is that mushrooms are extremely easy to cook and, as far as I can tell, it's much harder to cook them into sliminess that it is to cook them into crisp, brown deliciousness. The thing I love about mushrooms is that they are basically self flavoring--give them butter, salt and pepper and some time to brown and you've got delectable. Add herbs and wine to that and you've got transcendent. Add a little heavy cream and call me as you die of satisfaction overload. The other thing I love about mushrooms is that they are good on everything. Toss them in a salad instead of chicken. Toss them in a stir-fry instead of beef, toss them on a piece of bread slathered with some soft creamy cheese...perfection. I'll share with you my basic mushroom recipe with a few variations and then the world will be your oyster...mushroom! (Come on, I couldn't resist that one).

Basic Mushrooms

1 lb mushrooms cut into 1/2 inch thick slices (use any mushrooms you like--I love mixing baby bellas, oyster and lion's mane when I can get them. Yesterday I had some surprise shitakes that added extra richness to the fungus fest)

1/2 stick butter plus a few tablespoons extra

1 shallot, finely minced

4 sprigs of fresh thyme (you can use any herbs you like, but I always include time as it seems to really bring out the "mushroominess")

Instructions: Place a large frying pan on a high flame. Throw your 1/2 stick of butter in the pan. Once the butter has melted, throw your mushrooms in the pan. You want them to have lots of room so make sure you don't overcrowd. Give them a stir and walk away. Come back in five minutes and give them another stir plus a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Add your extra butter and shallots (the shallots can burn, so I always give the mushrooms a head start). Throw in your thyme. I used to pick all the leaves off, now I just toss in the whole sprigs and fish them out when I'm done. Walk away. Come back in five more minutes. Taste your mushrooms for salt, pepper and crispiness. You'll almost always need more salt and more crispiness and often even more butter (these are healthy but not diet food). Once mushrooms are brown on all sides, you're done. Remove the thyme stems and stop "tasting" them or they'll all get eaten!

Fancy Mushroom

1/4 cup dry white wine or sherry

2 tbs finely chopped parsley

Start with the Basic Mushroom Recipe. Once mushrooms are browned and well-seasoned, add wine or sherry. Toss and continue to cook on high heat until all alcohol has evaporated. Toss in parsley. Fancy Mushrooms are perfect to serve on top of crostini with a little goat cheese or aged gouda or folded into pasta.

Cream of Heaven Mushrooms

1/4-1/2 cup heavy cream

Same deal. Take your Basic Mushroom or Fancy Mushroom recipe. When mushrooms are well-seasoned and browned, turn heat down to medium-low and add heavy cream. Let cream come to a low simmer and thicken slightly. You can add a little extra heavy cream and shredded parmesan cheese to coat the mushrooms and then fold into eggs or use as omelette filling (my favorite!) or more cream to make a sauce for chicken or pasta.

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