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Marvelous mushrooms

Mushrooms are fast transforming from ultra-gourmet to popular mainstream, and leaping from upscale menus into everyday homecooked meals and they need not intimidate the novice chef.

Variety of Mushrooms
The days of cooking with canned mushrooms or simply choosing the white button type are over. Supermarkets are now well-stocked with all manner of these earthy wonders. And now, thanks to cultivation, the exotic, intensely flavored varieties, such as shiitake, oyster and enoki, are now as available as the more familiar button, cremini and portobello.

The many uses of mushrooms

Mushrooms of all types are particularly attractive for the low-carb gourmand. Their meaty texture and savory flavors add unparalleled dimension to low-carb fare with relatively few calories and carbs. In vegetarian dishes, they mimic the texture of beef and poultry. And their low-carb volume reduces carb and calorie counts in many typically carb-heavy meals.

Mushrooms can be sauteed, broiled, grilled, baked and roasted. A few, like enoki, are best eaten raw. Dried mushrooms must be rehydrated before using and, due to their leathery nature, cannot replace fresh mushrooms in bulk. They are best incorporated into recipes to lend earthy depth.

Buying, storing and prepping

· Purchase only the plumpest, firmest mushrooms and avoid those that are bruised or slimy.
· Keep mushrooms in original packaging or in a paper bag and store on a refrigerator shelf, not in the crisper or vegetable drawer.
· When you are ready to eat mushrooms, use a mushroom brush or dishtowel to rub them clean of grit and earthy residue. If you feel more comfortable washing them, give them a quick dip in water but, because they are highly absorbent, do not let them soak. Simply pat them dry and cook.

Dried mushrooms

Fresh exotic mushrooms can be pricey, but you can infuse wild-mushroom flavor into a dish economically by using dried wild mushrooms. Try using white button, brown crimini or portobellos for the bulk of the recipe and flavor it using reconstituted dried exotic mushrooms. This technique works best with sauces, soups, ragouts and stews. To reconstitute dried mushrooms, cover them with boiling water and steep for at least 15 minutes. Remove mushrooms and squeeze to remove excess liquid, chop and add to the dish. For an added flavor bonus, strain the liquid to remove any grit and use as broth.

Types of mushrooms

· The familiar white button mushroom has a mild flavor that intensifies when cooked.
· The brown cremini is related to the white button but is darker in color and denser in flavor.
· Portobellos, with their meaty flavor and texture, are, surprisingly, white button mushrooms that have been allowed to mature.
· Shiitakes have frilly umbrella caps that have a meaty texture when cooked.
· Oyster mushrooms are the most graceful of the mushrooms with fluted caps, velvety texture and mild flavor.
· The enoki grow in clusters and have fragile, long stems with tiny caps best eaten raw as garnish to salads, soups or Asian-inspired dishes.
So you don’t inadvertently eat poisonous varieties, be sure to leave wild mushrooms to the experts and gather your mushrooms at the supermarket. Here are a few of the most popular seasonally available varieties:
· The porcini, one of the most sought-after wild mushrooms, has a meaty texture and is typically found in late summer.
· Chanterelles, frilly and lily-shaped, have a unique flavor with hints of apricot and almond.
· Morels come in yellow and black varieties and are characterized by nutty, earthy flavors with honeycomb crevices perfect for sauces.
· Known as the most expensive mushroom, truffles possess a powerful flavor, a little of which goes a long way.
· Morel mushrooms are perfect for sauces.
· Chanterelles nestled in fluffy, cheesy eggs give new meaning to breakfast as the most important meal of the day. This is sure to become a family favorite.

Recipes featuring gourmet mushrooms

Chanterelle Frittata

Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces chanterelle mushrooms, diced
6 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup lowfat evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
Red pepper sauce to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried
1-1/2 cups shredded Fontina or jack cheese

1. Preheat oven to 325 F and spray 9″ x 12″ x 2″ baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or wipe with butter. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until just soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until mushrooms are browned and tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, evaporated milk, salt, oregano, white pepper, red pepper sauce and tarragon. Add mushroom mixture to bowl and stir to combine. Pour ingredients into prepared baking dish and sprinkle with cheese. Bake on middle rack of oven until eggs are firm and cheese is lightly browned, about 30 minutes.

3. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. To serve, cut into squares and top with your choice of sour cream, salsa, or pesto. Frittata can be enjoyed warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers covered in refrigerator for up to two days.

Per serving: 6g carbs; 0.8g fiber; 15g protein; 15g fat; 219mg cholesterol; 486mg sodium; 218 calories.

Chicken, Mushrooms and Wine

Serves 6

Feel like eating restaurant-quality fare in the comfort of your own kitchen? Give this recipe a place on your weekend menu. The secret to its sumptuous taste is the layering of mushrooms, fennel and bacon that infuses the chicken.

2 tablespoons butter, divided 1 pound white mushrooms, sliced
1 cup dry red wine, divided
1/4 cup Atkins Bake Mix
1/2 teaspoon kosher or table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, rinsed, patted dry
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 slices pancetta or turkey bacon, diced
1 medium red onion, halved, thinly sliced
1 8-ounce fennel bulb (without stalks), thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 350F. In large oven-proof skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they soften and give off liquid, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring, until liquid evaporates. Add 1/2 cup red wine and increase heat to high; boil until most of wine evaporates. Remove from heat and transfer mushrooms to plate. Set aside.

2. Combine Atkins Bake Mix, salt, black pepper and cayenne in shallow baking dish. Dredge chicken in mix, shaking breast half to remove excess. Heat 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Place three breast halves in skillet and cook for 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to plate. Heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and repeat with remaining three chicken breast halves.

3. Add pancetta or turkey bacon to skillet and cook in pan drippings, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add onion and fennel and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Increase heat to high and stir in 1/2 cup wine, sage and reserved mushrooms (plus any juice that accumulated on plate). Remove from heat and add chicken to pan, spooning mushroom mixture on top of breast halves. Cover tightly and place in oven on middle rack.

4. Bake until chicken is tender and cooked through (internal temperature 170F.), about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately with crisp green salad or vegetable side. Store leftovers in refrigerator in airtight containers for up to 3 days.

Per serving: 11g carbs; 2.5g fiber; 22g protein; 12g fat; 96mg cholesterol; 639mg sodium; 249 calories.

Mushroom Medley Bisque

Serves 8

A silky indulgence of earthy pleasures, this luxuriant soup makes a surreal first course. The unique foresty flavors of the mushroom medley prove that splurging on the exotic mushrooms is well worth it.

1 ounce dried morel mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces fresh portobello or white button mushrooms, chopped
4 ounces fresh oyster mushrooms, stemmed, chopped
2 leeks, cleaned, white and green parts sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup dry sherry
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
14 ounces heavy cream
1 teaspoon butter
4 ounces cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons thinly sliced basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Place dried morels in small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for at least 10 minutes or while you prepare rest of ingredients. Remove morels from water, squeezing out excess water, and roughly chop. In large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add morel, portobello and oyster mushrooms, leeks and garlic; cook, stirring often, until soft, 6 to 7 minutes. Add sherry, chicken broth and cream. Simmer over medium heat until reduced by one-third, about 40 minutes. Remove from heat and use long-handled hand blender to puree ingredients until smooth. Set aside.

2. In medium-sized nonstick skillet, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add cremini mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 3 minutes. To serve, ladle bisque into soup bowls and top each with sauteed cremini, tablespoon of Parmesan, tablespoon of slivered basil, salt and pepper.

Per serving: 12.4g carbs, 1.6g fiber, 10g protein, 18g fat, 44mg cholesterol, 261mg sodium, 251 calories

Mushroom Stuffed Pork Chops

Serves 4

Perfect for an elegant dinner party or a cozy romantic feast, mushroom stuffed chops glazed with a sweet fruit sauce become a centerpiece meal you will be excited to share.

2 teaspoons butter
4 slices low carb day-old wheat or multigrain bread, torn into tiny pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup finely chopped green apple
2 cups finely chopped cremini mushrooms
1/4 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
4 (5-ounce each) thick boneless, center-cut pork chops
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup Walden Farms No Carbs apricot spread
Juice of lime (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In large oven-proof skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add bread and cook, stirring often, until crisp and fragrant. Transfer to large bowl and set aside. In same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat and add celery, shallots and green apple. Cook, stirring often, until soft, about 4 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in beef broth, apple cider vinegar, and thyme. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes to slightly reduce liquid. Transfer mushroom mixture to bowl with bread crumbs and toss ingredients until liquid is absorbed. Set aside.

2. To make pocket in pork chops, place chops on cutting board. Insert blade of sharp knife into side of each chop and slide knife parallel to cutting board to make an opening, do not cut all way through chop. Season inside and outside of each chop with salt and pepper. Generously stuff each chop with mushroom mixture and reserve leftover mushroom mixture.

3. In large oven-proof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chops and cook for 3 minutes each side to brown. Add any leftover mushroom mixture and place skillet in oven on middle rack. Roast for 7 to 8 minutes or until pork is just cooked through. Remove from oven and tent with foil for 5 minutes.

4. In small microwave-safe bowl stir apricot preserves or orange marmalade with lime juice. Microwave on high for 20 seconds or until warm enough to pour. To serve, transfer chops and any stuffing in skillet to serving platter or individual dinner plates and drizzle with warm fruit sauce.

Per serving: 18.8g carbs; 4.1g fiber; 30g protein; 23g fat; 80mg cholesterol; 431mg sodium; 389 calories.

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