Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fungus For... Like You Know... Ever!

These things are true...
  1. I love cooking with mushrooms. Their earthiness ups the flavor in savory dishes exponentially.
  2. We buy the bulk of our groceries at Costco (pun intended).
  3. Sometimes we can't use up all the mushrooms we buy at Costco before they go bad. It makes me sad, but the alternative is paying more for less (which makes me mad).
Now I can feel happy, empowered and thrifty all at the same time... and never throw another mushroom in the compost bucket again, even though it might actually be pretty happy there, come to think of it. In that case, how about "...and never throw money away on mushrooms that go bad before you can use them all". That's the beauty of dried mushrooms: they will keep indefinitely... forever in other words.

Ding! Next dilemma, please: wash vs. don't wash vs. damp wipe. The main arguments seemed to be that by washing, the mushrooms would get soggy and ruin whatever you were making, and/or that they would lose some of their flavor. Well, after handling them for a little while today, my hands smelled like... let's just say they smelled like what the mushrooms had been growing in. The Creminis especially so. I wouldn't mind if they lost a little of that flavor. And since I was going to dry them, getting them wetter first seemed illogical. So I chose to damp wipe them. Faced with a total of 3 pounds of the things, I turned to my trusty salad spinner for assistance. I lined the basket with a wrung-out damp dish towel, dumped a bunch of the mushrooms in and started spinning. It worked moderately well and was a heck of a lot faster and easier than wiping them off one at a time. Apparently some people actually peel their mushrooms. Now, there are things I'm willing to devote hours, even days to; things so detailed as to drive the average person screaming and running up a tree. Peeling mushrooms? That ain't one of 'em.

My Notes: After 5+ hours, I finally had to take them out of the oven. I needed to go bed (it was very late) and I needed the oven for resting my bread dough in overnight. The hubs thought the mushrooms looked "cooked". They are quite a bit darker than dried white mushrooms from the store, but I rationalized it by saying that the store-bought ones are "dehydrated with cool air" and that's why they look different. But I don't really know what the heck I'm talking about and frankly, he could be right. All I know is that in 5 hours or so, I turned a pound and a half of plump fresh mushrooms into about 10 oz. of little brown chips. The Creminis I covered with paper towels, stacked the two pans and put them on the lower rack of the oven overnight (bread bowls above). In the a.m. I started them off at 170° (my lowest setting) with the door cracked open to allow more steam to escape. Swapped and rotated the pans every hour until it was time to preheat for the bread. When these were finished drying, they looked a little better than the white mushrooms did. I think they worked better partly because I did a better job of slicing them in the food processor (pack them tightly on their sides and push the plunger fast!).

Lessons for next time:
...Start early in the morning on a day when you know you won't need to leave the house.
...Buy the dang things already dried.
...Find a friend who has a dehydrator and borrow it.
...Get over throwing a few slimy 'shrooms into the compost bin every now and then.
...Go to a movie: it'll cost less than the electric bill incurred by 5+ hours of oven time, and will likely be more entertaining.
...Or try some of these other tips and methods for DIY dried mushrooms...
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