Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Surprise Surprise, What You Can Find When You Clean Out the Refrigerator

Over the years we've accumulated several refrigerators: 1 in the kitchen, 2 in the garage. But even with 3 refrigerators, there are times when they're so crowded we can't tell what's in there. That's when I have to take the time and give the refrigerators a good spring cleaning. Anything past its expiration date is an easy-throw-away. But what about the half-dozen bbq sauces the boys and I are still experimenting with?

Sometimes there's a pleasant surprise in the back of the refrigerator, like the home cured olives that get better with time. Or a month old paper bag filled with what was two pounds of shiitake mushrooms. Whenever I go to the Vietnamese markets in Little Saigon, I buy 4-5 pounds of shiitakes because they're so inexpensive: $2.79/pound instead of the usual $12-18.00/pound at Whole Foods and Gelson's. For weeks we'll feast on shiitakes: in pastas, grilled on the bbq, in soups, and sautéed with garlic and shallots.

Everyone knows that mushrooms should only be stored in paper bags because in plastic they'll get soggy. An added advantage: the paper bag is a natural dehydrator. In a few weeks the shiitakes dry out perfectly. This technique works with brown mushrooms as well but the shiitakes are the best.

Dehydrating Shiitakes

Put the mushrooms into a paper bag, add a paper towel in the middle to prevent against spoilage and facilitate drying, and close the bag. If any mushrooms develop mold, discard them. Once the shiitakes are completely dried, store in a sealed glass jar. At that point they don't have to be kept in the refrigerator but they seem to taste better if you do.

Reconstituting Dried Shiitakes

Put the dried mushrooms in a heat proof bowl and pour in enough boiling water to cover. Place a smaller bowl on top of the mushrooms to push them under the hot water. Let them sit for 30 minutes until they soften. Just before using, remove the mushrooms, gently squeeze out the water (reserve all the water), cut off the stems and discard. At this point the mushroom caps can be cooked as if they were fresh.

Shiitake Mushroom Soup with Garlic

A simple, satisfying soup. Other ingredients can be added to the basic soup: grilled sausages, roast chicken, raw shrimp, carrot rounds, corn kernels, , ginger, or deveined shrimp. If you have a package of ramen, cook the noodles and add those and a sliced hard boiled egg as well.

2 cups dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted, stems removed, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
4 shallots, peeled, finely chopped
4 cups spinach leaves, washed, stems removed (finely chop the stems, leave the leaves whole)
4 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
Soaking water
Sea salt and pepper
Olive oil

In a small pot sauté the mushrooms, garlic, shallots, spinach stems and leaves, and any other vegetables with the olive oil until lightly browned. Add the soaking water and chicken stock. Simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with the salt and pepper as needed. If you cooked ramen noodles, add them just before serving.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 30 minutes.

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