I’m becoming more than a little obsessed with fungi. Fresh, dried, farmed, wild, exotic. I want to touch them, smell them, pick them, chop them, cook them and, OK, I know this is getting weird. I mean, I just made a shiitake mushroom soup that brought tears to my eyes. Last week, I stopped my car, hopped out, looked around, wavered a little at the ethics involved, and then shamelessly ripped up half a gorgeous, 18-inch chicken of the woods (that’s a wild mushroom) from the base of a tree. The only reason I didn’t take the whole thing is that the mushroom guy I was with (they’re called “mycologists”) wanted some, too. I took it home, chopped it up and sauteed it in butter with a small bolete and a russala the mycologist found and a few more shiitakes. I almost didn’t get it to work to be photographed. I blame the media. My friend who goes on a TV news program in Cleveland all the time to cook and show off his fungi knowledge got me started. Meanwhile, mushrooms are all over the cooking magazines because they’re low-carb and have nutrients. Then there’s the local food movement, and it’s hard to get more local than mushrooms you found yourself in the woods — under the supervision of a mycologist type, of course. I am in no way suggesting anyone go wandering around in the woods picking mushrooms and popping them in their mouths. To my point: My walk with Garrett Taylor, the aforementioned mycologist (who is also a chef at Seneca Allegany Resort and Casino and a member of the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club), ended in a sizable patch of bright white Destroying Angel mushrooms which, if ingested, take their time — six to 24 hours, so there’s no way to catch it early — before attacking your central nervous system, kidney and liver. If you don’t get a new liver within a week, you’re, well, mushroom food. But the ones you can eat are fascinating. I’m writing a news story about the growing mushroom economy in the area, with farmers getting into the action, and in my research, I found myself with a pound of farmed shiitakes. Those, with the aforementioned wild ones, added up to more than a column’s worth, an embarrassment of riches. Five things I learned: 1. The Mushroom Soup is one of the best recipes I’ve made in years. No kidding. My husband called it “restaurant quality,” and I had to agree. The thing is, it’s also one of the simplest: Slice, sautee, simmer, season, slurp. It’s that easy. Make it for anyone. Even make mushroom haters try it. It’s funny. I never thought much about mushrooms before I went hunting for them with my friend Don a couple of years ago. Now their flavors amaze me. And the simpler their preparation, the better they taste. Just some cooking and seasoning highlights their woody, meaty flavor. This soup is a perfect example. 2. One thing about sauteeing mushrooms is that they’ll soak up any oil or butter you have in the pan within seconds. When I was making the soup, I left the bacon grease in the pan and cooked the onion in that. Everything was fine until I added the mushrooms and — whoosh! — that pan was dry as a bone. I poured in some ghee (it was already a little melty) as fast as I could, afraid everything would burn or stop cooking. They soaked that up, too, but at that point, I decided they had enough fat in them to cook OK. 3. The same thing happened with the Wild Mushrooms with Garlic and Parsley. Taylor told me the Chicken of the Woods mushrooms are so fleshy that they need to cook low and slow, almost like ribs. In fact, he suggested cooking my big section like a chicken breast and eating it like a barbecued chicken sandwich. I didn’t want to do that, though. I wanted to work with the flesh of it and see how it looked inside and how it tasted in small bites and compare it to the other ones. Boy did they all soak up the ghee. But their heady flavors of meaty, earthiness was addictive, especially with a sprinkle of coarse salt and fresh parsley. 4. The Balsamic Chicken with Mushrooms and Thyme was excellent, but underscored for me, again, just how much I hate chicken breast meat. I’ve gone almost entirely to eating legs and thighs so that breast meat (except for that on a rotisserie chicken) just tastes like compressed sawdust. The mushrooms, though, really soaked up the vinegar and leant flavor to what would otherwise have been a depressing meal. If you’re serving yourself, take as many mushrooms as your conscience will allow. Better yet, make this with chicken thighs. Use the boneless, skinless kind, which cook faster and are much easier to eat. Use eight of them and serve two per person. 5. Cleaning mushrooms can be tricky. I don’t suggest washing them in water — at least not until right before you use them — or they’ll get slimy. Some people use a brush or paper towel to knock off any dirt. I try to spot clean any visible dirt. Mushrooms you get from the store are usually in pretty good shape. Fresh ones from a local farm or wild ones you’ve discovered yourself are another matter. You just have to judge mushroom by mushroom. Old toothbrushes might work for stubborn dirt, but be gentle either way. If you’re going to cook them anyway, I wouldn’t stress about it too much. By the way, if you’re using fresh shiitakes, you have to remove the long fibrous stems. They’re too tough to eat, though they’re excellent for making vegetable or mushroom stock. Save and freeze them until you have enough bits for a pot of liquid gold. Wild Mushrooms with Garlic and Parsley Total time: 20 minutes; prep time, 10 minutes; cook time: 10 minutes; serves 2-4 as an appetizer or side dish 8 ounces mixed fresh wild mushrooms Kosher salt, to taste Fresh ground black pepper, to taste ½ teaspoon chopped fresh garlic or more to taste 2 tablespoons high heat cooking oil or lard 1 teaspoon fresh chopped Italian parsley 1 tablespoon unsalted butter Clean the mushrooms meticulously. In a large saute pan or cast iron skillet, heat the oil until hot and shimmering. Add the mushrooms and cook until caramelized on medium-high heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then add the butter, garlic and parsley and cook for 1 minute more, stirring to distribute the seasonings. Double check the seasoning for salt and adjust if needed, then remove the mushrooms from the pan with a slotted spoon to remove any excess fat, or allow them to dry on paper towels for a second, or just serve on paper towels. — http://foragerchef.com Mushroom Soup with Ghee and Bacon Total time: 40 minutes; Prep time: 10 minutes; cook time: 30 minutes; makes 4 cups 10 ounces sliced mushrooms 1 medium onion, chopped 2 garlic cloves, minced 3½ cups homemade chicken or beef bone broth 2 tablespoons ghee 1½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves 4 bacon slices (optional) Salt, black pepper to taste Heat non-stick pan over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crisp. Crumble bacon and set aside. In a large pot, melt ghee over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for 8 minutes or until golden brown. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add soup and 1 teaspoon of thyme, cover with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and use a stick blender to blitz until smooth. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Divide soup between 4 bowls, sprinkle with crumbled bacon and remaining thyme leaves and serve. — https://paleogrubs.com Balsamic Chicken with Mushrooms and Thyme Total time: 25 minutes; prep time: 5 minutes; cook time: 20 minutes; serves 4 1 1/3 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts 2 teaspoons olive oil 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced 2 garlic cloves, minced ½ cup low sodium chicken broth 2½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar ½ teaspoons thyme Salt and pepper 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sear on both sides until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Remove the chicken and set aside. Add the garlic and mushrooms to the skillet and cook for 3-4 minutes until mushrooms begin to soften. Add the chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, and thyme to the skillet. Stir and scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken and let simmer for 10-15 minutes on low heat or until chicken is fully cooked. — www.slenderkitchen.com — Jennie Geisler can be reached on Twitter: @ETNGeisler.