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Move over, mushroom-stuffers

02 November 2006

Those who have made a lifestyle choice of following Shirley Conran's famous maxim "Life's too short to stuff a mushroom" will agree that it's never been easier to swerve the stove. Nowadays, there's not just the trusty M&S heat-and-serve range to rely on, as all the big supermarkets have leapt on to the ready-meal bandwagon. Simply wait for the ping, decant into a smartish-looking dish, and voilà: a tasty meal with no messy and time-consuming preparation.

However, any serial ready-meal purchaser will tell you that the delights of the chilled cabinet are relatively short-lived. After a while, everything starts to taste the same. The chicken in-a-creamy-leek-and-bacon-sauce tastes like the Spanish-meatballs-in-a-rustic-tomato-sauce, which tastes like the beef-in-hearty-red-wine-sauce. It doesn't become offensive - just a bit, well, samey.

So, turning full circle, suppose you did actually want to try your hand at stuffing that mushroom: where on the web would you find a recipe?

There is a delightful site, www.deliaonline.com, to be expected from the British institution Delia Smith. It's simple to use and inspiring, even for those who hate cooking. Search under mushrooms, and you get six pages of wonderful ideas - wild-mushroom soup with Madeira, oven-based wild-mushroom risotto. No stuffed mushrooms, though. And canny Delia labels some of her most appetising-looking recipes "premium content": i.e. you have to pay to see them. The rest of the sites listed here offer free recipes.

The Vegetarian Society's Cordon Vert cookery school has several pages of meatless fare, helpfully sorted into categories such as breakfasts, snacks, and sandwich fillings - www.vegsoc.org/cordonvert/recipes/index.html. You can also browse by season or ingredients. Surely the stuffed mushroom must surface here? I found mushroom-stuffed peppers, mushroom-stuffed filo parcels, mushroom and coriander gratin, but not bog-standard stuffed mushrooms. Perhaps it's just too naff, even for the current voguish revival of '70s winebar food.

Veggies or the faint-hearted should avoid www.txbeef.org, the site of the Texas Beef Council. There are some fascinating ideas here: how about Grilled Steak Santa Fe - "Frozen margarita mix is the secret to this great-tasting steak!" Continuing the fleshy theme, the British Meat Information' s site at www.meatmatters.com is funky-looking, has great illustrations, and also free downloadable recipe booklets.

Much as I hate to namecheck the UK's big supermarkets again, they do have decent sites, and so they should with all that cash to throw at them. Friends who cook regularly sing the praises of the Waitrose site at www.waitrose.com, which lets you search more than 3500 recipes using a combination of keywords, main ingredients, cooking time, and, usefully, preparation time. Helpfully, each dish also carries a customer rating.

Given his hefty advertising contract with Sainsbury's, I thought Jamie Oliver would loom large at www.sainsbury.co.uk, but not so. He doesn' t supply any recipes of his own. However (hurrah!) there is a canapé recipe for mini-stuffed mushrooms or tomatoes. And, to be fair, there's a collection of Jamie's recipes on his own site at www. jamieoliver.net.

If Tesco and Asda have online recipe sites, they are deeply hidden, but the smaller chain Somerfield has a reasonable stab at www.somerfield.co.uk , with several seasonal recipes, and an adequate search facility.

While we're on sites powered by big institutions, www.bbc.co.uk/food is packed full of information, much of it relating to TV shows, although there is a message board where you can swap ideas and recipes, and pose questions. There are also useful tips about what is in season, cooking with and for children, vegan food, and a range of other topics. And those who have been suitably inspired can read about how to enter TV cookery show Masterchef.

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