Friday, October 21, 2011

Rain Gifts

Walking through the woods, la-di-da... Scanning the forest floor (russulas - check, LBMs-yes) finally my heart leaps when I see the apricot color splashed on the forest floor.  I drop to my knees, and feel the stem - it's thick.  I pull out my knife, cut the base, leaving the foothold and smell the sweet earthy fragrance of the chantrelle.

Follow this elevation, go right, go left, and gather until my bag is heavy, but before I leave too much of a trace.  In order to ensure the return of the fruiting bodies next fall, I like to leave more than I find.

The role of a mushroom in the eco-system is incredibly important.  It stores the sugars for the trees and plants to eat.  It also cleans the forest, as it does our bodies, of toxins.

Mesmerized by the hunt, I take off trying to stay at the same elevation, continuing to parole the area.  As my bag starts to overflow and the light begins to darken, I decide to turn around and retrace my steps back to my car, but wait, where's the trail?  Be careful, I'm not the only one that gets lost on the hunt. 

Mushrooms are often overlooked as just an accessory to a pizza or a salad.  The truth is, they are incredibly nutritious especially for those of us that live where the sun doesn't shine brightly all year long.  Once you get familiar with the wild local mushrooms, you can find that they go in about anything, pastas, stir-fries, gnocchi, chicken pot pie, on pizza, soup, but my favorite recipe is the most basic of them all:

Basic Wild Mushroom Recipe: 

I used chantrelles here, but this is the way I cook most wild mushrooms the first time to get an idea of their flavor.  Get more creative as you get to know them individually. 
1T butter
1 garlic clove, minced
~10 chantrelles
1/2 tsp sea salt

Heat butter in a skillet, add garlic, toss in chopped mushrooms, salt, and saute until soft.


Most people think that mushrooms have no nutritional value.  Well, they are just plain wrong, unless they are eating them raw. Mushrooms are jam-packed with nutrients, but we can only digest them if they have been cooked.  Not only are they nutritious, there are also quite medicinal.  

Here are some of the most notable nutrients in mushrooms:

Vitamin D:  One of my favorite facts about mushrooms is that they provide us with Vitamin D.  We typically get Vitamin D from the sun, but during the rainy season, when we aren't getting much sunlight, we can get our Vitamin D from mushrooms.   The chantrelle is the second highest food source of Vitamin D, second to that of Cod Liver oil.  Though all edible mushroms have shown to have a good amount.  In fact, our Local fella, Paul Stamets with Fungi Perfeci found that Shiitakes have more international units of Vitamin D when dried in the sun, and this level of Vitamin D is retained for 6 years. 

134 IU/ 100 g fresh; 46,000 IU/ 100 gram (dry weight) dried in the sun

Vitamin D is important for strong bones and teeth.  It's also important for mental health (commonality in people with depression have a Vit D deficiency).  Deficiency is Vitamin D can cause rickets, low bone density (osteoporosis) as well as some cancers.   

B Vitamins: This group of vitamins are vital for our immune, nervous and digestive systems. Niacin and other B vitamins are found in animal tissue but not plants, so 'shrooms can be a good source for vegetarians.

Potassium: This electrolyte controls muscle function, it's also vital for maintaining normal fluid balance and helps control blood pressure.  One serving of mushrooms contains anywhere from 400-3000 mg/serving.  In other words, way more potassium than a banana. 
Iron: An important for the building of red and white blood cells.  Necessary for muscle function and responsible for transporting oxygen in our body.  One serving of chantrelles provide us about 20% of our needed iron content for a day,

Copper: While we don't think of copper as that important of a nutrient, it's imperative for the absorption of iron, therefore it's important.  Mushrooms provided a pretty stout serving of copper.

Zinc, Manganese & Selenium are antioxidants which protect cells from damage.  And mushrooms are a great source of these antioxidants.  In fact, mushrooms are the highest food source of selenium available.

There are whole books, and lots of articles written about mushrooms removing toxins at old landfills and toxic waste sites.  Mushrooms do the same in our bodies,  they bind to toxins and help us pass them.  Similarly they help lower total body cholesterol.  

All mushrooms are known to improve immune system, support the cardiovascular system, and inhibit cancer growth.  There is current promising research for the use of shiitakes and Lion's mane for treatments of HIV, AIDS, digestive disorders, neurological disorders, and arthritis.

Check back often, because it's mushroom season, and I'll be sure to post more recipes and nutrition information as the 'shrooms grow. 


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Red Velvet Cake

Long before red food coloring, beets were the magic ingredient.  Ammen just celebrated a birthday, and we have an abundance of beets in the garden this year.  Naturally his birthday cake was a red velvet cake dyed with beets. 

The beets combined with the applesauce provide a sweet yet earthy flavor and a moist texture.  I frosted these cakes with a honey cream cheese icing because my husband will eat nothing else, but I personally think the icing was a bit strong for such simple cake.  If I make this recipe again for a different occasion I would do a simple honey butter icing or just serve the naked cake. 

As you can see, the batter of this cake is a brilliant magenta color.  After baking, the cake gradually turns to more of a brick red.  Unfortunately, I was too excited to eat the cake and didn't take a picture until most of the cake and color was gone.  The dyes faded more and more as the evening went on.   If you want to have the most red possible, bake this cake as close to the serving time as you can.  Luckily, the flavor and texture never faded.

Red Velvet Cake (With Beets)
Whenever possible, it's always best to purchase organic ingredients.  This is especially important when purchasing dairy products and eggs.  

6 beets
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup plain yogurt
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup spelt flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp sea salt


Place beets in a pot and cover with water, boil until soft (about 30 minutes), allow them to cool.  Peel the beets and chopped coarsely.  Combine chopped cooked beets and applesauce in a blender and blend until smooth.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round layer pans.

In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla, and then the beet mixture, mixing well.  Add the lemon juice and the yogurt and mix well again.

In a separate bowl, mix the cocoa powder, baking soda, flour, and salt together. Add to the wet ingredients and mix until well blended.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for approximately 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing from pans and allowing to cool completely.  Once the cakes are cool, frost them.

Honey Cream Cheese Icing

2 pkgs of cream cheese (8oz pkg)
1/4 cup local honey
1 Tbsp vanilla

Blend until smooth.  When the cakes are cool, spread with a rubber spatula on one cake.  Stack the cakes, and spread icing on the top. 


For the nutrition information on beets check out the post on Rosemary Red Soup.

Rest assured that cocoa does indeed have nutritional benefits.  As you can tell intuitively, chocolate is a natural anti-depressant, it's also very high in antioxidants and magnesium.  Antioxidants help fight free-radicals in our body, ultimately preventing inflammation and disease states (such as cancer).  Magnesium has a blood pressure lowering affect and is vital for our digestive, cardiovascular, and neurological systems. If you really want your fill on all the benefits of chocolate, you might enjoy the Theo Chocolate Tour.  There you'll get to taste all the chocolate you can dream of, and learn about this treasured food. 

I chose to use half spelt flour in the recipe rather than all-purpose wheat or even whole wheat.  Spelt is a grain that does have gluten, making it easy to bake with, but is more easily digestible than its typically overeaten relative, wheat.  Spelt is an ancient grain, and is thought to be an ancestor grain before wheat was hybridized.  Its is a great source of Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and Vitamin B3 (niacin) and manganese as well as insoluble fiber.