Buche de noel

Growing up in francophone New Orleans exposed me to a fair amount of French culinary traditions. One that has always intrigued me is the French christmas cake, the “Buche de Noel,” a sponge cake roll decorated to look like a log. It is usually iced in a chocolate butter cream, and filled either with more chocolate or perhaps a coffee buttercream, and might include decorations like meringue mushrooms.

Buche_de_Noel_2009_by_PetitPlat

I’ve never made this cake before because it seems complicated (or at least more involved than your standard cake). But, I think this is the year!

I’m excited to try this recipe over at Cake and Commerce. It’s gluten free, but not made entirely of starch as some other GF recipes out there. It uses buckwheat flour, one of my favorite GF flours. I think this will be the perfect Christmas Eve activity. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some good pictures to post here. I wonder if I can make shiitake-shaped merengue mushrooms. . .

Photo is CC Licensed from petitplat.deviantart.com.

It’s cold season again. . .

As we move into the colder months we become vulnerable to colds. While it’s true what they say, “there’s no cure for the common cold,” Chinese medicine offers some help to prevent it in it’s early stages.

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In Chinese medicine, a cold is an invasion of wind, what we call an “outside pernicious influence,” or an “OPI.” We are more vulnerable to wind invasions when the weather is changing from one season to the next. Energetically season transitions are considered windy times. As we move from warm weather to cool our body’s energy must make the journey from the surface, where’s it’s helped us sweat and cool down all summer, to the core where it becomes a furnace to keep us warm in the winter. This transition makes us more vulnerable–think about the unexpectedly cold day early on in the season. You probably feel colder than you think you should because your qi is still at the surface, not stoking your furnace.

So, what can you do about these things that you don’t have any control over? Chinese medicine gives us a few helpful tools:

1. Wear a scarf. Wind enters your body through the neck (think about the stiff neck/headache you get at the onset of a cold). Keeping your neck covered can help keep that door shut to OPIs.

2. Dress for the weather, not for the time of year. Dressing warmly on an unexpected cold day early in the season can help you protect you as your qi makes that journey from the surface to the furnace.

3. Eat immune boosting Shiitake and Maitake mushrooms as frequently as possible. Fresh shiitake and maitake can be expensive and hard to come by, but dried mushrooms are always available and much more affordable. You can rehydrate dried mushrooms by soaking them in hot water, then using them as you would fresh mushrooms. Use the soaking liquid in soups and stews. Add dried mushrooms to home-made vegetable stock.

If you do feel like a cold is taking hold, catching it in the early stages can help you prevent it from becoming a problem.

1. As soon as you feel like you might be coming down with something, make yourself sweat. I prefer a passive sweat–sit in a sauna, take a hot bath or shower–but if you’re not feeling too tired, a gentle workout can be o.k. When you sweat, it forces the OPI out of your system. Also, heating up the body tells the immune system to turn on to do battle with invaders.

If you’re like me and have some home-made ginseng tincture at home, you can add some to you’re hot bath for an extra immune system boost. This is an extravagant use of an expensive herb, but if you have it, it’s a nice addition. You can also boil dried ginseng root to make a decoction and add that to your tub.

2. Make tea with fresh ginger root. Fresh ginger can help release the exterior and make you sweat. Slice about 1 inch of ginger root into roughly quarter-sized coins. Boil for 20 minutes in about 2 cups of water. Drink this tea with some honey. It should taste spicy and potent. If it doesn’t, add more ginger and a little more water and boil it again. You can get a really good sweat going by drinking this tea while you’re sitting in your hot bath.

3. Take Yin Qiao San or Gan Mao Ling. These are two of our most basic cold-fighting formulas, and are generally safe for you to take on your own. I feel that no one should self-medicate with herbs–you should _always_ consult a trained herbalist–but these two formulas are well tolerated and increasingly available at natural food stores. Yin Qiao can sometimes cause loose stool, depending on your constitution, but it shouldn’t be a huge problem, and is a trade off for keeping a cold at bay.

4. See your acupuncturist. If it’s early stages, we can help kick the cold out of your system. If it’s taken root and you’re sick, a treatment can help you feel better faster.

Public domain image of ginger root from here.

One stock, two dinners: Celery Root Gratin, Lentil Soup

It’s cold here and Boston, and I’m suddenly, happily, more interested in spending time in the kitchen. Summer cooking is a challenge–the farmer’s markets are brimming with beautiful veg, but I want to spend my time lollygagging on the patio, not sweating in the kitchen. So, while the cold weather has it’s challenges, it makes me want to cook.

I’ve been making a lot of soup lately. I think of soup as a perfect food–I pack them with veggies, and usually include some type of bean and serve it with brown rice or quinoa. I’ve also been making my own stock lately, which makes a huge difference in the quality of the soup.

Stock always seems like a lot of work, certainly harder than using a bouillion cube or opening a carton of your favorite store-bought stock. It really isn’t, though. Coarsely chop some veggies (with skins intact for extra flavor), saute them in some olive oil, add water and some herbs and leave it to simmer on the stove while you do other things.

My current approach is to make a big pot of stock, and then use it as a basis for two different recipes. I also try to freeze some for some future time when I don’t have time to make stock. It doesn’t feel like that much work when you can use a pot of stock to make a couple of dishes.

This week I make Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone“>Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone mushroom stock using my favorite dried mushrooms, Maitake/Hen of the Woods and a few shiitake.

Maitake/Hen of the woods (pictured above) are super-delicious mushrooms with wonderful health benefits. They helps strengthen the immune system and have anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. Research has also shown that they have tumor-fighting properties and can help regulate blood sugar. I buy dried Maitake from Mountain Rose Herbs and use them almost every time I make stock.

Shiitake (pictured above, growing on logs) have similar immune-stimulating, anti-tumor and anti-bacterial effects. They’re easily found at any Japanese market and most Asian markets. Mountain Rose Herbs also carries dried Shiitake. I buy them fresh at my local Whole Foods Market, as well.

Fresh Maitake and Shiitake are quite expensive, but a little goes a long way. Dried mushrooms tend to be less expensive and are almost as nice as the fresh, depending on how you prepare them.

With cold season upon us, it make sense to use as many maitake and shiitake as possible.

This batch of Mushroom Stock went towards making a Celery root/brown rice gratin (also from Deborah Madison’s book) and a pot of lentil soup (recipe to follow later). These two dishes gave us several lunches and a dinner–a great reward for the work. The original gratin recipe called for wild rice, but my husband doesn’t think wild rice is good for eating, so I made it with brown rice. The added step of making the bechamel sounds like a lot of work, but once you throw it together it’s not hard to keep 1/2 an eye on it while you do other things. Just keep the fire low and remember to stir. Or use a double-boiler.

Mushroom Stock

1/2-1 oz dried mushrooms–maitake, shiitake, porcini, or combination
1 1/2 tbst olive oil
1 large onion, cut into quarters, skin on (remove any dirty layers)
2 carrots, quartered
2 celery ribs, quartered
4-8 oz white mushrooms, quartered or coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped leek greens (save whites for lentil soup, recipe to follow)
1/4 cup walnuts or almonds, optional
2 garlic cloves, skin on, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried sage
8 springs parsley
2 small bay leaves
2 tsp salt

1. Clean any dirt from dried mushrooms. Soak in hot water while you prepare everything else.
2. heat oil in a soup pot, add onion, carrots and celery. Saute over medium-high heat until the onion is browned, about 15 minutes.
3. Add mushrooms and their soaking liquid along with the remaining ingredients.
4. Add about 9 cups of water and bring to a boil.
5. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for 45 minutes.
6. Strain

Vegan brown rice and celery root gratin

Bechamel (made with mushroom stock, recipe to follow)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 small celery roots, peeled and grated
juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
3 cups cooked brown rice (or wild rice)
1/2 cup pecans
ground hazelnuts to sprinkle on top, optional

1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Oil 9×13 baking dish (or anything large enough to hold about 5 cups)
3. Make bechamel.
4. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add celery root with lemon jice, garlic and 2 tbsp parsley. Cook until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Combine rice, celery root, pecans and bechamel. Spread into prepared baking dish. Bake for about 20 minutes. Top with grated hazelnuts and return to the oven for another 5 minutes or so.

Mushroom bechamel

1/4 cp minced shallot or onion
3 tbst olive oli
2 tbsp flour (use white or brown rice flour for gluten-free version)
1 1/2 cups hot mushroom stock
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook shallots/onions in olive oil in a small saucepan over low heat for about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes more. Whisk in the stock all at once, then cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, or in a double-boiler for about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Lentil soup with leeks and mushroom stock

Medicinal Mushrooms

Mushrooms like Reishi, Cordyceps and Poria have long been used in Chinese herbal medicine as tonics for the body. Modern research has shown that these and other varieties of mushrooms have immune building, cancer-fighting and anti-inflammatory capabilities. It’s important to try to include some in your diet–no need to try to over do it, just to have them be a regular part of your weekly or monthly diet.

Here’s a post from Dr. Andrew Weil about some mushrooms to try to incorporate into your life. Cordyceps is a great mushroom, but I haven’t had much luck finding it outside of my Chinese herb suppliers. When you can find it, it’s incredibly expensive (too expensive for me to stock it in my pharmacy). Reishi is pretty easy to find and much more affordable, so I would choose that over cordyceps. Shiitake and Maitake (also called Hen of the Woods) are expensive to buy fresh, but relatively inexpensive to buy dried. I add some dried shiitake and maitake to any soup stock I make (or, if I’m in a hurry, I boil them along with some whole garlic cloves in some Imagine Foods No Chicken stock for a quick almost-home-made tasting stock). I get my dried mushrooms from MountainRoseHerbs.com.

Here’s Dr. Weil’s post, and you can go the original here:

Mushrooms are a big favorite of mine because they’re delicious and often have medicinal properties. If you’re not allergic and don’t find them hard to digest, try these:

1. Cordyceps: A Chinese mushroom used traditionally as a tonic and restorative. You can add whole, dried cordyceps to soups and stews, or drink tea made from powdered cordyceps.
2. Maitake: This delicious mushroom provides anti-cancer, anti-viral and immune-enhancing properties, and may also reduce blood pressure and help regulate blood sugar. Find it dried or fresh in Japanese markets, gourmet stores or upscale supermarkets.
3. Reishi: Too woody and bitter to eat, reishi mushrooms are available in tea bags, capsules and liquid extracts. Animal studies have shown that reishi improves immune function and inhibits the growth of some malignant tumors. It also acts as a natural anti-inflammatory agent.
4. Shiitake: The shiitake has been found to have immune modulating, anti-viral and cholesterol-reducing properties. Certain extracts of shiitake mushrooms are used in Japan as adjunctive therapy to strengthen the immunity of cancer patients during chemotherapy and radiation. Find it – fresh or dried – in grocery stores and Asian markets.

Note: I advise against the regular consumption of cultivated white or “button” mushrooms because they contain natural toxins that may act as carcinogens.