Monday, November 30, 2015

Minnesota Mushrooms: Chaga Foray, How to make Chaga tea

Does this look familiar? If you have ever hiked in the north woods where there are large populations of birch trees, chances are you have seen the Clinker Polypor before.
File:Inonotus obliquus.jpg

I have had this blog post on the back burner for some time. Since my first failed attempt to collect chaga a few years ago I have been very successfull at a couple of Minnesota locations. My mom and I now feel like we have a bounty of chaga, and when we go snow shoeing we only go for the easy "low hanging fruit". It is still exciting to find a large chaga, I think because foraging is tough in the winter, not a lot going on compared to Minnesota in the summer with berries, nuts, and mushrooms growing everywhere.
Chaga mushroom broken into pieces ready to grind.
Chaga is actually the mycelium of the mushroom not the fruiting body. It is very hard, the best way to harvest it is with a hammer, hit it just right and it will kinda pop out of the tree. What about the tree you ask? Don't worry chaga is only present in dead or dieing birch. The fungus usually starts growing where a tree has been damaged and then continues to grow and take over. So as long as you are just hammering or chopping the chaga you are not damaging the tree.
The inside of the chaga is a beautiful golden color.
Break chaga into pieces by putting it into a pillow case and hammering on a hard surface(like concrete). You will then need to grind into smaller pieces the easiest way is a food mill. Some people make a tea out of the chunks of chaga without grinding but I think that wastes a lot of chaga.
Using a grain grinder to process chaga.

Ready to make chaga tea.
How to Make Chaga Tea

Once you have your chaga ground it is time to make chaga tea. If you look around the internet there is no one set way to make chaga tea for every person who makes it ti seems like there is a different recipe. I start with about 8 cups of water to 1/2 cup ground chaga. Bring it to a boil then let it simmer for 20-30 minutes. Then I cover it and let it steep for about 8 hours.
Making medicinal chaga tea, makes the house smell like a damp forest.
After the first steep, stain the tea into a container and return all grounds to the cooking pot. Add about 5-6 cups of water this time and complete boiling steeping process again.
I will usually boil chaga grounds 3 times using less water each time. Combine all tea together. I think the taste of the tea is diffferent from first to last batch not just the strength. You don't get all of the flavors until the last boil. You will know when the chaga is spent because it will not make the water darken immediately.
Cool the tea and drink it cold or hot. You can alter the strength by adding water.

 What is chaga you ask and why would I want to drink it, well lets see what Wikipedia has to say about it.

Inonotus obliquus, commonly known as chaga mushroom (a Latinisation of the Russian term 'чага'), is a fungus in Hymenochaetaceae family. It is parasitic on birch and other trees. The sterile conk is irregularly formed and has the appearance of burnt charcoal. It is not the fruiting body of the fungus, but a mass of mycelium, mostly black due to the presence of massive amounts of melanin.

There are several unique things about the chaga mushroom
  • It is not the fruiting body of the mushroom but the mycelium itself. You usually don't even notice the mycelium of a mushroom as it is spread out under the ground or under the tree bark.
  •   number of studies on cell cultures show that chaga possesses antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-stimulating properties.
  •  Chinese medicine where it earned the names: “King of the Herbs” and “A Gift from God”.
  • It brews up to be a tasty tea with good tannic acid. with a very north woodsy flavor.
  • 40-60 dollars a lb wholesale, making one of the most expensive mushrooms out there!
Last winter I went on my first Chaga hunt with the MMS(Minnesota Micological Society).  Here is my account of the foray.

"This past weekend I went on a winter mushroom foray! My mom, daughter, and me piled in the car early saturday morning and drove up to the north shore to hunt for chaga. It was a crazy drive, they actually have snow up north.  Here in Minneapolis the snow has been spotty. The trip was a learning experience, I learned that Chaga is easy to spot, but usually out of reach. And if you do find some within reach it is really hard to get a frozen chunk of hard mushroom off of a tree. This is a mushroom that requires more than plucking from the earth. I also learned that trekking through snowy woods is exhausting! My mom had snow shoes and faired a little better, but the ten inches of snow Saturday night cut our Sunday foray short. After hiking through waist deep snow Audrey (age 7)was exhausted.  I wasn't feeling all that spry myself.  We left with a meager amount of chaga and a determination to do better next time. We will build our stamina, and muscles, hone our axes, hone our winter sporting skills. You haven't seen the last of us Chaga. When we meet again I will be less wussy and wrest you from that dieing birch with one swift chop of my ax. Or I will bring my husband along and he will do the chopping."

Luckily for us a few weeks after our unsuccessful Chaga hunt my sister happened to find a large chaga mushroom while skiing in the northwoods. It was just laying behind the cabin she was staying in so she generously gave it to my mom and I. Now that we had the Chaga we began a new adventure, turning it into Chaga tea, elixer of life. From what I have read online Chaga can cure everything from ringworm to cancer. There aren't many scientific studies yet, but I hear some are taking the anti-cancer properties of chaga very seriously.

Many of the mycophiles in the MMS  attribute various health benifits to chaga. Some say it helps thier high blood pressure, others say cleared up IBS. I dont know what it has done for me but I haven't suffered from the common cold since I started drinking chaga regularily. also haven't had as much trouble with acid reflux.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Making Chai Masala Tea, a weekend project with countless benifets

 On the weekend I usually like to make a big batch of something to eat or drink that will last me well into the workweek. That way when I don't have time or energy during the week I can still benefit from my weekend efforts. This week I decided to make Masala Chai Tea, because frankly I have been craving it lately. And the recipe in India by Pushpesh Pant is outstanding. This book is full of amazing recipes I have only tried a few but they have all been delicious and the Masala Chai recipe is worth buying the book. I have adapted the recipe slightly to suit my tastes But I think it is the method of cooking the Chai that makes it so satisfying. The finished tea has the silky mouth feel of a well made latte. 

 Making Chai is very easy, it takes about 20 minutes. This recipe makes a lot(2.5 quarts) but it will keep in the fridge for a week.

  • 10 cloves
  • 10 green cardamom pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • 8 black tea bags(I used decaffeinated so I could drink it before bed, or whenever the hell I feel like it without having to worry about the caffeine keeping me awake)
  • 4 cups of milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar(you can add more or less depending on how sweet you want it. Substitute vanilla sugar to make Vanilla Chai tea)
  • 6 cups of water
 First off put your water on the stove to boil. Then put the whole spices in a mortar and pestle.

Just kidding, everything except cinnamon sticks, so take out the cinnamon sticks and put them in the pot of water, crush the remaining spices with the pestle. If you don't have a mortar n pestle pulse spices in a coffee grinder or blender, just try not to make them too fine. You could also put the spices in a plastic zip lock bag and use a rolling pin to crush them.
Once your water starts to boil add crushed spices and ground ginger.
Boil for two minutes.
Add tea bags(remove the paper tags and staples)Boil 1 minute.
Reduce to a simmer, simmer five minutes.
Add milk, return to a boil, watch closely as it might boil over at this point.
Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in sugar.
Strain and serve hot, store remaining in fridge for up to a week.
Once chilled it also makes a delicious iced tea, just pour over ice. Or reheat in microwave for a non alcoholic after dinner digestif.

All this boiling and timing might seem like a pain in the ass, but its easy just do it and you will end up with a cup of the best Chai you have ever had!
If being delicious and fairly easy to make doesn't sway you to try your hand at making Chai tea, maybe the many health benefits of Chai tea will.
  •  Black Tea has many of the same benefits as green tea. Antioxidants and tannins are a few of the many beneficial components in tea.
  •  Cinnamon is thought to increase circulation and open breathing, increase awareness and vitality, and reduce fatigue.
  • Cardamom is said to benefit the lungs, kidneys, and heart. It is also a mood elevator.
  •  Cloves have pain-relieving and antiseptic attributes
  •  Ginger has long been valued as a stimulant for the circulatory and the immune systems, 
  • Fennel is said to facilitate digestion. Some of the components in fennel are stimulants and stimulate secretion of digestive and gastric juices, reduce inflammation of stomach and intestines and facilitates proper absorption of nutrients. It also has anti acidic (basic) properties and is extensively used in antacid preparations.
Still not convinced! The best thing about making Chai is that it will help you use up some of those ageing spices gathering dust in your spice cabinet. While I was gathering the spices for this recipe I found a hardened old vanilla bean which I then used to make vanilla sugar(recipe to follow). Vanilla sugar could be substituted for the regular sugar in recipe to make Vanilla Chai Latte.
 Vanilla Sugar How To

The usual way to make vanilla sugar is to take a fresh vanilla bean and cut in half the long way, put it in a jar and cover with sugar. Wait a week and viola vanilla sugar. I make mine a little differently, I buy a vanilla bean or two with grand plans to make something uber delicious. I put the vanilla bean in my spice cabinet maybe use one maybe not, then discover them 6 months to a year later hard as a rock. Now at this point I wouldn't risk using this dried out bean on a complicated dessert recipe, but it still has plenty of flavor to give. So, I break it up and put it in a pint jar of sugar. Wait a week and yeah you guessed it vanilla sugar! What is it good for you ask? Many things, I use it mostly when I make oatmeal(blueberry, cinnamon, vanilla), or I add to smoothies to add a little hint of vanilla. If I put sugar in my coffee I would definitely use this there as well. Also good on grapefruit. The possibilities are practically endless.
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Friday, November 9, 2012

Fast Foodie Friday, Easy Pasta, DInner in minutes!

So I know I promised you guys easy dinner recipes, well I haven't forgotten. This one might be the easiest yet. This is one of those recipes where you might think, it's so simple/boring how could it be good? You will have to trust me and try it for yourself. It is amazing how delicious this dish is. All of the ingredients are showcased in the finished dish, so make sure you use high quality ingredients. That being said you probably have most of these ingredients on hand.

  • Angel hair or cappelinni pasta
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil(no subs on this, vital to flavor)
  • 1 large can of whole plum tomatoes
  • kalamata olives
  • garlic, thinly sliced not minced
  • fresh basil
  • Parmesan cheese the real deal not pre shredded or grated, you need a chunk.
  • zucchini or other vegetable, optional.
This dish is fast and easy, you can have an impressive looking pasta on your table in 20 minutes! However, for the finished flavor to be impressive you need to follow these guidelines. Use a decent quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil, it is part of the sauce so you will be tasting it. Also slicing the garlic vs. mincing make a difference in flavor! Sliced garlic will have less punch and be more mellow. The last thing that is very important is using a chunk of Parmesan, you need to shave thin sheets of parm onto your finished pasta, if you use grated Kraft bullshit parm or even preshredded, you might as well just not make this dish. Ok you get the idea now to the how to.

  • Get your pasta water on the stove.
  • open can of tomatoes and drain of extra juice, then crush with hands and drain of most of extra juice again. place tomatoes in bowl.
  • add about 6 kalamata olives torn in half/or 12 halves.
  • Julienne about 6 leaves of fresh basil and add to tomatoes
  • thinly slice 2 cloves of garlic
  • Then add about 3 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, I know it seems like a lot but Olive oil is heart healthy remember.
  • Season generously with salt and pepper.
  • Your sauce should look like this

  • When your water is boiling add your pasta/about one fist full(make a circle with thumb and forefinger....that much)
  • If using zucchini or other vegetable have it sauteed and ready in pan when you add pasta to water. If not using skip this step.
  • Add all of your sauce to the saute pan, cook a few minutes.
  • Your noodles should be al dente now take them directly from water to saute pan. Some water is ok it will add to your sauce.
  • Cook together until liquid is absorbed by noodles.
  • Plate and using a vegetable peeler shave a generous amount of Parmesan on top.

Other Fast Foodie Friday Posts