Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Mushroom Cobbler

by Mary Ellen Kozak

This cobbler is worthy of any holiday table. There are several steps: caramelizing onions, sautéing the mushrooms, making a light béchamel, combining the cheese biscuit dough. If you are not familiar with the individual steps, they are well worth learning here as the steps can make any number of delicious mushroom-based dishes. This serves 9 with a big salad and some nice pickles, but 4 of us made a lunch of the test batch.

The caramelized onions
1 ½ lb sliced onions
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
¼ tsp salt

The mushrooms
1 ½ -2 lb mixed mushrooms: shiitake, oyster,
lion’s mane, portabella, any combination
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
¼ tsp salt

The béchamel
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ c. port, dry sherry, or broth
pinch of dried thyme and red pepper flakes
1 ½ T flour
1 T butter
1 ½ c warmed milk

Drop biscuit topping
2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 T cold butter
½ c asiago or hard cheese, grated
1 1/3 c buttermilk

Start with the onions. By the time you’ve completed the other steps, the onions will be ready to incorporate.

Caramelize the onions: Heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan and add the onions, sprinkling with salt. Lower the heat and sauté frequently while the onions soften and turn color. Within 45 minutes to an hour, the onions should be totally soft, dark gold and sweet. Adjust the salt and add a grind of pepper.

Saute the mushrooms: Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter for the mushrooms. Add the mushrooms and salt, reducing the heat after the mushrooms start to release liquid. Add the thyme and a dash of red pepper flakes or black pepper. Stir occasionally until mushrooms are soft and just a little liquid is left. Add the wine or broth, and sauté until a rich syrup remains. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Make the béchamel; Heat 1 T butter and add the 1 ½ T flour, cooking until bubbly. Add the 1 1/3 c. of warmed milk a little at a time, stirring after each addition to make smooth. Cook a few more minutes after the last addition until the mixture is the consistency of medium thick gravy.

Combine the mushrooms, the onions and béchamel and pour into a buttered casserole or gratin dish.

Make the biscuits: Cut the butter into the flour, salt, baking powder and soda. Stir in the grated cheese. Add the cold buttermilk and lightly combine. Drop evenly over the top of the filling; I use 1/3 c scoop which makes 9 biscuits over the top of a 9 inch square, 3 ½ inch deep gratin pan.

Bake at 400° for 25-30 min.

This recipe was adapted from "The New Vegetarian Epicure" 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Timing of Log Cut for Optimum Shiitake Production

by Joe Krawczyk

Last month a feller/buncher showed up on our property to begin the harvest of our oak woodlot. The plans made to cut the trees had been in the back of my mind for a over a decade, but was spurred on now by the introduction of Oak Wilt into the stand of the nearly century old Pin Oak trees. The Oak Wilt fungus travels along the wood vessels, tree top to roots and back, and moves from tree to tree via roots grafted (remember it's cousin, Dutch Elm Disease?), eventually infecting much of the stand. Pockets of trees are often dead within a growing season. So, the time is right to salvage what we can of the wood before infection and also release the suppressed pine, oak (and likely red maple and buckthorn) seedlings, eager for light on the forest floor. Plus, the cut will actually pay off this fall in terms of abundant tops to harvest shiitake logs cut away from the saw logs going to the sawmill. The timing of the harvest could not have been better.

This twist of fate, and happily somewhat good planning, has resulted in the trees being felled at the optimum time for harvest. By now (November) we will be done considering raking leaves and the lawn and garden equipment should stowed for the winter, plus the color change coincides perfectly with what we know of good timing to harvest logs for mushroom cultivation.

Pin Oak logs, many of them old friends, harvested before succumbing 
to Oak Wilt, as shown at the pocket of standing trees, left.

Planning your harvest to coincide with inoculating mushroom logs

Cutting in fall: The optimum time to cut mushroom wood in the fall is when the forest canopy color has changed by one third. This indicates that the trees are dormant and the stored carbohydrates in the sapwood are at their highest levels. An added benefit to this is also that the cells have not completely hardened off and if a fall inoculation is done, shiitake will be able to easily colonize this wood.

If loggers are conscientious, oak tops are in great shape for cutting into shiitake logs.

Cutting in winter until spring bud swell: This is not to say that wood cannot be cut during the rest of  the dormant season. We are not all such good planners ;^ and sometimes nature makes the plan for us (Hurricane Maria for example), while other projects pop-up which take precedence over cutting shiitake logs.  Still, while acceptable mushroom logs can be made from logs felled almost any time of the year, with a few important exceptions with soft hardwoods, the best mushroom logs should be cut while dormant to take advantage of all those sugars stored for winter. In oak, the wood cells will become harder later in the dormant season, say towards spring bud break, making colonization by the mushroom fungus just a little slower. This overall is not a hindrance to colonization of the wood by shiitake, but evidence points to early dormancy (fall cut) to be superior, especially when paired with using heated and humidified indoor incubation methods in cold climates over the winter, or for outdoor incubation in the south.

Log storage and aging; judging how long wood can sit before inoculation 

Let’s assume you can cut logs now but your schedule will prevent you from inoculating until spring of the following year. The good news is that the logs can be overwintered as long as they are protected from direct sunlight and excessive wind. This allows you to take advantage of the benefits of fall cut dormant wood. When it is time to inoculate in the spring and you worry that the logs might be too dry, the logs can be soaked in water for a day or so before they are inoculated. The idea is to maintain 35-45% moisture content while making sure the wood cell "vitality" has declined. Over the years, we have heard rumors of a mysterious antifungal compound that is found in freshly cut logs that will prevent and/or kill shiitake spawn. This mysterious compound, in a round-about way, is water. Shiitake is a saprophytic fungus, i.e., it will not colonize living wood. So for it to begin the decay cycle, the host cells must be dead. This is accomplished by allowing the wood, after cutting, to go through a slight drying phase. Measuring this phase is difficult as this will vary from location to location, by tree species and log diameter. In some regions of Japan where rainfall exceeds 60 inches/year, six to eight weeks drying is a normal. In drier climes, this time would be considerably shorter. There is no hard and fast rule. We often hear “two weeks max” and though this may be true under certain conditions (trees cut during the growing season) and some very arid parts of the country, it certainly isn’t a hard and fast rule for the eastern U.S.  The best way is to watch your wood once cut, taking note especially of the condition of the log ends. Slight cracks radiating out from the center indicate a wood ready for inoculation; deeper cracks (wide enough to allow a dime in) indicate the log should be inoculated asap or soaked in water before inoculation.

Freshly cut limb wood from oak harvest. Note the fabulous sapwood.

If you do cut wood in the fall for storage until a spring inoculation, do keep the wood protected and covered if it is exposed to wind and sun. We store the logs in a large, dense (deadstacked) pile on the north and shaded east side of a building and cover the exposed parts. After you've collected the wood though, don't forget to bring in the rototiller :/

Good thing I wrote this post... so busy in the woods I nearly forgot about yard clean-up!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Double Pleasure, Miso Soup with Nameko Mushrooms

by Mary Ellen Kozak

My early memory of Miso Soup brings me to Madison, Wisconsin where I attended University. It was 1980, it was November, dark and cold. I have one very clear, happy memory though, and it was walking over unshoveled ice and snow into a little restaurant on my way home via State Street. It was a tiny place called "Living Waters", and all things on the menu were macrobiotic (aka the Pursuit of Hippiness). My sister who was in graduate school and following the Macrobiotic Diet at the time, would meet me there. So would my future husband, Joe, who proudly followed a different kind of "macro" diet. We would sit in the warm glow of the yellow painted walls on some wooden benches. The place was always empty but warm, and the food was welcoming and nourishing. The Miso Soup was hot and was served with a thick piece of sprouted wheat toast slathered in a corn oil concoction. Joe would disappear for a moment and return to our table with a greasy paper bag, out from which would slide a glistening gyro from the Greek place next door. With his back to the ordering counter he would feast, fingers glistening with cucumber sauce and meat fat. Hence was coined the secret code for the meeting place: "Troubled Waters". Whenever I think of Miso Soup I remember this time; the cold, the studying, but mostly those happy moments spent with a bowl of soup, family, and a few good laughs. Yin Yang. Double pleasure indeed.

Remembering Troubled Waters Miso Soup

Decades later, after eating Miso Soup in Japan and trying to make the authentic version here at home, I've settled on the simplest of all versions which is reminiscent of my first "Troubled Waters" bowl. It is made with a quick make-ahead vegetable broth and stored in the refrigerator. If you have on hand tubs of blanched or lightly steamed fresh vegetables, cubed tofu and a container of miso paste, you can make this soup in a few minutes. Having Nameko available to include in the soup is simply a gift. Only those who are fortunate enough to get Nameko really fresh can experience the pleasure of this very special addition.

If you've never had Miso Soup, the earthy taste of just miso can be unfamiliar with its almost yeasty tang. Hang on though, it is the addition of bright fresh vegetables and the other little nuggets of interest to the palate that are key to loving this soup. You can make this with whatever you have on hand or as the season dictates. Shiitake mushrooms are delightful in Miso Soup. Carrot strips, snow peas, Asian greens or spinach, nuggets of cooked, chewy short grain brown rice or clear glass noodles; all create a feeling of well-being and interest when a steaming bowl of this soup is presented to the lucky diner. Nameko mushrooms simmer for just a short time in the broth before serving so that the mushrooms maintain their glassy claret color and fruity taste. Best of all the texture is silky on the tongue, but crunchy between the teeth. The mushrooms are like little amber jewels bobbing in a rich translucent broth. You can even make this soup with a cup of hot water and one tablespoon of miso paste, and pour over your add-ins (warm them up first though). Just make sure you do not boil once you've added the miso paste. I find the miso-based broth is a little too strongly "miso," so I prefer to cut back the miso paste to 2 tsp. per cup and substitute the water with the flavorful broth, below.

Cold weather loving Nameko. Harvest early for use in Miso Soup!

1 bunch of scallions, chopped, use all parts
1 chopped carrot
1 4-inch piece of dried kombu (strip of kelp found in the Asian section at most large grocery stores)
1/4 c soy sauce
2 T mirin or rice wine
8 c cold water
1 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients, bring to a near boil and lower the heat for about 30 minutes. Adjust broth with more salt at the end of the cook time, but go lightly, as the miso you'll be adding is also salty. Strain and keep the broth refrigerated, about 1 week. Let the kombu dry out after you use it, as you can reuse it another time or two.

The Soup:
Vegetables: prepare vegetables ahead; shredded carrot, torn greens, blanched filet beans; tiny cubes of cooked winter squash; whatever vegetable is in season and can be blanched or steamed to maintain color and crunch.

Miso paste: 2-3 tsp per cup of broth (many varieties available, start with the mild white miso if you are new to the flavor and go from there. Kept in the refrigerator, the paste will keep for a long time).

Protein add-ins: cubed tofu; either sauteed or baked until browned beforehand (or not), panko crumb coated fried shrimp, skewered and served across the top of the bowl is very special.

Pre-cooked soba, udon or glass noodles, cooked short grain brown rice, or none!

Nameko mushrooms, rinsed to get rid of any bits of bark or soil. Nameko harvested early in the fall after a cool spell can occasionally have some insect problems, especially if harvested when the caps are open. Parboiling these briefly and rinsing before adding to the soup will take care of the problem.

Heat a cup of broth per serving, taking a few tablespoons from it as it heats to smooth out the miso paste. When the stock is hot, add as many Nameko mushrooms as you like at this time (just a few per cup of soup is usually enough, but add more if you have them)! Simmer for at least 5-10 minutes (be careful not to boil) to cook the mushrooms through. Add the miso paste/broth mixture, and simmer for another minute or so. Add 1/2 c vegetables and tofu per cup of broth. Serve.