Thursday 19 October 2017

Magic mushroom - To boost the immune system

photo credit: Olien Webb

With the season changing and my immune system being out of balance I ended up catching a cold last week. That makes me go straight to my favourite hot chocolate “exilir”, adding chaga mushroom tea to make it magical. I can’t claim that this drink is miraculous but it works wonders for me… I was introduced to chaga tea a while ago and, on Sunday, when my cold was at its worse I ate a nourishing meal and drank chaga mushroom tea. Placebo effect or not, next day I was feeling like a new person.

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a type of mushroom that grows on birch trees, mostly in cold countries. It doesn’t look much like a mushroom, more like a lump or a cluster of burnt wood. Some research shows that chaga boosts the immune system, helping the body to fight off bacteria and viruses. It is also known to boost energy, improve sleep quality, support blood sugar levels and healthy digestion, and reduce inflammation.

It may sound odd to have mushroom in a cup of hot chocolate, I appreciate that the flavours sound incompatible. It would probably be true for other mushrooms, but I guarantee you the chaga won’t ruin your hot choc, on the contrary: it won’t affect the taste and it will increase the nutritional benefits. 

You can make chaga mushroom tea using raw chunks of chaga or the powder. I buy mine from here

You can also use chaga tea on your soups, smoothies or as a stock in any meal.

Chaga mushroom chunks.
Chaga mushrooms chunks in simmering water.
Ingredients for the hot chocolate.
Cashew milk and chaga tea before boiling.
The boiled mushrooms can be reused...
...and stored in the freezer.
My hot chocolate with chaga.

Hot chocolate with chaga mushroom

For the tea


3-4 chaga chunks
1 litre of water


Bring 1 litre of water to a boil and add the chaga chunks to the water. Turn down to a simmer and cover for 1 hour. Keep an eye to make sure it is not boiling.

Remove the chaga chunks from the water. The tea will have a dark brown colour.

The chaga mushroom chunks can be reused up to five times. Keep them in the freezer to prevent mould.

You can store your chaga tea in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks and you can enjoy it hot or cold.

For the hot chocolate


180ml cashew, almond, oat, hemp or any milk of your choice
80ml chaga mushroom tea 
2 tablespoons hot chocolate powder (I used one with chilli)*
¼ teaspoon cinnamon or at your taste
*If you’re using plain cacao powder, add coconut sugar or honey to taste.


In a pot, add the tea and the milk and let them almost boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the chocolate powder and cinnamon.  Use a frother if you have one.

Warning: To date, side effects and dosage safety of chaga mushrooms are unclear. However, chaga mushroom is very high in oxalates, which can affect absorption of certain nutrients and toxic in high dosage, specially for people with kidney disease.  

Till next week!

Thursday 12 October 2017

A cake with a kick

Nothing like birthdays for having the excuse to bake a cake. Last week was Dean’s (my hubby’s) birthday, and if he only received a chocolate cake for a present he would be very happy. Needless to say, he is a chocoholic!

A couple of years ago I tried my hand at running a small organic chocolate business. I made bars and hot choc powders using different flavours, and Dean was my main recipe-tester. My sister, knowing how much he loves it, baked a delicious cake for him using one of my last batches of chocolate chilli powder. This cake has become her specialty which I borrow every so often. I love its richness and creaminess - and the chilli adds a lovely kick.

Unfortunately, in a mega competitive chocolate world, I was a small fish in a big pond and I decided to shelve the business for good. Despite that, the appetite in the family for good chocolate - in whatever form - remains strong.

The birthday boy was happy indeed. According to him, this cake is always the best. 

The ingredients.
The baked cake.
Moist and gooey.
Spicy chocolate cake

This is a very rich grown-up cake. You can enjoy it as a dessert, as well as with a delicious cup of tea in the afternoon.


100g organic dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids
100g organic chocolate powder
200g organic butter
a pinch of cayenne pepper powder
a small pinch of cinnamon powder
4 eggs
200g coconut sugar
3 tbsp ground almonds
1 tbsp rye flour
2 tbsp Ginja (Portuguese liquor, but you can use cachaça or rum instead).
Salt flakes


Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 23cm round cake tin with baking parchment.

Place a metal or glass bowl over a pot of simmering water. Add the chocolate, butter, chilli, cinnamon and let them melt. Be careful not to let the chocolate burn. Once melted, stir the mix and remove from the stove. Leave it to cool.

When the mixture cools down, stir in the eggs one by one. Add the dry ingredients in the following order: ground almonds, coconut sugar, rye flour, and a pinch of salt. Mix well with a hand whisker and add the liquor.

Pour the cake batter into the tin, sprinkle salt flakes on top. Bake in the oven for 20 - 30 minutes. (You’re not looking for a sponge-like texture. This is more moist and gooey in the centre.)

Leave to cool and serve.

A healthy noteDark chocolate/cocoa (Theobroma cacao) contains the highest source of magnesium – for the ladies who suffer from those nasty mood swings in their pre-menstrual cycle, the good news is that adding magnesium to the diet can increase pre-menstrual hormone levels (progesterone) and alleviate the symptoms. Dark chocolate also contains calcium, iron and potassium. Vitamins A, C, D and E. More about chocolate read my post here 

Chilli contains capsaicin, a compound well known in scientific research as a pain reliever and digestive aid, which also has cardiovascular benefits. Capsaicin has the ability to lower blood temperature (it may induce perspiration in cases of fever). It stimulates the metabolic rate, burning fat. It contains very good levels of vitamin A and C. Chilli is a great source of iron and potassium.

Till next week!

Thursday 5 October 2017

Cupboard essentials – Japanese all-day breakfast

Some days I just wish to find a meal ready on the table waiting for me. Especially when I have to cook for myself. Last week I had some days like that - I got home tired, uninspired and hungry. 
But what I have learnt over the years is to have very good cupboard/fridge essentials, and Ms Marmite Lover came to my rescue. 

About a month ago I went to a supper club at her house in North London (she’s the queen of supper clubs). I remembered some of the dishes she served that would solve my problem with lack of energy. The theme of the evening was food for a healthy gut microbiome – that’s essential for general wellbeing. 

Kirsten Rodgers, aka Ms Marmite Lover, hosted the dinner with the presence of Tim Spector, whom I had already met at some of his lectures. Tim Spector is a professor of Genetic Epidemiology and is leading a Gut Microbiome project at King’s College London.

One of the most important things to remember when cooking for our gut-health is diversity when choosing ingredients. On Ms Marmite Lover’s menu, we could see 110 ingredients she used for our meals - that included herbs and spices. I enjoyed trying some things that I never tasted before, like: Icelandic moss, pickled fennel seeds and Alaskan bladderwrack. 

Japanese food, which also featured that evening, has several elements to help feed and nourish our gut microbiome, such as fermented and pickled dishes.   

With all that in mind, inspiration came back and I put together a meal for myself that came almost entirely from the fridge/freezer and cupboard, without much effort. It’s a sort of all-day Japanese breakfast. And there were leftovers for the rest of the family.


Back in my kitchen

Some of my essential Japanese products.
The frozen natto beans...
...when thawed they looks like this: slimey and slightly smelly.
Miso ingredients.
Adding the dashi.
My Japanese all-day breakfast.

I prepared a quick dashi (stock) adding 2 big strips of dried kombu in a saucepan with water and letting it simmer for 30 minutes (ideally one would make dashi overnight), skimming the surface of any impurity. I removed the kombu and let the liquid cool down slightly, added the bonito flakes and brought it back to boil (skimming any impurity). I reduce the temperature and simmered it for 1 more minute. Took the pan off the heat and let the bonito flakes sink to the bottom. Strained the dashi using a sieve lined with a paper towel.

In the meantime, I put some dried lotus root in a bowl to hydrate. When they were done, I sautéed them with garlic and olive oil.

I had some Japanese rice in the fridge which I had cooked with a piece of dried Kombu the previous night. I layed a small portion of it on top of a shiso leaf, and topped it with defrosted natto beans that I mixed with some tamari sauce and mustard.

I plated all the above with some leftover roasted cabbage (also from the night before) with a single umeboshi. In a small bowl, I put some tofu pieces, sliced spring onions, wakame sheets and one generous teaspoon of miso. When the dashi was done I poured it into the bowl.

I was very happy with my nutritious and satisfying meal.

A healthy note: Natto – fermented soya beans – has an acquired earthy taste, a smelly cheesy aroma and a slimy texture. But it's a powerhouse of a dish. Natto is rich in protein and a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc and vitamin K (helps with formation of bone and teeth structure). Eating natto beans can help the body regulate blood pressure. Natto beans contain an enzyme called nattokinase - this enzyme can help reduce and prevent blood clots. 

Kombu (Laminaria genus) contains a big range of minerals, such as calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc. It has anti-inflammatory, anticoagulant, antithrombotic, and antiviral properties. 

Miso is a good source of fiber and protein.

*you can find natto and all the other products I mentioned above at the new Japan Centre in Panton Street. 

Till next week!
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