Mortar and Mustard

I’m back in the mortar and pestle game again. I once had a large molcajete from Mexico that yielded a few batches of guacamole and shortly thereafter was relegated to decorator status.

I’m trying again. This time I scaled down and went with a smaller version. Since I am short on storage space, I opted for a 1½ cup rounded granite mortar.

There’s a curing process that most mortar and pestles require before using that removes any lingering grit and debris from manufacturing. It is arduous enough that anyone who has gone through it won’t easily forget. Depending on the material and size, seasoning can vary. For many there’s a tedious grinding of rice into a white powder; mine included garlic, salt, and cumin to form a paste. Once that’s done it’s all rinsed with water and air dried. The mortar and pestle are never washed with soap.

Since then, I’ve been grinding everything in sight and it has gained a spot on my counter for quickly mashing garlic or a spicy blend or paste. My proudest achievement thus far is the Stone-Ground Mustard.

Stone-Ground Mustard

Mustard is fascinating, and the art of producing a condiment from it has been going on for centuries. It makes perfect sense to employ the timeless mortar and pestle—since its basic form is nearly as old as man.

Making your own mustard blend is not complicated. If you think about it, Asian mustard is simply dry mustard and water.

I opted for yellow mustard seeds which yield a mildly hot mustard. For a tangier, hotter mustard, brown seeds are the way to go, or some combination of the two. I cut mine with a small portion of dry mustard for added creaminess and body.

The goal is to break open the seeds to access interior oils and such, while leaving some whole for bursts of flavor. Rather than starting with dry mustard seeds which jump and bounce about, soaking the seeds will soften their hard outer layer. Once you’ve got a rhythm going with the pestle, a gentle bashing motion quickly breaks down the seeds.

Continue to grind all ingredients and blend with enough cool water to reach desired thickness.  Cover and store the mustard at room temperature for 3-4 days to mellow. As it rests, the mustard will thicken and flavors will soften. Give it a taste and adjust seasoning, if harsh add a few drops of honey. Store in a sealed glass jar for a month or longer.

Stone Ground Mustard, Small Batch

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 Tbsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 2 tsp shallot or onion, fine chop
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup cold water
  • ½ tsp honey (optional)

Instructions

  1. Briefly crush the mustard seeds to slightly break down. Combine them with the dry mustard and 1/3 cup cold water, let soak 1-3 hours.
  2. Add the salt, allspice, and shallot to the soaked mustard and grind in a mortar and pestle, using a bashing motion to partially break down the seeds and create creaminess.  Add remaining water as needed.
  3. Store in clean glass jar and let mellow 2 or 3 days at room temperature. Adjust seasoning, adding a dash of honey if still harsh. Will hold at room temperature a month or longer.  Makes about ¾ cup

Imperfect Produce

This week I received my first box from Imperfect Produce.  If you aren’t familiar with this company, they are into sourcing food waste.

They buy up food that is not perfect enough to sell to the average consumer. Call it ugly, it’s the type of  food that could be left in the field or in a warehouse to be sold at a loss as animal feed or shipped out for further processing.  Imperfect Produce decided to capitalize on this waste and they work with farmers, producers, and other sources to offer this salvageable food to their membership at discounted rates.

I really did not know what to expect, but have been impressed with their level of professionalism from my initial contact. If you are in one of their distribution areas, they will set up a regular delivery schedule, most likely once a week or bi-monthly. You decide on the size of the order, an availability offering is provided, and you pick and choose or alter the listing depending on your preferences and needs.

For my first order, I went basic and selected items that would hold well.  Their truck delivered the box to my door step mid-afternoon in an imprinted box with handles. The produce was perfectly refrigerated: not too warm, not too cold.

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Snapshot Imperfect Produce Box

The baby bok choy and broccolini were in good shape; there were onions, potatoes, several lovely small carrots, beautiful cucumbers, and a nicely wrapped bag of serrano peppers; a small cauliflower, apples, and oranges were all in very good condition. There was nothing in the box I would not have selected at my regular market—and it was delivered to me at a very fair price. 

Broccolini was the first item I selected to cook from my new produce. I’ve learned this is not baby broccoli. It is a mild and tender cross between Chinese broccoli and broccoli, and it cooks in less time than its broccoli cousin. IMG_20190426_180919700_HDR (1)

To complement broccolini’s inherent sweetness I kept it simple with a quick steam in the microwave, then gave it a drizzle of sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds.   

Sesame Steamed Broccolini

  • 1 lb broccolini
  • 2 tsp each sesame oil
  • 1/4 tsp each sea salt and red pepper flakes
  • toasted sesame seeds

Rinse and trim the broccolini and place it slightly damp in one layer in a microwaveable dish or plate.  Cover with plastic wrap.   

Microwave 3-4 minutes, stopping at 2 minutes to turn the broccolini with tongs.  Cook until tender but still crisp, don’t overcook.

Drizzle lightly with sesame oil, season with salt and red pepper flakes and toss to coat.  Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve.  Serves 3 or 4

About the birds and the bees

This wouldn’t be much of a food blog if I didn’t give a mention to the UN’s stark IPBES report released today linking human behavior to nature’s crisis threatening extinction of 1 million plants and animal species—within the next few decades.

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Most of this activity has ramped up within the last 50 years with the doubling of the world’s population since 1970.  Food supply and unbridled consumption seem to be driving this impact on nature.

This is not new, but the totality of it all looming large within our children’s lifetimes’ forecasts crises of staggering proportions. When I was studying sustainability in college ten years ago there were those advocating a shift away from an economic model based on a country’s GDP, consumption, and wealth, to one based on a quality of life index.  They theorized it to be a more holistic indicator of livability for of an entire population, not just a few.

That was a highly unrealistic notion. We are valued as consumers and as such, we seem incapable of reigning in our appetites or addressing real issues like soil degradation, waste accumulation, plastic pollution, water pollution and land use geared toward the elimination of forests.  It’s not our problem, let someone else deal with it.  Until you come face-to-face with it.

It’s complicated, but the report urges that we all do what we can and begin by demanding responsible political action. Climate change is mentioned; it’s woven throughout their findings. But it’s the sum consequences ahead that we are not prepared for. This crisis is happening so rapidly that nature has not been able to adapt. Once our fragile food web is sufficiently disrupted there goes the food supply.  When bees are unable to pollinate and plants are barren, there is no fruit.

Our natural environment is undergoing unprecedented stress. The report recommends that we begin to recognize the severity of this crisis (not dismiss it as fake news) and make conscious changes and choices. To make a difference they say, it will require a “transformative change”—a collective reality check if you like. What’s the likelihood of that happening?

Food for the Spirit

Foraging is part of the Oregon lifestyle.  It’s exhilarating to head out on a hike—rain or shine—and return home with enough fresh berries or mushrooms bagged for a special treat.  I like to think I’m walking in the steps of other gatherers—who knows how long ago.

There’s a new cookbook out that’s getting a lot of awards and buzz. The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen is by Chef Sean Sherman who is resolved to revitalize indigenous foods and cuisine. Sean is a member of the Lakota Tribe, part of the Sioux Nation that was relocated in the last century from homelands in the Dakota and Minnesota territories to the fringe of the South Dakota Badlands. His people left behind powerful traditions and customs only to face misery and misfortune in a barren and foreign landscape.

Sean believes many other tribes have lost their cultural ties to native foods and customs, due to relocation. He and his team are busy creating and adapting new versions of indigenous cuisine based on natural and unprocessed foods, as well as promoting wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship and farming, food preservation and cooking techniques.  His cookbook offers resources and options for a new standard of traditional foods using modern techniques.

Here in the Pacific Northwest the Confederate Tribes of the Grande Ronde is on a similar path promoting their own indigenous food projects.  This past weekend, in tandem with our local community college, we planted 2000 camas bulbs on the campus’s Youth Farm site.

The bulb of camas is greatly prized by tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest.  Locally, the Kalapuya people consider camas their most important  staple which they re-hydrate and grind into flour for breads and cakes.  Common Camas, part of the lily family and related to asparagus, also has a spired stalk plus gorgeous star-like blue flowers.

Some compare the flavor of camas to that of a fig, but it is certainly not as ready to eat. The bulbs are known to contain inulin, a fiber which is indigestible until fully broken down through a long, slow cooking process. It traditionally takes 2 to 3 days of baking in a slow oven before the bulbs are fully blackened and edible; the inulin then turns to fructose and releases its inherent sweetness.

Fellow foragers should beware of Death Camas, which looks much like Common Camas, but displays white rather than blue flowers when in bloom.  Also, when digging camas bulbs remember that an entire plant will be eliminated, and no further bulbs can be produced.  Be selective about the variety and quantity gathered.

I’m with Sean.  I salute his endeavors to improve the health and well-being of his fellow Native Americans. I intend to plant a few of my own bulbs very shortly.  I hope to experiment with my own crop—whenever that happens.  At this point I’ll stay in the research mode gathering cooking ideas and searching for samples. Admittedly, beyond the traditional process of roasting bulbs in a slow fire for three days, I’m open to treating them to a long rest in the slow cooker. Now, that’s a traditional/contemporary twist!

Sweet Camas Spread

From Sweet Camas Cookbook by Madrona Murphy

A mild sweet spread, reminiscent of chestnut jam.  The chocolate addition is lighter and less sweet than chocolate nut spreads like Nutella

Ingredients
¼ cup camas paste (can be made from dried, powdered camas)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 tablespoon dutched cocoa powder (use for chocolate spread)

Directions

  1. Re-hydrate the dried, powered camas, as needed.
  2. Stir the water, oil and cocoa, if using, into the camas paste until smooth. Add more water if too stiff.
  3. The spread is highly perishable. Store in the refrigerator and use within a few days.
  4. To serve, thin with more water if unspreadable.  Serve with crackers, toast, or with cheese.

 

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Oatmeal Crisps: Addendum

Perhaps I didn’t fully elaborate on yesterday’s amazingly addictive Oatmeal Crisps.  I woke in the middle of the night thinking of my extended rant which failed to mention much of anything about their real virtues.

Oatmeal Crisps

Did I mention the lacy cookies that clock in at under two minutes baking time per batch are not only ethereal, crisp, and crunchy, but their rich and nutty flavor belies the fact that they have less than 20 calories each?   I didn’t think so.

Did I tell you that they have the added benefit of oatmeal’s nutritional value, fiber, and flavor?  That for the small number and volume of ingredients you receive so much?  I think not.

Did I mention that although these are prepared in the microwave, and there still seems to be some concern about its usage, the convenience and advantages of the microwave in cases such as this, are well worth considering?

Did I mention that their charm lends not only to copious snacking but also that they make a style statement when perched alongside or atop ice cream, sorbet, parfaits, mousse, or nearly anything else you can think of?  Not so much.

Did I mention that even though they take so little time to produce, they make an excellent and thoughtful gift when you would rather not show up empty handed on someone’s doorstep?

No, I didn’t think so.

Magic Moments

It was early evening. An impromptu visit for tapas at La Rambla Restaurant in historic McMinnville turned out to be an utterly magical experience.  Their small plates of brilliantly flavored dishes are aptly described as Northwest inspired cuisine from Spain.

La Rambla is well known for their Wine Spectator award winning regional and Spanish wine list. It’s a thoughtful volume expressly selected to enhance a varied and robust spread of foods. The restaurant is a welcoming place: gorgeous luminary pendants suspended from the high ceiling cast a warm ambiance while guitar music drifts by in the background. It’s all beautifully orchestrated for conversation and fine cuisine.

As you would expect, the seafood is mouth-watering.  Consider Grilled Local Oysters with cava gastrique, truffle snow, and roasted garlic snow, or Fried Calamari served with red aioli, onions, peppers and chives.  There’s even an assortment of paella offerings to mull over (allow 45 minutes lead time).

la-rambla-tapasWe nibbled on house smoked almonds while awaiting the arrival of Pork Migas, a bonanza of house smoked pork, bacon and chorizo, filled in with fried bread and pimenton. The Sautéed Green Beans showcase al dente beans topped with melting Valderón blue cheese and hazelnuts. Both are rich and shoutingly good!

I always appreciate the thoughtful addition of alternative beverages. Offered here, an assortment of lightly sweetened fruit flavored house sodas. I opt for the rhubarb with bitters and soda water, a balanced blend well suited for lively tapas.

Darkness had settled as we left the building and headed out into the rain soaked night. The starlight sky was actually a magical light show amid the profile of historic buildings. Above, a network of twinkling lights dotted the web of tall trees, then the sparkles seemed to dart and dance their way down the street and disappear into the distance.