Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Herb of the Week - Mustard Seed

It is that time of year when one can start seed here int he Illinois area so I am going to dedicate a few weeks to Herbs that you can grow from seed that you probably already have in your kitchen already -- in the spice cabinet.  This week it is Mustard and next week I will do anise.

Now those who frequent the blog know that I love mustard, making mustard and using mustad, but i also like growing mustard. so here is a rundown for this week's

                           Herb of the Week -  Mustard (Brassica spp.)

courtesy of Peggy Trowbridge Flippone

Mustard is a member of the brassica clan, which makes it a kissing cousin to cabbage, broccoli and radishes. Three main species are used for cooking. White- or yellow-seeded Sinapis alba, formerly known as Brassica hirta, is believed to be native to the Meditteranean region. Brown-seeded B. juncea probably originated in northwest India, and black-seeded B. nigra is native to the Middle East and Asia Minor. All three have naturalized throughout most of North America.

Food historians think mustard was first cultivated in India around 3000 B.C., and ancient Romans brought the seeds to Gaul. The plant was highly valued in Biblical times: Matthew 13:31 compares a grain of mustard to the kingdom of heaven.

The early Romans allegedly were among the first to prepare the spicy paste by mixing crushed seeds with the young, unfermented juice of wine grapes, known as “must.” (“Mustard” comes from the Latin mustum ardens, which means “burning wine.”) Although mustard probably first was used primarily for medicinal purposes, cooks throughout France, England, China and later the United States soon discovered the value and versatility of mustard.

Growing Mustard

Mustard foliage is rough and crumpled-looking, but attractive. The plant will produce four-petaled yellow flowers and, when not crowded, grow up to 2 feet.  Fill a shallow container three-quarters full with moist potting soil. Scatter a tablespoonful of seeds evenly on the soil's surface and cover with a light dusting of soil. Slip a plastic bag over the container and put it in a warm, sunny window. The seeds germinate rapidly. Remove the bag when the seedlings are 4 inches high.

You can keep the container of seedlings as an attractive plant or, if you want to grow a plant to maturity, remove one seedling from the container and transplant it to a 4-inch pot filled with potting soil. Take care to gently loosen the soil underneath the seedling with a pencil and lift the plant out by the leaves. (A plant can always regenerate new leaves but not a stem) Use a pencil to make a hole deep enough to receive the roots, and cover about an inch of the stem with soil. Water well and place the pot in a sunny window. If your light is good, the plant will produce flowers. 

Mustard does require bright sun.  Remember Mustard is an annual so sowing a new crop outdoors once the soil has warmed with give you more in the summer. You simply plant the seeds of this annual about 3 inches apart in a sunny garden site in either early spring or late summer. Like other brassicas, mustard thrives in cool weather. The tender young leaves will be ready to pick just a few weeks after the seeds sprout.

Take care before you plant mustard in your garden, however, as this easy-to-grow plant has become a troublesome weed in many states, due to the proliferation of its seeds. Before you grow mustard for seed, check with your County Extension agent to find out if mustard is restricted in your state.

To harvest the seeds, allow some of the plants to mature and flower. Seed pods will follow, about three months after planting. Harvest the pods when the plants begin to yellow, but before the pods break open and spill the seeds onto the ground. Store the seeds in a dry location until you are ready to use them, either whole or ground.

Mustard Extra

Next time you find yourself in Middleton, Wisconsin (near Madison), be sure to stop by the town’s brightest attraction, the National Mustard Museum. Open to the public since 1992, the museum displays 4,782 (at last count) jars of mustard, including historic tins and bottles that date to the 19th century.

“The idea came to me in 1986, after my Boston Red Sox lost the World Series,” museum curator and CMO (Chief Mustard Officer) Barry Levenson says. “I found myself walking the aisles of an all-night grocery store. “When I got to the mustard aisle, I heard a voice saying, ‘if you collect us, they will come.’” Levenson swears it’s true.

Next time you are playing trvial pursuit remember these mustard facts: One pound of mustard contains about 250,000 seeds. Most of the mustard seeds used in Dijon, France, are grown in the United States and Canada. Canada produces about 90 percent of the world’s supply of mustard seeds.

To Use Mustard
Mustard’s use extends beyond that of a mere spread for bread, however. Indeed, the plant’s seeds, leaves and roots have been used as food, fertilizer, seasoning and medicine for millennia. Every part of the plant can be and has been used throughout history.

For centuries, people have eaten young mustard greens in salads. Loaded with vitamin A, mustard greens also are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin C. Most varieties grown for greens are of the spicy, brown-seeded type, B. juncea. Cooks subdue the bitter and pungent mature leaves by sautéing, stir-frying, braising, boiling and stewing them, the way you would prepare kale or turnip greens. Since antiquity, mustard seeds have been used to cure ailments, as well as to preserve perishables. Mustard poultices are still used as a household remedy for bronchitis and muscular aches.

Cut the leaves when the plant is 3 inches high and use as a garnish for steaks, salads and soups. The larger, older leaves can be cooked like spinach, but you will find that mustard greens have a more bitter taste. Grind the seed to make mustard powder, and use the whole seed as a pickling spice.


Tarragon Mustard
Makes about 3/4 cup

This sophisticated mustard is very simple to make.

• 1/4 cup black mustard seeds
• 1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
• 1/4 cup dry powdered mustard
• 3/4 cup cold water
• 114 cup dry white wine
• 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
• 118 teaspoon ground allspice

Mix mustard seeds, powdered mustard, and water in the upper pan of a noncorrodible double boiler. Let stand at least three hours. In another noncorrodible saucepan, mix the wine, vinegar, tarragon, and allspice and bring to a boil. Strain the liquid into the mustard mixture and blend well.  In the lower pan of the double boiler, heat water to boiling, then reduce heat to a simmer. Place the upper pan, containing the mustard mixture, on top. Cook, stirring, until the mustard is as thick as you like. It will thicken a bit more as it cools. Cover and refrigerate.

Whole Grain Mustard 
Makes about 1 cup

This flavorful, all-purpose standard adds texture and tang to salad dressings and sandwiches.

• 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
• 6 tablespoons whole mustard seeds (a mixture of black and yellow)
• 1 tablespoon green peppercorns
• 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
• 3/4 cup water
• 2 teaspoons honey
• 114 cup red wine vinegar

Toast coriander seeds in a dry skillet or place them in a flat dish and microwave on High for 4 to 5 minutes. Crush mustard seeds, green peppercorns, and coriander seeds in a mortar. Mix the crushed seeds, thyme, and water in the upper pan of a glass, enamel or stainless steel double boiler and let stand at least three hours.  Heat water to boiling in the lower pan of the double boiler. Reduce the heat to simmering and place the upper pan, containing the Im1Stard mixture, on top. Stir in the honey and vinegar and cook 10 minutes until the mustard is as thick as you like. It will thicken a bit more as it cools. Refrigerate, covered.

  Check out our other blogs on mustard for recipes using mustard and crafting flavored mustard!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Spring Cleaning - Occasional Series, the dishwasher and sink

I love the spring cleaning ritual.  Air out the house, get ready for the wakening of a new growing season, remove all the residue from last season and last year and start fresh.

I rearrange the furniture, clean behind all the books in our massive library and thoroughly clean things in ways I have neglected through the hustle bustle and lack of light of winter.

What I do not like about spring cleaning is then introducing chemicals into my fresh wonderful house hold, so I now make my own cleaning materials.

I recommend if you have never seen it, the book "The Naturally Clean Home" by Karyn Siegel-Maier.  She gives lots of recipes for crafting chemical free cleaning solutions.  

I found her book after I had crafted my own handouts for programs on Green Cleaning had found her to support all of my research. 

Now to get us started on an occasional series where I will post more cleaning recipes for different parts of the house, I am going to work in the kitchen.

My husband does almost all the cooking, it is his hobby currently.  He is meticulous about cleaning the counters and stove top and washing his dishes.  I noticed, however that he is not at all worried about the sink.  So I take responsibility for that and clean it with this scrub once a week, usually right before he spends a part of the weekend cooking for us.

Basic Sink 

This formula is safe for porcelain or stainless steel sinks. Not only will it
clean the sink basin and faucets, but it will also keep drains and garbage disposals fresh-smelling and free of clogs. I add a vinegar rinse before the final hot water rinse to prevent residue from the baking soda.

1/4 cup baking soda
1/2 cup vinegar
3 drops each lavender, rosemary, and lemon essential oil

Combine all ingredients. Rinse sink well with hot water. Pour the cleanser in the sink and wipe with a sponge or cloth. Rinse
again with hot water.

My husband does absolutely nothing involving the dishwasher except unloading it.  I load, clean and manage the supplies for the dishwasher.  Currently we are making our own Dishwasher Soap Powder.  We love it and I will never go back to store bought, mostly because of the cost savings.  What I did not have and found in the book by Karyn Siegel-Maier was a  rinse solution.  I have used vinegar to clean the dishwasher and remove residue, but I never thought of using it int he rinse container.  Here are two items to use so you can avoid buying rinse agent (like Finish) with something you probably already have in your kitchen!

Rescue Rinse for Hard Water
Our water in Elmhurst is still plaqued with mineral deposiuts that stain the toilets, sinks and dishwasher so this reince will clean them out of the dishwaser so your dishes have less spots.

Add 1 cup white distilled vinegar to the rinse compartment of your dishwasher

.  I recommend a lemon herbal vinegar to give it a great scent too!

Tea for Dishes
Tea contains tannic acid, which will help to breakdown and remove soap residue from your dishes during the rinse cycle.

1 cup green or white tea

Brew fresh green or white tea.  I suggest one with lavender or lemon balm added because these are anti bacterial.  Add one cup to the rinse compartment of your dishwasher.

Come back regularly this Spring to see more recipes for cleaning your home with herbs instead of chemicals.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Carmelized Onion Dip - weekend recipe

Here’s a new take on a classic appetizer.  Look for sturdy sweet  potato chips for scooping up this mega-cheesey family favorite.

2 T. butter
3 onions, thinly sliced
8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
8-oz. pkg. Swiss cheese, shredded
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 c. mayonnaise blended with 2 Tbls. BYP Butter N Cheese Blend
sweet potato chips

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add sliced onions. Cook. stirring often, 30 to 40 minutes, or until onions are caramel colored.  Combine onions, cream cheese, and next 3 ingredients, stirring well. Spoon dip into a lightly greased 1 1/2 to 2-quart casserole dish. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Serve with sweet potato chips. Makes 4 cups.
NOTE:  Dip can be prepared a day ahead, but do not bake. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 45 minutes, or until golden and bubbly.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Herb of the Week - Hyssop

With a history of being a cleansing herb, mostly because of its strong camphor-like smell, I chose a 7th century strewing herb for this week's

         Herb of the Week : Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

A strewing herb is one that was scattered on the floor to be walked on.  Many were used for the strong sweet smells given off that could mask the harsher scents of cooking and unwashed guests.  Hyssop was often used in sick rooms to help ward off germs.


"Purge me with Hyssop and I shall be clean"- this famous allude from the Psalms stands as a testimony to hyssop’s status far back in history.  Most documentation of the herb is more recent however.  Although discussed by Nicholas Culpeper in his Herbal it gained popularity in the 17th century.  Used by Elizabethans as a plant placed in knot gardens it was as popular as Germander. Originating in the Mediterranean, its ability to grow well in a zone 4 or zone 5 climate made it an excellent export.  It can now be found all over the globe.


Hyssop is in the mint family with the indicative square stem.  It is quite easy to grow and is rarely bothered by pests.  They perfect zone for it is 4 to 5.  It is a very attractive plant and can be grown for looks alone.  I always place mine in a prominent location to catch attention.  You can also interplant it among white or pink roses or  as a companion to ferny leafed herbs like dill and fennel. An attractor of bees, Hyssop is the perfect addition to a bee or butterfly garden.

You can start this plant by seed, cuttings or division.  Choose a sunny spot where the soil is well drained or even dry.  It prefers a 6.7 pH and a light almost sandy soil will not be  bad for it.  Full sun is preferred but being a mint part shade will not hold it back too much.  In the early spring sow seeds 1/4 inch deep in rows about 1 foot apart.  In early summer thin the seedlings to stand 1 foot apart within the rows.  Propagation form stem cuttings in moist soil or root division can be done in the Spring or Fall.

Pruning a hyssop will be necessary to remove old flower heads and to force more branching.  They may need to be replaced about every 5 years as they can get rather dense which causes leaf die out at the base.


During the 17th and 18th centuries tinctures and teas were the common medicine and Hyssop was used among these for the treatment of bronchitis and sore throats.  According to Nicolas Culpeper in his Herbal. tis was "a most violet purgative" and should only be used under the care of "an alchymist."  Maude Grieve wrote in A modern Herbal that is will "improve the tone of a feeble stomach.

According to tradsition Hyssop was usedfro everything from a poultice to to promiote the healing of wounds bruises, and black eyes, to a penicillin type treatment for infected wounds.  It is a mild and safe herb to take internally so many make it into a tea that works as a mild expectorant.

The leaves have a mildly minty flavor and the the flowers are a genlte enough flavor that they can be added to salads, both green leaf and fruit salad.  The leaves and flowers can be dried and used in a tea.

The essential or volatile oil is the most useful part of this herb.  It is used in perfumes and potpourri as well as being the key ingredient in Benedictine and Chartreuse.

In more modern times Jeanne Rose recomends making an herbal bath with hyssop.  It is soothing and promotes sweating.  A soaking bath or a facial steam can both be made with this herb as it is a gentle skin cleanser.

To harvest hyssop for medicinal use, cut the stem just before the flowers begin to open.  Hang the bunches upside down in a warm dark place.  Dried leaves, green (not woody) stems and flowers may be chopped and stored for later use once dried.


For a quick omelet topping try this:  Mince 1/4 cup fresh hyssop and add to 4 cups of tomato sauce.  Serve over rice or cheese omelets for a special savory dish.

Next time you stuff a roasting chicken with your favorite stuffing substitute the herbs you usually use with 2 tsp finely chopped fresh hyssop. While the chicken is roasting baste it with its own fat or 2 tbsp melted unsalted butter and a little lemon juice. Sprinkle with 1 tsp finely chopped hyssop.

Glazed Carrots with Hyssop

2 large carrots thinly sliced
1 tbsp water (or chicken stock)
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp honey or brown sugar
1 tsp finely chopped hyssop
salt & pepper to taste

In a saucepan, combine the carrots, stock, honey, butter and salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover and cook over low heat until the carrots are tender and the liquid is a syrupy glaze, about 10 minutes or so. Be careful that it does not burn. Toss the carrots with hyssop and serve immediately.

Sore Throat Gargle with Hyssop

-1 cup boiling water
- 2 teaspoons fresh or dried Hyssop leaves
- 1/4 ounce salt

Pour the boiling water over the leaves, cover and steep for 20 minutes.  Strain and add the salt. Gargle as needed. Store in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

After a Workout Bath

Combine equal amounts of:
 bay leaf

Two ways to prepare your bath:

  1. Soak about 1/2 cup of herbs in water overnight. The next day, simmer for about 10 minutes and strain the liquid into the bath water.
  2. Place about 1/2 cup of herbs into a drawstring bag made of fairly loosely woven material (cheesecloth is ideal), or place in the center of a circle of fabric, and secure tightly. Tie the bag on the tap so that hot water flows through it.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...