Mustard, Finally

mustard seeds & powder

Of all the jars of jams and sauces and condiments that jostle for space in our three refrigerator shelves, Sriracha against walnut oil, soy sauce (now only this kind, purchased in bulk. It’s life-changing!**) vs. hot pepper jelly, Cholula and Frank’s, mustard has the greatest footprint. Currently there are four bottles of mustard with varying levels smoothness, spreadability, and sinus-clearing spiciness, and of these, two are homemade.

A friend recently questioned the wisdom of homemade mustard when it’s so cheap to buy and so hard to finish.  Romantic comedies of a certain ilk tend to show a lonely bachelor or bachelorette squinting into the refrigerator light to find naught but an old, stained Chinese takeout container, a half-empty jar of mustard, and a bottle of light beer.  That just doesn’t happen in our house. First of all, we go through mustard about as quickly as ice cream.  (Not amazing ice cream, but decent ice cream that takes two weeks to polish off).  It goes on our ham, and cheese, and sausages, with just about every cruciferous vegetable, bread, crackers, salad dressing, potatoes, etc.  Secondly, even though it’s inexpensive, it’s still not that inexpensive when you like the type of mustard with the whole seeds, with that pleasing mouthfeel and tiny ‘pop’, and also when you basically eat it by the ladleful.  Third, there are a few food blogs I read whose recipes I trust implicitly, and when one of these posted ideas for a few types of homemade mustard, I was whipping up a batch within the week. Oh and fourth, it takes literally three minutes to make, not counting the waiting time. Literally. You pour everything in one bowl, and then you stir it and let it sit for two days. And maybe give it a whiz with the hand blender, to your preferred consistency. Done.


Here’s one of the three recipes, the brainchild of Good Food Matters, slightly altered and then doubled because we love our mustard so. Definitely visit her site to check out recipes for the other two.

1 cup white wine
6 tablespoons vinegar (I used a mix of white wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar)
6 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
6 tablespoons brown mustard seeds
8 tablespoons powdered mustard
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Stir all ingredients together in a glass or ceramic bowl until thoroughly combined, then cover with plastic wrap. Keep at room temperature (aka unrefrigerated), and allow the liquid to soften the mustard seeds for 48 hours. Uncover and blitz with an immersion blender until it reaches your desired consistency.  Place in a clean jar and refrigerate, then slather on just about anything.



**When the Williams Sonoma outlet had bottles of it on clearance, for some bizarre reason I attribute only to the facts that people like their Kikkoman’s and why shop around for soy sauce, I made my nice mother load up on so much that she nearly herniated another disc. And that’s with me carrying two thirds of it to the car.

Seahorse v. Barnacle

Courtesy of

If nothing else went right for you this barnacle of a Monday, please accept my sincerest condolences, and then spend a few minutes scrolling through this.  Might as well scroll through it even if your Monday was smooth sailing. It’s funny either way.

Tomorrow, exit the bed from the other side, tie your shoelaces in reverse order, and do some counter/cabinet cleaning to conjure up something interesting to pack for lunch.  This recipe for Avocado Tomato Crackers was inspired one Saturday when I couldn’t peel backside off couch for long enough to visit the grocery store or one of three great lunch places within a three-block radius.  Blame it on this incredible book or laziness, but the meal was a happy result.

Mash half of an avocado with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, then spread onto a good thickish cracker (like Wasa brand) or toasted bread. Add sliced tomato, sprinkle on a little more salt, then layer on some thinly sliced extra sharp cheddar (or not if you’re going vegan – the avocado makes this hefty enough without the dairy). Top with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprig of whatever herb you’ve got – dill was great, but I imagine parsley and chives would be equally delicious. Easy, quick, and filling – just the thing to help you square those shoulders and face the rest of the day, be it barnacle or seahorse.

The Ultimate Vegetarian Topping for Sweet Potatoes

When there’s something already cooking in the oven, I usually pop two fork-stabbed and foil-wrapped sweet potatoes in to keep it company. Approximately 45 minutes (depending on sweet potato size and circumference) elapse, and presto change-o, you’ve got lunch or dinner for the next day.

If you’re heating up the oven just for the potatoes, try assembling a topping while they bake. I call this recipe the ultimate vegetarian topping, because in my world when you say “ultimate” next to “topping,” it usually indicates bacon and some form of heavy dairy product, maybe even crispy onions.  There is no meat in this topping, and I like to indicate that in the title so that I’m not playing a “horrible, nasty trick” on a certain someone who was “expecting pork sprinkles.”

Anyway, this topping is especially nice because it counters the sweetness of the potatoes, but still has a cheese indulgence.  There is far too much cheese consumption in this house to actually consider it an indulgence, but let’s not quibble over details.

The Ultimate Vegetarian Topping for Sweet Potatoes
(Inspired by a recipe I once read but can’t remember where, plus changes)

1 jalapeño, deseeded and finely minced (or half of the jalapeño, if you prefer less heat)
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Bunch of fresh cilantro, rinsed well and chopped
Lime juice (approx. 2 teaspoons, or whatever comes out of half of a lime)
Fresh mozzarella
Two baked sweet potatoes

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil and lime juice. Add the jalapeño, garlic, most of the cilantro, and salt to taste.  Whisk together, and then spoon a little bit over the baked sweet potatoes, which  should be split and warm. Shred some of the mozzarella over the top using your hands (I prefer the ovolini size that come packed in water), then spoon over more of the topping and the rest of the chopped cilantro as garnish.

*Notes: I used lemon instead of lime because that’s what I had.  It worked fine, but lime is a bit better. Some chopped spring onions provided a little extra garnish.  This is especially good with a side of steamed mustard greens or kale, black eyes peas, or salad.

Roasted Acorn Squash

It’s been done before. Crack open any food magazine, scroll through any blog with a bit of fall inspiration, scan the list of recipes that comes with your weekly CSA (you lucky dog, you!) and you’ll see them: multitudes of preparations for squashes, gourds, pumpkins – the fine, filling fruit of the fall.

I wrote that for alliteration’s sake, but guess what – “botanically speaking, squash is a fruit, being the receptacle for the plant’s seeds.”  And who says Wikipedia isn’t a viable reference, besides every professor I ever had? (Actually, I think it’s getting more and more reliable as the years go by. Do you contribute or edit Wikipedia articles? With solid footnoted resources? If so, welcome into my open arms, personal hero!)

You’ve probably made it a half a dozen times this fall, but if not, please let me impress upon you the ease of preparing acorn squash for dinner. Five minutes hands-on time, and then the oven does the rest of the work.

First, when purchasing check for an orange spot on the outer surface – that’s where the squash sat on the ground and it’s a sign of ripeness. No orange spot could mean it’s not quite ripe.  Buy organic if you can, because the rind is edible and an excellent source of fiber.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rinse the outside of the squash, then carefully cut it in half from stem to point. Scoop out the seeds and stringy flesh with a spoon (a grapefruit spoon works especially well here). Place the halves on a rimmed baking sheet.  Fill each squash cavity with a knob of butter, a tablespoon of brown sugar, a sprinkle of salt, and maybe some exotic spice. (I have about two lifetime’s supply of Shawarma spice from an overzealous shopping trip at an Armenian grocer, so that’s what went in mine).

Some recipes suggest adding a quarter inch of water to the rimmed baking sheet to keep things moist. I’ve done this sometimes and not others, but it does seem to help keep the butter/sugar mixture from sticking if it bubbles over.  Cover the squash halves loosely with foil, then roast in the oven for about 25 minutes.  Remove the foil, and continue to bake for another 20 minutes or until the squash yields easily to a knife point in its thickest part.

Let cool for a few minutes, then slice and dive in.  If you’re able to wait, you could opt to dice up the cooked squash and toss with cooked quinoa, dried cranberries, and nuts (pistachios, pepitas, walnuts – sky’s the limit!) and a vinaigrette. This makes for a healthy, filling, and colorful lunch, the kind you have to keep far from your desk for fear you’ll eat it before lunchtime, and one that fully invigorates you to get through the afternoon slump.

My go-to vinaigrette recipe: a minced clove of garlic, 1 part apple cider vinegar (or a mix of your favorite vinegars, though balsamic changes the flavor pretty drastically) to 1 part extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of whole grain mustard, a drizzle of honey, salt, pepper and a vigorous shaking in an old glass screw-top jar.

Good Things to Come

The past two weeks saw a blowout wedding in Washington, DC (where we rubbed elbows with Jack Black and Paul Rudd and drank Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey – GET SOME), and another wedding in Philadelphia, in which the best man was “flown” down the stairs to the Top Gun theme song to deliver his speech, and dance moves were measured in how sweat-soaked the Mr.’s tie was by the end of the night (3 inches past the Windsor knot. Life record?). There were Halloween-appropriate power outages in the suburbs where we visited my family, Chromeo proved impressive at the Electric Factory, Wayne & Garth, a fleet-footed and friendly caped luchador, a lost leather jacket, and 6 servings of PopChips and York patties between two people on the plane ride home. Not saying who. And this after watching my mom’s demonstration of how many grams of fat are in a burger and fries, represented by scoops of 20-year old Crisco.  (More on that later). The flight attendant was not impressed by the crumbs.

We’re going to see Childish Gambino tonight at the House of Blues. I’m excited, because he’s got the smartest lyrics I’ve heard in forever, all peppered with generation Y references.  The kind of lyrics you feel smart after you’ve figured them out, if you can get past all the extremely explicit stuff. And there’s a lot of it. So we’ll see.

Oh, and I start a new job on Monday.

Life feels a little like this right now, minus the static bar:


So my four readers (cough direct relations cough) will notice a backlog in posts that won’t last long, because I had this for breakfast:

Recipe: Fry an egg in butter or olive oil, over easy, and serve with/on anything.  In this case, polenta with a few tablespoons of spaghetti sauce because you haven’t had time to go to the grocery store. Salt and pepper. Inhale while very warm, and then face life with a full belly and a smile.

Dress Up Your Soup

Whether it’s a steady downpour, a constant drizzle, or a fine mist, this damp weather calls for warm, nourishing soup. Soup alone can inspire gratitude and, ’round these parts, maybe a hug, but with a few simple add-ons, one just might elicit gasps of amazement and high praise.  And I love me some high praise, especially when it comes with a minimum of effort.

These cheese crisps are incredibly easy and quick. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In the meantime, grate a half to one cup of parmesan or pecorino romano cheese on the smaller grate size.  Pile in heaping tablespoons on a baking sheet (on top of a silpat sheet if you have one), making sure to leave about 2-3 inches space between the mounds.  Dust with your choice of spice – smoky paprika is nice, or cayenne, or cracked black pepper.  Let the type of soup these will accompany inspire you.  Bake in the oven for approximately 7 minutes, or until the cheese is completely melted and golden.  Remove from oven, let cool, and then use a spatula to peel them off the sheet.

A pistou is essentially a pesto without nuts, and for the soup topping above, I made it with roughly a half cup of parsley, two cloves of garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Process in a mini-food processor or grind it all up in a mortar and pestle until you’ve reached your desired consistency.  This is also nice served on just about any protein, or as a bright and pungent topping on bread.

Each of these toppings requires a preparation time of five minutes, max. I suppose I could have spent those ten minutes the other night changing out of sweatpants and into real people clothes, but it was so much more appealing to fancify my soup than myself.  And sweatpants and soup on a rainy weeknight? Ne’er the twain shall part.