Horseradish (Armoacia Rusticana): International Herb of 2011

February 18, 2011

Horseradish Horseradish? That seems to have been everyone’s response to the choice of International Herb of 2011, despite this herb’s long use as a medicinal herb. Not only is horseradish’s spicy, peppery taste a flavor booster, but it has the ability to clear the sinuses (you know what I am talking about!) and also has a range of antibacterial activity, which makes it additionally useful for infections. A powerful diuretic, horseradish has been used throughout the centuries to treat kidney stones and similar problems. Not surprisingly, horseradish is also great for indigestion and putrefaction in the digestive tract. As an expectorant, horseradish is helpful with lung problems, including asthma and coughs, and is additionally useful for arthritis. To add to the laundry list of uses, horseradish can be used as a skin treatment to remove blemishes and lighten discoloration; it is a successful vermifuge for expelling worms and parasites; it’s an immune stimulant that can strengthen a worn down system and as an anti-oxidant, helps counter the negative effects of pollution and stress; it’s also a detoxifier for the liver and spleen. It can even be held to the nose of a nursing baby who can’t nurse well because of a stuffy nose (the fumes will be strong for the baby, who may cry for a minute because of it, but it’s effective and safe).

For a sinus remedy, the famous herbalist, Dr. Christopher, recommends the following: “Start with 1/4 teaspoon of the freshly grated root and hold it in your mouth until all the taste is gone. It will immediately start cutting the mucus loose from the sinuses to drain down the throat. This will relieve the pressure in your sinuses and help clear infection.” Incidentally, the grated root is apparently sweeter and milder when fresh than when purchased from the store.

I think horseradish is perhaps best known as one of the five bitter herbs (along with coriander, horehound, lettuce, and nettle) eaten historically during the feast of the Passover Seder.

I’m chagrined to admit that despite the obvious strength of horseradish’s energy, I haven’t used this herb very much myself, and could also do to incorporate it into my diet more often. Herb Companion has posted a number of culinary recipes for the use of horseradish, including those listed here. Leek and Celery Root Gratin with Horseradish looks really intriguing, and just like I enjoy mashed potatoes with dijon or whole seed mustard, I’m sure I’d love the peppery addition of horseradish to a creamy potato dish.


Cauli Verdi: medieval pottage recipe fit for a lord

February 17, 2011
Medieval Pottage

Medieval Pottage

I was looking through an favorite herbal periodical today from a few years back, and I found this great little snippet about pot herbs, or herbs/vegetables for “pottage”. Some herbs that come to mind include parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, chervil, nettles, violets, dandelion, chickweed, purslane, lamb’s quarters, sheep sorrel, and chicory. When freshly sprouting, many of these herbs are also ideal early spring greens in salads, sautes, or soups. When we talk about “pottage”, the reference is usually to cooking herbs and veggies in a pot!  Just as you would imagine. The simplest version is to saute vegetables in a little butter or oil, add herbs and/or salt and finish with a splash of acid (lemon juice, herb infused vinegar, lime juice, etc) to brighten the taste. Pottage recipes often include sugar, though I’ve never cooked it this way, and the pottage is sometimes strained and turned into a soup. I like the Medieval reference below to topping with poached eggs. That would be fantastic!

herbs: photo from organicfoodexperience.com

Herbs and Spices (OrganicFoodExperience.com)

It’s mid-February, and no chickweed has yet made its sweet appearance in my garden pots. This time of year we rely on vegetables and fruits that store well through the winter (even if our storage needs are not so pressing as they were in the 15th century). Leeks, onions, shallots, carrots, cabbages, fennel, apples, potatoes all come to mind. The following is a medieval recipe for pottage translated from Libro Della Cocina, Santich, 117:

“Take the tips of fresh cabbage, and boil them: then remove them, and fry in oil with sliced onion, and the white part of the fennel, and sliced apple: and add a little stock: and then serve it in bowls, and sprinkle with spices. And you can also cook it with salted pork fat, with cheese and with poached eggs, and add spices; and offer it to your lord.”

Peasant Wedding by Pieter Breugel the Elder

"Peasant Wedding" (1567) by Pieter Breugel the Elder

I am not sure we’d be offering it to one’s lord (as in lord of the province or feudal fiefdom), but it’s a great little lunch or warming evening meal for anyone.

Cauli Verdi

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp olive oil
12 Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced
1/4 head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup, optional
Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup toasted pecans or walnuts

Directions: 1) in a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; 2) Add Brussels sprouts, fennel, and cabbage. Pour 2 Tbsp lemon juice over the greens. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes; 3) Remove from heat and add apple, maple syrup (if using) and remaining lemon juice; 4) Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with pecans or walnuts.

If you try this out, let me know what you think!

Here’s another variation: Medieval Pottage and a series of pottage recipes from Medieval-Recipes.com. Cookit also has a recipe and video! At the end of the day this is simple peasant food. Add a little meat if you want to feel like a lord or lady of the manor!


The wonders of Salt in culinary creations

November 23, 2010

coarse grey salt I discovered how fantastic salt can really be –and how vital to flavor– when I first sprinkled coarse grey salt on a hubbard squash from my local Greensgrow Farm. Combined with a little rosemary, olive oil, and garlic, and roasted to perfection, I felt I had come across one of the most delicious foods *ever*, but the key to this roasted bliss was the salt! An absolutely critical ingredient, it shattered my previous snobbery about not “needing” salt to achieve flavor in favor of herbs and spices. Now, I wisely combine wonderful salts with herbs to great ends.

Fleur de Sel caramels by The Caramel Jar: http://www.etsy.com/shop/TheCaramelJar

Fleur de Sel caramels by The Caramel Jar: http://www.etsy.com/shop/TheCaramelJar

Usually thought of as a savory addition, salts are often fabulous additions to sweet foods as well.  Artisan-made caramels sprinkled with Fleur de Sel (the “caviar of salts”) abound, and with good reason, because they are absolute heaven on earth. In fact, just in writing this, I remembered some dark chocolate caramels I had recently received and quickly paired them with some Celtic grey salt for a special treat. Yum! But specialty salts are increasingly found used in baking recipes such as this rhubarb upside-down cake.

Fortunately, Herb Companion recently published a wonderful article on “Perfect Pairings: Marrying Herbs and Salts” that doesn’t need to be re-written by me! Not only does author Tabitha Alterman outline every kind of salt you may come across, but she tells you the herbs that make the best pairings for complex herb-salt blends. Creating a seasoning like this will not only ultimately reduce your total sodium intake by increasing flavor with herbs, but the taste of better quality salts will also encourage the use of less total salt. Herb Companion helpfully lists resources for such special finds as Hickory smoked salt and gourmet salt blocks. During a recent visit to Boulder, Colorado, I fortuitously came across Savory Spice Shop and found myriad herb-spice blends (as well as plenty of salt-free butcher’s rubs, etc), sold to my by the nicest sales person on the planet. One blend I am really excited about is their County Clare Seasoning Salt, which brings happy thoughts of my favorite Irish county, and lots of exciting possibilities for future culinary creations.


Making Infused Honey with Household Spices & Herbs

March 26, 2010

cinnamon infused in honey I wrote this DIY post for a local group of handmade artisans here in Philadelphia, for the Handmade Philly blog. But what could be a better project for my own readers than herb-infused honey, using readily available sprices from your kitchen cabinet and herbs fresh from the garden? Pop on over the Handmade Philly and check out the post.


Herbally Infused Liquors for a Delightful Summer Treat

May 19, 2009

infused_vinegar_alcohol_2I’m a lucky gal – in my ‘real job’, I am about to take on a new research assistant, and lo and behold, she’s a top class bartender by night! We got to discussing the special world of mixology and she mentioned a local bar known for their use of herbal tinctures and infusions in fine vodkas and other drinkable liquors. What a great idea! I did make a wee visit to said establishment and had to chuckle when I saw a mention of an herbal ‘liniment’ on their drink list (a liniment is used topically for various conditions, rather than internally as a medicinal extract). That said, my local mixologists are not the only herbal cocktails gaining attention. Savvy bartenders nationwide are experimenting in the herb garden for new, unusual, and often delightful new cocktails.

Happily, we don’t have to depend on fancy bars for fun herbally-infused beverages. We can all have herbal mixology fun in our own kitchens. Much like making a simple herbal vinegar, herbally-infused alcohol is a simple process.

Step 1: Choose your beverage and the desired herbs. Vodka is a good choice because it has clean, smooth finish that allows the herb to shine through. Gin provides an interesting dimension, and brandy, the choice of many herbalists, is an often-used vehicle for medicinal herbs. Aromatic, flavorful herbs are the best to begin your experiments: ginger root, dill, basil, cardamom, lavender, rosemary, bay leaf, and elderberries would all be fun choices. Use only one herb per infusion so that you don’t muddle the flavor and so you are able to experiment with each new flavor independently.

Step 2: Wash your herbs and pat dry to remove excess water. Roughly chop the herbs and place in clean, glass container. Pour alcohol over herbs and allow to steep in a cool, dark place for 1-4 weeks. Strain the herbs out and replace with a fresh sprig for a nice visual effect, especially if giving as a gift. A container with a rubber, sealed top is a great choice for storing your new herbal extract.

Step 3: Experiment away! Try adding the froth of whipped egg white, a hint of berry or ginger juice for an extra splash of flavor and color, or a touch of citrus for a lovely fresh finish. There are plenty of drink recipes out there in culinary land to get your started. Just be sure that in whatever herbal coctail you concoct, you allow the qualities of your chosen herbs to shine through and make themselves (and all their loveliness) known!

infused_vinegar_alcohol_4


Bay ~ Laurus Nobilis ~ International Herb of 2009

February 26, 2009

bay_1I have been wanting to blog about the wonderful qualities, the spicy sweetness, and the versatility of the lovely bay leaf for a number of days now. The popular herby’s publication, Herb Companion, published a lovely little article on Bay, highlighting its associated legends and lore, including the story of Daphne, who transformed into a laurel tree when being pursued by Greek God, Apolllo. Bay is the herb of poets, oracles, warriors, statesmen and doctors ~ truly a noble herb!

Bay is  a perennial native to the Mediterranean, and as such, requires wintering indoors for those living  in colder zones.  Susan Belsinger’s article in Herb Companion tells us of its medicinal qualities, for treating headaches, stomachaches, wounds and insect bites. Today it is used externally for muscular aches and pains, including arthritis. The leaves are antimicrobial and fungicidal, and so bay is a valuable aid in treating colds, flues, congestion, and viruses. It stimulates digestion, regulates menstruation, soothes inflammation, fights infection, stimulates urinary elimination and calms the nervous system.

bay_2Along with many other great factoids about this lovely herb, Susun published a wonderful recipe for bay-infused chocolate pudding that I just had to post! This is the real thing, and very easy to make. The subtle fragrance of fresh bay (find at your local grocery store), rather than dried, is all you need to make something special out of a big pot of chocolate pudding, as if it wasn’t special enough already. My toddler and I took out comforting spoonfuls of one of the loveliest comfort foods around.

Chocolate Pudding with Bay (serves 6)

Ingredients:

2 cups half-and-half or light cream
3 large fresh bay leaves
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
2 pinches salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup milk
3 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract (no imitation stuff here!)
Whipped cream (not the canned stuff either!), optional

1. Heat half-and-half with bay leaves in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When half-and-half startes to bubble around the edges of the pan, remove from heat and cover. Let stand for 30 min.
2. After bay has infused the cream for nearly 30 minutes, combine cornstarch, sugar, salt, and cocoa in a bowl and whisk in milk. Pour mixture into the warm cream and place over moderate heat. Continue whisking and cooking and pudding thickens (this doesn’t take too long)
3. When pudding begins to bubble and come to a boil, stir and boil for 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and whisk in chocolate pieces until they are melted. Add vanilla and stir well. Carefully remove bay leaves and pour pudding into six ramekins or custard cups (or a nice sized bowl!)
4. Place custard cups on a plate or pan and allow them to come to room temperature. Refrigerate until chilled; at least 30-45 min. Serve at cool room temp and garnish with whipped cream if desired (or you can pour it into a bowl and pop it in the fridge)

YUM!


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