In Praise of Celery

Yeah, I said celery – you got a problem with that? If so, you’re just wrong, wrong, wrong, but in all fairness, it might not be all your fault. Answer me this – is the celery you’re familiar with what you get from the supermarket? Do you actually check out what you buy before you buy it? Ever grown your own or got celery from good local CSA or framers market? If you answered YES, NO, NO, NO, then you gotta up your game. Let’s run down that list.

Just look at that stuff in the image above – it’s kind of a shitty picture, but even so, does that look good to you? Look fresh, appealing? No, it doesn’t, and again, if this is what you’re buying, no wonder you dis celery.

If you do buy supermarket celery, do you check it out first? I can’t tell you how many times somebody sees me choosing produce and asks, ‘what are you doing?’ Bloody hell – I’m making sure that what I buy is worth my money! Grab a leaf off that celery stalk, crush it and smell it – does it smell good? Greenish, sharp, a bit peppery? Bend a stalk or three- are they like rubber, or are they firm and resist being bent? If you answer NO and NO, don’t buy it.

Finally, if you’ve never grown your own or bought fresh local celery, then frankly, you got no idea what good celery is – and good celery is well worth your time and energy.

Why is celery worth your while? It’s healthy as all get out for starters – high in fiber, loaded with antioxidants, and high in phthalides which can help regulate blood pressure, and its even got extracts onboard that help cognition and memory.

Yes, good, fresh celery tastes excellent as well – it’s related to carrots and turnips, and has a light but very present flavor profile, a peppery, earthy tang with nods to onion or garlic chive. To me, the flavor is most pronounced in the leaves, which is why I use them a lot – added to hot or cold salad, soup, stew, stir fries, vegetable medleys, pan sauces and salsas, they’re delightful.

We grow celery annually, and it’s always the last to succumb to freezing weather – Our go to is Tall Utah, (what you see in the image above), a hearty and stringless variety with great taste and big leaves that lend themselves beautifully to fresh use and drying.

Giant Red is a cold hearty and gorgeous variety with arguably the strongest flavor profile you’re likely to find – it’s a fave in England, and should be here too – it’s delightful stuff.

Nan Long is a leafy, Chinese variety that produces delicate, thin stalks and pairs wonderfully with Asian cuisines. It’s a quick maturing variety that thrives in climates with a short summer growing season.

Finally there’s celeriac, a variety grown for its hypocotyl -a big, robust rootlike growth. Celeriac is far more popular in Europe than the U.S., which is a shame, because it’s delicious, hearty, and easier to grow than stalk celery. Celeriac is sewn after the last frost and harvested in fall to winter – it stores well, and can be frozen or dried as well. Celeriac tastes like, well… like celery, but with a distinctly nuttier note, stronger presence, and a fantastic crunchy texture.

Whatever you decide to grow or hunt and gather, once you’ve tasted real, fresh celery, you’ll never willingly go back to store bought tubular cardboard – You’ll find celery taking its rightful place alongside all the other veggies you love and eat regularly. As for what to make, I’ll just say this – You’ll find a myriad of things to do with it, and don’t be at all surprised if fresh, braised, sautéed, or roasted celery finds its way into your routine – it’s that good – no, honest!

Urban’s Best Fajita Marinade

I published this one back a few years, and hadn’t made it since – I did tonight, with some glorious tri tip and chicken, charro black beans, seasoned rice, and fresh corn tortillas from my fave carniceria, (the one where they speak Spanish, period, and if you’re a gringo, you’d best have your patos en linea. My family went nuts of the meal, and declared it superior to any restaurant in our area, and you know what? They’re right – try it, make it yours, and see if you don’t agree.

Urban’s Best Fajita Marinade

Plenty for up to 2 pounds of protein.

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

1/4 Cup Chili Powder

3 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

Juice and zest of 1/2 Lemon

Juice and Zest of 1/2 Lime

2 Tablespoons Pineapple Vinegar

2-4 cloves fresh Garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar

1 teaspoon ground Cumin

1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika

2-3 drops Red Boat Fish Sauce

1/2 teaspoon ground Pepper

Juice and zest the citrus, grind any whole spices.

Combine all in a non reactive mixing bowl and whisk with a fork to emulsify and incorporate thoroughly.

marinate proteins for about 2 hours prior to cooking.

Here’s my go to chili powder mix, too –

Urb’s House Made Chili Powder

3 Tablespoons ground Chiles of your choice

1 teaspoon ground Cumin

1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika

½ teaspoon ground Mexican Oregano

½ teaspoon ground Garlic

Combine all and allow some time for everything to marry before deploying.

Mace, Nutmeg, and Allspice – Everything Nice

Yeah, OK – I got a lot of herbs and spices on hand here at the Urban kitchen – maybe too much, even considering all the developing work I do. Since the Lunar New Year is fast approaching, I started pulling stuff down, making keep or trash decisions, and performing a thorough cleaning before Zao Jin, the Kitchen God, heads back up to heaven with his kitchen report to the Jade Emperor – Never screw with the Kitchen God, folks.

I got to the top shelf left, which is, mas o menos, sweeter stuff. Everything from several different varieties of vanilla bean and cinnamons, to clove, powdered citrus, honey, molasses, agave nectar, and finally, allspice, whole nutmegs, and mace – and those last ones got me wormholin’ a bit.

Why these three spices? ‘Cause I think they’re under appreciated for their savory powers and maybe not as well understood as they might be – so let’s have a gander.

Mace and nutmeg both come from Myristica fragrans, a tree native to Indonesia. The two spices literally grow intertwined – Mace is the bright red aril, the ropy outer layer that surrounds each nutmeg seed. The fleshy peach-colored fruit is made into jam and candy, and the rind gets used for local dishes and nutmeg juice.

Mace, good mace, has that bright red color when it’s fresh. Peeled off the nutmeg, it dries to a yellowish, rather brittle leather which then makes for a very nice powdered spice. You can buy mace wrapped around a nutmeg, or whole dried – the latter is a great way to keep it, as it’ll last a lot longer and provide a cleaner, more distinct taste profile. Mace has the same nutty, peppery notes as nutmeg, but is subtler.

Whole nutmegs are gorgeous – They’re hard, and grate wonderfully into the pungent powder we know and love. Buy fresh whole nutmeg when you need to reload – while the powdered spice will degrade quite quickly, whole nutmegs are good for 2-3 years, and will give you much richer flavor. Nutmeg has a warm, nutty, peppery profile with a lot of potency.

Whole Nutmeg & Mace
Whole Nutmeg & Mace

Allspice is a berry from the Pimenta dioica tree, a shrubby evergreen native to the West Indies – they’re grown across many warm climes these days. The berries are picked green and sun dried, finished, they look like large peppercorns. Biy allspice as whole berries and grind what you need fresh – that’ll give you much bolder flavor and longer storage life.

Dried whole allspice berries
Dried whole allspice berries

Allspice, especially good, fresh stuff, has an amazing depth and breadth to it – it smells and tastes like a blend of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and pepper, and is simply fantastic – like Mace and nutmeg, it is great for so much more than sweet stuff, too.

Jamaican Jerk Rub
Jamaican Jerk Rub

Allspice is the heartbeat of Jamaican jerk seasoning, the scotch bonnet chile fueled spice rub that lights up poultry, fish, and veggies.

Garam masala
Garam masala

Mace is used widely in regional Indian cooking, especially in Mughai cuisine. Quite a few masalas (spice blends) feature it.

Nutmeg makes its way into savory dishes as a je ne sais quoi – a subtle hint of something more – from Mac and cheese to soups and stews, it’s fantastic.

All three of these spices will shine in spice rubs for proteins and veggies. They’re best as warm, minor notes that add a subtle bass note to the stronger headliners like salt, sugar, and pepper. Like Chinese Five Spice blend? Any of these could be one of the five, or added to, and would absolutely shine.
You really can’t go wrong deploying them that way. So dive in and have some fun.

I’ve got to admit, it’s getting better

A little better, all the time. Damn – might be a song there somewhere, huh? Am learning, slowly but surely, how to manipulate stuff like block editors and all that folderol – bottom line is this place is going to be simple, but it’s gonna be clean, functional, and common sense – at least that’s the aim.

I came up with the snazzy new logo too – purty sleek, huh?

For now, all the hundred of posts that make up my work here are all in light below this one. That’ll do for a bit, but it won’t stay that way – makes for a too cluttered home page, methinks.

You’ll find a sidebar now, with boxes for searching, subscribing, most recent posts, contact, and page links. All of that will get gussied up soon. If you’re reading this, welcome. If you’re not subscribed, maybe do that, and we’ll keep in touch. If you’ve got site or post or whatever feedback, let me know – it’s all good.

Now, it’s rainy, cold, and grey outside, so it’s time to think about counteracting that. Clearly comfort food is called for, don’t you think?


All Over The Place, and Back Again

I’ve said more than once that I’d write here even if nobody read it. To be honest, the last few years have been tough, and while I’d love to say I got all creative and such I sorta didn’t. Life, work, and aging have taken their toll. There’ve been a good few times I thought about packing it in – and literally every time I did, somebody would come out of nowhere to tell me how much the dug a post, or a recipe or the site in general.

that kind of thing truly warms my heart – and if a guy ever needed a clue that what he was doing was something he should keep doing, those would be it.

so I’m pulling back a bit -losing the aspirations of a big, gnarly website, and settling back to a relatively simple recipe and food blog here at WordPress. As you can see, all the design stuff went away – what I’m doing, for the time being, is stripped down to a fancier version of how I create – you won’t see my notes, bibliographies, work ups, trial work, etc, but the end result here won’t be gussied up much.

I’m thankful to be able to do what I do, and ever beholden to those of you who, perhaps unbeknownst to you, said something at exactly the right time. I’ll be here, keepin’ on.