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This Cookbook Author Cuts the Mustard : To Rita Calvert, It's More Than a Condiment . . . It's a Living

May 07, 1987|NINA KILLHAM | The Washington Post

A tale without love is like beef without mustard: an insipid dish.

--Anatole France

To Rita Calvert, mustard is more than a condiment; it's a livelihood. She created Calvert Cedar Street mustards, condiments and vinaigrettes and wrote "The Plain and Fancy Mustard Cookbook" (East Woods Press, 1986).

Frankly, she will tell you, she just loves mustard. The book--125 recipes calling for mustard, including an eyebrow-raising one for chocolate cake--derives from the success of her recipes at her restaurant, the Cedar Street Cafe in Santa Cruz.

Calvert would serve homemade mustards in crocks for people to dunk their bread into, and she noticed that they were pouring it over their salads for extra taste.

Calvert says she wants people to learn how to cook with mustard, as Europeans do, because it livens up sauces and dishes with its tangy taste.

Influenced by French

"Especially the French and Scandinavians. The French know how to introduce it as the basic component of a cream sauce. I was greatly influenced by that."

After marrying and moving to the East Coast, she decided to enter the specialty food business. She came out with Bumpy Beer Mustard, with a texture from the addition of whole poppy seeds, yellow seeds and black mustard seeds and a name from the keg of beer poured into every batch.

It was so popular, Calvert says, that "it's our calling card now." It contains no salt or preservatives.

A cookbook heralding mustard is not surprising when one considers the recent explosion in varieties. According to Craig Claiborne's "The New York Times Food Encyclopedia," mustard is, after black pepper, the most popular spice.

Many Different Types

Now there are smooth, coarse, mild, hot, wine-, spice-, beer- and herb-flavored, and that French stuff people keep handing each other from chauffeur-driven limousines.

For the calorie-conscious, mustard is certainly an easy way to add flavor without too many calories. Mustard, Calvert says, contains protein with lots of minerals and vitamins. Of course, she adds, no one ever uses enough mustard to think of it as its own food group.

And one of the easiest and tastiest vinaigrettes is made with it: Combine one-third cup of white wine vinegar, one tablespoon Dijon mustard, one teaspoon dried oregano or other herb and black pepper and whisk in about one-third cup olive oil. Pour on salad greens, and you'll think you're in the south of France.

If you are a true mustard lover, then you'll appreciate the recipes below. All you need at home is butter before your dash through the express lane.

Express-lane list: red snapper, Champagne, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, dill weed, carrot, lemon, spicy hot-and-sweet mustard.

RED SNAPPER WITH LEMON CHAMPAGNE BEURRE BLANC

1 1/2 pounds red snapper fillets

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Salt, pepper

1 cup dry Champagne

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon dill weed

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Brush fish with melted butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper and bake at 375 degrees 15 to 20 minutes.

In a saucepan over high heat, reduce Champagne and lemon juice to 1/2 cup. Add mustard and dill weed. Reduce heat. Over very low heat, whisk in 1 tablespoon of cold butter until melted. Repeat with each tablespoon of butter. This slow melting of the butter causes the sauce to become creamy. Pour over baked fish and garnish with fresh dill, if available. Makes 4 servings.

CARROT "SPAGHETTI" AU CITRON

3 carrots, peeled and shredded

1 lemon, halved lengthwise, then cut into paper-thin semicircles

1 tablespoon spicy hot and sweet mustard

1/2 teaspoon dill weed

Dash salt

Toss together carrots, lemon, mustard, dill and salt and steam over boiling water 10 minutes or until al dente. Makes 4 servings.

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