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Herbs and spices

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These days, not all pot-infused foods are sweet treats
Deborah Costella makes cannabis-infused butter. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Laurie Wolf, founder of the cannabis edibles company Laurie+MaryJane, makes a batch of CBD granola. [Courtesy photo]
Deborah Costella crushes pot to make green butter for baking. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Deborah Costella sprinkles sugar on cosmic muffins in her Ashland home. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Deborah Costella makes pot-infused cooking oil. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Modern cannabis edibles may be light-years from 1960s pot brownies and puffed-rice treats. But the chef-owner of Ashland’s new Cosmic Muffin School of Cookery can’t endorse taking “medicine” in “junk food.”

“I would try to get people away from candies and sweets,” says Deborah Costella. “We go far beyond that.”

Costella emphasizes not only cannabis, but herbs and spices, as vital to the natural pharmacopoeia. Her recipes and hands-on classes demonstrate how to prepare foods — from soups and sandwiches to her namesake muffins — with plant essences for healing and wellness.

“You have a plethora of medicine in your pantry — in your spice cupboard,” says Costella.

Certified in culinary arts, Costella worked for more than a decade as a cooking instructor and personal chef in Las Vegas before her concept for cannabis-infused cuisine emerged.

Caring and cooking for her brother through his long battle with cancer, Costella realized only after his death that her home-cooked meals could have administered his medical marijuana.

The chef knew in 2012 “things were different” from the days when stoners stirred “weed” seeds and stems into brownie batter.

Costella started researching online videos about cannabis cooking and sent her son to procure the key ingredient. Work sessions with a fellow chef, who she characterizes as “Bill Nye the Science Guy of food,” helped to hone her methods.

“I don’t go and buy tincture and drop it in,” says Costella. “(Cannabis) is fat-soluble, so I need a fat.”

I teach people how to create their oils and butters — both for THC and CBD.”

The process of infusing cannabis for its complete spectrum of chemical attributes, such as terpenes, cannabinoids and flavonoids, also is endorsed by Laurie Wolf, a chef, cookbook author and co-owner of the Portland-based edibles company Laurie + MaryJane.

Edibles prepared with isolates and distillates deliver only cannabis’ THC and CBD, says Wolf.

By contrast, utilizing all of the plant’s compounds, including essential oils, ensures they all work together, each magnifying the therapeutic benefits of the others, which has been termed “the entourage effect.”

Clients’ desired effects guide both Wolf’s and Costella’s choice of cannabis strains, each touting specific terpene and flavor profiles. For sweet dishes, Costella says she chooses King’s Kush, or a similar strain with citrusy undertones. Great White Shark, she says, exudes more delicate floral notes while Big Bang is “peachy, plummy or appley” on the palate.

For savory recipes, Costella favors the evergreen and peppery undertones of White Widow or Super Lemon Haze. Neville’s Haze, El Nino and Cheese, she adds, accent salty and garlicky dishes, particularly with beans. One of Costella’s signature dishes — and a client favorite — is homemade, cannabis-infused pasta tossed in infused brown butter.

“We can infuse anything,” she says.

For cannabis epicures — or clients craving a heavy dose — multicourse meals with cannabis included in every dish is within Costella’s purview. These feasts are private, in-home events only, where diners provide the cannabis, she says. Any of Costella’s classes featuring cannabis also take place at private residences.

In-person instruction at Cosmic Muffin’s downtown Ashland storefront is likely to commence in April. Although Costella secured a space on East Main Street in the same block as Bloomsbury Books in summer 2021, the coronavirus pandemic delayed remodeling at the site and licensing with the city.

To accommodate distancing among participants, Costella says she plans to start with hands-on classes for eight people. For demonstrations, she can host up to 12. Depending on the class type and cost of ingredients, prices range from $50 to $100 but usually include enough food samples to constitute a full meal, says Costella.

Catering to everyone from soccer moms to newly single men, Costella’s classes run the gamut from “girls’ night out” and “date night” to “secrets of the kitchen” and such basics as knife skills. The chef of Italian and Puerto Rican descent also leans toward Mediterranean and Caribbean themes, as well as classical French techniques and specialties of Indian cuisine.

A former preschool and kindergarten teacher with certification in early childhood education, Costella has conducted numerous kids’ cooking classes over the past few decades. “Perfect for all types of learners,” cooking is a hands-on way to teach math, art and science, she says.

Raising awareness of diet’s role in chronic health conditions is another focus for Costella. Seasoning recipes with the right herbs and spices, she says, can optimize brain function, promote a restful night’s sleep, reduce anxiety and inflammation, remove heavy metals from the body and lend all manner of energetic properties.

A grandson who experiences autism challenges Costella to ease his mealtimes with texturally appealing foods. His favorite crunchy mac-n-cheese bites become “fireballs” for adults with cannabis-infused Sriracha aioli, a recipe available on Cosmic Muffin’s website.

As “things have opened up” with recreational cannabis legal in nearly 20 U.S. states, Costella says she doesn’t fear negative perceptions of her business. And while regulated, commercially made edibles are available across the West, she still sees plenty of appetite for building a culinary repertoire with cannabis.

See Costella’s free instructional videos and recipes and sign up for online classes at cosmicmuffin-schoolofcookery.com.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

Click here to read the 2022 edition of Our Valley.