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Food for Thought
Oh, sweet lavender! I never took the time to know you, and I'm sorry for all the time we've wastedall the wonderful experiences we've missed together. I will never live without you again!
Seriously, I feel that strongly about my reluctance to try something I thought of as "trendy"; something that, being floral, I believed should only be used in soaps and lotions. In typical four-year-old fashion, I turned my nose up at something before I had actually tried it, certain I wouldn't like it. But boy, was I wrong.
Sweet treats, icy drinks, savory meats . . . everything I added lavender to was excitingly fresh. I was fairly conservative in the quantity of lavender buds I used, and sometimes had to really concentrate to be able to detect the flavor, but even so the combined taste was always a wonderful experience.
I ordered culinary lavender and lavender skewers online from Jardin du Soleil in Sequim, Washington, and was very pleased with the product and the prompt service. The lavender was a little softer than I expected, and incredibly fragrant. Of course the first thing I made with it was a dessert!
I tried blending lemon and lavender in an angel food cake batter, making little cupcakes. They were wonderful! Then I tried filling them, glazing them, and adding a lemon curl, and knew I'd gone too far. They tasted great, but the filling was too much for that light, fluffy bite of cake, and the flavor of the lemon curl overwhelmed the cupcake.
So, it was back to the drawing board. I still liked the idea of a whipped filling, so the cakes just had to be larger. Out came the jumbo-sized muffin pans and another dozen eggs, and I tried again, with great success. The large cupcakes were sturdy enough to hold their own against the filling and the icing . . . and even some little citrus curls. I think they're the perfect serving size, too, for such a light, delicate cake.
A dollop of whipped frosting on the top is all that's really needed to make them appealing, but I had fun playing around with different decorating options, like colored sugar, candied lemon peel, yellow candy melts (a ghastly shade of yellow . . . next time I'll mix it with some white melts for a nice, edible lemon color) and lavender flowers piped out of leftover frosting. A light glaze with sprinkles would be lovely, too.
With blackberries in season, I couldn't resist trying a berry dessert. I've never been a big fan of cheesecake; it's just so thick and rich that you can only eat a teeny tiny slice, which isn't much fun. But I tried making a no-bake cheesecake using real whipping cream (not "whipped topping" from a plastic tub; don't get me started!), and I was very pleased with the result. It's still richwith cream cheese and buttermilk, it couldn't be anything elsebut it has a texture similar to a mousse, and a nice tangy flavor.
Pairing lavender with citrus and baked goods made perfect sense to me. Using it in an entrée made me a little nervous; I really didn't know what to expect. I like the flavor of lavender, but not the mouth feel of the actual buds, so I didn't want to cook a roast encrusted with the stuff, or make anything where I'd have to pick out bits of lavender while I'm eating. With a couple of decent steaks thawing, a marinade seemed like a safe choice.
Garlic, lavender, olive oil, and spices . . . it smelled so good I wanted to pick up the bowl and drink it! The meat was broiled just the way I like it . . . blushing pink in the middle. My husband and I each took a bite, and we just stared at each other with our mouths hanging open. (Okaythat's really not a pretty visual. We chewed and swallowed first, okay?) It was knock-your-socks-off delicious. I'm serious when I say I will never use another marinade on steak again. The lavender didn't stand out, but it blended beautifully with the garlic and seasonings, and gave the marinade a little indescribable something.
The next day I made it again and tried it on chicken. This time I put small pieces of the marinated chicken on the lavender skewers (actually lavender stems), sprinkled them with sesame seeds, and broiled them. The skewers seemed to pump up the lavender factor a little, which really worked with the chicken.
I saw lots of recipes for lavender-grilled salmon on the Internet, so I was pretty sure the combination would be a winner. Instead of grilling salmon, though, I baked a fillet without seasoning it, removed the bones, and made it into salmon balls with a lavender coating. Very, very yummy!
If you're tempted to buy the lavender skewers, let me just tell you . . . they're not very sturdy and can't hold much weight. They certainly can't hold a salmon ball very well. My bright idea was to put a skewer into each salmon ball, lower them one by one into the hot oil, and then use the skewer to remove each one from the oil to drain on paper towels. The skewer would then be a nice "handle" to use when serving and eating. Huh.
Most of the balls actually made it into the oil with skewers intact. (Most of them.) But when I tried to lift them back out, some of the balls stayed in the pool of oil and had to be rescued. I had to give up the whole idea, which is probably for the best when you consider the men in my family will eat salmon balls as fast as I make them, and fighting over a plate of skewers could only end with them looking like they'd been wrestling a porcupine.
This and That
If you've ever used a lavender sachet in a lingerie drawer, you'll know that lavender buds permeate everything with their lasting fragrance. Consider the possibilities in your pantry! I have small zipper bags of powdered sugar and organic sugar, each with a tablespoon of lavender in them, aging right now. I used some to sprinkle on cupcakes and added a little in fresh lemonade and a spicy iced tea, but will let the rest sit for a week or two so that it can reach its full flavor potential. It's easy to sift the lavender buds out of the sugar, but you can also tie the lavender up in a small piece of cheesecloth when you put it in the bag.
Another way to add lavender flavor to food is by using an extract. You can purchase lavender extract, but it's really simple to make your own. Culinary lavender and vodka is all you'll need. I didn't have regular vodka, so I made mine with 190-proof grain alcohol. The extract is only a few days old, and it is already some powerful stuff. Do keep this out of the reach of children! Here's how you make it:
Lavender butter is delightful on biscuits, scones, and toast. Using honey, butter, and lavender, you get the best of all worlds: sweet, salty, and savory.
I haven't even touched on beverage recipes, ice cream, scones, cookies, or biscotti. There are some wonderful cookbooks written about lavender, and many websites to peruse. And now that I am a fan of culinary lavender, I'll have to do some research to decide which plants to purchase for my garden and report back to you. I can see that this is a "to be continued" subject; there are just too many ideas left to be explored.
Here's one final thought (even though it doesn't pertain to food) that some of you may relate to. As soon as I knew what this column was going to be about, I started humming. I wasn't a flower child in the '60s or early '70s (I was a rule follower in a conservative Republican family), but if there was any song that embraced the culture of those times, it was Gordon Lightfoot's "Approaching Lavender." It still makes me smile.
Contact Lorinda at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.
Food for Thought copyright 2013.