Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Off The Shelf: Cooking with Flowers and Lavender



Summer is a great time to think about cooking with lavender and other flowers. This week we have two books to get you started in the right direction. (And, if you don't have lavender growing in your own garden, you can find it in the spice section of any good supermarket, or health food store.)

The Lavender Cookbook by Sharon Shipley has 182 pages full of recipes that ALL use lavender! After the basics (such as lavender rubs, sugar, syrup and butter), there are four chapters devoted to the four seasons with recipes such as: Lavender Scones, Lavender Chicken Breasts, Lavender Lemon Buttered Chicken, Old-Fashioned Cherry Pie with Lavender, California Lavender Pasta Salad, Lavender Lemon Cookies, Hot Lavender Cranberry Punch, Baked Spicy Pork Chops with Lavender and Apple, Lavender Blueberry Banana Bread, and Lavender Roasted Beets.

Not only can you cook with lavender, but you can use a myriad of other flowers to accent and decorate your cooking. This book, with plenty of photos, helps you identify safe flowers you can eat and gives you ideas on how to use flowers such as: yarrow, hollyhocks, borage, chicory, fuchsia, sunflower, day lily, honeysuckle, phlox, rose, red clover, and nasturtium.

I decided to try a green salad with sliced peaches and laced with nasturtium flowers and 'Alaska' nasturtium leaves. For the dressing I used a lavender vinaigrette out of the lavender cookbook. The dressing was a nice complement to the salad, and the taste of lavender was not "in your face" as it could have been. Lavender-Honey ice-cream from David Lebovitz was incredible.



LAVENDER VINAIGRETTE
(The Lavender Cookbook)
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1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I used half canola, half olive oil)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. dried culinary 'Provence' lavender buds, finely ground in a spice grinder (I just chopped them with a knife)

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt, and lavender.

Makes about 2/3 cup.



LAVENDER-HONEY ICE CREAM
(The Perfect Scoop)
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1/2 cup good-flavored honey
1/4 cup dried or fresh lavender flowers
1  1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar (I left this out as it is quite sweet with just the honey)
pinch of salt
1  1/2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks

Heat the honey and 2 tablespoons of the lavender in a small saucepan. Once warm, remove from the heat and set aside to steep at room temperature for 1 hour.

Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Pour the cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. Pour the lavender-infused honey into the cream through the strainer, pressing on the lavender flowers to extract as much flavor as possible, then discard the lavender and set the strainer back over the cream.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. [If the custard curdles -- simply whizz in your blender.] Add the remaining 2 teaspoons  lavender flowers (I left these out) and stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, before churning, strain the mixture, again pressing on the lavender flowers to extract their flavor. Discard the flowers, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Makes about 1 quart.