Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Elegance of Lavender

I fell in love with lavender more than 10 years ago when I first moved to the Bay Area and saw these beautiful bunches of light purple flowers dotting the front lawns of many homes. They always looked so sturdy in the cool temperate weather of the Bay Area and would shine under the afternoon sun. And the smell, sigh. It just transports me to some other place. (Not exactly sure where, wish it was Provence but I've never been there so can't really say I can imagine what it would be like to be transported there. But I digress. See what happens when I talk about lavender?) In my old San Francisco apartment, I decorated my bathroom with a lavender theme, with lavender infused laundry water on my shelves and purple towels. I. Love. Lavender.

So when I was in Portland a few months ago for Thanksgiving, I bought a bag of lavender flowers from a local farmer. Lavender is really an herb, so it can be used for cooking. But since most people use it in a sachet to scent their drawers, people don't realize it can also scent your meals. Of course, you have to be careful to not mix uses. Lavender prepared for scents in sachets, potpourri, or other home scents should never be used for cooking. You have to buy lavender that hasn't been chemically treated and have been reserved specifically for cooking. The farmer had a bag full of lavender marked for cooking, so I was set.

Infusing lavender can be done many ways. You can brew some lavender in water and then strain out the flowers and use the scent water to add to desserts like creme brulee or panna cotta. That's the best use to highlight the subtle scent of lavender. What I did today -- because of the recent cold -- was make a lamb stew with lavender. The lavender is slowly perfuming the meat as it stews. When you eat this dish, the lavender taste is very subtle, sometimes overpowered by the lamb. But all of a sudden, you'll take a bite, and you'll get this slight sense of lavender, and, sigh, you're transported. :)

4 comments:

Seth said...

I had to try your Lavender Lamb Stew. Good cold weather type cooking. I've read that lambs raised in Provence eat a lot of wild lavender and rosemary, and it flavors the meat. I added a little sprig of rosemary to pot. Delish.

Chef Ben said...

Good job Seth! Yes, it's been brrr around the Bay Area lately.

By the way, last night I was at Pizzaiolo in Temescal in Oakland. Another great neighborhood restaurant. For dessert they had some apple thing with lavender ice cream. And yes, you guessed it. I asked them if I could just get the lavender ice cream. Sigh, so transportive! :)

Seth said...

Since I had some lavender lying around, I made a small batch of lavender shortbread. Also delish. I've seen a recipe for shortbread with lilac blossoms too, something to look forward to.

Chef Ben said...

Oooh, that sounds good Seth. I would try to make it too except, as I've said before, I'm not big on baking especially with butter. If you did your shortbread cookies without any lard, shortening, or butter, then I want to hear about it! If not, then I can't hear about it or else I'll be tempted to eat it! And then there goes my cholesterol. :(