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LAVENDER: Fragrant flower adds culinary flavor

Jun 1st, 2012 | Category: Cooking

by Tina Hoban

Starting about mid June, lavender’s vivid flowers dot the landscape with their telltale purple colors, adding to the beauty of the countryside. Much of the lavender you see is being grown for making essential oil, which is used as a fragrance in everything from soap to room deodorizers and cleaning products. Its sweet smell is also known for its calming effects. For years I have rubbed lavender scented almond oil on my children’s temples to help calm them when they are having trouble falling asleep. Works like a charm. But this is only one part of lavender’s appeal, and for me, the fun starts in the kitchen.

The lavender-vanilla cake, also good with fresh strawberries. PHOTO BY TINA HOBAN

There is a growing demand for culinary varieties of lavender and adventurous cooks everywhere are discovering its many uses. Whenever I offer lavender infused treats from my bakery, I am always surprised at how popular they are. Although, I shouldn’t be, lavender is wonderful.

When used in the right amounts and in the right combinations, lavender can add a uniquely pleasing taste to both savory and sweet dishes. If you are new to cooking with lavender, start by following a recipe, since using too much can give your dish an unpleasant soapy taste.  But fear not, the end results are worth the risk, and I will supply you with a couple of recipes to get you started.

One good way to use lavender is in an herb mix.  I use lavender, fresh rosemary and thyme as the base for mine, and it is a great rub for grilled chicken. And for dessert, lavender added to a simple vanilla cake makes a wonderful accompaniment to fresh strawberries.

Note: When buying lavender to cook with, make sure that you are using a culinary variety. While using the wrong type will not hurt you, it could give your dish an unpleasant taste. After talking with many growers, I have discovered that the best variety to use in cooking is English lavender, also known as lavandula angustifolia.

Prepping the grilled lavender herb chicken. PHOTOS BY TINA HOBAN

Lavender-Vanilla Cake

Ingredients
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon lavender
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour one 8” or 9” cake pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, lavender and salt. In the bowl of a mixer (or using a hand-held mixer), mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until they are incorporated.
Add your vanilla to the milk.
Slowly mix in a third of the dry mixture into the batter, followed by half of the milk. Continue in the same manner until the last of the flour is mixed in.
Spread the mixture into your prepared pan and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan to finish cooling.
* Cake can be frosted or served with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

Grilled Lavender Herb Chicken

Ingredients
1 tablespoon fresh or dried  lavender flowers
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
juice from half of a lemon
salt, to taste
8 pieces of chicken (boneless or bone-in will work)

Directions
Mix the marinade ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for several hours.
Heat your grill to medium.  Cook the chicken for 7 to 10 minutes per side, or until no longer pink inside.

Published in the June 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine

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