July 17, 2017

Dear friends,
My three clumps of lavender have been waiting all their lives for Nancy Baggett’s latest book. I pounced when I saw The Art of Cooking with Lavender this spring.

I have known Nancy for years as a meticulous cookbook author — she has almost 20 — who triple-tests recipes on two types of stoves before sending them into the world. So I knew the recipes in her book would work.

I have tried just one of the recipes so far, but it’s a doozy. Lemon-Lavender Pots de Creme are voluptuously rich ramekins of the smoothest, silkiest custard you can imagine. The dominant flavor is fresh lemon, with an undertone of sweet lavender. Lemon and lavender were made for each other.

The book doesn’t stop at desserts, though. Recipes range from herbed popcorn to infused lemonade to stews and roasts. I’m looking forward to trying her Zippy Orange-Ginger Chicken Wings, Creamy Ranch Lavender Dressing and Lemon-Lavender Buttercream Frosting, among others.

The 122-page soft cover book is a trove of information about not only what to cook with lavender but how and what kind to grow. English lavenders such as Munstead (the variety I grow) are sweeter and milder than the more pungent French lavenders and for those reasons are best for culinary purposes. French lavenders are best for scent products, Nancy says. That’s lucky for us here in Ohio, because the delicate French varieties have a difficult time weathering our nasty winters. Spanish lavenders (L. stoechas) are purely ornamental and should not be used in cooking.

Lavender lovers with a plot out back have (or should have) harvested their crop by now. The stalks should be snipped when about the bottom third of the blossoms are partially open, according to the book. The blossoms may be used fresh or dried. I scattered my stalks on a table to dry and then transferred them to a plastic zipper-lock bag. Nancy recommends gathering the stalks into bunches and hanging them upside down to dry. I’ve done that, too.

The pots de creme call for two tablespoons of dried lavender, which is a surprisingly large amount, I found. The buds are measured after they are stripped from the stalk, and many stalks’ worth go into a tablespoon.

I made the recipe twice because the first was a dismal failure. The fault was mine, not the recipe’s. I tried to reduce the amount of calories and fat in the custard by using whole milk instead of heavy cream. I learned that acids like lemon juice will curdle milk, but not cream. So don’t try to be virtuous with this recipe.

The book may be purchased for $15.99 from Amazon or directly from the author at www.nancyslavenderplace.com.

LEMON-LAVENDER POTS DE CREME
Jane-Snow-pots-of-lavendar.jpg
  • 2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
  • 1/4 cup clover honey
  • 3 to 4 tbsp. sugar, to taste
  • 2 tbsp. dried culinary lavender buds
  • 1 tbsp. lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • 7 large egg yolks, lightly beaten with a fork
  • 1/4 cup strained fresh lemon juice
  • Whipped cream for garnish (optional)
  • Fresh lavender blooms or sprigs for garnish (optional)
  • Fresh curls of lemon peel for garnish (optional)

In a medium nonreactive saucepan, bring the cream, honey, sugar, lavender, lemon zest and salt just to a boil, stirring until the honey and sugar dissolve. Turn off the heat and let mixture steep for at least 30 minutes, preferably one hour.. For a more intense flavor, cover and refrigerate an hour or two longer, tasting occasionally until the desired lavender flavor is achieved.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Lay a tea towel in a deep roasting pan or baking dish large enough to hold 6 to 8 ramekins that ideally hold 2/3 cup each. Place ramekins or cups in pan, spaced slightly apart. Reheat the steeped cream mixture to very warm but not hot.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until frothy and smooth. Gradually pouring in a thin stream, whisk the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks. Whisk in the lemon juice. Strain the custard mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a 4-cup glass measure, stirring and pressing down on the zest and lavender. Divide equally among the ramekins. Put in oven.

Immediately pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come at least halfway up sides of ramekins.

Bake 20 minutes at 325 degrees. Begin testing by jiggling a custard cup. As soon as the creme is set except for about the center one-half inch, remove pan from oven. Place custards on a cooling rack until room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Let warm up slightly before serving. Garnish with whipped cream and/or lavender flowers or lemon curls. Makes 6 small or 8 mini desserts.

From The Art of Cooking with Lavender by Nancy Baggett.

TIDBITS

Local corn should be ready for picking any day now. Rufener Hilltop Farms in Portage County will “hopefully” start picking this week, says manager Lana Rufener. “At the latest by (this) weekend.”

At Graf Growers on White Pond Drive in Akron, “local” this year will actually be a farm about 45 minutes south of Akron, according to Karlie Graf, marketing manager. Graf’s fields were too wet for planting this spring, so the Grafs contracted with another farm to grow corn using Graf seeds and techniques, such as hydrocooling the picked corn. Daily shipments should begin July 18, Karlie says.

Wherever you buy your corn, call first to avoid a disappointment.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Pan-grilled strip steaks, cherry tomato salad with walnut pesto; salami and avocado on toasted ciabatta bread; beer butt chicken, tomato salad with pesto; grilled hamburgers, corn on the cob; lemon-lavender pots de creme.

What I ate in restaurants/friends’ homes last week:
Green salad, fried liver and onions, mashed potatoes with a smidge of gravy at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; shrimp sunomono, a Suzanne roll (a Jane roll with spicy mayo) at Sushi Katsu in Akron; roast pig, smoked brisket, corn bread, baked beans, mac and cheese, a chocolate chip cookie at Natalie and Brandon’s pig roast; brunch of smoked salmon hash, poached egg and hollandaise sauce at 111 Bistro in Medina Township; Thai red curry with chicken and vegetables at House of Hunan in Fairlawn.

THE MAILBAG

From Arlene:

Jane, I was wondering if you have any idea how to marinate garlic. Giant Eagle has some on its salad bar that is very good. I looked up a pickled garlic recipe that I made and I really don’t like it — too sweet and not what I expected. Then I realized the salad bar garlic isn’t pickled. It stays white and has a crunch and is not bitter or sweet.

I would appreciate any ideas you may have. My brother-in-law eats several daily and lowered his cholesterol to the point his meds were reduced. Healthy snacks!

Dear Arlene: My husband likes to snack on garlic, too, although he usually buys the pickled kind in jars. What you are looking for is marinated garlic. Here’s one from food.com. Tinker with the herbs until the flavor is to your liking.

AL’S FABULOUS MARINATED GARLIC

  • 30 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1⁄4 cup white wine vinegar (if you can find it, champagne vinegar is wonderful)
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste (I like to use Kosher salt)
  • 4 sprigs fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp. dried oregano)

Bring a medium saucepan half-filled with water to a boil. Toss in the whole cloves of garlic and blanch for 5 minutes. Remove the garlic and plunge into cold water. Drain and dry off the garlic.

Mix the remaining ingredients (except the sprigs of fresh oregano) in a blender until emulsified. If using dried oregano, toss into the blender with the other marinade ingredients.

Put the cloves of garlic in a jar and cover with the marinade. Tuck the sprigs of oregano into the jar. Cover and allow to marinate for at least 5 days (longer is better) in the refrigerator. Serve as a snack, or as part of an antipasto, or as a side dish, or add to a green salad.

From Martha, Kent:
I don’t have the gardening success that you apparently do, but I have always been able to grow basil in pots on my back deck. But this year, something — some sort of bug, I assume — is eating the basil leaves! Instead of shiny, full leaves I’ve got munched up, mangled leaves. Do you have any idea what is eating the basil this year, and if there is anything I can do about it?

Dear Martha: My “gardening success” is a myth. I write about my garden fondly but it rarely returns the affection. This year I planted sugar snaps in April and just harvested the first handful of beans. I’ll be lucky if I get enough for a stir fry. My little row (about 4 feet) of French green beans was attacked by insects and the leaves look brown and chewed. But they have a few blossoms so I’m not giving up hope! The tomato plants I grew from seeds are not wilted and brown yet, so I am excited about an eventual crop.

My lone success so far this year (besides the wild black raspberries) is my basil. It is bushy and lush. I have had your basil problems in the past, though. From the photos you sent, the culprits are probably slugs, which eat great hunks of leaves instead of pinpricks that leave a lacy skeleton (for that problem, blame Japanese beetles.

This information comes from www.gardenknowhow.com:
“To retard those munching slugs, try sprinkling diatomaceous earth over the mulch. The diatomaceous earth scrapes the slug’s skin and causes it to dehydrate and subsequently die. Products such as Bayer Advanced Dual Action Snail and Slug Killer Bait, Sluggo, Escar-Go, and Schultz Slug and Snail Bait must be reapplied after rain or watering. While not totally nontoxic, these products contain iron phosphate, which is significantly less harmful to pets, birds and beneficial insects than the more antiquated metaldehyde-containing products.”

Hmmm. The phrase “not totally nontoxic” worries me. You’ll have to wash the basil leaves before you use them.

From Tammy:
I want to weigh in on the soy milk issue. I am not lactose intolerant nor am I a vegetarian but I love soy milk. I do not cook or bake with soy milk, nor do I see it as a substitute for the “real thing” but the taste is different from milk and I enjoy it. I have never had almond milk, cashew milk or flavored soy milk so my opinion is limited. I do love edamame and tofu in all forms so maybe this has something to do with it.

From Beth:
Try Califa unsweetened almond milk. The green one, there are several colors of packaging. Great on cereal.

Dear Tammy and Beth: I may gather my courage and try plain soy milk, but I’m wary of nut milk after the cashew fiasco.

From Tami W.:
Regarding lamb, I wanted to give a second shout out for Duma Meats. All their meats are wonderful — and we always make the drive to Portage County when we want to cook beer butt chicken. You can taste the difference! Duma’s prices are also much lower than grocery stores.

Dear Tami: I’m sold. I’ve bought whole pigs from Duma for roasting, but have never made the trip for regular cuts. I must remedy that.

From Cheryl:
Crown rack of lamb, leg of lamb and nice chops can be found at Sams Club. The racks got rave reviews from our ladies’ lunch group when I served them grilled (cherry smoked) with homemade pomegranate molasses, grilled asparagus, grilled smashed potatoes with rosemary butter and my signature lemon lavender martinis. I love my friends.

Dear Cheryl: And we would all love to be one of them. Currently, Sam’s is my source for lamb. The price is good and the lamb is pretty good, too. I’m just hoping to find a local source with reasonable prices, which may be a pipe dream.

From Janet:
Your were hunting for lamb. And I do not know if this would be a solution: Arukah Market Health and Wellness. It is located at 2871 Edison St. in Lake Township west of the Hartville Flea Market in a house on the north side of the street. There is a website. The changing sign out front mentions bison, goat and elk. Everything is natural. I have not been there but the reviews are good.

Dear Janet:
Thanks for the tip. I’ve seen the sign for the store but didn’t notice anything about bison, goat or elk. Exciting! I called and talked to owner John Taylor, who said he does get lamb sporadically from a local farm. The store had ground lamb and one leg of lamb when I called. The leg was $11.97 a pound.

To everyone who suggested Spicy Lamb Farm, Brunty’s and other local boutique operations, I am aware of them but they are out of my price range — as is Arukah. But I may stop by for some elk.

Winner of two James Beard Awards for food writing.

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