Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review - The Lavender Cookbook

While visiting the Chicago Botanic Gardens this month I picked up a book by Sharon Shipley entitled The Lavender Cookbook.   The author Sharon Shipley is owner and director of the Mon Cheri Cooking School in Sunnyvale, California. She has studied extensively throughout Europe at La Varenne, La Cordon Bleu, and Ecole Cuisine d'Hubert.  The reason the cookbook caught my eye was because I have just embarked on a lavender loving campaign and this was going to be the key to my enjoyment of more lavender.

I was not disappointed.  This summer I crafted Lavender honey to sell at the Garden Walks and this book had at least 2 recipes that used Lavender Honey that made my whole task of making the flavored honey worth the effort.

This edge bound paperback of just shy of 200 pages and has no photographs and few illustrations which is good because it leaves more room for recipes.  And this book is filled with them (92 to be exact.)  The best attribute of the book is that you do not have to be a trained chef to create the recipes and whenever she is teaching a tidbit or introducing a less common ingredient, she has added this cute lavender symbol that marks a box where extra information is shared.

To eliminate the issue of what lavender should you cook with, she has crafted all the recipes to be made with dried Lavendula intermedia 'Provence' which botanically is a Lavindin (rather than a Lavender).  This hybrid grows more easily in the United States and is a great cooking lavender. 

Organized by season she has provided recipes of all styles (appetizers, beverages, main and side dishes and desserts) in each part of the year that suit the weather.  I like that about the book because a large number of recipes on a single herb can sometimes be daunting, but by breaking it into seasonal recipes you get a nice workable number of things to try without wondering if you will be overwhelmed.

The best recipes in the book are the dressings and sauces.  They are shared in abundance, from dipping sauces to salad dressings, to creams you add to the top of a soup.  The sauces and dressings are definitely the key to cooking with lavender and they are presented smoothly and simply.  A few of the combinations seem out there taste wise, but I cannot say they do not work as I have yet to try them.

My first experiment from the book was a Wet Lavender Salt Rub.  My husband has discovered Roasting Chickens and how easy they are to cook with in the summer.  We worked up the Wet Rub, altered it a bit, and used it to make roast chicken which turned out divine.

Here is our adaptation of the recipe found on Page 17:

Lavender Salt Wet Rub
2 tsp. lavender buds
2 Tbls. course sea salt
2 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbls. finely diced garlic
1 tsp. fresh rosemary (this is key do not substitute dry)
1 tsp. lemon thyme (fresh or dry is fine)

In a mortar and pestle grind the lavender with 1 Tbls of the sea salt until finely ground.  Place in a bowl and stir in the oil, garlic rosemary and remaining salt.  Rub all over a roasting Chicken, pork loan roast or skin-on chicken breast.  the longer you leave it on the better, I let it meld in the refrigerator overnight.  According to Sharon Shipley you can double the recipe and keep it int he refrigerator in a jar for up to 5 days.

The appetizers were by far my favorite recipes so far, but I have to admit being summer, the idea of little plates is not only fun but quick and easy in hot weather.  Come wintertime my favorites may change and since the book lets you look at lavender as a warming and hearty herb for winter, I think it will be just as wonderful then as it is now. 

I definitely recomend getting yourself a copy of  The Lavender Cookbook by Sharon Shipley (Running Press Book Publishers: Phila. PA: 2004)

Here is my favorte recipe so far:

Grilled Lavender Honey Chicken

¾ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup grated lemon zest
½ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup lavender honey
1 Tbls. lavender buds, ground finely
¼ Tbls. cracked black pepper
1 ½ tsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. sea salt
8 boneless chicken breast halves

In a large bowl, mix the vinegar, lemon zest, lemon juice, oil, honey, lavender, lime juice, salt and pepper.  Add the chicken and turn to coat.  Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Preheat a grill to medium.  Remove the chicken from marinade and place skin side down on the grill.  Cook turning the chicken every 5 minutes and brushing occasionally with the marinade for 15 minutes or until no longer pink.  Discard remaining marinade. Serves 8.  Great with oven roasted sweet potatoes.

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