I love the Hollywood Farmers Market. I love walking down there on Sundays and I love choosing something fresh and beautiful to present to you here for my Market Matters post. But sometimes it can be a daunting task. I would not go quite so far as to say it is a chore, because I honestly do look forward to it. But the reality is that the array of choices the market presents this time of year can be overwhelming. Add to that the reality that I tend to gravitate to many of my favorites over and over again. I have chosen fava beans twice this spring already!
So this week I developed a plan; a plan to force me to step outside the familiar. A plan that guarantees me a challenge this week.
You see I went to the Hollywood Farmers Market with a friend. A foodie friend. Her name is Pamela and she runs a terrific food blog that also offers relationship advice! The blog is My Man’s Belly and it’s out to prove the old adage that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! And speaking for this man I will confirm that is an adage with some truth attached.
So to keep things fresh (in my cooking– not my relationship) I asked Pamela to pick something from the market for me to feature in this week’s post. I asked her to try and choose something outside my comfort zone. Well that’s exactly what she did. In fact she picked something I can safely say I would never have chosen for myself. It’s something I have never cooked with before. In fact I am pretty sure it’s an ingredient I have never knowingly even eaten before.
She chose lavender. That’s right she chose a flower! A flower with a rich culinary history.
Which is why I found it so surprising that I had never purposely used its buds in cooking before. I suppose I am guilty of thinking that lavender has a lovely fragrance and is best used in sachets, soap, perfumes and potpourri. Yet if we can get past thinking of lavender as aromatherapy, we can begin to appreciate its decidedly culinary attributes– characteristics such as its obvious floral notes as well as its slightly musky quality and delicate citrus flavor.
Its potential in the kitchen has not been lost on the professionals. Lavender pops up on the menus of trendy, upscale restaurants more and more lately. So I think it’s time it showed itself at Sup’s! house. So did Pamela because she presented me with a big bouquet of the darkest purple lavender I had ever seen.
It turns out I may have been cooking with lavender and never even knew it. The herbes de Provence combination of lavender, thyme, rosemary and savory has been popular in France for what seems like centuries. And simply by driving through southern France in early fall, seeing the countryside spliced by brilliant ribbons of purple lavender fields, it is easy to understand why the plant is an integral part of the herbal blend that borrows its name from the region.
Of course I took mine home and began to experiment. I learned that lavender should be used sparingly. Too much can be overpoweringly floral. But just a little lavender sprinkled on a simple roast chicken is delicious. It seems to work well in any instance you might use rosemary. Still it seems to be in desserts and other sweet preparations that lavender asserts itself the strongest.
Lavender is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean and North Africa, and is now domesticated in many parts of the world. There are many varieties too. All are members of the lamiaceae family– as are most culinary herbs, including mint, basil, oregano and sage. And although its woolly looking leaves are fragrant and edible, it is the flowers and buds that are considered best for cooking.
Dried lavender is nearly as good as fresh (I have seen it packaged as loose flowers or buds still on the stem), but there is one rule of thumb in choosing culinary lavender: the darker the color of the blossom, the more intense the flavor. Lavenders with dark purple flowers also retain their color best when dried. (If your gourmet grocer does not stock it alongside other specialty herbs and spices, look for it among the tea supplies.)
So it seems Pamela made a good choice. Because not only did she present me with an interesting quality ingredient, she presented me with a story and a little bit of advice. It seems she traveled to France and took a cooking class where they prepared a lavender scented Crème Brûlée. The way she described the subtle hint of lavender infused into the rich cream convinced me to try the exact thing at home. Besides coming from her I knew it was bound to be good for my relationship too!
- 3 c heavy cream
- 3 T fresh lavender (1 T dried)
- 8 large egg yolks
- 1 pn salt
- 1⁄2 c sugar plus 6 t more for topping
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the cream and the lavender to a simmer set over medium heat. Watch the pan carefully, stirring often. Do not let it come to a boil, it could curdle. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and set aside about 30 minutes.
In the meantime, place the egg yolks, salt and 1/2-cup sugar into a large mixing bowl. Whisk until smooth. About 3 minutes. Add about 1/3 of the cream and mix well. Add the rest of the cream stirring to combine.
Place a fine meshed strainer over another bowl and strain the mixture into another bowl. Discard any solids and the lavender.
Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Pour the custard into six 6-ounce ramekins and place them into a deep-sided baking dish. Place the baking dish on the center rack of the preheated oven and pour the boiling water around the ramekins until the water level come about halfway up.
Cook about 35 minutes until the custard barely sets. It should still jiggle.
Cool the ramekins on a wire rack. Then cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to 2 days.
An hour before sprinkle about 1 tablespoon sugar evenly across the tops of each of the ramekins. Place the ramekins under a preheated broiler set about 2 inches below the flame. Broil until evenly caramelized, turning as needed, about 3 minutes. You may alternatively brown the sugar with a blowtorch.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD