Q: I got a bunch of dried organic lavender flowers from a local co-op. I have always wanted to cook with lavender but my first attempt to infuse the flavors into a tart was a disappointment. Do you have a suggestion?
—Andrew Maselli, Chicago
A: I don't, but Beverly McClare does. I told her you had made a tea from the dried flowers and used that in the tart recipe.
"I wouldn't have made the tea. I would have put a teaspoon of the lavender petals right into the batter," said the owner of Tangled Garden in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia. She produced a line of herbal jellies, jams, chutneys, vinegars, mustards and liqueurs.
McClare thinks making a lavender "tea" may have diluted the flavor by using too much water. To steep lavender in a liquid, like water or milk, she recommends placing the blossoms in the called-for amount of liquid and heat both gently to release the lavender oils. Strain out the blossoms if you like.
As for directly incorporating the blossoms into the tart, McClare suggests starting with 1 teaspoon in the batter. Work your way up, increasing the quantity of blossoms to reach the right degree of lavender flavor for you, she said.
Fresh lavender flowers also work better than dried, McClare added.
Here's another, very clever way to play with lavender from Judith Fertig and Karen Adler, authors of "The Gardener & The Grill: The Bounty of the Garden Meets the Sizzle of the Grill" (Running Press, $20): Use branches snipped from the plant after blooming as skewers for the gill. Choose woody branches and strip off the leaves. Thread onto the branch pieces of fish, lamb or chicken along with chunks of yellow squash and zucchini. Adler and Fertig suggest piercing the meat and vegetables first with the tip of a metal skewer or sharp knife to make threading easier.
"Lavender branches also add an aromatic flavor to sweet pitted cherries just briefly sizzled on the grill and served with frozen yogurt or ice cream," writes Adler, of Kansas City, Mo., and Fertig, who hails from Overland Park, Kan.
There are many other culinary uses for the fragrant herb. One can brew a tea, make a herbes de Provence dried herb mix for seasoning foods or a lavender-flavored ice cream. McClare, for one, uses lavender in a number of ways at Tangled Garden, including lavender honey, strawberry lavender jam, lavender maple syrup, rose petal and lavender vinegar, and a raspberry lavender jelly. (To order, visit the garden Web site, tangledgardenherbs.ca.)
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