Friday, April 19, 2013

Orange and Lavender - a culinary combo

We have a wonderful Washington Navel Orange tree in your yard. In fact the oranges are so good that I am ruined for shop-bought oranges. Once these oranges are gone I probably won't eat another orange until next January. But that's okay. I'll fill the void with tomatoes and then pomegranates. In the mean time, we literally have baskets of oranges.
Also beautiful at this time of the year is the lavender blossom. It makes quite the companion to oranges in recipes.

There are many different varieties of lavender and not all of them are ideal for eating. I did read that all are edible though some are less palatable than others. The best one for cooking is the Provence lavender. The link has a good picture of Provence lavender along with exciting recipes for using it.

I have several varieties in my garden. It took me a while to figure out which was which, but I think I have it figured out.
Provence Lavender Flower

The flower buds are more spread out along the stem than the French or the Spanish lavenders.
French Lavender
I did use the French lavender in an early experimental recipe by mistake. Neither I nor my guinea-pig friends died, but the flavor had a camphor edge to it. The Provence tasted much better.

Below is a picture of the most gorgeous of the lavenders, in my opinion. It's the Spanish Lavender and the bees seemed to think it tasted fine to them.
All the lavenders look and smell beautiful. If anything, the Provence is the least showy, more straggly variety and better placed in a herb garden than in a flower bed...oh well, I live and learn!

So, I adapted three recipes to include lavender, inspired by my friend Anne who is fellow writer as well as a Martha Stewart clone (but in only the ways you'd want her to be - i.e. much prettier, wittier and not an ex-con!) Anne made me Meyer Lemon and lavender marmalade once and it was so yummy I had to ban it from the house!

The abundance of oranges, coupled with my new Kitchen Ninja blender/processor system, led to the conclusion that I needed to make orange sorbet. I wanted it to be dairy free, and easy, so I amalgamated a couple of recipes until I got the sorbet right. Then I experimented with the lavender, and here's what I came up with....

Orange and Lavender Sorbet

Makes: 2 Servings
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange
  • 2 frozen navel oranges (peeled and separated before you freeze them overnight)
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon of lavender flowers (for plain orange sorbet just leave this out)

1. Add all ingredients to the blender jar.

2. Pulse to begin the blending, then blend until you get the consistency you like.

3. Eat immediately, or freeze to create a harder consistency.

I tried to get snazzy at this stage and saved some of the orange-halves and filled them with sorbet before popping them in the freezer. Once in the freezer, the tray must have shifted and before the sorbet had time to set it oozed out of the cups then it froze. The result looked very "art installation" to me.

Still tasted great!

After all at cold food there's nothing better that a nice cup of tea. And of course some Shortbread. I adapted the recipe from The Everything Lavender website and turned it into...

Orange and Lavender Shortbread  

Use the recipe on The Everything Lavender website and add a table spoon of orange zest. 
Orange zest and lavender flowers

It was so yummy I never even got a chance to photograph it before it was all eaten!

And finally - the Irish in me had to do this...

Orange and Lavender wheaten bread
I've already got a recipe posted for making the wheaten bread using orange pulp, but I think I've improved it, and it's easier to make. Win and win!

  • 4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup of porridge oats (not the microwave or easy cook ones, but the real ones your Mammy used)
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons of orange zest
  • 1-2 tablespoons of lavender 
  • 3-3.5 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1.   Preheat the oven to 450o F. 2.   In a big bowl, sift the dry ingredients together making sure the bicarbonate of soda is evenly mixed. 3.   If you have herb grinder or blender, finely chop the orange zest and lavender flowers before adding them to the mix. I used a smoothie bullet.
4.   Quickly add the orange juice and stir to get a soft, raggy looking dough.  Don't spend too long mixing as speed is important here.  As soon as the bicarbonate of soda gets wet, the chemical reaction begins that causes the dough to rise, so you don't have to knead this bread at all.  In fact, more than a few seconds will cause the loaf to be tough, so the good news is - less is best.
5.   Turn the dough out on a baking sheet that has been lightly dusted with flour.
6.   Shape it into a slightly domed circle about 6-8 inches in diameter.
7.   Use a sharp knife to cut a cross right across the loaf to about half the depth of the loaf.
8.   Gently (sudden jarring may disturb the developing carbon dioxide bubbles that help it rise) set the baking sheet into the oven and bake at 450o F for 10 minutes.
9.   Then, turn the oven down to 400o F for 35 minutes.
10. Tap the bottom of the loaf - a hollow sound means it's done.
11. Put on a rack to cool.
12. Serve with butter (ideally melting and dripping of the bread), honey and a big mug of Yogi's Honey Lavender tea.

 Lavender is great for a multitude of ailments. I use lavender oil to sooth allergy attacks. I just rub a couple of drops in the palm of my hand and hold it close to my nose.

It is a wonderful stress reliever and what with this weeks news events - explosions in Boston, Baghdad and Texas, to name (unfortunately) only a few of the news stories that upset me this week - it's good to chill and be grateful for the good things in our lives.
This post is dedicated to all the victims of violence on our planet.

Byddi Lee


Friday, April 12, 2013

California - a global guilt trip.

This week I dug out my lettuce soup recipe. I usually do this about a week or two before I dig out the entire lettuce crop (or at least those plants that I'm not seed saving from.) And why, you might ask, would I do either thing?
Well, since it is now the start of April, it is getting too hot for the lettuce that I planted in the main bed during winter. The leaves become bitter and leathery and not very palatable. I can still find some shady patches where a new batch of lettuce might grow during the blistering summer months. The truth is that my salad days are nearly over for this year - at least my salad leaf days... next phase is the tomato salads, sauces and soups.
The tomato nursery on the back patio.
So as the  the Irish get drenched in April showers, the East Coast shivers in the last (hopefully) snowstorms of winter and the Mid-west is torn asunder by tornadoes, we here in California are soaking in the sun in this perfect of all climates. And that's exactly where the guilt trip comes in. I've discussed this with my friends here and they feel the same. We rarely comment on the weather directly in our facebook posts afraid of being unfriended by those less fortunate than us. Though there's not much we can do about posting pictures of ourselves with the sun shining in the background on our tee shirted bodies. Sorry!

But hey if it makes you feel any better we did  have a big wind storm on Sunday night. It blew over a lawn chair in my yard, and we were awakened by the pomegranate branches battering off the metal shed that butts up against the outside of our bedroom wall. It was a trial!

What? Still no sympathy - well, I don't blame you.

I pruned that tree. The next night was so warm we slept with the window open... all night. That's just how we roll here on this edge of the continent!
It's full on orange season here. (Slightly different timing to that back home!)
I've been playing about with recipes and substituting orange juice for milk in scone recipes. That works really well.

Since the cilantro has grown two feet tall I'm also making orange and cilantro salsa.

And a fennel and lentil soup may be on the menu at some point. I love the fennel bulb caramelized with chicken or fish...yummy!
And the summer scents from the garden! The smell of sweetpea just makes me miss my sister so much - it reminds me of her.
 And the smell of lavender reminds me of my mum.
I just discovered yesterday that lavender oil is great for calming down an allergy induced sneezing attack. It's not hard to understand just why there's all that sneezing when you consider the pollen being produced in my front yard alone!

It's that perfect time for plants here. Still some life in the plants after winters rain but with daily blasts of sun and warmth to really get things growing. The native garden is bursting with color.
 The Chinese houses reseeded themselves from last year. (above)
The monkey flower is just starting out - it is a long distance runner in the blooming race.

Even the shade garden is enjoying a flash of brightness as the Coral Island Bells shine.
I never usually rate the blooms on succulents, favoring them more for their foliage but this little flower is very pretty.
 Overall, I'm pleased at how the succulent garden has filled in.
So, as I go out now to do my daily fifteen minutes of weeding in the sun, I will wallow in guilt, knowing how blessed I am to be living in Paradise. Mind you all that guilt does evaporate quickly when I consider that we do constantly live under the shadow of the next big earthquake...

Nuffin's perfect eh?

Byddi Lee