Three Recipes To Transport You To Fields of Lavender

Visiting France always provides me with plenty of culinary inspiration. I came up with the following lavender recipes after returning from my travels through the Drôme Provençale.
Note: The key to cooking with dried flowers is to use a light hand. That way the flowers enhance the flavour of food instead of masking it with their intense aroma.

Strawberry Lavender Jam
My favorite strawberry jam recipe reminds me of France and is my own little tribute to the summer season. A friend once said that it “tasted like Provence”. What a delightful compliment! Perhaps it’s the addition of lavender, one of the most fragrant (and beautiful) gifts of summer, and a symbol of one of France’s sunniest regions. You’ll love the jam on summer mornings, spread over a toasted, lightly buttered piece of baguette and washed down with a nice bowl of French-pressed coffee.

Strawberry Lavender JamNote: make sure to use lavender that is safe for consumption! Sterilise your jars by boiling them.

Makes about 500ml

  •  600g strawberries, washed and hulled
  • 250g gelling sugar
  • 1 ½ tbsp dried lavender (suitable for cooking)
  • juice of ½ a small lemon

Cut the strawberries in half and place them together with the sugar and the lavender in a stainless steel pan. Mash them a little with a potato masher, but make sure you leave some nice chunks. You don’t want to mash the strawberries into a sauce! Add the lemon juice, stir and quickly bring everything to the boil. Lower the heat and allow the jam to cook for approximately 30 minutes, stirring frequently. You’ll want the jam to bubble away nicely, but make sure that the heat isn’t so high that it splatters everywhere.
To check if the jam is ready, drop about a teaspoonful onto a cold saucer. The jam should be thick and immediately start to set. Transfer the jam to your sterilised jars and allow to cool before placing in the fridge. The jam keeps well when stored in a dark, cool place.

Quatre Quarts with Red Berries and Lavender
My version of this classic French cake is made with a good handful of dried red berries (cranberries, cherries or strawberries) and a touch of lavender. A beautifully scented, red-speckled, buttery loaf perfect for tea time, or any time!

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Serves 8

  •  250g all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt (preferably fleur de sel)
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 225g soft butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 tbsp dried lavender (suitable for cooking)
  • 120g dried red berries

Soak the dried berries in hot water for approximately 15 minutes. Drain thoroughly. Preheat the oven to 165°C. Line a 28 cm rectangular cake pan with baking paper. Sift flour and salt into a bowl. Add the baking powder and the lavender and stir thoroughly. In a separate bowl, whip the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in a small bowl and add them little by little to the butter and sugar mixture. Fold in the dry ingredients and the dried berries in two batches, stirring thoroughly after each addition. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about an hour and 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Allow to cool on a wire rack before serving.

Dainty Chocolate and Lavender Cookies
One tablespoon of dried lavender is all you will need to transform a simple chocolate cookie into something beautiful. I always store these thin, crisp treats in my prettiest of jars. But in all honesty, I’m afraid they never stay there that long!

Dainty Chocolate Lavender Cookies

Makes approximately 40 cookies

  •  200g caster sugar
  • 225g butter, softened
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 220g self-raising flour
  • 2 tbsps good-quality cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt (preferably fleur de sel)
  • 1 tbsp dried lavender flowers (safe for consumption)

Preheat oven to 180°C and line a cookie sheet with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar with a handheld mixer or standing mixer. Add the egg and continue beating. Beat in the flour, chocolate, salt and lavender, making sure that the lavender is evenly distributed. Take small teaspoonfuls of the dough and form them into fat, little discs of about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Place on the prepared cookie sheet about 2 ½ inches apart and bake for 15-18 minutes. Carefully transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. The cookies will be soft when they come out of the oven but will crisp while cooling.

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Diary of France: Lunch at La Cigale

on markets and good food dessert

Today was one of those days. A typical day in France in which we somehow seem to experience a week’s worth of fun in the time span of a single day. We had a leisurely walk through the market in Chalon-sur-Sâone, enjoyed a glass of wine on a busy terrace, visited a very typical French antique market and drove through the vineyards of Meursault.
For lunch, we stopped at La Cigale located on Rue de Strasbourg. At first, we were a little disappointed because the streets were completely deserted. Two streets full of restaurants and only a few with customers! Luckily though, a few more people joined us, which made the lunch experience just a little cozier. We chose the menu du jour. Kirstie and I started with a tomato mozzarella salad which was very fresh and tasty. I liked the idea of using lemon juice in the dressing instead of my usual balsamic vinegar. The addition of finely chopped chives was also lovely. Hans ordered the chicken salad as his starter. He seemed to enjoy it, although he did mention it was rather garlicky! We followed with a steak seasoned with Herbes de Provence and served in a light, creamy gravy. The chips that went with our meal were absolute perfection. Crispy and so nicely seasoned! Kirstie, the little gourmande, had the salmon in beurre blanc served with wild rice and girolles. And oh dessert! We enjoyed a layered raspberry tart with fine pastry, sweet cream and icy, bright red raspberries!

 

A Barbecue in Duras

DSC00523One of the most memorable meals I have ever been invited to took place a few years ago in Duras, in south-west France; a barbecue hosted by a lovely family we had met there.
We were expected for the apéritif at seven in the evening, and we were not to worry about bringing anything. The weather had been somewhat cloudy that day so there was definitely a chance that we would have to postpone our plans. Luckily, by the time we had to leave, the dark clouds cleared and we arrived at Tessa and Jean-Claude’s doorstep, wine and chocolates in hand, and very much looking forward to an evening of outdoor dining à la campagne.
When we took a seat at the large wooden table in the garden, Tessa brought out some crackers and nuts for us to munch on with our Pastis. While she darted back and forth between the kitchen and the garden, we engaged in conversation with the chatty Jean-Claude who told us that he had just built the terrace we were sitting at and about all his other future building plans. The children happily frolicked about, grabbing some nuts here and there and asking when dinner would be ready.
I remember feeling very lucky that evening. I had always wanted to be invited to eat with a family in France, and I knew this meal was going to be great, even before Tessa had a chance to delight us with her culinary skills.
Dinner started with a board of sliced pâté accompanied by tiny, sweet cornichons and a small jar of onion confit, perhaps the most perfect of accompaniments to any charcuterie. I was given a knife and instructed to cut rounds from a crusty baguette. In the meantime, Jean-Claude opened a bottle of the local Sauvignon Blanc. The night was young and the conversation was as light as our spirits as we toasted to the good life and good food.
The next course was a bright courgette soup,creamy yet light enough to let the flavour of the summer courgettes shine through. Tessa served it in colourful plates and garnished each portion with a vivid orange nasturtium blossom. We laughed and made jokes as she told us how to suck out the nectar from the stem. The soup was so exquisite and delicate that we almost forgot that we had actually been invited to a barbecue. A six-course, very French barbecue!
After the soup, Jean-Claude busied himself grilling an assortment of delicately marinated skewered meats, and in the meantime, Tessa set out bowls of bean and pasta salads. We joyfully ate, washing down our meal with glasses that were never allowed to go empty, and when the skies grew darker, we lit candles and talked about pursuing dreams, about letting go of fears and about taking risks. At that moment, the sultry evening air, my beloved France, the good company and the gorgeous food was pure, sheer bliss.
When the cheese board came out, Jean-Claude and I discussed our appreciation for stinky cheeses, frog legs and other French delicacies. I couldn’t help but notice that the cheeses were not served fridge-cold, but that they had been taken out of the fridge on time, as they should be, because their centers were soft and melting.
Dessert was a perfect (and very refreshing) culmination to a lovely evening. We enjoyed sunny, orange slices of Charentais melon. Like the courgette soup, the melon was a delicious reflection of the summer’s bounty. Tessa told us that she had shopped for most of the products at the market that morning and that some of them came from an old, village farmer.
I will always have fond memories of that evening. While being served foie gras on brioche might impress me, I am more in awe of someone like Tessa and Jean-Claude, people who are obviously passionate about food, but mostly, about life. That meal was more than a barbecue. It was a feast prepared with love. Love for the food and for the enjoyment that comes with eating it in good company.

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Tomates Farcies

The good thing about this recipe is that it is forgiving enough to handle less than perfect tomatoes, and should you not have any tomatoes, bell peppers would certainly work, too. If you do use tomatoes, I advise that you salt their insides and place them upside down on a couple of sheets of kitchen paper. That way they lose a little of their water, and the dish won’t become too soupy. You’ll want to serve these over fluffy, steamed white rice or perhaps with some bread on the side. I think a lively red wine would pair very well with this dish. Perhaps a Vin de Pays d’Oc from the Languedoc Roussillon.

Tomates Farcies

Serves 4

  • 8 medium-sized (preferably ripe) tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp mild olive oil
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 300-350g minced pork and beef mix
  • 40g fresh breadcrumbs (I make my own from slightly stale bread)
  • 2 tsps Herbes de Provence
  • small handful chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsps ketchup
  • 2 tbsps pine nuts
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • salt (preferably fleur de sel) and freshly-cracked pepper

Preheat your oven to 220°C and lightly grease a large casserole with a little bit of oil. Cut the tops of your tomatoes and hollow them out. Reserve the tops. Sprinkle the inside of the tomatoes with salt and place them upside down on kitchen paper. Heat the olive oil and gently sauté the shallots and the garlic for about three minutes. Put the minced meat in a large bowl together with the breadcrumbs, Herbes de Provence, parsley, ketchup, pine nuts, egg, cooked shallots and garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Combine everything well, either using your hands or a potato masher like I do. Divide the mixture over the hollowed tomatoes, drizzle the dish with olive oil and pop in the oven for about 30 minutes. After this time, put the tomato caps back on, and allow the dish to cook for a further 20 minutes. Serve the tomatoes over steamed white rice, making sure you drizzle each portion with some of the wonderful pan juices.

 

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