Simple Aromatic Lavender Shortbread Cookies

Let’s talk lavender! Well known for its beautiful flowers and aromatic scent in the garden, it’s loved the world over.

As an avid gardener, I have large swaths of this plant in my yard and for years I’ve been using it in bouquets, drying it, and making wreaths. I’ve shipped it to my daughter in NY and tucked it into a hot bath at night. That said, for years I’ve had it on my culinary to-do list to use it more in the kitchen and this year I finally got around to it!

My lavender bushes are JUST in full bloom and this is apparently the best time to use lavender for culinary purposes as this is when the essential oils are most potent.

After mulling my options and perusing some of my books, I opted to make a Lavender Shortbread, using the recipe from The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld as my launching pad. I have adapted the technique significantly from Traunfeld’s recipe but one step in that recipe struck me as crucial–blending the lavender flowers with a small amount of sugar prior to adding it to the butter and remainder of the sugar and then getting on with the recipe. Although the recipe doesn’t explain WHY they do this process, it’s apparent to me that the whizzing of the sugar and the lavender plays a key role in dispersing the extraordinary and heady aroma of the lavender into the sugar which acts essentially as a flavor carrier when combined with the butter and other ingredients.

While I was whizzing the lavender and the sugar, I wondered if the lavender would become too potent in the recipe and resemble Granny’s Pomander ball! However, the end result was deliciously subtle! The recipe is easy and the shortbread freezes great so it’s easy to stash a little summer sunshine away for a rainy winter day!

Lavender Shortbread

A simple shortbread featuring the heady aroma of lavender!
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: baking, cookies, lavender, shortbread
Servings: 9
Calories: 324kcal

Equipment

  • KitchenAid Stand Mixer
  • Cuisinart Food Processor
  • Nordic Ware English Shortbread Pan
  • Nine Inch Square Baking Pan

Ingredients

  • 3 teaspoons fresh lavendar buds
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 300 F
  • Combine the lavender buds and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse the processor four or five times to combine and then run the machine for about 10 seconds to pulverize the lavender and sugar. (This processing step goes a long way towards dispersing the lavender essential oil into the sugar!)
  • Put the lavender sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the butter. Beat the sugar and butter on low until the mixture is smooth and creamy, but NOT fluffy. Add the flour and combine well to make a cohesive dough.
  • Transfer the dough into a nine inch square baking pan or into a Nordic Ware English Shortbread Pan, which also measures 9 inches by 9 inches. Press the dough into the pan, smoothing the edges to get a tidy edge. (Pressing the dough into the Nordic Ware pan ensures that the dough with take on the pan's floral impressions.)
  • Refrigerate the dough in the pan for about twenty minutes prior to baking to let the dough rest.
  • Bake the shortbread in the middle of the preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the shortbread is just slightly colored. Let the shortbread cool in the pan on a rack for about five minutes and then turn it out onto the rack to continue cooling. Cut the shortbread into 9 pieces when almost cool.
  • Store the shortbread in an airtight container. It also freezes very well.
  • Serve with tea, ice cream, and/or fresh seasonal berries!

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 324kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 54mg | Sodium: 180mg | Potassium: 36mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 628IU | Calcium: 10mg | Iron: 1mg

Quick and Easy Curried Mussels!

Curried Mussels

Mussels. Inexpensive and locally grown here in the Pacific Northwest, they are easy seafood to purchase and serve year-round. For many years now, I have adored the mussels grown at Penn Cove Shellfish in Coupeville, Washington, and often look for reasons to serve them to my family and friends. The company’s logo says, “Fresh from the Water—Not the Warehouse.” Indeed, they stand by their word!

All Penn Cove mussels are shipped, carefully debearded and bagged, within 24 hours of harvest. Whenever I buy  Penn Cove mussels here in Seattle, I check the harvest tag. More often than not, the mussels at hand were pulled from the sea a mere two days prior.

The following quick and easy recipe is one of my favorites and hails from one of Seattle’s most beloved chefs–Kaspar Donier of Kaspar’s Seattle Catering and Events. It’s been one of his tried and true favorites for decades.

Quick and Easy Curried Mussels

Simple and Delicious Main Course Seafood in Less than 15 minutes!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time6 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Indian
Servings: 4
Calories: 338kcal

Equipment

  • large Dutch Oven, preferably Le Creuset

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Dry white wine
  • 1 cup Heavy Cream
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 stalk lemongrass lower six inches only, outer leaves removed, and stalk cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • pounds Penn Cove mussels rinsed and scrubbed if needed
  • 1 Tablespoon sliced scallion
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Instructions

  • In a large heavy Dutch oven, bring the wine and cream to a boil with the garlic, shallot, lemongrass and curry powder, stirring.
  • Add the mussels and cook, covered, over moderately high heat for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the mussls have opened. Discard any unopened mussels and remove the lemongrass stalks,
  • With a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to four bowls. Add the scallions and butter to the cooking liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over the mussels. Garnish iwth fresh cilantro if desired.

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 338kcal | Carbohydrates: 8g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 106mg | Sodium: 278mg | Potassium: 412mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 1030IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 78mg | Iron: 4mg

Enjoy!

Thrifty Garden Hack: Easy Greenhouse for Basil

Necessity really is the mother of invention.

I was reminded of this recently while struggling to deal with basil starts in my garden. I love basil but it’s a bear to grow successfully here in Seattle. Our cool maritime climate makes it hard to grow the heat loving Mediterranean herb. I have tried plastic tunnel cloches over the years, and they work to some degree on the larger plants purchased at the nurseries. But this year, I am growing nearly 100% of my plants from seeds, which adds to the challenge with basil. (Slugs love the little plants, and it takes some heat to get the plants sufficiently ramped up and rolling for the season.)

However, while mulling my options last night, I popped into a thrift store to see if I could rustle up some kind of cloche, or protective cover that I could put over my basil seedlings. I trolled the storage box section and found nothing. I considered those large plastic iced tea containers for a hot minute, but the spout proved problematic and frankly, unattractive. In the glass container section, where they have the assorted glass bowls and Pyrex containers, eureka hit! I spied three dusty, yet stylish, glass salad bowls. It immediately occurred to me that they would be perfect over my basil. I turned the pedestaled bowls upside down and indeed they looked like a cloche to me! Adding to the thrill? Bric a brac was 50% off, so each bowl was $1.

At home, they got a quick clean with hot water and ammonia and in short order, they were positioned over my tender sweet basil plants in the garden. To prevent the basil from getting charred on a hot day, I set some bricks nearby so I can vent the cloche and cool the setup.

When I stepped back to survey the results, I thought they definitely have a European vintage glass cloche effect, without the hefty price tag!

Keep it Simple Christmas Cookies!

How’s the holiday baking going?

Admittedly, mine has yet to start. I’m still in R&D mode. Reading recipes. Checking the baking cupboard. Stocking up on the essentials. That said, looking at the world around us, I’m going to put a plug in for Keep it Simple Christmas Cookies!

I know, it’s fun to make picture perfect treats but given the global pivot at hand, I’m thinking I’ll stick with one of my tried and true favorites–the Land O’ Lakes Best Ever Butter Cookie. I first tried this recipe probably ten years ago and it has been at the top of the heap over since.

Why? Aside from being easy to follow, it’s versatile, delicious, and uses only seven ingredients, most of which I probably already have on hand.

Over the years, I’ve turned these into raspberry sandwich cookies, much like a linzer cookie. I’ve rolled them into logs and used them as Slice and Bake cookies, which keep in the fridge or freezer and are really convenient to have on hand. I’ve also extracted the cookie cutters from storage and cut the dough into all sorts of fun shapes for Christmas. I’ve even packaged them up into a pretty cookie tin and sent them across the country.

So, for the holiday baking this year, I am going to do myself a fLavor, and keep it simple!

Beat the Blues with Berry Picking

Sunshine, open spaces, and fresh air are often the best antidote for a case of “the blues”.

Blueberry open spacesWell, at least that was my theory last Saturday when my husband and I decided to take a spontaneous trip to pick blueberries at Mountain View Blueberry Farm.

Located in Snohomish River Valley, this lovely nine acre farm dates back to the 1940s and boasts nine different varieties of plump and gorgeous blueberries. When we were there Saturday, we were greeted by their gracious staff, asked to wash and sanitize our hands at the hand washing stations, and given the green light to follow the pathways out to the berry fields. Lucky for us, the Blue Crops, which are big plump berries, were available for picking and in short time we filled two 10 pound buckets with the beauties!

While plucking, we enjoyed watching and listening to the families and children picking in adjacent and socially distant rows. One little guy gleefully told his mom she could make a “bazillion dollars” with all these berries and another child clearly wasn’t ready to leave when it was time to pack up and trek back out to the car!

Blueberry pie 2020Our day trip was short and sweet and in the end we carted home a hefty haul of blueberries that are now washed and stashed in the freezer. That said, before I froze all the berries for winter baking, I did bake a beautiful blueberry pie for dessert that night.

Served with scoops of vanilla ice cream, it was indeed the best medicine for battling any blues!

 

 

Social Distancing: From the Ground UP!

The new norm of social distancing has us all hunkering down at home. There are a million ways to cope with this unprecedented shift and for me this has had me ramping up  my efforts in the garden.

Ironically, I’ve always used my time in the garden as a way to get a little respite from the world around me. Digging, clipping, weeding, fertilizing, harvesting and planting go a long way towards bringing me a little peace while also keeping me busy.

I know that everyone doesn’t have a garden, particularly those folks living in apartments, condos, RVs and other dwellings. That said, with a little imagination, everyone can find a way to grow something. Just yesterday, I packed up a “Mini Garden to Go” and shipped it in a flat rate US Post Office box to my daughter, who now lives in New York.

Working on a whim, I gathered seed packets of quick growing goodies, such as micro greens, arugula, baby smoothie greens  and nasturtiums. I added some peat pellets, a few markers, a mini greenhouse (aka recycled Costco Cookie box) and  then ordered her a bag of Miracle Gro Expand and Grow Concentrated potting soil from Amazon. (NYC apartments are small so I thought the “expand and grow soil” was a very cool space saving option!)

She hasn’t received her  “Mini Garden to  Go” yet, but in the meantime, I encourage others to look out the window and explore the options. Do you have some random pots with withered plants from last year sitting on the front steps? Clear them out and give them a reboot. Have a corner of the yard that’s bare but gets some sun? Get digging! Have a sunny window in the kitchen but few other options? At the very least, maybe grow some sprouts!

For me, I’ve been expanding some of the beds I already have, adding compost and manure. I’ve also been sowing more seeds than usual. We don’t know where this will all take us, but I do know that the demand for fresh fruits and vegetables at the food bank will be off the charts this year so I’m planning ahead, digging deep and gearing up while being socially distant!

 

 

 

Don’t Worry! Dig!

Don’t Worry. Dig. That’s my new motto.

I’ve always been a homebody and a huge gardener, so naturally during these uncertain times, I’m turning to my garden for a little respite, hope, outlet, and, eventually dinner!

DSC_0256 (2)Spring is here in Seattle and although the city has come to a grinding halt, I’ve noticed that many folks are seeking a little peace and solitude in their gardens around the neighborhood. Some folks, working solo, are quietly weeding. Others are laying compost. Some are clipping and digging. When I was at  Sky Nursery last weekend, it was quite busy and I observed many customers stocking up on seeds, compost, manure, and small plants, both vegetable and houseplants. And when the  customer service guys loaded my purchase of compost and chicken manure into the car, the guy laughed and said, “We’re selling tons of compost today!”  (I’ve been shopping at  Sky for 25 years, and they’ve NEVER said THAT!)

At my P-Patch, an organic community garden, we’ve had to ditch our annual potluck and work party. The bulk compost isn’t being delivered, and I suspect many of the older gardeners, those in their 70s and 80s are worried this season.  In the food bank plot, which I’ve managed for years now, I’m already planning on increasing the yields as we know the local food banks will be swamped with an influx of demand in the coming months.

DSC_0500 (2)So, if you have a garden at home, a small plot, a front stoop, or even a sunny window or a windowsill, seriously consider planting a little something. Maybe some herbs or a packet of micro greens. If you normally grow annuals, such as marigolds or petunias, in a little corner of your yard, think about planting some herbs or a few vegetables in there as well.  (Bush zucchini and beans work great in small spaces, as do lettuces and kales.) The benefit of this, of course, it twofold. We know plants help to heal, and the bonus of growing edibles is that you can add a little something special to what might be a mundane menu lineup.

Of course, we don’t know where this will all lead, but in the meantime, dig deep, breathe, and take a little action!

I know I’ve shared this before but here are some of my favorite mail order gardening resources:

Territorial Seeds-a great selection of seeds suitable for the Pacific Northwest. There’s still plenty of time to mail order so hunt and peck through the selection. Best practice is to order seeds of only the things your family likes to eat.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds-based in Maine and offering phenomenal selection of unusual varieities, many of which are grown by farmers who sell at the farmer’s markets around the country. An incredible lineup of micro greens (great for small spaces) and awesome lettuces.

Sow Delicious! Tips for  Sowing Seeds-a post I wrote last month on how to start your own by seed.

 

In Season: Daffodils!

Daffodils! They have arrived. Strutting their cheerful ruffly flowers in gardens, parking strips and at grocery stores all over town. Without a doubt, they are a very welcome addition to the neighborhood because Seattle has been very dreary and rainy.

I have a few wayward daffodils blooming in my yard and in pots on the front steps, but for those of you who don’t, consider treating yourself to a little bunch…or two. They are generally far cheaper than the hot house tulips and they are just as lovely.

In order to get the most bang for your hard earned buck when buying a bunch of daffodils, choose those with tightly closed heads, and at home, trim the ends and plunge them in a vase of water. If you want to get the flowers to open a little faster, use warm water. If you want to slow the blooming process and make them last, use cool water. However, because daffodil stems release an oozy sap when cut, don’t combine daffodils with other flowers such as tulips because the arrangement will wilt faster due to the sticky liquid!

So, savor the season and buy some daffodils!

 

 

Sow Delicious! Tips for Starting Seeds

The days are getting brighter out here in the Pacific Northwest and that means it’s time to spring ahead. Even though we are still in the depths of winter, I use this month to start many of the plants and vegetables I want in my summer garden. Tomatoes, sweet peas, kales, lettuces, and cabbages being just a few.

Sweet Pea Flowers at P Patch
Sweet Peas, Nasturtiums and Poppies at my Certified Organic P-Patch in Seattle!

I, obviously, can’t plant them outside at this time of year, but I can sow them in my little home and indeed I do! This task, aside from satiating my green thumb, also allows me to grow a wide array of varieties and it saves me a ton of money, as flower and vegetable starts get pricier every year at the nurseries.

So, with this in mind, I thought I’d share some of my favorite tools and tips for getting your seeds off to a strong start.

Seedling Mat
Hyrdofarm Heat Mat with Jiffy Pellets Lined Up and Nestled in Lettuce Boxes!

  1. Get a Seedling Heat Mat! Seeds need heat to sprout and electric seedling heat mats are the perfect tool for the task. They come in a variety of sizes, which is very convenient for smaller households. I purchased my Hydrofarm mat years ago and it still works great, maintaining a gentle and low even heat. I’ve also used windowsill heat mats to maximize space. That worked well too!
  2. Simplify with Jiffy Pellets. Over the years I’ve experimented with seeds, pots and seedling potting mix but to be honest, I’ve found that to be messy and time consuming. So, now I simply order Jiffy Peat Soil Pellets in bulk from Amazon. The pellets rehydrate with hot water in a flash and make it super easy for me to sow some seeds in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, when it’s time to plant the seedlings, the whole plug can go right in the ground, minimizing transplant shock.
  3. Save those plastic salad and takeout boxes. When sowing seeds indoors, it’s important to create a warm somewhat moist environment for the seeds to sprout and grow. I have discovered that the large salad boxes are perfect mini greenhouses! I put the Jiffy Soil Pellets in the box, rehydrate the pellets, sow the seeds, cover with the lid, and set on the heat mat. Boom! The seeds sprout often in a few days.
  4. Get a spray bottle. Seedlings need moisture daily and the only tool for these gentle little sprouts is a spray bottle. Mist the seedlings gently daily and they’ll flourish!
  5. Let there be light! If you are lucky enough to have a sunny window with southern exposure, you might not need supplemental light. However, here in Seattle, even with some southern exposure, my seedlings still need supplemental light in order to flourish and avoid getting leggy. My favorite tools come from the Hydrofarm Jumpstart system purchased years ago at a local nursery and now available from Amazon.

    P Patch Zucchini
    Sow Delicious: My organic P Patch last summer with zucchini, flowers, and tomatoes sown from seed at home!
  6. Be Inspired…sow…what are you waiting for? Growing your own seedlings is fun, creative, thrifty and healthy. Give it a try!