Cooking with Lavender – Part I

A couple of months ago I received an email from a friend inviting me to take part in a culinary adventure. She had been wanting to get a group of girlfriends together to cook and share different techniques, ingredient use and found recipes.

How it started… Kim was sharing a meal with her daughter that ended with a lavender and strawberry shortcake dessert with lavender infused whipped cream – She thought it was delicious. This started her quest to learn more about growing her own culinary lavender. Kim wanted to share what she had learned with all of us and I was happy to accept the invite.

She purchased some organic lavender plants from an herb farm in Vacaville, CA. She grew them, harvested them for bundling and drying and did a bunch of research to help plan our menu for the evening. The emails were flying back and forth and just like that, our new gourmet group was formed.

Cooking with Lavender was our first topic, and I’m hosting the second – any ideas or suggestions? I was thinking about using corn. One of the group members voiced some concern over it being too limiting. I’ve actually found some pretty cool recipes and so has Kim, so it might still be an option – maybe combined with something else to make everyone happy.

Kim pointed out the differences in the lavender she had for the evening. Provence lavender has pale blue to purple blooms and with English lavender, the flowers are pinkish-purple. English lavender has the sweetest taste of all the lavenders and is most commonly used in cooking.

She had also purchased some from a boutique for comparison.

She explained that a little goes a long way. Our biggest concern of the evening was to not create a bunch of dishes that tasted like potpourri. The potency of the lavender increases with drying, so we used very little – sometimes questioning… Can you even taste the lavender?

Our menu for the evening started off with Lavender Lemon Drop Martinis.

3 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Lavender Infused Simple Syrup
1 oz. Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice

Simple Syrup (1 cup water, 1 cup lavender and a tablespoon of culinary lavender buds – strained after you are done heating)
Add all ingredients in a martini shaker full of ice. Shake to combine and strain into the prepared martini glasses. Garnish with a sprig of lavender.

Note: My martini was made with 1.5 oz. of vodka and 1.5 oz. of water after coughing when I took the first sip of the strong one. Ha! Ha! – I’m a total lightweight when it comes to drinking hard alcohol.

I switched to lavender lemonade as the night went on. Kim used the same lavender infused simple syrup and fresh lemon juice for my lemonade.

Next on the menu was the most incredible appetizer ever… Goat Cheese and Lavender Crostinis – No joke, I probably ate 10 of them.

Goat Cheese
Lavender – ground in spice grinder and added to the cheese
Dried Apricots – chopped into small pieces and added to the cheese
Fig Butter – from Trader Joe’s – added to the cheese
Baguette for Crostini – sliced thin and toasted
Pistachios – chopped and sprinkled on top
Honey – drizzled on top

I don’t have the ingredient amounts, Kim made the appetizers ahead of time and went by taste, not a recipe. A small amount of ground lavender was added to the goat cheese, along with fig jam/butter and chopped dried apricot and then mixed together. The baguette was sliced and toasted and then the cheese mixture was spread on top. Pistachios were then sprinkled and honey was drizzled over everything as the finishing touch.

We also had Roasted Olives with Lavender and Truffle Oil. I unfortunately failed to get a photo.

8 oz. Greek Medley Olives from Trader Joe’s
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Culinary Lavender Flowers
1 1/2 Teaspoons White Truffle Oil
Pinch of Crushed Red Pepper

They were served on a pretty glass plate.

The third appetizer of the night was a lavender goat cheese served with Trader Joe’s Raisin Rosemary Crisps. All three appetizers were absolutely delicious.

Three appetizers and cocktails was a pretty fun way to start off the evening. We all took turns creating the dishes assigned to us. I will post the other courses in part II and III. I probably ended up with over 100 photos. Rounding up the recipes has been the hardest part – I think I’ll make little booklets for our next group get together or then again… I could take better notes.

Have you cooked with lavender before or tasted any dishes that used lavender? I really thought it would overpower everything, but it was such a nice compliment. Kim sent us home with our own jars of lavender and I look forward to experimenting in the kitchen with mine.

Cheers to a wonderful night of cooking and dining with good friends… Thanks Kim for the idea and including me in the group.


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My Personal Grocery Challenge

I mentioned the grocery challenge in my last post and actually wasn’t sure I was even going to blog about it, but I feel like it might change the content here a bit, so it’s worth mentioning.

I’ve never really been a week by week meal planner. I tend to gravitate towards the same products each week, buy the same proteins, lots of fresh veggies, fruit, dairy and make meals on the fly based on how much I have going on after work.

My grocery list is magnetic and stored on the front of the fridge (So 1980) – if we run out of something, it goes on the list.  I just take the list off the fridge, add items out of the ordinary to the list on my iPhone reminders or shopping list app (So 2012) and off to the store I go.

I use cookbooks, magazines, blogs and other websites to get ideas for my blog, party and family recipes. What I don’t often do is pay attention to the ingredients and whether or not I have the items on hand. Re-buying things I already have, spending more on organic, getting caught up in putting things in the cart because I’ve never tried them or they look appetizing. Cravings get me every single time. Go to the store when you aren’t hungry… yes, yes, I know.

Some people shop at the mall, nope… I hit up my favorite grocery stores. Nugget, Trader Joe’s, The Co-op, Sprouts, Whole Foods, Bel Air…. none of those (with maybe the exception of TJ’s) has the cheapest prices on things. My problem with TJ’s is that I geek out on all of the new products and next thing you know, my cart is full of so many food options that some even go bad before I get to try them. I act like I need food for 5-6 meals a day, when I pretty much stick to the standard 3 meals with an afternoon snack. I buy WAY too much for 1.5 people. I count Dan as a 1/2 because the only meal he eats at home M-F is dinner and 1/2 the time that’s just cereal or something frozen. I eat 3 meals a day – 5 days a week at home and then we basically eat out 1-2 meals every weekend.

I rarely shop the ads, I don’t use coupons, I sometimes take advantage of the farmer’s markets – but even with those, I have no self control. I’m like a 5 year old on Christmas morning. Fava beans… yes, I can figure out something to do with those. Fresh dates… yes, those would be great on salad. OMG!, I’ve never seen purple cabbage…artichokes the size of my head…oh wait, I must buy myself some fresh flowers. Next thing you know, I have enough produce to feed the entire neighborhood and enough flowers to decorate a wedding.

That all changed this month. I went back a year and logged my monthly grocery spending. Wow, what a complete wake up call. It was easy to track because I use the same form of payment for all groceries. Some of the numbers are totally inflated due to me purchasing garbage bags, sandwich bags, foil, paper towels, toilet paper, tissue, band-aids, Advil, etc. AT THE GROCERY STORE. They LOVE people like me. I always used the excuse that I have a busy schedule, my time is more important than driving around to 10 different stores. First world problems for sure. I even annoy myself sometimes.

We do entertain at least one night of every weekend. If we aren’t entertaining, we are bringing food to a friend’s place for a BBQ or other event. I always provide most of the food when hosting, but that changed this month… I started to ask people to bring stuff to save money. Everybody has always offered, I just usually replied with – I got it covered.

I dug through my junk drawer and broke out my club cards. I looked at the ads I usually tossed and made a plan. I knew in some cases I was probably going to have to brand switch, but I tried to keep that to a minimum.

I set out to “date” a bunch of different “new to me” grocery stores. My first date would let me know whether we were going to be compatible or not. If they didn’t carry a lot of my normal items, I’d move on to the next date/store.

Costco didn’t make the cut.  I have no self control. I’ve never walked out of there without extra crap – including jeans, shorts, bathing suits, books and booze.

By searching the ads and online sales, I found eggs for 69 cents. Not my usual brand, but that was o.k. I found super cheap stone fruit… yay for it being in season.

I did a bunch of research and heard and read over and over again that the average family of 4 spends about $170/week on groceries. I took a poll with friends with families and it seemed to be in that general range. Some were much lower at $75-$100/week, others were more in the $150 range, but they did admit to mid week stops for several items they forgot or needed for baseball or soccer snacks, Girl Scout/Boy Scout meetings and other activities.

If the average family of 4 is spending $170/week – $680/month, a single person’s budget would be $42.50/week add on a 1/2 person (Dan) – that’s another $21.25/week, bringing my weekly budget total to $63.75 – $255 a month.

It’s certainly been a challenge.

I made a temporary switch from my beloved Chobani $1.69 at my local grocery store to Yoplait Light – $3.99 for an 8 pack, plus I had a $1 coupon, making it under 40 cents a container. I still bought a few Chobani’s, but I searched and found the cheapest prices at my local Target. Yes, I drove to multiple stores, all within 10 miles of my house.

28 days into the challenge and I’m at $270.35. I went over my budget by $15.35. Not perfect by any means, but so much better than before. This month’s budget also included house hold items such as toilet paper, storage bags, household cleaners, etc. I just purchased those at Target, Home Depot and Walmart on sale – instead of at the grocery store.

I’m working on eating from my pantry and freezer, so that was helpful in keeping the costs down. We did eat out the weekend of my birthday, we still hosted friends for dinner, provided food for a family Father’s Day gathering and a few other events.

I didn’t have to buy a bunch of unhealthy food to keep the costs down… I just had to be a smarter consumer. No more lazy behaviors.

I will continue to map out a loose meal plan and I will continue to check the weekly ads. I signed up for e-coupons on grocery store websites that are in my local area. I actually USE the coupons I get from using store rewards cards and I went into the farmer’s market with a list. I almost put things in the cart on multiple occasions… but I didn’t. I stuck to my plan and cutting my monthly bill in more than 1/2 was worth every extra ounce of time and energy involved in planning ahead.

I realize that everyone has a different view when it comes to how much they spend on food or anything for that matter. Some choose to spend their money on other things, some don’t have the money to spend in the first place, some don’t have many options available to them. I understand and want to be respectful of my readers, but I also wanted to share my own journey of becoming more aware of my spending/grocery buying habits. I wanted to prove to myself that it is indeed possible to still eat healthy while on a budget. A budget that worked for me, not necessarily one that is right for everyone. I wanted to show myself that if I could actually see lots of space on the shelves and drawers of my fridge, freezer and pantry, that I didn’t need to panic. What I had on hand was enough and the urgency to replenish the minute I ran out of something has faded because of that.

Questions for you:

  1. How often to you grocery shop?
  2. Do you have a grocery budget?
  3. Do you shop at more than one store?
  4. Have you ever done an audit on your grocery spending?
  5. Any tips you would like to share with me or other readers? Just leave your answers in comments so we can all join in the discussion.

I knew I had been spending far too much on groceries, but I didn’t realize how much I’d been overspending until I sat down and actually added it all up. Two more days left in the month and I have everything I need to get through it. I’m already starting a July list – it’s going to be a bigger challenge since we’re hosting the 4th of July – but I’m up for it and excited to see how well I can do.

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Cedar Plank Smoked Alaskan Salmon

Dear Salmon,

I am no longer afraid of you… the end!


Cedar Plank Salmon

Dan’s boss went on a wonderful vacation to Alaska and kindly gave us some salmon and yellowfin tuna that he had caught on one of his fishing excursions. Both had been sitting in our freezer for a bit and since I’m doing a huge grocery store challenge (more on that in my next post) – I decided enough is enough. I must cook the salmon.

My friend Paul was up from the bay area for a weekend visit and we are the queen and queen 🙂 of watching our weight, health, etc. since our college days. Always trying our best, not always succeeding… but getting right back to it more often than not.

A healthy, delicious dinner was my plan going into the weekend. I got a gift card from Ace’s Mom for my birthday and decided to buy some cedar planks to cook my salmon. Jenna from EatLiveRun has blogged several times about her boyfriend Adam’s amazing cedar planked smoked salmon, so I thought I’d give it a try. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly – different portion size, ingredient substitution, different spice measurements, etc. – but it was very close.

The Ingredients:
For the Marinade
1/4 Cup Chardonnay
1/4 Cup Dill
Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon
1/2 Tablespoon Salt
1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Black Pepper

For the Salmon
1 Large Salmon Filet – ours was just about 2 lbs. with the skin on
1 Lemon – sliced thin
2 Sprigs of Fresh Rosemary – soaked in water
1 Cedar Plank – soaked in water

Paul and I went to 3 grocery stores looking for fresh dill. WTH? Was it National Fresh Dill Day this past weekend? All stores were sold out. I was not going to hit a 4th store, so I opted to get a tube of dill. I had never used the Gourmet Garden herb blends before. I honestly think the only difference was the texture… Still organic, just a little more “wet” than fresh would have been, but it worked as a successful substitute for sure. Mental note: I really need to start an herb garden.


  1. Soak cedar plank (planks if cooking more than 1 piece of salmon) in hot water (to start) for up to 24 hours. I soaked mine for about 3 hours.
  2. Mix together all marinade ingredients. (1/4 cup chardonnay, 1/4 cup dill, zest and juice of 1 lemon, 1/2 tablespoon salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper)
  3. Pour marinade over salmon and refrigerate for an hour – I flipped the salmon a few times during the process.
  4. Heat the grill to 450 degrees F. I honestly have no idea what temp. my grill was set  for – I moved 2 of the knobs to medium and left 2 on high while it heated up – the built in thermometer has never really worked.
  5. After the salmon has marinated, lay fish on the soaked plank and top with lemon slices and rosemary sprigs. Feel free to use less of each, I love a lemony fish, so I went for it. I used a baking sheet to transfer the plank to the grill.
  6. Place plank (with fish) on grill for 20-25 minutes.

I placed the salmon skin side down.

I used potholders to place the plank straight onto the hot grill and set the timer for 20 minutes. We noticed a lot of smoke coming from the BBQ about 10 minutes in, but I didn’t want to open the BBQ. I told Paul and Dan that if for some reason the plank had gone up in flames and our dinner was ruined,  we could always order pizza or eat cereal – ha! ha! I turned the heat down to medium on all knobs and crossed my fingers.

In the end, I had burnt rosemary sprigs (will soak in water next time)… and a totally charred cedar plank (not sure if that’s normal or not, will soak for longer next time)…. but man did the salmon look good! 122, 123, 124 degrees… and then a perfect 125 degrees F., then it stopped…. awesome! Spot on internal temp.

I was easily able to lift the salmon right off the skin… I sliced it into 3 pieces and this is when I noticed that I had failed to remove any of the pin bones. What can I say? I’m a salmon newbie and will be doing this step next time before marinating. Dan had very few bones in his piece, I had 5 or 6 and Paul won the jackpot with just over that. Whoops…. nobody seemed to complain, the taste pretty much cancelled out any negative, OH MY GOD! it was wonderful.

Cedar Planked Salmon

I used my veggie cutter to whip up some zucchini pasta noodles and sauteed those in extra virgin olive oil with garlic, ground sea salt and pepper. I also heated up some fresh bread for our meal. Light and healthy and a wonderful end to a fun day with my BFF. I will definitely be making this and other plank fish throughout the summer. I read a few other recipes where they soaked the planks in wine… thinking my initial temp. was too high, because my plank really charred on the ends, probably a good idea I stay away from soaking them in alcohol. A glass or two with dinner sounds like a better option than burning down our new patio cover.

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