Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lavender Syrup

Kakao Chocolate has been serving ice cream since this past April or so. And because we would be serving ice cream in the Maplewood Kakao store, we needed toppings to go with it.
Serendipity makes the ice cream, we make the toppings.
A chocolate shop would require a good chocolate sauce, of course. Caramel (burnt and salted) is also necessary.
Additionally, seasonal fruit sauces and compotes are necessary when offering ice cream, and with a farmers' market right down the street a couple days a week, why not utilize the convenience of fresh fruit?
Strawberry-rhubarb, fresh peach, there's been a blackberry sauce...

Lavender syrup is a little different. I'm aware it's not going to be one of the first things that comes to mind when one thinks of ice cream.  I know it's not everyone's cup of tea- but it could be if you would give it a chance. Sometimes you need to try something different, folks.
Be a little adventurous!

We normally have plenty of dried, food-grade lavender buds in the shop for the lavender truffles.
As I am a fan of lavender and like to find different things to do with it, I wanted to try using it to make syrup to offer for ice cream. It took a couple tries, mostly for texture and technique, but it ended up working out.

In the end, lavender is infused into a simple syrup and yields a delicate and flavorful, clear, pale mauve syrup.

While corn syrup isn't going to be everyone's most favorite ingredient, it does serve a purpose. In the confectionery world corn syrup helps to inhibit crystallization. Not much is needed, but it keeps the syrup in a free-flowing state. Who wants grainy syrup?
As long as it doesn't end up growing sugar crystals, the consistency of this syrup is similar to a light honey.

Syrup is a versatile ingredient in the desert world.
It can be used over pound cake (perhaps with some whipped cream and fresh strawberries), as the syrup for an Italian soda, drizzled over fresh fruit (blueberries?), as part of a trifle, or between layers of cake.

My favorite, however, is spooned over good vanilla ice cream and with a sprinkle of delicate flakey salt on top, such as fleur de sel or Cyprus black lava salt. However, if I had to choose, I would go with the black salt since it offers a visual treat in addition to the gustatory.
Yes, salt on ice cream.
The contrast is amazing, and the bit of salt makes all the flavors really stand out.

I will caution that if you've never done something like this before, do be careful when adding the salt. It's easier to add more than it is to take it away.

Dried lavender can be found at Dean & Deluca as well as at Penzey's. Certian gourmet grocery stores may carry it with the herbs and spices.

Lavender Syrup
makes about 1 1/4 c

1 1/4 c sugar
1 c water
2 T corn syrup
1/3 c food grade dried lavender buds (preferably organic)

Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until the sugar has completely melted. Once the sugar has melted, stop stirring. Continue cooking the mixture and bring to a boil. Wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in a small dish of cool water as necessary (it should probably be done a few times during the course of cooking). This will help prevent sugar crystals from forming in the syrup.  
When the syrup mixture reaches 223 degrees F, remove the pan from the heat and cover with a cocked lid. Let the lavender buds steep in the syrup for 15 minutes. 
Strain the finished syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl (if you want the syrup to be completely clear, without little lavender specks, place a few layers of cheesecloth into the strainer before pouring the syrup through). Do not scrape the sides of the pan after pouring the syrup through the strainer- this is another bit of insurance against crystallization. 
Press on the lavender buds in the strainer to extract as much flavor and syrup as possible. 
Let the syrup cool completely and use or store for later use. 
Lavender syrup can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator at least a month. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Rice Bowls

Rice bowls can make a fun and economical dinner.
Not that "economical" and "fun" belong in the same sentence very often, and they certainly should not be confused. However, we must consider that they're not mutually exclusive.

Just make a big pot of basmati or jasmine rice, saute whatever fresh vegetables are available- maybe add a nice helping of garlic to the veggies, possibly offer some sort of protein (chicken, beef, shrimp) as well as condiments like soy or tamari sauce, chili paste or sriracha, and toasted sesame oil- and think about making some lime wedges available for those so inclined.
Perhaps a fried egg could be offered for the top of the rice and vegetable mountain, sort of like a bibimbap. This way, when the yolk is broken there's an impromptu silky sauce to go with the rice.
Fresh basil, cilantro, and sliced scallions would be flavorful finishing accompaniments to include.

This type of meal can be tailored towards dietary restrictions or preferences, too. Vegetarian, low sodium, gluten free, low fat...

Once everything is together, serve people a nice steamy bowl of rice, then everyone is welcome to put together his own dinner.

For example, for a recent rice dinner, the choices available as rice bowl toppings included:
  • Sauteed (hot and quick) red and green bell peppers
  • Sauteed garlic, onion, zucchini, and mushrooms, 
  • Shrimp sauteed with lemongrass, ginger, and garlic
  • Fried eggs
  • Soy sauce, sesame oil, chili paste, and torn basil leaves. 

It's sort of like the rice version of a salad bar- a rice bar.
And it's a dinner for which an actual recipe is unnecessary.

Personally, I think it's important to use real rice. Nothing quick-cooking here, nothing that's been processed.
Good basmati or jasmine rice has much more flavor, and takes little more than 20 minutes (probably 30 at most). Can't people take that small amount of time? It's not that big a deal, and the flavor/texture and potential nutritional benefits outweigh the time "disadvantage".... and there are plenty of other things you could work on during that time period. 
Rice is so easy, too.
And one really nice thing is that the measurements don't need to be exact in terms of grams, ounces, cups or whatever you happen to use. Ratios, yes. Nitpicky numbers, no. You just need double the liquid (water or stock) to the amount of rice you plan to use.
I will, however, give a recipe as an example.
Aim for making more rice than you need as opposed to just enough- leftover rice can be a very good thing to have around.

Basmati Rice
probably good for about 4 rice bowls

1 c basmati rice
1 T olive oil
2 c water
1/2 t salt

Rinse the rice thoroughly in cold water. 
In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the rice and saute a few minutes, until each grain of rice is coated in oil. Add the salt and water, stir, and increase the heat. When the rice comes to a boil, stir again, reduce the heat to a simmer (low/warm), and cover. If the rice and water remain too hot for a while and start to boil over, pull the pan off the heat a little so it's only partially on the burner. 
Simmer the rice 20 minutes, then remove from heat. Keep the pot covered and let the rice rest and steam at least 5 minutes... but it can sit for longer as it will stay hot.