Lavender. I’ve always been a fan. Sure, it’s always been around in the bath salts and body lotions. And, you’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t heard about it’s aromatherapy benefits. But lately I’ve noticed it popping in all kinds of culinary applications – of both sweet and savory varieties. This wickedly good lavender lemonade has been a favorite for a while now, but  have found myself wanting more…

I’ve been adding dried lavender to my tea ball that’s filled with my favorite Earl Grey blend, which creates an awesome cup of tea for afternoon sipping on the front porch. Naturally, since I’m always thinking about food,  I found myself daydreaming about a light tea cookie that mimicked the flavors in my cup.

And I got to thinking about shortbreads. A personal favorite of mine because they’re so easy. The dough is easy to bring together, it’s easy to make ahead and come back to later – as it requires a bit of chilling time, and it’s easy to have fun and play with the flavor combinations. So, I went with that. And, it was a winner!

To this batch I added a dose of local honey and dried lavender flowers. They baked up beautifully, with just enough lavender flavor. It’s easy to go overboard with it, trust me! The specks of lavender were visible in the cookies once baked, which I really loved. And the aroma…just heavenly. Next time around I might try adding a touch of lemon zest for a little zing!

Source: adapted from The Baker Upstairs

So, this sous-vide thing…have you heard of it? Yes? No? Maybe? When asked to describe it, I tell people that I like to think of it as a really bad ass Crockpot. Basically, you season your cut of beef and then vaccum seal it – it’s then plopped in a water bath held at a precise temperature by the doohickey called the immersion circulator. So, the item comes to just the perfect temperature for whatever it is…then, is held there until you’re ready to serve it.

I first learned of this method of preparation years ago, back in my religious watching of Top Chef days. Back then, this method of “cooking” was reserved for fancy chefs in fancy kitchens…as the apparatus required was super expensive.

Well, times they are a changin’ – and you can get a pretty decent model for $100 on Amazon, if you keep your eyes peeled for a sale. They’re about the size of a large curling iron, so are convenient for storage sakes. And then for the water bath, all you need is a large stockpot. It clips right to the side – bada bing!

And time isn’t an issue. In fact, tough cuts like this eye of round benefit from a long cook cycle. I did this one for 24 hours. The connective tissue has time to break down, creating a roast that can be cut with a fork…but the roast still stays rare. It’s really quite mind-blowing.

After it’s soaked for the appropriate amount of time, a quick sear in a raging hot cast iron skillet is in order. I’ve also turned to my trusty kitchen torch, which is always handy in the kitchen. The grill is also an option – but again, just make sure it’s REALLY hot. Just a couple of minutes on each side, to give  it a little color.

I like doing large roasts, like this entire eye of the round – or a pork loin. We’ll enjoy it for dinner one night…then reinvent the leftovers all week in different dishes. Perfect for this time of year when we’re scooting out the door to baseball practice or some other obligation that fills the schedule up every week!

So, if you’re on the fence about one – I say do it! I got mine a couple of Christmases ago, and have just really gotten into using it in the past couple of months. It really is so versatile. I don’t even want to tell you what it can do for a poached egg. Life changing.

My mom’s dad died when I was fairly young. We often talked about him as I was growing up…telling stories, and such. One thing that always stuck with me was his cake of choice for birthdays – a cherry nut cake. Very popular in the 50’s and 60’s. I’ve made the pink cake studded with cherries before, and always thought it would translate well to cupcake form. But you guys know me…I never got around to it.

When cleaning out the refrigerator this weekend, I happened upon about four jars or maraschino cherries lurking in the back of the shelves.  What to do with them? I had a local event that I was on the hook to donate some baked goods for…so the stars aligned in my kitchen, and I whipped up these delightful cupcakes!

I took my favorite vanilla cupcake recipe, adding almond extract and finely chopped maraschinos (used the food processor and pulsed a few times). I thought about adding some of the cherry syrup, but wanted to really showcase the cherry flecks. Plus, the vanilla cake really makes the pink frosting “pop” all the more…

And, the frosting. Oh my Heavens. Again, I used my basic buttercream recipe – and added the juice from the cherry jar, as well as a little almond extract for that almondy kick.

Topped with a cherry and a few sliced almonds for garnish, they’re positively perfect for spring or Easter celebrations! I think old “Grendad” would approve.

I’ve never been a breakfast person. Occasionally after a night after one-too-many cocktails, I’ll crave a good and greasy breakfast sandwich…but for the most part, I’ll go for some yogurt and fruit after my morning coffee in my day-to-day routine.

My favorite way to kick it up to the next level, and make it a little more substantial is granola. Sweet, crunchy, nutty granola. Good granola is kind of ridiculously expensive to buy from the store – and I find that it’s usually sub-par to begin with. What can I say? I like a high oat to nut ratio.

Luckily, homemade granola is super easy. And this version highlighting the flavors of almond, vanilla, and honey delivers the sweet crunch that I crave when it comes to granola. I like to use top quality extracts (Rodelle is my favorite go-to brand) for a true natural flavor. Also, I really bump up the nut factor with the addition of whole almonds, sliced almonds, walnuts, and pecans for tons of crunch! And nothing beats local honey, of course. We have an apiary here on Chincoteague now, so delightful to use honey harvested here on my little seaside island!

A brief stint in the oven, and some cooling time – and you have a ton of granola that is good for weeks in the pantry. I love to use it on everything – from crunchy streusel toppings, to yogurt parfaits, to ice cream…

If you’ve not made granola at home yet, definitely give this a try. A great recipe to make with the little ones, too. They’ll love having it for breakfast in the morning throughout the week!

Source: adapted from King Arthur Flour