killing time between meals

where talking about what's for dinner while you're at lunch is totally acceptable

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Lavender—Not just for sachets

Next week, I am headed to Rhode Island to see my closest girlfriends who live the farthest away—Kristen & Anne Marie—who I met while studying abroad in college 10 years ago. I believe we actually started the killing-time-between-meals philosophy together. Because that’s just what we do.

Here we are in Chicago in January where we just left breakfast and are headed to lunch (AM sorry you are cut off):

And here we are having an EPIC brunch at my very favorite Nashville spot, Marche:

As per usual, we have already planned most of our meals for next week, and I requested we go to Al Forno primarily based on the fact that there is lavender panna cotta on the menu. I am ordering it. At the beginning.

The first time I saw lavender on a menu, I thought, Eww…Why would I want to eat something that tastes like linen spray? even thought it was in the form of a crème brulee. But fortunately my dinner companion ordered it anyway and shared it with me. I have been in love with eating lavender ever since.

My friend Christi has been with me when I freaked out (in a good way) over a lavender laced item on the menu, so she was sweet enough to pick up some culinary lavender for me at some fancy spice shop in Portland, OR.

I’ve been trying to find a recipe for a while, but aside from ice cream (famously mentioned by Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated), lavender recipes seem to be few and far between. So, I made up my own using my recipe sampling system. Here’s what I came up with:

Chocolate Dipped Lavender Shortbread(ish) Cookies
Makes exactly 1 ½ dozen

½ cup unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup sugar + 2 tablespoons for sprinkling cookie tops
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 egg
½ tablespoon milk
½-1 tablespoon culinary lavendar, very finely chopped (kinda grind it up if you can; and be sure you don’t use too much—a little goes a very long way)
Dipping chocolate (I just melted some chocolate chips I already had)

  • Combine the dry ingredients and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix in the egg, vanilla, and dry ingredients. Mixture will be crumbly.
  • Pour onto plastic wrap and form into a ball. Wrap tightly and chill for at least 20 minutes.
  • When ready to bake the cookies, preheat your oven 400 degrees.
  • Roll chilled dough into small balls and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.
  • Dip a small glass into the extra sugar and press each cookie to about ¼ inch. (You could also probably roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and cut out cookies with a cutter, but that was more trouble than I wanted to go to.)
  • Place the cookies on the baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 10 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack.

  • Once cookies are completely cool, melt the chocolate. Dip each cookie and place on parchment paper while the chocolate cools and hardens.
  • Store the ones you don’t share in an airtight container.

Next time, I think I will:

  • Use a bit less lavender. Christi, my unofficially official taste-tester, said that without the chocolate the cookie tasted a bit too flowery.
  • Make them a little flatter, or go to the effort of rolling them out with a rolling pin.
  • Try a lemon glaze on top instead of chocolate.
  • Make a lavender biscotti. Christi and I agree that would be delightful to dip in our coffee.


A little of this (recipe) and a little of that (recipe)

When it comes to rules, my philosophy is don’t break them just for the sake of breaking them. However, if it’s a dumb rule, snap it like a twig. Same thing applies to recipes. Obviously you gotta play by the rules when it comes to baking. And I’m OK with that. But fortunately I’ve learned not to follow the letter of the law where general cooking is concerned.

I used to be a teetotaler about ingredient amounts and varieties. Like, if a recipe called for vegetable stock and all I had was chicken stock, I wouldn’t even feel comfortable making that substitution. But I’ve come a long way, baby.

Now I’m rarely satisfied with just using one recipe. And I’ve realized that I’ve developed a bit of a process, especially when I’m making something new. Basically I gather several recipes for the same dish that sound good, take the best parts of each, and voilà—dinner. (OK, this isn’t rocket science, but it makes me feel like the recipe is my own.)

Enter last night’s meatloaf. After 5 recipes and a few personal inspirations, here’s the meatloaf mash-up that I made. It was quite tasty but still felt healthy because of all the fresh green stuff in it. It may look like a lot of greenery, but trust me, you still get all that meatloafy flavor that you’re looking for.

Mean Green Meatloaf Machine

1/2 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs (or plain with dashes of dried oregano & basil)
2 Tablespoons skim milk
1 1/2-2 lbs. Laura’s lean beef
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch spinach, stems removed & leaves chopped (3-4 cups)*
1 cup flat -leaf parsley, chopped
6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
2-3 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, divided
1/3 cup ketchup, divided
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
Kosher salt & Fresh ground black pepper

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray baking sheet with a little non-stick cooking spray.
  • Mix bread crumbs with milk and set aside while chopping ingredients.
  • In a large bowl using your hands, combine beef, onion, garlic, spinach, parsley, basil, egg, half the Worcestershire, 2 Tablespoons of the ketchup, nutmeg, salt, & pepper, and soaked bread crumbs. Transfer to baking sheet to form into one large loaf or two smaller loaves. (You can also freeze part of this if you are single and don’t want to eat meatloaf for every meal for a week.)
  • Mix remaining ketchup with remaining Worcestershire sauce and spread over loaf(ves).
  • If making one large loaf, bake for about an hour. If making two smaller loaves, cut the time in half. Bake until the center is no longer pink.
  • Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Next time, I think I will:

  • Substitute one of the pounds of beef with 1/2 lb. ground pork and 1/2 lb. ground veal. I make a meatball recipe with this meat combo, so why not use it for a loaf?
  • Bake this in a cast iron skillet instead of as a loaf. My mom always did meatloaf this way, and it makes me feel nostalgic. If you decide to do that, lower the oven temperature to 350 and bake for an hour.
  • Buy all of the ingredients in one trip. Yeah, I forgot to get enough meat. For the MEATloaf. And I had to head back to Kroger mid-preparation. In my defense, I don’t cook with meat very often, so I kinda forget about that section of the grocery store.
  • Pay for convenience and buy prewashed, prepackaged spinach. No idea why I didn’t just do this in the first place. I mean, look at that. I was sorting, tearing, rinsing, spinning. By the time I finished this process Rachel Ray could have made an 8 course dinner.*