Friday, February 12, 2010

2 Recipe #64: Lavender Heart Cookies -- Some Sweetness For Your Sweetie on Valentine's Day

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Lavender has been known to have many health benefits. Among other benefits, it has been known to have a calming effect & to possibly act as a muscle relaxant, while at the same time arousing the senses & increasing attention span. This kind of natural mood enhancement would certain be very favorable for Valentine's Day. LOL. :-D

Lavender is an herb -- a member of the mint family -- & is closely related to sage, rosemary, & thyme. It is often used as a substitute for rosemary -- complementing other herbs such as basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage, fennel, savory, etc. -- & can sometimes be found as an ingredient of the spice mixture, Herbes de Provence.

Culinary lavender is also an interesting & unusual ingredient to use in cooking & baking. Not only does it smell divine (& will also make your kitchen smell divine too!), but it has a complex flavor that tastes differently in its fresh & dried forms. Fresh lavender tastes sweeter than its dried component. As is the case with most fresh vs. dried spices, the dried version of lavender has a more potent, concentrated flavor, & can taste bitter if too much is added to a dish. So unless you want your dish to taste & smell like a heady, overly floral perfume, you'll probably want to go easy on the stuff & use it sparingly. :-D

There are many creative uses for culinary lavender, & it can be used in both sweet & savory dishes. It goes well with desserts like ice cream, cookies, & cake, but also enhances soups, salads, & meats. You can even use it to make your own homemade tea.

And, as Valentine's Day is quickly approaching, I thought it might be appropriate to give you the recipe for lavender heart cookies, which I'll post below very shortly. Yes, an actual cookie recipe. Here. On this blog. And on a healthy gourmet recipe blog at that. Now please don't faint. ;)

While the lavender is certainly healthy for you, the other traditional sugar cookie ingredients (sugar, butter, etc.) are, well, ah, not-so-much. :) In defense of this recipe, I will say that this particular cookie recipe uses a bit less butter & sugar than a lot of typical cookie recipes. So there. :)

Here's my other disclaimer: I don't do a lot of cookie baking nor do I make this recipe very often. Nor do I eat an entire batch of it all by myself in a single sitting. :) Of course, it's perfectly fine & normal to have a treat now & then. I just think that people in general could benefit from changing their attitudes towards what actually constitutes a sweet treat. :) Fruit is sweet too, ya know. ;)


On that note, I'd like to offer a constructive word or two with regard to my attitude towards cookies & healthy eating, & also provide some helpful tips on how to keep a sugar craving under wraps. (More tips on this particular subject can also be found here.):

A few cookies now & then shouldn't derail one's efforts towards forming or maintaining healthy eating behaviors. Or at least, it won't, if one sets some basic guidelines & maintain some perspective. This is actually fairly simple & straightforward to do. It just takes a bit of self-awareness & some forethought.

Here are some helpful tactics I use for "managing the moment." I've found them to be particularly useful for when I'm struck with the urge to eat not-so-perfectly-healthy "treats," so maybe they'll work for you too:

(1) When I do eat treats like cookies, etc., I put a few (as in 3 or so) on a plate & put the rest of the batch into the fridge. In the way back of the fridge (or, if I don't want to eat them again for a while, the freezer). :) Out of sight, out of mind, etc., etc.

(2) When eating, I make a conscious effort to savor each bite, focusing mindfully on the appearance, smell, & flavor of what I'm eating.

(3) I also usually boil a kettle of herbal tea to go along with the cookies. (Or, sometimes I pour myself a half a glass of milk.)

(4) I do my best to eat healthful, fiber-rich meals & snacks -- at regularly scheduled intervals. All of these factors also helps to create the sensation of satiety.

(5) I make a point to do nothing other than eat when I'm eating. No TV, no books, etc. Nada distractions. Just focusing on mindful eating, pausing between bites & putting the cookie back down on the plate from time to time. ;) It's surprising how just doing this part is enough to solve a whole host of "eating issues."

(6) If I eat mindfully, then usually 3 is enough to satisfy my sweets craving. If I'm still hungry after that, I make a point of waiting 20 minutes before deciding that I might want another.  Usually, if I've eaten regular meals & snacks throughout the day, I am satisfied & don't need to reach for more. :)

(7) Instead of denying myself treats like some kind of ill-tempered, ascetic martyr, I incorporate such sweet treats into my normal way of living, as occasional treats, which are supplemented by healthy ones rich in fiber (for satiety) that are eaten on a regular basis. I also make a point to simultaneously incorporate a few pre-established guidelines (a sort of unofficial pact I've made with myself) so that things don't get out of control.

(8) Another guideline that works for me is making a conscious effort to keep the sugar-eating to the weekends or special occasions, & specifying beforehand how much of a given quantity I will allow myself to eat before I actually eat it. I'm not proselytizing to others on exactly how to manage their sugar cravings (as there's no special, magic formula that works for everyone), but the general ideas of planning ahead, eating consciously, & setting pre-established guidelines for oneself are behaviors I do generally recommend to others, as these idea really do work for a lot of people.

Planning ahead & eating consciously, & creating an environment with pre-established safety valves are one's best defense against this sort of behavior. 

I know it probably seems ironic to some, but instead of being extreme about one's eating, setting these kinds of guidelines helps take the edge off & return one's mindset to that of a normal, consciously-eating-&-thinking person. :) That is, instead of ransacking the house like some rampaging, frenzied wildebeest looking for anything remotely tasty in one's cupboards. And believe me, I've been there already. :) It's not worth letting oneself drop to that level of desperation. LOL.

And, as I've stated before on countless occasions, I'm not a food saint, nor do I expect other people to be either. Of course, I don't eat sweets like this every day either, but then again, I don't exactly deprive myself of some food fun every now & then either. :) However, unlike a lot of other folks who have yet to discover how fun & tasty "healthy eating" can be as a part of their regular, everyday life, I also have an expanded definition of what a treat can be. Naturally sweet treats like sugar snap peas or desserts made with ingredients like fruits, honey, etc. are just some of the "sweet treats" that I enjoy.

And yes, there are times when only a cookie will do & it's senseless to avoid the inevitable, which, if postponed or denied, would often result in a potentially larger "devastation" of the food supply in search of what one really wanted in the first place. :)  (Please note that a craving is the same thing as emotional eating.)

These kinds of treats, when eaten in moderation, are perfectly fine. So, it is in the spirit of "eating normalcy," that I provide you with a cookie recipe.

And, as I've only featured a paltry number of desserts here thus far -- seven, including this one, to be exact -- I figured that I should probably rectify that here. :)  Plus, one cookie recipe to every 2-3 fruit-based healthy dessert recipes won't be the end of the world, now, will it?!

Now, on to the recipe.... Consider it a reward for making it through all of the above dissertion. :)

These cookies have a light & subtle flavor. They are a personal favorite of mine. Hope you'll enjoy them just as much!

Lavender Heart Cookies

1/4 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/8 c. honey
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. fresh culinary lavender buds, or 1/2 tsp. dried -- roughly chopped

Directions: Cream butter and honey together until fluffy, then add beaten egg and vanilla, and thoroughly mix together. Stir in flour, salt, baking powder, and lavender, and shape dough into small soft balls. Cover and chill in refrigerator for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll out dough onto lightly floured wax paper (or other surface) & stamp out cookies with heart-shaped cookie-cutters. (Note: You can make about 8-9 medium-sized cookies, or about 4-5 large cookies, depending on which size cookie-cutter you use.) Place on a baking sheet & cook for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Leave cookies standing for 5 minutes to set. Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies very carefully to a wire rack or plate to cool. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week. I like to refrigerate or freeze them to make them last longer.

Yield: Makes 8-9 cookies. That's a small enough batch to feed you and three family members or friends (i.e., if you have 2 cookies a piece), without being tempted to go "hog wild." :-D

Serving Suggestions: This would be an ideal recipe for an intimate, candle-lit, Valentine's day dinner chez vous; just add the Lavender & Peppercorn Crusted Steak, the Lavender-Infused Potatoes With Garlic & Fennel, a small side salad, & you've got dinner.

Lavender is credited with having aphrodisiac properties. ;)  So, it certainly couldn't hurt to try to stack the cards in one's favor for Valentine's Day, eh?! ;)


Daisy said...

Your ingredient says vanilla, but you made no mention in the direction when to put it in. The water content is way too low with your ingredients / directions for it to form a cohesive ball. I modified your recipe with an egg and 1 tsp of baking soda and it turned out. Otherwise, if you follow your directions to a T - it would be extremely dusty and won't turn out like the picture.

Cyberpenguin said...

Hi Daisy,

Thanks for pointing this out! Please excuse the oversight. This is an earlier recipe, and so, I can't really remember off the top of my head what I'd written but forgotten to add, but an egg and a leavening agent sounds about right and would certainly be a proper and most necessary addition. :) You are absolutely right about the water content being too low. Think I did originally intend an egg to be included in the ingredients, but somehow must've forgotten that line during the final edit.

One additional alteration: I'd actually recommend baking powder, versus soda, because soda has too much alkaline in it and when combined with the other ingredients, will cause them not to rise. If there were more acidic ingredients in the batter that needed balancing, like milk or fruit or chocolate chips, then I'd use baking soda.

If you look at my latter recipes, you'll see that I've also improved immensely as a chef, so the additional acquired knowledge about baking does certainly come in handy. :) I'm really more of a cook than a baker (I didn't really grow up baking, mostly just cooking), but have recently spent a lot more time baking and have increased my baking knowledge tenfold.

I will remake the recipe, incorporating a number of your suggestions, then alter the ingredients and also modify this post. Hope you enjoyed the recipe nonetheless, and thanks so much for your constructive feedback!

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