Oct 23, 2012


Madagascar Vanilla Beans
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For centuries, vanilla has been one of the most familiar flavors in western cuisine, and is commonly used to flavor desserts, beverages, milk products, and coffee. Vanilla beans are grown in many countries, but vanilla from Madagascar, know as "Bourbon" vanilla, is the variety favored by chefs around the world because of its high 'vanillin' content. Hawaii also grows vanilla beans, but there are less than a handful of vanilla growers here and only two are working on a large scale. These farms are located on the Island of Maui and the Big Island.

All vanillas are not equal. Pure vanilla extract contains premium vanilla bean extractives, distilled water, 35% alcohol and 3% sugar to soften the harsh nose of the alcohol. Alcohol is the most effective way to extract flavor from vanilla beans, and the alcohol will evaporate when heated in cooking or baking. Liquid vanilla products made without alcohol are called vanilla flavoring, or imitation vanilla, and are made with chemicals and other ingredients that imitate the taste of vanilla but do not go through the same process therefore do not have vanilla’s true flavors. Amazingly, an estimated 95% of all vanilla products are artificially flavored.

Vanilla is one of the most labor intensive crops in the world. It takes three years for a vine to produce vanilla beans and even when it is ready to flower the pollination process must me done by hand. Then it takes another year for the bean to grow, be picked by hand, cured and shipped to its destination. This is why vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world... Saffron is the first. 

So what brand of vanilla extract is the best? Many people think vanilla extract made by Nielsen-Massey is the best. They also make an excellent vanilla bean paste, which is a good alternative to buying expensive vanilla beans. One of my favorite places to buy spices and vanilla is Penzey's. They make a double strength vanilla that's great for baking. I also highly recommend their spices, I use them all the time. You can get excellent vanilla products and prices from TheVanilla.COMpany. They sell their quality products wholesale to anyone.

Many people make their own homemade vanilla extract using 1 pint of premium quality vodka, rum, or brandy. Vodka has the least flavor to interfere with the taste of the vanilla. I've tried it using Maker's Mark Bourbon, because I love it. Then I Split five vanilla beans lengthwise down the center to expose the seeds, keeping the ends of the beans intact. Drop them into the bottle, leave it in a dark place for a 8 weeks, agitating it several times a week, and that's it. It's really not the same thing as pure vanilla extract, but it tastes good and it's kind of fun to give a gifts. You'll have to be the judge.

Mango Lassi
A thick, yogurt based, drink from India

2 cups plain, full-fat yogurt
1 cup ice cubes
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1" pieces, plus more for garnish
Vanilla ice cream or heavy cream, for topping (optional)

Purée yogurt, ice, milk, sugar, vanilla, and mangoes in a blender until smooth. Pour into glasses and top with 1–2 tablespoons ice cream or heavy cream if you like; garnish with additional mango. Makes 2-4 servings.

Vanilla-Cheese Spread with
Roasted Red Pepper and Pistachios
4 ounces each mild goat’s cheese and cream cheese
1 tablespoon light cream or sour cream (approximate)
1 vanilla bean cut open and scraped clean (or substitute 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)
2-3 bottled roasted red peppers* finely chopped
1 piece of roasted red pepper, sliced into slivers
1/2 cup shelled and toasted pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 fresh baguette, sliced into thin rounds
small pieces of parsley for garnish

Blend the cheeses with cream or sour cream, adding more if necessary to create a creamy spread. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the mixture or add extract. Add the chopped roasted red pepper, pistachios and salt and pepper to taste. Spread the mixture onto the fresh baguette slices, and decorate each round with the red pepper slivers and a small piece of parsley.

Vanilla Coconut Quick Bread
1 1/4 cups (about 2 1/2 ounces) shredded unsweetened coconut
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons coconut extract
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spray a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray; set aside. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet; toast, shaking the pan once, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Immediately transfer to a bowl and cool slightly.

Pineapple Zucchini Bread
3 eggs
1-1/2 - 2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
3 tablespoons vanilla (this is not a typo!)
2 cups zucchini, peeled, grated, and drained
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-8 ounce can ofcrushed pineapple, do not drain
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup golden raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Grease and flour 2 (9x5") loaf pans or 1-10" Bundt pan. Beat eggs until fluffy. Add sugar, oil and vanilla; blend well. Stir in zucchini. Sift dry ingredients and add to batter. Stir in pineapple with juice, nuts and raisins*. Mix well. Pour evenly into prepared pan(s). Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Note: coating the nuts and raisins with part of the flour helps to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the bread.

Carrot and Daikon Salad
I love this delicious blend of textures and colors and it's different than a coleslaw. It's great served with fried fish or chicken, or with Asian dishes. You can even add fresh spinach or watercress for a wonderful light main course.
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon tamari or other soy sauce
1 teaspoon agave or honey, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch or white or black pepper
4 large carrots, peeled
1 daikon radish, peeled (2 peeled turnips can be substituted)
2 scallions sliced thinly
1 tablespoon black or white sesame seeds

In a small bowl, combine ginger, oils, vinegar, soy sauce, agave, vanilla and pepper. Whisk to blend. Shred carrots and radish or turnips in a large bowl. Add dressing and mix well. This salad can be made several hours ahead of serving. Before serving, add sesame seeds. Serve at room temperature.

Pan Fried Pork Chops with Fresh Apples
4 loin or rib pork chops
3 large firm, sweet apples, cored, peeled and sliced into 12 slices*
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup apple juice or cider
1/2 to 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (or to taste)
salt and pepper to taste

Pan cook pork chops until barely done. Place on a platter in a warm oven. Add butter and brown sugar to pan used to cook pork chops and set over medium heat. Stir butter and sugar to blend well and to allow to caramelize slightly and to loosen small pieces of the pork chops. Add apple juice or cider and apple slices. Cook apples just until done, then remove with a slotted spoon and set apples aside. Reduce the pan juices to two to three tablespoons. Remove from heat and add vanilla, salt and pepper. Add apples slices and return to heat until the apples are hot. Pour over the pork chops. Serve with rice or potatoes.* Summer apples such as Gravenstein will work in this recipe; you may need to add a little extra sugar.

Note: This recipe can also be made with papaya, mango, peaches or nectarines. You will need less sugar and less juice as these fruits have lots of natural juices.

Vanilla-Infused Golden Beets
1 large bunch of golden beets (about four large - red beets okay)
large pot of water
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise

Trim the tops and bottoms off the beets, then scrub well under cold, running water. Don't peel. Place beets in a large pot with cold water and 2 vanilla beans. Bring water to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Simmer beets approximately 1 hour or until beets are soft. Remove beets from water with a slotted spoon, and cool briefly under cold water. Save cooking liquid. Reduce cooking liquid with vanilla beans until there is a little less than 1 cup left. While liquid is reducing, peel beets and slice or dice. When the cooking liquid is reduced, remove vanilla beans and pour liquid over beets. This dish may be served hot or cold.

Note: Allow vanilla beans to dry, then grind in a coffee mill, put through a sieve, and mix into sugar for a flavorful vanilla sugar.

Mango Salsa
I like to add some fresh pineapple to this salsa. The combination of the mango and pineapple is amazing on grilled fish or poultry. If you want, you can add a little rum to the mix.
2 mangoes peeled and diced
1/2 - 3/4 cup peeled, diced cucumber
1 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 tablespoon lime juice (or to taste)
1 – 2 teaspoons honey (optional)
1/2 - 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
salt and pepper

Combine the mango, cucumber, jalapeno, red onion, lime juice and cilantro leaves and mix well. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Great served with pork, chicken or fish.

Mango and Vanilla Bean Jam
3 large mangoes, peeled
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups white sugar
2 vanilla beans, split lengthways

Cut mango flesh from stones and roughly chop. Place into a large, heat-proof microwave-safe bowl or jug with lemon juice and sugar. Stir well to combine. Scrape seeds from vanilla beans. Add seeds and pods to mango mixture. Microwave, uncovered, for 35 to 40 minutes on HIGH (100%) power, stirring every 10 minutes, or until setting point is reached (see note). Remove jam from microwave and stand for 10 minutes. Remove vanilla pods. Ladle hot jam into hot sterilized jars. Seal and turn upside down for 2 minutes. Turn upright and allow to cool. Label jars and store in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months. Once opened, store in fridge for up to 4 months. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Notes: The most accurate way to tell if jam is set is to use a sugar thermometer. Jam should reach 220˚F. Alternatively, remove jam from heat and place 1 teaspoon of jam onto a chilled saucer. Place into freezer for 1 to 2 minutes, or until jam is at room temperature. Run your finger through the jam. If the surface wrinkles and the jam stays in 2 separate portions, it's ready to bottle. If not, cook a little longer and re-test.

Honey & Spice Oranges
This recipe makes a simply delicious, and elegant light dessert after a heavy meal. The crystallized ginger adds a hot tropical flavor mixed with the honey and vanilla.
6 large Navel oranges, peeled and sliced into sections
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 teaspoons crystallized ginger, minced very fine (see recipe below)
6 mint sprigs for garnish

Peel the oranges and slice sections into a bowl. Combine the honey with the vanilla and drizzle over the orange sections. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature. Serve in martini glasses, sprinkled with crystallized ginger, then garnish with mint sprigs and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Crystallized Ginger
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Crystallized Ginger
Have you ever wondered why the Chinese and Japanese frequently add ginger to their food? It helps digestion, facilitates absorption, helps with flatulence, and helps prevent nausea. A delicious way to enjoy ginger is to crystallize it. You can buy ginger already crystallized, but it can be hard to find, and is sometimes expensive. I like to make my own, it's very easy to do, here's the recipe:
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus extra sugar for coating
1 cup fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch slices

Combine water and 1 1/2 cups sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add ginger, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer ginger to a wire rack, set over a pan, and dehydrate in a very low 170˚F convection oven for 1 hour, or dehydrator until dry, and then cut into smaller 1/4 inch pieces. Roll the small pieces of ginger in additional sugar. Store in an airtight container for up to three months. Use in recipes, or just pop a couple of pieces in your mouth every day.

Honey Pears with Puff Pastry
4 small pears
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 cup honey
1 small lemon, halved
3 cinnamon sticks (3 inches)
6 to 8 whole cloves
1 vanilla bean
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

Core pears from bottom, leaving stems intact. Peel pears; cut 1/4 in. from the bottom of each to level if necessary. In a large saucepan, combine the water, sugar, honey, lemon halves, cinnamon and cloves. Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds; add bean and seeds to sugar mixture. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; place pears on their sides in saucepan and poach, uncovered, for 18-22 minutes or until pears are almost tender, basting occasionally with poaching liquid. Remove pears with a slotted spoon; cool slightly. Strain and reserve 1-1/2 cups poaching liquid; set aside. Unfold puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Cut into 1/2-in.-wide strips. Starting at the bottom of a pear, wrap a pastry strip around pear, adding additional strips until pear is completely wrapped in pastry. Repeat with remaining pears and puff pastry. Transfer to a parchment-lined 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan. Bake at 400°F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Meanwhile bring reserved poaching liquid to a boil; cook until liquid is thick and syrupy, about 10-15 minutes. Place pears on dessert plates and drizzle with syrup. Serve warm. Makes 4 servings.

Chocolate Coffee Ganache
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon coffee extract (or you can use 1/2 tablespoon instant coffee granules dissolved into 1 teaspoons warm water)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoons cognac or brandy (optional)

Place the chopped chocolate in a medium-sized heatproof bowl. Set aside. Heat the cream and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. (Can also heat the cream and butter in the microwave.) Bring just to a boil. Immediately pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand, without stirring, for a few minutes. Stir gently (as you do not want to incorporate air into the ganache) with a spoon or whisk until smooth. If desired, add the liqueur. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Note: Keep warm until ready to use, or let cool to room temperature and store in a container with a tight fitting lid in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Reheat chilled sauce over very low heat on stovetop or in the microwave until warm enough to pour easily. This sauce is wonderful served with pound cake, or over fresh fruit.

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