A Bite of Vanilla

Vanilla Table by Natasha MacAller

Vanilla Table
by Natasha MacAller

There’s almost nothing that vanilla doesn’t improve.  I’m in the habit of grinding up a tiny bit of vanilla bean with my medium coffee roasts to give a rounder softer cup.  It’s easy to do and  moderates acidity nicely in the brew.  This makes you understand why vanilla, even when you can’t actually detect it in a fragrance or on a plate, makes a big difference. Vanilla Table the cook book by Natasha MacAller reminded me of this quality.  Maybe vanilla isn’t my absolute favorite note in perfumes or food, but it is one one of them.  This book is a compendium of recipes contributed by chefs from around the world all of whom have chosen to work with vanilla. 

Some of the recipes like The Anna Pavlova will seem cliche (especially in Australia) but others, like  the Vanilla Heart of Palm and Papaya Salad or Jonathon Waxman’s

Nielsen massey's Tahitian Vanilla Extract

Nielsen massey’s Tahitian Vanilla Extract

Chicken Stroganoff with Chanterelles & Vanilla are a little more startling and seem wonderful to me.  In fact they sound so good that I’m planning to serve them this Christmas along with another one of these vanilla fests, the Raspberry Meringue “Martini” and possibly Butterscotch pudding for the kids.  Oddly though there will be  a good deal of vanilla in this meal, I doubt that most people will notice it.  That’s the quality vanilla has, it’s the quintessentially good mixer, the one that gets along with  everything in one soothing pacific flavor.  Vanilla makes you forget how complex and broad it can be. The bean can be sweet but also dry, light or dark,  fermented as rum, or

softly straightforward as powdered sugar.

Not the least interesting aspect of this book is the advice it contains for building your own “vanilla pantry”. This includes everything from vanilla salt flakes (1tsp vanilla pods toasted, to 1/4 cup or 30 grams of salt flakes in a tightly lidded jar) and vanilla sugar (2 cups of vanilla to one bean in a tightly capped jar) to vanilla oil (1/4 cup grapeseed to 2 beans, combine the seeds with the warmed oil, and leave in a tightly capped jar for 24 hours.  Keep in cool dark storage place).  How wonderful!  I already cook with my own vanilla bourbon, in fact have been doing that for ten years, but all this opens up new avenues to me.  I’d even be up for trying their vanilla caramelised onions (8 medium onions in 2 TBSPs grapeseed and butter, plus 2 split vanilla beans!)

Bois d'ArmenieTo wear with all this vanilla?  More vanilla!  You can over dose here but who cares? As Mae West once remarked, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” For me it’s got to be Bois d’Armenie, that most understated of Guerlain Vanillas which may not even contain vanilla, but for those of you who really, really love the bean there’s always Shalimar in all its many incarnations, or else Arpege, which is a delicate  Alencon lace of vanilla underneath a silky caftan of flowers. One thing is for sure, a good vanilla always makes a good table partner.

What’s your favorite vanilla for dinner parties?



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7 thoughts on “A Bite of Vanilla

  1. Your idea for Chicken Stroganoff with Chanterelles & Vanilla sounds like sheer ambrosia! If you have a recipe which you are willing to give out, I would so love to have it. If you do not circulate your recipes, I will understand and forgive. In that case, I have some friends who may be able to invent something.

    Best regards,

    • I’ll be happy to share, the recipe is from the Book Vanilla Table

      2 Chicken breast with skin on and boneless
      2 shallots
      4 cups fresh chanterelle mushrooms washed
      1 TBSP Sherry
      1 pod with vanilla seeds scraped out
      1/2 cup creme fraiche
      Brown sliced chicken, then remove and add shallots and chanterlles and cook until lightly browned. Add the sherry and vanilla cook 2 minutes and finally add the creme fraiche. Place the chicken back in the pan with the other ingredients. You can serve this with spaetzle or with egg noodles or rice. The recipe is Jonathon Waxman’s and I’m not affiliated I just like the chicken!

  2. Now I’m curious to know if you actually implemented all these cooking and perfume ideas and whether anybody had noticed? :)

    I’m not a huge vanilla fan but I enjoy it here and there (including some perfumes). And now I’m really curious about the salt flakes…

    Merry Christmas, Blacknall!

  3. Hi Undina and Merry Christmas!

    Well I was going to do the cream and chanterelles but my daughter wanted Chicken Parmigiana so badly that in the end I gave in. But I’m doing it for New Years. ON the desserts and the coffee no one did notice which I found almost odd because I went through a whole bean from Penzey’s and still no one really remarked on how much vanilla was in the food.
    Now I’m going to try the salt and oil (cause I’ve done Vanilla Bourbon and vanilla sugar. Thinking of using Malden salt.)

  4. That cook book is a great idea for a present, for others as well as self.
    I do love vanilla as a discret partner, rarely as a full on perfume or food blast. As you say I think it works the best when doing it’s wonders ‘back stage’.
    I do love SDV, although I rarely wear it. I did a post on my favourite vanillas, SVD, Vanillia, Metallica and ambre et vanille. I could add the recent release Jeroboam Insulo, and Durance’s vanilla edp which smells almost identical to Guerlain’s long lost Ylang-Vanille, just stronger.

    • I read your post on vanillas with interest because it’s something that seems integral to many wonderful perfumes. Arpege or L’Aimant contain vanilla where it’s backstage as you say. Even in cooking it is a team player. Anyway I liked your list.

      I too enjoy SDV although it does stay on me practically forever, Vanilia is a perfect summer vanilla, so light, and I have better luck with that since I don’t find it on me two days running as with SDV.

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