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
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!)
To 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?