just make mine vanilla

Love ice cream.
I let myself have that about once a week.
Vanilla.

Tim Tebow


(three old shots from back in 2013 when I was first making my vanilia extract–the longer it sits,
the better it gets…just add a new bean or two over time and top off with the sprit of choice)

I like to cook.
This much we know to be true.

I use to post a good bit about my cooking exploits but over time I’ve obviously shifted my
focus and attention to issues I find more pressing…
issues like those concerning Christianity
and the practicing of our faith in a post-modern, post-Christian era.

However, I will still raise the battle cry over other issues I think pertinent to this good fight
we call life…

Take today for instance…(or yesterday if you’re reading this on Saturday)

I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few items.
I needed some cat food and Grapeseed oil so while I was over in the cooking oil aisle,
I decided I needed to check out the spices.
I needed to peruse the spice area as there seemed to be a mental list somewhere nagging
in my brain, begging me to remember something from this particular section that I needed…

I grabbed some Adobo chili powder.
I’ve never used it before but I’d seen a recipe for slow-simmered chicken…a recipe for chicken tacos…remember, I’m trying to reduce the iron content while looking for foods that will avert the absorption—spicey things supposedly help.

While still perusing, my eyes stopped on a bottle of Vanilla beans.

Ahhh, the mental alarm clock sounded.

Yep, I needed some more beans as I’d used the last two I had in the recently poached pear recipe.
(also a tasty recipe I once posted)

I grabbed the bottle.
There were two measly beans in the bottle.
Vanilla beans are a precious commodity.
But why companies are so chintzy I’ve never figured it out.

I looked at the price—they are usually costly as I’ve paid almost 10 bucks a bottle before,
but I was wondering just how high they might be now.
I do prefer ordering my beans in bulk as it’s cheaper but I needed to have at least two on hand.
One never knows when an unctuous creme brulee is calling…

What to my wandering eyes did appear but a 2 and a 5 joined together…as in
25 dollars for the bottle!!!!!!

WHAT?????

Is this a misprint??? my panicky brain wonders.
I march myself, with the bottle in hand, over to a gal at a register.
“Is this price correct” I practically screamed at the unsuspecting cashier.
She scanned the bottle.
“Oh my gosh” she practically screams back.
“25 dollars for Vanilia beans???? she nervously screams again.

“That’s what I thought” I reply almost exhausted from our heightened sense of distraughment.

I use vanilla beans a lot.

I’ve actually made my own vanilla and bourbon vanilla extracts, a recipe in which
I’ve shared in prior posts from back in 2013.
A homemade vanilla extract is the best of the best!! And it lasts forever.

Making the extract required my having to buy a bunch of beans…
beans I had actually ordered from Amazon–
I used Tahitian and Madagascar beans as each offers a different floral warm scent and taste.

Once home from the store, I decided to go check out the Amazon site,
just to see what they were currently selling my bulk bag of beans for as I was going to order
a new batch just to store for when I needed them—

Immediately I see that 5 beans, just 5 little beans, were going for a whopping 27 bucks.
Which did, however, beat the grocery store’s two beans for 25 bucks.
My regular ordered batch of shrink-wrapped beans was going for…
sit down before I tell you…
1/4 of a pound of beans at $115.00 while a full pound of beans listed for $400!!!!!!!!

For a batch of homemade vanilla extract, you need a good 15 to 20 beans…
of which maturate in a bottle that is large enough to contain them with enough vodka or
bourbon poured over to cover…as they are left to steep until a deep rich brown color
appears and the heady spicy aroma of delicious warmth wafts from the uncorked bottle.

WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON????? I practically wail.

I immediately race to the trusty all-knowing Google to type in ‘vanilla bean prices’
and sure enough, I found many articles and news stories regarding the exponentially
skyrocketing prices

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/vanilla-bean-shortage-madagascar-drives-up-us-prices/

A precarious commodity that is a fragile commodity.
A product that is prone to drought, fickled growing seasons, poaching, farmers who don’t
allow the pods to fully mature in a race to get the pods to a demanding market and finally
it is simply a matter of time…for it takes three long years for a plant to produce a pod.

According to Wikipedia, vanilla is the second most expensive spice coming in right
behind saffron.
And gathering a ready pod is extremely labor intensive because these pods of
this particular species of the orchid family are each hand pollinated…pod per pod.

Vanilla, just plain old vanilla.

Consider its humble base taste…it is often the brunt of those who refer to things as
just being average..as in vanilla, as in plain jane, as in generic, as in nothing special,
as in the bottom of the list.

Yet vanilla is a great building base—a needed and important humble building block.
Imagine Chocolate chip cookies without that added splash of vanilla.
Think vanilla bean ice-cream, sour cream pound cake, pannacotta, rice pudding,
milkshakes, protein shakes, puddings, eclairs, cookies, candy, yogurt, chewing gum,
cosmetics, perfumes, aromatherapies…the list is nearly endless….
all without their needed vanilla.

There are four main types of vanilla beans used in our consumption: Tahitian, Indonesian,
Mexican and Madagascar

http://www.foodandwine.com/blogs/4-kinds-vanilla-beans-know

There are however those purists out there who do indeed favor the unadulterated flavor
of that simple, smokey, sweet, floral flavor of just plain old fashioned vanilla.
No swirls of caramel, no colorful sprinkles, not bits of cookie or peppermint or toffee,
or chocolate syrup or diced fruit…just simple, plain old vanilla.

So I suppose I might just have a little problem…a little expensive problem…
As we might all just have a largely flavorless problem…

Here’s to hoping the current growing crop thrives…
hopefully in time for this summer’s long-awaited and even yearned for home-churned ice cream…
because it just won’t be summer without a bowl of fresh homemade vanilla ice cream!!!

There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are
a precious jewel.

Proverbs 20:15

I’ve got to share this!!

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Simply put, I must share!! Finding myself in two separate airports during the course of the past couple of days, I wandered into a book/ magazine shop in search of something fun to “flip” through while waiting for my flight, then flipping nervously through during my flight (you know that whole “flying thing makes me a little nervous” issue I possess—and yes I do bring along a book, sometimes even two—never been one to pack too light, I still need something to occupy my nerves…besides reciting the rosary or saying the Jesus Prayer on my chotki)…

I bought a CookFresh Magazine (from the Best of Fine Cooking). Flipping through during my heightened state of nervous panic, I spy a delightful apple dish that immediately screams, “Julie, (maybe not literally) Fall is coming…apple time.”

I love cooking with apples in the Fall (“but Julie, it’s just August!”—“don’t wander off the subject”). Once home, I’ve tried my hand at this most tantalizing recipe, finding that I simply must share……

Below you will find my rendition as I am famously known for tweeking any recipe and running drastically off course—makes things better that way….

Individual Apple Charlottes

I wanted to make just 4 so I pared this down…I’ll give you my pared down version.
You’ll need 4 ramekins
For the filling:
–about 4 to 5 medium size apples—jazz, pink lady, golden delicious ( I used a mix of Royal Gala and a new comer in my neck of the woods- Envy from New Zealand (it’s not time for you to fuss that I’m not using local—it’s August for crying out loud, no really good apples quite yet—trust me, these turned out just fine)
–1 lemon—strip the zest with a peeler and mince—being careful not to get any of the bitter white pith
–1 nice moist plump vanilla bean—you’ll be cutting it in half to scrape out the seeds
–1/3 cup of a mix of golden raisins—I always use more than what’s called for—be liberal—in cooking only 😉 )
–5 Tbs or 2 ½ oz of unsalted butter (Plugra is the bomb)
–1/4 cup granulated sugar
–I threw in some cinnamon
–I also used about 6 crushed cardamom pods—little black seeds only
–and of course I had to add some freshly grated nutmeg—(who cooks with apples and doesn’t use the holy spice trinity aforementioned!!)
–1 Tbs of Calvados (apple brandy—blessed Normandy!!)

For the crust:
–1 loaf sliced white (I know, I know…) Suggested and what I used is the Pepperidge Farm Classic White—since I just made 4, I used 8 pieces of bread)
–1 cup unsalted butter (Plugra!!)
–3/4 sugar—trust me, you’ll need more

–add Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or cream fraiche and enjoy.

Make the filling—
Peel, core and dice the apples into ¼ little cubes—place in a bowl and squirt a little lemon juice over them to keep them from turning brown while you’re preparing everything else.
Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zest off of half a lemon—-give or take half. Make certain you didn’t get any of the bitter white pith. I minced the zest and added it to the bowl of apples but the recipe calls for just strips that will be removed later—why remove? When chopped finely, the zest is just such a nice addition. Add zest to bowl.
Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds—add the seeds and remaining bean to the bowl with the apples. (Once you’re done with the pod, pull it out to dry then add to a jar of sugar to impart a delightful fusion creating vanilla sugar–add to tea, coffee….ummmm
Here is where I added the cinnamon, the ground cardamom seeds, and the nutmeg.
Add the raisins
Toss the apples, zest, vanilla bean seeds, the pod, raisins and spices—set aside till the skillet is ready.
I’m thinking Fall flavors…….
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Look at those vanilla specks…

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In a 12 inch skillet (or dutch oven) melt the butter over med- high heat and add sugar. When the sugar is fully moistened, add the apple mixture and cook, stirring almost constantly, until the apples start to release liquid and look soft on the outside (but still slightly crunchy on the inside—about 7 minutes or so)—aren’t things smelling heavenly—ummmmm
Take the skillet off of the heat and set aside, you can pull the pod out at this time. Add the Calvados—*****if your day has been hectic, pour yourself a wee dram while cooking but best to keep your wits about you as the more complicated step is yet to come.

Prepare the crust
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 475° . Trim the crust off of 8 slices of bread. I sprayed the ramekins, at this point, with some PAM and brush the sides with some of the melted butter. Cut out 8 rounds from the bread ( I used a cup measure to cut the circles), which will fit in the bottom of the ramekin. Now the recipe called for just bread rounds cut for the bottoms of the ramekins–however, I cut tops out as well as I wanted a “top crust”
You will need to have long rectangular pieces cut which will wrap the inside of the ramekins.
In a skillet, melt the butter and place the sugar in a shallow dish. Dip a round at a time in the melted butter, coating both sides, then dredge in sugar—coating both sides. Place a buttered sugared round in the bottom of the ramekin. Next dip and dredge the long rectangle pieces fitting them inside along the edges of the ramekins. Finally dip and dredge the tops and set aside for a moment.

Assembly and Baking
Fill each ramekin with a gracious amount of the apple mixture, pushing down to insure no airspace—the mixture will shrink down while cooking so fill away…
Now top each filled ramekin with a top. Place ramekins on a baking sheet. I used a baking sheet I covered with foil because there will be a bit of bubbling and boiling over. Cover all with a top layer of foil to seal. Place in the preheated oven. Bake for 40 minutes. Talk about a heady aroma wafting its way through the house—ummmmm

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If serving immediately, use a thin paring knife cutting along the outer edge to help release being careful not the burn yourself, using a dish towel to help, place a desert plate on top of the ramekin then invert—the bottom, now the top, should have a nice “caramelization”. If wanting to serve later, cover, once cool, with plastic wrap and store in fridge. I made mine late in the afternoon and just set them aside until a while after supper, I reheated in a 450° for about 8 minutes–being careful to watch them as you don’t want them to burn.

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A great precursor to Fall—smell those warm spices—ummmmm

Ice cream, where’s the ice cream? This thing is absolutely divine—it’s a gracious serving worthy of splitting with someone special…..

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