Pancho Villa, one of the most renowned generals from the Mexican Revolution was wild about ice cream. It is even said he was most fond of vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate. This historic photo, published in the El Paso Times, shows him sitting at the famous El Paso confectionery The Elite, right after having an ice cream.
History has judged him both harshly and heroically. Yet, from the account of my husband’s great grandmother Regina, he was a true gentleman.
Yep, Vanilla comes from Mexico!
Many people think that the vanilla bean originally came from Madagascar, but even though vanilla beans are grown there, they originated and were first cultivated in the lush state of Veracruz, which physically hugs the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, vanilla grown outside of Mexico has to be pollinated by hand, since the only insect that will pollinate it is the stingless Melipona bee, which only lives, and can only survive, in Mexico.
Vanilla, the fruit of the world’s only orchid with an edible pod, has been used since pre-Hispanic times by the Totonacs, first, then by other indigenous tribes throughout Mexico. The Totonacs were so incredibly resourceful they were able to develop the growing, harvesting and curing and drying methods that make vanilla edible. It was so revered it was used for sacred rituals, as well as for currency. And it is in Totonac lands, mainly in Papantla, where the finest vanilla thrives today.
Continue reading Vanilla
Vanilla is such an extraordinary ingredient.
As basic as that little black dress in your closet, it can be pulled out time and again, bringing class, flair and comfort every single time you wear it. Vanilla’s flavor and fragrance has come to embody comfort in kitchens worldwide.
However, given its popularity it has been overused in unfortunate ways, like bad imitation extract and exaggerated aromatic imitators. No wonder it has tried to be replicated though, vanilla comes with a high price tag.
But here is the thing: you can make a vanilla bean go a long way. You can extend its exuberant properties and multiply its uses by flavoring other basic ingredients with it.
Continue reading Five Ways with Vanilla Beans
4 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 stick true or ceylon cinnamon, about 2 1/2-inches long
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
10 egg yolks (use the whites to make an egg white omelet!)
Place the milk, vanilla extract and cinnamon stick in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once it begins to bubble and simmer around the edges, reduce the heat to low, and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it sit until it cools down. Once it has cooled down, remove the cinnamon stick.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks with a fork or whisk, until pale yellow and thick, about a minute. Add the sweetened condensed milk in a stream, and beat along with the fork or whisk, incorporating as you do. Add the cooled milk mixture, a ladle at a time, incorporating with the fork or whisk. Try not to make too many bubbles.
Prepare a water bath using a roasting pan, adding about 1/2-inch of already hot water. Place 10 ramekins, or flan or custard molds, in the water bath. With a ladle, pour the mixture into the ramekins, dividing evenly among all 10.
Carefully place into the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the custard has begun to set and the top has created an evident thick layer. It should not be crispy or have browned, if anything just a few spots here and there. Remove the pan from the oven and the ramekins from the water bath.
The jericalla should be creamy and smooth, like pudding. Let cool. Serve at room temperature, or chill in the fridge before serving.
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TRES LECHES CAKE
Pastel de tres leches
Serves 10 to 12
9 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 14oz can La Lechera sweetened condensed milk
1 12oz can evaporated milk
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the Topping:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13-inch pan, lining the bottom with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the pan.
Pour the egg whites into the bowl of your mixer and beat on medium-high speed for 4 to 5 minutes, or until they hold soft peaks. Slowly stir in the sugar and continue beating until they hold harder or stiffer peaks. Turn off the mixer and, with a spatula, move the egg white mixture into a large mixing bowl.
Rinse the mixer bowl and its whisk. Now, pour the egg yolks into the bowl and beat on medium-high speed for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until the yolks become creamy and puffy and their color has toned down to an almost cream color rather than a loud yellow. Stir in the vanilla and continue beating for another minute.
Pour the egg yolk mixture onto the egg white mixture and, with a spatula, in circular motions, combine them into a homogeneous single batter. Do so gently, trying not to lose too much volume gained from beaten egg whites. Fold in the flour, scraping the bowl with the spatula so that all the flour is well mixed.
Pour batter into the prepared cake pan and place into the oven for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. It can be a bit moist, but not wet. The top of the cake should be tanned or golden brown.
Once it cools down, turn it onto a platter. Remove parchment paper, cover the top with an upside-down platter and invert again. The platter should be large enough to hold the cake and the vanilla sauce you are about to prepare. Using a fork, or two, poke holes all over the cake so that it will better absorb the vanilla sauce.
In a mixing bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, milk, and vanilla extract. Pour the vanilla sauce over the cake. It may appear like too much sauce, but it will all be absorbed!
In the bowl of your mixer, whip up the heavy cream with the confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture holds up stiff peaks. Spread the whipped cream all over the already-wet cake and place it in the refrigerator. You can decorate the cake with berries or any other topping of your choice.
GRILLED SHRIMP & PINEAPPLE SALAD WITH VANILLA & CHILE DE ARBOL VINAIGRETTE
Ensalada de Camarón y Piña a la Parrilla con Vinagreta de Chile de Arbol y Vainilla
For the Vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/2 vanilla bean (or about a 2″ piece), chopped
1 to 2 chiles de arbol, stemmed and chopped
1/4 cup safflower or corn oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
Ground black pepper, optional
1/4 tsp sugar, or more to taste
For the Salad
4 fresh pineapple slices(about 1/2″ thick), peeled
Safflower or corn oil to brush the pan or grill
1 lb large or extra large shrimp, fresh or thawed from frozen, rinsed, peeled, deveined
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp safflower or corn oil
kosher or sea salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
12 oz mixed spring salad(or your choice of mixed baby lettuces)
1/2 cup red onion, slivered
For the vinaigrette:
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan set over medium heat, until hot but not smoking. Add garlic clove, vanilla bean and chiles, and cook about 15 seconds, stirring constantly. Be careful not to let them burn, remove the pan from the heat and pour its contents into a mixing bowl to cool.
Combine the safflower oil, red wine vinegar, salt pepper, allspice and sugar into the same bowl. Pour all the mix in the blender, puree until smooth, and reserve. The vinaigrette will be textured as the vanilla bean will not let itself be entirely pureed. But that makes it even more delicious! If you will not use the vinaigrette in the next couple of hours, cover it and refrigerate. It will keep for a week, but re-emulsify or thoroughly mix, before using.
For the grilled pineapple:
Heat a grill pan, a grill or nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot and lightly coat with safflower or corn oil. Place the pineapple slices and cook for about 4 minutes per side until they are slightly charred. Remove from heat. Once they are cool enough to handle, cut in half, remove the core and cut into strips along the grain. Reserve.
For the shrimp:
Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper. Heat the butter and oil in a saute pan over high heat. Once the butter sizzles, add the shrimp, you may need to do it in batches so they they don’t overlap, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes per side. They should have plumped up and changed color on both sides, but be careful not to overcook them. Remove and reserve.
To assemble the salad:
Place the greens in a salad bowl. Drizzle some of the vinaigrette and toss, so that they are lightly coated but not soaked. Assemble on individual salad plates. Divide the shrimp, pineapple and red onion on top of each plate. You may drizzle a bit more of the vinaigrette on top and serve.
GRANDMA LALI’S VANILLA FLOATING ISLANDS
Islas Flotantes de Vainilla de mi Abuela Lali
For the Floating Islands
12 egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
For the Caramel
1 1/2 cups sugar
For the Vanilla Sauce
3 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp all purpose flour
1 1/2 cup milk
1 inch piece vanilla bean
10 strawberries optional for garnish, sliced, or any other fruit of your choice
To make the caramel:
Place sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the sugar melts, moving the pan so it will not burn, until it has a caramel consistency. Turn off the heat and pour the caramel quickly into individual flan or custard molds as you tilt them, so the caramel covers the bottom of each mold. The caramel will quickly cool and set.
To make the floating islands:
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Place egg whites in a mixer with the salt and cream of tarter and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Add in the extracts and the sugar and mix until combined. Then top each of the molds with the egg white mixture.
Place molds in a large baking pan. Pour about an inch of boiling water into the pan to create a water bath. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes. The top of the islands will look browned and crispy. Turn the oven off, open the door oven slightly and let the islands cool inside of the oven for about 10 minutes, then remove them from the oven.
To make the vanilla sauce:
In a saucepan, lightly beat the egg yolks with 1/3 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon of all purpose flour.
In another saucepan, heat the milk and vanilla bean (make a slit on its side and free the seeds into the milk). Let it heat until very hot but not boiling. Slowly, in a very thin stream, add the hot milk into the yolk mixture, emulsifying with a whisk until it is all incorporated. Place over low heat and stir until the sauce almost reaches a boil, and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Turn the heat off and keep on whisking slowly, for about a minute or so. The sauce can be served hot, warm or cold. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month once cooled.
Once the molds have cooled to room temperature, you can unmold them. Use a knife to go around the edge of the molds and carefully turn them onto a plate. Drizzle the caramel from the bottom of the molds on top of the islands. Add a couple tablespoons of the vanilla sauce on top. You may garnish with strawberries or any other fruit of your liking.
Islands can be refrigerated in their molds, covered, for up to 4 days.
TORITOS: PEANUT AND VANILLA APERTIF
Torito: Bebida de Cacahuate y Vainilla
2 12 oz cans evaporated milk
1 14 oz can La Lechera sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup cane liquor (aguardiente de caña), or rum, more or less to taste
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter (or espresso if you want to make it coffee flavored)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Ice, to taste
Place the cane liquor, evaporated milk, condensed milk, peanut butter and vanilla extract in the blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to a jar, cover and refrigerate until chilled.
Alternatively, you may also pour directly over ice cubes or add some ice cubes to your blender and make it a Frappé! In any case, serve very cold.
NOTE: There are different Torito flavors. To make coffee Toritos, substitute peanut butter for a cup of strong coffee and add more sugar to taste. To make fruit Toritos, substitute peanut butter for about 2 cups of guaba or mango (or any fruit of your choice) pulp, and sugar to taste.
Vanilla only comes in a bottle, right? Oh, it’s a bean!? Where on earth do I find vanilla beans and then how do I cook with them? Wait, vanilla comes from Veracruz, Mexico–not Madagascar!? This episode will explain all of that, plus share a few amazing vanilla-infused recipes, including:
HORCHATA WITH CINNAMON AND VANILLA
Horchata: Agua de Arroz y Canela
2 cups long or extra long white rice
3 cups hot water
1 cinnamon stick, (ceylon or true cinnamon, if you can)
1 tbsp vanilla extract
4 cups milk
1 1/4 cup sugar
Ground cinnamon to sprinkle on top, optional
Place the rice in a bowl and cover with hot water. Roughly crumble a piece of True cinnamon into the rice mix (Cassia will not let you break it…) and let is all sit and rest anywhere from 2 to 8 hours outside of the refrigerator.
Place half of the rice mixture in the blender with half of the milk and vanilla and blend until smooth, then strain into a pitcher or container (if using Cassia cinnamon, remove it). Place the other half of the rice mixture in the blender with the remaining milk and the sugar, pure until smooth and strain into the same pitcher or container.
Stir well and serve over ice cubes, or place in the refrigerator until it is cold. Serve with more ice cubes to your liking, and sprinkle some ground cinnamon on top if you wish.