Monday, January 14, 2013

Vanilla Bean Roundup

My best friend and I, we take our time. We walk slowly to our destinations, sip our tea, and exchange Christmas gifts weeks after the holiday has passed. We've done this every year since we've gotten close back in high school, and it suits us. A few days ago we followed through on this habit as usual and she gave me the best gift imaginable for a down and out foodie....whole Madagascar vanilla beans! Ever since, I've been fantasizing about what to do with many possibilities! Vanilla beans are pricey, so I've long wanted to bake with them and never have. In fact, the only spice in the world more expensive is Saffron. As you can imagine, the options for use of this culinary gold are quite overwhelming. So I sifted through my favorite food blogs and came up with a list of finalists, so to speak. My only requirement was that the vanilla bean flavor be absolutely showcased. Here's the best of them (all credit given to the respective bloggers in links below the photos):

Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream

Recipe and photo from Barefeet In The Kitchen
The beauty of this is that you can glam up virtually anything with this vanilla infused addition. Just THINK of the possibilities! On cobbler, sweet potato pie, layered in parfait, or (dare I say it) with a spoon. Simple, delicious, and versatile.....what else could you want in a recipe?

Vanilla Bean Pound Cake

Photo and recipe from 80 Breakfasts
The best cake for flavor showcasing, in my opinion, is a pound cake. Its moist and mild, simple yet satisfying. This cake is all about the vanilla flavor, and I can't imagine how wonderfully guilty I would feel eating this for breakfast with some orange zest icing drizzled over the top. Unff.

Mini Vanilla Bean Scones 

Photo and recipe from Bourbonnatrix Bakes
These adorable scones were once found in Starbucks cafes, but were discontinued. This recipe recreates them in all of their vanilla glory. And don't be intimidated by how fancy "scones" sounds. They are deceptively simple to make.

Four-Cheese Vanilla Bean Cheesecake

Photo and recipe from Mississippi Kitchen

 "Four Cheese" is what honestly got my attention on this one. I have an addiction, but I am not ashamed. However, it still showcases vanilla beans as its primary flavor, which is all I am after here. Plus, what a gorgeous photo!

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Photo and recipe from The Pioneer Woman
This is obligatory in any vanilla related post, and for good reason. Even to chocolate devotees, vanilla bean ice cream cannot be denied its rich bold vanilla flavor. Besides, who said you can't just slap it on top of something chocolatey anyway? If it weren't so cold outside, I would have ALREADY made this one. Regardless, this recipe just had to be included, especially because it is from one of my favorite blogs.

How can I decide?? Any other vanilla-centered recipe suggestions are greatly welcomed!

Last Minute Thought!

Beans are pricey, so use every last part! Chope your bean in four pieces after using the inside pulp and seeds, then throw it in a cute jar with about a cup of sugar. Let it sit for a week or so, then enjoy the major flavor it adds to coffee, tea, or just about anything that requires sugar. For extra punch, grind up the dried bean pods with the sugar after letting it sit and then sift it to remove the chunks. In a cute jar with some ribbon it also makes a good hostess gift or just-because neighborly present. 

My jar obsession is actually useful sometimes.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Pining for Asia: Seaweed Egg Drop Soup

Cheesin' at the Great Wall of China
Last July I spent an entire month traveling China and Taiwan with my sister. My trip to Asia was an incredible, whirlwind experience that I can never recreate. However, what I can do my best to replicate is (arguably) the most exciting part of the trip; the food!

Now that I have completely outed myself as a foodie, I can freely describe some the meals I've been longing for since coming back home to Jersey. Among the top ten are stinky tofu, milk tea, hot pot (an incredible Asian rendition of fondu), and seaweed egg drop soup. More specifically, the seaweed egg drop soup we enjoyed while antiquing in downtown Beijing and which has haunted my dreams since August. Feast your eyes on this magical meal:

The magical soup in question is on the right.

It has the effect of comfort food, but with a beautiful array of Asian flavors that make me hungry just thinking about them. After discussing recently with my sister how much we both miss this particular dish, I decided to give it a try. Here's what I came up with as the closest match.

Note: do not be afraid of seaweed! This is a great introductory seaweed recipe for anyone tentative about the stuff. You can include as much or as little as you like: just adjust the salt and broth accordingly.


7 cups of broth (chicken or vegetable)

2 cups of water

A few good grinds of black pepper

Half teaspoon white pepper

One teaspoon of crushed red pepper

Half teaspoon ground ginger

Half of one large onion, diced

2 cups of dried seaweed, cut into long thin strips

3 eggs, beaten


Bring the broth and water to a boil in a large pot on high heat. I cheated and used bouillon cubes, but you can use whatever you want. Add all ingredients except for the eggs and reduce to medium heat. Stir constantly for one or two minutes. While pouring the eggs in SLOWLY, whisk the soup constantly. If you pour too quickly you'll wind up with big clumps of egg. Which is fine if that's what you want. I was going for authenticity so I wanted the thin strands like I originally experienced in Beijing. Be sure to taste the broth and adjust your spices to your preference! If you used less seaweed you may want to add a dash of sea salt. Leave on low heat for about 45 minutes to allow the onions to soften and all the wonderful flavors to meld. Then serve it up with some sesame crackers and green tea!

The end result with my failed photo skills:

A close second by comparison!

I'll always miss my trip to Asia, the amazing experiences I had, and the exotic foods I had the opportunity to try. But maybe, just maybe, with some more experimenting in my kitchen, I'll miss the food a little bit less!