Tahitian Vanilla Bean Star Cookies and Eggnog Ice Cream

You probably all don’t know this, but I just got back from vacation. :P And on this vacation I bought vanilla beans. A lot of vanilla beans. Although most of the beans I bought came from Taha’a, French Polynesia, I also bought some in Vava’u, Tonga.

The quality of the Tongan beans doesn’t compare to the Tahitian ones and my Polynesian friends scoffed when I showed them my purchase. Visually  I knew the quality wasn’t there, but they smelled like vanilla and the price was right–10 beans for $5. I figured I could use them when vanilla isn’t the star of a recipe or maybe to make vanilla sugar.

Last Saturday, I invited my intrepid pastry sous-chef Diego over to help me get back into the post-vacation baking swing of things. When I asked him what he wanted to bake, he told me ice cream. Okay, not really baking–but I heart ice cream so all is good. We flipped through The Perfect Scoop looking for a recipe I hadn’t made and had all the ingredients. We came upon Eggnog Ice Cream. Not only did it meet my criteria, it was also seasonally appropriate. Score!

{I realize Diego is holding a duster and not a whisk in the above picture, but he also likes to clean in addition to baking.}

The original  recipe calls for vanilla extract, but I decided to test out my Tongan beans and used two of them instead. The ice cream is wonderful. Not only is it perfectly creamy, it packs a punch of flavor with the perfect combination of vanilla, nutmeg, and booze. Oh, yes–not only do I heart ice cream, I heart boozy ice cream most of all {see: Guinness-Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, Tiramisù Ice Cream, Prune-Armagnac Ice Cream}.

You can find the recipe for Eggnog Ice Cream HERE. Note: To sub the vanilla beans, I scraped the seeds into the sugar and rubbed them with my fingers until the sugar was moist and fragnant. I then added the milk and 1/2 the cream into a medium saucepan with the sugar and vanilla seeds and pods. Once heated, I let it seep for 30 minutes and then proceeded with recipe as written.

I paired the ice cream with a cookie in which vanilla beans are the star (ha ha) of the show: Tahitian Vanilla Bean Star Cookies. The recipe comes from the Sunset Magazine 2009 Holiday Cookbook special issue and doesn’t specify what type of bean, so use what ever type you have on hand.

The cookies are simple butter cookies with the ingenious addition of a vanilla bean. No need to refrigerate before rolling and cutting, so if you are a speedy baker you can have cookies in less than an hour. {I am not a speedy baker}. I may change the name of these cookies to Tahitian Vanilla Bean Bliss Bites. These are now my go to roll and cut sugar/butter cookies. YUM.

You can find the recipe for Vanilla-bean Cookies HERE. {Note: I also used the scrape seeds directly into sugar and rub method here. I find this a better method for mixing the seeds into the sugar.}

Vacation Pictures, Part 5

4-December–Moorea, French Polynesia

This is the last of my vacation posts. I hope you’ve enjoyed them. :) Dominique Tehei, the Marina Supervisor and Dive Master (and friend) on the Paul Gauguin (the ship I was on), took all the underwater pictures. It was an amazing trip and just what I needed to revitalize myself.

Dominique and Jean-Michel

I’m in the back by Randy, the guy in the blue shirt.

I went on a total of 17 dives during my vacation. Prior to this trip, I only had 7 open-water dives. My skills improved greatly, my buoyancy issues are resolved, and I’m more comfortable underwater.

Prior to leaving for vacation I knew I wanted to get 2 tattoos. Tattoos are a big part of Polynesian culture and there is a special place in my heart for the South Pacific. I also wanted something to symbolize and mark what I went through this past year. So after my last dive, I went to Taniera Tattoo.

I explained my background and why I wanted the tattoos and Taniera drew the tattoos. These were my first tattoos and I was surprised how unpainful they were. They healed quickly and I am immensely satisfied and happy with both.

4-December, Papeete, Tahiti

That night we sailed into the bustling city of Papeete. It’s the most built up and commercialized island of French Polynesia. For dinner that night I went to the docks to Les Roulottes.

If you’ve seen Anthony Bourdain’s French Polynesia episode, he visits it. Every night food trucks set up shop and stay open until the wee hours of the morning. It’s Tahitian street-food at it’s best. I look forward to buying and eating poisson cru (Tahitian raw fish salad) every year. The fish is so fresh.

After dinner and drinks, my friends and I went dancing at Morrison’s and stayed until closing. We went back to the ship as the sun was rising. I saw the Southern Cross for the first time! It was a very fun night and a great way to spend my last day in the South Pacific.

Vacation Pictures, part four

2-December, Wednesday Bora Bora, French Polynesia

On Tuesday, as we were experiencing lots of rain and big waves due to the cyclone, the Captain makes an announcement that he just talked to people on Bora Bora and it has been raining there the last two days. This was my third visit to Bora Bora and I was spending most of the day diving, but really wanted it to be sunny. Luckily, the weather gods were smiling on us and we woke up to a perfect day as we arrived Wednesday morning.

There were so many divers diving in Bora Bora, they needed to organize the tanks and all the equipment with labels. This my tank for dive #2 that day.

Driving the Zodiac to the dive site. Okay, not really–they wouldn’t let me. I asked them to take a picture of me pretending to drive the boat. :P

Lemon sharks. Not dangerous.

I’m in the upper right next to Jean-Michel Cousteau.

Finding Nemo?

Since I had some free time in the late afternoon I decided to visit Bloody Mary’s, the famous bar and restaurant on Bora Bora. I took a cab from the dock to the restaurant and the driver  couldn’t stop talking about Couples Retreat. The movie was filmed at the St. Regis on Bora Bora and the movie rented the driver’s boat for a month.  If you’ve seen the movie it’s the boat used in the shark scene.

3-December–Taha’a, French Polynesia

Other than being remarkably beautiful, Taha’a is known as vanilla island because 80% of Taihitian vanilla is grown there. I bought lots of vanilla of course. :P

We spent the day at Motu Mahana with snorkeling, kayaking, waterskiing, and a beach BBQ.

Coming up in Vacation Pictures, part five:

  • Moorea–last dive of the trip
  • Tattoos!
  • Fun times in Papeete, Tahiti

Vacation Pictures, part 3

28-November, Saturday (Day 1 and Day 2) At-Sea

After leaving Tonga, we spent two days at sea. Because we were crossing back over the International Dateline on a relatively slow ship (instead of an airplane) we had two Saturday, November 28s. It was good thing too, because the first November 28 was cold and rainy. I didn’t take any pictures that day.
The second November 28 was perfectly sunny. The cruise ship held a Country Fair where each unit {Waitstaff, Bartenders, Spa, Galley, Marina} hosted a fair game. It was fun to watch and play.

The Executive Chef, Grant (from Austrailia), with pie on his face.

Marina staff in pool with a waterballoon toss.

With Jean-Michel Cousteau. :)

29-November, Sunday Rarotonga, Cook Islands

After two days at sea, we arrived in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. I didn’t dive that day, instead I went hiking. Not as long as I usually do because I didn’t have my back pack and only had one bottle of water. I hiked about 2 hours.

This is where I turned around. The trail got iffy, I was out of water, and since I was by myself I felt it was a smart decision. :P

30-November, Monday Aitutaki, Cook Islands

The next day we arrived at Aitutaki, Cook Islands. I went diving again, but because it was rainy the visibility was poor and it was cold. It was my least favorite dive of the trip, but it was still good.

Unicorn fish. Aren’t these the coolest looking fish?

Lion fish, these are pretty neat looking too.

1-December, Tuesday At-Sea

Another at-sea day as we sped towards Bora Bora, French Polynesia on the edge of a cyclone trying to outrun it. We had some crazy rain and waves that day and night. Some waves hit the ship so hard wine bottles toppled over at dinner. It was a bit scary at times, but mostly it was fun. I didn’t take any pictures that day.

Coming up in Vacation Pictures, part 4:

  • Bora Bora, French Polynesia (awesome diving!)
  • Bloody Mary’s (I finally visit the famous bar and restaurant)
  • Taha’a, French Polynesia (Vanilla Beans!!)
  • Motu Beach Day (fun times!)

Vacation Pictures, part two

24-Nov, Tuesday-Suva, Fiji

When I first read the description for this dive, I thought “oh, heck no”. Once I was in Fiji, I got swept up in the group-think and it sounded like a blast. Then I found out I was wait-listed and was a bit sad. Persistence is the key and I got in. :P

So what was the dive? A shark encounter. Staff led us down to almost 100 feet where we knelt and watched a diver feed chunks of tuna to giant fish and sharks. We then went up to 30 feet and did the same, just different variety of fish and sharks. For the second dive, we went down to 60 feet and saw several bull sharks, all about 10 to 12 feet long. It was really cool.

This is giant trevally. There were a bunch of them and they were humongous. You can’t tell with the picture but others were estimating them to be in the 150 to 200 pound range.

Reef shark (above), which you see at the higher depths. They are harmless.

Uh-oh, bull shark. These suckers were huge. And a little scary.You see them at the lower depths.

How many bull sharks do you see? :P

25-Nov, Wednesday Savusavu, Fiji

Getting ready for the day’s dives. It was rainy in the morning, but cleared up and was sunny later on.

Pretty, pretty coral.

This is kind of funny. A remora kept trying to attach itself to me and clean me. I’d feel it, swipe it away, and it would come back. You can see it on my cheek. I had little marks on my cheek and neck after the dive.

We went to Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Fiji Islands Resort for our surface intervals between dives. Best place for a surface interval (usually you are just stuck on the dive boat). It’s also the place where my friend Dom got married 9in 2005). Isn’t it a gorgeous location for a wedding?

27-Nov, Friday Vava’u, Tonga

The dives I did in Tonga were my favorites of the trip not only because I dove with Jean-Michel Cousteau, but because the the water was so clear, deep, and open. The fish were plentiful and the coral was simply amazing. I would love to got back to Tonga for a month during whale season (it’s right on the path of whale migration) and dive everyday.

Vava’u, Tonga is also the first place on earth to see the sunrise. Isn’t that cool?

It looks like Jean-Michel is speaking to us about something serious like climate change or shark-finning, but I think we were talking about King Kong.

Nancy, Jean-Michel’s girlfriend and me.

Fantail coral. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Coming up in Vacation Pictures, part three:

  • Two Saturday, November 28s! (more International Dateline mumbo jumbo)
  • Rarotonga and Aitutaki, Cook Islands (Hiking!)
  • Cyclones! on way to Bora Bora, French Polynesia