Tahitian Vanilla Bean Star Cookies and Eggnog Ice Cream

You probably all don’t know this, but I just got back from vacation. 😛 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.}

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{sms} butter toffee crunch

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I have all these posts I need want to write before I leave on vacation. I was going to scale back my goals of writing 17 posts before I left, but my blogging friends via Twitter convinced me to do it. They told me to be short and sweet. This is one of those posts.

This week’s Sweet Melissa Sundays selection is Butter Toffee Crunch, a delicicious and almost too simple bark-style candy with layers of toffee caramel, chocolate, and sliced almonds. Thank you to Kaitlin of Kait’s Plate for hosting this week’s recipe. If you would like the recipe, visit her blog or buy the book.

Browned Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts

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And lots of shredded Parm cheese, of course. 😛

I  made this for dinner the other night. It comes from the Jan/Feb issue of Cooking Light. It was very easy to make (and very easy to eat!). You brown butter with the pine nuts, add some minced garlic,  and finally toss in torn spinach and cooked gnocchi. Gnocchi only takes about 2 minutes to cook and is totally cool because when they are done they float to the top. Heat and stir until the spinach is wilted and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

You can find the recipe here.

(This recipe more than made up for the disaster, that was the Deep Dark Chocolate Biscotti, that was in this month’s issue of Cooking Light.  For some reason, it didn’t work for me and it ended up in the garbage.)