foodbuzz 24 24 24

Ah, you flavor everything; you are the vanilla of society”
Sydney Smith

When Foodbuzz invited proposals for September’s 24 24 24 I knew it was time to explore my favourite bean, and I’m thrilled they picked me. No, I’m not talking about the French bean, neither the kidney, not the haricot, unfortunately not the java bean…and NO, not even Rowan Atkinson. It was time to get to the heart of the VANILLA BEAN!
My exposure to this intriguing bean, in essence, actually knowledge of it’s very existence came via 2 of my favourite blogs – Canelle et Vanille & Tartlette. Both blogs beautifully inspirational, nurtured by ‘Pastry Chef’ bloggers who are large hearted in terms of sharing their knowledge & vast experience in the world of exotic desserts.
I got my first bean in great anticipation & couldn’t for the love of me believe this old wizened looking thing was ‘the’ bean in question. I soon got a precious tube of Madagascar vanilla beans from the States, & my sister never let me hear the end of it. Then picked up a tube of Indian vanilla beans on a visit to Chennai – 3 for the princely sum of Rs 300! A chance conversation with Ria lead to my discovery of a more affordable & better grade Indian vanilla bean. It’s a fine bean at a fine price. Where would you be able to buy a Grade A vanilla bean at 25 cents?


My post today, as part of the Foodbuzz 24 24 24 is a SALUT TO THE VANILLA BEAN’! I briefly explored the history behind the bean, and the varieties of beans available.
A bit of vanilla background…
Vanilla originated in Mexico and for ages no other country in the world has known the secret of its magnificent flavor. First taken out of the country by the Spanish conquistadors, vanilla pods were stolen and replanted in the former Bourbon Island – the actual French Reunion Island. To this day the term “Bourbon” vanilla still applies to vanilla originating from that part of the world.
Vanilla beans are grown in four main areas of the world. Each region produces vanilla beans with distinctive characteristics and attributes. Madagascar is the leading producer in the world, with a quality known among vanilla extract producers as the most distinctive and flavorful – Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla. This is due to a particularly auspicious combination of climate, geography and traditional know-how. Indonesia is the second largest producer of vanilla, with a vanilla that is woody, astringent and phenolic. Madagascar and Indonesia produce 90 percent of the world’s vanilla bean crop.
Mexico & Tahiti are the 2 other major areas of vanilla bean production. Indian vanilla bean production is in very nascent stages, but demand is slowly picking up as they begin to cure the bean the traditional way. It’s popularity is slowly increasing in the international arena.
Once I began using pure natural vanilla extract, the chemical substitute or ‘imitation vanilla essence’ became a thing of the past. I make my own vanilla sugar & pure vanilla extract. At any given time I have 3 bottles of extract on hand – 2 under construction, and 1 in use. It takes a good 4-6 weeks to get the bottle of extract ready.
Good quality vanilla beans & some vodka is all you need. Vanilla sugar is even easier. Just tuck a split and cut vanilla bean into t ajar of sugar, shut tight, give it a good shake every alternate day. By the end of the week you will have the beginnings of sweet smelling vanilla sugar at your disposal! Keep replenishing the sugar as you use it. I even grind my sugar at times, with a piece of vanilla bean and sift it to get vanilla castor sugar!
My post today is a bit lengthy, so I divided it into a couple of sections…
I’ll begin with a VANILLA conversation with Aran @ Canelle et Vanille who was good enough to take time off her busy schedule and sweet talk vanilla with me. Thank you Aran, appreciate your having done this!

Canelle et Vanille’

Aran, a professional pastry chef, is a Basque ex-pat living in the US. She blogs at Cannelle Et Vanille, her blank canvas for creating anything and everything sweet that comes out of her heart. Her beautiful blog reflects the smells and tastes of her childhood.
She is available for recipe development, food styling and photography.Press regarding her blog includes The UK Times Online, Cravings Magazine, BBC’s Olive Magazine, Southern Weddings Magazine, Pastry & Baking Magazine,, Design*Sponge,, Decor*8 and many other blogs.

1. Your first thoughts when I say ‘vanilla bean’ are…
Warmth, childhood, grandparents
2. Do you find vanilla beans indispensable in your kitchen as a baking ingredient?
Yes, I use it in most of my recipes whether it is as a main ingredient or to enhance a recipe.
3. Do you always have vanilla beans on hand?
Yes, I always buy in bulk as they are cheaper this way and store them tightly wrapped in an airtight container.
4. In a month, how many vanilla beans would you use on an average?
Because they are so expensive, I really stretch the use of my beans. I might go through 10 beans a month (that I always reuse in other forms) and 4 oz of vanilla extract.
5. Do you have a favourite variety of the vanilla bean?
There are many varieties now but Bourbon is still the most readily available and what I tend to use most. Tahitian has a floral note and a bit of a less sweeter aroma, which I really like. I recently tried some African varieties that were excellent as well.
6. What in your opinion is the best way to showcase the flavor of the vanilla bean?
If I am using vanilla bean, I like that to be the main flavor component of the recipe. It really doesn’t need much, just a little steeping or incorporated into a cream is perfection in itself. Also, I think a tiny pinch of salt always enhances the flavor of the vanilla.
7. Have you heard of or used savoury vanilla extract or saffron vanilla extract?
Yes and I actually just recently used vanilla fleur de del in a recipes in my blog ( I have heard of saffron vanilla but have never used it myself. Will have to try that soon.
8. What is your favourite recipe using this flavourful bean?
So many… but maybe because we are entering autumn season, the roasted apple and vanilla bean souffle is one of my favorites…(
♥ Thank you Aran ♥

So much sweet talk and it’s time to unleash a VANILLA based DESSERT onto the post. I had mascarpone on hand, home made & fresh and was looking for a delicious vanilla based end to it. Also had figs and oranges on hand. Twitter to the rescue as usual, and help came via wonderful friend Hilda @ Saffronberry. Ever willing to help anytime, never fails to amaze, she suggested Vanilla Mascarpone Cream Hearts from a gorgeous blog – Nordljus.
So, I made these Vanilla Mascarpone Cream Hearts with an Orange & Dried Fig Compote, inspired by the beautiful dessert on Keiko’s beautiful blog. Thank you Hilda for twittering to my rescue & for the brilliant recipe suggestion. About the dessert – it was an elegant, delectable dessert, and the compote complimented it beautifully.
Vanilla Mascarpone Cream Hearts with Dried Fig & Orange Compote
Adapted from this recipe at Nordljus
Serve 6
300g Mascarpone (homemade recipe here)
125g vanilla castor sugar
1 vanilla bean
200ml low fat cream, chilled
125g thick plain yogurt
Chill the bowl and blade of a food processor in the refrigerator.
To make the cream hearts, blend the mascarpone, seeds of 1 vanilla bean and vanilla castor sugar in the food processor until smooth. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula occasionally to keep the mixture evenly distributed. Add the cream and yogurt and blend briefly to incorporate.
Line 6 porcelain heart moulds with a double layer of wet muslin and carefully spoon in the cream mixture until the moulds are full and the surface is even. Put the moulds on a tray with a lip (to catch the whey – important), then cover with plastic film and refrigerate for at least 8 hours before serving.

To serve, lift the cream hearts out of their moulds using the muslin, then invert each heart onto the berries and carefully remove the muslin. Arrange figs and orange segments around, and spoon the compote over the cream heart.

Orange & Dried Fig Compote
10-15 dried figs, snipped with kitchen scissors
Zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange
Slices of 1 orange, pith etc removed, chopped
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
Some extra figs and orange segments for serving, optional Method:
Simmer everything gently for 10-15 minutes, till soft & syrupy. The syrup will thicken as the compote cools. Cool before use.

To wrap up, I managed to get in touch with 2 vanilla bean producers down in South India to get a sniff of vanilla bean production in India. I am enjoying using my precious beans; you can too if you like. I’ve put the contact details down at the bottom for both the producers!
I’ve have had good fortune of trying out a couple of varieties of vanilla beans, Madagascar included, and find that the Indian Vanilla beans I sampled from Vanilco turned out to be quite good. In my humble opinion, it’s a good quality, flavourful bean, and meets the criteria for a good quality bean. I spoke to Paul Jose, the manager at Vanilco Bean Company, one of the biggest suppliers of vanilla to the ice cream industry.
Vanilco heads a consortium of 2500 vanilla farmers, & in Mr Jose’s words, they face a unique dilemma. The slightly higher price of natural vanilla leads to most ice cream manufacturers using an imitation vanilla or a chemical substitute, so demand for pure vanilla is slack. In India very few manufacturers sell real ice cream, as ‘Ice cream’ is in name only. ‘Frozen Dessert’ is mentioned in small print’, as both vanilla and vanilla ice cream are products with standard identity, and it’s usage would mean higher prices.
Vanilco was the 1st producer complany in India established in 2004. They produce vanilla beans and 39 other value added products for both domestic and international markets. They market their product in selected tourist destinations in South India under the brand name Vanilla India.
They have a diverse range of products which include Savoury vanilla, Saffron vanilla, Vanilla Cocoa powder, Vanilla tea / coffee, Vanilla paste and Vanilla sugar. The beans are not expensive compared to their US and European counter parts. In South India 1 vanilla pod will cost only around Rs. 5 to 10 (US$1=Rs48 … so you can get 4-5 beans, sometimes more, for a $). His message – The only way to promote natural vanilla is to create awareness among the public that natural vanilla is available in India, and that it’s better to use as compared to chemical substitutes.
Tel – +91 484 5599233, Cell +91 9349 256746
(Disclaimer: The pictures included above are not reflective of the Vanilco product. They are the author’s pictures)

I found that this sentiment echoes across the sector. John.P. John, CEO of Tharakan & Company, another major vanilla bean producer in India since 2000, said the same thing.

Thakaran and Company market their product under the brand name ‘Nature’s Nurture’, and are willing to courier their products to domestic consumers. They are manufacturers of finished good from vanilla beans, apart from being a supplier of the bean. They claim to be the only manufacturer of Natural Vanilla Extract with Cold process technology, which gives both aroma and taste of vanilla.They also manufacture Pure Natural Vanilla Powder, Natural vanilla Paste, Vanilla seeds etc, supplying vanilla beans in transparent tubes and vacuum pouches to the domestic market. They also offer it worldwide.In his words… Most vanilla beans under production either head for export are are used for vanilla extract. Per se, the vanilla bean is still struggling to find demand in the local market.
Tharakan & Company,
Ph +91 481 2516619/ +91 481 2516119
Cell +91 94470 37383

“Cheese – milk’s leap toward immortality.”
Clifton Fadiman

Say cheese and faces light up. Big smiles all around. Cheese is a universal pleaser, a crowd puller, with few and far between who don’t fall for it’s cheesy charm. I’ve been on a soft cheese trip for a while, using my spare time trying to make mascarpone, ricotta, quark, cottage cheese etc at home. So when I got invited by Foodbuzz to post this month, I had this big SMILE!! SAY CHEESE!!

I made cottage cheese, mascarpone, ricotta, quark and mozzarella. All, but the last, were outstanding. I had little luck with the mozzarella as it didn’t get stretchy and ‘taffy like’. It reached some in between point, which could be used, but I don’t think I’ll attempt making it again. The other four were very very good, and even though I’ve made them before, I attempted a few with a different recipe. I stuck to the quark recipe though …a wonderful one from Arwen @ HogletK .

Mango Lassi
This is my own little recipe, as I love to use vanilla sugar in food now. My Mom used crushed ice to make cold coffee when we were young. We had a strong canvas bag and a mallet next to the blender at all times!
Flesh of 2 large mangoes
500 gms low fat yogurt
6-7 tbsps of vanilla sugar (adjust if required)
10 cubes of ice, crushed
Whiz all the ingredients in the blender till smooth.
Serve in tall glasses, garnished with sprig of mint, or keep chilled until required. Can be made the previous night.
Note: use regular sugar instead of vanilla sugar if you like.
Serves 4-6

I’ve made some refreshing Mango Lassi since the post is all about dairy products, so come grab a glass, & let’s SAY CHEESE!

Characterized by a mild, clean taste, and soft texture, fresh cheese is simple to make. They are unripened, rindless cheeses, which vary in consistency from the creamy and smooth – fromage frais, cream cheese and mascarpone, to thicker curd mixtures – ricotta, pot cheese and cottage cheese. The fat content varies, with many low fat and skimmed milk recipe versions available.

Mascarpone is a fresh (i.e. not aged or ripened) soft cows’ milk cheese which originated from Lombardy, Italy. Technically speaking, it is not cheese as it is produced by a culture being added to the cream which has been removed during the production of Parmesan. However it is generally described as a curd cheese. Once the culture has been added, the cream is heated and left to thicken. It has a creamy white colour, a slightly sweet taste making it highly suitable for desserts, and a soft, dense, texture which can be easily spread. Mascarpone

Recipe adapted from Addicted Sweet Tooth
1 litre cream (I used 25% low fat cream;you can use 36% whipping cream)
2 tbsp fresh lime/lemon juice ( juice of 1 ½ limes approx)

Heat the cream over a waterbath/double boiler until it reaches 180ºF/82ºC
Stir in the lime/lemon juice and keep at this temperature for a few moments longer until it starts to thicken.
Remove from heat, cover, and let sit at room temperature until it is cooled down a bit.
Refrigerate over night. The next day it will have thickened further.
Pour it in a strainer lined with multiple layers of cheesecloth or clean towel. Refrigerate for about 24 hours to let the whey drain

Traditional, creamy, vegetarian, quark is fresh cheese made from cow’s milk, which is moist and white. It has a light taste and a smooth and soft texture. Quark simply means “curd” in German and the cheese is said to date from the Iron Age. Quark can be made from whole, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk or even buttermilk. Soft and moist, like a cross between yogurt and fromage frais, it should taste lemon-fresh.Homemade Quark (Curd Cheese)
adapted from recipe @ HogletK
1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
3 1/2 cups full cream milk

If your milk is not pasteurised you should bring it to the boil, then allow it to cool to room temperature (covered with a lid).
Stir the buttermilk into the milk in a container you can cover.
Put the container in a warm place. Allow the culture to proceed for ~24 hours, or until the curds and whey separate. At first the milk will look grainy, and eventually the curds will float on the whey. The grainy stage is probably sufficient, but might give a lower yield.
Dampen a clean tea towel and use it to line a sieve. Place the sieve over a basin. Pour the curds and whey into the strainer. Bring the tea towel together so that it covers your quark and do it up with a rubber band. Place the entire draining apparatus in the fridge.
Allow to drain in the fridge overnight, or for 24 hours. The drained quark should have a consistency similar to sour cream, but it has a more sour taste.

Traditional, whey cheese made from cow’s milk, it is a basin-shaped cheese, pure white and wet but not sticky. Good Ricotta should be firm, not solid and consist of a mass of fine, moist, delicate grains, neither salted nor ripened. It is white, creamy and mild, and is primarily used as an ingredient in lasagna. Ricotta has a creamy white colour, a slightly sweet taste making it highly suitable for desserts, and a texture similar to some cottage cheeses though generally lighter. Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Recipe posted by
David Lebovitz of
2 quarts whole milk
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
Optional: 1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
In a large pot, bring the milk, yogurt, heavy cream (if using), vinegar, and salt to a boil. Very gently boil for one to two minutes, until the milk is curdled.
Meanwhile, line a strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and set it over a deep bowl.
Pour the milk mixture into the strainer and let drain for 15 minutes. Gather the cheesecloth around the curds and squeeze gently to extract any excess liquid.
Storage: Homemade ricotta is best served slightly warm, although it can be refrigerated for up to three days, if desired.
Makes 2 cups.

Mozzarella is a unique Italian cheese, traditionally made from the milk of the water buffalo. It should be eaten within days, and is delicious melted on pizzas, sliced in rounds for salads, and in numerous other culinary applications. The cheese itself is very mild, tasting slightly tangy and slightly sweet, with strong milky overtones. You can find the recipe here at It’s a ’30 minute Mozzarella’ with lengthy instructions, but didn’t work for me. The recipe does have a good rating though. It’ll be a while before I venture this way again!
Cottage cheese or Paneer refers a type of cheese that was originally found in the area that today encompasses Iran, India and Pakistan. This cheese is used in curried dishes and is very popular, when wrapped in dough and fried and is delightful for snacking. Since it is a high protein food, this cheese is often substituted for meat in many vegetarian entrees of Indian cuisine. It is commonly used in curried dishes.
Herbed Cottage Cheese / Paneer
3.5 litres whole milk
3 tbsp white vinegar
Bring 3.5 litres of milk to a boil, add 3 tbsp of white vinegar to it, & stir constantly till small curd form & whey becomes translucent.
You should get milky whey. Strain through cheesecloth/ soup strainer and then transfer to box to set. Leave on counter for 30 minutes with weight to get rid of excess liquid, then leave in fridge overnight with weight on top.
Unmold it, rinse under cool water, place in bowl, cover with water & refrigerate until use, or use immediately.

Let’s head for the table

…and soft cheese is on the menu today. I attempted to incorporate it into our meal in as many ways as possible. Must admit I never realized it was such a versatile option! When I started working with so many in tandem, I reached a point where I had to knock things off the menu to avoid overloading the table!! Here we go…

The warm smell of fresh baguettes baking wafts through the house. Crostini is on the menu…

Quark & Mascarpone Cream Cheese
Whisk ½ cup quark + 1 heaped tbsp mascarpone + 2 cloves of minced garlic + salt to taste in a bowl.
Toast slices of baguettes brushed with olive oil. Top with cream cheese, cream cheese, mozzarella & sliced tomatoes, or, cream cheese and pesto. You can find a wonderful recipe for
Almost No Knead Baguette here (A King Arthur Flour recipe).

Another wonderful way to use quark is in cheesecake or as fillings in regular cakes. I used it in an Almond Nut Torte with Peaches & Plums , and also in a Dobostorte

A delightful and addictive bread, versatile & a certain winner! it’s easy to make, you can even make a sweet version with ricotta, candied fruit & orange water. This is one I make often.French Fougasse with Ricotta, Walnuts & Romesco
adapted from The Practical Encyclopaedia of Baking, pg 444
450gms all purpose flour
280ml warm water
20gms fresh yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sea salt
200gms homemade ricotta
1/2 cup
Romesco sauce
1 cup walnuts, chopped
Olive oil for brushing
Take 4 tbsps of water from the 280ml, & dissolve the fresh yeast into it. Stir the salt & 2 tbsp olive oil into the remaining water.
Make a well with the flour, & pour the dissolved yeast & water mixture into it. Knead to a dough, kneading further on a floured surface for 8-10 minutes, till it gets smooth & elastic.
Place in an oiled bowl, cover the bowl with cling wrap & leave in a warm place for about an hour until doubled.
Punch down & divide into 4 balls of dough (or 2 if you have a big oven)
Roll out to about an 8″ circle, brush with 1/4 of the Romesco, sprinkle with 1/4 of the walnuts, & 1/4 of the crumbled ricotta. Season lightly with salt.
Fold over the dough 2-3 times on itself to incorporate the stuffing. Shape each back into a ball.
Flatten each & fold the bottom third up, & top third down to make an oblong.
Roll into ovals with a flat base, cut slits diagonally, three on each side. Pull slightly to open the cuts.
Place on oiled baking sheets. Cover with cling wrap & leave to double for 35-40minutes.
Preheat the oven to 220C, brush the loaves with olive oil, & bake for approximately 25-30 minutes till golden brown. Cool on racks. Serve warm or at room temperature.

It’s fun to serve slabs of cottage cheese grilled in different ways. If I make regular plain cottage cheese, I sometimes give it a Middle Eastern marinade, & serve it with cherry tomatoes. I also like using it as a savoury filling in lentil pancakes.

Grill slabs of herbed cottage cheese on a very hot grill pan brushed with oil. Carefully flip over & grill the other side too. serve hot with romesco sauce.

Note: Always serve grilled cottage cheese or paneer tikkas hot, straight off the fire/oven, because they tend to get rubbery as they get cold.

Here’s a chicken ricotta pesto lasagna, adapted from a vegetarian version of Pesto Lasagna from It’s a great lasagna, made interesting with the addition of pesto. It’s a wonderful make ahead recipe. Another good recipe, my fave so far is the Chicken Ricotta Lasagna, which can be found here.

Chicken Ricotta Pesto Lasagna
Adapted from Pesto Lasagna Recipe @

200g fresh basil leaves, plus extra to serve
200g toasted almonds
6 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
200ml fruity extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tbsp
250g homemade ricotta, drained
1 quantity
quick tomato sauce
1 quantity bechamel
500-750gms cooked chicken mince
200gms homemade mozarella
1 tsp salt
20 lasagne sheets

Put the basil, almonds, garlic, a good pinch of salt and 200ml olive oil into a food processor and pulse to give a uniform and creamy consistency. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the ricotta.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C. Cook the sheets of lasagna, and lay out flat on kitchen towels. Reserve a little pasta water.
Loosen the pesto with a little of the pasta cooking water. Spread a couple of tablespoons of tomato sauce in the base of a deep 1-litre ovenproof dish. Arrange 4 lasagne sheets on top. Spread some pesto-ricotta, some chicken mince, followed with bechamel.
Repeat 5 times, finishing with a layer of mozzarella. Bake for 15-20 minutes, covered, until cooked through and hot.
Meanwhile, preheat the grill to high.
Grill for a 5-7 minutes, until golden. Cut into wedges and serve garnished with a scattering of basil leaves.

A meal without spuds, is a meal incomplete. I used some mozarella in the lasagna and some in the crostini. The remaining went in here. Spuds we loved … full of garlicy & cheesy flavour. To keep fibre in the meal, these green beans tossed in a mix of quark and olive oil were good.

Potato croquettes
Mash some boiled potatoes. Mix in grated mozarella, minced garlic, salt & pepper. Roll into crouqttes & shallow fry on low heat till brown on all sides.
Green beans
Toss blanched green beans in a mixture of roasted garlic, olive oil and a little quark.Serve warm / room temperature.

Clear the deck… MAKE ROOM FOR DESSERT!

This was the most fun part of the cheesy tale. I put together a variety of desserts with mascarpone cheese as the base, oscillating between my two loves – coffee & fruit. I made a tiramisu using a batch of failed macarons, then a mango mascarpone budini using the same crisp almond cookies, and two ‘faux’ mascarpone panna cottas too. ‘Faux’ because panna cotta is cooked cream & I didn’t cook the cream here. There is a lot of variety you can get together in desserts using mascarpone.

For both the tiramisu and budini, I just whipped up the mascarpone with vanilla sugar.
Mango Mascarpone Budini
adapted from this recipe @
Crumble some macarons into the base of an ice cream/dessert bowl. Top with mascarpone. Add chopped mango pieces. Cover with a layer of mascarpone. Just before serving, top with roughly crumbled macarons.

Line a desert ring with parchment paper & place it on a lined tray. Make a layer of crumbled macarons, sprinkling of strong coffee, layer of mascarpone. Repeat twice, ending with mascarpone. Leave to set at least 6-8 hours. Dust with cocoa just before serving.
Mascarpone Panna Cotta
Soften 1 tsp gelatin over 3 tbsp of cream.
Whisk 250gms of mascarpone, 200ml low fat cream (-3 tbsp) with the vanilla sugar. Strain the softened gelatin into this, & whisk till well blended. Divide into 2.
For the mango panna cotta, gently fold in some chopped mangoes, reserving a few pieces to make a sauce for the top if required.
For the coffee panna cotta, line the base of some silicon cases with crumbled macarons. Drizzle over some strong coffee. Top with whipped mascarpone. Leave to set for 6-8 hours, or better still, overnight.

Thank you for being part of my new found love. Hope you had a cheesy good time!

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