In a glorious compilation of recipes, photographs, and facts about vanilla, Natasha MacAller has created a cookbook that belongs on the coffee tables and in the kitchens of all serious chefs and vanilla aficionados. Vanilla Table: The essence of exquisite cooking from the world’s best chefs showcases the vanilla-inspired creations of 32 well-known chefs from around the world.
MacAller writes, “I hope Vanilla Table will inspire home cooks, students, and chefs to try this exotic but familiar ingredient, not only in delectable sweets but in other dishes such as Sumara Gratin layered with Vanilla Caramelized Onions, Island Crab cakes with Vanilla-Grapefruit Remoulade, or Slow-Roasted Oxtail Pot Pies with Vanilla-Shiraz Gravy.”
In addition to The Vanilla Story (an explanation of MacAller’s passion toward vanilla), and Vanilla 101 (definitions and history of all things vanilla), the cookbook is divided into these sections:
– Starter Plates
– Main Plates
– Blue Plates & Brunch Plates
– Sharing Plates
– Dessert Plates
– Cake Plates
– The Cookie Plate
– Bevvies & Bar Snacks
– The Vanilla Pantry
– Notes, Weights and Measures
– All Sorts of Sources
– Contributing Chefs
The recipes I followed from this beautiful book were easy-to-read, easy-to-follow, and very easy to enjoy. The Espresso Brownie Bites on page 185 had an interesting component to the directions. After baking for 15 minutes, I was instructed to remove the pan from the oven, hold it level at my waist, and drop it on the counter 5 times to release any air bubbles. Then return pan to the oven and bake until done. At my high altitude (7,000+ ft), I spend a great deal of effort not jostling baked goods to keep them from falling, so this was a scary venture. I followed the directions, and the brownies looked beautiful – not flat – when they finally came out of the oven.
I also made the Monte Cristo Tropicana sandwiches. Vanilla finds its way into the three components of the sandwich, but the flavor that supports the Tropicana part of its name comes from caramelized onions blended with apple butter. It’s a sweet addition to a savory bite.
Ambitious chefs with a penchant for vanilla and the willingness to experiment beyond the standards of normal cuisine will relish the creativity found in MacAller’s Vanilla Table. She provides instruction for making Vanilla Sugar, Vanilla Syrup, Vanilla Extract, and Vanilla Oil and 12 other condiments called for in the recipes.
Illustrating the participating chefs’ emphasis on quality ingredients, MacAller writes, “A note about imitation vanilla. If it is in your pantry, throw it out. Fake vanillin is distilled from a blend of wood pulp and coal tar processes with various chemicals to extract the ‘vanilla’ flavor. Use 100% pure vanilla. Although more expensive than imitation, a little bit goes a long way and produces the finest results.”
Jacques Pepin is quoted on the cover of the book saying, “Natasha MacAller teaches us how wonderful, aromatic vanilla can take the mundane to the memorable.” That she does, indeed.– by Lisa George, RFT Cookbook Editor, Latigo Ranch, Kremmling, Colorado; Photo by Hannah George