The Big Man wanted to surprise me one day by cooking dinner.
“When are you going to be home from work?” he asked. “I’ve got a surprise for you.”
I told him I would be home in about an hour and excitedly asked what the surprise was.
“I’m cooking dinner!” he proudly exclaimed.
For some of you, this may be no big deal, but in our house, it’s right up there with Jesus parting the Red Sea.
The Big Man does not cook. At all. He can’t even make toast very well. For him to cook an entire dinner is a feat of the greatest magnitude.
The phone rang again.
“Where do you keep the vanilla?” he asked.
“In the pantry on the second shelf. Why?”
“It’s my secret ingredient,” he replied and hung up.
The menu that evening included baked red snapper with lemon, mashed potatoes, and sliced French bread with olive oil and spices for dipping. Not entirely well-rounded in the food groups, but prepared with love, if not skill.
As we sat down to dinner, I learned that the vanilla was his “secret ingredient” in the mashed potatoes. The same potatoes that he had cut in half, boiled 3 minutes, and pounded into submission before adding the vanilla.
Vanilla, I can tell you from personal experience, is not a good addition to mashed potatoes.
Cookies, cakes, and other goodies are a different story. Where would our baked goods be without this wonderful and fragrant flavoring?
Basically, vanilla extract is made by submerging dried vanilla pods in alcohol and water and letting it sit for months. The three most popular types of vanilla are Mexican, Madagascar, and Tahitian.
Though I’m no expert, my favorite of all the vanillas I’ve tried over the years is Totonac’s pure Mexican vanilla. It’s strong, but not overly sweet and the flavor it adds to baked goods is noticeable, but not overpowering. The scent is heavenly, but not artificial. It makes you want to dab a little behind your ears and on your wrists.
The Totonac’s are credited with first cultivating vanilla which is the edible fruit of a type of orchid plant. They considered it a sacred herb. The plant only grows in warm and humid climates like the Totonacapan region of Mexico.
I purchased my 17 oz. bottle of Totonac’s pure vanilla while on vacation in Mexico a few years ago. I didn’t realize just how good it was until I ran out of it. I tried to substitute another “pure Mexican vanilla” I purchased in Texas with poor results.
Note: The FDA warns against vanilla purchased in Mexico. Many of these products contain a substance called coumarin that has potentially toxic side effects and is banned in the U.S. The label on my bottle of Totonac’s pure vanilla says that it does not contain coumarin.
You can spend a fortune on gourmet vanilla if you so choose. I’m sure those ultra-expensive varieties are good but, for me, nothing beats the flavor of Totonac’s.
Since I’m not planning a trip to Mexico anytime soon, I looked around for an online source where I could order some more. While the bottles look exactly the same, the vanilla available for purchase here in the states is labeled “pure vanilla flavoring” whereas the label on the bottle I purchased on vacation says it is “pure vanilla.” I’m not entirely sure what the difference is, but from the comments I found online, the “flavoring” doesn’t have the same fantastic flavor that the “pure vanilla” purchased in Mexico does.
Now I’m Totonac’s-less until I can coax someone to bring me back a bottle from vacation. And, if the Big Man decides to surprise me again by making dinner, he’ll just have to use substandard vanilla.
Do you have a favorite vanilla that stands out from the crowd?
Chickalicousness: 5 for heavenly flavor and aroma