Finding Versatility in Vanilla

"Vanilla Table" by Natasha MacAller details the numerous ways vanilla can spice up your recipes.

Vanilla Table: The essence of exquisite cooking from the world’s best chefs
By Natasha MacAller

I use vanilla when baking desserts but never realized the versatility of this ingredient until I read Vanilla Table by Natasha MacAller. Who knew that vanilla could be used in crab cakes, oxtail pot pie, duck, chicken stroganoff, rum-and-vanilla-cured salmon, lobster rolls and much more? Derived from orchids and the second most expensive spice after saffron, vanilla can be used in not only sweet dishes, but savory ones as well.

With over 100 recipes—33 of which are from accomplished chefs including, Rose Levy Beranbaum, Duff Goldman, Jonathan Waxman, Nancy Silverton and Norman Van Aken—home cooks can prepare starters, mains, brunch, desserts and everything in between using vanilla. The gorgeous food photographs and tips on how to recognize good vanilla and store it, adds to the appeal of this book.

Known as ‘the dancing chef,’ Mac Aller is a former professional ballerina and trained in the pastry kitchens of Charlie Trotter and under Sherry Yard at the original Spago Hollywood. She has been published in Food & Wine, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, LA Times Magazine and in Best of Food & Wine Cookbook.

Here is an easy recipe to try that would be great anytime:


By Gale Gand partner and pastry chef at TRU in Chicago

Serves 4-6
2 medium plums, ripe but firm
2 medium peaches, ripe but firm
2 medium pears, ripe but firm
1 vanilla pod, split
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp light brown sugar
2 tbsp light-bodied red wine (Beaujolais would be perfect)
½ tsp cinnamon
¾ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup white sugar
1 large egg white

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.

Quarter the fruit and remove all seeds and pits. Do not peel. Combine the vanilla pod, honey, sugar, wine and cinnamon in a 9-inch/22-centimeter baking dish. Add the fruit and toss to coat.

Bake until tender, 20–30 minutes. When the fruit is done, remove it and reduce the oven temperature to 350°F/180°C.

Meanwhile, toss the almonds and sugar together, then add the egg white and mix well to coat. Lightly grease a baking sheet and spread the almond mixture on it.

Bake the almonds, turning them with a spatula every 5 minutes, until golden brown and caramelized, about 10–12 minutes.

Serve the fruit warm or at room temperature, with the almonds sprinkled on top.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Jacqui Small LLP, part of the Quarto Publishing Group, 2015”.

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