Friday, April 29, 2011

April Dessert Wars Challenge -
Vanilla Dreams

This month’s theme was Vanilla Dreams
and we were challenged to use the vanilla beans that we won from Beanilla in our dessert.

The twist this time from Dessert Wars was that we were required to use vanilla in three different ways in our dessert.

The April prize package includes:

Beanilla Sampler Pack of Vanilla Beans
Lenox Personalized Musical Cupcake
1,000 ideas for Decorating Cupcakes, Cookies & Cakes
Organic Valley $50 Gift Certificate
Organic Prairie $50 Gift Certificate
Theme Kitchen $50 Gift Certificate
BEKA Cookware Crepe Pan
Whisk and cupcake necklace from Moon & Star Designs

And a cook book from King Arthur Flour.

At long last, two of the Foodie Girls’ favorite desserts come together.

I have always loved pound cake and the Foodie Daughter is obsessed with vanilla bean ice cream.

In this household, only a fool dares come between her and her vanilla bean ice cream. It’s just that serious. And while I love the richness and flavor of a good pound cake, I’m not quite that territorial. Just in case you are interested, pound cake got that name because older recipes called for a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of eggs and a pound of flour. Now, that’s one heavy cake!

There are thousands of orchid species in the world and over a hundred thousand hybrids,
but Vanilla planifolia is the only orchid that produces food for humans. The vanilla bean, or pod, comes from the Vanilla orchid. There are over one hundred species of vanilla that are native to the tropics in Africa, Asia and the Americas. The Vanilla orchid grows as a vine that can reach more than 300 feet in its natural habitat.

Historically, workers would have to climb trees or cliff faces, risking serious injury or death in order to harvest the vanilla seed pods. Now, on commercial farms, the Vanilla orchids are grown over large frames in bright sunlight.

After harvest, the seed pods must be cured before they can be used. Curing can take up to nine months. First the seed pods are soaked in hot water before they are spread out on a blanket in the hot midday sun and left out to dry. At night they are rolled up in the blanket, causing the pods to sweat. This process is repeated every day for three to four months or until the pods are cured. This is a labor-intensive process, but this is what helps to develop the complex flavors in the vanilla. And now you know why your vanilla beans are so expensive.

Do yourself a favor and only get the good stuff – the real stuff when it comes to vanilla extract. The imitation vanilla extracts on the market may have been made from wood pulp or even from by products of the coal-mining industry. Yum! Only not.

And here’s a tip for you: once you have split that vanilla bean and extracted the precious seeds, don’t toss the empty bean away. Instead, get a container with a tight-fitting lid and place the bean in it. Then fill the container with granulated sugar. Close the container and mark the container “Vanilla Sugar”. Use this in recipes that require both vanilla and sugar (you can either skip the vanilla or add both to add extra vanilla flavor), and remember to add more sugar to the container each time you use the sugar.

Now, let’s get to the food.
First I made the Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.*

I tweaked a recipe for vanilla ice cream that came with the ice cream maker for this Dessert Wars Challenge.

The recipe:
3 cups Half and Half
¾ cup vanilla sugar
Vanilla seeds from vanilla bean

*The freezer bowl must be placed in the freezer at least 24 hours prior to starting recipe.

In a mixing bowl, mix the Half and Half, the vanilla sugar and the vanilla seeds with a hand mixer on low speed until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Turn the machine on and carefully pour the mixture into the freezer bowl through the ingredient spout and let the machine churn until the mix is thickened, about 25 – 30 minutes.

Turn off machine and scoop out with a non-metallic spoon into a freezer container. Store in the freezer for at least 2 hours to harden.

Next up was the
Honey Vanilla Pound Cake.

For this I turned to an Ina Garten recipe.

The ingredients are:

2 sticks unsalted butter, at cool room temperature**
1 ¼ cups vanilla sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons honey
Vanilla seeds from one vanilla bean
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking powder

**Cool room temperature means that you have allowed the butter to sit out at room temperature for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease the bottom of a loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Then grease and flour the pan.

Cream the butter and vanilla sugar with a hand mixer on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the mixture is light.

Put the eggs, honey, vanilla seeds and lemon zest in a measuring cup but do not combine. While running the mixer on low speed, add the egg mixture, one egg at a time. Scrape the bowl down and make sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder.
Add the flour a little at time with the mixer running on low speed. Finish mixing it in with a spatula to avoid over mixing-the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool for 15 minutes and turn out on a baking rack to cool completely.

And now for the finishing touch:

Vanilla Glaze.

2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon Half and Half
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix together and pour over the cooled pound cake.

The Divine Vanilla.

Oh yeah, the Foodie Girls are happy.
Very happy.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Other Orchids

This post will cover the Brassias, the Cattleyas, the Cymbidiums,
the Dendrobiums, the Epidndrums, the Masdevallias,
the Miltoniopsis, the Odontoglossums, the Oncidiums,
the Vandas and the Zygopetalums.

You might be curious as to why I have lumped so many orchids
into one post when the earlier posts have been
on single or similar orchids.

The reason I have done so is because there simply
were not as many of these orchids at the show as there
were the Phalaenopsis, the Paphiopedilum or Phragmipedium

In looking through my photos,
I realized that there were no Brassias at the show.
But I will give you a description and growing advice anyway.

Brassia orchids are also called spider orchids.
Their long pointed sepals give them the appearance of
having spider legs.

Brassias must not be allowed to dry out while
actively growing and do well in a bark mixture.
They need brighter light in order to rebloom,
and will be happy in a sunny eastern or southern window.
If kept in a western window, it will require some shade.

Vanda orchids are a very popular cultivated orchid.
They come in a wide variety of colors – even blue - and patterns
and those have been mixed to great success by hybridizers.

Many vandas have a thick, generally upright stem
that supports a fan of leaves marching up the stem.
This growth pattern differs from other orchids.

Vandas require intermediate to warm temperatures
And high light.
Wooden slat baskets are the usual choice for growing Vandas,
But a pot with coarse bark would work as well.
With care, a beginner could grow a Vanda orchid.

Odontoglossum orchids hail from South America.
They produce showy blooms that are long-lasting.

These orchids require cool to intermediate temperatures
and medium light.
This is another orchid that is best left to the experts.

Miltoniopsis orchids look like pansies
and are called pansy orchids.
They are native to the New World.

They require cool to intermediate temperatures and
low to medium light.
These are not orchids for the beginner.

Zygopetalum orchids are known for their lovely perfume.
They are native to the northern area of South America
and there are about 15 species of this orchid.

Some hybrids will flower twice a year.
The plant should be kept evenly moist.
Grow in a peat-based medium and allow
to dry out partially before watering again.
They require cool to intermediate temperatures
and medium light.
This is not an orchid for beginners.

Cattleya orchids are the orchid most people
see outside of the greenhouse.
That makes sense as the cattleyas
are the corsage orchids of choice.

Cattleyas are easy to grow as their thick pseudobulbs
allow them to survive periods of underwatering.
They do best in a coarse bark mix
and they should be allowed to just dry out before watering.

Oncidium orchids are often called dancing ladies
as the blooms remind one of ladies dancing in their finest
dresses on the dance floor.

There are about 150 species native to the New World tropics
in this group.

Yellow and brown are the usual colors of Oncidium orchids,
but one can find the occasional white, purple, pink or green as well.

Oncidiums require intermediate temperatures and
medium to high light.
They also need a well-drained medium and
should be allowed to dry out slightly between waterings.
This is an orchid for beginners.

Epidendrum orchids hail from the New World
and encompass some 1,000 species that are distributed
throughout South America, Central America, Mexico,
Florida and the Caribbean.
Furthermore, new species are still being found,
adding to that number.

There are two main types of Epidendrums:
Those with reedlike stems and those with pseudobulbs.
Some of the ones with pseudobulbs have been
renamed by botanists and have been place
in the genera Encyclia or Prosthechea.

The reed-stem types are too tall for indoor plants
and require too much light,
but make wonderful outdoor garden plants
in areas where frost is rare.

Masdevallia orchids are known as kite orchids
Most flowers are triangular in shape
and the showiest parts are the sepals.

Dendrobium orchids produce showy blooms that can last
up to a month.
Dendrobiums are native to the Philippines
and require cool to intermediate temperatures.
Pot in a coarse bark mixture with good drainage.

Though you will find Dendrobiums in the
big box stores, these are not recommended for the
beginner grower.

Cymbidium orchids have a waxy flower
and often show up in corsages and cut sprays.
They come in all colors but blue.

Cymbidiums are hemiepiphytes;
this means that while they grow on the ground,
They are not in the ground and they derive their
nutrients from the air.

Therefore, they require a turfy or humus-rich medium.
Cymbidiums require moisture at all times,
but they do not like to be water-logged.