Monday, May 7, 2012

With this bean, I thee wed.

The Challenge:
As anyone who has ever known true love can attest, it ain't easy.  I have found myself in a very trying relationship over the past few months.  I admit, I am partly to blame for the current eye has been wandering a lot.  I find myself fantasizing about rich and foreign blondes, even some of the sweet brown locals.  Yes, beer, I long for you.  But what of my dear life-partner Bourbon...I love her still.  Maybe it's time to spice things up at home?  Play some new games with her?  Can I coax her into a morning quicky?  Afternoon assignations?  Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

The Solution:
So how does an unapologetic bourbon lover find new and socially acceptable ways to raise his spirits? Vanilla.  It's a brilliant plan, if I may.  Use bourbon to create amazing vanilla extract, then put that extract in everything from pancakes to brownies to BBQ sauce to chili (veggie chili in my case), and even beer.

Vanilla is a polar bear on a tropical's misunderstood, shocking, and ends up being forgotten when the smoke monster comes.  Most people know very little about the various kinds of vanilla, the many compounds that make up it's "peculiar bouquet", or even the fact that it is the fruiting body of an orchid.  So let's talk about some of the finer details...

The primary cultivars are Madagascar, Mexican, West Indian, and Tahitian.  

Madagascar is sometimes called "Bourbon" vanilla, but has nothing to do with my raison d'etre.   There is an island near Madagascar that used to be called "Ile Bourbon".  This vanilla is a cultivar from the species V. planifolia, which originated in the Americas.  The bulk of real vanilla extract is made from this cultivar.  It's good, familiar, but not the best.  The beans tend to have more of a raisin or fig quality than I'd like.

Mexican vanilla is the native cultivar of the V. planifolia species.  Mexican vanilla production is apparently low because some greedy bastards try to doctor it with tonka bean extract, which causes liver damage.  These beans are definitely available readily from your local vanilla monger.  What?  You don't have a vanilla monger?  Shame on you!

West Indian vanilla is from a different species in the Vanilla genus, V. pompona.  I don't think I've ever tried it, nor have I ever seen it available for purchase.  If you find a confirmed source for true V. pompona, please let me know.

Tahitian vanilla is from the V. tahitiensis species.  Tahitian vanilla gives me a semi-chub.  It is the only reasonable evidence of intelligent design.  Sorry Phillip E. Johnson.  Tahitian vanilla makes every other vanilla it's bitch.

So, assuming you're not a moron, you are currently searching Amazon for whole tahitian vanilla beans.  Yes, they are quite expensive right now.  The last time I bought 12 beans for $8.99.  Now they're about $5 per bean.  Still worth every penny.  I can also attest to the quality of the beans from Beanilla...they were slightly plump, moist, and ungodly fragrant.

The best strategy I've found for actually making the extract is to simply slice the beans from head to toe and drop about 10-12 beans into a 250ml-375ml bottle.  If it's a short bottle, or particularly long beans, you may need to cut them in half, but there's no need to scrape out the seeds/pulp inside.  Now fill the bottle with a good, cheap, neutral bourbon.  I love Ancient Age for this.  It's surprisingly good for the price (as my double-blind tasting proved), and soaks up the vanilla like a jersey girl soaks up tanning bed rays.

Give the bottle a shake every day or two, and in a week it will be good.  In a month it will be great.  In 3 months you'll want to marry it.  Use it in everything.  Seriously.  I will bet you $20 if you dab a little on your neck you'll get compliments all day long.  Yes, I'm telling you to rub bourbon on your body.  You are welcome.

P.S.  Every time you notice the level dropping, just top it off with some more bourbon and give it a day to get friendly.

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