Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Vanilla Bean Paste: Guest Blogger Kelsey Nixon Egan

When I was at BYU, I came across a cooking show on the local college station.  The cooking show, "Kelsey's Kitchen" was captivating in many ways.  She made cooking look like so much fun--and even easy.  I asked Kelsey to do a guest post today on one of her favorite ingredients, vanilla bean paste.  First, let's learn a little bit about her.

Kelsey got her start in the food media industry when she created her own college cooking show, "Kelsey's Kitchen" emphasizing fast, fun and affordable meals. Over the course of two years, Kelsey produced and hosted 100 episodes featuring recipes that were simple yet satisfying.  

After graduating with a degree in Broadcast Journalism from Brigham Young University, Kelsey attended Le Cordon Bleu – Hollywood where she earned her professional culinary arts degree. This degree paired with training from the French Culinary Institute provided internship opportunities at Martha Stewart Living and on Food Network's "Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee." Kelsey was a finalist on season four of “The Next Food Network Star" where she made it to the top four and won the “Fan Favorite” vote. Kelsey has had original recipes published in Bon Appetit Magazine and Cosmo Girl in addition to having an original recipe featured on the "Fresh Catch of the Day" menu at over 600 Red Lobster restaurants nationwide. Kelsey has also enjoyed working with PYREX over the past year acting as a spokesperson for their new line of bakeware, cookware & tools. 

Kelsey's passion for food has led her to create recipes that target the beginning cook. She believes in cooking “by the book” - breaking down the basics; teaching proper technique and making anyone feel comfortable in the kitchen.  Now she partners with Spike Mendelsohn, DC restaurateur and former “Top Chef 4” contestant, in a series of Web videos on Food2 that offers two takes on classic dishes – Kelsey’s “by the book” approach and Spike’s “off the hook” spin.  

Recently, Kelsey competed on the premier episode of Chef's vs. City on Food Network in addition to judging for the upcoming season of Iron Chef America. 
Kelsey recently lives in New York City with her husband Robby where Kelsey spends her days developing recipes and cooking up a storm.

Every good home cook has a few tricks up their sleeve. You know, secret ingredients that take a dish from good to great.  One of my “secret ingredients” that I seem to rely on when making all things delicious is vanilla bean paste. 

I first discovered vanilla bean paste while working at Sur la Table teaching cooking classes. The culinary director that I worked under was shocked when he found out that I wasn’t familiar with the product. He immediately whipped up what I believe is one of the best ways to showcase the amazing flavor that is packed into this product…fresh whipped cream. It didn’t take long for those little pods speckled throughout the fluffy white peaks to start calling my name. 

In culinary school I would literally save money to make a vanilla bean purchase. Vanilla beans aren’t cheap and were only saved for special occasions. One of the many things that I love about Vanilla Bean Paste is that the price point is very reasonable and it can be used just as you would use vanilla extract. There is no doubt that you will notice the extra boost of pure vanilla flavor and your friends and family will rave about your vanilla baked goods. 

When it comes to using vanilla bean paste, I have entirely replaced pure vanilla extract for the paste variety. I think the appearance of the black speckled pods adds character, authenticity, and flavor (of course). I feel that the flavor of this superstar ingredient is best highlighted in simple recipes. Sugar cookies, rice krispie treats, crème brulee, and whipped cream are just a few of my favorites. 

I like gifting vanilla bean paste as it is somewhat of a unique gift and pairs perfectly with a plate of simple sugar cookies. Whether it’s your birthday, a holiday, or you simply believe that you’ve earned a little something, treat yourself to a bottle of vanilla bean paste and you won’t be disappointed. 

Super Soft Sugar Cookies
Yield: 2 dozen
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups + 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 eggs
8 ounces sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
approximately 4 1/2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream together butter and sugar. Add remaining wet ingredients; eggs, sour cream & vanilla. In a separate medium bowl combine salt, baking soda & baking powder. Slowly mix into wet ingredients until combined. Finally, add flour slowly, adding more or less if needed.
Let the dough chill for at least an hour, although longer is preferable. (I suggest sticking it in the freezer for 5 minutes before rolling out) Roll out dough on a well floured surfaced and cut into shapes. Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on size.
*Keys to the cookies: Roll the dough at least 1/4 inch thick and don't overbake.

Kelsey blogs over at Food For Thought.

I love Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste the best.  Go here for a list of retailers near you.  Go here to buy online.


Chelsea said...

I'll be honest, I've never heard of Vanilla Bean Paste, but after reading this, I better go check it out. Kelsey is so cute.

Teri said...

Yay, Kelsey! I still use her DVD "Quick Cooking w/ Kelsey's Kitchen".

JLea said...

I'm excited to make Vanilla Bean Paste... never heard of it, but it sounds so yummy.

kristin said...

I love Kelsey's Kitchen!

The Herberts said...

I watched her on Food Network Star! Love her!