Friday, April 22, 2011


I love vanilla in all of its forms.

For more than a decade, my favorite vanilla product has been high quality paste, caviar-like in its appearance, with a gorgeous bouquet.  I use it in gelati, sorbets, cakes and all types of desserts.  Adán has been using it in wonderful savory sauces.

Many of my friends and acquaintances swear by the Nielsen-Massey brand.  I see it on television food shows, its label partly obscured so as not to promote but its pedigree unmistakable.  It is the go-to brand for many.  I decided to buy a bottle to try it, just to see how it compared with my own go-to brand, the Totonac line of products from Arizona Vanilla Company. 

Both jars of paste are 4 ounces.  The Nielsen-Massey was a little less expensive, $10.99 at Fante's.  The Totonac is $15.95 online (though Arizona Vanilla sometimes has sales).  For comparison, I used the Nielsen-Massey in a batch of vanilla-cinnamon gelato. 

The two pastes differ widely in appearance.  The Totonac is a true paste - thick and quite opaque.  It can pour, but very slowly.  By contrast, I was surprised to see that the Nielsen-Massey was more like a syrup - runny and transparent with visible specks of vanilla dispersed throughout.  Its fragrance was not nearly as strong as that of the Totonac, and I had to use considerably more of the Nielsen-Massey to get a good vanilla flavor in my gelato.  I was quite unimpressed with it.  When I examined the labels, I understood why.

 The ingredients list on my Totonac vanilla paste reads:  "ground vanilla beans, pure vanilla extract (water, alcohol 35%, vanilla beans), xantham gum (a natural thickener)."

The Nielsen-Massey list reads: "sugar, water, vanilla extract, vanilla beans, gum tragacanth (a natural thickener)."

By law, ingredients must be listed on the label in order of quantity, with the the ingredient making up the largest quantity of all the ingredients listed first and the smallest quantity listed last.

So, the famous vanilla paste that all my friends swear by is basically sugar water with vanilla in it!  My 4-ounce jar was exhausted in about a week and I happily returned to my tried and true Totonac.  Lesson learned.

¡Buen provecho!

UPDATE September 2016 - Arizona Vanilla has ceased operations.  After an extensive search, I am thrilled to report that I have found a new supplier and their products are as good as AV's or better.  Their prices are actually better than AV's.  I'm now using THE VANILLA COMPANY (  Their paste is thicker and better-tasting than AV's.  (NOTE: Don't faint when you see current vanilla prices.  There's been a combination of factors in all the world's vanilla growing regions and prices have skyrocketed across the board.  I just paid $240 for a gallon of double-fold Madagascar extract ... plus shipping.  It's still better than using the cheap stuff - you use less and don't sacrifice flavor quality.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


This is the first in an occasional series of posts about some of the ingredients that we use at Paloma with which you may not be familiar.  We'll start with the lovely pithaya.

The pithaya (pee-TIE-ah) is a gorgeous fruit and, even in Mexico, is not widely available.  It's only found in some areas and has a rather short season. You can sometimes buy it here, sold in Asian markets as dragon fruit. It looks the same on the outside, but the flesh is white with a little pink, not the deep raspberry red of the Mexican variety we use in our sorbets.

Here is the pithaya, peeled. Besides sugar and a little water, it's the only ingredient in our pithaya sorbet.  Despite its assertive color, the flavor is quite delicate and very delicious. 

Because it is so hard to find, we are not able to offer pithaya sorbet all the time.  We do have it now, so stop by and try some!


As promised, since so many of you requested it, here is Adán's recipe for Wild  Mushroom Flan.  This dish has been on our menu since we opened in 1999.  Every time he wants to take it off, the complaints are heard loud and long.  You can use cultivated mushrooms or wild ones, although the cultivated mushrooms, while delicious, will give the dish a lighter and less earthy flavor.

makes 4 servings

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup cooked sliced wild mushrooms
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 Tbsp. finely chopped epazote (an herb, available dry or fresh in Mexican groceries)
salt and pepper to taste

Slice mushrooms.  Sauté mushrooms in a little olive oil until cooked, about 5 minutes.  You should have about one cup of cooked mushrooms.  Add heavy cream and epazote.  Bring to a boil.  Simmer 4-5 minutes.  Season with salt & pepper.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, add eggs and egg yolks.  Beat with a whisk until well blended.  Add the cream and mushroom mixture.  Mix until well blended.  Correct seasoning.

Set 4 medium-size ramekins in a bain marie.  Spray each ramekin with nonstick coating.  Divide mixture among the ramekins.  Add water to the bain marie and bake at 375̊ for 30-40 minutes.  If serving immediately, unmold onto a warm plate and drizzle with cilantro pesto.
To hold for later serving, cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Remove plastic wrap and reheat in bain marie (or in a microwave at low to medium power), then unmold, drizzle with the pesto, and serve. 

1 bunch fresh cilantro (leaves only)
1/4 cup fresh garlic
1/4 cup roasted pine nuts
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 cup blended olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, blanch cilantro leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds, then shock in ice water.  Drain well and pat dry.  Roast pinenuts.  Put all ingredients except the oil into a food processor and blend, adding olive oil slowly.  It is not necessary to purée the pesto completely — it can be left a little bit chunky.  Correct seasoning.  Heat a small amount in a saucepan and drizzle over flan.  Serve immediately.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Busting our buttons!

We are proud to announce that the prestigious James Beard Foundation has announced the semifinalists for this year's awards and, in the Best Chefs in America category, Mid-Atlantic Division, the field of twenty includes four Philadelphia chefs, including our own Adán Saavedra!!!

The Philadelphia semifinalists are:

• Pierre Calmels, Bibou
• David Gilberg, Koo Zee Doo
• Adán Saavedra, Paloma
• Michael Solomonov, Zahav

We don't even know who nominated Adán, but we are thrilled and grateful that he is included among such a talented group of chefs.  Five finalists in each group will be announced on March 21, and those chefs will be invited to the Beard Foundation's black tie event at Lincoln Center on May 9, where the winners will be announced.

The Beard awards are like the Oscars of the culinary world, and it's quite an honor just to be nominated.  Read more at