Someone asked me yesterday if there was any food I didn’t eat. “Not too many, I’ll eat almost anything.” I replied. I did turn down chicken hearts a few weeks ago, but what most gets a reaction for me are food combinations.
A dish could contain two ingredients I like separately, but I can’t eat them together. I once was served a chocolate cake with dates in the middle and it was a no go for me. I can’t eat pineapple on pizza and I can’t eat onions with any fish ever. Where do these feelings come from?
Several places. Association with good or bad memories. Association with People. Association with food culture of the family. Strength of the ingredient’s taste, flavor, smell, texture. All of these combine to give us our “food story.”
Food smells and textures are programmed into our memory and can result in intense sensory reactions, good or bad. The psychology of food aversions is fascinating, because the center of the brain that records smell can make the wrong associations.
Food can be associated with an event. Perhaps you received bad news when you were eating a cinnamon roll and now you can’t stand cinnamon and you don’t know why. Smelling cinnamon or even thinking about cinnamon can make you feel badly.
Another important component in food memories is the context in which it was eaten. Who you ate your food with creates an experience that lodges into the pain/pleasure center, and often chefs become chefs because of happy food memories. Of course, that can work in the opposite way, too, which is why some people might not be very food centered.
I don’t relate easily to people that can take or leave food, or don’t cook, because my happiness as a child revolved around food. Moving from school to school, house to house, parent to parent, the only time I felt secure was at the dinner table or at a restaurant as my family protected those memories.
Vanilla is Sexy
There is one flavor that is universally adored for its intoxicating fragrance. Vanilla. Part of the lore of vanilla is its association with romance and its supposed properties as an aphrodisiac. Women used to dab it behind their ears and on their wrists. Men put vanilla beans in their hats to enhance their sexual performance. In fact, many perfume companies use vanilla because they know it makes people feel amorous.
Try this. Go into the cabinet and take a good long whiff of vanilla. It’s earthy, sweet, sultry and hits the pleasure center. It makes you want to order dessert and get romantic at the same time. The next time company comes, simmer a pot of water with vanilla and cinnamon and orange zest. It’s very inviting.
I was sent a very high quality Heilala vanilla paste from New Zealand. Heilala vanilla began as a project to aid the Vava u Islands in the kingdom of Tonga, which was hit by a cyclone in 2002. It is grown is organic soil, hand pollinated and dried under the Pacific sun before heading to Tauranga, for processing. I am now a vanilla paste convert. While vanilla beans are wonderful, there is no scraping, no drying out, and the flavor is absolutely incredible. You can make these with vanilla extract, or vanilla beans, but if you can, try vanilla paste, I highly recommend it.
The first thing I used it for was this espresso frosting. The combination of espresso and vanilla was so good, I made it again a few days later.
In today’s recipe, I combined two big childhood favorites, red velvet and vanilla cheesecake. Not only do the flavors marry well, the red and white are just too pretty. The original idea came from black bottom cupcakes. I used the red velvet cake recipe from here instead of the typical chocolate cake recipe. I combined two recipes from the Loveless Cafe Dessert cookbook, which never lets me down.
These are the perfect cupcake to take to a party, because you don’t have to worry about frosting getting messed up, which has happened to me just about every time I try to transport cupcakes. These are a little easier to navigate and don’t require a fork. And, they are pretty!
Deliciously, red velvet. You know I love red velvet as I devoted a whole board in Pinterest to it. You’ll love it.
Notice the vanilla specks all over the place.
Make these red velvet cheesecake cupcakes and do use good vanilla.
For this recipe, you need the red velvet cake batter. Use your own or the red velvet cake recipe from here.