I think you can split people into two groups, based on their preference for chocolate or vanilla. I'm a vanilla person. But that doesn't mean I would order vanilla ice cream. That's boring. I like a lot of stuff in my ice cream.
But my friend Mike brought me some Madagascar vanilla beans back from a trip to Mauritania, with the proviso that I use it to make him vanilla ice cream. Here's roughly how the conversation went:
Mike: Make me vanilla ice cream.
Me: Sure. What do you want in it?
Me: Right, but what else.. oreo, heath bar, a caramel swirl?
Him: Nothing else. I want plain vanilla. Don't mess up my vanilla ice cream with basil, pepper, or any other nonsense..
And then he trailed off into a stream of invective sufficient to convince me he really wanted vanilla with nothing in it.
So that's what he got, and I have a new flavor- Mike's Plain Vanilla.
See those little black bits? Those are vanilla bean seeds. Cool, huh? Here's a close up, from the mostly-eaten final product. (Sorry for the crappy quality; my camera was on the fritz, so I took these with my phone.)
Keep those in mind next time you order ice cream somewhere.. vanilla ice cream should have those little black specks. No specks = they didn't use real vanilla beans. Maybe they steeped the pre-frozen base with the bean (sans seeds) or something like that, but real vanilla ice cream has those flecks. The same thing applies to banana ice cream. Banana should be gray, not yellow. (Go peel a banana and look at the fruit.. gray, right?)
Vanilla beans, hand-carried home from Africa. Now that is the way to get me to make you ice cream. (Okay, fine.. all you need to do is ask. But bringing my something cool from your trip doesn't hurt).
All vanilla ice cream recipes call for cutting open the bean and scraping out the seeds. But they don't tell you it's kind of a pain. Cutting it open is pretty straightforward, but when I tried scraping it out, I got the seeds everywhere. I bet Williams Sonoma has a Vanilla Bean Scraper for $14.95.
Steeping the base. All this ice cream is is my standard base, steeped with the bean overnight. Easy.