Edible Gift Series: Homemade Vanilla Extract
There is little that will get me running to the kitchen faster than reading about a new (or most of the time, quite old) culinary trick to produce a food or ingredient that I had never thought about making by hand.  Food and Wine magazine has a great feature this month on the Best Handmade Gifts.  Included in that article is a recipe for homemade vanilla extract.  Who knew?

The procedure couldn't be simpler:
Combine 10 vanilla beans, split lengthwise, with 1 1/2-2 cups of vodka in a clean glass jar or bottle.  Add a 1/2 cup more vodka, if needed, to completely cover the beans.  Let sit for about 6 weeks in a cool, dark place.  The extract is ready when the vodka is a rich, dark color and knocks you over with vanilla wafting from the jar when opened.  If you'd rather not have the grainy vanilla bean seeds in your extract, pour through a coffee filter to strain.

I also read in another extract article online, that you can make a second batch of extract with the same beans.  Just fill up the container again with vodka when empty, and repeat the steeping process one more time.

Yes, Christmas is only 3 1/2 weeks away, and well, Happy Hanukkah already.  But I can certainly see giving this a start with the time you have, and then portioning it out for gifts, beans included in each bottle, with instructions to wait a week or two more before using.  It would also make a lovely Valentine...

Speaking of Valentine--

This year for Valentine's Day I gave my husband, the ice cream chef in the family, a half pound of glorious, moist, outrageously fragrant vanilla beans.  I found an amazing online vanilla bean resource, Amadeus Vanilla Beans, and the totally indulgent bundle of about 50 beans, for about 65 cents each, far exceeded my wildest expectations.  Start there.

And here are a few great options for packaging up your gift portion of bean and extract:
The Container Store
Save on Crafts
Specialty Bottle

And finally, with New Year's right around the corner, while you are working with these same ingredients, how about also getting a larger glass bottle, using a slightly less vanilla bean to vodka ratio (2-4 beans per liter of vodka, depending on desired strength), and make homemade vanilla vodka.  I mean, anyone can bring champagne to the party.

Ho Ho Ho!

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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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