Welcome to my first 'Makes Me Happy Monday'!
I don't know about you, but I like saving money. I also really like knowing that the ingredients I cook with are clean, healthy and good quality.
If both those things sound good to you too, allow me to introduce one of the best kept kitchen secrets I've ever stumbled across: Homemade Vanilla.
Did you know that most vanilla extract you find in the grocery store is imitation? As in not real?
Most of what you see labeled vanilla in stores is in fact artificially colored and artificially flavored corn syrup! Just what we all need more of in our diets, right? To buy real vanilla, you have to grab the organic stuff. And if you've ever glanced at the price tag on that, you probably came away with something between sticker shock and a heart attack. I know I did!
Then I discovered how insanely easy (and cheap!) it is to make your own. There are exactly two ingredients: vanilla beans and vodka.
Good quality vanilla beans aren't hard to come by. I've found I can usually get about 3 for $10 at my local farmers' market or natural foods store. (Haven't seen any near you? Consider asking – many times they are kept behind the counter.) You can also buy them online from reputable suppliers.
As for the vodka, that's obviously not hard to find either... don't waste money here – the cheap stuff works well. I usually buy a ten dollar bottle and it's always worked great.
Slit the beans open and drop them in the vodka. Put the cap back on and stick the bottle somewhere cool and dark (a cabinet, a pantry, whatever). Alternatively, you could use a dark glass bottle or wrap the bottle in duct tape (or any other dark tape) to keep the light out. Let it sit. At least a couple weeks, but a couple months is better. Voila! Homemade, pure vanilla.
I recommend keeping a smaller bottle of vanilla for regular use in your cabinet and refilling it from the larger bottle. As with most things, the less the larger bottle it is exposed to air and light the better it will store for you. It's also a lot more convenient than tossing around the big bottle all the time, of course!
When you get to the bottom of the bottle, don't throw out the beans! Though they'll have to steep a little longer the second time around, you can get at least a full second bottle of vanilla out of them. How's that for frugal?
Does the idea of homemade vanilla make you happy too?