"I need a bottle of cheap vodka," I announced to the owner of St. Joseph Liquor and Wine, one of several local booze outlets. He smiled in a yeah right kind of way when I clarified: "It's for a recipe."
But it was!
Spoiler alert if you are Poof, Mom, or Ryan: this year I made you guys homemade vanilla. And it was so easy!
A couple of months ago I saw a recipe on the internet, and in typical me fashion, I wasn't satisfied until I had made some, too. And while it's too late for you, dear reader, to be a hero tomorrow, you can get going on this during the lag time between Christmas and New Year's and keep it all to yourself! Because--show of hands--who hates buying vanilla?
ALL OF US.
It's so expensive, and it comes in those tiny bottles that last maybe two weeks if you do any baking at all. Then it's back to the store for more vanilla. And you're tempted to buy those big containers of the discount fake vanilla, but you know that in the back of your head you will hear Martha Stewart wondering why you're not using "pure vanilla extract" or Ina Garten urging you to use "really good vanilla" as you dump suspicious brown chemicals into your precious, precious baked goods.
The tyrrany of the red and white McCormick box is officially over, my friends!
So here's what you need:
1. Glass containers with lids or hermetic stoppers that you can seal tightly, as many as you like. Dark containers (such as brown or green) are preferable to clear ones, but if you promise to keep your vanilla away from light, it doesn't matter. I ordered six flask-shaped bottles from The Container Store. It looks like they're sold out as of right now, probably because people are finally starting to learn how to make their own vanilla. But I'm sure you can find containers. You could probably even use, like, a barbeque sauce bottle as long as you sterilize the heck out of it.
2.Vodka, enough to fill the containers. Miraculously, Jeff had a 95% full bottle of premium vanilla vodka lurking in the back of our liquor cabinet for some reason. He donated it to my vanilla cause. It almost filled my bottles but not quite, so I drove uptown for cheap vodka to top them off. Coincidentally, the brand name for the cheap stuff was McCormick.
3. Vanilla beans. How many? One bean per 1/3 cup of vodka. I'm sorry, but it looks like you're going to have to do some math. I bought mine online from Beanilla, and so should you--getting beans in the mail is fun. I decided to go with Tahitian vanilla beans because remember when Paul Gauguin went to Tahiti?
I really had no idea what the difference was between Beanilla's ten varieties and was too excited about the prospect of making vanilla to do any real research. But when the Tahitian beans arrived a few days later, they were long, glossy, flexible, and positively reeking of vanilla, all of which I took to be good signs.
That is all you need: bottles, vodka, and vanilla beans.
Then once you've figured out how many beans should go in your bottles (again, one bean per 1/3 cup vodka), simply split the beans lengthwise, leaving one end intact. Or, if you are dealing with small bottles/large beans and you have to snip them in half to fit, leave both ends intact. (Actually, I kind of can't see how leaving the ends intact would matter one way or the other.)
Put the split beans in the bottles, fill to the top with vodka, seal the bottles, and store them in a cool, dark place for at least six weeks before using, peeking at them occasionally and feeling awesome about yourself.
SIX LONG WEEKS.
The longer you let them sit, the darker the vanilla will become. My photos show the vanilla at five weeks, and as you can see, it's brown but not super dark yet. I'm going to tell my vanilla recipients to start using theirs around Martin Luther King Day, but I already began using mine today (you'd better believe I'm keeping one). It smelled fantastic and tasted and worked exactly like ordinary vanilla.
Also you can replenish your vanilla with more vodka/beans as needed, says the recipe, but I'm not exactly sure how you'll know when to replace the beans. Perhaps something funky will happen to them over time. We just don't know.
Decorate your cute bottle with a snazzy ornament (or not), and let the savings begin!
You might be thinking, "You know, after you factor in the amount of money she spent on bottles, beans, vodka, and snazzy ornaments, this probably costs about as much as reg--"
SHUT UP! MERRY CHRISTMAS!