Today I have another entry in what is becoming my annual holiday kitchen gifts series (aka gifts from the heart). This is the time of year when we can become over-saturated with marketing ploys trying to convince us to buy! buy! buy! To which I say: no thanks.
I've never been one for malls or big shopping extravaganzas (with the exception of grocery shopping and some fond memories of girl days with my sisters when we were teens). This is also the time of year when we should be indulging in the gentle rejuvenation and restoration that the winter months invite, but instead are all too often pulled into the frazzled energy that can be the holiday buzz.
My anecdote to this frenetic energy has always been in making gifts, particularly ones that people can enjoy long after the last holiday cookie has been eaten and the final decoration has been packed away. Time in the kitchen soothes and relaxes while slowing down and making gifts is a wonderful way to meditate on all the love in your life.
Of course, you also want to make sure that whatever you are making isn't too complicated, otherwise you defeat the purpose of simplifying your holiday. I personally only make things that allow plenty of time for tea drinking and playing with my niece, so I don't I lose all the fun of hanging out in the kitchen.
This recipe for homemade vanilla extract fits the bill for easiness and deliciousness; it's a gift you can whip up in no time and that your friends and family with love receiving. The flavor of a homemade vanilla extract is so much richer and smoother than the store bought kind--and surprisingly less expensive. Genuine vanilla extract can be pricey and the imitation stuff is no good (just think of all the artificial flavors and coloring they use).
The only difference between making my Vanilla Bourbon and vanilla extract is the dose. One vanilla bean is strong enough to gently infuse a few cups of spirits with its flavor. More vanilla beans in less alcohol offer a concentrated flavor perfect for baking. I used organic Prairie vodka in this recipe, but you can play with the flavor of your extract by using rum or bourbon instead.
1 vanilla bean per 1 oz vodka
Slice vanilla beans almost completely in half lengthwise. This ensures that the vodka can soak up the flavor from the little seeds on the beans' inside and makes it easier to remove the vanilla from the alcohol once it has done soaking (as opposed to slicing it completely in half). Place beans in mason jar and pour vodka over it (I used four beans for four ounces of vodka pictured below). Seal jar and let sit for a week, making sure to shake jar periodically. Then strain the vodka by pouring it through cheesecloth draped funnel into a clean jar. Store in a cool, dry place. Lasts indefinitely (though I doubt you will be able to keep it around that long!).
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