Vanilla– how on earth can I pretend to write about kitchen economy and still write about vanilla? Famously the second most expensive spice (first place goes to those electric little threads of saffron), vanilla is very expensive in all its forms (whole beans, paste, extract and powder.) It is possible to save money on costly extract by making your own… and by doing so you will also end up with delectable vanilla byproducts.
If you are cooking with whole vanilla beans, use a paring knife to make a long incision down the length of the bean. Then you can scrape out the paste of black seeds (sometimes referred to, rather vividly, as vanilla caviar). Then the seeds and pod can be steeped in liquid (often for ice cream or custard). The pods can be retrieved after steeping, washed, left out to dry and then turned into vanilla powder or sugar. Crumble the completely dried bean into a coffee grinder and whiz it a few times until you have a fine powder. A half teaspoon or so of this powder can be added directly to baked projects. Cut the powder with sugar, and you have vanilla sugar– perfect for sprinkling on top of sugar cookies or sweetening coffee or tea.