If there’s any one flavor that epitomizes the holiday kitchen, it’s vanilla. This second-most expensive spice (after saffron) is so common that it has become synonymous with “plain” – yet its spicy mysterious flavor is almost hauntingly appealing. It’s hard to imagine the holiday kitchen without that luscious scent.
The food world was shocked a couple of years ago when artificial vanilla was pitted against the (much more expensive) real thing in a taste test, and came out ahead! I still harbor a nostalgic preference for genuine vanilla extract, but I don’t have to do price comparisons between the two ever since my father gave me the ultimate homemade gift: an antique bottle filled with vodka and a few vanilla beans. He’d stopped it up, cautioned me to wait a month before using, and voilá – a near lifetime supply of vanilla extract. If you’re the type to make your own, it doesn’t get much easier than this one.