make your own vanilla extract.
I confess this is just one more reason I love jars... and making fun food-inspired gifts for my friends. Could this one really be that easy? How did it take this long for me to start making my own vanilla extract? Synonymous with 'where have you been all my life?' I have a hunch I will never go back... to buying super expensive bottles of vanilla extract from nearby grocers.
You can buy vanilla beans, bulk, for far less than you find in a jar. Although vanilla beans in a jar can be purchased from Trader Joe's for a reasonable fee. All you need is vanilla beans, vodka and some glass bottles or jars. Consider recycling syrup bottles, olive oil bottles and vinegar bottles. There are places you can purchase fanciful bottles/glass containers---check kitchen shops and even hardware stores, or Cost Plus (we have a few near Seattle, and I have seen bottles for cheap).
This idea came from Barefoot Contessa; I always take my hat off to Ina Garten. She gave me wings in my kitchen; her cookbooks are where I cut my culinary teeth [so to speak]. If you are a beginning chef, or want some tried-and-true, always delicious, very approachable recipes: buy Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. It has been years since I leafed through her cookbooks and now I am thoroughly enjoying rediscovering her style and good recipes. And its where I discovered vanilla extract (in her original The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, page 199).
She suggests a tall bottle, a dozen vanilla beans and fill with vodka. Cork and let sit for a month = vanilla extract (plus brilliantly soaked vanilla beans for cooking/baking). Keeps for years and years---just keep adding vanilla beans and topping it off with vodka. Thanks Ina!
... and don't just make one jar. Make a dozen or so, then give as gifts for Christmas.