Truc: vanilla days
I bake a lot, which means I go through a lot of vanilla beans. For some preparations, I use only the seeds (I split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the tiny seeds with the dull side of a paring knife); for others, I infuse both the seeds and the scraped-out pod in hot liquid.
Vanilla beans come from a special type of orchid plant, the flower of which has to be pollinated by hand on the one day that it blooms. The fresh, green pods are cured in a laborious process that takes several months, and then they're aged, resulting in the dark brown, wrinkled beans we use as a spice. Because the pods take so long to process, vanilla is very expensive, especially if you buy them individually in supermarkets. (I occasionally buy them by the pound online and share them with friends.) It's only logical that you'd want to get the most out of the scraped-out pod, which, even without its seeds, still has a lot of flavour and fragrance.
If you've simmered the pod in liquid, rinse it thoroughly, then let it dry until brittle. The most obvious thing to do with it is to make vanilla extract. Put several clean, dry pods in a sterilised bottle and cover them with high-proof alcohol, such as vodka, rum, cognac or brandy. It doesn't have to be super-expensive alcohol, but it should be drinkable on its own. Put the bottle away for a couple of months to mature. As you use the extract, add more dry vanilla pods to the bottle as you acquire them, and top it up every once in a while with more alcohol. This is better, and cheaper, than buying commercial vanilla extract. Home-made extract in a clear, pretty bottle with a vanilla bean inside it makes a nice gift.
Making vanilla sugar is even easier than making the extract: just bury a few dried pods in a container of sugar and leave it for about a week. The vanilla-scented sugar is good for all sweet preparations where you'd otherwise use regular sugar. Every once in a while, pull out the spent pods and add more, so the sugar is continuously scented.
The same technique is used to make vanilla salt, although for this I chop up the dried pod before putting it with fine-grained sea salt in an airtight container. This is delicious when sprinkled lightly over raw or cooked seafood.
Truc (tryk): noun, masculine, trick, gimmick, device. A French word for a chef's secret.