I have the most wonderful employer...no seriously I do. You should all be jealous! She is by far one of the most fabulous humans I have ever met and she constantly inspires me to be a better person!
My order of vanilla beans arrived today, just in time for the Showcase cookies. I've used vanilla beans in the past, but this time I didn't want to waste the fragrant pod, so here's a little story about my adventure with vanilla beans.
My beans arrived tucked up in an airtight bag labeled beanilla and when I snipped open the corner, a lovely mellow scent slipped out. Using a very sharp paring knife and little glass cutting board I slid the edge of my knife from one tip of the bean pod to the other, splitting the pod in two and revealing the grainy black cream hidden inside. With the back of my knife I scraped the beans from their coat and dropped them into a bowl with butter and sugar.
The pods lay there so bare and sad. I couldn't stand to throw all that delicate flowery flavor into the trash, so I wound each into two tiny glass jars and buried one in sugar and the other I drowned in raw honey. The leftover, unused pods were tightly wrapped in plastic and placed in glass jars for another day.
Vanilla bean can be added to almost any dessert and can be used as a substitute for Vanilla extract. There are some debates about substitution ratios. I personally used half a bean pod in exchange for one teaspoon of extract. The leftover pods are great for flavoring things like, honey and sugar to be used in coffee or tea. The pods can also be dried out and crumbled into powder that can be added to baked goods, frosting, tea, ice cream topping, puddings, etc.
If you'd like to have your own bean adventure, I highly recommend purchasing your Vanilla beans from http://www.beanilla.com/ they are very affordable and shipping is free!