[Today's featured finalist in our search for new writers on the site is Kate, who hails from Chicago. Welcome to Kate!]
For years I buried leftover vanilla pods in the sugar jar, creating a lightly perfumed vanilla sugar. Incorporating the vanilla directly into the sugar, though, creates a more intense flavor and leaves the sugar looking like a jar of French vanilla bean ice cream.
In a pretty jar, it's also a great gift to have on hand for the hostess of an impromptu summer gathering. It flavors tea beautifully, makes a fantastic topping for sugar cookies, and is quick and inexpensive to make.
Bake the vanilla bean pod, with beans intact, at 150 degrees for 20 minutes, until they're dry and brittle. Allow them to cool and then pulse them in a coffee grinder until fine. Push the remains through a sieve to remove any large pieces and stir the powder into a bowl of white sugar. One tablespoon of vanilla to one pound of white sugar is a good place to start, but this can vary wildly by tastes and intentions.