Thursday, December 11, 2008

Easy to Make Christmas Gifts: Vanilla Extract and Rosemary Oil

I found these little jugs in a consignment shop and bought all 17 of them for $3. As it happened, I had just the use for them and had been looking for little bottles to use for a Christmas gift project I had in mind. After hunting down corks at a craft store many miles away, and ordering vanilla beans online from even further away, I was ready.

What was I making? The first project was vanilla extract. I made it years ago and had forgotten about it until recently. The process is simple: sterilize some bottles or jars, add a vanilla bean or two depending on the size of the bottle (I used one bean per bottle, cut into 3 small pieces). More beans means stronger vanilla, of course. Fill the bottle with your choice of vodka, bourbon or rum. Cork or cap and put aside to steep. In about a month, your vanilla is ready to use.

You can add more alcohol as you use the vanilla; it will keep making extract for quite a while. The color will darken as the rich vanilla flavor seeps into the alcohol. You can use it just as you would any vanilla extract in baking.

Project 2 is Rosemary Oil. This is a lovely flavor for cooking or to use as a dipping oil. To me, rosemary has a scent almost like pine, and I like to use it in green beans, venison and herb biscuits. Rosemary oil is almost as simple to make as the vanilla extract. All you need is clean bottles, good quality olive oil, and sprigs of rosemary.

The one important thing to remember is to dry the rosemary first. If you don't, it will turn your oil cloudy (voice of experience speaking here).

Put a few sprigs into the bottle, fill with oil, cork or cap and let it sit for a while before you use it. Mine is about 2 weeks old and still needs a little more time before I use it. The finished product:

Some people recommend removing the rosemary after your oil has the desired strength. I like the way it looks, and the bottles are so small that the oil won't last long anyway once it's put to use.

That's it--two simple gifts that are easy to make, yet look so pretty and are appreciated by anyone who cooks.


Tiger Lady said...

I have rosemary from my herb garden, dried and ready to go. I'm going to try this.

Matthew Burns said...

I make my own vanilla extract, too. Gotta love it. TJ Maxx has long glass bottles containing 3 Madagascar Vanilla Beans for $3.99. That's as cheap as I've ever seen them. Don't know how long they'll last, but thats their regular price for them. I'm using the bottle for the extract. Works well. My brother Jason got me hooked on vanilla beans, he bought me some for Christmas last year since I was complaining about the decreased quality of store-boughten vanilla extract. To me, Watkins brand is the only store boughten brand that is even passable these days.

I'll share with you a secret......I have an illicit affair going on with rosemary, so I'll have to give this oil a try. I can't help myself, Rosemary is a sweet smelling girl, and she tastes good too. I put rosemary in everything, it's my secret ingredient! It goes with everything except ice cream (and yes I can attest to that)...I told you about my affair with rosemary,lol.
Since I don't have room for an herb garden, and our place is too dark for a potted rosemary plant, Maw keeps me stocked with it. She mails me a package of rosemary springs on a regular basis. I love to chew the fresh stems, oh, they are so good.

Yes, I'm weird, I know!

Wow, that was a deal on those bottles.


Granny Sue said...

Cool! I have some vanilla for you already. I had some rosemary oil too, but you'll enjoy making your own, I know.

Granny Sue said...

Matthew, the beans I got online were a great deal--1/4 pound for less than $30. I made a lot of bottles of extract and still have most of the beans left. So I'll be making vanilla for a long time to come--and will be looking for other ways to use the beans. Any suggestions?

Patty said...

Ok, call me duh, but I had not idea you could make your on vanilla extract. Both of these are great ideas. I bet you were excited when you found those bottles. They are perfect for what you have lady!

Rainbow Tree said...

What a wonderful and simple recipe Granny Sue! Our family is big on making natural elixirs and extracts for healing purposes. This will go perfectly in my kitchen for baking time. Many thanks for sharing!

Carol said...

Thanks for the permission to use the pinecone story for my bookclub. As soon as I drive many miles to find the silver spray paint, I will have it all finished and will post on my blog. It'll take me a whole day of driving on dirt roads to deliver them all. Maybe an outing for my sister and myself?

Matthew Burns said...

Wow, that's a lot of vanilla beans because they weigh nearly nothing.

Hummm, idea' can't beat homemade vanilla ice cream with some ground vanilla bean in it. Also, pancake syrup flavored with vanilla beans is good. Mom used to put vanilla extract in her pancake batter sometimes, but remember REAL vanilla extract is an emulsifier. You can also make cake icing with vanilla beans, but make sure you add the beans after you get the "hot" stuff done since vanilla beans break down pretty fast in hot things. I made a nice cake icing with vanilla beans a few months ago, it was real good, but can't exactly remember how I made it. I'm bad to dump things together and not write the ingredients down. For the most part, this works and I've discovered some really good recipes, only one time did my "experiment" go horribly wrong, and that was when I tried making Polynesian meatballs. Well, I hada basic recipe, but added stuff and substituted stuff. Well, the pot started smoking, so I went to turn down the heat, and noticed that the burner wasn't even turned on. I ran outside with it and dumped the mess, and it had at the coating off of my saucepan!!! My brother, Jason, was there at the time, so he can attest to it. He accused me of putting lye in the food, but I swear it was just food items. So, needless to say, I threaten him with Polynesian Meatballs when he gets a little uppity!

My personal favorite is vanilla beans in Creme Brulee! It is oh so good, of course I have a weakness for Creme Brulee, as my waistline will attest!

Also, you may like some ground vanilla bean in your coffee. Just add the ground vanilla bean in with your ground coffee and brew as normal. It's pleasant, but I like my coffee black or with chocolate in it.

Well, I guess I did know a little about vanilla beans after I thought about it.

That's what I get for opening Matthew Book of Useless Knowledge!lol.


Granny Sue said...

Goodness, Carol! Its amazing how some things can be so challenging when we live in the country, isn't it? The search for corks was a saga in itself. Maybe you shold just email them a picture of the pinecones with the story! Assuming of course, that they'd even be on the internet or have email...

Matthew, sometimes I think I cold ask you anything and you'd know something about it! Thank you for all the great ideas. I will definitely put some of them to use.

Matthew Burns said...


Yep, I know a little about a lot, and a lot about very little. I guess I know just enough to be dangerous!


The Tile Lady said...

Oh, now, this has really gotten me stirred up! Many years ago when I had an herb garden I made herbal vinegars and scented geranium jellies for gifts. Also, some herbal teas. These two wonderful items will definitely go on my list of home-made gifts to make in the future! Your two jars look wonderful and I know anyone would be excited to receive them! They remind me of pepper sauce jars, which is also something that can be made from the garden for gifting. Thanks so much for sharing these ideas!


Robbyn said...

Beautiful, and a cook's delight! :)

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