One of the tastiest things you can keep in your kitchen is vanilla sugar. With the sweetness of sugar and the flavor of vanilla, it is good on oatmeal, on fruit and is delicious in tea. It is even better when substituted for plain sugar in baked goods, because almost every single one – with the possible exception of some savory items – can benefit from the boost of flavor, either in the batter/dough or sprinkled on top.
To make it, all you need are some vanilla beans and a container of sugar (I use a large plastic tupperware-type box for mine). The vanilla beans can be fresh, but making vanilla sugar is a great way to give new life to used beans. Once you have taken them out of your custard/sauce, pat them gently dry and place them directly in the container of sugar. Any vanilla specks that have not been scraped out can be scraped into the sugar. After a few hours, the vanilla beans will be completely dry and a quick shake of the container will break up any clumps of sugar that formed. The same process applies with fresh beans, which should be split before you add them to the sugar. The sugar can them be stored indefinitely, replenished with fresh sugar or additional vanilla beans as necessary to make more.
Some specialty stores carry it (I once found some at Ikea), but making the sugar is quick, easy and inexpensive. You can always replenish your supply, ensuring that you have enough for any baking project, and you’ll never have to feel like you’re “wasting” a vanilla bean after it has been used to infuse a custard, pudding or ice cream.