Scraping Vanilla Beans: Vanilla beans are long and thin, like skinny, black string beans. To get the essence of the bean, you must split it and scrape out the resinous, pasty insides. Lay the bean on a flat surface with its seam facing up. Using a sharp paring knife, place the point in the seam at the center and split it to one end. Place the point back in the center and split it to the other end. Use the blade of the knife to scrape the pasty seeds out. When preparing a sauce, throw the empty pod into the pot as well as the seeds for a really intense flavor. Remove the pod from the sauce before serving, rinse it well, and dry it thoroughly. Bury the pod in a jar filled with granulated sugar, close tightly, and you'll have vanilla-flavored sugar on hand for your favorite dessert.
Roasted Peppercorns: For fullest flavor and aroma, place peppercorns in a dry skillet over medium heat and roast them, shaking almost constantly, until their oils emerge, causing them to crack, for about 4 to 5 minutes.
Roasted Pecans and Other Nuts: Preheat the oven to 375° F. Place the pecans or other nuts on a baking sheet in the oven and roast until golden and fragrant, for about 5 to 6 minutes. Watch carefully to be sure they don't burn. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks.
Toasted Sesame Seeds: Place the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat and toast, shaking the pan almost constantly, until the seeds are golden, for about 1 minute. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks.
Fire-Roasted Corn: Husk the corn and place it directly on a gas burner. Turn the flame to medium and roast for about 3 minutes, turning several times with tongs. If you have an electric stove, it should take about 5 minutes.
Fire-Roasted Onions: Skin small onions and place them, whole, under the broiler of your oven. Roast until tender, turning several times, for about 30 minutes.
Fire-Roasted Shallots and Garlic: Preheat the oven to 400° F. Combine 24 peeled shallots and/or garlic cloves with 1 teaspoon olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and 5 turns freshly ground black pepper on a sheet of aluminum foil. Fold the edges of the foil together to form a bag and roast until tender, for about 40 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate in a little olive oil in an airtight container for 2 or 3 days.
Degreasing Soups and Stews: When the liquid has come to a boil, pull the pot sideways off the burner toward the countertop. The fat will rise to the cooler side of the pot and can be easily skimmed off with a ladle. Or refrigerate the soup or stew overnight and remove the congealed fat from the top the next day.
Bread Crumbs: Remove the crusts from a dense, homemade-type white bread, and crumb 3 or 4 slices at a time in a food processor or blender. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Clarified Butter: To make 1 cup of clarified butter, melt 3 sticks (3/4 pound) unsalted butter slowly over a pot of hot water or a tiny flame. Skim off the top foam and use only the clear liquid, discarding the milky residue.