Easy and inexpensive steam distillation of essence

I have this strange dream of having an apothecary's shop in my kitchen, or so it would appear. I want to find the best way of distilling food down to its essence, then having it ready at a moment's notice to enhance a bit of food or drink. It's odd, really, because I don't use that many spices while I'm cooking right now, as I tend to try to focus on the base nature of the food rather than trying to gussy it up. Still, the dream persists, and I'll play with it as time goes on, and perhaps adjust my cooking style to the number of extracts, essences, oils, and powders that I can accumulate. In any case, Sean Michael Ragan has written a handy piece about using a standard bit of cooking equipment, the pot with integrated steam basket, plus a "schoolhouse" style lamp, to make your own simple steam distillation system. It really is an Alton Brown style conglomeration of simple parts for a very good purpose.

[2008-05-05] Improvised radial alembic for DIY steam distillation: "I would add that this is not my idea, originally, although I may have been the first to recognize the unique shape of the so-called 'schoolhouse' lamp globe as highly amenable for impromptu condenser service, since it comes with a readymade 'drip tip' where condensate can accumulate. My version […] requires a stainless steel pot with an integral strainer (constructed such that there is some distance between the pot bottom and the strainer bottom when the strainer is in place), a 'schoolhouse' style glass lamp globe which is of greater diameter than the pot, and a stainless steel or glass receiving vessel."

(Via Make.)

The Traveler's Lunchbox - Project Vanilla

Making your own vanilla extract appeals to me tremendously. I must do this.

The Traveler's Lunchbox - Project Vanilla: "There are probably easier ways to do it, where you just use a set ratio of beans to alcohol and let it sit until ready. The beauty of this method, however, is that a) aside from the very beginning, you're only sticking used beans in there (which feels delightfully frugal), b) your extract will continue to improve as you keep adding new beans, and c) once you get the ball rolling, as long as you keep using vanilla beans in your kitchen you'll have an unending supply of extract on hand too. Pretty nifty, no?"

The Essence of Nearly Anything, Drop by Limpid Drop - New York Times

Harold McGee never fails to make me interested:

The Essence of Nearly Anything, Drop by Limpid Drop - New York Times: "Think of such liquids as essences. They have no fibers, no pulp, no fat, no substance at all. They’re just flavor in fluid form, perhaps with a tinge of color, like a classic beef consommé. In fact chefs are calling these essences consommés, and they often use them the same way, as a soup or a sauce. And they can be delightfully surprising, because their appearance often gives no hint of the pleasure they’re about to deliver."

Interestingly, I saw the following from khymos.org just a day or so before:

blog.khymos.org » Blog Archive » Clarification of stock and other liquids: "The fascinating thing about a filtration like this is that you can also remove color. At the EuroFoodChem XIV conference I was told by Jorge Ruiz of Lamaragaritaseagita that you can make perfectly clear tomato juice by succesive filtrations, starting with a coarse filter and moving to finer filters. All in all, 3-5 filtrations should be sufficient."