I use pure — always pure — vanilla extract in my recipes. You can substitute a vanilla bean for the extract — figure 1 bean for each tablespoon of extract — but just make sure your bean is in good shape: vanilla beans should be plump and pliable, bendable actually, and moist. When a recipe calls for vanilla from a bean, it’s the pulp you’re meant to use. Lay the bean on a cutting board and, with a sharp paring knife, slice it lengthwise in half, then use the knife to scrape out the seedy pulp. Don’t toss the bean — stick it in a jar of sugar, and soon you’ll have vanilla sugar, or dry it on the counter or in a low oven, and then toss it and some sugar into a food processor and process until the bean is pulverized. Alternatively, you can use the pod to flavor anything you’re poaching.