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Archive for December, 2008

I hesitate to call this a recipe because…well…it isn’t.  It’s basically a guideline of how I make my veggie stock.  I’ve been doing this for about a year and  a half now, and I’m so frustrated at myself that I didn’t start doing it earlier, because I’ve wasted a lot of money on store-bought vegetable stock in the past.

This is something that I love doing because I only use things that would normally go in the compost bucket anyway, so it is essentially free to make.

Whenever I’m making anything with vegetables, I keep a bowl beside me that my scraps go into.  And this is anything- the ends of carrots, peels of potatoes, skins of onions, etc.- that I wouldn’t use in whatever I’m cooking.  In my freezer, I keep a big tupperware container and a couple of big ziplock bags that I put all of these scraps into.  Once they are all full, I make veggie stock.  I can usually get 6-7 pints of stock each time I do this.

Now you can, of course, make stock just like this out of whole vegetables, and I’ve certainly been known to do that if I know I’m going to need some and I don’t have enough in the freezer, but this ramshackle way feels so good.  Like I’m recycling my vegetables.

I’ve actually got a pot simmering away as we speak.  Here’s what I’ve got in it (as far as I can tell…who knows what I’ve collected):

  • onion skins and pieces
  • carrot peels and ends
  • parsnip peels
  • potato peels
  • garlic ends
  • leeks that got too old to use in soup
  • mushroom stems
  • green bean ends
  • cauliflower and broccoli branches
  • celery leaves and trimmings
  • summer squash ends

And probably some other stuff that I couldn’t make out…what a collection, eh?  I also frequently thow in parsley stems if I have any hanging around, but I don’t at the moment.

I put everything into a  heavy-bottomed pot (I used my enamel dutch oven that was a FANTASTIC gift from my mom), pour cold water over it (I use a pint jar so I can keep count of how many I will need prepped when I can it afterwards) and turn the heat on low.  I don’t like the water to heat up too fast because remember, my veggies are frozen solid at this point, and I don’t want them to cook into mush.

The absolute key to doing this is to not cook them too much.  You never want the water at a full boil- a low simmer is ideal- because the stock will get bitter if it over cooks and then you’ve just wasted all your scraps!  It usually takes me a couple of hours to do this.  But you don’t have to hover!  Just turn it onto low, cover it, and let it simmer for a while.  Keep an eye on it and stir it occasionally while it cooks.  I don’t even have a time to tell you, because it depends entirely on what scraps you are using.  I read a lot of 18th century cookbooks, and they have this great direction in most recipes: “cook it until it is done” with no other guidelines!  It cracks me up every time, but ovens and fires could vary so wildly that they never could give an exact time.  This is the same type of thing.    Usually when the water starts to take on a nice color, I taste it to see if it has flavor.

Now this is a little tricky, because I don’t add any salt to mine (I always use unsalted broth), so it doesn’t really taste good to my palate.  However, you can taste the flavors of the veggies, and when it stops tasting like weird water, then you’ve got it.  I take it off the heat, strain the veggies out, put the broth into pint jars and process them.  It also freezes very well, and I always did this before I got my pressure canner.  I usually measured it out into 2 cup portions and froze it in freezer bags.  It also works very well in ice cube trays if you need smaller amounts (just make sure that you measure how many ice cubes to a cup and write it on the bag!).

If your broth never achieved the flavor you wanted, you can also concentrate it by cooking down the strained liquid until it has a flavor that you like.   It’s very flexible.

If you aren’t already doing this, you really should start saving your scraps.  Every time I make it I feel like I’ve gotten something from absolutely nothing.  The only drawback is that if you make really excellent stock, it’s impossible to re-create, so it is kind of a crap shoot.  One thing to remember is to try and keep it as balanced as you can.  Too many potato peels will make it far too starchy, too many coles will make it really bitter, too many carrots and parsnips will make it too sweet, etc.  Be careful of your proportions.

Do any of you make your own veggie stock?  What method you do you use?

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The Tally

About three weeks ago Pete and I emptied our entire chest freezer to take stock of what we had in there.  (The idea of me keeping track of what we had as I put it in was noble, but misguided.  Who was I kidding!?)  It was a surprising list, in that I had much more than I thought, and I was going to update my “tally” tab with what we were storing.  Problem is, during this past three weeks, it’s walked off!  If I ever track it down again, I’ll post it!

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Recipe: Hearty Lentil Soup

One of my favorite easy dishes is Lentil Soup, and on Saturday I made a huge pot of it just to freeze.  Pete especially loves this dish.  When I read the recipe the first time, I was skeptical because Lentil Soup?  Doesn’t that sound boring?

Pete said I should try it anyway, because he loves lentils so much and they are incredibly cheap and even more healthy so what did we have to lose?  I was looking for a way to work in more vegetarian meals into our schedule, so I did.  It was wonderful, simple, cheap, and filling, and it now has a regular rotation in our repertoire.  It is particularly welcome on a cold winter night.

Try it out, even if you think it sounds boring…you may be surprised!

Ingredients: (Once again, my “about” should be put in front of every ingredient, as I’ve long since stopped following recipes)

  • Olive oil or butter
  • 1 cup finely diced onions
  • 3 or 4 finely chopped garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups chopped carrots (I usually use a few more)
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsnips (optional)
  • 4ish quarts of stock (we use veggie)
  • 1 bag brown lentils (or about 12 ounces if you buy in bulk), picked over for stones carefully
  • 2-3 cups of corn kernels
  • salt, pepper, bay leaves

1.  In a large heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of oil or butter until it shimmers over medium heat

2. Saute onions, garlic, and celery until slightly soft and translucent (about 5 minutes)

3.  Stir in carrots and parsnips and saute for a couple of minutes until they begin to brighten.

4.  Pour in about 3 quarts of stock (reserve one…you may not even need it) and bring to a simmer*.

5.  Once the stock is simmering rapidly, add in the lentils and stir well.  Bring back to a boil, turn  heat down, cover and simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes stirring occasionally.  Sometimes this will take longer, depending on the lentils, but begin to test them about 30 minutes in.  I’ve had it take as long as 45 minutes.  When you first begin to check them for doneness, you may need to add more liquid.  If it is looking too thick and the lentils are still  firm, add a few more cups and continue to cook as needed.

6.  Once the lentils are tender, stir in the corn and bring back to a simmer.  If you corn is raw, boil for a few minutes.  We use straight-out-of-the-freezer corn, which has already been steamed, so I just heat it though and then it is ready to go!

*If you like your soup to be more stewy and thick, add some cracked lentils first and cook for a few minutes before you add the whole ones.  I can buy cracked red lentils at my local Whole Foods, which cook in a matter of minutes and essentially disintegrate into the soup, making it thick and hearty.

This soup is wonderful served with buttermilk cornbread or biscuits, which almost always accompany ours.   It may not be the prettiest of foods, but it is delicious.  This recipe makes an awful lot of soup…maybe around 5 or 6 quarts?  It freezes beautifully, too, though it is best to let it thaw in the refrigerator than on the stove.

I hope y’all will try this recipe out!

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Christmas surprise

Don’t you love surprise packages in the mail?  I wasn’t expecting anything from my dear friend Elizabeth, who manages a historic garden in South Carolina, but she really came though for me with my Christmas present.  I was delighted when I opened a small package from her and a plethora of seeds neatly wrapped in little papers fell out!

Some of them came from her garden, I know, so it will be fascinating to see how they do up here.  Here’s the wonderful things that she sent me:

  • Speckled Glory Butterbeans
  • Rattlesnake Pole Beans
  • Jenny Lind Muskmelon
  • Moon and Stars Watermelon (an especially welcome variety, as I was planning on buying some of these to grow next year!)
  • Alabama Red Okra
  • Cowhorn Okra
  • Indigo (the plant that makes the blue dye)
  • Tropical Milkweed

Isn’t that exciting!?  Thank you so very, very much Elizabeth!  Next year when I have garlic I’ll return the favor and send you some!  Y0u’re the best!

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Forgive my very long absence!  (Well, at least from this blog.  Readers of my personal blog will know this is rather par for the course.)  Two weeks ago, I got a promotion, and I have been working like a crazy person.  I worked 57 hours one week and 52 the next!   I’ve been exhausted to say the least.  But, the benefit of working so much is that I am off until January 5th!  Woo Hoo!  Two weeks!

I’ve got lots of cooking plans over the vacation, and I’ve already successfully completed several of them, including roasting one of our new farm-raised chickens that we got from our CSA.  I wanted to truly taste it, so I only seasoned it with salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of parsley.  I am not exaggerating when I say it was the best chicken I have ever eaten in my life.  I do love chicken very much…but this is just spectacular.  Not only was the meat delicious, lean, and plentiful, but it also produced 5 quarts of the best chicken stock I have ever made.

I’m so glad that there are 5 more in my freezer right now.  They were a little pricey for us at $5/lb, but I’m telling you that it is so worth it.  Especially since we never buy or eat chicken anymore (not after Omnivore’s Dilemma!) so it was OK for us to splurge.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat conventional chicken again!

I’m terribly sorry that I didn’t post at all over the last few weeks, because we had a HUGE snowstorm that was quite impressive.  We got easily 2 feet of snow over a 36 hour period.  In fact, in that time, it didn’t stop snowing a single moment.  It was the most snow I’ve ever seen and it buried everything around here.  It would have been a good weather post!  Ah well, you’ll just have to take my word for it!   I can’t even show you later pictures, since it all melted on Christmas Eve.  All that and still no white Christmas!  Bah!

My seed catalogs have started coming in, so keep an eye out for a planning post soon!

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On citrus

We just got back from a 4 day Thanksgiving trip to the lovely Alabama Gulf Coast (“what are you thankful for, Taylor?”  “WARMTH!”  It was 70 degrees every day…bliss!) with family and friends, and I feel incredibly rested. 

I’m also feeling a surge of vigor from the copious amounts of vitamin C I ingested this weekend.  When we pulled into the driveway of the bay house that my parents rented, the most beautiful sight met my eyes:  citrus trees.   The neighbors had several trees that were absolutely laden with grapefruits, lemons, kumquats, and- most lovely of all- satsumas.  If you haven’t ever had a satsuma, it’s your loss.  They are similar to tangerines or clementines, but very sweet.  The peel in an instant and are juicy beyond belief.  It’s funny that I came down to Alabama for Thanksgiving and what am I most excited about?  Not my mom’s signature cornbread dressing or pecan pies or a giant roasted free-range Alabama turkey, but satsumas.

They were especially welcome because about a week ago I was standing in Whole Foods gazing mournfully at a mound of Florida Clementines wanting nothing more than to eat my body-weight in citrus.  I couldn’t justify eating something that came from 1500 miles away (which is especially silly since I bought a bag of Florida-grown pearl onions two weeks ago), and my fast of non-local fruits is going very, very strong.  So far I haven’t broken it yet since this spring when I came to my senses and vowed to eat local.  I haven’t had a banana since February!  DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH I MISS BANANAS? 

 I’m not sure why I have imposed such selective rules on myself, especially since the same day I bought those Florida onions I also bought gulf-coast shrimp (at least it wasn’t Indonesian!), but I feel easier about justfiying stuff that I know Pete will be eating as well.   Regardless of my odd limits, fruit hasn’t been justified into my kitchen yet, so I found myself without Satsumas at the time when I wanted them most.

I think you’ll understand why I ran to my mom standing under the Satsuma tree and hugged it before I hugged her. (Love you, Mom!)  I think you’ll also understand why our luggage was filled to overflowing with every fruit I could cram in there when we came home.   And why when the lady at the airport security check looked askance at Pete and said “what are those…tennis balls?” I hollered joyfully “THEY’RE LEMONS!  AND SATSUMAS!  AND GRAPEFRUIT!”

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