30 July 2011

Homemade Veggie Broth - You'll Wonder Why You Ever Bought Broth!

I started making my own broth several years ago. I'd decided to go vegetarian and let me tell you, there is a shortage of good-tasting veggie broths out there. I tried almost every brand available at the store, including the condensed powder/paste types, and none of them pack the flavor punch I'm looking for. Lets face it - chicken broth tastes good! It's salty, oily, yellow... ok, actually I'm really not a fan of chicken broth. But it can add a ton of flavor to rice and veggies, and I'm a (most of the time) vegetarian who loves food with a lot of flavor. I'm also a conservationist who values the "waste-not-want-not" philosophy and I try to minimize waste whenever possible. It occurred to me that all the veggie scraps I was composting could be used for a higher cause... a tasty veggie broth made with real vegetables instead of powder or paste!

Well, I can tell you that I've never gone back. My broth is an always changing flavor medley of whatever vegetables are in season and it serves as the base for soups, gravies, stews, rice pilafs, steamed veggies, pasta sauces, and anything else where you could use water but want some extra flavor.  Here's how it's done:

What You Need:  
  •  1-Gallon glass jar with tight-fitting lid (I got mine as a jar of pickles from the Cash-and-Carry. The pickles, sadly, were not good but the jar has served me well!)
  •  1 or 2 large zip-lock bags
  • Large soup pot
  • Mesh strainer
  • Vegetable scraps
Whenever you prepare vegetables, keep the scraps - all the ends, peels, greens, etc. I especially like to save scraps from onions, celery, carrots, tomatoes (oh yes, these are some of the best!), potatoes, garlic, zucchini, spinach, cabbage, etc. These are the veggies that will give you the best straightforward flavor. Then I love to add bits from seasonal veggies that will add a unique angle - turnips, chard stems, beet ends, green beans, kale, lemon or lime peels, apple cores. These veggies (and fruits) will impart flavors that are a little more distinctive, so you'll want to be careful which ones you mix together and maybe plan what your corresponding recipes will be. You may want lime peels if you're planning on making some thai soups or curries, but wouldn't want them in if you're planning a minestrone or thyme/rosemary/sage white bean soup. You get the idea.

Put these scraps into your ziplock bags and keep them in the freezer. They'll keep for a few months, but I bet you'll accumulate enough for a broth in just a couple of weeks. 

When you're ready to make your broth, make sure that your glass jar is clean. I run it through the dishwasher on hot to be sure that it's as sterile as possible without actually boiling the jar, although you could do that too. If you're going to can this broth and store it outside the fridge, then of course you'll want to follow canning principles, but I keep mine in the fridge. Put all of your frozen veggie scraps in your soup pot. One to two bags full is perfect. Fill the pot with at least one gallon of water. This does not have to be exact as long as the water covers the veggies. Add 1-2 tsp of kosher or fine sea salt (to taste) and whatever spices you'd like. I have a rosemary bush, sage bush and bay tree, so I add those fresh, but dried herbs work too. I also crush several garlic cloves and toss them in with their skins. 

Bring the pot just to a boil, then reduce the heat to keep it at a simmer for at least an hour. Taste, and if it's too weak for your liking, keep simmering until you're happy. Depending on what veggies I have in there I'll sometimes let it go for up to two hours. I'll also add more salt/spices if I feel like it needs it. 

When you're happy with the flavor, turn off the heat and let the pot cool for 15 minutes or so. With a wooden spoon or potato masher, press the veggies down against the bottom of the pot to squeeze out as much flavor as possible. Place the glass jar in the sink with the mesh strainer balanced on top of the opening. If you don't have a mesh strainer you can use your colander, but you may get some unwanted veggie-bits in the broth. Carefully pour the broth through the strainer into the jar until not-quite-full. If there is any liquid left, I always feel slightly guilty about pouring it down the drain, but hey! You've already given your veggie scraps a 2nd life!  You should feel great about that! Discard veggie scraps in the compost.

If you put the lid on your jar while it's hot the pressure from the cooling liquid will seal it on really tight, so I like to leave the jar on the counter for a few hours to overnight with the lid just resting on top. Another reason to let it cool is that putting a jar of hot liquid in your fridge will raise the temperature in there, forcing the cooling element to kick on and increasing your energy use (and bill!) The broth will keep in the fridge for about 3 weeks. Once you get past 2 weeks, be sure to give it a sniff before using it. And if it goes bad before you use it all, no worries. You'll most likely have another bag of frozen veggie bits ready by then to make another batch!

Next time I make a batch I'll take photos and add them to the post. What is your favorite veggie broth-based recipe?


25 July 2011

Adventures in Indigo-Dying

About a week ago I told you all about my recent adventures in tie-dying and promised a new project - dying a bedsheet set with indigo dye. Well, yesterday I spent a good chunk of the day setting up an indigo vat and spiral-dying our sheets. As you can see, they turned out great! The process was a little more tedious than tie-dying, as there are multiple dips and turning overs, but the great part is you don't have to wait 24 hours to see your results! As soon as the fabric is done resting, you just rinse it out in the tub and you can see your handiwork immediately. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me walk you through the steps to creating your very own beautifully blue sheet set.

(Click through for instructions!)

22 July 2011

Red Owl Mushroom Farm

If you want to find out more about my other life as the partner to a mushroom farmer, check out redowlmushroomfarm.wordpress.com or the Red Owl Mushroom Farm page on Facebook. Lots of gorgeous pictures of oyster mushrooms and up to date info on which species we'll have at each farmers market and how to get grow-your-own-mushroom kits to grow delicious, healthy and wacky-looking food at home!

17 July 2011

Adventures in tie-dying

When we started selling at the farmers markets about a month ago, we realized that having a backdrop of some sort was going to be a necessity if we wanted to keep up with the Jones's. Everyone's booths were so lovely with their custom signs and coordinated themes. We are on a serious budget, and we love to craft, so obviously we decided to make something ourselves. We'd been eying a tie-dye kit from Michael's for awhile, talking about making t-shirts as gifts or messing around with dying our sheets, and we decided that a bright tie-dyed background would be just the eye-catching thing we needed for our booth. 

We took the plunge and purchased the Jacquard Funky Groovy Tie-Dye Kit for about $10 (with the 20% off Michael's coupon readily found online). There are several other brands, but we chose this one because it comes with a soda ash solution that preps the material to accept dye. This means that your tie-dye will be brighter and won't bleed in the laundry. One important thing to note is that the fabric to be dyed needs to be 100% natural fibers - cotton, hemp, linen, etc. So our next challenge came in finding a large sheet at Goodwill that was 100% natural (and still had its tag so that we'd know). After unfolding and refolding about 20 flat sheets, we finally found one that would work. The directions in the tie-dye kit are detailed and easy to follow. The steps consist of dissolving the soda ash in a bucket of warm water, soaking the material for 20 minutes, rinsing it and laying it out on a large plastic tarp (we used a large blue camping tarp) and commencing to dye. 

(Click through for more!)

14 July 2011

Pickled Young Cabbage Leaves

My garden has been doing its thing, as you can see here and here, and about a week ago was high time for thinning out the red cabbage. I'm a big fan of thinning! Not only does it make the remaining plants grow faster and healthier by removing competition, but I get to eat baby greens!!! 

Instead of eating these greens, as I've been doing with the chard, beets and mizuna, I wanted to indulge my infatuation with vinegar-pickled veggies. A search on the internet led to my realizing that although many many people pickle cabbage (usually using lacto-fermentation, but that's a whole other post!), no-one seems to be interested in pickling the tender early leaves. Or at least not anyone I could find. So I started doing the next best thing... experimenting!  I used this recipe as a basis for my vinegar mixture and method, then added and changed ratios to compliment the mild sweetness of the young cabbage leaves.

(Click through for the recipe!)

11 July 2011

My Garden Grows - Part 2

Since the garden is doing so well, I thought I'd post some new photos of its progress. I'm happy with all of it except that the garlic and onions seem to be having a poor year. I've tried fertilizing and keeping up with watering, but they seem to have stopped growing. I'll wait and see! Otherwise everything looks beautiful and we found our first baby sugar-snap pea yesterday! 

The sugar-snap peas taking advantage of the trellis. I love these sweet curly tendrils!

The red beets and carrots are coming right along. I've been thinning them a little at a time so we can eat the tender greens in salads and stir-fries.

I'm especially happy with these tomatillo plants we got from Stoney Plains Organic Farm at the Wallingford Farmers Market. We've only had them a few weeks and they've shot up to over 2 feet tall with tons of blossoms!

These sweet mizuna blossoms are great in salads!

Marigolds are helping deter nematodes and flying insects while they attract slugs and snails away from the other plants.

I love that our garden is attracting so many pollinators.

And on that beautiful note, adieu!

Cold Blooded Killer

Gardening has changed me. And I don't mean that it has tied me closer with the soil or given me a greater appreciation for the work that goes into producing my food, although those things could be said as well. No, I'm referring to the unfortunate fact that gardening has turned me into a cold blooded killer. It's true. I've taken to stalking the garden just after dusk with a flashlight and a yogurt container, picking slugs and snails off my precious leaves. I'll spare you the details of what happens next, but rest assured that the crows have been eating really well. There have been slugs floating in beer traps, hopefully not agonizingly burned by the salt rings I've put around the basil pots (but if so, they really should know better than to slither into salt!) and painfully insulted when my temper gets the better of my tongue. And in case you didn't already know this, I am the girl who takes spiders out to the yard and ushers flies out the front door to avoid killing them! The love of my vegetables has turned me into a crazy killer. 

My poor basil was being devoured by tiny slugs!

Here are some things I've learned from trial and error as well as talking to some farmers at the farmers market.

  • Marigolds planted around and amongst vegetables will deter some flying pests and nematodes. However, slugs and snails LOVE them. This could be good or bad. The slimy little buggers definitely zone in on the marigolds, so it's possible that they will leave the other vegetables mostly alone. Or this could be drawing them into the veggie beds when they wouldn't have shown up in the first place. Hard to say, but for their other pest-deterring properties I think Marigolds are a good integrated pest management (IPM) technique.   
(Click through for more!)