Here's a really useful thing I've learned to do: make my own vegetable broth.
My sister in law, Rachel, has elevated cooking vegetable broth to something like neuro-science with variants that produce beef-like effects or chicken-like effects. She will often caramelize onions, add seasonings, or include extra vegetables to produce some desired, pre-designed result. This is wonderful and admirable. I aspire.
But, bless her understanding heart, Rachel taught me the bare-bones basics of constructing my own homemade vegetable broth. It's so simple that I thought I would share it here with you. Considering that boxed broth runs towards $2.50-$3 a box, it's a skill I find worth having.
When I want to make vegetable broth, I begin weeks in advance, really. Don't let this daunt you, though. I have a gallon size Tupperware container that I keep in the freezer and when I'm cooking dinner I simply throw my compost in this container instead of the compost bucket (with the exception of things like onion skins, which I don't think you're supposed to eat). That's right--carrot peelings, potato peelings, celery ends, squash seeds, old spinach and parsley, leek tops--all the things that I would normally stick in the compost pail I put in the Tupperware container. Gross, I know. But before you get all uppity about it, though, I beg you to consider what the manufacturers are using to construct the broth the store sells. I seriously doubt that they're using fresh, virgin produce unspoilt from the dew-kissed garden. Not for broth, my friend. Kind of makes you wonder what they use for the beef broth, eh?
Anyway, when the gallon container gets full, I start thinking about making my broth. When I'm finally ready to proceed, I pull the container out of the freezer, pull my stock pot out of the cupboard, and I'm ready to go. The frozen vegetable matter gets put in the pot and covered with water. I'll swish some water around the container to loosen any parsley leaves or carrot peels that get stuck. Then I put the big pot o' slop on the stove and bring it to a boil. If you want to add something and make this Work, you can peel and quarter and onion or two and toss it in the stew. Now it's time to cook the compost.
Let the veggies simmer for an hour, covered. Then, put a colander into a large bowl. Dump the pot into the colander to strain out your vegetables. Set the stock pot aside.
I like to put a plate on top of the mash to help me press out any extra liquid before I lift the colander out and hand it off to P to take to the compost bin. Then it's back to the stock pot for your broth. Let the broth simmer, uncovered, for another hour. At this point, I sometimes get fancy with the spices and add some pepper. Then it's off of the stove and into some old mason jars. I got the plastic lids you see in the picture at Wal*mart. I'm not sure if they carry them when it's not canning season, but it's worth a look. I let them cool a bit before putting them in my freezer. And then, ta-da! Homemade vegetable broth.
For the record, I think referring to this process as "cooking the compost" is totally hilarious. This is probably because this is exactly what you are doing when you make this recipe. This may be made even funnier for me, though, because Rachel always seems so affronted by my irreverence towards The Broth. One should not take lightly the making of The Broth, you see. It is Serious Business. One must not meddle with The Broth. I don't have the proper consideration and am really not Worthy. Compost, indeed.
In any case, if you want tips on elevating this to an art form, call Rachel. It is not zen-like, but you will get excellent results. Her French garden approach is the complement to my English garden approach. I may not do it as well, but I get it done. And I love getting that extra bit of use from my vegetables before they head off to the compost heap. Tonight I nearly saluted the colander as it made it's way out the door. Well done, my little veggies. You're little lives were not spent in vain. *sniff*
Have a good night! and Thank You, Rachel!