How To Make Homemade Vegetable Stock (and A Few Thoughts On Sustainability)

It’s difficult to put into words what it is exactly about making vegetable stock that makes me feel so satisfied.  But of all the things I have cooked, baked, assembled, or concocted, the process and product of homemade vegetable stock illicit in me a feeling of contentment that is uniquely its own.

Go veggies, go!

I think ultimately it comes down to frugality and sustainability.  I am always looking for ways to save money where I can, especially in the kitchen.  Saving money in one aspect of food costs allows me to splurge occasionally on indulgent, but amazing ingredients at other times (vanilla beans come to mind, for instance).  So making my own vegetable stock is a very budget friendly endeavor.

But even more than financial savings, making my own vegetable stock feels like such a simple way to practice sustainability – a concept which is very important to me.  We use a lot of vegetables in my home and instead of tossing out stems and stumps, all of the veggie odds and ends get tossed into a Ziplock freezer bag.  Every few weeks, I pull out that bag and put those forlorn vegetable scraps to good use.  It is an immensely satisfying process to take something otherwise destined to be unused and discarded and rather to make something wonderful out of it.  And, homemade vegetable stock is a wonderful thing!  It has so many uses.  You can use it in the obvious places – soups, stews, and sauces.  But you can also use it in place of water as the cooking liquid for rice, quinoa, beans, and other grains and legumes.  It adds a nice subtle flavor and richness to these items.  You can even use it as a substitute for some of the oil in dips and spreads, such as hummus (don’t replace all the oil, but about half can be substituted with great results).

So, if you’re a tosser-outer of vegetable scraps, consider brewing up your own stock from time to time.  Your budget, your ‘green’ nature, and your meals will love it!

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Homemade Vegetable Stock Tips & Method

Common Ingredients:

You can use just about any vegetable – just know that their natural flavor profiles will subtly flavor the stock.  So, if you want a sweeter stock use items such as bell peppers, carrots, and other root vegetables.  If you want a spicier stock, think of items like radishes.  I generally go for a balanced flavor profile and my most commonly used vegetable scraps include carrot tops and leaves, bell pepper caps, broccoli stems, onion wedges and celery bits.

Fresh versus Frozen:

As I mentioned, I freeze my vegetable bits so that they don’t rot before use.   You can also use fresh vegetables, too, and I do this when I have them to spare.  When I make a batch, I often go through my vegetables on hand.  If I know that there is a lone carrot or a random stump of cauliflower that isn’t going to get used before it turns bad, I’ll surely throw it in the pot with my frozen pieces.  Just remember to never use vegetables that have turned bad or spoiled – they will harm the flavor or your stock.

To Season or Not to Season?

There are differing opinions about whether to salt and season a stock or not.  My general modus operandi is to salt the stock sparingly, just to help bring out some of the flavors of the vegetables, but not so much that it will later overwhelm whatever dish I use it in.  I have in the past added sprigs of parsley and thyme to my stock and that has been a very nice addition as well.  Ultimately, you get to be creative with your flavor development here.  Make the stock’s flavor as subtle or as bold as you wish!

Cooking Time/Method

It’s very simple.  Begin by tossing your vegetables into a large stockpot.   I usually add quite a bit, covering the bottom of my pot in a layer or two of vegetables.  Then fill pot with water to about an inch or two below the top.  If you are adding salt or other seasonings, do so now. Bring water to a boil over high heat and then reduce to a low simmer, covered.  Let simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours.  Don’t cook longer than this, as the vegetables can leach out all their flavor and may turn bitter if overcooked.

Straining & Storage

When the stock is done cooking, scoop out the large chunks of vegetables and discard.  Then, pour stock through a strainer and cheese cloth to get out all small bits that may have broken down into the liquid.  I think a cheese cloth in addition to a strainer is essential to this process – it will really catch all the small particles floating around in there.  Finally, scoop your desired amount of stock into storage containers and freeze or refrigerate.  I use inexpensive food storage containers (i.e. Gladware) and store my stock in 1 cup servings.  They stack nicely in the back of my freezer.  When ready to use, simply defrost as many cups as you need.  Of course there is no need to freeze if you use the stock within 2-3 days of making – just refrigerate it.  The frozen stock can be stored for several months before using, though it is unlikely it will last that long if you cook regularly!

Here Is To Long Weekends and Letting the Creative Juices Flow!

I wish every weekend was three days long.

I know, I know – I’m sure pretty much all of you wish that, too.  I do realize that I am not alone here.  But I must confess that I have a problem – a serious problem.  You see, I’m a bit of a relentless, obsessive task master for myself and on any given weekend I will likely have created so many pseudo-important jobs for myself to complete that I have little time to relax (something I’m bad at by nature) and I end up harried and frazzled by the time Sunday night rolls around.  When a three day weekend rolls around, however, something almost magical happens.  That extra day gives me time to do all the stuff that I feel I need to, plus have some frivolous fun time, too.  This long weekend has been no exception.  I’ve been busy, but I am pleased to report I’ve done some pretty fantastic and relaxing creating.

I continue to surprise myself with how much I enjoy creating things.  Until recent months, I never considered myself to be a creative person.  In fact, I thought of myself as quite the opposite.  If asked to describe myself, I likely would have included terms such as left-brained, analytical, and generally unimaginative.  For so long I associated creativity with the likes of high school art class – painting, drawing, chalk, and magazine cut-out collages.  (By the way, I was REALLY bad in high school art class.)  This belief about what constitutes creativity was one of the few ways in which I was so very close-minded.  Happily, I have recently discovered that creativity emerges in a multitude of ways – many of them having nothing to do with a sketchpad or easel.  For me creativity has been manifesting in baked goods, knitting (of course), sewing, liqueur-making (yum), and bath scrub (yes, bath scrub).  Here’s what I’ve been up to:

1)      Crafting

Who knew I would ever be a modern crafter?!  But, I am – proudly.   There is, of course, my knitting.  I am currently starting on holiday gifts (I know it’s early, but I’m a planner) and I hope to get my TARDIS shawl cast-on tonight.  I’ve been positively itching to get that shawl on my needles.  Allons-y! (Any Doctor Who fans out there??)

ImageIn addition to knitting, last weekend I took my first sewing class and I must say that it was amazing.  Honestly sitting in front of a sewing machine was a bit intimidating, but completing my first (albeit very simple) sewing project was so exhilarating.  I have successfully created a small, but functional drawstring pouch.  I have no idea what said pouch will hold, but it will certainly hold something.  Spurred on by my new found inner-seamstress, I have promptly purchased some fabric to go back and sew up my second project (more on that another time.)

I am already trying to calculate how long it will take me to save up for a Bernina.

2)      Baking

This weekend I made this marbled banana bread.  It came out quite beautifully and very tasty.  It also happens to be a great option for a fairly healthy bread/loaf, and, its vegan.  I am not actually vegan, but I have found that I quite enjoy vegan baked goods.  In general, they strike a nice balance between indulgent and healthy.  Between sweet and sugar-overload.  In my neighborhood, I have become quite smitten with vegan pastries from Sweatpea Baking Company.  I am pleased to learn that I, too, can create a delicious vegan snack cake in my kitchen.  This banana bread totally fits the bill.  Whole wheat flour, cocoa powder, ripe bananas and brown sugar (my favorite of all sugars) combine here to make a satisfying and non-sugar coma inducing treat.

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3)      Making Liqueur

I am very fond of rhubarb.  I am also very fond of a tasty cocktail.  Enter rhubarb liqueur.  When I came across a recipe for making a simple rhubarb liqueur at home (with vodka, a homemade simple syrup, and Grand Marnier as the other components) I knew I needed to give it a try.  Now I haven’t been able to try this yet, as it takes 2-3 weeks to infuse, but I am anticipating shaking up a refreshing drink on a warm summer day.  Maybe a rhubarb-flavored gin fizz?  Or a rhubarb mimosa?  So many possibilities.   I’ll let you know.

4)      Shower Scrub

Homemade exfoliating bath scrub that leaves my skin super soft and smelling just as I choose?  I will have that, please!

I picked up Weekend Handmade by Kelli Wilkinson from the library a couple of weeks ago.  This book is full of diverse, modern, useful projects that can be completed quickly and (generally) on a budget.  Several of the projects have caught my attention, but my first to tackle was making my own shower scrub.  I am a sucker for a great smelling bath/shower/body products, but my budget rarely permits me to indulge in the ones I really enjoy.  I find that so many of the more affordable ones smell too factory-produced, over-the-top, and artificial for my liking.  So making all natural scrub to suit my preferences was a project right up my alley.  My first batch has been prepared with a delightful and energizing blend of grapefruit and sweet orange oils, with just a touch of vanilla for sweetness to tame the tart citrus scents.  It was so simple to make and is every bit as effective on my skin as anything I’ve ever purchased.  I anticipate making many, many batches of varying scents and styles in the future.

It’s been really fantastic to have some time to be creative.  My senses are pleased.  My mind and body have been fed well and I know there is more to come.   So, here is to long weekends, leisure time, and an active mind!