Scrap Stock

Some kind of revolution took place before I was born, or at least before the chef side of me was born into consciousness. By the time I made my first forays into vegetarian cooking, there was a kind of stock backlash happening in the pages of all the cookbooks I read. According to all these veg-empowerment cookbooks, people used to make their stock from scraps and trimmings, but now, especially for a vegetarian cook without simmering bones and flavorful marrow to add to the pot, this was highly discouraged. We are worth it!, these books proclaimed. Worth a delicious, savory stock made from whole vegetables and bundles of aromatic herbs. I made vegetable stock from one of these recipes once. I almost cried to see pounds and pounds of beautiful vegetables reduced to a heap of mush and a pot of broth.

All the scraps, ready to go into the stock

And so the scrap stock experiment was born. For a bit more than a week I saved all the trimmings from every vegetable I ate. Brown or yellow bits went straight into the compost, but everything else was washed and put into a tightly sealed plastic tub in the fridge. At the end of the week, I made an experimental stock. I had no idea how it might turn out. Really bitter, I suspected, because the majority of the heap consisted of the green, almost leathery tops of leeks, green garlic, and spring onions. But I figured, what do I have to lose? All I’m really wasting is the water I’m adding – everything else was compost-bound. At the last minute I almost chickened out and added a whole onion, a whole carrot, just a few things to boost the flavor, but I decided to really go for it this first time and just see what happened.

Here’s what ended up going into my scrap stock pot:

Leek greens and ends
Green garlic greens and ends
Spring onion greens and ends
Swiss chard stalks
Onion ends and peels from red and white onions
Red cabbage leaves from the outside of the cabbage
Spinach crowns
Garlic ends and peels
Thyme stalks
Carrot leaves and trimmings
Cauliflower leaves
Kale stalks
Radish trimmings
Sugar snap pea tops and strings

All the scraps in a pot, turning into stock

I cut everything into pieces and then first sauteed the allium trimmings (leeks, garlic, onions) for a bit in 2 teaspoons olive oil, then threw everything into the pot and stirred it over pretty high heat for about ten minutes. Then I added 3 quarts of water, 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 3 bay leaves and a few peppercorns, brought it to a boil, turned it down to a simmer, and simmered it, uncovered, for about half an hour. I let it settle for a few minutes and then strained it right way (I’ve heard stock can get bitter if you let the bits sit in the broth too long after cooking). And I have to say, it is quite, quite tasty. Certainly head and shoulders above the bitter brews that pass for vegetable broth in those vacuum-boxes. I can’t wait to freeze it and have it on hand the next time I need veggie broth for something. Best of all I am so tickled to have created something really valuable from something I’ve been throwing away. There may have been a broth revolution, but I guess I’m just an old-fashioned girl.

The stock, rich and flavorful, made totally from scraps!

Leeks and Chard and Lentils and Rice

I’ve been leaning a lot on lentils lately. I’m really trying to cut down on my intake of soy, especially non-fermented soy like tofu and soymilk (as opposed to miso and tempeh) and this has left me without a staple source of protein. Unlike beans, which I fear for their pre-soaking needs, their long cooking times, their gassy powers, lentils are quick and still packed with protein, a potential answer to “What’s for dinner?” when I didn’t have the foresight to ask the question a day ahead (which is basically every night).

So I was intrigued to come across a recipe for Risotto with Swiss Chard and French Lentils (how international!). Rice plus legumes equals happy, happy complete proteins, chock full of all the amino acids I need for a healthy vegetarian existence. In addition to trying to avoid soy and still get enough protein (while being vegetarian and trying to eat local and getting all my produce just from my box) I am also embarking on a low-key but concerted effort to get my freezer stocked with some meal options. There are nights when even my old stand-by of tofu, greens, and quinoa wouldn’t be a fast enough answer to the dinner question, so it would be great to have some options tucked away and waiting for such desperate times. Risotto is one of those dishes I’ve seen mentioned as freezing and reheating well, so I thought I would combine all my new pursuits and give this one a try.

Risotto with Lentils, Swiss Chard, and Leeks

I made the recipe exactly as written, except for my actual risotto-cooking technique, which is a quick ‘n’ dirty way from an old Sunset Magazine cookbook that we always use in my family and the risotto comes out just fine, thank you very much. I just don’t have the patience to do the whole gently-simmering-broth added one cup at a time thing. I would just never make risotto.

I made the risotto for my mom and myself the other day for lunch when she was visiting (I had already cooked both the lentils and the chard the day before, as they need to be cooked separately first). It has a bit of an odd texture, as even French lentils have a graininess to them that feels a little strange when your mouth is expecting only the creaminess of the risotto. But it has a hearty, chewy quality that my mom and I both enjoyed, and it made terrific leftovers for breakfast over the next few days. I also did manage to freeze one serving of it, so I will have to report later on how it does with reheating.

When I opened my freezer to take the above photograph, I got a small glimpse of why my freezer can be so packed but whenever I look in there for something to eat it registers as “empty.” In addition to the risotto in this shot, you can see the almond meal I use for gluten-free baking and a container of plain lentils and a bag of pesto cubes. But everything else – the butternut squash dumplings, the ribollita, the massive hunks of potato-rosemary bread – are in there as a result of their wheatiness. Whenever I give in to culinary temptation and make something that contains wheat, I eat a little bit, my body reminds me that wheat and I do not mix, and then I stuff the rest in my freezer. It was good to take a hard look at what’s in my freezer – I think there may be some frozen-food trading in my future!

Sugar Snap Peas and Cauliflower: Week of March 26th

Well, the box gods must have heard my unspoken prayers, because this week they finally sent me another cauliflower! I spoke to my mom today and told her there was a post up about our family recipe for “Impressionist Cauliflower” and she was like, “You know, I made it the other day, and it just wasn’t that good. It’s so strange, we’ve made it a hundred times… I was using one of those green cauliflowers…” So yeah, I think we’ve all learned our lesson. Stick with the white for making impressionist cauliflower and we’ll have to come up with a new dish to showcase our fractally friend.

In this week’s box (which, because of a busy, busy day, went straight into the fridge with no opportunity for a photo session):

Carrots
Cauliflower
Fuji Apples
Chard
Spinach
Tadorna Leeks
Hayward Kiwis
Lettuce
Navel Oranges (Duck ate one and gave it rave reviews – Oh My God these are SO good! That orange was so good! Did you try those oranges?! – I didn’t even know he liked oranges)
Sugar Snap Peas (only one of my favorite foods of all time, and they’re almost impossible to find organic, and even conventional they cost an arm and a leg)