Sunday, February 26, 2006

Have Broth Will Travel

You didn't misread my title and no, I didn't misspell anything. A few days ago I flew from Washington to the frozen midwest, and brought my own broth with me. There's got to be a good story behind that, right? Well, if I can tell it right it might be.

I'm here helping take care of my sister's family for a while. That mostly means cooking, which is why I got invited out. My sister isn't the best cook in the world. She's the reason I believe in wormholes in space. See, one time she invited hubby and me over for dinner and made a pot roast. Somehow she managed to suck all the flavor out of the meat, the gravy, everything. I've had bad-tasting food before, but totally flavorless food was a new experience. Where did all that flavor go? Hubby and I decided that she used a wormhole in space to transport it to another dimension. According to her husband and kids, she keeps that wormhole really busy, nothing she cooks tastes very good. (No, she doesn't know about the wormhole joke, she'd kill us all if she did!)

I love to cook but I also like to be efficient, so when I can I make big batches of things that will save me time later. Vegetable broth is one of those things I like to make a lot of. It's a very easy way to add nice flavors to lots of dishes and veggie broth is so easy to make. I don't like using the broth cubes, those seem like mostly salt to me, and even though salt isn't a problem for everyone with high blood pressure, I like to control how much is in the food I make.

My favorite broth to make is Italian vegetable broth because I make my own spaghetti sauce, and using my broth in it adds so much to the flavor. I don't remember where I found the recipe I use, I've been doing this for so long I don't need the recipe anymore, but I did find one to help me remember since I'm not making it right now. (Which also means no pictures again, sorry!)

Italian Vegetable Stock

Water, about 14 C
unpeeled potatoes, diced, 2 or 3
yellow onions, unpeeled, diced, 2 or 3
green pepper1, diced, 1
celery, chopped, 1 rib
mushrooms, half a pound (or more)
garlic, 6 cloves, chopped
bay leaves, 2
spices2, around 5-6 tsp. total
peppercorns, 4-8
salt, up to 1 tsp.
Assorted chopped vegetables of your choice3, about 2 C

Clean all vegetables well and if needed, removed damaged bits from them. It's fine to use the leaves of the celery and the onion skins, they'll add flavor too (and the onion skin helps give the stock a golden color). Chop vegetables coarsely.

Put all vegetables into a large stockpot. Put in about twice as much water as you have vegetables (you can measure if you want to, but you don't really need to), and add the spices you want. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat so that stock simmers.

Simmer stock uncovered for 45 minutes. Turn heat off. Let vegetables sit in stock for another 30-45 minutes. Strain before using. You can use a colander to catch just the veggie bits, or if you want a clearer broth you can strain it through cheesecloth (I usually don't bother with that, but some people might not like the muddy look of the stock).

The broth will keep in the refrigerator for several days (put in a covered container). For longer storage, freeze the broth.

I use this in my homemade spaghetti sauce as I said, and usually add some red wine too. You can use it as a nice base for all kinds of soups, or use it instead of water in your recipes. As long as your stock's flavor is balanced (not too strong with an herb or one kind of vegetable), it would be a good substitute for meat stock to make recipes vegetarian.

How did I transport the broth while flying? Well, I store my broth in canning jars. Usually it's still hot enough that as it cools, the lid will seal, although I don't trust this to be genuinely canned stock. (I'd love to find a recipe that could tell me how long I would need to process this to really can it.) I freeze alot of it too. So I crammed all my clothes and stuff into my carryon bag, and for my checked baggage, I took frozen pint jars of broth and wrapped them really well. I also poured tons of packing peanuts into the box and wrote "FRAGILE" all over it, plus arrows and "THIS SIDE UP". They made it just fine, and stayed mostly frozen too.

1 I hate the taste of green peppers and never use them in my stock. If you want you can substitute other peppers. I like yellow and red ones and they add a nice flavor.

2 It's mostly the spices that make this an Italian stock. You can add whatever you want and to suit your taste, but you should remember that the flavor is supposed to be mostly vegetables, not herbs. I like a combination of thyme, oregano, parsley, and sometimes basil or rosemary, and I usually use dried herbs because that's what I have on hand. If you use fresh herbs, use less of them, and use less of the stronger flavors, like basil and rosemary unless you want those flavors to be strong in everything you use the stock in.

3 You can tweak the flavor of the broth however you want with these vegetables. I like to use carrots and extra mushrooms - and usually different kinds of mushrooms, like button mushrooms and porcini or portabellos. Fennel, spinach, or chard are good too. If you want to use broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, or similar veggies, don't use much of them because their flavors are so strong you'll end up not being able to taste very much besides them.

Great title! You're braver than I am, flying with stock in tow. I hope you're having a nice trip so far. Your poor sister ('s family) - you should teach her to cook while you're there so there aren't anymore wormholes!!
Hi Michelle, good to see you're still alive!! Hooray for March tomorrow!

The jars of stock were packed really well so I wasn't too worried. My mom has tried really hard to teach her to cook but nothing seems to work. She mostly uses mixes and stuff now so it's harder for her to suck all the flavor out of everything.

I just found out that they don't have a digital camera though, so I can't take pictures when I make my famous spaghetti sauce. :-(
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