Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Speaking of Economizing...

Well as I mentioned in my last post, these days we're all thinking more about economizing. If you like to cook, you can save a lot of money by going out less often, and especially avoiding those fast foods that are no longer that cheap anyway. Not to mention the health benefits of eating fresher foods!

One great way to economize is to use every bit of the food you bring into the house. When I make soups or stir frieVegetables for Stockd dishes, I chop up lots of vegetables such as onions, peppers, celery and mushrooms. There are parts of these vegetables that can't be used in the dish -- the onion skins and ends, the part of the peppers with the white membrane, the bottom of the celery and the mushroom stems. I save these in a large plastic jar and then put it in the freezer. I have two or three jars of vegetable pieces in my freezer at any given time. Then when they are all full, I take them out, empty them into a pot with a few quarts of water, and let it all simmer for a few hours -- add a little salt, strain through a colander or mesh strainer, and voila! A fine soup stock to use in all kinds of recipes. Sometimes that is the start of a homemade soup right then and there, sometimes I freeze the stock and use it later for soup or as the basis of a sauce or gravy.

Another thing to use for stock is picked over chicken bones. Sometimes I roast a whole chicken, and when we're done with it and have made sandwiches with all the extra meat the next day, I'll throw the carcass in a pot of water and boil that up for a few hours, either by itself or with the vegetables I've saved up for stock. Of course any meat bones or leftovers can be used for the same purpose. If your leftovers include nice pieces, cut those off and save them to use in the dish itself. This goes for chicken too -- peel off that white breast meat and those chunks of thigh meat, cut them into bite sized pieces and set aside for use in a soup or stir fry.

Tips for stocks:

1 - Some vegetables are strong and will overpower the other flavors. I would never use chard, or collard or dandelion greens in a soup stock. Some people think mushroom stems make it bitter, but I have not found that. On the other hand, I find that green peppers can take over from other flavors, so I never use too many in a stock -- only enough for an accent. It's all a matter of taste!

2 - Go ahead and use the onion skins -- they add color to the stock! I will throw the whole end of an onion in, but always make sure it's all rinsed and you aren't adding dirt and grit to the pot. Also don't add green sprouts of onions, any stems from peppers or other plants, nor the green parts of potatoes.

3 - Taste the stock before using. Salt it lightly if you like, but do not oversalt. You can add more salt when you use the stock, and people can always add salt at the table. Remember: you can always add more salt, but you can't take it out once it's been added.

4 - After you've strained your stock and have the cooked vegetable ends, etc., you can still use these for your compost if you wish. If you've made a chicken or meat stock, though, just discard it -- you don't want to attract foraging animals to your compost.

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