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Easy Vegetable Stock

Homemade Vegetable Stock

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One of my favorite ways to prevent food waste, save money and improve the nutritional value of my recipes is to make my own homemade vegetable stock. If you’re like me, you buy cans or cartons of veg and/or chicken stock to have on hand to make soup, stews and other recipes. I like to use both in place of water to add flavor to all sorts of thing including rice, quinoa, potatoes and other veggies and when cooking meat. But, it seems that a lot of those prepared stocks contain loads of sodium and a lot of those other unpronounceable chemicals so they’re not as wholesome as we might think. Yes, there are some nice organic varieties, but they are usually pretty spendy, so why not make it a home using our own leftovers?

It’s so simple, I can’t believe I wasn’t doing it sooner. I wish I could take credit for the simple idea, but I learned it from this post on Simple Bites.  I follow her quickie version and make a new batch of stock about once a month.

I compost a lot of my kitchen waste, but sometimes my compost pile can’t keep up with my new scraps, so I learned to keep some large freezer bags in my extra freezer. Each time I cook and have some veg scraps, I set them aside as I’m chopping and cooking, then I throw them in the freezer bag. I usually wait until I have about three full bags and then I split the scraps between two of my dutch ovens. I fill the pots with water and then bring to a boil, then simmer on the stove for about an hour or so.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Homemade Vegetable Stock

After the stock cools, I strain it using coffee filters in my colander (cheesecloth also works) and then container it for the freezer (and I must reserve some for pouring over the Hounds’ food, also).

This is Daisy, my best sous chef

This is Daisy, my best sous chef

Since I use different quantities of stock for various recipes, I freeze it in a variable quantities. I have used ice trays for when I need just a little stock, like to saute some veggies or to add a few spoonfuls to sauce or gravy. I also use muffin tins to make cup sized quantities. I use those to add to rice, quinoa, couscous, and some pastas.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Finally, I freeze larger quantities in quart-sized mason jars, or large plastic yogurt containers (usually about 32 oz). The larger quantities are perfect for soup and stews and anytime you want to boil something but add more flavor than using plain water. I LOVE making mashed potatoes by boiling the potatoes in veg stock or chicken broth. All kinds of extra flavor! When I use the ice cube trays or muffin tins, I freeze in the trays then pop them out and put them all in a large freezer bag. Then I just grab a hunk of stock from the freezer as needed.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

What kind of scraps to save for stock:

  • Stems and ends of any veggie – think of all the parts you cut off and discard from veggies like carrots, zucchini, onions, greens, etc.
  • Veggie peels, from vegetables like potatoes, carrots, eggplant, etc. (be sure to thoroughly wash before peeling so you don’t end up with gritty stock)
  • Herb stems – fresh or dried both work well
  • Seeds and inside “goop” removed from pumpkins and squash

I try to ensure that I end up with a good variety of veg parts when I put them into my pots to boil, so if one vegetable is a little bitter, like eggplant, another one will balance it with some sweetness, like carrots or sweet potatoes. The addition of leftover herb stems really pumps up the flavor of the stock like no store-bought kind you’ve had. I also personally like to ensure there are some tomato and potato parts in my stock – I’m not sure why, but I just think the stock needs those basic flavors.

Tomato canning waste made a nice stock ingredient

Tomato canning waste made a nice stock ingredient

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Leftover parts from roasted pumpkins went in my stock recently

Inner strings and seeds from roasted acorn squash is now veg stock

Inner strings and seeds from roasted acorn squash is now veg stock

The boiled waste can still be composted, if desired, so you’ll be getting double duty from those scraps – cool, right?

I hope you’ll give the homemade stock trick a try. It really doesn’t take much extra time because you can boil it while you’re doing other kitchen duties, then you just have to strain and store it. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get a little charge out of making it yourself instead of buying it because you’ll know exactly what’s in it and you’ll know you took a little time to make something healthy and yummy for your family.

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Homemade Pumpkin Puree

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I already told you about my affinity for orange food when I wrote the the carrot soup post, so you had to know I would be talking about pumpkins – a lot! If you’re a Pinterest fan like me, you know that pumpkin-anything recipes are the most pinned recipes right now, so it’s only fitting we make some homemade pumpkin puree to get ready for all those orange recipes.

Along with my mysterious cantaloupe plants out in the garden, I also ended up with a very nice crop of pie (sweet) pumpkins. I never thought to grow pumpkins before. After all, how many jack-o-lanterns does one need a year? But, I knew that the pumpkins that I accidentally grew were pie pumpkins because that was the only kind I had thrown out there during my lazy composting last winter. So, it dawned on me that since I use a lot of pumpkin puree for Fall recipes and for my homemade doggie treats (Yeah, I’m that kind of dog owner. Yeah, I’ll share the recipe in a future post), I should be really happy to have my own crop of sweet pumpkins.

That said, I always thought starting with an actual pumpkin would be complicated and laborious work. Turns out I was wrong. It’s pretty darn simple and it tastes SO much better than canned. AND, a cup of pumpkin is only 41 calories! While I know most people don’t have a personal crop of pie pumpkins in their backyard, we can all take advantage of the plethora of little pumpkins that are appearing in big bins at the market and farmers markets at this time of year. They cost almost nothing and they are so easy to work with. I used a couple of resources to learn how to make puree: Simple Bites and Elana’s Pantry.

Here’s how:

First, start with the little pie pumpkins – they are the baby-sized ones, not the big carving kind (which don’t taste as yummy) or the super-mini kind. You can use them for decor around the house during Halloween season, then make puree and all kinds of pumpkin yummies out of them.

Use small pie/sweet pumpkins to make puree for cooking

Cut the stem off, then slice the pumpkins open, horizontally.

Slice horizontally

Scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp, reserving for later.

Remove seeds and stringy pulp

It’s ok if some of the stringy part is left intact

Place pumpkin halves cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Two pumpkins fit on one of my baking sheets.

Place cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45-60 minutes, depending on size. You know they are done when you can insert a fork into the outside of the pumpkin easily and the inner flesh is quite soft, but not complete mush.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes

Let cool until you can handle the roasted pumpkins. Then scoop the flesh from the outer shell and place in the food processor. Puree until very smooth.

Scoop flesh from outer shell

Puree the pulp until very smooth

Remove from food processor to a colander to drain off excess moisture. Use cheesecloth or coffee filters to line the colander so you don’t lose the precious pulp. Allow to drain for about 30 minutes.

Drain in a lined colander for about 30 minutes.

Once it’s drained, you can use it immediately in your favorite pumpkin recipe or you can store it in the fridge for a few days and/or freeze it for later use. My two small pumpkins yielded about 2.5 cups of puree. I used a little for a fruit tart recipe (recipe coming in a future post) and froze the rest. I used a muffin tin to freeze 1/2 cup portions, which are handy to grab and defrost as needed.

BUT WAIT, there’s more! Remember the seeds and stringy pulp you scooped out of the pumpkins earlier? Separate the seeds from the pulp. Put the leftover pulp in the veggie stock freezer bag (see sidebar in this post) and rinse and dry the seeds.

Separate the seeds from the leftover pulp

When the seeds are dry, mix with a little melted butter and salt and roast at 300 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Mix seeds with a little butter and salt, then roast at 300 for about 45 minutes

Great, healthy snack! For other fun roasted pumpkin seed recipes, see my pumpkin board on Pinterest.

Tasty healthy snack!

So, from two little pumpkins we have made puree for cooking, seeds for snacking and pulp for veggie stock. Some would also argue that we should reserve the liquid from the puree we drained. Ok. I didn’t, though.

Now, what are we going to make with our pumpkin puree? EVERYTHING! My personal fav is the soft pumpkin chocolate chip cookie, but I can’t have those very often. So, there’s also pumpkin pie (duh, right?), pumpkin waffles and pancakes, pumpkin pasta, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin chili, pumpkin bread and muffins, pumpkin bars, pumpkin quinoa, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin butter, and pumpkin granola bars…..and the list goes on and on! Here are three of my pumpkin creations: Curried Pumpkin & Bean Soup and  Pumpkin & Fruit Galette and Pumpkin, Bean and Rice Burritos. I’ll show you as I go through my pumpkin pins. Oh, and did you know that you can sub pumpkin puree for oil in many baking recipes (like you might do with applesauce)?

Leave a comment with your favorite recipe using pumpkin!

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Roasted Cherry Tomatoes: Simple Savories

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UPDATED: See bottom of post.

This year I planted tomatoes for the first time. I had planned to only have three plants because I wasn’t convinced that I would enjoy growing them – or be successful. Since I didn’t know a lot about the many plant choices, I ordered a variety pack from Burpees. One of those was called the Super Sweet 100 Hybrid, described as a high-producing sweet cherry variety. Then a friend gave me a couple of additional plants, which turned out to be cherry varieties, as well. So, out of five plants, I have three that are cherry! Know what that means? I have MILLIONS of itty bitties, and I wasn’t prepared for the influx of the little sweeties.

Cherry tomato plants produce MILLIONS of sweet little tomatoes!

I started exploring other food blogs to figure out how to preserve the giant harvest of mini tomatoes and learned that while it is possible to can them, most people don’t because most people don’t like to leave the skin on canned tomatoes and most people refuse to peel 1000 cherry tomatoes in order to get a couple of pints of canned tomatoes. Personally, I’m not terribly averse to skins and I do throw some cherry maters in my salsa, but decided I wanted to do something else with the little guys since I’m canning the big ‘uns.

What to do with all of those little yummies?

I learned a simple, fast and super yummy trick for roasting and then preserving cherry tomatoes. I’ve seen several versions of this technique, so I am by no means claiming to have thought of it myself! As always, I try to put a little of my own spin on it and show you how easy this savory delight is to make and how versatile the finished product can be.

Roasted cherry tomatoes are simple and versatile

I started with about a pound of cherry tomatoes, which fits in one jelly roll pan and makes about one half pint of the mixture. I only have one jelly roll pan so that’s all I make at a time – you could make more if you have multiple pans.

Preheat the oven to about 425 degrees. Prepare the tomatoes by slicing each of them in half. TEDIOUS! I hate tedious! Let’s make this faster. I wish I remember where I saw this trick (somewhere on Pinterest, I’m sure), but the person who invented it is a genius. Here’s what you do: find two plastic lids of the same size. I use the kind from the big Greek yogurt containers (cottage cheese, sour cream, etc.). Set one lid, label side down and fill the lid with tomatoes. I find it works best if you use similar sized tomatoes in each batch.

Fill the first lid with the tomatoes

Fit them in as snugly as you can, then place the other lid, label side facing up on top of the tomatoes, making a little tomato sandwich.

Place the second lid on top of the tomatoes

Now, press down on the sandwich firmly and begin slicing into the tomatoes with an very sharp knife. If you don’t keep the pressure firm, the tomatoes will escape out the backside of the sandwich. Sometimes I do rotate it a bit, but do not pull out the knife, which would make it messy.

Press firmly on the top while slicing through the tomatoes

Viola! Quick work made of slicing up a handful of cherry tomatoes! I told you it was genius!

Like magic, they’re all sliced in one move!

After the tomatoes are halved, place them in a medium sized bowl. Peel, but do not chop a few cloves of garlic and add to the bowl of tomatoes. Remember that garlic mellows out when roasted, so feel free to add more!

Add some garlic cloves to the bowl of tomatoes

Add about a 1/4 cup of EVOO to the bowl and gently stir to coat all tomatoes and garlic cloves. Dump the contents of the bowl onto the pan and spread the tomatoes and garlic out into a single layer. It doesn’t matter if the tomatoes sit cut side up or down.

Spread the garlic and tomatoes into a single layer on the pan

Sprinkle the spices and salt and pepper over the mixture and place in the oven. Roast for about 20-30 minutes. I like a little charring on the edges, so I wait until I see that before I pull them out. Be careful, though, because you can go from a little char to a major scorch in a matter of a minutes. My pan below may have gone a little too long.

Roast until you see a little charring on the edges of the tomatoes

Let the mixture cool on the pan. The second they are cool enough to eat, taste them! (Caution: I have burned my tongue more than once by diving in too soon!). Amazingness, right? Super savory flavors that make you want to lap it up off the pan. Depending on how much you eat off the pan, you now have a nice little batch of roasted yummies to add to tonight’s dinner, or save in a jar for a future recipe.

Cool then taste!

If I want to save them for another day, I scoop the mixture into a half pint (jelly size) jar. Be sure to get all of the drippings and the garlic (you can smash or chop the garlic to make for easier use later). Smoosh the mixture firmly into the jar and top with a splash of EVOO. Fill to nearly the top, but f you’re going to freeze it, leave about 1/2″ headroom. I have kept the mixture in the fridge for up to a week, but if I don’t think I’m going to use it quickly enough, I just pop it in the freezer. Defrost in the fridge overnight when ready to use.

Pour the mixture in a small jar for fridge or freezer

The mixture makes a perfect pasta topping, as is. Just prepare some pasta, warm the tomato mixture in a saute pan (add some pesto and/or a little tomato paste for more body) and then combine the pasta and tomato mixture for a super easy, but very savory supper. I will share my FAVORITE pasta dish with you in a future post soon, and we’ll use this recipe as our basic sauce starter.

Besides pasta, you could use this as a topping or stir it into many other dishes since it’s just a tomato and garlic combo. Think: stews and soups, stir into meatloaf or burgers, cassaroles, bruschetta, pizza, eggs, rice, veggie stir-fries, shrimp or fish topping, bean or green salads, etc. It also occurs to me that it could be pureed to create a smoother texture, making it even more versatile. Oooo…gotta try that!

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Serving size: makes about 1/2 pint

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4-6 whole, peeled garlic cloves (more, if you like)
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • 1 tsp dry Italian seasoning (or any combo of basil, oregano, thyme, etc. You could also use fresh chopped herbs)
  • 1/2 tsp each: salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Slice tomatoes in half, place in medium-sized bowl.
  3. Peel garlic, add to bowl with tomatoes.
  4. Add EVOO to bowl, gently stir to coat all tomatoes and garlic.
  5. Pour mixture onto jelly roll (rimmed baking sheet), spreading mixture into single layer.
  6. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until edges of tomatoes are slightly charred. Remove from oven.
  7. Cool completely on the pan.
  8. Use immediately, or scoop mixture into small jar, packing tightly and topping with EVOO. Leave 1/2″ head space if you plan to freeze.

Notes for next time:

I think it would be fun to try a Mexican spin on the mixture by using Mexican spices instead of Italian and adding some green chiles or jalapenos to the roasting pan. This version could be used as a stir-in to taco filling and other Mexican dishes. Another nice addition to either version would be thick slices of onions and/or green peppers which also roast so nicely and pair well with tomatoes.

Leave a comment with your roasted tomato recipe ideas. Enjoy!

UPDATE:

When I wrote this post, I noted that maybe the roasted tomato mixture could be pureed into a smoother texture, making it even more versatile. I also thought it would be fun to add some onions and bell peppers to the roasting pan to include even more savory flavor. Well! Last night I tried both and it turned out to be simply delicious and got rave reviews from the Hubs. He isn’t quite as enamored with the texture of the plain roasted tomato mixture as I am, so the smoother version works great for him. I just had to share!

Here’s how:

Prepare cherry tomatoes and garlic as above, but add chopped pieces of bell pepper and onions. I had some pearl onions (over-grown green onions) from the garden, so I used those. You can just chunk up about half an onion. Toss with olive oil, as described above and roast the same way.

Next, dump the mixture into a bowl and use the immersion blender to puree to the desired consistency (or cool then use a food processor or blender).

Blend with food processor, blender or immersion blender to desired consistency

I added a dollop of my basil pesto, a little salt and pepper and about 1 Tbsp of sugar, but mostly because I was experimenting with the flavors. It was great, as is, before adding ingredients. Just tweak to your own tastes and you end up with great marinara sauce. I served mine over open-faced (chicken) meatball sandwiches and the Hubs asked for seconds. Enjoy!

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Roasting and Preserving Hatch Green Chiles

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Today was a busy food prep and preservation day here at the casa. I worked on preserving garden tomatoes (canned and roasted/frozen – we’ll talk about that later) and the Hubs roasted and packed 25 pounds of Hatch green chiles.

If you are not familiar with Hatch green chiles, you have not been living life! Those of us who live in the Southwest rely on Hatch green chiles to feed our spicy appetites. They are grown in Hatch, New Mexico and they are considered to be the primer chiles in all of North America. You may be more familiar with an Anaheim chile, which is a cousin to the class Hatch chile.  They come in various heat levels, but the medium provides a nice bit of heat that is not going to light your tonsils on fire. Every year around Labor Day, the local big box store offers Hatch chiles by the case. You can even have them roasted outside the store so you can take them home pre-roasted and then just clean and freeze – or even just freeze and clean later. At our house, we have purchased the big box chiles several times and had them roasted for easy preservation. Anytime the Hubs wants to make his famous green chile (stew), he can take out a baggie, peel and seed and be ready to go.

But this year, Bountiful Baskets offered 25 pounds for only $18.00, which was less expensive than the big box’s basic price. With my new “scratch cooking” attitude, I thought it would be prudent to buy the less expensive chiles and roast them at home. And by roast them at home, I mean that the Hubs could roast them out on the grill. He grew up watching his dad do the same, so I knew he could figure it out. He agreed and our box arrived Saturday. 25 pounds looks bigger than it sounds.

25 lbs is…well, a lot!

Because chiles have a tougher outer skin than another type of pepper, like a bell pepper, it is better to remove it before cooking. That’s where the roasting comes in. Roasting blisters the outer skin, making it easier to remove. You can roast them in the oven under the broiler, or out on the grill. Given that it’s still warm in most of the country, the grill is probably the better way to go – and you can probably do more at a time on the grill. The Hubs happily set up his ‘shop’ out in the carport by pre-heating the grill and setting up a card table to use as his workspace. Once the grill was heated to low-medium heat, he loaded up both levels with chiles.

Roast the chiles on a low-medium fire, turning as they blacken.

See the black parts? That’s good! Keep turning the chiles, blackening them on all sides. While you don’t want to become charcoal briquettes, you do want them to be charred all over. Once they are finished, remove from the grill and place in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. Since we were doing a huge quantity, the Hubs used a big garbage bag. Placing them in the bag or covered bowl allows them to steam, which helps the skin separate from the chile, making removal easier.

Placing the roasted chiles in a big bag or plastic-covered bowl allows the chiles to steam for easier peeling.

Once all of the chiles are roasted, you can either peel and seed them or you can just go ahead and bag them up in freezer bags for immediate freezing. We did a little of both – well, mostly we bagged them up and only peeled and seeded some for easier food prep later. If you bag them, be sure to use freezer bags – or you could always use glass or plastic containers. The little baggies can then be combined into larger freezer bags for double protection from freezer burn. When you place the roasted chiles in the baggies, seal them immediately because it helps that steaming process. Then let cool completely before freezing. The Hubs knows how much he usually uses for making his chile, so he bags up the amount he likes. We don’t weigh or measure much around here, we eye-ball proportions. Here’s what they looked like:

We ended up with 19 little bags of roasted chiles. I took out probably about two bags to peel and seed.

For the chile I wanted to peel and seed before freezing, I put them into a glass bowl and covered with plastic wrap. The longer it sits and steams, the better. Basically, let it sit and cool, then take it out and peel off the blackened skin and pull off the stem. Note: Some recommend wearing gloves while handling chiles, but I like to live on the edge and never do – and had no issues. Finally, scrape out the seeds – I like to rinse the seeds out under some running water. You should end up with chiles that look like this:

Peeled and seeded chiles

Once clean and dry, you can go ahead and cook with them immediately or throw them in the fridge for tomorrow, or freeze for later use. I knew that I would be more likely to use them if they were diced and ready to go – like those little cans from the store. So, I diced them up and packed them tightly into some small glass jars (I think they were marinated artichoke jars). Remember, if you’re freezing, you can use up-cycled jars and lids, but if you’re actually canning, you must use mason jars with new lids. To avoid freezer burn and to allow me scrape spoonfuls of green chile out whenever I need some for a recipe, I mixed in a few teaspoons of olive oil. I packed them really tightly to prevent air bubbles, also. Now I have three little jars of ready-to-go diced chiles in the freezer.

Pack diced chiles with olive oil so you can scrape out spoonfuls as needed.

Very tightly pack the chiles to express air bubbles and prevent freezer burn.

I probably should have taken the time to clean up more of the chiles before freezing, but with the tomato preservation going on simultaneously, I was not up to it. That said, if you do a big batch like this and do take the time to clean more, I would recommend doing a combo of dicing and leaving some whole and then maybe slicing some into strips. That way you would have a variety of options you could pull out of the freezer for later.

What would you do with all of those options? Well, here in the SW, we would argue that you could add green chile to almost anything you cook, but you may not be quite so inclined. Obviously, you can put green chile into anything Mexican: tacos, burritos, enchiladas, guacamole, salsa, pico de gallo, etc. Chile relleno is a classic green chile recipe (the Hubs and I are working on remembering how his mama used to make the non-deep fried, old-school version). I also use green chile to add flavor and a little heat to classic bean chili, and various soups, chowders and stews. You can also wake up boring burgers and other sandwiches with strips of green chiles – I ADORE an occasional classic egg sandwich with green chiles. Basically, like a bell pepper or even an onion, you can throw green chile into anything you want to add a little flavor to. There are many websites dedicated to green chile recipes; I pinned some ideas onto my “Green Chile” board on Pinterest. Also, check out Cooking Ripe’s Facebook page for more green chile tips and tricks. Check out my Southwestern Green Chile & Potato Corn Chowder recipe.

I’ll show you a few of our family recipes that feature green chile soon. Here’s a sneak peek at the Hub’s green chile (which is what we call green chile pork stew). He makes it the way he learned growing up. We usually make it into enchiladas or wrap it up into burritos. I know, I said was mostly going to show you super healthy recipes, but it’s Hatch chile season, so we have to have some old fashioned enchiladas, right? All things in moderation. 🙂

Green Chile (pork stew)

Please reply below to share your favorite green chile recipes.

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