Saturday, March 13, 2010

Adventures in a DIY Kitchen

Prompted my dear sister-in-law Rosemary, I'm taking a few moments away from my real writing project to do this blog entry on my DIY distractions.

If you've ever hung out with me in my kitchen or opened our fridge, you've probably seen the 2 large green Tupperware containers jam packed with onion peels, rotting vegetables, carrot ends, and so forth. My husband, Brad, is one of the greenest people I know and has trained me to be a compulsive recycler and composter. As I cook, I toss my veggie ends into the green containers which get refrigerated until full and then get tossed into the composting bins in our backyard. I rarely am the one who actually disposes of the compost (ask Brad), but apparently my daily trimmings get turned, transferred from bin A to bin B, and eventually end up fertilizing our little urban organic garden. The little urban organic garden features raised square foot boxes and two rain barrels, in addition to project compost. In addition to the obvious benefit of the compost itself, we only have to take out our trash about once a week. Without meat and rotting veggies, the trash fills up with eggshells and the few containers that can't be recycled.

But there are some veggie bits that I just can't bring myself to compost, because they seem too good to waste. I'm talking about leek stalks, Swiss chard stems, fennel bulb ends and fronds, soggy celery, and herbs that aren't quite fresh enough. So I have a plan B for these items. I chop them coarsely and toss them into a ziploc bag in my freezer. [Ok, all this compartmentalizing of "waste" is sounding kind of bizarre, but given the very high costs of the organic veggies that I buy, everything needs to be used more than once.] When the ziploc bag gets full, I make vegetable stock.

I noticed that I had two full bags of frozen veggies yesterday, so I made stock. Stockmaking is an art and any number of cookbook authors from Deborah Madison to Julia Child prescribe technique for making the perfect stock. Mine is much more simple, but still pretty successful:

Grab a stockpot, throw in 2 tbs of olive oil. Heat the oil. Toss in 2 quartered onions and 3 smashed cloves of garlic. Add some coarsely chopped carrots. Sautee for a few minutes. Gather all frozen vegetable bits (in yesterday's case it was the stalks from two bunches of red Swiss chard, a celery bulb, some celery stalks, fennel fronds, and the base of a fennel bulb). Toss into the pot with 2-4 tablespoons of sea salt and some freshly ground pepper. Add any available herbs (yesterday was parsley and rosemary, though thyme, marjoram, and savory are good.). Then put in as much water as your pot can hold. Bring to a boil and then simmer for a long time. Maybe an hour or so. Turn off the heat, cool and strain. The strained veggies went right into the compost container. Since I'm lazy and don't really care if my sauce is clear or perfect, I strain my stock using a colander over a large salad bowl and usually end up with some herbs in my stock. Once the stock is cool, pour it into large (preferably glass containers). Use in the next couple weeks. You can also freeze the stock, but I go through enough of the stuff, that freezing is rarely necessary. This makes about 4 quarts of stock.

Inspired by the stock production, I made a Japanese-inspire udon soup (loosely adapted from the Japanese section of the Sundays at Moosewood cookbook) for dinner last night. To make the stock more "Asian," I pulled out about a quart and put it back in the stockpot with some chopped ginger, shitake mushrooms, slice green onions, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and a piece of kombu (a Japanese sea vegetable). Brad found the broth too vinegary -- I was out of Mirin -- which would have tasted better. After the broth had simmered enough, I used a slotted spoon to remove all of the vegetables/ginger. I then quickly cooked each of the following vegetables (separately) in the broth: carrots sliced in rounds, sliced bok choy, chopped beet greens (because they were leftover and were too good for the stock). After cooking each round of veggies, I used a slotted to remove them and keep them in separate bowls. In a sautee pan, I sauteed sliced shitake, enoki, and standard mushrooms, with a chopped heirloom tomato in some sesame oil, salt, and pepper. Meanwhile, I hard boiled then peeled and sliced two eggs. I also cooked the udon. To serve the soup, I place some noodles in a large flat bowl and artfully arranged each layer of veggies over top. I added two halves of each egg and then poured the broth over top. It was a lot of work (and dishes) and was just ok. I'm not sure if I would make this dish again. I felt a bit like Brittany Murphy's character in The Ramen Girl (cute movie) -- everything was technically right, but the dish had no "soul." I'll see how the leftovers taste.

I'm using the rest of the stock -- that is, the non "Asian" variety -- to make Sara M's delicious black beans from the Top Chef cookbook. I'll serve these for dinner tomorrow with some guacamole and my version of chile rellenos. (Sara M. pairs these beans with chile rellenos stuffed with squash, raisins, and rice. I like battered poblanos stuffed with cheese, myself).

So far, instead of writing the you-know-what, I've spent today preserving lemons (organic lemons were on super sale at Ukrops). Preserved lemons make for a wonderful addition to tagines and leafy greens and I've been sort of obsessed with them lately. They take a lot of lemons (2 bags!) to make a medium-sized jar. To make them, boil your jar and lid, juice 3/4 of the lemons, take the remaining lemons and cut 6-8 large gashes into each lemon, rub kosher salt into the gashes, stuff the lemons into the jar, cover with the lemon juice, place jar in fridge, and wait 3 weeks. The lemons should last for 3-6 months.

PS For those who don't already know my beets won! The recipe will be published in the Food 52 cookbook.


  1. Update: The udon was totally better for lunch. During clean-up last night, I tossed all of the veggies and noodles in with the broth. This allowed the flavors to harmonize and balance. If I try this one again, I am not going the fussy route described above.

  2. Yum! I will be revisiting this - have been planning to make my own stock for awhile! I love your freezer bag idea for veggie ends.

  3. I can't wait to make my own veggie stock! This is going to be a real treat for Aaron.