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Make vegetable broth from ingredients you already have

Recipe: No-waste method lets you customize a kitchen staple

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Great broth in the making: Veggie scraps, water and heat. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)


It’s finally the time of year when I don’t mind heating up the kitchen to make soup, stew or risotto.

I like chicken broth just fine, but prefer to use vegetable stock or broth for these type of dishes. The handy aseptic packages in the grocery store hide a lot of information, however. Is this kind tomato-y or more oniony? How earthy is that broth that has mushrooms listed in the ingredients?

The easy answer to this (no surprise) is to make your own. The recipe below is more method than prescription, as you’ll see.

Since we’re all gardeners or aspiring gardeners here, I’m going to assume you’re already composting your kitchen scraps. Many of those scraps can be used to flavor vegetable broth for several dishes -- and they still can be composted afterwards.

The trick is to use your freezer, and to assess every vegetable bit before it hits the compost bin. Onion tops? Yes. Dried-out garlic cloves? Yes again. Carrot peelings? Absolutely. Other favorites in my house include mushroom stems, celery leaves and ends, limp tomatoes and wilted spinach. I keep them in a gallon freezer bag and add to it over the course of several weeks. Sometimes I have two bags going, for different ingredients.

When the bag is full, pop those scraps into a large pot or slow cooker, with some bay leaves and peppercorns (salt is up to you), add water to cover and let it all simmer until the house smells like vegetable soup. I use my large Crock Pot and leave the broth on low overnight. Strain the broth and put it in convenient size containers or freezer bags, and you’re set for awhile.

I generally start with about 8 cups of scraps -- why do this if not to make a lot? -- but if you want to fill up your largest stockpot, go for it. Just be sure to have enough containers to hold all the resulting broth.

Caution: Say no to anything moldy or which you can’t get the garden soil off of. Also avoid members of the cabbage family -- broccoli, cauliflower, etc. -- because they’ll give the broth a very strong flavor.

Otherwise, customize the broth to what you like to cook. You’ll thank yourself later.

No-waste vegetable broth
Yield varies depending on the amount of scraps and size of pot

Ingredients:

At least 8 cups of vegetable ends, peelings and other usable scraps (including parsley and other milder herbs, if desired)

1 or 2 bay leaves

½ teaspoon peppercorns or several fresh grinds of black pepper

Salt to taste, optional

Instructions :
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Typical ingredients for my broth, but it varies.
Put the vegetable scraps in a large pot or slow cooker. Add enough cold water just to cover the vegetables. Add bay leaves and pepper and, if desired, just ¼ teaspoon of
salt. (You can adjust the salt level later.)

If you’re cooking on the stove, bring the pot contents to a boil, turn it down and let
it simmer uncovered on low for about 1 hour. Taste the broth and decide if you want
to cook it longer. You can also adjust the salt level here, too. (If the broth is destined
for risotto or other dishes where the liquid is absorbed, I don’t add any more salt.)

If using a slow cooker, fill it with scraps at least to the minimum level required for its size, add the water to cover, and the seasonings.
Cook 2 to 3 hours on high or 8 hours on low. (Do check the seasonings in there at
some point.)

When you decide your broth has reached optimum flavor, turn off the heat and let it cool.

Strain the vegetables using a colander over a large bowl or measuring cup, pressing on the vegetables with a spatula or large spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. (You may have to do this in batches.) Transfer the broth to desired storage containers. If you want to extra-clear broth, filter it a second time through a mesh strainer or cheesecloth.

Label the filled containers with the date and any other cooking information that makes sense to you, such as the salt content or whether it contains tomatoes. The broth can keep in the refrigerator for a week, but I usually freeze anything I’m not using immediately.

Don’t forget to add those strained veggie bits to your compost bin afterwards. Your garden will benefit.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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