I was talking to my brother this afternoon about cancer and how it has affected his life, the lives of friends, and now my partner who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. One of the things her diagnosis made me think more consciously about was the impact of the food we eat and what it does in our system. I am not a super health freak. I am what my doctor would say “morbidly obese.” I have more excuses about why I cannot or do not exercise then Hasbro has games and Carter has pills, possibly combined. With a hectic life, I have enjoyed the convenience of packaged and processed foods. However, the last couple of months have catapulted me to this place of rethinking what I cook for my partner and I. So for the last two months, I have been trying to be more mindful about what goes in my body and working at making everything from scratch. I have mastered quite a few things since then. Like your basic vegetable stock which is so much cheaper then the store brand stock even when it is on sale at 2 quarts for $5.00. It does not cost me near that much for a couple of carrots, stalks of celery, thyme, onion, bay leaves, and whatever else I decide to throw in the pot. There is also nothing like the aroma of fresh vegetable stock as it filters through the house.
What I have learned to do is to make a couple of pots of stock in advance and then I have it whenever I am ready to create some amazing home made soup that is filled with good healthy vegetables. They usually wind up more like a stoup as Rachel Ray would call them. They are too soupy to be a stew, but thicker then your usual soup. That is how my wife likes her soup – perfectly stoupy.
What I have come to appreciate about making stock from scratch is that I can customize it to go with the soup I am going to make later. So for example, for my mushroom barley soup with carmelized onions, I can add some dried porcini mushrooms to the stock and allow them to rehydrate in the stock and then reuse them in the soup later on. Or if I am going to make an asparagus soup, I can add the stems of the asparagus, which I would normally throw away, to the stock to give it some of that asparagus flavor. Or if I am going to make a Mexican type soup, I can add some cilantro stems and a few leaves to the pot to give it some cilantro flavor.
Making stock for me has become like your basic black dress. It is ok by itself, but when you accessorize it, and then it comes to life. Tim Gunn when he had his makeover show on TV said that every woman should have a basic black dress in her wardrobe. I have that, but I now also have my basic vegetable stock from which I am able to create a diversity of tastes and textures.
So my basic stock consists of very few things:
2 stalks celery chopped
2 carrots scrubbed and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp nutritional yeast
1 bunch of scallions or 1 leek whichever I have on hand.
8 cloves garlic, chopped
6 stalks of parsley
6 sprigs of fresh herbs (I love cilantro, but I have a friend who loves thyme)
So after cleaning and prepping my vegetables, I heat my oil and then sauté my vegetables until they begin to carmelize which usually takes about 10 minutes, occasionally longer. The vegetables seem to have a mind of their own and so I respect their timeline. Then I add the water, yeast and spices. I bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for about 30 minutes. I trust my nose and instinct more then a timer. It often time feels like the stock tells me when it is done more often then the timer. So I just trust what I am creating to tell me when it is done and I can sit back and say and this is good.