Monday, February 23, 2009

Garbage Soup

My Grandma could cook you a 5 course tasting menu, using nothing but dust and cobwebs and you would swear it was made by an Iron Chef. I would imagine that this owes equally to being a child of the depression and then the single mother of a large family. Even though she became much more comfortable financially over the years, there are some habits that she never lost, primarily that the woman does not waste food. Now I don't just mean she eats her leftovers before they spoil, I mean she could give the Native Americans a run for their money with that every part of the Buffalo jazz. There is not a single scrap, clipping, bone, skin, or anything else goes unused in her home.

When I was a kid, I used to poke fun at some of her stranger habits. The one that I remember the most, is Garbage Soup. When making dinner, my grandmother always kept two salad bowls on the counter, one for meat scraps and one for veggie scraps. Everything that was trimmed off of either was saved in the respective salad bowl. I mean everything, cores, skins, stems, everything. When she was cleaning up, she would empty the bowls into matching gallon ziplock bags in her freezer. When these bags got full, she made what I jokingly called garbage soup.

As I have gotten older I have a lot more respect for the whole process. Basically, my grandmother was saving money by making her own veggie and meat stocks, from food that she had already paid for and most people would have just thrown away. This is a skill that she learned because between the depression and being a single mom, she never had any other option. Having grown up under much easier circumstances, skills like this are something that my generation (and those after it) for the most part totally lack. For most of us, that isn't a problem. We just go out and buy whatever we need to eat. Most people I know would not even buy veggie stock (let alone make it,) because that means actually cooking from scratch which is something that is becoming more and more rare in the age of box mixes, canned stew and microwave dinners. Everyone would really be doing themselves a service to try and learn to not only make meals from scratch, but to make ingredients from scratch. For vegans, I think that it is essential.
I am sure to revisit this topic in future posts, but today lets just talk about veggie stock (I obviously don't care to make meat stock.)

Home Made Veggie Stock
The recipe here is going to involve mainly just process instructions, since the ingredients just end up being whatever you have left over.

To start
Get yourself a big airtight container, to keep in the freezer. I usually just use a gallon size ziplock bag. Every time you cut up a vegetable put all your scraps in the freezer. I seriously save everything, from carrot peels to broccoli stems. I once accidentally saved a whole bunch of cerano chile cores and ginger scraps from a Thai meal. The resulting broth was so spicy and delicious, that I now make it a point to try and get some pepper cores and ginger into every batch. You might want to skip the pepper cores if you don't like spice, but it is important to try and get a variety of veggies in there. It will make your end product a lot tastier, and it is also a good way to remind yourself to eat a variety of veggies, which is super important if you don't want a vitamin deficiency.

1 - gallon bag of vegetable scraps
A heck of a lot of water
salt and seasoning to taste

The largest sauce pot you have
A large open container, like another sauce pot or a big salad bowl
A pasta strainer
A Clean dish towel (paper towels don't work)

  • Put all the scraps in your pot, and put it on your stove over high heat until boiling.
  • The idea here, is to just let it boil away. Every time the liquid in the pot reduces by a quarter, fill it back up to the top. Keep doing this until the liquid in the pot is the color of a glass of iced tea, then remove it from the heat. (I like to use a ladle to pour some into a clear glass so I can peek at the color.) This will probably take a few hours.
  • Once the pot cools, line the strainer with the clean dish towel, and pour the broth slowly through it, collecting the liquid in your large container.
  • all of the solid veggie scraps should now be all gross and mushy. There is really no nutritional value left to them. Throw them in your trash or compost, or feed them to a pet.
  • Put the liquid back in the pot and bring it back up to a simmer.
  • This is when you are going to add your other flavors. I like to wait until the broth is reduced, because it is really easy to over flavor, since any flavors that you add are going to become more potent as it reduces.
  • I always add salt (a little bit at a time until it tastes right) and usually about 1 tbsp of Italian seasoning, you can use whatever spices you like though, and I often change it up depending on what I plan to use the broth for. Or if I am not sure, I just don't add any seasoning at all and I worry about the spice later when I am actually cooking.
  • Whatever the case, add your spices, simmer for 5 minutes, and then remove from the heat.
  • I usually get somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/2 gallon of stock out of this recipe. It will differ from batch to batch though, so don't get to worked up if you end up with more or less.

This stock doesn't have any preservatives in it, so it won't last more than a few days in the fridge. Either make it and use it right away, or freeze it in a sealed container In the freezer, it will last about 3 months.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Apartment Vegan: A Manifesto

This being my first post, I figure I should start with a bit of a manifesto. Why the hell do I think that I know anything that anyone else cares to read? I suppose the whole point of this blog is that I would like to put information out there that I wish was easily available when I was first starting out as a vegan. There is a huge misconception that vegan food is boring and expensive, and that isn't at all true. Pre-packaged store bought vegan food is boring and expensive, but then again so is pre-packaged store bought omnivore food. Learning to cook your own vegan food is something that every vegan needs to do. Surprising few newly adopted vegans actually know how to cook for themselves already.

My plan is to try and share all of the useful tidbits of information that I had to learn the hard way, in hopes that it will help some other people make the choice to go vegan, or that it might make it easier on those who are first starting out. Trust me, I know how hard it can be, but I also know how easy it can be once you get the hang of it. I hope to share that with anyone who stumbles across this. Also, I really love food and want to talk about it as much as possible and I happen to be a vegan.

If you are looking for a vegan-blog full of wheat grass shots, broiled nut seed shell fiber loaf, and other such uber health conscious dribble, this is probably not the blog for you. That is not to say that I don't try to be healthy. I like staying fit just as much as the next guy and veganism is definitely a great way to lean in that direction. The thing is, I like food that tastes good. If there is a better tasting, but less healthy option, that is still vegan, I am probably going to use it. Being health conscious had absolutely nothing to do with my choice to go vegan, that was entirely based on my personal ethics.

Speaking of ethics, you are also pretty unlikely to hear me go on a rant about the plight of the animals and how meat eaters are murderers. Of course I don't think it is right to contribute to death and suffering, just to satisfy my hunger. The thing is, I don't think that it does anyone any good to walk around screaming, yelling, and tormenting people with pictures of slaughtered cows. In my opinion all that does is draw a clear line to separate the vegan and non-vegan camps. It paints the picture of the crazy vegan who only cares about animals and will do terrible things to you and your family if you disagree. When we make people scared of us, they stop listening to us. When we make people think we are crazy, they don't trust what we say.

My theory on reaching out to omnivores is this. Why don't we stop focusing on what is so horrible about their lifestyle, and trying to brow beat them into converting and just show them what is so great about our lifestyle. Being a vegan is awesome! Once more people see the good things about veganism and stop focusing on this misconception that all vegans are crazy people who are waiting in the shadows with cans of red paint to throw on their fur coats, they might just start listening to us.

That is probably the last paragraph you will read about my ethics (in this blog at least.) Like I said, this whole project isn't about sharing or showing off my morals. This is about me loving food. I love to buy food, I love to cook food, and I LOVE to eat food. Luckily for me I have crossed paths with some amazing people in my time as a vegan and have learned a lot about not just vegan cooking, but cooking in general. This has made it possible for me to eat delicious vegan food on a regular basis, even though I live on a relatively slim budget.

When I first became a vegan, I noticed one huge problem with almost every vegan cookbook that I came across (and trust me, after 12 years of Christmas' and Birthdays, I have about every vegan cook book imaginable) and that is that most all of the recipes rely on hard to find(and often expensive) ingredients. I don't want to have to make a weekly stop at the health food store, just to be able to cook dinner every night. I want to go to the little grocery on the corner of my block, just like everyone else, buy some food and then go home and cook. There are the rare occasions when I agree that there are uses for these exotic substitutes that so many vegan recipes rely on, but I think that should be the exception to the rule. So shortly after I became a vegan, I stopped reading vegan cookbooks and started spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Having an aunt and a brother who are both amazing chefs and endless sources of culinary knowledge has certainly helped me a lot along the way as have the countless other vegans that I have met over the years both in real life and via blogs and message boards.

Something I have always wanted to do was to write a vegan cook book that didn't rely on substitutes and just focused on making good vegan food with ingredients that are readily available. In my head I always called it The Apartment Vegan. I am hoping that this blog is a step in that direction.