Making Vegetable Broth is Easy!

a cutting board with a variety of vegetables as well as three bowls of broth laid out on it.

Something I always wanted to do but never really got the hang of until recently, was to make my own broth. It’s not that buying store-bought broth is so expensive, but it’s more about getting all I can out of what I do buy. Take asparagus for example. It’s often one of the more expensive vegetables, and then you have to cut off half of it and throw it straight in the trash. That has always been a frustration of mine. Smaller things like carrot peels and onion castoffs didn’t bother me too much, but now even those get second life. Let me tell you how I make my broth, and then at the end I’ll give you a recipe you can make to utilize your freshly made vegetable broth.

The first thing to do is get a gallon-size zip top bag. Every time you cut up or peel vegetables – no matter what they are – put everything you would normally throw away into this bag instead. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • zucchini tops and bottoms
  • carrot peels and tops
  • onion peels and roots
  • lettuce butts
  • cauliflower greens
  • broccoli stems
  • bell pepper ribs and tops
  • cucumber peels and ends
  • mushroom stems
  • even leftover cooked vegetables!

Seriously, anything you can think of that you’ve used the “good” part of should go into the bag. It might take a few days or longer to fill up your bag, but just keep it in the fridge. It will eventually fill up, and then you’ll be ready to make your broth!

When your bag is totally full (it should weigh about 2 pounds, give or take, depending on what kinds of veggies you’ve filled it with), empty its contents into the biggest soup pot you’ve got. Fill the pot with water. Tap water is fine because you’re going to be boiling it. Use more water than you think you’ll need. I usually aim for 16-20 cups (that’s at least a gallon). Place it on your stovetop and bring to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat. Set the pot’s lid askew on top, and then just let it simmer and reduce. You want to let it go for at least 2-3 hours. Check it starting at about 2 hours; you’ll know it’s ready when you can see some good color in it (remember, it started out as just water). At that point, it should have reduced down quite a bit. I usually end up with 1-2 quarts of broth after having started with 4-5 quarts of water. Place a strainer over a bowl and empty your broth and veggie scraps into it. Lift the strainer out and discard the scraps (guilt free now that they’ve been used to their full potential!). The broth will be left in the bowl.

At this point, I like to refrigerate it overnight (my broth making usually happens after dinner) before transferring it to freezer bags for long-term storage. When the broth has cooled, I measure out 4-cup servings and gently pour it into a zip-loc baggie. This way my homemade broth is divided up into the same portions as a store-bought box of broth. If I have a reasonable amount left that isn’t a full quart, I write that amount on the baggie along with the date and contents. This way I know it’s not a full batch when I thaw it for use later. If you have mason jars, definitely use those! You’ll be much more environmentally friendly than I am. (I’ll get to the point where I use jars instead of bags soon, but I just don’t have the storage space in my current home for them.)

That’s all there is to it! I told you it was easy!

And now here’s that bonus recipe I promised you.

Vegetable Risotto (serves 6-8)

In a large soup pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add your choice of veggies. I like to use onions, carrots, and zucchini (make sure to save your scraps for more broth!). Cook the veggies until they just begin to soften, 2-3 minutes. Add 2 cups arborio rice and stir to coat.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, add 7 cups of your homemade broth and bring to a low simmer. Add the broth to the rice mixture, 1-2 ladlefuls at a time, stirring often and allowing the broth to fully absorb into the rice before adding more.

When you have used all of the broth, turn off both burners. Stir in about 1 cup (more or less to taste) Parmesan cheese. It’s really good with the “canned” variety of Parmesan, but even better if you have the time and budget to get a block of fresh cheese and shred it instead.

What’s your favorite way to use homemade broth?

Blessings,

Fermenting Food with Fermentools

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

Last year, I was able to review the Starter Kit from Fermentools, and it didn’t go so well. I was able to technically ferment some vegetables, but they weren’t a family favorite, taste-wise. This summer, I’ve been making a lot of coleslaw (the traditional kind, not fermented), and I wanted to give fermented coleslaw a try. I’ve had some “sour” coleslaw in restaurants with fish and chips. When I saw the recipe for fermented coleslaw on the Fermentools blog, I suspected that that tart flavor I’ve enjoyed in restaurants might be a fermented slaw. I wanted to try making it myself! For this reason, I asked for another opportunity to write a review for Fermentools.

Fermenting foods is a great way to incorporate good bacteria into your intestinal tract (necessary for optimal “gut health”), and it’s gained a lot of popularity over the past few years (never mind the fact that it’s been a traditional way of preserving food for over a century). If you like sour things, like pickles and sauerkraut, or fermented things, like wine, then good news for you: you already like fermented food! But if you buy these foods from the grocery store, you’re missing out on all the good bacteria that you get when you ferment your own food at home. This is because in the process of canning to make food shelf stable, all that heat kills the bacteria. Killing bad bacteria is a good thing, but killing the good bacteria… not so much.

The Fermentools Starter Kit comes with everything you need to turn any size wide-mouthed Mason jar into a fermenting vessel. Just add the jar and the food! The starter kit comes in a nice small box that will fit easily into a standard mailbox when you order it. Inside the box is a little cloth bag with all of the tools: a glass weight, an air lock, a special lid that fits a wide-mouthed jar, a rubber stopper, and a rubber ring. Also inside the box, but outside of the bag, is a bag of specially formulated Fermentools Himalayan pink salt and an instruction sheet with two recipes. Let’s talk about how to ferment food using the kit.

The first thing you do is to choose your recipe. As I mentioned before, I opted for coleslaw. This meant chopping up some cabbage, shredding carrots, and getting started. I used green cabbage only because it’s what I had on hand already, but you could easily do a mix of green and purple. For a quart sized jar, I used about half a large head of cabbage and two carrots.

Once my vegetables were chopped, I sprinkled a tablespoon of the pink salt from the kit over the top of the mix (it was still just laid out on my cutting board at this point). I mixed it altogether with my hands and then pressed it into the jar. With the jar filled up, I then made a brine solution. I didn’t have any distilled water at the time, so I used the method on the instruction sheet to dechlorinate some tap water by boiling it for ten minutes and then letting it cool. I cheated on the cooling and added some store-bought ice to speed up that process. In the future, I will just buy a gallon of distilled water and not worry about it, but I’d already chopped and salted the cabbage at this point, forgetting that fermenting requires non-chlorinated water.

Making the brine with Fermentools is super easy. The salt bag has everything you need to know to measure properly. If you look at the front of the bag, it tells you how much salt you need for a specific amount of water (not for the size of your jar, so be aware of that when you measure) in grams. Flip the bag over and you’ll see a grams-to-teaspoons/tablespoons chart. Simply add the salt to your water, stir to dissolve, and your brine is ready.

Back to my jar of coleslaw. It was packed down now, so I slowly poured the brine over the mixture. My recipe recommended placing a cabbage leaf over the top of the mixture, so I did that and then added the glass weight. The weight is perfectly sized to fit inside the Mason jar, and its job is to keep the vegetables submerged in the brine during the fermenting process, assuring that all of the food ferments – none is above the brine being left unfermented. From here, you add the special Fermentools lid (it has a hole in the top) and rubber gasket, then secure it with the ring that came with your jar. Pop the rubber stopper into that hole, then add your air lock to the rubber stopper. Fill the air lock halfway with water (there’s a line right on there so you don’t have to guess; I used brine in mine) and place your jar in a dark place to ferment for the time specified in your recipe. The fermenting process varies based on the food in your jar; my coleslaw recipe said about 5 days. I forgot about it, though, and it ended up going 8 days before I got back to it.

Now the big question… did the fermented coleslaw taste good? Yes! I was a bit leery to taste it at first, so I just had a little bit. The recipe said that when the fermenting was over, to mix it with a bit of mayonnaise to complete the recipe, so I did that. And it was really good! I will definitely be making more fermented coleslaw in the coming months. And it gave me the confidence in tasty fermented foods that I didn’t get last year, so I want to try some other options. I learned last year that it’s best not to attempt to make something that’s not what it’s supposed to be. For example, I confused “fermented asparagus” with “pickled asparagus” last year, and I was disappointed. But going in with the right mentality this year, I was much happier with the results. If you already know you like fermented food and want to make it yourself to preserve those good bacteria, or you’re interested in trying something new, then I definitely recommend the Fermentools Starter Kit.

One last thing before I wrap up today. Last year, I gave my Starter Kit to my mom because I didn’t expect to use it again after our family’s disappointment in the asparagus. She made some fermented garlic, and I have a short review from her too.

I used your fermenting process to ferment some garlic. It was very easy. All I had to do was put the stuff together and put it in the garage for three months. After that, I put it in the refrigerator and let it cool down because I like my stuff cool, and then I gave it a try. I thought it tasted really good. Your product was very fun to use and very easy.

Make sure to click through to the Homeschool Review Crew website, too, and see what other families fermented. I know I’m excited to read those reviews!

Blessings,

Turning a Closet into a Pantry

We live in a small place right now. The kitchen is especially small – not really big enough to store food for 7 people and the pots, pans, and dishes that I need for our family. In addition to the lack of storage area, the cupboards are a bit too high for me (I’m barely 5′ tall, especially without shoes). Between those two obstacles, I was quite frustrated with my kitchen, so my husband came up with a solution: we turned half of the coat closet into a pantry.

First, let me briefly describe the layout to our home. You come in the front door, which when open blocks off the view of the kitchen. To your immediate left is the coat closet. The kitchen is a galley kitchen, which means it’s open on both sides. One side opens to the foyer and the other to the dining room (which itself opens to the living room). So when the front door is closed, the kitchen is right next to the coat closet.

two shelves with a variety of jars of food on them.

Actually making the transformation was super simple. We first emptied out the closet (except for the shelf up above, which already housed primarily small kitchen appliances). My husband and teenagers then brought in two old bookshelves that we’ve had forever. They had been kept in our tiny outdoor storage unit, just waiting for a decision to be made on them. We’ve talked many times about getting rid of them, but never have for one reason or another. In this home, I’m so glad we’ve kept them! I cleaned the shelves really well and then covered the shelves with contact paper so they would match the other shelves and drawers that we covered when we first moved in. Then Will and the kids tucked the shelves into the closet. They fit perfectly, depth wise, and take up just over half of the closet width wise, so we still have room for coats and cleaning supplies (mop, broom, vacuum).

Knowing my youngest son as well as I do (he is the most difficult of all our children, by far), I nailed the shelves to the wall. I just knew that he would try to climb them – and he has, many times – so it was imperative that they not be able to tip over on him. With that done, we were able to “move in”!

a bookshelf full of foodIt took me a while to get used to the new pantry, so it was weird at first trying to figure out what to put where. But once I got used to the idea, things just really flowed and I was able to fill up the shelves almost like second nature. Now, I don’t even think about the actual kitchen cupboards anywhere when I get home from the grocery store. I put the really tall things on the top shelf – cereal boxes, my spice rack, and bottles of vegetable oil for example. Just below that, on the second shelf, I put the canned goods, organized by type (beans, vegetables, tomato products). The third shelf houses my baking supplies. I filled a mixing bowl with the small items like baking powder and soda, vanilla, cinnamon. Next to that are the bags of all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, and masa (corn flour for making tortillas). The next shelf down is my favorite one. It’s my “extra supplies” shelf. There live the things that we already have in the fridge, but that I often forget to buy more of. So when the fridge one runs out, I’m sure to have a spare on hand. Think mayo, mustard, ketchup, salad dressing, lemon juice, etc. Things we use frequently but not quickly. The very bottom shelf is where I keep the heavier items, like bags of popcorn and rice.

The second shelf is right next to the other one. Literally touching. It houses the things that don’t quite fit on the first shelf, food as well as non-food kitchen supplies like cookbooks. It doesn’t tend to be as full as the other one, but it’s still nice to have available for overflow.

Have you ever repurposed a “room” in your house?

Blessings,

Fermenting Food (Fermentools review)

Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product through the HOMESCHOOL REVIEW CREW in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way.

C05F4AA1-565F-4435-B543-83F1633DBEF3

I don’t have much experience with fermented foods, but I’ve read that they’re very good for you (due to all the probiotics produced during the fermentation process). So I was curious about the idea of using the Starter Kit from Fermentools to give fermenting a try.

The Fermentools Starter Kit was designed to be able to turn any wide-mouth Mason jar into a fermenting vessel. You provide the jar, food, and  distilled water; Fermentools provides the rest. The kit includes:

  • a glass weight specifically designed to fit inside a wide-mouthed jar
  • a stainless steel lid
  • an airlock
  • two rubber stoppers (one with a hole and one solid)
  • a rubber canning stopper
  • a 1-lb bag of Himalayan powdered salt
  • an instruction guide, which includes a recipe for basic saurkraut

4A57384D-776A-45FF-AC6B-E2524C434AE9When I first opened my kit and read the instruction guide, I didn’t fully understand all the terminology used (“airlock,” for instance), so I found a couple of helpful videos on YouTube to get me started. Then it was time to go to the store, where I bought some wide-mouth jars (I don’t can as much as I wish I did, so I only had a single regular-mouth jar on hand) and asparagus. I’d read that asparagus ferments really well, and I was able to get a fantastic deal on it at the store. I got home and started it right away. From what I’d read, you don’t need to add other stuff to the ferment if you don’t want to, so I opted to try just a very, very basic recipe. I prepared a 2% brine solution using the salt provided with the Fermentools kit and distilled water, poured it over my asparagus, added the glass weight to the top of the jar (this is to keep the food below the level of the brine for proper fermenting), lidded my jar, and waited.

BEB1F8DF-78C7-4355-A707-C6BC07F46EECTo prepare the brine, all you need is non-chlorinated water (so no tap water) and the salt included in the kit. The salt is super finely ground so that it will dissolve in cold water. On the bag of salt, there’s a table to help you figure out the proper solution you need/want. On one side of the bag, it tells the number of grams you need based on the amount of water you’re using. On the other side, it gives an approximation gram-to-tablespoon ratio, so it’s more user-friendly for an average home cook.

Fast forward one week, and I took my jar out of the cabinet where I’d stashed it. (You’re supposed to keep the fermenting jar somewhere dark.) I was surprised to see that things were a bit bigger than they’d started. In fact, there was a bit of liquid coming up out of the airlock, which surprised me. It probably shouldn’t have, because upon rereading the instruction pamphlet, it says to leave extra space for this in your jar. But that was okay. It didn’t leave a mess in the cupboard or anything. I popped open the jar and gave each of my kids a piece of asparagus. I expected them all to love it because we love pickles in our house. And the teenagers did like it okay. But the younger crowd didn’t like it at all. I liked it okay, but it wasn’t my favorite thing ever.

I didn’t want this review to be a fizzle, so I tried my hand at fermented cucumbers. You know, because my kids like pickles. But because of quarantine, I didn’t have a lot of “off the wall” ingredients on hand (like fresh dill), so I again went with a very basic recipe: thickly sliced cucumbers and brine. I followed the same steps as I had for the asparagus, but this time I used a 3.5% brine solution. A few days later, Grasshopper and I tried the cucumbers. He didn’t like those, either. And frankly, I didn’t love them either.

So, thus far, our fermenting journey hasn’t been super successful. I’m not at a point where I’m considering giving up yet, but I probably will take a break until I can get my hands on some of those more unusual ingredients. I really do want to have a fermenting success story, but that hasn’t happened yet.

I do know, however, that some of my fellow Homeschool Review Crew members have done great things with the Fermentools Starter Kit, so go to the blog there and read some of those reviews. I know I plan to, just to see where I went wrong!

Blessings,

ladybug-signature-3 copy

Ground Beef Sausage (method/recipe)

1FF0A02E-2F1F-4302-B8EA-086823566278
We don’t eat pork, which means no traditional sausage. Usually I just buy turkey sausage, but with the quarantine and grocery stores being slow to restock, I can’t always find it these days. After looking around online a bit, I hobbled together a few different recipes for making your own sausage out of ground beef. It was based partially on what I had on hand, as well as what I know to be the flavors my family likes. 

Ground Beef Sausage

3 pounds ground beef

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons fennel seeds

2 tablespoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano 

1 teaspoon garlic powder 

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon (or more to taste) crushed red pepper

Place all ingredients into a large bowl. Use your hands to mix all the spices through the ground beef as thoroughly and evenly as you can.

Divide the mixture into food storage bags in whatever portions make sense for your family (I do 2 meals out of this recipe, but we have a large family). Put the bags in the fridge to cure for at least 24 hours. After this time, you can either use or freeze your sausage as you would any other bulk sausage (spaghetti, biscuits and gravy, etc).

4B197F7C-A7D6-4598-A6CE-0B58C7917306While this tastes pretty much just like a traditional sausage, it still behaves like and has the texture of ground beef. For that reason, it might take a time or two before your mouth understands what it’s experiencing!

Blessings,

ladybug-signature-3 copy