Gourmet Veggie Mama

Category Archives: Budget

Making vegetable stock

Vegetable stock is super-easy to make, a great use for veggies that you can’t use otherwise, and it freezes really well. There’s no reason to spend money on watery broth with less flavor and very little nutritional content when you can make your own with only a few minutes’ effort and save it for future use.

I made a batch last weekend with carrots, chard stems, onions, garlic, mushrooms, and scallions.*

Ooh, pretty.

* I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple of things I threw in there, but that was basically it.

Mushrooms are great to add depth of flavor, but everything is pretty much optional and based on what veggies you have left over. I always use an onion (just quarter it — no need to chop) and usually carrots, but other than that, anything goes. Cabbage and other gas-producing vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and others) aren’t a great idea, but that leaves a ton of options.

Just chop up your veggies, throw it all in a big stock pot filled with water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 minutes or so. Salt it (if you like), cool slightly, and then store in labeled Ziploc freezer bags. I like to store mine mostly in 1 cup portions, so I can defrost just how much I need. If I have a lot, I’ll throw in a 4-cup portion or two, for making risotto, soups, and other stock-heavy dishes.

CSA day!

Our regular CSA* share ended at Thanksgiving (the season runs from March through November), and I have been feeling culinarily adrift since then. But, today marked the beginning of a new winter quarter for the farm down the street from us, and I couldn’t be happier!

* For the uninitiated, CSA stands for “community supported agriculture,” and means that you buy a share of the produce expected for a season from a local farmer. We pay up-front for the share, and then pick up a weekly box of veggies and fruit throughout the season.

The bounty.

This week, we ended up with mizuna, butternut squash, salad mix, garlic, Meyer lemons, oranges, baby red pac choi, kale, and purple kohlrabi.

The CSA box is the anchor of my kitchen creativity. I tend to plan the week’s meals around what we get in the box. This coming week, I’ll probably do some sort of stir-fry with the pac choi, kohlrabi, and/or mizuna, a tart with the Meyer lemons, maybe beans and greens with the kale and/or kohlrabi greens, and I’ll probably let the butternut squash sit on the counter for a bit, since they keep well and get sweeter over time.

Joining a CSA program is a great way to support local small farmers, plus you get ridiculously fresh produce. Full Circle Farm told me they harvest produce for their CSA the very morning of pick-up — it doesn’t get much fresher than that unless it’s from your own garden! Plus, the variety forces me to be creative. I cook based on what I get in the box,* rather than searching for recipes and then shopping for the ingredients at the grocery store. I’m pretty sure it saves us a lot of money, too.

* It helps to have a database searchable by ingredient, like the one Mariquita Farm has put together. Of course, you can always search by ingredient in your cookbooks (use the index), or trusty ol’ Google often does the trick for me when I’m coming up short elsewhere.

I guess I’m up on my soapbox today, but if you don’t subscribe to a CSA program, you should! Local Harvest has more info and even a tool to find CSAs close to you, so check it out.

Pomegranate, revisited

Just a brief follow-up to my pomegranate post from last week…

Firstly, I took Emma’s suggestion to seed the fruit underwater — brilliant!

Less mess.

It not only makes the process less messy, it’s also a lot faster, since you don’t have to be extra-careful not to pop any seeds (which you’ll end up doing anyway). Also, any pith floats to the top, making it easy to skim off.

Secondly, on my latest trip to Whole Foods*, I somehow managed to pick up organic POM pomegranates instead of the conventional fruit I was going for. Since pomegranate isn’t one of the dirty dozen, I don’t stress too much about whether it’s organic, and since organic was priced at $3 apiece, but conventional was still $2 apiece, I meant to grab the conventional.

*Also known as Whole Paycheck. I shop there too much.

However, either someone piled organic pomegranates on the wrong pile, or I accidentally grabbed the wrong thing, because they rang up as $3 apiece. Being Budget Betty, naturally, I asked if they had rung up properly, and, after checking, the clerk ended up giving me the lower price, assuming they had been misplaced.

I got lucky — the organic pomegranates were fantastic quality, and yielded lots of juicy, deep red seeds. In fact, one fruit yielded over 10 ounces of seeds!

Score.

That’s compared to 8 ounces from the conventional pomegranate. Doing the math, at full price, that’s $0.30 per ounce, versus $0.25 per ounce for conventional. I’d say it’s worth it to buy organic next time, since the price per ounce is similar, and the quality is superior.

Thus endeth Part 2 of a way-too-in-depth analysis of the price of pomegranate seeds. But I can’t help it — it’s what I do.

An experiment

Since we’re on the subject of pomegranate (sort of), one of Nora’s favorite foods lately is pomegranate seeds. I’m not surprised — they’re one of her mama’s favorite snacks, too! They are definitely tasty, but seeding a pomegranate is a messy undertaking. It just so happens that Trader Joe’s has an oh-so-convenient pack of pomegranate seeds for $3.99.

Sweet.

Now that we’re a single income family, however, convenience isn’t always the only factor. Somebody’s got to be Budget Betty now and then. Pomegranates — you know, the original thing — sell for $1.99 apiece just across the aisle at Trader Joe’s. Assuming you can get a fairly equivalent amount of seeds, that’s a way better deal, so I decided to try it out.

Disappointing.

I should have known better than to buy produce at Trader Joe’s, though. There’s a reason I don’t usually. Despite picking what looked like one of the ripest fruits there, the seeds were pale and a little sour-tasting. Nora agreed — she was way less into them than usual. Worse yet, the fruit only yielded a little over 3 ounces of usable seeds. A prepared pack of seeds has 5.3 ounces in it, so at that point, it’s hardly even worth the price difference, given the extra effort it takes.

A few days later, though, a friend of mine came over with her daughter, who is a month older than Nora. She brought along some pomegranate seeds as a snack for her, but hers looked nice and red and juicy. She said she bought the fruit at Whole Foods, so I figured I’d give it another try.

I was pleased with the results. As it turned out, pomegranates were also $1.99 at Whole Foods (who knew??) and the quality was vastly superior.

Now that's more like it.

The seeds were plump, juicy, and sweet, and Nora seemed to like them every bit as well as the pre-packaged kind.

Even better, one fruit yielded almost 8 ounces of seeds. Doing the math, that’s about $0.25 an ounce, versus about $0.75 an ounce for the packaged seeds. Even figuring in the inconvenience of having to seed the fruit, that’s totally worth it. It’s not like it’s that hard, once you get the hang of it. Plus they’re fresh, which is always a plus, and you can store the seeds in the fridge for ease of use later.

So it’s fresh pomegranate seeds for us for here on out, as long as pomegranate is in season, and our budget will be just a smidge happier for it!

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