Making Homemade Broth

Lentil and Brown Rice Compost Broth

This was one of these things that I read so long ago that I don’t remember when, or who, save that it was an interview with a rather clever and creative chef being interviewed, and just about that time I had despaired of finding any broth – canned or as a bouillon cube – at the commissary or local supermarket which wasn’t expensive, unbearably salty, or both. Now HEB, Sprouts, and Trader Joe’s all offer a nice variety of flavored and low sodium broths and I have used them for some splendid soups, especially when nothing sits very well on on a fractious stomach except chicken broth with a smidgeon of rice or fideos in it … but nothing beats home-made broth made the way that I did, following the advice of the very clever and penny-pinching chef.

What he advised was to keep a special container in the freezer, and whenever you had vegetable scraps, cut ends or clean peelings, or even whole veggies past their best-by date, to throw them into the container. Onion ends, mushroom stems, ends of celery – in fact, everything but broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower scraps could be used. Omit anything spoiled, rotten or moldy, of course. If you are not a vegan, then bones and trimmings from various meats – chicken necks and ham-bones and the like – can be added as well. When the container is completely full, empty the frozen scraps into a large stockpot, and add a handful of fresh parsley (or any other fresh herbs you have available – thyme would be fantastic), and some whole peppercorns, and fill with bottled or tap-water up almost to the top of the pot. Cover the stockpot, set it on the stove over low heat, and just let it simmer for a good few days, until all the vegetables are cooked to softness and the broth itself is a rich deep brown.

And that’s it: after a couple of days, take it off the heat, let cool, and pour the broth off. I like to run it through a fine mesh strainer, and package it in 2-cup to quart quantities for the freezer out in the garage. Nothing makes a better base for soup – and one of my very favorites to use broth for is a lentil and brown rice soup, from Nava Atlas’s Vegetariana.

Combine in a large pot:
1/2 Cup dried lentils, washed and picked over
1/3-1/2 Cup brown rice
2 TBSp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSp soy sauce
2 Bay leaves
3 Cups water or vegetable broth
Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat for 7 to 10 minutes. Then add:
2 additional cups water or broth
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
Handful of finely chopped celery leaves
1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes with liquid, or Ro-Tel tomatoes with chili peppers.1/2 Cup tomato sauce or tomato juice
1/4 cup dry red wine or sherry
1 Teasp dried basil
1 Teasp paprika
1/2 Teasp dried marjoram
1/2 Teasp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and simmer for half an hour or so, until lentils and rice are done. You can take the onus of being vegetarian off it by adding about half a pound of kielbasa or other smoked sausage sliced into rounds, towards the end of the cooking time, and serving it with a little grated cheddar cheese on top. I made it once with imported green lentils from France, and people almost swooned.

Mobile Food Trucks of San Antonio

Eating on the Go

by Celia Hayes

Well, there is fast food, and then there is fast food – fast food that comes to the customer. When I was stationed in Korea such a convenience was called the ‘chogi’ truck, or as the local national employees called it ‘roooch-coachie’. It came around mid-morning to the building where I worked, dispensing hot sandwiches, snacks, candy bars, ice cream and bags of salted or sugared snack foods. But the chogi truck is to a food truck today as a Model T is to a Jeep Cherokee. They’re gasoline-powered motor vehicles, and they dispense food to the hungry … but the 21st century food truck tends to be a specialty gourmet kitchen on wheels. Certainly in a large and built-up city, there would be lots of hungry lunch-time customers.

Quite likely, a good number of those hungry workers would have exhausted all of the available and nearby restaurants and fast-food places. It’s an expensive and time-consuming operation, opening up a new restaurant in a profitable location in the big city. Conventional wisdom has it that the odds on a new restaurant venture failing within the first three years of operation are fairly high – so starting small with a food truck is a logical solution. Without the huge start-up expense of real estate and a building – all the budding chef-entrepreneur needs is a kitchen on wheels, a map of the city – and one which permits food trucks to park on streets relatively unhindered – and a lot of hungry customers. These days, it also helps to have a Facebook page.

Food trucks have a relatively long history, as these things go. According to the invaluable Wikipedia, the mobile kitchen/canteen had it’s origins in Texas – in the chuck-wagon developed by Charles Goodnight for use on the long-trail cattle drives after the Civil War, when the Transcontinental Railroad had pushed far enough into Kansas to make Texas cattle profitable in the larger markets of the East. From the horse-drawn chuck-wagon, came lunch trucks, which provided meals to shift-workers in the big cities, especially those working the night shift around the turn of the century. This trend continued, of lunch trucks serving meals at construction sites, and setting up at fairs and festivals. The US Army maintained mobile canteens – kitchens on wheels, which are most likely the direct ancestor of today’s food trucks.

According to the same source, the current popularity for food trucks coincided with the economic downturn; a plentitude of food-trucks with no construction sites to service, and a similar glut of hopeful chefs with no restaurants to work in. Necessity makes opportunities – and in this case, a very useful one. Out on 281 and Thousand Oaks, outside the 1604 Loop, a far-seeing local entrepreneur established a sort of gourmet food park – the Boardwalk on Bulverde, set aside for food trucks and customers to meet, greet, and eat. My personal favorite food truck is permanently parked on Nacogdoches, next to the Cordova Auto Center; Ericks Tacos, which has Mexican-style street food to die for and funky street-dining atmosphere to spare. Oh – and look out for the green sauce; nuclear fission in a small plastic cup. On a book trip up to Abilene, we ran across Short Bus Hot Dogs – which is a hotdog stand set up in a converted school bus. And yes, they have a Facebook page. Charlie Goodnight didn’t have any idea of what he set in motion, in 1866.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary…

How does the garden grow?

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By Celia Hayes

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary …How does the garden grow? At this point, it’s hard to say anything definite; for much of February I have been sidelined with the current flu, possibly in combination with a whopping reaction to all the pollen in the air for the last few weeks. All the plans for the garden were on hold until this weekend … filling up the big raised bed with another humongous bag of good potting soil, constructing the first of several smaller raised beds, getting a dozen or so tomato starts planted in either home-made topsy planters or in the existing Earth Boxes, and planting the onion starts and the various beans. All of that … and the thunderstorm which roared through in the wee hours of Sunday morning just seemed providential. I wish that we could count on a good solid rain every two weeks or so from now until autumn … that, and the assortment of seed packets that I bought at Lowe’s on Sunday will come forth and thrive as advertised.

Beans, and peas, zucchini and summer squash and mesclun-lettuce mixes, oh, my. I used to have very good luck growing the mesclun and salad mixes from seeds from a specialty mail-order nursery during the first few years I was here and trying my best to have a usable, edible garden. Last season, the tomatoes worked out all right, although I honestly could have used more, more, more in the way of bearing plants. I’d like to have so much in the way of tomatoes and zucchini that I am reduced to leaving bags of them anonymously on my neighbors’ doorsteps, running the doorbell and running away. I’d love to have enough bearing bean plants that I could go out every evening as I did in Utah, and pick enough fresh beans for dinner.

As for the home-made topsys; I had very good luck with a number of inexpensive planters’ pots from Lowe’s, and making hangers to suspend them from picture-hanging wire. All I needed to do was cut a square hole in the bottom of the pot with the kitchen shears, and then cut an ordinary cellulose kitchen sponge in half. A slice halfway through the half-sponge and a hole for the stem of the tomato plant, fit the leaves through the hole in the pot, and fill up the pot with good potting soil, and we’re in business.

The three pots of eggplant from last year are doing OK; I finally moved them out of the greenhouse and into a sunny spot against the back fence. I have crossed my heart and vowed to actually eat the eggplants this time. There were four or five on the plants last year, but they went to seed before I got around to doing anything constructively culinary with them. Quite a few of the okra pods also went to seed – but there I got the good out of them and saved the seeds. Now I have a whole Earthbox full of okra sproutlings. My ambition as regards okra is to have enough ripe pods at one time to make a meal of, or possibly a single jar of okra pickles. And that’s been my weekend in the garden – what about yours?