Jul
28

It’s a Miracle!

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It’s long been said there are two things you shouldn’t discuss in “polite company” or at the dinner table: religion and politics. Based on my experiences, I’d add a third: Miracle Whip or mayonnaise?

Now don’t go running off. This isn’t going to be a discussion of the virtues of one or the other. I believe there’s room in this world for both. No, this is a post about my craving for cake.

White condiments and cake? Yes indeed. Mayonnaise cakes have been around a long time. Yes, longer than I have. Some sources state Hellman’s created the cake in the 1930s as a way to get around egg and butter shortages. But a recipe for chocolate mayonnaise cake was published in the Oakland Tribune on March 7, 1927. Whatever the source, it’s been around a long time.

A week or so ago, I had a craving for cake. Unfortunately, there were no eggs in the fridge, and I couldn’t go to the store. What to do. I looked in the fridge to see what I did have, and there it was–a jar of Miracle Whip! Light bulb moment. When I was a kid, my mom made a mean Miracle Whip cake. When she asked me what kind of cake I wanted, that was always my answer. And since it’s a chocolate cake, well, that made it better.

Now bear with me. It’s not as eww as it might sound. And yes, it does go against my desire to use as few highly processed ingredients as possible. But still . . .  You don’t really taste the Miracle Whip. It’s not quite as sweet as many cakes, but that’s fine with me; I’m not into supersweet things.

Excuse the frosting

Excuse the frosting

There’s nothing complicated about this cake. Flour, water, baking soda, sugar, vanilla, and cocoa. And Miracle Whip, of course. Mix and bake. It’s so moist it doesn’t need frosting. (And I apologize for the frosting job above. It’s simply powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk. And not very tasty.)

If you’re not a big fan of chocolate, the cake can be made without the cocoa. I’ve since made a lime and coconut Miracle Whip cake. Instead of vanilla, I used lime juice. I also added lime zest and coconut. That may be my new favorite cake.

If you absolutely can’t stand Miracle Whip (you have my sympathy), the cake can be made with mayonnaise. Do not, however, use a product simply called “salad dressing.” It’s Miracle Whip or mayo. Well, you can try it, but you’re on your own.

Here’s my recipe for Miracle Cake.

 

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Jul
24

Let’s Talk Mustard

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I use a lot of condiments, and I love making my own. I’m guessing you could figure that one out for yourselves. I recently started a new FaceBook group, Top It Off (come join us), that will focus on condiments, jams, jellies. marmalade. butter, cream cheese–anything that you put on top of some thing else to eat. I happened to mention on the site today that I thought I’d make mustard this weekend.  Someone asked me for a recipe. Imagine my surprise when I didn’t find it here. I was sure I’d posted about it, but I guess not. So I’m here to rectify the matter.

If you search for “mustard” on Google, you’ll find a lot of recipes.  Some differ in many ways, while others may only differ by one or two ingredients. Still others may have the same ingredients but use a different method.

You’ve heard me say this time and again, but one of the best things about making your own things–including condiments, is that you can fine-tune them to your preferences. One of the easiest ways to do this with mustard in to change the type of vinegar you use. White wine vinegar gives a mellower taste.

You’ll also notice I say to let the soaking mustard seeds sit for 3 days and then start tasting. That’s just an estimate. For me, its’ still a bit too spicy after 3 days. Keep in mind ambient temperature will make a difference in how long it takes to reach the flavor you like. If it’s hot, start checking earlier.

After the mustard meets your taste approval, whiz it up in a food processor. If it’s too thick, add a wee bit of warm water or vinegar. And then you let it sit again. Now, it’s not going to be that bright yellow mustard in the bright yellow bottle. It will look more like grainy mustard because that’s what it is.

I like my mustard on corned beef and pastrami (homemade preferred, of course). Sometimes I’ll add a bit of it and a bit of the bright yellow in potato salad.

Mustard is not difficult to make; it does take time, though. It is well worth the time.

Here’s my basic recipe.

 

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Jul
08

Food Preservation Kept Simple–Vegetables

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Some of you may recall I recently did a guest post about sprouting wheat for flour on Homesteader’s Supply‘s blog. Today I’m happy to share Robin Follette’s guest blog for The Enabling Cook. In this post, she shares ways to save the abundance of vegetables we hope to get from our gardens and farmers’ markets. They’re also great ways to be able to take advantage of supermarket sales.

 

Food Preservation Kept Simple–Vegetables

There’s so much food! After waiting out a long winter, it was nice to have the first fresh food that comes with spring. It was satisfying when there was enough to have a fresh vegetable with dinner each evening; add salad for lunch as a bonus a week later. But now? Now it’s time to get busy preserving the abundance. The baskets overflow, spilling green beans onto the floor when my tired arms half set, half drop the bushel basket to the floor.

Food preservation is one of my favorite parts of homesteading. It’s a nice reminder of summer when the wind is pelting freezing rain at the windows. It’s food security. And while it’s a lot of work, it’s money saved once you have your initial equipment. A $2 package of bush bean seeds can be turned into quarts of beans. One pound of corn seed can turn into one-tenth of an acre of corn on the cob.

The learning curve can be steep, especially if you’re canning. Once you have it down pat, you can almost do it with your eyes closed. And after weeks in the garden, that’s not that much of an exaggeration.

Freezing

Freezing vegetables sometimes requires blanching first. A quick dip into boiling water, then a cold bath to remove heat, drain the vegetables well, and freeze. The following vegetables may be frozen.

  • Asparagus
  • Beans (bush)
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Corn (kernels and on the cob)
  • Greens (beet, collards, chard, mustard, rutabaga, spinach, turnip)
  • Herbs
  • Onions
  • Parsnips
  • Peas and pods
  • Peppers
  • Pumpkins and winter squash
  • Summer squash
  • Tomatoes

That doesn’t leave much that can’t be frozen.

Freezing has its downfalls. We lost a significant about of meat and vegetables last week when the chest freezer quit. It had to have been out 10 days before we discovered the disaster. We’re have a generator to run the freezers if the power goes out, but we weren’t prepared for this. If you are using a freezer for food preservation, please consider a temperature alarm. They are less than $25, and that’s a penny in the pot when it comes to the value of the food we lost.

Freezing requires little equipment. A large pot is used to boil water for blanching the vegetables. If you have a strainer, you can lower into the pot, add all of the vegetables in that batch at once, and remove them all at once. They blanch and cool evenly. You’ll need zipper or vacuum bags, freezer containers (plastic), or canning jars.

Canning

Don’t you love the look of shelves filled with jars of vegetables? The colors! Orange, red, green! Beautiful. We had a cold cellar in the house where I grew up. My mother would send me to the cellar to get three large potatoes and one quart jar of vegetables. If the choice was mine, we had green beans for supper. Mum warmed those beans in whole, fresh, raw milk and added a big chunk of butter. She salted and peppered the milk and let the beans sit in the warm milk while the rest of the meal cooked. It was delicious. We sopped up the buttery, beany milk with a chunk of homemade bread. I tried this as an adult and used frozen beans. It is not the same. The beans must be canned.

Canning is more complicated than freezing. Some vegetables must be canned in a pressure canner, and others should be simmered in a hot water bath. The internal temperature of a can of vegetables should reach 240°. The amount of pressure required depends on your altitude and what vegetable you’re canning. The amount of time you maintain the pressure doesn’t vary.

Vegetables must be washed before being put into jars to avoid clostridium botulinum, also known as botulism. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it can be deadly or permanently damaging. Food and knowledge have changed since our grandparents canned. It’s very important to brush up on current methods. As we know better, we do better and become safer.

Canning funnel

Canning funnel

You’ll need a pressure canner and/or water-bath canner, jars specifically made for canning, a rack that sits on the bottom of the canner to prevent jars from sitting on the bottom, lids, and rings. Also helpful are tongs, a lid lifter, a funnel, and a jar lifter. These items can be purchased together as a kit for under $20.

I encourage you to take a canning class. Your cooperative extension might offer this class. If not, they will have information and guidance. If your county’s extension office doesn’t have the information right there, they will tell you which county to contact. There are significant dos and don’ts involved with canning, but it’s not difficult. Making time to learn proper techniques is time well spent.

Dehydrating

Food dehydrator

Food dehydrator

Dehydrating vegetables is simple, economical, and a tremendous space saver. My favorite summer snack is a handful of dried grape tomatoes that were sliced in half and seasoned with garlic powder and Italian herbs. I sneak these tomatoes into the house when nobody’s looking so that I can get them into the dehydrator. When my spaghetti sauce is a little too thin, I add these tasty treats. The tomato rehydrates and adds additional flavor to the sauce.

Purchase a dependable dehydrator. Some models offer circulation, temperature control, and timers. Others are simple plug-and-go dehydrators without a circulating fan. Place the vegetables in the trays, plug it in, and go do something else. After 8 hours in a plug-and-go, you’ll want to move the bottom trays to the top, the top to the bottom, and leave the center trays in the center. The wetter a vegetable is the longer it will take to dehydrate.

These vegetables can be dehydrated.

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Corn kernels (not on the cob)
  • Bush beans
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Summer squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

I like to prepare a soup mix of carrots, celery, peas, summer squash or zucchini, and onions. Following the instructions that come with your dehydrator. Circulation, number of trays, and heat contribute to how long you’ll need to run the dehydrator.

Store your dehydrated vegetables in canning jars, zippered plastic bags, or vacuum sealed bags. Watch for signs of moisture in the container for the first two to three days. If you see any sign of moisture, return the vegetables to the dehydrator.

Fermenting

Almost any vegetable may be fermented. I think everyone’s heard of sauerkraut, but did you know you can lacto-ferment carrots, cauliflower, kohlrabi, peppers, and even sweet potatoes? That’s just a start. I use the Pickle-Pro Fermenting Lids for everything from vegetables to sourdough starter. Follow the instructions that come with your culture.

Fermenting crock

Fermenting crock

Lacto-fermentation makes vegetables easier to digest for some people, possibly because it creates probiotics. Fermenting preserves food as well as adds beneficial enzymes, B-vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids.

 

There’s a lot you can do to preserve foods. Often, several methods are used for personal preferences in flavor. Space and practicality will help you decide what methods are best for you.

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Jul
05

Mmm, Cookies

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I’m not much of a sweets eater, but I do like my ice cream, some pie, and cookies. Cookies are probably my g0-too; after all, they’re the perfect grab-and-go snack. And when it comes to cookies, my favorites are probably shortbread and peanut butter. This week. They are, of course, subject to change.

I wanted cookies the other day. It was a serious jonesing. The last cookies I made were shortbread, and though I love them, I wanted something different. It just so happened a peanut butter cookie was popping up all over my Facebook feed. While cookies and my FB feed are exactly strangers, there was something different about this peanut butter cookie. Actually there were several things different about this peanut butter cookie recipe.

No flour

No butter

No salt

No baking powder

No baking soda

Of course I shared this recipe, and apparently I was one of the last to know about it. It’s been around for a long time. Who knew? (Yeh, probably everyone but me.)

I had to try it. I call it 1-Cubed Peanut Butter Cookies. (The 1 should be followed by a superscript 3, but I can’t figure out how to do it here. Ergo, spelling out “cubed.”) Why, because you use 1 of three items. Here’s the recipe. Don’t blink.

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup sugar

1 large egg, beaten

That’s it. Seriously.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Shape into balls, put on parchment lined cookie sheets, light press down, and put the fork marks on each cookie. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Ovens will vary.

PB CookiesIt works! And they taste good!

Since this was my first time making these cookies, I followed the recipe . . . for the most part. I did top with a light sprinkling of turbinado sugar before baking.

I did buy commercial peanut butter to make these cookies. I usually make my own PB, but I had doubts if it would work in this recipe. Although some recipes for homemade peanut butter call for the addition of oil, I don’t My PB is just peanuts whirred to buttery oblivion. Most commercial peanut butters contain at least one type of oil, and I wondered if that oil was necessary for this cookie dough to become cookiefied. I’ll probably try a batch using my peanut butter and see what happens.

You’d think I’d be happy this recipe worked and provided me with a good cookie fix. And I am. I’m especially happy for those looking for a wheat-free cookie. But it has got me to thinking if there are other cookies that can be made this way. There may be experiments in my future.

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Jun
23

Onions on Ice

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The other day I went to pull out an onion for a dish I was making. Nope. Not a single onion. I was sure I had at least one the last time I checked. Should have checked one more time.

Now you might think that’s no big deal. And in the whole scheme of things, it probably isn’t. But I am a big fan of onions. I love them raw. I love them cooked (most ways). They’re players in many of the dishes I make, especially soups and stews. And while I included them in my mirepoix cubes, there are times when I want just the onions.

The next chance I had I went to the store and picked up a couple of bags. When I opened the first bag, it was evident I needed to do something with them right away. Some were past their prime. They were certainly usable, but I needed to cut away parts. I dehydrated some for onion flakes and onion powder. And I wanted to freeze some.

Now that was the problem. When I’ve frozen them in the past, they clumped together and had to be pounded apart. Either that or plop the whole thing in the pot. Yes, I know that’s why they tell you to freeze such things on a cookie sheet first and then put in a container. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have room for a cookie sheet in the freezer. There had to be another way.

And there was. Now this may be common knowledge, but I’d not heard of it before. While I didn’t have room for a cookie sheet, there was definitely room to squeeze in an ice cube tray.

Sorry about the lighting.

Sorry about the lighting.

So I took out my Genius Nicer Dicer Fusion and chopped up a couple of onions and put the pieces in an ice cube tray. My theory was that the water in the onions would make the pieces freeze together. Then I’d pop out the cubes and put in a container. When I wanted onions, I’d simply take out a cube or two.

Good theory. But first I had to deal with the onion smell, and these onions had a lot of smell. Before putting in the freezer, I covered first with plastic wrap and then with aluminum foil. It worked.

IMG_0117

The next morning, I anxiously took them out of the freezer.

IMG_0118

It worked!

Kind of.

While some stayed in a cubish form, others broke apart. But that’s fine. They’re still individually frozen.

As I said, this may be common knowledge, but it was new to me. I’m already thinking of other things to freeze this way.

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Jun
10

Iced Tea and Facebook

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Facebook has proved to be a valuable tool in locating missing things, people, and pets. And now, iced tea.

Yes, you read that right, though more technically, iced tea bags. And to be specific, Luzianne Family Size Cold Brew tea bags. You might remember the deep passion I have for these little bags of bliss. If not, you can read about it here. In the time that’s passed, it hasn’t changed. What has changed is their availability.

I was not surprised I couldn’t find them here in the Adirondacks. There’s a lot I can’t find here, but I digress. So as usual, I returned to Walmart to place my order. And what do I find? “Currently unavailable.” What? Are you kidding me? I signed up to be notified when they were back in stock, but that was not helping me now.

The next logical step was to check out Amazon. The least expensive I could find at the time was $8.00/box. That’s for 22 tea bags. As much as I crave it, I could not justify the expense. Yes, I was being an adult.

But that’s where being an adult ended. My next move was to Facebook, where I complained (okay, whined) about my inability to find them. What happened next was completely unexpected. People posted they’d check their local stores. Some even searched the Internet for other sources, which I checked up on. To digress a bit–what the heck is up with shipping costs. Sheez. But then came the really unexpected–“Message me your address, and I’ll send some.” And when I offered to pay, most refused.

After a few days, my counter looked like this.

IMG_0083That’s 17 boxes of my beloved tea bags. That amounts to 374 tea bags–all thanks to the generosity of Facebook friends. I think they actually can be considered friends now. Especially since so many made sure to tell me to let them know when I ran out, so they could send more.

Incidentally, the day the last package arrived, I got an e-mail from Walmart. They’re back in stock.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to celebrate National Iced Tea Day with a glass of Luzianne.

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Jun
04

Cycling Chefs

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If you’ve read The Enabling Cook very long, you know one of my passions is fighting hunger. It is a travesty that a country such as the United States has so many people at food risk. Some reports say 1 in 5 children are at food risk. This is our future generation–our future–at risk.

You also know I like to bring to your attention ways you can help fight hunger. And that is the purpose of today’s blog post.

ChefsCycle_logo

For almost 30 years. chefs and restaurants have raised millions to fight child hunger in America. This weekend kicks off their latest efforts, Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry. June 7-9, chefs will ride their bicycles from New York City to Washington, DC. Next weekend, June 14-16, chefs will ride from Santa Barbara to San Diego. Each trip is approximately 300 miles!

Now I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I could ride a bike that far. Actually, though they say you don’t forget how to ride a bike, I’m not so sure. It’s been decades since I’ve been on one. Well, at least one that actually moved. Though I can’t ride, I can make a donation. They’ve made it so easy. Just go to Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry. You can learn about the campaign and the chefs participating. You can even pick a chef to support. Click “Donate,” and select the level you feel comfortable at. A donation of $10 can provide up to 100 meals! That means for every dollar you donate, 10 meals can be provided! Imagine what a relief that will be to those at risk. Their goal is 100,000 meals.

I hope you’ll take some time out of your day to visit Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry. And please make a donation if you can. After all, no matter how much we plan for adversity, it can strike us and our families much harder and more quickly than we can imagine. Before we know it, we could be one of those individuals and families at food risk. There is no donation too small. Remember–$1 can provide 10 meals.

Ride on, chefs. Well done.

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Jun
02

A Dinner Dilemma

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I channeled my mother last night. Not a bad thing, but it was frustrating. Mom made dinner almost every night when I was a kid, and most times without complaint. But sometimes . . . maybe more than sometimes . . . she lamented how difficult it was to decide what to fix for dinner. It was often during those last few days before Dad got paid, and there were slim pickings in the refrigerator and freezer. But no matter how hard it was, she figured out how to make each dinner.

I never really appreciated how hard that decision could be until I was on my own. Yes, I was sometimes frustrated at trying to decide what to cook, and I’m cooking for one! Last night was one of those nights. I looked in the fridge, and nothing caught my fancy. Oh it wasn’t that my freezer or refrigerator contents were lacking. No, that wasn’t it. I’d made chili a few days before, and there was plenty left over. In fact, I’d had some for lunch, so I really didn’t want it for dinner. And while I’d not thawed anything, I could cook something frozen to done in either my NuWave Oven or electric pressure cooker. But I wasn’t in the mood. Just as I’d decided to fix my g0-to answer for such a dilemma (eggs and home fries), I hit on another option–soup.

Okay, I know I make soup a lot, but I like soup. Plus it was rainy and chilly (didn’t get out of the 50s), and soup seemed perfect. But I wanted something different. I took a closer look at what vegetables were in the fridge. Hmm, 2 or 3 stalks of asparagus, brussels sprouts, broccoli, onions. Kind of limited. Took a look in the freezer. A few weeks ago, there was a sale on carrots and corn. Blanched some and put in the freezer. Yes, that’d work. Now what about the broth. Grabbed some chicken stock and soy sauce. To the stove.

 

Soup

I decided to leave out the onion this time. I’d never put brussels sprouts in soup before, so I was kind of clueless about how to do it. I decided to cut them in half to speed cooking. In about a tablespoon of butter, I briefly sweated the broccoli and sprouts. I added the stock and a couple tablespoons of soy sauce. When it came to a boil, I added the frozen corn and carrots, as well as red pepper flakes. As it cooked away, thought about other things to add. I wanted noodles, but I didn’t have any. Or so I thought. Duh, spaghetti. So I added spaghetti.

As I always say, check for seasoning. It needed more soy sauce. Keep in mind, the soy sauce serves double duty. I used it in place of salt, and I wanted the taste, too. So I added a bit more. In all, I probably added a little less that a 1/4 cup of soy sauce. It also needed crushed black pepper.

The result? Well, you can see it above. What you can’t see is how good it was! Even surprised me. In a way, it was kind of like a Chopped challenge. And I won!!

Take a look at what’s in your refrigerator in new ways–for you. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you come up with.

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May
28

Welcome to Howling Wind Bucket Farm

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For the past several years, I’ve planted gardens. I had 2 plots at home and usually 2 plots at the community garden. When I checked out this place, I asked about having a garden and was told yes. That got me excited, of course. I bought a raised bed frame and waited for the time to plant.

Then I changed my mind.

For a variety of reasons, I decided not to do a raised bed this year. Instead, I decided to go the container route. Though most are in buckets, I have some planted in tubs and planter pots as well. I started some herbs in cut down 2-liter soda bottles. Here are a couple of early photos of Howling Wind Bucket Farm.

Garden 1

Garden 2I’ve planted tomatoes, banana peppers, peas, green and yellow beans, onions, radishes, carrots, potatoes, chard, and jalapeños. I also have oregano, basil, catnip, and sage growing. I couldn’t find many seedling options, so except for the banana peppers and tomato plant, all were started from seeds–or eyes in the case of the potatoes. I want to find another container and plant more radishes.

As for the name Howling Wind Bucket Farm, well, this is part of a wall of trees behind my house.

IMG_0034When the wind blows, which it does often, it howls. Well, to be more accurate, it sounds like a train. But Howling Train Bucket Farm doesn’t have the same ring to it.

I know a lot of people think they can’t have a garden because they don’t have space. And that’s true in many cases. But if you can get yourself a container of some type, some soil, and seeds or seedlings, you really can have a garden. It doesn’t have to be huge to help you eat better and save money.

 

 

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May
19

Mirepoix Cubed

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After a busy and stressful week, I decided to take last weekend off and do things I enjoy–like reading cookbooks. That is one of my favorite ways to relax. As I looked through one, I found a recipe for carrot, celery, and onion bouillon. Many will recognize that mixture as a mirepoix, the basis of many soups, sauces, and other dishes. Since I love soup and make a lot of it, it only follows that I make a lot of mirepoix. It’s not a long or complicated process, still it does take time I could spend doing something else. And for some people, it might mean they’d pass on homemade soup and reach for a can. Shudder. According to the recipe, all you had to do was chop the ingredients, whir in a blender with water, and freeze in ice cube trays. When completely frozen, pop into a freezer bag to have at your beck and call. I went to bed that night determined to make some the following morning.

But then the brain kicked in.

When you make a mirepoix, instructions usually call to sauté the vegetables in a bit of butter, oil, or a combination. Not only do you get the flavors of the vegetables, it’s enhanced by the sauté, adding another layer of flavor. I tried to think of how to get that flavor using the recipe’s instructions. Though you might be able to do so if the combination were dehydrated and then powdered, I couldn’t think of a way to get it in ice cube form. Maybe I should pass.

HPIM1577

But no. There had to be a way. And then it came to me.

Sauté the veggies first. Okay, that’s easy enough. And that’s exactly what I did. I took a carrot, a stalk of celery (including a few of the leaves), and an onion. I chopped them and sautéed in a bit of oil, just as I do most times I make a mirepoix. When finished, I turned them out onto a dish lined with a paper towel, so some of the oil could be sopped up. I patted them a bit more and let them cool a bit.

The rest was according to the original recipe. I put the veggies and cup of water in a blender and whirred away. Then into a 12-compartment ice cube tray. One carrot, celery, and onion–plus one cup of water–filled one tray. After 24 hours, and most likely sooner, they were completely frozen, so I transferred them to a freezer bag.

Of course I couldn’t wait to try them. So the next day I pulled together a mushroom and veggie soup using the cubes. And it worked great! I used 2 cubes for a smallish (technical term) pot of soup.

I know many people store homemade stock in ice cube form. And truth be told, if I had the freezer space, I might do so, too. But in the meantime, I think I’ll make a few more bags of mirepoix cubes. Saving time can be a good thing.

Mushroom Veg Soup

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