Sunday 26 July 2009

Frugal Freezer Stock and a WIP Stew

I hate throwing out anything. It all began when I was traumatised by my mum and my baby sister throwing out my favourite doll, April. She is the one in the dolly bouncinet in the photo (apologies for poor quality) and the taller doll is my Brandy doll. Actually, I think it might have gone back even further.

Last weekend I dug out a box of childhood stuff from my parents' garage. It included some school exercise books. In one I had written the chores that everyone in the family did. It amused us to see that next to my brother Andy, I had written ‘no work’. He is 8 years younger than me so probably would have been quite young when I wrote this but we still teased him about it.

Spending my life resistant to throwing out anything did not help in my first job after I finished studying. I worked for an archival organisation that was processing the records of the State Electricity Commission (SEC) in the city prior to privatisation. The work wasn’t very exciting but I found it fascinating to be in a building in the midst of closing down. One day we'd see a bustling office and then next day that floor would be deserted.

During this job I learnt a valuable lesson. I wanted to keep some annual reports that had really interesting information. My supervisor told me that they had also been kept elsewhere and storage space was so expensive that we couldn’t afford to keep multiple copies. It is a hard lesson to learn that you can’t keep it all, but when your parents have a double garage and floor to ceiling wardrobes, it is hard to believe. You see I studied history not archives so I had been taught how useful relics of the past were for historians rather than how to process and store them.

Moving into our small unit, the lesson that you can’t afford to keep everything should have been valuable. One glance at our place shows that keeping stuff is prized far higher than order in our household. I don’t know how I missed the neatness gene that my sisters all have. They have spotless minimalist rooms whereas our house is full of homely clutter that makes them throw up their hands in despair.

As a student of history, I believe in the value of keeping a connection with our past but hoarding is about more than that. Anyone who has kept clothes for long enough knows that fashions that go will often come again. The greenie mantra ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ seems anti-hoarding but it is not quite. Doing my thrift badge as a girl guide, I learnt that old socks can be used for polishing shoes or dusting shelves. It made me inclined to become the type with cupboards full of stuff that just might come in handy one day.

I am no different in the kitchen. When it comes to food, I hate to throw anything out. Even the scraps. This year I finally got a compost bin. But I was delighted to find there are even better ways to recycle trimmings from vegetables. They make wonderful home made stock. What you need is a freezer, a plastic bag and a stockpot.

I came across a post on 30 Bucks a Week (via Bitten) about keeping a bag in the freezer to put vegetable scraps in for making stock. Making stock at home has always seemed a worthy but demanding endeavour. I don’t have lots of vegetables hanging around that need using in stock (I put them into other recipes) and I hate the idea of buying vegetables to cook and throw away. I have read that you can use vegetable scraps but I never seem to have enough to use. Hence my delight at the suggestion of using the freezer.

The method is simple and thrifty. As I chop up vegetables I sometimes put some of the ends and peel in the freezer in a bag. This way, I have it there for when I am ready to make stock, rather than feeling pressured to make stock before the scraps succumb to mould. When I make the stock, I throw all the vegetable scraps in a pot with some water, salt, garlic and some herbs from the garden. Then it goes into containers in the freezer to be there when I need them for cooking.

So I have been able to use my own stock in many dishes lately. As an aside to this rambling post, one of the things that annoyed me about Masterchef most was the advertisement for a commercial stock in the breaks. A very annoying woman, Tessie, did her best to convince us that her stock was real because she was real and so was her kids and her mess and her vegetables. I am not against buying commercially made stock, and do it quite regularly, but to try and convince us it is real or fresh or authentic or genuine is to treat the viewers like fools.

When I look at the stock that I can make from a bag of scraps in the freezer, it seems incredible that commercial manufacturers can charge us for it. Of course, like many others I am often too busy or disorganised or lazy to make my own stock. But now I am quite pleased to be using my freezer and my scraps more effectively. I would encourage others to try this. Not everyone can have a compost bin but most of us have a freezer in which they can keep scraps for stock. Mark Bitten even encourages this with his advice that a full freezer works better than an empty one. Below I have given you an example of what I use but it changes every time.

The first meal that I made with stock was a stew based on Gordon Ramsay’s Pork with Cider and Honey. I have decided in the interest of not throwing out anything – not even a blog post – I need to post the occasional work in progress (WIP) recipe. I know there are bloggers who make dishes over and over til they are just right but that is not my way. I make it, then am distracted by other recipes and when I come to try it again I have forgotten last time. So in the interests of recording what I am doing, I am posting this recipe even though it is not perfect.

I loved the idea of the cider and honey but wanted more vegetables. The main problems with the stew were that the beans were a little tough-skinned and the vegetables cooked into a mush. I don’t often soak and cook beans but am a little confused because I have been told that you shouldn’t salt them while cooking but then some recipes call for to cook them in stock, which is salty. I wondered if cooking the beans in stock was why the beans had tough skins. As for the vegetables, I have amended the recipe with a suggestion that the vegetables are roasted and added later when I make it next time.

The stock is going to Michelle for the Budget Friendly Foods theme for this month’s Heart of the Matter. She has chosen the theme for these days of the Global Financial Crisis but I am sure it are also useful to anyone trying to live a greener life. It seemed a nice coincidence that I made this on World Environment Day. So in this spirit, I would like to share an interesting post with you by No Impact Man reflecting on What I’d Say If I Was Wrong About Climate Change. It is worth reading, just as this freezer stock is worth a try if you are trying to tighten your belt and look after the environment.

Frugal Freezer Stock
(Inspired by 30 Bucks a Week)
Makes about 3 litres

Bag of scraps:
7 onions skins and ends
7 carrots peelings and ends
1 old celery stick
peelings of 1 beetroot
ends of kale
peelings of 1 parsnip
peelings of 1-2 potatoes
a bit of pumpkin skin

3-4 cloves of garlic
3 bay leaves
2-3 sprigs of rosemary
2-3 sprigs of thyme
4-5 sprigs of parsley
4 litres water
4 tsp salt (or to taste)

UPDATE 2014: I am still making this stock regularly 5 years on from this post.  I now add a few vegies as well to stock it getting bitter and use a pasta insert in my stockpot.  See my updated frugal freezer stock recipeOr follow method below!

Bring to the boil in a large stockpot. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Cool slightly - I think I waited about 30 minutes). Sieve into a large bowl or jug. Discard vegetable scraps. Use within a few days or freeze in small tubs.

Bean Stew with Cider and Honey (WIP)
Adapted from Gordon Ramsay (BBC Australian Good Food Guide June 2009)
Serves 6-8

500g dried cannellini beans
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped plus one piece of onion set aside
8 cloves
2 cups (500ml) medium cider
600ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
⅓ cup (120g) honey
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bouquet garni (bay leaf, sprigs of thyme and parsley tied together with string)
2 carrots, chopped
1 parsnip, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 medium leeks, chopped
½ tsp smoked paprika
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large aubergine, chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped
800g pumpkin, chopped
5 vegie sausages, grilled and chopped
1 tbsp cornflour

Soak beans overnight in water. Heat oil in a large stockpot and add onions. Fry for about 5 minutes or till onions soft and golden. Stick cloves into the large piece of onion.

Add clove studded onion, cider, stock, tomato paste, honey, Worcestershire sauce, bouquet garni, carrots, parsnip, celery, leeks, smoked paprika and garlic. Bring to the boil and simmer about 1 hour.

I added aubergine, zucchini and pumpkin and simmer an additional 20 minutes, then added the sausages. I think I would next time simmer the mixture an additional 15 minutes without these veggies and sausages. I would roast the aubergine, pumpkin and zucchini and add these with the sausages and just cook an additional 5 minutes to warm them through.

Then mix the cornflour with a little of the liquid from the pot and add to the pot. Bring to the boil so the mixture thickens.

It is best served with brown rice and green vegetables such as Brussels sprouts.

On stereo:
Best of Bach


  1. That is such an amazing idea Johanna. I throw out lots of vegetable ends, that I could keep and use this way. Fabulous!

  2. Thank you for this! I compost all my scraps but this veggie stock idea is great!

    I am also educated as a historian. I'm going on to graduate school next year, but I'm curious: do you currently work in a field related to history? My dream is to work in a museum as a curator, but I would love to hear what another historian does after the academic world :D

  3. I'm the same way--my sister's place is immaculate and ours is a welter of things lying all over the place--and I can't bring myself to throw away sentimental or nostalgic items! Great that you have a pic of your doll, still. And a great idea for making stock! The stew sounds lovely and warming.

  4. Right, you have absolutely inspired me to do this! I always felt the same about cooking vegetables for stock and then throwing them away, but I always have an array of peelings and things in my composting caddy. From now on I will be storing them in the freezer (as soon as we've eaten enough of the bread in there for them to fit :) )

    I sympathise absolutely with your yen to keep things - and I think that a bit of clutter lends character to a house. If everyone was minimalist what would us history students have to study?!

  5. Thanks Jacqueline - the only thing I realised today when I made another batch is that I then can't compost my scraps once they make stock (as I think I am only meant to compost uncooked scraps) - but it is still worthwhile

    Thanks Ladyhurt - I work in academia in knowledge translation (for want of a better description) and still waiting to work out what to do when I grow up - but those I studied with have gone into a fascinating mix of careers - including museum work

    Thanks Ricki - I am pleased that even if they threw out my doll, I managed to keep a photo of her, even if very dodgy quality - and I am reassured that ours is not the only house wallowing in nostalgia and clutter

    Thanks Lysy - I was happy that a friend told me my house was interesting the other day - or maybe she was just being polite! Hope you get to try the stock - it feels so effortless!

  6. So glad you used our freezer scrap stock idea! It's great to then have so much stock around for use in your other recipes, isn't it? Congrats on making it yours.

  7. Thanks 30 a week - it is great - I have made more stock the last few weeks than I ever have before in my life!

  8. Very interesting! Never thought to keep those bits and pieces but that sounds like it's worth it :P

  9. I've heard about people making soup stocks from vegetable scraps but I guess my thought is, if I"m not eating it originally why would I want to make a soup stock with it? But I guess because it's a stock it doesn't matter that it's peels and such.

  10. I too have trouble throwing things away. We keep a bag in the 2nd loungeroom for putting in things that are to go to charity. Sadly I have a habit of putting them in.....only to sneak in and remove them again later. My husband who is very minimalist gets driven insane by the volume of what I keep :P

    That stock looks lovely Johanna :)

  11. Thanks Lorraine - most definitely worth it

    Thanks Ashley - I guess the point is that you don't eat them anyway - they just go out in the bin

    Thanks Vegetation - if I had a second lounge room it would be full of things that should be thrown out - but I know what you mean about sneaking them back into use - too tempting!


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