24 April 2014

At this time of year, where we live in North Carolina it is sunny and warm with a hint of much warmer weather coming close behind. But this year so far has been quite different from the norm. We had a long, bitter cold, gloomy, wet winter that went well into spring. Spring has been about what we usually experience during the winter, temperatures in the forties with rain and very little sun. We had a heavy frost on our last frost date and it has been below freezing every night this past week. I am almost afraid to see what the summer will bring. Last summer we had 8 inches more rain than the state of Washington, when we usually worry all summer about water conservation. I don't get it...
   My garden is really behind schedule, partly because I had a two month long bout with pneumonia, which took a lot out of me, but also because the weather has been too cold and wet to get the spring crops in the ground. But on days when it isn't raining, I have been putting in cool weather crops like chard and lettuce, cabbage and kale. Maybe with the weather being so cool I will still get some cool weather crops harvested before it starts getting hot.
   We have had many project underway at Heart's Ease Cottage over the winter and several are now drawing to a close. The foundation work we did in the late summer and the water management work my husband obsessed over all winter are completed, making way for a project that I have been dreaming about since we bought the house in 1989. We are building a deck off of the kitchen area with a covered area for having meals out of doors and flagstone patio area in my kitchen herb garden. The deck will soon be completed and hopefully someday soon it will stop raining, so I can begin implementing my new herb garden plans. I will be putting in a flagstone patio across the sidewalk from our new deck and expanding my present herb garden to reside along the left and the right of the flagstone patio. I am very excited!
  I have been working on another project, a bathroom remodel. I am finally to the point of putting paint on the walls! The renovations began with me pulling up the composition tile, (not much fun by the way...), and putting down mosaic tile. I have wanted to do that for years. We replaced the sink and cabinet with a pedestal sink and closed in our deep square skylight tunnel, fitting the ceiling with a reflective tunnel and cover instead. Finally, all the construction work is finished and I have put the faux finish background on the walls, next I will be stenciling the walls with stencils that I designed and cut myself. The end is in sight and soon I will be doing a post on the whole project, including some tips and how-to's for the decorative paint finishes and stencil creation. Until then here is a photo of the progress of the project.

19 April 2014

Savory Mushroom Stock

For the majority of our meals I try to serve as much raw food as I can, but sometimes it is just nice to have a hot satisfying meal. I often slake this craving with soup. I love soup, it is so versatile and it goes a long way.

One challenge that I struggled with when I first became vegan was how to make a decent pot of soup. Most soups require stock, as a foundation of flavor. I have not found the vegetable bouillon available in the supermarket to be very tasty or healthy for that matter, and water with no flavor base isn't acceptable either. So I cast around for an alternative. I began experimenting with different vegetable combinations to make my own stock, and came up with several that I really enjoy making. But today the stock that I want to talk about is one of my most recent creations, a savory mushroom stock. This stock has a woodsy, rich flavor that works well for things like French onion soup, vegetable barley soup, borscht and other soups that would normally use a beef stock as the base.

We are fortunate enough to live near a city that has several very well stocked ethnic markets, one of which is an Oriental market that carries a variety of fresh mushrooms. For this stock I use fresh Shitaki, Enoki, Oyster, Trumpet, light and dark Beech, and Portabello mushrooms. But if you don't have access to a large variety of mushrooms, then use what you can find. Dried Shitaki mushrooms can take the place of fresh, and Cremini or Button mushrooms and Portabello mushrooms will make a flavorful stock and are pretty commonly found in most markets.

                                  Savory Mushroom Stock

A variety of fresh and dried mushrooms, like Shitaki, Enoki, Trumpet, Oyster, Beech and Portabello mushrooms to equal 3 to 4 pounds of mushrooms.
2-3 large yellow onions quartered, skins left on
 4-5 whole heads of garlic, cut into two pieces through the center
5 large bay leaves
3-4 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
several springs of fresh thyme
2-3 Tbsp. salt

In a large stock pot, (mine is 20 quart), place all the mushrooms, onions, garlic, bay leaves, fresh herbs and salt in stock pot. Add water to cover mushrooms and fill the pot about 3/4 full, (amount of water would vary according to the size of the mushrooms). Place lid on pot and set heat at medium high until the water is boiling. Reduce heat to medium or even medium low depending on your stove. You want the stock to be at a slow simmer. Simmer for several hours, until the mushrooms are reduced to mush and the stock pot is about 1/2 full. Taste and adjust salt to taste. Strain the broth off into another pot and let it cool. You should have enough stock to fill between 6 and 8 quart-sized freezer bags. Place bags stacked two deep on a tray and freeze. Freezing them on a tray will make them easier to store when you take them off the tray. I usually return the mushrooms to the pot, add more onions and garlic, herbs and salt, and water to cover. Then I put it in the crock pot and cook for several hours. This usually gives me a few quarts more of stock to freeze. I sometimes throw in some dried shitaki just to make sure there is plenty of mushroomy goodness in the second batch.

                                    French Onion Soup  

2-3 large red onions, sliced thinly
1 quart bag of mushroom stock, plus 4 cups of water
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. olive oil or coconut oil
Dash of vegan Worchestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. barley miso
salt to taste
If you have an open bottle of red wine on hand that needs to be used, ( or you want to serve wine with dinner), 1/2 cup of red wine makes a very nice addition.
Place all the ingredients in a pot and simmer until the onions are soft. Remove bay leaf and serve hot. If desired you can spread a piece of French bread with a very thin layer of garlic-infused coconut oil, sprinkle with Italian seasoning, some freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of nutritional yeast.  Place under the broiler until golden, then top the soup with the bread.  Yum!

You are welcome to re-post my recipes as long as there is a link to this blog post. Please don't copy my recipes without giving me credit.



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