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Save money & reduce waste: Easy, almost free homemade vegetable broth

Save money & reduce waste: Easy, almost free homemade vegetable broth

When I was first diagnosed with a tomato allergy, I tried my hand at making my own vegetable broth. To say it went badly would be an understatement. I spent a lot of money getting the exact combination of produce and spices mentioned in the recipe. At home, I prepped and diced everything just so. I put it in a big pot on low and waited for magic to happen. 

What happened instead was a big pot of stinky, slightly discolored vegetables that had somehow burned while simmering on low. (Much like this nostalgic Disney piece perhaps?) It was a horrible experience, one that kept me buying the one expensive, organic brand of vegetable broth that didn't use tomatoes for the next few years. That all changed this winter. 

Last fall, my friend Hanni brought over a delicious mushroom and potato soup that was delicately seasoned with lively herbs. It was the kind of soup that can warm your whole body after a few sips and make your heart feel a bit fuller. She said that even her adolescent son had approved of the soup (a surprise given his position on mushrooms!). She credited the tastiness of the soup to the way she had made the broth: From scratch... and from random veggie scraps in fact! 

I had seen a clever video on social media before on how easy it was to make homemade broth from vegetable scraps, but it looked overly simple to me, like a "Pinterest Fail" waiting to happen. Turns out, it was very simple... and it works! I have made two batches of this easy-peasy broth, and I would venture that I have saved about $30 so far. I have enough scraps saved up for batch number three, and I'm excited to restock my broth this weekend. As an additional bonus, I'm getting something more from what was once standard kitchen waste and I'm avoiding the non-recyclable packaging of store-bought broth. 

Once in a lifetime homemade soups and stews.

When connoisseurs discuss wines, they often talk about the "terroir" of the wine. In short, terroir (which means soil or earth) is how a wine's origin story, its place of residence in the world, impacts its flavor.

While the comparison might be overblown, I like to think of the broth I make this way as one-of-a-kind, reflecting the unique terroir of my kitchen in the weeks before it was made. While the recipe is inherently flexible and nearly fool-proof, there will be no other batch that is exactly the same as the one resulting from my most recent recipes. It brings a deeper sense of meaning and beauty to the soups and stews I make from my humble, homemade, vegetable scrap broth. Using broth made this way also made for a good "story of the soup" during this week's annual soup swap

How to make practically free soup broth.

The homemade broth process starts with veggie scraps. Onion and garlic skins, bell pepper stems, carrot skins and tops, celery bases and tops... All those things you would normally throw away can go on to become broth. Some recipes suggest skipping scraps from cruciferous vegetables (cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc), but I have included small amounts of scraps from this veggie family with no harm done. I have added the stems of thyme and parsley stalks, zucchini ends, sweet potato pieces, tough asparagus ends, and much more. 

 Your basically free vegetable stock starts with saving skins from veggies like these.

Your basically free vegetable stock starts with saving skins from veggies like these.

I toss all my veggie skins and scraps into a one-gallon storage bag (any container will do), and they are stored in the freezer. Over time, I add more scraps to the bag until it is full up. 

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Once the bag is full, it's time to transfer all the frozen goodies to the crockpot. I choose to add some whole peppercorns and, if I have it, a bay leaf as well. None of these extras are required though. If you haven't used very much carrot, celery, or onion over this time, you might choose to throw some in. This is also optional. 

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After the whole gallon of veggies is packed in the crockpot, I fill it with water up to about an inch from the top. I set the crockpot on low and let the veggies simmer for 8-12 hours, until the broth has taken on a rich color. 

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When the broth seems done, I place a large piece of cheesecloth over a stock pot and pour the contents of the crockpot in (any closely knit, thin piece of fabric will work, but note that some of the veggies might cause mild staining to the fabric). As I lift the bunched edges of the fabric with one hand, the cheesecloth acts like a tea bag or fine strainer, holding the vegetable matter back while the juices run down into the pot.  

I discard the cooked down veggies, and salt my broth to taste. My completed broth is now ready to be placed in canning jars and frozen. I try to use jars that match the amount of broth I commonly use in recipes: 4 cups for soup, a couple cups for making quinoa or rice, etc. You can even use an ice cube tray to make small serving sizes for simmering with meat or other vegetables. 

It's your turn!

If you don't feel quite ready to set out on your own, you can check out this video that we shared on Mindfully Spent's Facebook Page awhile back for a quicker stovetop method.  I'll be sticking to my slow cooker method to avoid a repeat of my first experience.  

Next up... Fruit broth.

Okay, that a bald-faced lie. There is no follow up "fruit broth" recipe, but I kinda wish there was! being able to find a purpose for our veggie scraps felt resource and responsible. I began to wish there was a similar option for fruit scraps as well, but I don't see this happening anytime soon. (If you have ideas, pleas share 'em!)

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Author's Note: The primary image at the top of this post was cropped from a glorious photo by Kyler Boone. Here's what he had to say about the photo: "Recently, I took a trip to Vietnam to visit an old friend. Being a vegan, he took me to many vegan/vegetarian-friendly restaurants around the city. Good time!"

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