VEGETABLE STOCK QUESTION
Do you have a favorite vegetable stock that you like to make or a favorite brand of commercially available vegetable stock? All of the vegetable stocks I've ever made are one expensive step up from water. Bland and insipid that do nothing for the ultimate dish. I haven't been overly impressed by the Imagine or Pacific brands of commercially available vegetable stock. Lately I've mainly used the College Inn canned vegetable stock but it has tomato in it - not right for all dishes - and a few ingredients I'd rather do without. Any suggestions?
All of the ideas presented so far are great. I pretty much use Deborah Madison's vegetable stock instructions. She gives great lists of things to include, things you might want to include for specific uses (like mushrooms), and things to definitely not include. It's very helpful.
Last winter, I was overloaded with carrots, onions, and celery root from my winter CSA and made loads of stock. It froze very well (in 2-cup containers) and I finally ran out last month. Perfect timing -- now I'll have to start over again!
store bought veggie broth is a waste of $ and schlepping, and it tastes like ass, besides. make an easy veg stock from veg trimmings while you are prepping for your soup or whatever you are making.
use the tops & bottoms & skins of yellow or white onions (not red ones), the carefully cleaned leek greens (split 'em), celery tops, some chunks/tips of carrots (not too much carrot, will overwhelm the broth), a bit of parsnip or turnip, garlic cloves, pinch of thyme, mushroom stems/trimmings if you have them. tomatoes+pinch of oregano are nice if you are making an italian recipe, ginger & white pepper for chinese, lemongrass for vietnamese or thai-- just think about the flavor profile of the final dish & trust your instincts. potatoes will cloud the broth, as will winter squash skins, but this is sometimes not a problem. i always include bay leaves in veg broth, and often a couple of peppercorns. cover your trimmings with cold filtered water & bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20-30 mins, strain & use (when straining, leave the last 1/4 inch of broth, which contains any grit/sediment, in the stock pot). if you don't use all of the veg stock, cool the excess & water your houseplants with it-- lots of vitamins-- note that there isn't salt added to the veg broth used for plant watering. if you use broccoli/cabbage/brussels sprouts/cabbage-- any cruciferous veg, your veg broth will be a little stinky and strong-flavored-- usually not desirable. kale, lettuces, fresh herbs, etc will yield a grassy flavor-- also usually not desirable, use with caution. i make a corncob veg stock when sweetcorn is in season & i'm making corn chowder-- same method Louise talks about, huge boost of flavor. veg stock is so easy and fast to make that i never bother trying to store/freeze it (fridge & freezer space is at a premium), but i know that some people do this. once made veg stock is quite perishable and will sour quickly-- 3-4 day max, which can be extended by a day if you salt the stock-- once again, little point in making & storing in advance, unless the veg stock is very special for some reason, like you made it from morel trimmings or something. second the rec from Link for roasting veggie stock-- can add a lot of flavor if you roast veggies first, but this adds a small amount of oil to the recipe, and an extra step. if you can plan ahead & roast veggies for veg stock at the same time as running your oven to cook something else (thereby saving utility energy), you are, of course, a domestic god/goddess.
Classic ingredients are lots of onions, then half as much each carrots and celery. Nice additions are mushrooms, parsnips, celery root, or parsley. Some dried mushrooms, either shiitakes or porcinis, are also good if you have the end of a package lying around that needs using up.
Avoid green peppers though, the stock will go sour sooner. Also avoid strong tasting veg like turnips and cabbage.
If I'm making a soup from fresh corn, I'll usually chunk up the cobs after scraping and toss them in the pot. Remove before serving of course. Same if it's a soup of fresh peas--I'll make a stock of the pods. Just a short simmer, 1/2 hour, is enough.
Homemade is always controllable for salt and additives, but sometimes I have tons of onion and leek trimmings in the freezer and not enough other stuff, so I'm reaching for a substitute. I know you said you've tried Imagine, but have you tried their No Chicken? I haven't bought it since the label change, so I don't know if the product underwent a remake as well, but I used to like that one.
Also there's More Than Gourmet.
They have a veggie glace and a stock, each of which has tomato paste, so I don't know if that will work for you. I've tried their lamb. I think I just made gravy with it, but I was sufficiently happy that I have bought some of their others.
Better Than Bouillon is a soup base. It's pretty salty, but easy to find some of the flavors in the regular grocery store. I haven't seen their vegetable or organic vegetable bases, but I would grab them to try if I do. Their chicken is good, and while the mushroom is pretty recipe-specific, it's tasty.
I know you want veggie stock. Just sayin' that, for a bouillon or base, these brands are better than most, so you may want to check out their vegetable varieties. And there is Kitchen Basics which comes in a shelf-stable carton. Have not tried that brand.
I generally cram the pot with garlic cloves, peppercorn, bay leaves, and onions on top of the vegetable scraps kept in the freezer. Some herbs and celery if I want a stronger grassy flavor. Also try roasting (caramelizing) the vegetables for a deeper flavor. Have not tried any good commercial stock. Good luck!