My dad gets embarrassed when people compliment his perfect houseplants. ("All I do is get rid of the dead leaves," he admits.) But deadheading your houseplants is the kind of task that seems insignificant at ground (or flowerpot) level, but in the big picture makes a big difference. Same for homemade broth. Sure, you can cook with store-bought broth. But the results will be tremendously better with homemade broth, and the time-intensive project can be done if you can check the stove a few times during other big projects such as doing your taxes.
Here are my three recipes for vegetable, chicken, and beef broth. Health bonus: I've found that using homemade broth allows me to reduce the milkfat and/or meat in the soups I cook; the broth provides all necessary flavor and body.
Roasted Vegetable Broth
Clean the pots, pans, off-season clothing, etc. out of your oven (skip this step if you live outside NYC) and turn it on at 400F. Fill a roasting pan with peeled and halved onions, carrots, celery stalks, a head of garlic (unpeeled), and whatever root vegetables you have lying around; I like to use a few paste-type tomatoes (i.e. Roma) too. Toss everything with a quarter cup of olive oil and a tablespoon of salt and roast for one hour, checking at 30 minutes to turn things over with tongs so they brown on more than one side.
In your 6-quart slow cooker or largest soup pot, place a few cabbage leaves (the outer, tougher leaves are perfect), a few stems of parsley, four cloves, three bay leaves, celery foliage, an ounce of dried porcini, and a few sprigs of thyme (lemon thyme is particularly nice). If you have potato peelings or mushroom stems left over from cooking something else, add those too. Add the roasted veggies and enough water to cover. In a slow cooker, cook on Low for six hours (I've left it overnight up to eight hours and all was fine). In a pot, cook on low heat for four hours, stirring occasionally. Pour broth through a colander into another pot and press down on the cooked ingredients to extract more liquid from them. Pour into jars and cool; freeze in plastic bags or use within a week. (The longer the broth sits, the more you'll have to stir it up – veggie broth separates more than other broths.)
Can you get your hands on a stewing chicken? It makes all the difference. If not, use bone-in and skin-on chicken legs and wings. Tie a handful of fresh parsley and dill between a few leek leaves and put at the bottom of your largest pot. Add two onions, peeled and halved – stick three cloves in each half. Add a few bay leaves and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Place the chicken, cut into pieces (using legs/wings? leave them whole), on top of the veggies and herbs and sprinkle with a tablespoon of coarse salt. Pour in water until everything's covered by an inch or two. Bring slowly to boil, and reduce to simmer; for the next half hour or so skim off the foam that rises to the top and discard. Put lid on the pot with a little room for steam to escape and cook on low heat for five hours. Add four peeled and halved carrots (or a cup of peeled baby carrots) and cook one hour more. Strain as in veggie broth instructions, above; the chicken meat will probably be pretty cooked out at this point so just discard it.(Tip: to make lovely succulent poached chicken breast, add skinless boneless breast meat to the broth while it is still hot, cover the pot, and cook on low temperature for about fifteen minutes or until chicken is no longer pink inside; skim off foam that rises to the top. You'll end up with extra-chickeny broth!) Refrigerate overnight and remove fat that rises to the top; then bottle and use within three days, or freeze in bags and use within a month or two.
Get a few pounds of beef bones. If they have any meat on them you're ready to go; probably they won't, so get a meaty shank bone too. Extra credit: Oxtail! Put these in your roasting pan along with a few carrots and onions and roast at 450F for one hour, turning over with tongs at the half hour mark. Put a handful of fresh parsley, a few bay leaves, three smashed cloves of garlic, five cloves and ten peppercorns and a few sprigs of fresh thyme between a few leek leaves and tie shut (or use a piece of cheesecloth) and place at the bottom of your largest pot. Add the vegetables and then the bones on top and sprinkle with a tablespoon of coarse salt. Pour the fat out of the roasting pan and pour in some boiling water; stir with a wooden spoon to loosen any baked pieces at the bottom of the pan, and then pour this liquid into the pot. Top up with water until everything's covered by an inch or two. Bring slowly to boil, and reduce to simmer; for the next half hour or so skim off the foam that rises to the top and discard. Put lid on the pot with a little room for steam to escape and cook on low heat for 6-10 hours. Strain as in veggie broth instructions, above. Refrigerate overnight and remove fat that rises to the top; then bottle and use within three days, or freeze in bags and use within a month or two.
Note on freezing broth: I like the freezer zip-style plastic bags you can get in almost any supermarket. The quart size or larger will do; fill them 75% to allow for the expansion of frozen water, and squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing. I like to clean out the bottom of my freezer and put in my cookie sheet, and then the bags of broth flat on top of that, separated by pages of an old catalog (this prevents the bags from sticking together while freezing). The flat frozen bags can be stacked on top of each other or lined up like books in the freezer.
Recent favorite recipes for broth, from Epicurious: Roasted butternut squash soup (vegetable, omit cream; chicken, use milk instead of cream; I used only a few cloves of roasted garlic since I could depend on the broth to provide plenty of presence), acorn squash veloute (chicken or vegetable, halve all spices), chocolate-infused chili (vegetable; I add roasted peppers and corn to this recipe, as well as sauteed zucchini).