Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Light Posting vs Burnout

I was digging through some feeds in my reader today, and thinking about blogs and bloggers. Now, some (such as Breda) maintain that blogs are dead- she maintains nearly the same following in facebook snippets as she did when blogging. Others have split off in different directions- SayUncle has gone all-linky/less-thinky, while Sebastian and Bitter are real life Active Activists. Caleb has staff writers now, and gets paid. Others have shuffled away, or abruptly ended, their sites cold or sold, or 404. I've never been good at 'post every day' blogging, but some are. Others drift in now and then (like me) drop nuggets of gold or Uberposts in their own way. Come this October, I've been riding this horse for 4 years. There's been gaps, some long ones, but I keep coming back, because I think there are some things I can't keep to myself. Thanks for reading. It'll keep coming as it always does, steady by jerks, until I either give up or run out of things to say.

Stock Market

You may think I have something to observe about the Dow Average or Securities exchange, but nope, not that kind of stock. For one, I understand only a very little about those things, but my understanding is mostly that its a complicated way of turning a small amount of real money into a great deal of playtime pretend money; or, to put it another way, like relieving one's bladder in a tornado and making bets on who gets wet. For two, I doubt any observations of mine will be particularly useful on that subject and it is, therefore, a bit of a waste of my increasingly precious time. So today, we are going to talk about chicken stock instead!

I've been making my own chicken stock for several years now, and I recently panicked to find that I had in stock only one lonely quart jar thereof. As can be imagined, this is unacceptable to me, and I set about remedying that situation.

I don't really consider stock a survival ration, so the lack is not truly an emergency, but I think it very neatly illustrates the difference between gettin' by and living well. I use homemade chicken stock in a great variety of ways, from the standard soups and sauces to rice dishes and crockpot meals, and the homemade stuff is cleaner, cheaper, and much tastier than most of the store bought stuff you can find.  This plays into my preps in a big way.

Some of the things we do as preps are matters of life and death- a reliable way to heat your home during a Minnesota or Montana winter blackout is the difference between living and freezing to death in your own home. A backup generator to give you lights during a summer storm blackout in the same place generally save your life, but it makes it easier and more comfortable, and level of comfort is a big part of feeling good about your situation. In that vein, having homemade stock on hand is the difference between basic survival and eating well. Imagine for a moment, a long term blackout in the early summer, in a temperate zone. With no refrigeration, food isn't coming to the grocery, nor is electronic commerce operating. After, say, a week, most people are completely out of food, until the Red Cross starts bringing in canned goods or MREs. During that week, one family digs into their emergency supplies of rice and beans- only requiring water to prepare, they light their emergency backpacking stove and boil up some rice. No spices, no meat, no flavor really, but you now what? They're eating, and that's more than other people are doing. They are surviving. Now on to my family- during that same week, I've been digging into my cans and jars. Instead of plain rice, I have savory rice, cooked with stock and canned veggies. The next day, we have a green salad (dandelion grows everywhere, a little bitter but quite nutritious) with homemade vinegarette (I can make vinegar, too, from cider, or beer, or old wine, even sugar water) and sourdough croutons. Even if it lasts long enough that I'm shooting pigeons for protein, we can stew them up with some rice and make gravy. Which of these families would you rather dine with? THATS the difference between survival and living well.

I'll finish off with a recipe (of sorts)-

One chicken carcass. I like to roast a chicken then make stock the next day. Save the giblets, the bones, the neck, etc. Broil this the next day to crisp everything up and get the fat out (Fat, the friend of roasting and sausage, is the enemy of stock). Save all the juices from the roast, and add this to the stock pot.

Veggies- i mix and match sometimes, depending on what I have, but a few things should always go in- onions (3 or so) celery (half a bunch, leaves and all) carrots, whole black pepper, and salt. Additionally, I like to add cilantro, garlic, basil, and sometimes some fresh rosemary. The best part is that you can just put in what you have. I suppose bell peppers would be good, some folks add a parmesan rind, there's lots of options. One note here- any leafy greens will occlude your stock. I like the flavors they add, but don't expect a crystal clear liquid if you add these. Just chop everything into quarters and dump it in. Things like onions don't even need peeled, since its all coming back out later.

About the fat- its very important to get all the fat out of your stock. I refrigerate the carcass overnight and peel off the layer or solidified fat before putting the juices in the stockpot. Similarly, once you have broiled and crisped the carcass, most of the fat will be rendered out. Don't put this in the pot.

Once you have everything in stock pot, add about two gallons plus a quart of water and bring it all to a low simmer. If you boil it, whatever fat is left will emulsify and cloud your stock. Cover, and simmer for about 4 hrs, till the chicken carcass falls apart easily. Strain it through a cheesecloth into large containers (I use half gallon mason jars), discarding the solids. Cool these overnight in a refrigerator. The next day, filter again through cheesecloth or paper towels- this should remove the rest of the now congealed fat, leaving a clear amber liquid.

If you do get stock you can't clarify with filtering, you can raft an egg white in it, which will pull in a lot of the emulsified fat. Crack an egg and remove the yolk. Crush up the shell and add it to the white, then whip it up with a little cold water. Bring your stock to a high simmer and gently float the egg white mixture into it. Simmer 5 minutes or so, then cool and strain the egg out. It should be noticeably clearer.

There are two ways forward from here- canning and freezing. Freezing is simple; ladle your cooled, filtered stock into bags or containers and freeze them. You'll have to thaw them before use, but if you have lots of freezer space and no pressure canner, its an option.

To can your chicken stock, first establish how many jars you will need to procede. Wash, rinse, prep, etc as required. (If you are just getting inti canning, I recommend downloading the USDA Home canning guide, available for download here). Next, decant the filtered stock back into your stock pot, and heat it to just under boiling (this will be easier on the jars and save time on the canning cycle). Fill the jars to a 1/2" headspace, them process them in a pressure canner (NOT A BOILING BATH CANNER! ONLY A TRUE PRESSURE CANNER WILL SAFELY PROCESS MEAT PRODUCTS!) for the recommended time. In my case, it was 11 lbs of pressure for 25 minutes (pint jars).

Voila! Shelf stable for up to a year! I do this about 4 times per year, meaning my family of two uses about 8 gallons of stock per year. If I were buying high quality stock at the store, my canner (no inexpensive) was paid for the first year, plus you have absolute control of the flavor, quality, and ingredients! Now go out and build up your stock portfolio!