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How to Can Turkey Stock (or, How To Make The Most of Your Holiday Meals)

turkey stock labels

Last Saturday, my family gathered for a belated Thanksgiving dinner at my cousin Angie’s house. It was one of those really fantastic family gatherings where everyone was genuinely happy to be there and spend time with one another. Ages ranged from four to 96 and there was much discussion about family history and connection (at one point, a family tree had to be drawn to explain to my cousin Sam’s girlfriend just exactly how we were all related).

Scott and I were the last to leave, having stuck around to gather abandoned plates and help put away the leftovers. When we finally headed home, we did so with a gallon ziplock bag of cut fruit (remains from a massive Costco tray), a dozen empty jars (returns from previous homemade gifts), and a disposable roasting pan holding two turkey carcasses, swaddled in a black plastic garbage bag. My cousins, knowing my fondness for making use of every scrap, had saved it just for me.

bagged turkey for stock

When we got home, instead of crashing out in front of a movie as had been previously planned, I headed to the kitchen to break down all the turkey into usable parts. In the end, I had three very large plastic bags of goodness. Two held bones for stock and one held usable meat (half went into a batch of turkey shepherd’s pie, the other half is frozen for a future batch of soup).

As I separated out the meat from the bones, I started thinking about all the times I’ve pressure canned various stocks and broths over the last four years and realized that it had been far too long since I talked about the magic of pressure canning here. The only stock canning post went up in the very early days of this site and I’ve learned a great deal about the dos and don’t of preserving under pressure since then.

cooking stock

The next morning, I started the first batch of stock (there was more than enough for two batches). When making turkey stock, I like to keep it simple and so don’t add carrots, celery, or onion. Instead, I combine the turkey bones with freshly filtered cold water in a 12 quart stock pot. I put it on the stove and slowly bring it up to a simmer. Once it’s near a boil but not rolling, I cock the lid so that some steam can escape and cook it over medium heat for 4 to 6 hours (I’m after maximum flavor extraction for minimal effort). Whenever you make stock, try to avoid a vigorous boil, as it will make your stock cloudy.

You really want to make sure that you make your stock within a day or two of the turkey’s roasting, as you’ll get the best flavor. If you wait until the carcass has been picked clean during the leftover stage, it takes on a funky, old poultry flavor that really isn’t worth preserving.

pouring stock

Now, in an ideal world, here’s how I’d preserve stock. I’d cook it one day, strain it, chill it overnight, skim the fat, bring it back to a boil and then can. However, I rarely manage to do it that way because I have a very small refrigerator and so almost never have the space for the volume of stock I’ve made. I also don’t have any outdoor space, and so can’t even use nature’s icebox this time of year. And so, instead I make and can my stock in the same day.

Because I can’t remove the fat through chilling, I spend some time carefully spooning it off. There are a couple of reasons why it’s a good idea to defat your stock. One is that if the stock siphons out of the jars during the processing (and it happens a lot during pressure canning, thanks to the increased ferocity of heat and pressure), the slippery fat can put your seal in jeopardy. The other is that fats can go rancid during storage and that will give your stock an off-flavor. Because I know that my stock still has some residual fat, I make a point of using it promptly (to me, this means within 6 to 9 months) so that it doesn’t have a chance to develop a funky flavor.

prepped jar

While I’m painstakingly defatting my stock, I set up my pressure canner. I use a 16 quart Presto canner with a dial gauge that I like a great deal. It holds seven quarts or nine pints, fits on my comically small stove, and doesn’t take up TOO much storage space. I fill it with about three inches of warm tap water, set the jars in it and fill them with just enough warm water to prevent them from floating. I also pour about half a cup of white distilled vinegar into the water in the canning pot, to ensure that the jars don’t get covered in scum during processing. I drop the lids in alongside the jars and bring the whole mess to a simmer to warm things up.

Once the jars are hot and the stock is skimmed and just off a boil, fill ‘em up. You want to leave a generous inch of headspace. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and twist on the rings. Forget everything you know about applying canning jar rings and really twist them on tightly. The intensity of the canner has a habit of loosening them some during processing, so you want to compensate for that. Don’t worry, the oxygen in the jars will still be able to exit during the pressure canning process.

pouring stock into jars

Once all the jars are filled and are in the canner, lock the lid into place. Bring the pot up to a boil and let the steam vent for at least 10 minutes. You do this by running the pot without the pressure regulator in place. That’s the little black and metal hat that sits atop the vent shaft. The reason for this is that a canner that has been properly relieved of its oxygen through venting can reach a higher temperature than one that is full of good old O2. The higher the temperature, the more effectively the canner will kill any botulism spores present.

After you feel like the pot has been sufficiently vented, apply the pressure regulator and bring the pot up to pressure. Once it hits the correct pressure, adjust the heat so that you stay at that pressure. This can be a little tricky if you have a pokey electric stove like mine, because it certainly isn’t impossible. It just takes a little extra attention and learning how your stove adjusts. If your canner drops below the required pressure level at any point during the timed process, you have to start the time over again as soon as it comes back to the correct level.

full jars in canner

Stock of any stripe gets pressure canned at 11 pounds of pressure for 20 (pints) or 25 minutes (quarts) in a gauged canner and at 10 pounds in a weighted canner. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has all the details and they can be found here. And remember, if you live at higher elevations, make sure to adjust your pressure accordingly.

Once the time is up, you turn off the stove and leave the canner alone. If your burner stays hot for a long time, you can slide it to a cooler spot on the stove, but other than that, just let it sit. I like to give my canner two or three hours to cool before I even attempt to open it (it will take at least half an hour for the pressure drop enough for the canner to unlock). Often I will let it cool overnight, to ensure that the jars can cool and seal on their own time. When the jars are finally cool enough to handle, remove them from the pot, twist off the rings and give everything a good wash with warm, soapy water. Dry the jars and store them in a cool spot out of direct sunlight.

canner gauge

The last time I had my pressure canner checked, it ran true, which means that I don’t have to make any adjustments to my pressure during processing. Sometimes a gauge registers a higher or lower pressure when it’s actually at 10 or 11 pounds and so you have to do adjust your pressure point. That’s why it’s important to have your gauge checked yearly to ensure that you’re preserving safely.

Now, the reason the subtitle of this post is that while I’m talking about turkey stock in this post, this technique is one that can be used for all manner of flavorful stocks and broths. This time of year, we all tend to invest a bit more money in hams, big beef roasts, turkeys, and mountains of vegetables. There are always scraps and trimmings to be gleaned from these holiday meals that can be cooked down into gorgeous, rich liquids. Save that ham bone or the bone from that celebratory steak. If you don’t have the time for stock making now, stash those goodies in the freezer and make a project of it after the holidays are over. You’ll be happy you did.

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Potluck Salad Kit #2

252/365

Last spring, I shared a little salad kit I’d put together to take to a potluck. This Sunday morning, I found myself filling that same salad bowl with greens, jars and other tasty bits for another shared meal. I thought some of you might like a peek.

Much like that salad last spring, this one also used baby arugula as the base (it’s one of my very favorite greens). I added some homemade croutons for crunch. Maytag blue cheese was there for a hint of funk and softness. And a pomegranate offered sweetness and a different texture. The vinaigrette was equal parts balsamic vinegar and olive oil, a spoonful of honey, and salt. Shake to combine.

If you read this post and the one from eight months ago, you’ll start to see that there’s a formula to my potluck salads. They all begin with greens. I love baby arugula, but will also use spring mix, torn red leaf or Bibb lettuce, or tender spinach. Then I pick something crunchy, something creamy, and, if I think the audience will approve, something sweet (when I make salads for my husband, I always omit the something sweet. While he has a healthy sweet tooth, he doesn’t like it in his greens). Dressings are simple and most often are made right in a jar.

My favorite crunchy things are toasted nuts, homemade croutons, small cubes of roasted vegetables (like in this salad) or pickles. The creamy things can be cheese, caramelized onions, avocados or morsels of chopped egg. If you’re adding a sweet thing, try pickled fruit, slivers of apple, pear or persimmon, currants, or segmented bits of oranges.

How do you like to build your salads?

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Red Leaf, Goat Cheese and Fuyu Persimmon Salad

red leaf, goat cheese and persimmon salad

Of all the things I love the potlucks (seeing friends, sharing food, only having to make a single dish instead of an entire meal), I think my favorite aspect is the opportunity to try food from other home cooks.

While I like my own cooking, I find it woefully easy to fall into flavor and ingredient ruts. Eating food made by friends and neighbors is can be an opportunity reset weary taste buds and get excited about cooking again (of course, this all depends on the people who are attending your potluck. It can certainly be hit-or-miss).

a quick quarter pint jar salad dressing

Oops. Sorry for the artless blur. I ate lunch late this day and the light was fading.

This salad is an example of inspiration delivered via potluck. A couple winters back, I was at one and towards the end of the evening, someone brought a metal mixing bowl filled with tender lettuce, slivers of onion and wedges of persimmon. Dressed simply and very lightly salted, it knocked my socks off. I went back for thirds and made plans to imitate it immediately. Since that night, this salad goes into steady rotation the moment persimmons arrives.

tossed

My current version consists of a large bowl of red leaf lettuce*, a whole Fuyu persimmon (click here to see a illustrated piece on the different kinds of persimmons) cut into wedges and a couple tablespoons crumbled chevre. Some days, I’ll add shaved red onion and some toasted nuts, too. I put a little olive oil, fruity vinegar, salt and pepper into a quarter pint jar, shake until combined and drizzle over everything. Makes for a delicious lunch!

*I always buy a head and wash it myself. Makes for much fresher tasting salads than the pre-washed and bagged stuff, and it’s cheaper, too. Tear, wash and dry a whole head (I love my salad spinner for this). Bag it up and eat from it for 2-3 days. It’s one of those tasks that is easy to dread, but ends up taking less than ten minutes if you’re quick about it.

Have you discovered a new dish at a potluck that you’ve made your own?

 

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Potluck Salad Kit and Dear Friends

Last night, I potlucked with a group of friends for the very last time. We came together nearly four years ago now to coordinate the auction fundraiser for the Unitarian church here in Philly. After that first auction was over, we realized that we’d found a little bit of friendship magic and kept getting together (we also ran that auction for two more years).

We became close and have now seen each other through the births of two babies, the writing of a cookbook, a dissertation defense and deep wedding planning (the happy event is this Saturday). We’re not breaking up over anything sad. It’s just that life keeps moving. One friend has already moved to North Carolina (she’s back for the wedding) and another is leaving for Virginia at the end of May.

For this final dinner, I offered to bring a salad. In my years of potlucking, I’ve mastered designing salads that are both easy to transport and simple to assemble once on site.   The essence is to keep it simple and make sure to include a couple snazzy ingredients so that people don’t feel like all you’ve done is offer them a bowl of plain lettuce.

This time, I used baby arugula as my base. Avocado and marcona almonds were the high impact flavors (and can I note that I was delighted by the fact that the three primary ingredients all started with the letter ‘a’). The vinaigrette (in a jar, of course) was a simple one made with orange juice, sherry vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil. Always shake your homemade dressings well before drizzling on your greens.

It was a great salad and was perfect with the roast chicken, purple potatoes and walnut bread that the others brought. At the end of the meal, we lingered longer than normal around Sarah’s table. It was the last time and we didn’t want it to end.

After a couple requests on Facebook, I’ve added the recipe for my vinaigrette to this post.

Continue Reading →

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Recipe Reminder: Chive Blossom Vinegar

Philadelphia’s Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market reopened for the season yesterday. This is the biggest farmers’ market in this city and I look forward to it all week long. My friend Shay and I met up early and walked down to be there for the opening bell. We saw some of our favorite vendors, bought strawberries and ate tacos al pastor.

There were piles of rhubarb, plenty of green garlic and flats of tomato plants (oh, to have a garden in which to put them!). I also spotted several farmers with bundles of blooming chives, which reminded me that it’s time again to make chive blossom vinegar.

I made it for the first time last year and it’s been one of my favorite pantry items ever since. The finished vinegar is impossibly pink and flavorful. I like using it in salad dressings and as a way to add a bit of acidity to soups.

For those of you who made your own chive blossom vinegar last year, how did you work it in to your kitchen life over the last 12 months?

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Carrot Soup for a February Night

on the way to carrot soup

I have not been doing a good job managing the contents of my refrigerator lately. Last week was Scott’s birthday, which meant that we both ate at home more lavishly than normal and also dined out several times. This break from the ordinary routine threw off the balance of edibles and resulted in aging leftovers and slimy produce.

This afternoon, I spent a little time throwing away anything that was too far gone to be salvaged and making a plan for whatever remained. After taking stock, there were six giant carrots, several onion halves and a baggie of rosemary. Soup seemed the obvious choice.

I chopped the carrots, onions and a sprig of rosemary and cooked them in a bit of butter until the onions started to brown. Then it was just a matter of covering the veg with stock (one quart ham and a pint of chicken, each made nearly a year ago and pressure canned) and simmering until tender.

After that, I used my immersion blender to smooth out the soup with a couple glugs of half and half. During the blending process, I scraped in a little fresh nutmeg and added several generous pinches of salt.

We ate it topped with some little cubes of ham that I found in the freezer and browned, and a few odd slices of toast.

One of the things I love about pureed soups is that they’re incredibly forgiving. They don’t demand perfection and are entirely willing to flex in order to absorb whatever needs to be used at the moment. In a lifetime where I constantly feel like I’m running to catch up, I appreciate a meal that adapts.

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