Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Baking Cookies in a Kitchen Queen 480 Woodstove

Let’s take a moment to discuss one of the most highly revered topics in the history of mankind – the cookie. These gems have transcended culture, religion, species. They’re a staple of any diet where mental health is important. Who doesn’t enjoy cookies?

Mom and I decided to bake cookies for Singles Awareness Day – okay, she wanted to make Valentine’s Day cookies. I made SAD cookies. Since it was snowing when I woke up, and it’s only 35*F right now, we thought baking them in the woodstove would be way more fun than using the regular gas oven. Our stove is a Kitchen Queen 480. There’s a learning curve to baking in a woodstove, if you’ve never done it before. In the end, though, it’s much more rewarding than baking in a gas or electric oven.

There's still broken limbs in almost every tree out there from the ice storm a few weeks back.

In my Kitchen Queen, there is a firebox on the left side, the oven on the right side, the stove top, and above that, two warming ovens. Our house is VERY well insulated. I’m talking, it’s 35* right now, and we’ve got the windows open. If you want to heat your woodstove up enough to bake in, it will most likely warm your house up a bit.

To get the temperature high enough, I prefer to use smaller pieces of wood (either split logs or just smaller branches cut up). I find 2-3” diameter to be a good size. I don’t use specific hardwoods or anything fancy to burn – I use wood picked up on our 160 acre property or along the roads where the county cuts trees by power lines. I know there are some woods preferable to others for burning because they will burn longer or hotter, but I’m not that fancy. Anywho – more small branches will give you control where a big log will not. Save the logs to burn overnight when you don’t want to add logs every few hours. While you’re baking, you can open her up, toss some branches in and heat up the oven. Since you’re using smaller wood, you’ll need to add to the fire more often – but you’re standing there cooking anyway, it’s not like you’re not around.

Regular ovens don’t take long to heat – my gas oven will take about ten minutes to preheat to 350*. But – you guessed it – the woodstove is a different animal. Your best bet is to start preheating at least an hour before you’re ready to start baking. This will allow everything to get hot enough, and you won’t have to fight fluctuating temperatures.

On my stove, there is a temperature gauge on the oven door. I just went out and checked with an infrared thermometer to see the temperature variation within the oven. The gauge on the door said 290*F, the back wall was 285*, the wall by the firebox was 420*, the wall opposite the firebox was 320*, and the cookie sheet on the oven rack was 340*. Take-home lesson here – don’t go by what that temperature gauge says on your oven door. On my oven it’s roughly 40* warmer where the food’s actually cooking.

Once you get the hang of adding wood to the fire at even intervals, it’s much easier to keep a steady temperature, and half the battle’s won. Next up, you HAVE GOT TO remember to bake for the recommended time on your recipe. Every time you open up the door, you’re dropping your oven temperature. It’s not like a gas or electric oven – there’s no internal sensor to regulate the heat and get it back to where you had it before. So, unless you’ve got a really profound reason, don’t leave the door open.

My biggest problem with baking in the woodstove is the fact that this Kitchen Queen oven is sealed quite well. If you’re baking bread and open the door, don’t stick your face by the oven. Steam billows out like you wouldn’t believe. That’s great for bread, but if I wanted a sauna, I’d go to a spa or something. The second big issue with the oven sealing like that is that you can’t smell food the same way you do in your regular oven. Let me explain.

In the regular oven, when I’m baking bread and get a good whiff of fresh, yeasty bread, it means that the bread’s almost done. It’s on the last ten minute stretch or so, and it’s time to go check on it. In the woodstove, when I get a whiff of bread – I’d better be hauling butt back there ASAP, because that bread is probably just about perfectly done.

Cookies are not so forgiving as bread. When you smell them in the regular oven, it’s probably time to take them out. When you smell them in the woodstove…well…let’s just say some of my sugar cookies are indistinguishable from my peanut butter cookies today.


This is not the be-all, end-all, definitive guide to woodstove baking. It’s just what I’ve learned in the past three months, starting with baking M&M cookies before Christmas. In the intervening time, I’ve baked a few pies, a few batches of cookies, a dozen pumpkins and a whole lotta bread in that oven. I have a very long way to go before I master the mysteries of baking in a woodstove, but at least my dad and brother will eat all the overdone cookies in the meantime!

My 28 year old brother has an undying affection for chocolate sprinkles, so like any good baby sister, I made a pan of chocolate sprinkle hearts just for him. Some children never grow up...
Shared on: The Homestead Blog Hop, The Homesteader Hop, Simple Saturdays

Saturday, February 11, 2017

It's the Most Wonderful *Stock* Time of the Year!

After the fat has been skimmed, it's got a beautiful color and opacity.
Wintertime in places where temperatures drop below freezing – there’s both ups and downs. One of the major high points is the ability to run the woodstove. Where I used to live in Louisiana, we got to use the fireplace maybe three times a year. In northwest Oklahoma, it’s a bit of a different situation. The woodstove gets to run quite often, which offers unique opportunities, of which, making stock is my favorite. Stock can be added to almost any recipes in place of water – soups, stews, gumbo (my favorite). You can use it to deglaze a pan when you’re cooking down meat or browning onions. Aside from the taste, there’s lots of other benefits, as well. According to Sally Fallon Morell in Nourishing Broth, it “can help prevent and control arthritis, bone loss, digestive disorders, skin problems, and even cancer and mental illness.” It also tastes good.

I keep a “stock bag” in the freezer all of the time. Any time I peel carrots, onions, garlic – the peels go in the bag. If I chop up tomatoes – the annoying little spot where the stem attaches goes in the bag. When there’s chicken for supper – the bones have an after-dinner engagement with kitchen shears, and in the bag they go. (It’s not just chicken bones, any bones get put in there, we just happened to have chicken the other night and that’s what the most recent stock is primarily made from.) Once I run out of room in the freezer or the bag gets overfull, then I make stock.

Stock can be made from a wide variety of items. The official canning recipes you’ll see are something like this one from the Ball Fresh Preserving site. Naturally, I don’t make my stock like that, but I do follow the general idea. Most recipes call for some type of meat, followed by onions, carrots, celery, garlic, maybe some herbs. Those are a good safe place to start. If you’re a bit more adventurous, as I myself am, here’s some stuff to add, and some to avoid.





The "Good"

Alliums – Onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, green onions. You name it, they are great in stock. I toss skins from all of these into my stock bag (the end with the roots included, as long as it’s not totally full of dirt).

 Carrots – Skins, the end where the greens were, the dried out funny-looking ones you forgot in the fridge for a few weeks. As long as it’s not stinky and slimy, toss them in.

 Celery – Use the leaves, the root end and everything in between. Normally my dad eats the in between part, but sometimes it ends up in the stock pot, too.

 Tomatoes – Probably my favorite thing to grow in the garden. All summer/fall while the tomatoes are going strong and coming into the house in droves, they get used 100%. I chop off the stem end (cherry/plum types) and cut the cores out (paste/slicing types) and toss all that into stock bags. My tomato-season stocks tend to be a little heavier on fresh-frozen tomato than my off-season stocks. At that point, I just add in some dried tomatoes or tomato powder to the pot.


The "Bad"
Brassicas – Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, pak choi, turnips. These guys all add an overpoweringly strong flavor to your stock. Put them on the side to feed to your pets – rabbits, pigs, chickens, small children - all benefit from eating this stuff. Or compost it. Just don’t put it in the stock bag.

Slimy/Stinky Things – Yes, you can use old-about-to-go-bad veggies. Just remember, you’re going to be eating this stock. If it doesn’t look like something you’d consider eating, don’t put it in the stock bag. If you’ve got stuff that will go bad soon, and you know you’re not going to eat it, don’t let it go bad – put it in the stock bag or feed it to the animals, just don’t waste it.


The "Use Sparingly or Else It May Get Ugly"

Herbs – They’re great. But certain herbs can be very strong, especially fresh herbs. When I’m not abusing my herb plants and trying to kill them, I actually harvest them. Any stems or not super-pretty herbs go into the stock bag, and the good stuff goes into the dehydrator. My stocks usually have parsley stems, little bits of rosemary and thyme, maybe some oregano. I’ve seen many recipes that call for 1-2 bay leaves for a 2 gallon pot of stock. At our old house in Louisiana, we have a bay leaf tree. I love my fresh bay leaves, but I would never put 2 of those things into a pot of stock that I planned on leaving on the woodstove for a few days. They’re STRONG. Like, don’t accidentally leave them in a pot of red beans in the fridge overnight strong. Whatever herbs you put in here, remember that this is a generic stock that you’ll want to put into a wide variety of dishes. Don’t load your chicken stock up with cilantro if you ever want to make egg drop soup again. :)

Potatoes, Corn Cobs, Cucumbers, Lettuce – They don’t add a whole lot of flavor or healthy juju (getting some real fancy words in, ain’t I?) You can put them in, but I prefer to turn them into bacon and eggs – send them to the barn, and those guys will eat ‘em up.

Peppers – I do sometimes add bell pepper scraps to my stock, but not so much hot peppers. That’s about the only thing our pigs don’t like. Just don’t add a ton, and it’ll add a nice subtle flavor.

Crack the bones before you make stock,
and bird bones hollow out like this.
When I’m actually ready to make the stock, I dump everything into my cooking vessel. Add cool water and vinegar (see section below on vinegar), and let it sit for about 1 hour. Bring it to a simmer, and let it cook. The bare minimum for flavor that I’ve found is 4-6 hours of cooking. That will give you stock like you’d get at the store. If you want the real, super-gelatin, healing awesomeness that you see in books like Nourishing Broth, let it cook. I let it go until I can break the bones easily by hand, and the stock looks opaque. Typically, I let it go on the woodstove, in the crock pot or electric roaster for 36-48 hours. (If it’s on the woodstove, I usually leave it longer, and we just get stock out of it as we cook.) Once the bones are beginning to fall apart, I take the pot off the stove, let it cool, and start straining everything. I use a normal strainer first (with the big holes) then pour the liquid through a jelly bag to remove any remaining sediment. Then into the fridge (or on the porch, if it’s cold enough) to let the fat separate. Remove the fat - if you don’t get the fat off before you process the jars, it may get between the jar and the seal, causing your seal to fail. At this point, you can put it into ice trays and freeze stock cubes or you can pressure can it. I’m guessing you could probably put it in a few shallow pans in the dehydrator and come out with something like Better than Bouillon. As I haven’t tried it, though, who knows. It’s an eventual project, and I’ll let you know how that works out.

I choose to pressure can my stock. The times I provide in my recipe come off of NCHFP recipe for canning Meat Stock (Broth). They also happen to be the same as what is on the Ball Fresh Preserving site for Chicken Stock – Pressure Canning. It’s also what’s in my All American Canner instruction/recipe book. And, since I’m still mildly paranoid, I bring all of my pressure canned foods to a boil for 10-15 minutes (10 minutes for elevations under 1,000 feet, and 1 minute for each additional 1,000 feet). That will kill any botulism that could have potentially grown in the food. (NCHFP For Safety’s Sake)

Vinegar

When you let the bones soak in cool water with vinegar for a while, it helps the minerals in the bones begin to break down. I’ve always added vinegar to my stock, for just that reason. A while back, however, I was nosing around on the interwebs, and came across this post by KerryAnn on Intentionally Domestic. She recommends soaking the bones in the vinegar/water combo before heating, because the pores on the bones close up once heat is applied, and the vinegar has a harder time getting in there. I’m no chemist, but if I’m going to take the time to make stock, letting everything sit on the counter for an extra hour can’t hurt anything. KerryAnn suggests 2T vinegar to 1 gallon water for chicken bones, and ½ C vinegar to 1 gallon water for beef. My stocks are usually a lagniappe mixture of bones and veggie scraps, so I generally lean closer to ½ C vinegar per gallon of water. I’ve also seen people say you have to specifically use white vinegar, raw cider vinegar, or some other type of expensive vinegar. We make our own vinegar at home from fruit, so we’ve had plum, pear, apple and peach vinegars in stock. No complaints about funky fruity-tasting stock so far, and it jells just as well as any others I’ve seen. :)


print recipe

Pressure Canning Stock
This is my general guideline recipe for making and canning stock. It's not Big Brother Approved, but it works well enough for Baby Sisters. :)
Ingredients
  • Bones
  • Veggies
  • Herbs
  • Water
  • Vinegar
Instructions
Crack the bones with a meat cleaver or kitchen shears. (If you can’t crack them, it’s okay, you just won’t get as much marrow from the bones unless you cook them a long, long time.)Add the bones, veggies and herbs to your stock pot, roaster or crock pot.Cover with cool water and vinegar. (See notes on vinegar, should be roughly 2T – ½ C per gallon of water, depending on bones.)Let stand for about an hour.Bring to a light simmer, and let it cook at least 4-6 hours. Add more water as needed.Strain out bones, veggies and herbs in a large colander.Pour stock again through a cheesecloth, jelly bag or coffee filter to remove remaining solids.Put the stock in the fridge, and let the fat come to the top.Remove the fat once it’s congealed.Bring the stock to a boil. If the stock is not gelled to your satisfaction, now’s the time to boil it down some more to condense it. Fill hot pint or quart jars with 1” headspace. Wipe rims with a towel soaked with vinegar and water (this helps remove grease while still being food-safe). Add lids.0-1,000 feet – process pints 20 minutes, quarts 25 minutes at 10lbs pressure. Over 1,000 feet – process pints 20 minutes, quarts 25 minutes at 15lbs pressure.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: Varies


Washi tape works great for marking jars. Last fall we started with color-coding years with washi tape labels. If all goes well, 2017 will be polka-dots.


Sources:
Ball Fresh Preserving Chicken Stock - Pressure Canning
Intentionally Domestic The Five Biggest Bone Broth Mistakes You Might Be Making
Jennifer's Kitchen A-to-Z List of Vegetables to Include or Exclude from Vegetable Stock or Broth
National Center for Home Food Preservation For Safety's Sake
National Center for Home Food Preservation Meat Stock (Broth)
Nourishing Broth by Sally Fallon Morell

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