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By Robin Devereaux-Nelson
Once again, we are edging toward the Thanksgiving season. The past two weekends I have been amazed by the blazing colors of Michigan, felt the Indian Summer sun on my face, and have partaken of some of the finest apple cider in the state. Fall is a fabulous time to live in the Great Lakes state, and regardless of the political climate, sagging economy and unemployment rate, it’s where I want to stay. I love the rolling hills, and farms and forests. The shores and sand, and distinct seasons. I am a Michigander—or Michigoose—all the way.
It's the time of year when we can sit back on a chilly night, by the fire pit, with a warm cup of cinnamon cider in our hands—or a great glass of wine from Leelanau, Traverse City or Frankenmuth, and ruminate on all the things we are thankful for.
One of the things I am most thankful for this year is losing my job. What? Yes, I know. At first I thought it was the most horrible thing that could have happened to me. However, losing my job (which I loved, by the way), pushed me into pursuing my life-long dream of being a full-time writer and artist. To believe in myself and my abilities, and do what I truly love to do—create, bring beauty into the world I live in, to share ideas, and hopes and dreams.
While I am not totally bringing home enough bacon to live in the manner to which I have been accustomed, the possibility is there—and isn’t that what makes life the best? The possibility of what can be?
I'm thankful also for all the usual, but oh-so-important, stuff: my hubs, my family and my kooky, wonderful friends. When I look around me and take stock of all that I have, I am filled with incredible gratitude. I am a really lucky duck!
Unfortunately with the onset of cold weather, we are getting into that season when we are most likely to suffer from those icky cold and flu bugs. In my attempt to be proactive, I spent the day making and freezing broth that can be used in holiday recipes, as a base for soups, and warmed up to soothe rough stomachs and sore throats.
I like to keep a vegetable broth on hand first and foremost. Vegetable broth is full of nutrients and is easy on the stomach because it contains no animal fats. It is flavorful without being overwhelming to a nauseous patient.
Making vegetable broth is pretty free-form. While I won't list a specific recipe, I will make suggestions and tell you the process, explaining what I did for my stock, which turned out to be rich in color and flavor. You can use fresh or left-over vegetables, and vegetable peelings that have been washed well.
Start with a nice pot of cold water. The vegetables I added for my stock consisted of potato skins, whole onions with peelings intact, parsnips, carrots, green beans, celery, and fresh garlic. Leaving the peelings on the onions gives the stock a rick color. If you have a stomach that becomes upset easily, you may decide to omit the onions and/or garlic from the stock, however, keep in mind, garlic has many healing properties. If you can tolerate it, be sure to add a little to the stock. I like to add cabbage to my vegetable stock, but did not have any, so I added the leaves from a large cauliflower instead.
My "secret" vegetable stock ingredient is two or three green tea bags. Green tea also adds color, has a mild flavor undetectable in the vegetable stock, and adds anti-oxidants that are beneficial to your body. Green tea is a mild diuretic which can help you rid your body of infections and toxins when you are ill, and help keep you healthy. We also added a nice bouquet of herbs from my herb garden: oregano, thyme, rosemary and lemon balm.
Turn the stove on the high setting and allow the stock to come to a boil, reducing the heat immediately to medium low. Allow the stock to simmer for several hours. We let ours cook for almost seven hours.
Use a strainer to separate vegetables and peelings from the stock. Place the strained stock back in the pot and allow it to reduce for another hour. Cool and place in labeled, dated freezer containers.
The secret of good chicken stock is in the cooking method—do not allow your chicken stock to boil. Boiling creates cloudy stock. We normally purchase whole chickens and roast them, or if we are in need of chicken parts, cut them up at home. I was eight when my grandma showed me how to cut up a chicken. I had to practice a lot to get the hang of it, but I can separate a bird like a pro now. There are lots of great cooking videos available on YouTube that can show you how to do it.
In any case, we normally don't use the backs and necks of the chickens, so those go in storage bags in the freezer. We also save chicken carcasses from roasted birds and freeze them as well. When we have four to six bags of chicken parts, it's time to make stock.
Cover the chicken parts with lots of cold water. Add whole onions with peelings intact, garlic, celery and carrot. Like the vegetable stock, we also added a fresh herb bouquet to the chicken stock. Turn on the stove and bring the stock right up to the boiling point, then reduce the heat. Cook for several hours.
Use a colander or strainer to remove all the chicken, bones, skin, and vegetables. Place the strained stock back on the stove and simmer another hour or two to reduce.
Pick the chicken meat from the bones and set aside. This can be used to make chicken soup or chopped for chicken salad. For chicken soup, use 2 quarts of chicken stock, chicken meat, ½ cup diced onion, 3 peeled, chopped carrots and 1 cup chopped celery. Add ½ teaspoon of garlic and ½ teaspoon of turmeric. I also like to add a little shake of cayenne pepper, especially for cold-sufferers. Cook until the veggies are tender and add half a bag of egg noodles. Cook until the noodles are tender.
I'm hoping you are able to dodge the cold and flu bug this season, but if it does sneak up on you, you’ll be ready with your fabulous frozen vegetable and chicken stocks. Be well!
© Robin Devereaux-Nelson 2010