03 September 2008

The kettle that could have killed me (sort of)

Our kettle. Upon return to the States, it will be dipped in gold and forever remembered as the most problematic acquisition of our early days in Thailand. We had already purchased a paring knife (never mind that it was a folding thing that snapped closed almost every time I went to use it), a really great sharp chef's knife, a frying pan and some reusable plastic plates. 

Which, if I'm being honest, were never really intended to be reused. Instead, they were intended to be taken on a picnic and thrown out. But, becoming increasingly upset by the amount of paper plates we were going through, I switched to what I will refer to as 'reusable plastic plates.' They lasted a good two weeks before warping into almost unrecognizable disks.

Quickly, it became apparent that if we wanted to extend our cooking repertoire, we would need a large kettle. And, we weren't picky... any good size pot would do. We just needed something that would allow us to simmer some curry, heat some soup, cook some noodles, boil some water. The search was on. We hit every grocery store, convenience store and would-be housewares store we had access to. We even visited stores that new friends referred us to. But, after three days of searching we were empty handed and really, really wanting a kettle (any kettle!).

With T and the kids sharing a Starbucks moment, I made my way into yet another grocery store. Using a clever combination of charades, the few Thai words that I knew and a dash of English, I was led to a corner around a corner of a section just outside the grocery store. Aha.... four kettles sat before me. Cha ching! I returned to my family clutching my heavy bag, with what I'm sure looked like a smile appropriate for someone who had just received an Olympic Gold Medal.

All was going quite well until the next day. While simmering a curry, I lifted the lid to check on it and ka-pow. I closed my eyes in horror as the sound of what I thought was a gunshot going off in our kitchen. When I opened my eyes and stopped shaking a bit, I was standing in a giant spray of "safety" (how ironic) glass. If I hadn't had my wrist tilted in the manner that it was, I guarantee that the outcome would have been different. 

One defective lid later, I still had my kettle and, very luckily, didn't suffer any injuries. The same can't be said for my curry.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 8:
Easy Chicken Stock
Once a fun activity to do, this has now become a necessary task in our Bangkok kitchen. Spend a little extra time making your own stock and you'll have a freezer full the next time you need it in a recipe. Yes, it takes some time, but if you can boil water, I guarantee you can make your own stock: it's really and truly easy. And, it's surprisingly satisfying knowing you added a homemade stock to your recipes.

1 roasting chicken*
2 onions, sliced in half, skins still on
3-5 peppercorns
optional: assorted veggies like celery, carrots, herbs or other favorites, scrubbed and roughly chopped with stems and peels intact**

Place the chicken, onions, veggies, the peppercorns and a good palm full of salt into a large kettle. Add water just until ingredients are covered. Bring to a boil and then turn down to low. Cover and simmer gently for at least 2 hours. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Then, place a strainer over a large bowl and dump the stock into strainer. Discard the veggies and bones, reserving the shredded meat, to freeze, for use in a future recipe. Set liquid aside and allow to cool completely. Once cool, either skim the top layer off (this will be an opaque film that just covers the top of the stock) or pour into a gravy separator and use to remove the fat. Pour into small containers, add to your freezer and congratulations: you've got a stockpile of homemade stock!

*You can use this same method to make a shrimp stock or a veggie stock. Just replace the chicken with shrimp peels or a good amount of veggies. When making veggie stock, my gramps used to serve the very well cooked veggies (that contributed to the stock's flavor) with a side of buttered noodles instead of throwing them out. As a kid, I remember them being delicious!
**I keep an enclosed container in my freezer where I can place food scraps, suitable for stock, throughout the week. That way, when its time to make stock, I just add the carrots, onions, ginger, herbs, etc. that would have otherwise gone into the garbage. It's a great way to reduce food waste and add more flavor to your stock.

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