Thursday, November 8, 2012

Comestibles on KAF?

Ah, here I am deployed yet again.  I fear that as long as I'm in the Army I will deploy many more times after. I am in Afghanistan instead of Iraq this time.  Although the quality of life and even job is "better and easier" I'm not going to still stinks.  Literally it stinks here on Kandahar Airfield thanks to a giant quad pool of human excrement and nastiness.  But enough about that as Comestible Creations is about savoring and relishing good food and drink and other stuff.

However, the food here does stink and everyone at home should appreciate the delicious bounty to choose from either at a grocery store or a nice restaurant.

Yeah, yeah, I've had worse deployments but I don't live in the past.  I live in the now, and now the food is gross and makes me want to throw up a little bit.  I'm glad that others share my woes and frustrations of the dining facilities (DFACs) here. A friend of mine, Chris turned me onto this humorous and very truthful blog called Just DFACS Ma'am.  Reading this makes me laugh and gives me some comfort to know that I'm not the only one with working taste buds.

I've also been inspired to post on my blog now even though I'm not cooking.  Well, I do "cook" per say in my room with the occasional ramen noodle cup, but you can hardly call plugging in an electric kettle to boil water cooking.  Like I said before, I live in the now.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Butter Chicken

Dale and I were introduced to butter chicken at his farewell lunch from his section at Fort Carson.  They chose an Indian restaurant that was very good and one of the officers that was being "farwelled" along with him told us about his favorite dish...butter chicken.  We ordered it and thought it was very good!

When we were going through Trader Joe's we picked up butter chicken in the frozen dinner form that had a serving of chicken with sauce and basamati rice.  It was pretty good as well, but I thought it was a bit expensive for the portions.  Of course I thought to myself "I could make this!"  So I did.

It's fairly inexpensive, but only once you've made your garam masala mix.  This is a blend of spices that makes one super spice blend that's just heavenly.  It can be a bit costly, but then again, spices are costly, as they have always been throughout the existence of civilization.  I had some spices on hand, but I think it would be best to start fresh and grind your own when you can.  Once you whip up your garam masala you can keep it for all sorts of future Indian dishes so the initial cost does go a long way.  Plus if you do buy spices in their whole form, you can make little batches and keep that.  The whole form spices store longer and are fresher and more pungent when you grind them.  It's up to you.  I'm a bit lazy and just whipped up a whole lot of it.

Super Easy Garam Masala
(12 servings)

I tripled the recipe below (so that's 36 servings) and sealed it in a container for later use and used whole spices and ground them in my Bullet!  Yes, the one AS SEEN ON TV!  You could use a clean coffee bean grinder, but be sure to grind them fine.

1 T ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cardamon (this comes in pods and you have to shell them first and grind the seeds inside; totally worth it)
1 1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Put all ingredients in an airtight container and shake until thoroughly mixed.

Chicken Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken)
(serves 4)

I doubled the below recipe when I made it, but prepared them in two portions as my pan was way too small.  I put the first portion into a container and threw it into the freezer for another spicy Indian day.

For the Sauce:

1 T peanut oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/4 white onion, chopped
2 T butter
2 tsp lemon juice
1 T ginger garlic paste (I found separate tubes of ginger and garlic paste near the fresh herbs section at Safeway)
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup plain yogurt (fat free is fine)
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup tomato puree
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch black pepper

For the Chicken:

1 T peanut oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces (you can use breast meat, but I think dark meat tastes way, way, way better.  But that's just me.)
1 tsp garam masala (yup, more yet and so worth it)
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 T corn starch
1/4 cup cold water

*NOTE:  Mise en place...learn it.  Prep all your stuff before you start.  Chop and measure and all that jazz with all ingredients and then put them into small bowls and dishes.  You don't have to have a ton of dishes (I hate washing dishes) but you can put ingredients into groups by when you're going to use them.  For example: all of the spices were measure and put in a tiny bowl along with the bay leaf, and the ginger garlic paste was put in with the lemon juice.  You can see this in one of the photos.  Just use your best judgement.  Either way, doing this in some sort of order every time you cook helps make life in the kitchen so much easier, and it looks more impressive if you're cooking in front of an audience!  Read about mise en place in this past post.

In a large sauce pan (I had to swap out pans since the one I started out with was way too small!  Oh well, live and learn), heat up the peanut oil over medium heat.  Add your shallots and onion and cook until they are translucent (yes, the shallots are missing in my picture and if you can't get them, it's fine).  Add the butter, ginger garlic paste, all of the spices (for the sauce portion of the recipe) and the bay leaf.  Stir vigorously and cook for a minute or two.  The fragrance that will be wafting up and out of the pan, greeting your nose will be like nothing you have ever smelled!  It's pure Nirvana and will make the house smell wonderful.  When I was at this step I heard Dale exclaim from the other room, "WOW!  That smells great!"  Oh yeah!

Add the tomato puree and cook for a few more minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in the yoghurt and the half-and-half and keep stirring until it has heated through.  Turn the heat down to low.  The sauce will looked curdled, but don't fret.  This is the reaction from adding dairy to something with acid (lemon juice).  Keep the faith.  Your dish will not be lost!  Simmer for about ten more minutes and stir frequently and add salt and pepper to taste.  Take this off the heat and set aside near your stove.  You'll be needing this in just a few minutes.  I added some dry chilies in the hopes I could make it even more hotter.  Yeah, I like to try to reach the highest heights of heat enlightenment!

In a large saute pan, heat up more peanut oil over medium-high heat.  Don't worry about it smoking.  Peanut oil can withstand super high temperatures.  Think about what you cook all of those deep-fried turkeys in!  Brown your chicken and then add the additional spices and stir.  More delicious aromas will fill the air.  Continue to brown your chicken and keep the heat where it's at.  All of this portion shouldn't really take much time.  Good thing you followed the mis en place guideline!

*NOTE: The next is my own method.  When I read the original recipe I was working off of, the method didn't really seam to make sense to achieve a thick and creamy sauce after looking at the sauce I had just made and set aside.  So I just followed my gut-instinct and did the following:

Ladle a portion (I have 1 cup ladles) of the sauce into the hot pan.  This will help deglaze the pan, pulling up all the lovely brown chickeny (that's a word that Julia Child liked to use and I'm rather fond of it) bits and stuff, and reduce the sauce.  Cook and reduce your sauce and stir constantly.  Don't worry, you won't burn it if you're awake and paying attention!  Keep adding the sauce by ladlefuls, all the time letting the sauce reduce more in between additions.  Once you get all of your sauce onto the chicken and it looks fairly creamy but it's still a bit runny, turn the heat off.  Stir up your cornstarch and water and pour this into your sauce and stir quickly.  Your sauce will thicken more and more and coat the chicken, making it look like it should.

I also added this last finish by stirring in a couple more tablespoons of butter (or more!) into the chicken and sauce.  It really does "round" out the finished dish and what the's BUTTER chicken after all!

Serve immediately over hot basamti rice and serve with naan if you have it.

This dish is definitely one I will remake!  Well, after I serve up the frozen portion later.  This does freeze beautifully and so does rice.  So, I made a bunch of rice for both of the meals.

Try cooking this one yourself!  Like I said, after you get done shelling out some cash for the base of spices for your own garam masala (or if you can find it already blended, even better!) your doorway to Indian cuisine has only just opened into a new world of flavor intensities!  You could probably do this vegetarian if you would like with cauliflower or that super-rubbery Indian cheese.  I'm not sure what that is...

Anyhoo, anyway you cook it, it's definitely an easy dish and sure to please most!  Enjoy!

आप का खाना स्वादिष्टहो (āp kā khānā svādiṣṭa ho) - good eating!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Squished Game Hens

Here is my first post from Ruston, Washington!  I made this dish a few weeks ago and I had to tap into my Iron Chef skills.  I bought these little game hens to make into this delicious Korean soup.  It had been cold and rainy and soup sounded great.  Well, I took them out to thaw and the moment I decided to make them it was a beautiful day!  So much for the comforting soup on the cold and dreary day.  So, I came up with my own brick style chicken.

Squished Chicken (Game Hens really) & Garlic Butter Broccolini
Serves 2 slightly hungry persons or 1 pretty hungry person

2 Cornish Game Hens, cleaned and patted dry and butterflied (see my technique written below)
Slap Yo Mama spice (I picked this up in Houston and it's pretty spicy, or whatever you want to use)
non-stick spray
manual panini press or a couple of heavy bricks (yes bricks, new and clean) wrapped in heavy-duty foil
Bunch of Broccolini, cleaned and split into thinner strips if you like (I like)
3-4 cloves crushed garlic (the more the better I say)
Olive Oil
Butter (Come on!  Go for the reals stuff!  We don't need no steenk-ing margarine!)
squeeze of lemon juice if you so desire
Preheat your oven to about 475°F (you want it good and hot).
Take the hens and use a good hefty pair of kitchen shears to cut out the backbone.  Don't be a chicken, you have to be aggressive even in little birds like these. I save the backs in a baggie and throw them in the freezer for use at a later date.  These leftovers are great for stock.  But back to the job at hand!  Clip off the wings and throw them into your stock bag.  Wings from a game hen are pretty much tooth picks and will just burn cooking with this method.

After you've removed the backbones from both, flip them over and spread out the hens as flat as you can.  Then, using the palm of your hand press firmly down and bust their little breast bones.  So cruel I know, but relax, they won't feel a thing (they're dead!) and you want them to lay down as flat as possible for even cooking.
Make sure your hens are pretty dry and season liberally front and back with the Slap Yo Mama (or whatever you'd like to season them with).  Keep in mind that you can use Mrs. Dash or something non-sodium, but the salt helps crisp up the skin.  It's up to you but I loves me some crispy skin!  Spray them front and back with non-stick spray.  Don't worry if you blast off some of the seasoning because you can reapply.

Get a grill pan nice and hot (med-high heat, more on the higher side if you get my drift) and be sure that it's a pan you can put in the oven.  Put hens in breast side down to sear.  There will be a lot of steam but now is the time to be fearless.  Apply the panini press or bricks.  You want to weight your birds down to get as much surface to the hot pan.  Let sear for about 2-3 minutes and flip over and reapply the weights and sear for an additional 2-3 minutes.  The searing time really depends on how it looks.  If it's pale and not appetizing at all, sear some more.  If it looks like you could tear into right away because it's so mouth-watering brown, then you're about right.  Don't tear into it though!  It's still raw on the inside!
The skin should have nice grill marks and be golden, brown and delicious! With the weight still on pop the whole thing into the hot oven and continue to cook for about 8-10 minutes or until there is no blood or pink at the leg and thigh joint.  Be sure you have a good grip on this because the weights can be heavy!  You'll hear a ton of popping and sizzling but these are the sounds of goodness cooking up in the pan.  Do not flip the birds.  They can just finish as they are in the hot oven.  It's okay to throw them back in if they are still a bit underdone.

When the hens are cooked to perfection, take them out and let them rest on a board, tented with some foil.  I let them rest about 5 minutes or so.  This gives me time to de-glaze the grill pan or you can just reserve the super-condensed and nearly sticky juice to pour on top before serving.  If you do de-glaze, use a little water or maybe some white wine.  You're not making an elaborate sauce here.  You just want to get up all of those mouth watering brown bits and stuff on the pan.  Now while your hens are taking a rest, it is time to saute up your broccolini.

In a hot (medium-high heat) saute pan pour in about a tablespoon or so of olive oil and the crushed garlic.  Then throw in your broccolini.  Do this quickly to brown your garlic but not burn.  Toss the broccolini and cook until bright green and tender crisp.  This will only take a couple of minutes if even that.  Right before you shut the heat off, toss in a healthy nob of butter and melt.  It'll sizzle and help lift all of that browned garlic from the pan.  Serve on a warmed platter and squeeze lemon juice on top if you wish and a little kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

Plate your squished hens onto another warm platter and drizzle the pan juices on top.  Serve with warm bread of your choice.  I served some warmed up naan that we picked up from our Trader Joes.  How in the world did I ever do without them this long?

We dined alfresco on the porch (on a table of course) and Dale and I dug in.  The hens were so succulent and the broccolini was so fresh and crisp that it didn't take long for us to let our animal instincts kick and in reduced the hens to a pile of little bones.  What a wonderful thing to serve on a beautiful day!  Give it a try.  Remember, it's really all about timing so be sure you prep everything before you start cooking.  It's fun and simple and quite impressive to serve up!


Greeting from Puget Sound!

Wow, I'm so behind on cooking and posting.  Well, I've been cooking, but nothing extravagant and definitely nothing to shout about or even blog.  Dale and I spent all of March and most of April packing and moving and unpacking and moving into our new home in Ruston, Washington.  We love it!

I promise I will start cooking and posting some great food!  I am slated to got to Afghanistan next month for 9 months or so, but I will try to make some nice dishes for Dale and myself before I head off.  Until then!