Today, Lisa and I were scheduled to cook our Indian dishes, but unfortunately we were never able to connect. When I received her e-mail telling me that her phone was not charged, I could only smile, as I've fallen prey to the death of my cell phone far too many times. These sorts of incidents remind me that, despite our perceptions of others, each of us are subject to the demands of life that take us away from our simplest activities. For me, I viewed Lisa as the woman who planned carefully, executed flawlessly, and delivered without exception. It seems that, in this particular case, we are more alike than I thought.

We had agreed to make Rob's Chicken Tiki Masala featured on her blog site, http://housewifecooking.blogspot.com/2009/05/crock-pot-chicken-tikka-masala.html.

My project began last night when I marinated cubes of boneless, skinless chicken in a mixture of Greek yogurt, lemon juice and a series of spices of which the star was garam masala purchased from my local Indian market.

This morning I assembled my ingredients.

While the marinated chicken was baking, I prepared the sauce which was comprised of an onion, tomato puree, heavy whipping cream, and garam masala and other spices. I was intrigued by the technique used in Indian cooking whereby very simple spices are incorporated into the dish in stages. This ingenious and wonderful process is evidently why Indian cuisine is known for its depth of flavor. The sauce was then incorporated with a tomato-cream sauce in a crock pot where it cooked for about three hours.

The total time to prepare this dish was under an hour.

I then prepared the Indian Dahl with Spinach found on Allrecipes.com. This dish incorporated earthy spices including turmeric, cumin , mustard seed and garam masala. If you have never tried Dahl, please try it, as the layers of flavors are almost decadent in a dish that is essentially lentils and spinach. I cannot describe the how fragrant my dishes were, but it was intoxicating. My house captured the fragrances of the earthy and the spicy; again a reminder of Lisa and me.

I served my dishes with Indian rice and Paratha (which I cheated by purchasing). The dishes were heaven on a plate.

I wish that Lisa and I were able to talk like we do while we were preparing our dishes, but because I knew that she was performing the very same activity at a time parallel to mine, I felt her kindred spirit cooking with me. During the day, I had wonderful conversations with two of our other "Peas", Este and Christy; and because we prepared our dishes using Rob's recipe, she was also a part of my day. I could not help but be pleased for the "new" friends that I have. Much like our friendships, the simplicity in construction creates a complexity of flavors that produces an aroma that made my house feel like a home.

Now that I'm finished cooking and finished dining, I have no idea why I have not tried to make Indian food before.  It's one of my most favorite ethnic foods and we order takeout often from Mountain City Coffeehouse.
So, Leana and I decided on Indian fare and we decided to make our friend Robyn's Chicken Tikka Masala.  To that I added Panjabi Aloo Gobi (spiced cauliflower and potatoes), homemade Naan, and Jasmati rice.  Of course, I wanted basmati rice, but that's asking too much in Frostburg.  I was glad to find Jasmati...which I'm guessing is Jasmine and Basmati rice?  I don't know...it was yummy.
Unfortunately, my cell phone was dead and I couldn't retrieve Leana's phone number!!!  It just wasn't right cooking without chatting with her!  Honestly, it wasn't nearly as fulfilling as having our monthly chat during the cooking process!  Darn phone...it won't happen again!

The chicken dish, the aloo gobi, and the homemade Naan were truly delicious.  My husband looked at me during dinner and said, "Well, now you've ruined Indian food...we won't be able to eat out anywhere soon!".  I'll take that as a compliment.

I used Rob's recipe as is...and it rocked.  The spiced cauliflower and potatoes are another story.  I surveyed many different recipes and came up with the recipe below.  For the homemade Naan, I followed the recipe at Allrecipes.com...it was the BEST Naan I've ever tasted.  I amended the recipe a bit, see below.


Here are the recipes:

Robyn's Crockpot Chicken Tikka Masala

Recipe: Punjabi Aloo Gobi – Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 2c russet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 2c cauliflower, cut into small-medium sized florets
  • 1.5c canned diced tomatoes
  • 1c frozen peas
  • 5-6 inches long ginger, finely chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • Salt
  • Bunch of cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil


Directions:
  1. In a large skillet heat the ghee or canola oil over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and ginger and gently stir-fry until they begin to turn golden, approx. 1 minute.
  2. Lower the heat, add the potatoes, garam masala, turmeric and a pinch of salt. Carry on stir-frying until the spices cook and begin to smell fragrant – approx. 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the cauliflower and toss to incorporated with the spices, then pour in the diced tomatoes. Stir once or twice, cover and allow to simmer over a medium heat for approx. 30-35 minutes. Stir occasionally. The vegetables should be tender but still firm.
  4. Add the peas about 10 minutes before the cooking time is completed and gently stir
  5. Sprinkle with coriander leaves and serve with homemade naans. 
 The Best Homemade Naan

Ingredients

  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons powdered garlic

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until frothy. Stir in sugar, milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise. Let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.
  2. Punch down dough, and knead in garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into balls, and place on a tray. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
  3. During the second rising, preheat grill to high heat.
  4. At grill side, roll one ball of dough out into a thin circle. Lightly oil grill. Place dough on grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with butter, and turn over. Brush cooked side with butter, and cook until browned, another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from grill, and continue the process until all the naan has been prepared.

My morning began when I awoke to face my messy house and the seemingly hundreds of preparations that must be readied before my long and busy weekend. My tendency to over-obligate sometimes makes me forget how fortunate I am to have such an active social life. Tomorrow I am throwing a party to display and sell my Wildtree food products as well as to enjoy an ordinary Saturday night with lots of friends. For tonight, I will cook with my cooking club to celebrate my friend's birthday. His dessert of choice: Raspberry Tiramisu a la Giada.


With a fragrant cup of cherry cream joe, I sat at my computer to research recipe ideas from the Wildtree product line. With costs in mind, I carefully prepared my grocery list.

Outside, it is slated to be 84 degrees which, in Wisconsin, is an event in and of itself if it occurs in April. I resisted the urge to grumble at the fact that my entire day is committed, but am comforted in the knowledge that all of my labors will eventually be appreciated. The cleaning can be done later, I try to make myself believe. Today, I will do only what is absolutely necessary so that I can go outside and enjoy some of the day. I was home from the grocery store by 11:30 a.m.

First, I combined the seedless raspberry jam with the very last teaspoonful of orange liquor that I had in the cabinet. Thank goodness its all gone because in my house, there aren't a ton of occasions to use it. Next, I incorporated the time-honored ingredients for whipped cream: heavy whipping cream, (french) vanilla extract and sugar. With the Lady Fingers adequately soaked in the cooled cherry cream coffee, I arranged them in the bottom of a beautifully etched dish given to me from my late grandmother. The next layer was the raspberry jam mixture followed by the mascarpone and whipped cream concoction. This arrangement was repeated until all of the ingredients separately made a most elegant and luxurious dessert when assembled together. I must admit that the top layer was a bit heavy on the whipped topping, but I will not apologize for it. Nobody would want me to.

I indulged in a nap after putting the tiramisu in the fridge. My poor neighbor upstairs is so sick with the flu, so I after I awoke took his Border Collie out for a walk, which lasted 1-1/2 miles. I felt like the pounds were melting off of me, literally, as lumbering around the neighborhood in the warmth of the sun caused me to break a sweat!

Upon my return, I saw a yellow package in the mail. It was from my friend Christy. She is part of my group of long-distance friends who talked about how great it feels to get fun mail; not the kind that wants something from you but the sort that reminds you that someone out there is thinking of you. I brought the dog back upstairs, changed into flip-flops, grabbed a bottle of water and sat comfortably on my front porch, where I thoughtfully opened my prized parcel. Out of the blue she sent me a small notebook and bookmark that read "Go Confidently in the Direction of Your Dreams". She offered encouraging words for me to keep writing and shared how blessed she is that we have reconnected after all of these years.

The sentiment filled my heart. I closed my eyes and counted my blessings. I thought about how Christy, with all of her life's hardships, can find joy in other people's happiness and wondered if I could ever do the same. Where does she find the strength to give to others, I wondered. I considered ways to repay her for making my day so special, but then realized that she doesn't want payback. She's just not that way.

You see, my friends and I have labeled ourselves "The Peas", as in "Peas in a Pod", for as different as we are, inside we are all the same. After 25 years of varied experiences, we have found that we are more compatible today than we ever could have been. Today, we have the wisdom to recognize that love comes in many forms; among them is friendship. This is our time together and we all recognize it. With eyes still closed, I thanked God for Christy and prayed for peace and tranquility to come to her and her family.

Minutes later, I saw my sick neighbor trying to walk his dog, as he had just awoken and was unaware that I returned his dog only 20 minutes earlier.

When I found myself running behind schedule on Saturday and unable to keep my promise to make Navarin Printanier, or lamb stew with spring vegetables, on our appointed time, I came to the conclusion that Lisa would eventually understand when she learned how frequently I am tardy. Seldom are the days when I don’t feel like Sandra Bullock dropping articles from my armful of items as I’m running to my next engagement. I never mean for it to happen; it’s just such a slippery slope. I didn’t quite feel that she was ready for that yet.

As it turns out, Lisa didn’t cook her stew on Saturday either, and once again we found ourselves talking on the phone while preparing our lamb and chopping our vegetables. This time we chatted as if we were sitting at the same table preparing and assembling the ingredients for our next project. We talked about our friends; the friends with whom we recently came into contact and those whom we wished we did. We talked about the ongoing events of our lives and our plans for the future, intermittent with my questions about what happens if I don’t cut all of the thin clear skin off of the lamb to the taste of parsnips. We laughed about and loved the term of our circle dubbed “Peas in a Pod”, as we have the privilege of belonging in a friendship of extraordinary women. It truly was a fulfilling conversation between friends. Again, we hung up at the time I needed both hands to continue cooking.

It took about an hour toiling over trimming skin and cartridge from my boneless leg of lamb (at $22.00 for about 3.5 lbs). Yep, just trimming the lamb.



Fortunately, I always find this type of activity to be relaxing and very soon found myself happily in my zone. My kitchen was soon filled with the satisfying aroma of browning meat, followed by the inclusion of the seasonings, broth and tomato paste. I felt relaxed from my hectic weekend when my Navarin Printanier, happily housed in my beautiful green iron Rachel Ray roasting pot, was finally placed in the oven.

For the first time in my life, I engaged in preparing and eventually eating turnips and parsnips. I was excited at the notion of trying new vegetables to my repertoire. Lisa told me that parsnips are often used in place of carrots in this type of dish, and as a root vegetable, it made sense. If I liked them, it would be another great way for me to sneak in an additional vegetable into my sometimes-healthy diet. After the first hour of roasting, the vegetables were put into the pot, which marked the beginning of the home stretch to mealtime.



The stew was perfect. It was a rustic and hearty meal without any of the sophistication found in other dishes. I ate it over jasmine rice – of course, because everything is served with rice in a Filipino household – and I thoroughly enjoyed it. All-in-all, the Navarin Printanier, like my friend Lisa, offered a sense of comforting familiarity.

Yesterday was Leana's and my day to cook Julia's Lamb Stew.  Once again, I was near a real supermarket on Friday so picking up some various lamb cuts was not difficult.  And, the lamb was on sale and each pack had a $2 coupon on the packaging as well!  Awesome!  I purchased, lamb loin chops, lamb shoulder chops, and a rack of lamb.  I didn't use the rack of lamb...I'll save that.
So, Saturday, I started to get things out to begin this endeavor and I stalled.  I had to show the house, had to see my Dad, had to run to the store, and we had a sitter that eve so we could join friends for an adult dinner out.  Ugh.  Saturday just was not going to work for me.  So, I facebooked Leana that I would be putting of my cooking until Sunday.  As it turned out, she was totally on board with that because of her busy Saturday!!

So, Sunday late afternoon rolled around and I gave Leana a call, leaving a message for her to call me when she began cooking.  While I was assembling, rearranging and taking pictures, Leana called back.  She too, was just getting started.  So we chatted up a storm while prepping our ingredients!  Seriously, we talked for an hour...maybe more!

While we chopped vegetables and cut up various pieces of lamb we talked some about high school.  We've reconnected with a core group of girls on Facebook that were classmates of ours.  Funny thing is, none of us hung out together in high school!  Most of us were friends, laughed together, attended all the perfunctory high school events, but I, for one, never spent anytime outside of school with these fabulous ladies!  We've been dubbed PEAS in a POD by our dear friend Estee!  She was quick to point out that our pod is expandable to all those who may be kindred spirits!  After we laughed at length about how we've reconnected or connected with these women who are flung far and wide across the country, we discussed work.

You'll recall, Leana is the hip professional living in a real city, while I'm the home-schooling Mom who eeks out a semblance of a professional life here in rural nowheresville.  I chided on my last post that Leana and I didn't have alot in common, but as it turns out, I was wrong!  Leana commented that yanking my kiddo out of school in a small community such as mine has was a gutsy move on my part, and she is right about that.  A few sentences later I find out my little firecracker of a friend up and quit her job!  Quit...as in left it all behind!  And she did this during a time of huge economic downturn!  GUTSY???  Yep, she's gutsy.  She's also gainfully employed after 13 days on the market.  Leana is trying her hand at CONSULTING!!!  What do I do???  CONSULTING!  Yes, cooking is not the only thing I have in common with Leana!  We may have been cut from the same cloth!  F-U-N!!!

Back to the recipe...poor Leana was wrestling with her leg of lamb while I was all ready to start my dish.  We had to end our call so she could properly trim her lamb.  Ugh...it was just so, so, so, much of a pleasure to spend time chatting with Leana over cooking prep!

I began browning my chunks of lamb and placing them in the casserole and the smell the permeated my kitchen was nothing less than the perfect smell of savory goodness!  This dish was going to rock!


Once I had the stew in the oven, I set the table and apologized to my husband and son for the late hour of our dinner.  Sometimes, I don't plan as well as I should.  But, they didn't seem to mind and were willing to wait. 


Finally, it was time to cook the fresh peas and green beans.  The original recipe calls for one or the other, but I wanted to use both!


Into the boiling salt water went the peas and the trimmed green beans.  I had to laugh!  Look at all those PEAS!  I was again thinking of the great friends I've reconnected with that are forever dubbed, the PEAS!





Finally, the stew was done, the bread was warm and we were seated at the table.  Jack, my little foodie, was excited to try something new!  He was first in his seat for dinner for a change!



Per usual for me, I did not follow the exact recipe.  I'm one of THOSE cooks and in fact, might be one of THOSE parents, one of THOSE general peoples who just don't always go by the book.  I look at the recipe, I follow some of the recipe but I inevitably find things to change before even trying out a dish.  To Julia's lamb stew, I added more vegetables.  My family loves vegetables, so I added parsnips, extra potatoes, more garlic, extra stock, and I mentioned, the peas AND the green beans.



The verdict:  It was a great dinner.  Was it as good as the boeuf bourguignon from last time? No. But it was darn good. The lamb was so succulent it just melted in your mouth. The taste of the fresh turnips reminded me quickly of my childhood and gardening at the farm with my Grandfather. Yes, it was a worthy dish and I will make it again. My son and husband agreed.


Bless you Julia Child, not just for your wonderful legacy of recipes, but for, in a round about way, bringing Leana and the other Peas into my life!

Shortly after reconnecting with Lisa on Facebook, I learned that she is also a "foodie". That sort of person always interests me, as I love all things food-related; from the cooking gadgets, to grocery shopping, to the cooking process itself and of course, the utlimate reward of eating. It was just too bad that she lives half a country away, but not to be deterred, I suggested that we cook "together" despite the distance. She and I haven't been in contact for 25 years, so I was pleasantly surprised when she responded with such enthusiasm. Remembering the same excitement my cheerleader friend possessed in high school, I was brought back to the fond years when we knew each other.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I have many ideas for hobbies and am a great starter, but more often than I would like to admit do not always have the best follow through. Luckily, Lisa turned out to be the driving force behind the blog, and thank goodness for that. She has initiated the means by which we will rekindle our newfound friendship.

Stealing a page from "Julie & Julia", we have decided to cook Bouef Bourguignon on the same date - I mean, what choice did we have, really? I don't have the giant Julia Childs cookbook like Lisa, so I looked up the recipe on the World Wide Interweb. For something so elaborate, it seemed surpirsingly simple.

Admittedly, I was a little nervous when I called her for the first time. I was worried that we would struggle for conversation. I wondered if the uncomfortable silence would be filled with struggling small talk. When she answered the phone, no longer did I hear the cute and small voice from years past, but instead, a wise and confident woman answered. The sound of her voice provided hints of the familiar sweet and perky girl that I remembered from so long ago, and I was happy to find that her kind spirit never changed in the years that had passed.

We caught up for a bit on the phone while beginning the dish, but had to hang up because we came to the point where we needed both hands to work. My modification was that instead of the thick chunk bacon called for in the recipe, I used regular bacon, as the local Pick'n Save didn't have chunk bacon at the meat counter. Oh, and in response to the flaw I found in Julia's recipe, I doubled the meat. I needed it to fully absorb all of the extra wine I poured in - also an apparent oversight on Ms. Childs' part, God rest her soul. It seemed to take forever to cut all the meat and veggies, but I know it would pay off when the aromatic scents would fill my home. In the future, however, I may have to respectfully request that I be exempt from peeling 18 - 24 pearl onions should it be required for future recipes. Either that or I will wait out Ryan Reynolds' existing marriage and let him peel them and then reward him in the only way that would make sense at that time :) (Oh wow...was that inappropriate...) By the way, Lisa wasn't the only one who couldn't figure out when the carrots and the lovingly peeled pearl onions had to go into the stew!

In the movie, I'm not exactly sure how Julie Powell could have possibly fallen asleep while the dish was roasting in the oven, because I tried to take a nap during the four hours of roasting in the oven. The aroma of the stew was too distracting - in an exciting way - to allow a full afternoon of self-centered indulgence.

[True to form, I did not have my camera charged, so there is no pictorial documentation of the dish. I do, however, have several satisified witnesses.]

Suffice it to say, the dish was WONDERFUL, I mean close-your-eyes good! Ryan Reynolds would have eagerly fought David Beckham for my hand in marriage after eating my dish. The meat was so tender that I was glad that I added what seemed like too much at the time. My friends loved it and hope that I make it again. Perhaps I will, the next time I have 7 free hours to spend in the afternoon.

Sharing our love for cooking was a wonderful experience, one which we plan to continue. Lisa and I have decided on Lamb Stew this coming Saturday, March 13, 2010. I promise to submit pictures next time!

I was very excited to embark on my first long distance cooking experience with my dear friend, Leana.  This was her idea.  Leana and I have reconnected on Facebook, having graduated together 25, yes, twenty-five years ago from Davenport West High School in the Quad Cities.  Through facebook, I learned that like myself, Leana is a foodie at heart.  When she asked if I wanted to cook "together" I was completely on board.

Our chosen fare for our first gourmet play, Boeuf Bourguignon al la Julia!  I had never made it or even tasted it  but knew I'd love it.

After a rough 2009, this was a great way to start a new year and a new chapter in friendship, food, and fun.  I started by first purchasing Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Borders in Frederick, MD.  I was fortunate enough to have to be in Frederick the Friday before our dueling Julia's experience.  I took that opportunity to pop into a couple of markets that I thought would have a wider selection of meats and veggies to choose from.  I was not disappointed.  Along with a hearty armful of Peet's coffee, I was able to purchase the lovely small pearl onions I would need for our recipe.  I figured everything else I could get at home.

Big mistake!  I could not find slab bacon anywhere near Frostburg!  I ended up using a thick cut bacon instead of a slab.  It would have to do!

I assembled all the ingredients beautifully on the kitchen counter and measured everything in to small bowls and ramekins.  I typically cook by the seat of my pants, but I wasn't in a hurry, you can't be to make this dish, and I wanted to savor the experience.



Leana and I spoke via telephone during the initial cooking of this dish.  It was really great to hear her so familiar Midwest accent and hear what she's been up to for the past 25 years.  We live extremely different lives!  I'm a Mom and wife and homeschool my child while trying to scratch out a semblance of a professional life.  Leana is a hip single professional living in a real city! But, one common bond we share is a love of cooking.  We may live entirely different lives, but we are amateur foodies, through and through!

Besides learning about Leana, I learned something about myself while making this wonderful dish;  I can't follow a recipe...even when it's Julia, I find something to change!  To Julia's wonderful dish, I added a couple of extra bay leaves, a couple of extra cloves of garlic and 1 tsp thyme leaves.  Other than those small additions, I DID follow the recipe.  However, I couldn't figure out what to do with the carrots and onion!  I ended up adding the carrot and onion back into the pan for a quick sautee before sending the whole thing to the oven.



 I even had my detail oriented husband read the recipe to see where the sliced onion and carrot played in. He couldn't find it either.  C'est LaVie!

In the end, it took me 7 hours to complete the recipe.  It was worth every minute and my family enjoyed it immensely!  Can't wait to cook with Leana again!


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