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Chicken Tikka Masala for the Beginner

When I want to indulge, the creamy curries and smoldering spiciness of Indian food never fail to satisfy me. But making it for yourself at home, now that’s a whole different story. I never seem to have the right ingredients, and the recipes always seem more complicated than I want to deal with. Well, I’m making it my goal to start making my own Indian food, because it really shouldn’t be that daunting to make something I love so much. So I started with one of my all-time Indian food favorites – chicken tikka masala. Okay before I get any farther, can I please just say that one of my biggest pet peeves in the food realm is hearing people call it chicken “tikki” masala. That is not the name of this dish!!! This isn’t a tropical bar on a Pacific Island… okay, now that’s out of my system, we can carry on lol.

Anyway, chicken tikka masala (or any kind of tikka masala) is what I consider a combination of all things I like about Indian food. Somewhat spicy, with a savory tartness and a creaminess that complements any protein you add to it and rounds out the main dish with a satisfying bloom of flavor on your tongue. It is the perfect accompaniment to a plate of delicious saffron-laced basmati rice. Now, I know, tikka masala isn’t traditional Indian food any more than one could consider General Tso’s chicken traditional Chinese food. Somewhere along the way I heard that tikka masala was invented in England where a chef threw together a dish using tomato paste and spices and cream, in order to please a Western customer who came in desiring something different from what was offered on the Indian restaurant menu. Whatever, I still love it! The problem with making tikka masala in the comfort of your own home is that most true-to-the-flavor recipes require quite a bit of prep work, often including many spices and ingredients that are not common in households, and also tacking on some long overnight marinating business. So I went in search of a simple but still (mostly) faithfully tasty recipe that I could make for an easy dinner, especially having not made any Indian food by myself before. The only tricky ingredient here is the garam masala powder, which you should be able to find at any decent sized supermarket along with the other spice bottles, but please don’t skimp on it because it is the key ingredient in this dish and the taste will be very different without it!

Chicken tikka masala

Chicken tikka masala

Chicken Tikka Masala for the Beginner (serves 4)

Adapted from Serious Eats


  • 4 boneless chicken thighs, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup scallions, finely chopped
  • ½ lime
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp Madras curry powder
  • 2 tsp garam masala powder
  • 1 cup plain yogurt plus 1 tsp flour
  • 2 tsp tomato paste


1. Combine the ginger, garlic, scallions, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, the juice of half a lime, a tablespoon of yogurt, salt, and pepper. Stir, add chicken to bowl, and set aside to marinate (may let sit for 1-2 hours if time permits).

2. While the meat is marinating, heat the remaining oil in a heavy, large skillet over low heat. Add the onion, cook gently for 10-15 minutes until falling apart and caramelized (be patient!)

3. Add the garam masala and stir well to combine. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes to combine the flavors. Season with a good pinch of salt, then scrape into a bowl and reserve.

4. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chicken pieces. Cook, turning occasionally, until chicken is still barely pink.

5. Return the onion mixture to the skillet, and add the flour then yogurt. Stir in the tomato paste, Madras curry powder and simmer for 5 minutes.

6. Check for seasoning, adding sugar, salt or lime juice as needed. Serve over white rice.

(P.S. If you want your tikka masala to be more red like the restaurant version, you should use chili powder per the original recipe. I had to make some substitutions here because I didn’t have any chili powder on hand at the time. Also, feel free to substitute for your choice of protein to suit your needs – tofu, paneer, and fish are popular choices.)

Tony and I at the comedy club

Tony and I at the comedy club

Mmm so hearty and flavorful. I made this dish with my boyfriend on a night before we had to leave for a comedy show, so we were somewhat pressed for time and I was impressed with how easily everything came together and how delicious and satisfying it was. We paired it with a side of mixed vegetables (carrots, onions, and cabbage) cooked in a Madras curry sauce, which was a nice mild flavor to switch to when I wanted a break from the spicy flavor of the tikka masala (although don’t worry, I am pretty wimpy when it comes to spiciness, and this dish definitely qualifies as “mild”… add more spices as desired!) The spices just warm you up from the inside out, perfect for this chilly weather in the middle of November. Keep an eye out for the next Indian recipe to come, a mouth-watering and rich-tasting cashew chicken curry with cilantro pesto!


Happy belated birthday to me :)

Yesterday (which was just an hour ago) was my 23rd birthday – the beginning of the age when we are expected to suddenly go from college students to being grownups. How intimidating! Things have been going quite smoothly in my work life, and in the next few weeks I will make my final decision about which medical school I will be going to this fall. Maybe the continued schooling will give me an excuse to be a "student" for another few years :)

I had a chance to celebrate my birthday early with my family this week. We had a cake freshly decorated for us from the only Chinatown bakery that was still open at 8pm on a Sunday night, so I'm quite grateful that I got a cake at all haha. The decorator made me a bull out of whipped cream on top of the cake, since I was born in the year of the Ox. It was done quite well if I do say so myself – I really liked the cute chocolate accents :) I was originally tempted to make my own cake, but you never make your own birthday cake heh. The cake had a mixed fruit filling, and the sponge cake layers were soft. I wasn't terribly fond of the whipped topping, as it was more fluffy and marshmallow-y than I would have liked, but the flavors came together pretty well. My family and I enjoyed the cake with some freshly brewed aromatic white tea that my dad brought back from China this past week, mmm.

On the actual day of my birthday, I went out with my boyfriend for some nice sushi at one of our favorite sushi joints in Boston: Shino Express. Unfortunately, we realized that in the time we had not gone, they had not only changed their name from Shino Express to Shino Newbury, but that they also dramatically raised prices. More startlingly, they changed all of their sushi from using regular white sushi rice to using some special kind of brown rice. That's right, they don't even carry white rice sushi anymore, and for this they are charging us extra. What happened to the Shino that used to be heaven for students because they had delicious sushi of high quality for a dirt cheap price in a casual setting? It seems like with this new brown rice sushi comes on the tail of Shino trying to remodel itself into a trendy spot on Newbury St. They've changed all their plates and dishes to look modern, but all I really want is the good ol' Shino sushi that was good to my tastebuds AND my wallet (or in this case, my boyfriend's wallet :). I honestly may not go back anymore, since the sushi is no longer priced competitively.

That said, the meal I had tonight was still as amazing as Shino's has always been. I didn't really notice the flavor of the brown rice. It might have been slightly more chewy, but it definitely was a subtle difference (grr, not one I'd want to pay for), which is good because I was so worried that brown rice would ruin the sushi experience. I had a regular salmon roll, a crispy eel roll (eel, avocado, cucumbers, flying fish roe, and topped with mayo and crispy tempura bits drizzled in unagi bbq sauce), and one of their specials, the Boston lobster roll (avocado cucumber roll topped with warm baked lobster mixed with chopped raw red onions in a wasabi butter sauce). The rolls were all amazing, with fresh and fatty fish that melted in my mouth. The lobster roll is one of my favorites because it has such a unique flavor – the wasabi butter sauce really brings together everything in that roll, and it really is a monster to behold with all that lobster! My boyfriend also got a shrimp tempura roll which he said was really good too. Mmm I really wish I could go back to the days when Shino's was cheaper…

After dinner we went to Cheesecake Factory for some dessert – the Godiva chocolate brownie sundae :) Deliciously rich and a perfect end to a wonderful birthday dinner. I never knew this, but apparently Edy's makes a special vanilla ice cream specifically for Cheesecake Factory to use in their desserts. I wonder what exactly is different about it…

Thanks for a nice birthday dinner Greg! Gosh, I still can't believe I'm 23 already… time just passes so fast. There are so many things I'm looking forward to this year, and I'm also sad to be leaving Boston in just a few months. It really is a wonderful city filled with an endless array of amazing places for every taste. I am certain that the years I have spent here will be fond memories I carry with me forever.

p.s. My camera is on the fritz these days… it has a lot of trouble focusing and in dim lighting, and the sensor produces these lines in my pictures a lot when it has to work hard under non-ideal lighting conditions. Sorry for the quality for some of my pictures lately, it's kind of a crapshoot :/ I can't wait to get my new camera!

Breakfast with a gentle giant

It's not often that you see any posts on my Vox about breakfast, considering that I go to work at about 10am each morning, which means that I wake up at 9:30 and basically roll out the door haha. But every now and then, I like to enjoy the pleasures of a hot breakfast or brunch. There's just something so sinfully joyful about waking up on a lazy Sunday morning to a plate of fluffy pancakes and eggs and a mug of hot coffee. I have woken up on weekends to make breakfast before, but it's a lot of work early in the morning, and I always seem to have the problem where by the time I finish one item, another item has already gotten cold, and microwaving breakfast is just wrong. So when I really want fresh, hot breakfast, I look to the small mom & pop diners around Boston that offer no-frills cheap breakfast options (I have always felt that breakfast at chain restaurants like IHOP lack something, that homemade touch and flavor that little diners have).

One of my favorite hole in the wall diners is Sunny's Diner in Cambridge, just a few blocks outside of MIT's campus. It's no glamorous cafe, and I used to walk past this place without paying much attention, until I heard from some friends who came here religiously. This tiny little diner is so popular among MIT students that it is almost always packed in the mornings, especially since it only stays open until 2pm each day. The food is your traditional diner breakfast and lunch fare, and the prices are very reasonable for the amount of food you get (most breakfast plates are about $5-6 each). Anyway, my friend Zheng came up to visit from NYC this weekend, and when he mentioned that he wanted to grab a good brunch, I told him that I simply had to show him this little gem. So today, a terribly cold and windy Sunday morning, we braved the elements and made our way to the cozy inside of Sunny's Diner.


After skimming over the menu, we both quickly and gluttonously decided to order the Gentle Giant breakfast plates, which comes with a whopping 3 eggs, 2 pancakes, choice of bacon, ham, or sausage, and a side of home fries… all for just $7.50. I was originally planning to just order pancakes with a side of sausage, but after seeing that the price would come out to $7.25, there was no reason not to throw in the extra 25 cents for the big upgrade and all that variety! The greedy food-lover in me called out and before I knew it, two heaping plates of food sat before me, beckoning to me with their sweet and greasy goodness. This was going to be a breakfast that I wouldn't forget.

Where to start?!? The eggs, I asked for over easy, and they were done perfectly, with the yolks still runny and both sides cooked to tenderness. The home fries, they were amazing. I usually am not a big fan of home fries, because other places tend to make them too greasy, too soft, too heavily seasoned, too potato-y. But these were great, because they had that satisfying crunch on the outside that yielded to the soft fluffy potato inside, just like a big delicious french fry. They didn't need any extra salt either, and was not overly herb-y, which I really liked. And the sausage, it was one big link sliced in half and seared with a light crust on the flat side, juicy and savory without being too fatty or too processed. Yummm. And finally, the pancakes. I was sitting at the bar, so I got to watch them make all my food right in front of me on a big griddle, and what I love about Sunny's Diner is how everything is done as if it was done at home. They make small batches of batter at a time, and the cooks and waitresses have time to chat about anything while you wait at the bar. My chocolate chip pancakes came to me piping hot and fluffy, dusted with powdered sugar and with the butter melting on top as I eagerly reached for my fork. They were delicious, fresh, and simple… IHOP has nothing on these pancakes!

Admittedly, by the time I was done with that gentle giant, I was pretty much unable to get up from my seat. But it was such a satisfying meal I really wouldn't have changed a thing. It was definitely worth the massive food coma that followed and the blast of cold air that greeted me as I regretfully left the diner. Besides, I really can't think of any better way to catch up with an old friend than casually chatting over a hot plate of breakfast. Mmmm….

Dali – Spanish restaurant and tapas bar

Last night my boyfriend and I went to Dali, a tapas bar located near Boston, to celebrate four years together. I had been dying to try a real tapas meal for the first time (aside from the appetizer I had with Reid at Bocado), and after reading all the stellar reviews for Dali, I was sold. Everyone mentioned how wonderful of a date place it was and how amazing the food was, so it sounded like the perfect restaurant for celebrating a special occasion. So during the day yesterday, I was browsing through Dali's online menu, trying to think about which dishes I wanted to try, and by the end of the day I have to say my mouth was watering with anticipation. Since tapas tend to be pricey ($5-10 for a small portion), we decided to limit our meal to 6 dishes. After comparing notes, we decided on 6 dishes that we were both interested in trying, and off we went towards Dali!

(disclaimer: I was unable to take any pictures at Dali, but just to give a little flavor of the night I have included a couple of pictures that I did not take)

I was able to get to Dali via public transportation, as there was a bus line that had a stop literally right outside Dali's front door. How convenient! The exterior of the restaurant was not very lavish, and actually made the place look very small (albeit quaint). I thought it was interesting that the entrance to the place was located at one corner of the restaurant, which made it a tight squeeze for patrons to get in and out of the place.

Greg and I arrived at Dali at about 8:15pm, and waited another 10 minutes or so for a table to open up. The first thing you notice as you enter the restaurant is how dimly lit it is, and then you hear the loud and lively Spanish music, and the uproarious laughter of the patrons as they wined and dined. It was definitely a place with character. All the waiters and waitresses were dressed nicely in Spanish-influenced clothing, and they spoke Spanish to one another, which was also great. When we were ready to be seated, we were taken to the back of the restaurant, where it was cozy and full of other tables, but also romantic with its soft candlelight and tiled tables. Our waiter came to take our order, and I listened as Greg used his high school Spanish skills to order all of our dishes in Spanish (this is encouraged, apparently).

We started off with a glass of Sangria each, which was nice and fruity, although I'm not terribly fond of red wine, which is the dominant flavor in Sangria. I think I liked white wine Sangria better. Next time I might try the Cava Sangria that Dali offers (I believe it's champagne-based). A small bread basket came soon after, with a bit of garlic hummus for spreading. I'm not that big on hummus myself, but I thought it went well with the bread, which was crusty on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside (it would have made for great fondue-dipping bread).

Next came our first tapas dish: tortilla espanola, which is a cold tapas described as an egg/potato/onion omelette. In actuality, it was much more like a slice of a crust-less quiche, but with an equal ratio of eggs to potato to onion, and without cheese. I was really fond of this dish, as it reminded me of a Chinese breakfast item that I've eaten before. In any case, it was not cold, but rather just mildly warmed, and came topped with some soft tomatoes and red peppers, which went perfectly with the omelette, whose flavor was lightly salty… quite savory for something that only has eggs, potatoes, and onions in it. I also really liked the thin skin surrounding the slice, which was nicely browned and slightly crispy egg.

The second dish that came was costillas de vaca, which is beef short ribs in a Rioja wine sauce. This hot tapas is normally on the late night tapas menu, but we were surprised to find it available for dinner, and so we were definitely excited to try it. We got two big meaty pieces attached to 2 segments of rib bone, sitting in a lovely brown sauce with stewed vegetables. The beef itself was completely tender and falling off the bone, and well-marinated with a mixture whose wine flavor I could taste quite prominently. It was a great balance of salty, sweet, and tart. We also dipped our bread pieces into the wine sauce, and concluded that the sauce plus the stewed vegetables tasted kind of like beef stew, but the beef itself had that different flavor from being marinated.

After the first two dishes, the next 4 came out together, and we were tempted to try a little bit of each thing. Our second and last cold tapas dish was a patatas ali-oli, which is cubed potatoes in a homemade garlic/caper mayonnaise. The potatoes were boiled and cubed, then tossed in the described mayo dressing, then sprinkled with a lot of a green herb, which may have been dill, but I couldn't tell. The flavor of garlic was very strong in this dish, as it was a raw garlic flavor. Greg really liked it, because he found the potatoes and garlic to be refreshing. I would say this was my least favorite dish of the night (though it was by no means bad), just that it reminded me exactly of the potato salads that my mom likes to make, so it wasn't that exciting or new of a flavor to me.

Next we had vieiras al azafran, which is scallops in saffron cream. This was a simply fabulous dish, where we got 7 large scallops smothered in a fragrant seafood cream sauce that was lightly charred by a torch prior to serving. The scallops were deliciously tender, and the sauce was what made the dish so amazing. It was infused with a rich flavor that reminded me of lobster (in fact, I felt like the sauce was a thicker version of lobster bisque), but at the end of each spoonful you could taste the lovely aromatic contribution from the saffron. Just absolutely wonderful. We ate the scallops slowly, and dipped our bread into the sauce until it was all gone. Mmmm….

For our poultry dish, we ordered codorniz de castilla, which is broiled herb and garlic quail stuffed with bacon. The stuffed quail was rather small, about the size of my fist, with small legs and wings extending from it. It was de-boned except for the legs and wings, so it was easy to split up. There was bacon rolled up inside the cavity of the quail. Quail meat has a really nice smoky flavor that was definitely different from chicken but not gamey in any way. Its savory and smoky flavor made it a great pairing with the bacon, and the dish came the drippings from bird, which were great as well. And it was certainly interesting eating a tiny little quail drumstick haha.

Finally, and I saved the best for last, we got queso rebozado con miel, which was a dish of fried Spanish cheese with honey and sweet onions. This dish was amazing. You got three small round cheese nuggets about one inch in diameter each, and they were lightly breaded and fried so that the outside was crispy, yielding to a soft and smooth cheese interior. I'm not sure exactly what kind of cheese it was, but it had a flavor that was similar to goat's milk cheese, except not as strong, and it was quite creamy. But it was exactly this tart similarity to goat's milk cheese that made the cheese pair so perfectly with the sweetness of the honey and the delicate softness of the sweet caramelized onions. I was absolutely in heaven eating this dish, and I only wish I could have had a second plate of it haha. It was a great dish to finish off the meal with as well, since it serves so well as a dessert dish.

So all in all, we ordered 6 tapas, had 2 glasses of Sangria, and ate 1 and a half bread baskets. We were both satisfyingly full by the end (not stuffed, but full enough to feel quite good, with no room for dessert). The total came out to about $58 before tip, which is pricey but certainly not unreasonable for a special occasion dinner. I'd have to get rich before I could come here and happily try every single dish whenever I feel like it though lol. It was a fantastic dinner, and a really great restaurant. There was not a single thing that I disagreed with, and it only makes me excited to come back and try others. The atmosphere was fun, and although you have to shout to hear each other, once the food comes that's where the focus lies :)

Reunited with an old friend

Whenever I come home for breaks, I make it a point to meet up with old friends from high school, since most of us have traveled to various corners of the country for college and rarely get to see one another except for during breaks when we are all back in town. My friend Reid and I have kept up this tradition for five years now, getting together a few times a year, catching up, enjoying each other's company when there's nothing else to do in my hometown, and sharing some good times of course. As I look back fondly on our times in high school, we have certainly grown and changed a great deal since going to and finishing college. But there are aspects of ourselves that never change, and then there are those aspects of us that grow together. I'm glad to have the chance still to continue to nurture this friendship and watch us step out into the real world and fend for ourselves.

Last night, Reid and I went out for the night, stopping first at pretty much the only Thai restaurant in my hometown for dinner. The pad thai there was flavored just right, but the noodles were much too mushy for my preference. I enjoy a little chew to my noodles. I tried to order duck pad thai, but the waitress insisted that it wouldn't taste good (um… that must be why I love getting duck pad thai elsewhere…), so I stuck with chicken. After spending nearly 2 hours in the restaurant chatting away, we headed out for dessert at Friendly's. It's a pretty popular haunt in my hometown, because it's located everywhere, and has both food and dessert at a very reasonable price. Surprisingly, there are no Friendly's in Boston, which made me a little sad. Anyway, I was craving a brownie sundae, so I ordered their fudge brownie sundae, which came with chunks of dense brownies that were not heated up, layered between scoops of chocolate ice cream and hot fudge. I think that was a bit too much chocolate, as I was completely chocolated-out by the time I finished it haha.

Then we went to a movie theater to watch Charlie Wilson's War, which was actually pretty entertaining. I was little bit lost at first, as the film moves fast with brisk dialog and lots of history and politics spun in, but I found the movie to be quite witty and as always, I loved Tom Hanks. You almost start to forget that this was based on a true story, and it's not until the end of the movie that you realize how relevant the content of this movie is to the present state of the world, and then you feel a little sad that so much has resulted from one political mistake at the end of the Cold War.

We didn't quite want to call it a night, so Reid took me to a tapas bar in town that he really liked, called Bocado. It was a trendy, semi-upscale lounge type of bar, and I really liked the atmosphere inside: ambient, busy but not too noisy, roomy, with an air of sophistication but not snootiness. I had never had tapas before, since they tend to run on the expensive side, but we just got an appetizer, which was a roasted garlic, spinach, and feta dip served with warmed pita wedges. I got a sparkling mojito and he got a mango flavored Sangria, both of which were delicious.

The appetizer was also great, although I wish they had given us more pita wedges to go with all the dip we got. It was definitely a nice place to go and relax, and probably also a great first date place as well, which is surprisingly difficult to come upon in my hometown.

Finally, in noting that my glass is empty in the picture below, I would just like to add that I have the rare but coveted resistance to Asian glow :) I have no idea how, as both my parents tend to turn red, but I'm certainly not complaining haha.

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