I am amused by people who think because I watch Top Chef religiously, have stacks of cookbooks, and cooked my way through college that I actually cook. I am what is known as a 'big talker.' Fortunately, I married a man with low standards. He is amazed and grateful when I stir a can of chili into his blue box mac'n'cheese and announce that dinner is ready. Obviously, he is also a little gullible. When my daughters got me the Top Chef Cookbook for Christmas, he asked which recipe I was going to make first. There was a moment of silence, then my children started laughing....uncontrollably. I have tried to explain to him that I like to read cookbooks, but he doesn't get it.
However, I will admit that I have been in a cooking rut- making the same things over and over. So I went to the grocery store sans recipes and cruised up and down the aisles looking for inspiration. Then I saw it- Kitchens of India's Mild Chili Pepper Curry, a ready-made sauce. I read the list of ingredients- no artificial ingredients or preservatives. There was even an element of danger; the disclaimer said, "Don't use the inner pack if leaking or bloated." Heat and serve. I could serve the sauce over rice and grilled chicken breasts with a side salad. I was inspired. And the family loved it. Other than the fact that the color and texture reminded me of baby poo, it was fabulous.
Then I made a huge mistake. I told my co-worker about the sauce. My Indian co-worker.... from India. He is everything that the ideal co-worker should be- smart, capable, and helpful. So I know that that he was sincerely trying to help. Instead, he shamed me, but in the nicest possible way by saying, "If you like Indian food, I have an authentic Indian recipe for Tandoori Chicken that you would love."
"Sure, I would love the recipe. I'm always looking for new recipes," I replied brightly. I can't explain that I collect recipes and don't cook. So now I must make the chicken and come into work and tell him how wonderful his recipe is. Great!
The next day, I get a YouTube link which features 2 young Indian women from the website curry.com demonstrating how to make Tandoori Chicken. They are speaking in English but have charming Indian accents and give very good instructions. I am dutifully writing down the recipe feeling superior because I have all the spices that they list until they say "tandoori masala" and casually mention that it can be purchased at any Indian grocery store. Curses, the special ingredient that I have to google just to figure out what it is, then make a special trip to a specialty store to buy it, knowing that I will use this once, love the chicken, vow to make it again, and 6 years from now when cleaning out my pantry, I will throw it away.
So finally, my oldest N and I go to Global Foods, a specialty supermarket only 20 minutes from our house. This is my first trip to Global Foods, and I am in cooking Nirvana- the smells and sights are so stimulating. Fresh fruits and vegetables from all over the world, squid and other unattractive fish, and even a Norwegian section that would have made my hard to please grandmother happy. [sidebar: They had this dense, black brick-like Norwegian bread that my grandma made once. In a bid for survival, this is what you want to have in the knapsack. It would never go bad, take you weeks to eat, and could also double as a weapon. No, I don't have grandma's recipe.]
As I stood in the Indian aisle, the smell of spices overwhelmed me. I called my co-worker on the phone and chose the tandoori masala with his help. As I hung up the phone, I vowed to learn how to cook Indian food. I also made the mistake of sharing this revelation with my daughter.
"How long is this going to last?" she asked with a hint of sarcasm.
"I can get about 24 hours of happiness out of this."
"Sounds about right," she said. We left the store with several things from the Indian aisle and a few impulse buys- a coconut, lingonberry sauce, shrimp chips, and plantains.
That night, I make the marinade and throw in the chicken. Our Sunday was crazy with multiple activities. Finally, I grilled the chicken. It was just the right amount of spicy, flavorful and with a kick that made you notice but didn't overwhelm you. There was only one problem- it wasn't red. Part of the appeal of Tandoori chicken is this beautiful red color. My chicken was white with specks of spices. It tasted great, but did not look like Tandoori chicken. I drowned my sorrows with a glass of wine and watched 'The Next Iron Chef' where 6 panic-stricken chefs made 5 Indian entries in 2 hours for a panel of judges.
Monday morning, the first thing discussed at work was the chicken. I confessed that something had gone wrong and promised to bring in the spice mix. Whether or not I solve the mystery of the un-red marinade and make the Tandoori chicken again is still up in the air, but I got my 24 hours of happiness. I also got a packet of spice paste to make Indian Vinaloo Curry at the grocery store. The instructions say to add a can of tomato puree, heat and serve. Color me there.