Letting Go of Picture Perfect + Chicken Tikka Masala

When we arrived to our current abode, I was less than thrilled with the “dining room.” It had a 3-foot, crooked-sided, sticky, paint-chipped round table and 1 broken stool. My immediate thoughts were, “How in the world am I supposed to feed my family at this rank-lookin’ thing? Where are my guests going to sit?”

When I spotted a slightly stained checkered table cloth at a give away the first week here, I knew that would help. A little. Then we bought a few chairs and stools. Finally. A semi-presentable place that didn’t turn me off from eating what I had just prepared.

Hosting in China looks so different from what I did in America. There, I had a beautiful bar-height table with awesome chairs. (That table is still the one thing I would take back in a heartbeat.) We had dishes that matched and enough silverware for everyone. I had serving dishes! And I often felt like I had to impress my guests. It would throw me into a frenzy an hour before they came. The house had to be spotless, the meal cooked to perfection, and the ambiance set.

Here, quite the opposite. We don’t own silverware, so what we inherited mostly matches, but also has broken pieces. If I host more than 4 people, others have to used my kids’ plasticware. I’ve bought a few dishes over the years, but none match. Serving dishes? Um, does my bright blue mixing bowl count? I used to freak about every toy being picked up, the bookshelves neat and tidy, and everything dusted. Now, I’m happy if I remember to sweep 5 minutes before people arrive. If I have a candle, I might light it, but if it’s from our favorite Swedish home goods store, it has zero smell. (Why do they torture me with the tantalizing names, then it does nothing but flicker?!)

But I’m learning to let go of the expectations I create for myself and embrace the imperfections. (Not an easy task for this perfectionist.) Ya know why? That’s not what it’s about. Most people probably don’t notice many of the things listed above. Maybe, just maybe, some of them look at my jalopy of a home and feel more comfortable than if I had one that looked like it was from a magazine. They just want to commune; and if it’s over food, all the better.

Chinese hospitality is over the top sometimes. They treat us like royalty. They tell us to keep eating and drinking until we feel like the only way out is to roll out. I sometimes try to compare myself to them, but then have to be reminded that it’s not all about face for me. If they are comfortable and perhaps get a sight of Jesus in the midst of our time together, that’s all that matters.

Having hosted many Chinese people, I’ve figured out what most of them are willing to try and what they can barely choke down. My biggest take-away: stay away from cheesy dishes. I know, I know, how can we compare homemade mac n’ cheese to silkworms or 100 year-old eggs? It’s all a matter of perspective, however wrong theirs may be. *Kidding.* So I tend to make dishes over rice. Indian dishes have gone over well. They can still have their rice, but get to try a different twist at the same time.

My hubby and I love Indian food. We set out to find a good recipe for the classic Chicken Tikka Masala when we first got married. 7 years later, I finally found one!

*People in China: You can find Indian spices on Taobao.


Don’t be shy with the yogurt–it’s what tenderizes the chicken. This rack came with my small oven–hopefully you have something similar, because it helps the chicken cook evenly!


Lots o’ veggies!


Why do I cook with any other kind of oil? Butter is better. (Thailand reference, anyone?!) Always better.


All the flavors melding into deliciousness. Can you smell it?


Don’t forget to scrape the bottom–sure wouldn’t want that goodness to burn!


This picture encapsulates my title. Sorry this color is horrid. You can guess what I’m thinking it looks like. After this, I added some tumeric for color, but forgot to take the extra pic. Embrace imperfection.


I truly love making the rice from the original recipe, but couldn’t leave my yellow-stained (it goes away after several washes) rice cooker over the summer. But, try it! So good! And, I also forgot cilantro. A good addition if you like it’s strong flavor!

Chicken Tikka Masala

Time: ~1 hour

Serves: 6

Slightly adapted from Pioneer Woman 

1.5-2lb chicken breasts
Ground coriander
1/2 cup plain yogurt
6 Tablespoons butter
1 whole onion (or I use half because I’m not an onion-lover)
4 cloves garlic
1 piece (approximately 2 inches) chunk fresh ginger
3 Tablespoons garam masala
2 medium tomatoes
1 Tablespoon sugar
1-1/2 cup heavy cream (in China, I use Nestle whipping cream)
Fresh cilantro
Chili peppers
Frozen peas
Preheat oven to Broil. (Or, in my small oven’s case, as high as it’ll go, with just the top burner on.)

Season the chicken with salt. Next sprinkle them on both sides with some coriander and cumin. Then coat the chicken completely with the plain yogurt. Set the chicken on a metal cooling rack over a foil-lined baking sheet and place it about 10-12 inches below a broiler for 5-7 minutes per side.(<–For a normal-sized oven. For small ovens, place on top rung and bake for 15 mins each side.) Watch carefully so as not to totally char the chicken. It should have slightly blackened edges.

Prep your veggies. Dice the onion, mince the garlic, peel and grate (or mince) the ginger, and dice the tomatoes. Check the chicken. When cooked through and charred a bit, remove from oven.

In a large skillet melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Toss in the onions and sauté until they are slightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, as well as about 1 Tbsp. salt. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Add 3 tablespoons garam masala spice. (If you like it hot, this is also when you will add your hot chili peppers.) Add chopped tomatoes. Continue cooking and stirring, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze it. Add about 1 tablespoon sugar. Let this mixture simmer on medium for about 5 minutes.

To a rice cooker add 2 cups rice(long-grain, if available), 4 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon ground turmeric and 4 cups water. Cover, turn on your rice cooker and walk away. If you do not have a rice cooker, cook your rice as usual.

After the Tikka Masala sauce has had a chance to simmer for a bit, add in the 1 ½ cups of heavy cream; stir well. Now, chop up your chicken breasts into chunks and stir them into the  sauce. A handful of chopped fresh cilantro is a nice addition if you like it. You can also throw some frozen peas into the cooked rice, give them a stir, and allow the heat of the rice to cook the peas.

I often make naan to go with this meal. It never tastes exactly like from the restaurants; I guess I should invest in a clay oven. 🙂  But, here is a decent recipe. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/naan/

What is your favorite dish to serve to locals who may have different tastes?



  1. Laura June 17, 2014

    I usually do Mexican, but I make sure it’s not too spicy. I have a few different recipes to choose from; all of them are for the slow-cooker. I’ve found it’s really easy to make my own taco seasoning too.

    1. Ashley Felder June 17, 2014

      Yes! Mexican is always a good choice! Do you have links to your slow cooker recipes? I always need more of those!

        1. Ashley Felder June 18, 2014

          Thanks! They both look delish. 🙂

  2. Elizabeth June 17, 2014

    We LOVE Indian food. We have been known to just order Indian food from the local Indian/Nepali restaurant to feed our guests. I am just not in to cooking. But I am really in to eating. I have also been known to make Mexican, like Laura 🙂

    1. Ashley Felder June 17, 2014

      Awesome that you can order it in! We have 1 Indian restaurant in town that we frequent as much as our wallets allow us to. 🙂

  3. Danielle Wheeler June 17, 2014

    I thought I was out of cream, but just realized I do have one more box to use up before we leave for the summer!  Score!!  That means I have everything on hand now to try out this recipe. So excited.

    1. Ashley Felder June 18, 2014

      Nice! Let me know how it turns out. 🙂

  4. Mallary June 18, 2014

    This looks so good!  If I can fit this into our menu before we go, I will.

  5. Paula Robb June 18, 2014

    Great recipe and great message, Ashley! I have also learned that hospitality is not about a perfect looking house, it’s about sharing time and whatever I have to offer with loved ones.

  6. M'Lynn June 19, 2014

    Now I’m sad I didn’t buy the garam masala my friend had up for grabs at her moving sale! I usually go for the “Indian Butter Chicken” spice pack I can get at the local Carefour when I’m in the mood for Indian food. I like making naan, too! We also have a good Indian place in our city, but I feel like I need a tour guide when I go there. What are a few of your favorite dishes at your local place?

    1. Elizabeth June 19, 2014

      Our personal family favorites are chicken biryani, chicken tikka masala, and aloo stuffed masala (potato barrels, basically a stuffed baked potato in the tikka masala sauce SOOOO yummy and creamy). We also have a thing for cheese naan. 🙂

    2. Ashley Felder June 19, 2014

      I remember those packets from Carrefour! Like them, but don’t have a Carrefour around anymore, so had to resort to homemade. At Indian restaurants, we don’t get too adventurous because it’s too expensive to get something  gross. 🙂 But, we usually like Butter Chicken, Samosas, Veggie Curry, and curries with lentils in them. We usually ask for mild because some restaurants just go crazy with the spice!

  7. Danielle Wheeler June 19, 2014

    Alright, this recipe is a winner!  Confession: While putting away the little bit of left overs we had, I seriously licked the spoon.  Soo good.  I added one small red chili pepper which was a bit of a kick for me and the husband and not too much for the kids.  I was scared to add a whole tbsp of salt to the sauce, so I just added a tsp and it was good.

    Also, the kids were weirded out by the yellow rice.  They wanted plain jane white rice, as if they’re from China or something…  I, however, enjoyed the break from plain rice.

    Also, how much do you pay for your garam masala on taobao?  Because I’ve got to figure out how to make this meal a regular occurrence around here…    Yum!!!

    1. Ashley Felder June 19, 2014

      Yep, good idea to start with 1 tsp and go up from there if needed. Funny that the kids were weirded out by the yellow rice. 🙂 When I served it to a Chinese friend, she thought it was the best rice ever. Ha! Here’s the Taobao page for garam masala–about 24 kuai, including shipping, and that makes several meal’s worth: http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm=a1z09.2.9.11.ERwLik&id=2954888937

  8. Cecily Willard June 19, 2014

    I have a “serving dishes” problem, too.  I also have a blue mixing bowl in which I served salad to my guests. It was then that I realized that I don’t have any serving dishes!  (If you live alone, you don’t really need them for yourself, right?)  I also have a yellow mixing bowl.  Funny.  My plates are blue and yellow, so at least it all sorta matches!  (Just rambling.  Sorry.)

    1. Ashley Felder June 19, 2014

      Funny that they ended up matching! I keep telling myself, “in our next home I’ll get this and this.” And that includes nicer dishes. Well, we move so often it gets put off. Maybe with the next move!

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