In a world of Twitter, Facebook, emails and text messages there are still times when we need that personal connection. I have always used Skype to be able to see and talk to loved ones when we are traveling for work. My grade school friend Jen and I debated who has the smaller kitchen when she gave me a tour of her Hong Kong apartment via video chat. That was the extent to which I used Skype–sporadic visual phone calls. Then I was invited to an event called Skype Everyday, in which Skype demonstrated how we could use this medium in our everyday lives. Stylist Pati Dubroff explained how she uses it to consult with her clients. She was even able to virtually join Charlize Theron in a dress fitting across the country. Ballet Beautiful’s Mary Helen Bowers had to continue training her clients while she was traveling to teach Natalie Portman for the movie Black Swan. Mary Helen demonstrated a live virtual session over Skype, complete with real-time feedback to her student on correct form. I found all this very intriguing, and got really excited when we walked in to the kitchen. We were greeted by a sunny Christina Tosi grinning at us through a monitor. She taught us how to make Cereal Milk and Birthday Cake Truffles from HQ at the Momofuku Milk Bar commissary. (I later joined her in person at the commissary for a Scharffen Berger event that evening.) It was an “aha” moment. All those frustrating times when I struggled to explain how to cook or bake something to my friends flitted through my mind. Recipes are great guidelines, but at the end of the day you need to make adjustments based on how the food looks and feels. Then there are some techniques that are so much easier to grasp in action, such as wrapping dumplings. And similar to Mary Helen, I wanted to give feedback if someone was doing something wrong. With the Skype app now available on mobile devices and tablets, my friends could easily take me in to their kitchen. And with the Logitech HD Cam that Skype gave me to try out, I could relax on my couch. It has the Skype software built-in and connects to a TV using an HDMI cable. It was like watching an interactive cooking show. Pretty neat. I knew exactly who I was going to call. My friends Jo-Ann and Corine love Chicken Tikka Masala and have asked me to teach them how to make it. With the travel time required to cross boroughs, we just haven’t had the time to meet up at one person’s home to have the cooking lesson. I sent them the recipe, but the long ingredient list and lengthy instructions were a bit intimidating to tackle on their own. So Jo-Ann and I set aside two hours to cook Chicken Tikka Masala via Skype. I loved it! I talked her through the recipe, and included additional tips explaining the “whys” behind the recipe. For example, cooking the spices first releases their fragrance and deepens their flavors. And dipping chicken in yogurt creates a protective coating that keeps the meat moist and tender…a great technique for other dishes such as chicken kebabs. Jo-Ann was able to show me the chicken in the pan so I could let her know if she should cook it a little longer. And while the dish simmered on the stove, we caught up with each other’s lives and she shared what it was like to expect her first baby. (Maya was born in November, and I have a feeling Jo-Ann and I will be having more Skype cooking lessons so that she can be home with the baby.) I just wish Skye had smell-o-vision because my mind was a bit confused seeing food cooking, but not being able to smell the aromas permeate the kitchen. The best part was Jo-Ann’s beaming face when she tasted her creation. I love how the accomplishment of cooking gives a boost of confidence. That’s why I enjoy teaching it–a way of sharing the happiness and the sense of satisfaction that I get from cooking. Jo-Ann told me how the dish seemed easier to make with me there to walk her through the process, and how it was less stressful because she could ask me questions in real-time. It was such a success that when our friend Donna asked me for help troubleshooting her cake pop problems I immediately set up a Skype session with her. She also wanted advice and a recipe to make Dulce de Leche cake pops–a special request for the holidays from her sister. Cake pops are perfect as a Skype lesson because it is difficult to just verbally explain how you have to angle and tap the pops “just so” in order to get a smooth coating. The best part is that I didn’t have to figure out and write-up a recipe ahead of time. I was able to “add a little of this” and “a little of that” on the fly with her because I could see the consistency of the mixture. Donna learned what she needed to look for, and how to adjust the ingredients rather than just blindly following a recipe. Thank goodness too, because it turned out that she had less confectioner’s sugar than she thought and we had to make last-minute adjustments to make up for it. I really like using the Logitech HD Cam because I can see the other person cooking on the big screen. Plus it feels more natural and personal than using a computer…less like an application and more integrated with real life. Last year, I had the such a fun time teaching my other friend Jen how to make cakes, frosting and cinnamon rolls from scratch when I visited her in Hong Kong. In return she taught me how to make dishes that I missed from my childhood: mah-tsang (sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) and maki-mi (a thick beef and soy sauce noodle soup). And together we experimented with pineapple buns and moon cakes. I always think fondly of those few weeks…of the laughter, mishaps and successes…and wish I could bake with her again. Now after this experience, I have plans to virtually continue our kitchen adventures despite the continents between us.
Chicken Tikka Masala
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 teaspoon table salt 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks 1/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt 2 medium garlic cloves, minced 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger 2 tablespoons vegetable oil Masala Sauce 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 medium onion, chopped 2 medium garlic cloves, minced 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger 1 fresh serrano or jalapeno chile, ribs and seeds removed, minced 1 tablespoon tomato paste 1 tablespoon garam masala 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes 2 teaspoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon table salt 2/3 cup heavy cream 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves Chicken: Combine the cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt, garlic and ginger and massage into the chicken. Mix in the yogurt and let rest for 10 minutes. Drain the excess yogurt. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat and add the chicken. Do not stir the chicken. Let it cook and form a golden brown crust, then turn the chicken pieces to get the golden brown color on all sides. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Sauce: Heat oil in large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream then return to simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked chicken and cilantro. Salt to taste and serve. Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated September 2007