The day before the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, I celebrated my (yikes!) 29th birthday. As I spent the day feeling special, and well loved, we had no idea that in less than 24 hours, natural disaster would occur. It’s a bit eerie to reflect on my birthday and how wonderful it was and how unaware we were, but I’m thankful we didn’t yet know what was to come.
The morning started in the best way possible, with gluten-free chocolate chip pancakes. The commissary on base sells Bob’s Red Mill pancake mix so Alden stocked up. Chip didn’t want any of this nonsense of sugar at breakfast, but Rob, Alden and I enjoyed the yummy pancakes. At home we use Pamela’s for pancakes, but Bob’s worked really well too. They were a little thick but Pamela’s can be that way too. (I prefer my pancakes to be thick and cake like as opposed to thin and crispy.)
Birthday morning hug from Chip
Rob took Chip to the zoo on my big day so Alden and I had a lovely morning out, shopping at Homes in Yokosuku. We bought bento boxes, chopsticks, nautical striped shirts (just make sure to buy two sizes bigger) and pencil cases. Pete accompanied us and did very well on his first shopping spree. We swung by the naval base on the way home to buy wine, People magazine, M&Ms, and other necessities.
For my birthday dinner, Alden made the most delicious chicken tikka masala. I’ve mentioned before that chicken tikka masala is one of my favorite meals, but I’ve never made the dish from scratch. Alden used the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated and even put her fish grill to work for cooking the chicken. Tikka is actually the perfect Japan dinner because it doesn’t require an oven.
Alden did all of the work and served us a delicious, yummy dinner. Perfect. The only thing that made the evening better was dessert! Alden’s friend Lauren, who lives on base (translation: has an oven) made me a gluten-free birthday cheesecake. I had only met Lauren once before but she spent an entire morning making me a cake. Her kindness meant so much to me and the cake was such an unexpected treat. Needless to say the cheesecake was divine. Lauren used pecans in the crust which really added a nice texture and distracted from the often dense, gluten-free baking mix. She used Barefoot Contessa’s recipe for the filling. (I’m going to get the actual recipe for the crust and filling from Lauren and will report back to you.) We enjoyed our cheesecake while watching Top Chef. Perfect!
Pete & my birthday cake
And, as if all of the festivities weren’t enough, Rob and Alden gave me a wonderful birthday gift. My very own ramen bowls, chopsticks, and chopstick holders. It’s fitting that the bowls are decorated with rabbits as 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit, marking my historic trip to Japan and the birth of my nephew Peter “Rabbit.” (Get it?)
Thank you, Alden, Rob, Lauren, Pete and Chip for a wonderful birthday and a great trip to Japan. I wouldn’t take it back for anything. Seriously.
PS: After the earthquake, tsunami warning and evacuation, Alden and I decided we should be eating cheesecake at every meal. So true.
Birthday Chicken Tikka Masala (Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, diced fine
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
- 1 serrano chile (ribs & seeds removed), fresh minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 20 oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
For the chicken, combine cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing so it sticks to the chicken. Put chicken on a plate and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes. I a large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic and ginger.
For the sauce, heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until simmering. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, 8 to 10 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.
While sauce simmers, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position (about 6 inches from oven’s source of heat) and heat broiler. (Note: for those in Japan, cook chicken in fish grill.) Using tongs, dip chicken in yogurt mixture, coating chicken in a thick layer of yogurt, and put on wire rack of oven in a foil rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Broil chicken between 10 and 18 minutes, when the thickets parts are 160 degrees. Flip chicken halfway through cooking.
Let chicken rest 5 minutes, then cut into 1-inch chunks and stir into warm sauce. (Do not simmer chicken in sauce.) Stir in cilantro, taste, add needed salt, and serve.
A great recipe that is naturally gluten-free, tested by Cook’s Illustrated’s test kitchen, and delicious. Enjoy!