Project Food Blog 2010: Picture Perfect

First of all, thank you all SO MUCH for voting me through to Round 4 of Project Food Blog.  The response to my “Around the World on a Plate” dinner post was absolutely overwhelming – I am glad so many people enjoyed a virtual trip around the world…

Secondly, you didn’t think you I would take part in Project Food Blog and not involve my boys’ cooking club, Les Petits Chefs, did you?

Working with little people in the kitchen is all about being prepared and breaking everything down into micro-steps so I couldn’t think of a better fit for this challenge than a recipe created by 8 and 9 year-old boys!

The challenge prompt reads: “Sure, you can take a pretty picture. But your task here is to go above and beyond and use photography to create a step-by-step, instructional photo tutorial.” Staying true to the spirit of my blog, it wouldn’t be right for me to do an elaborately staged photo post where everything is perfect.  The reality of cooking (even if you aren’t a 9 year old boy) is that it’s sometimes messy, mistakes happen and things don’t always go quite to plan.  My hope with this post is to showcase what some think is a complicated recipe as being accessible for everyone.

Which recipe? Well, one of my club members, Ritvik, has just arrived in Canada from India and wondered if we would make curry.  I asked if he had a recipe to bring in but he said he only ate it at his grandmothers’ house – back in India.  The boys had been hankering to try a curry too, so I checked out Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and decided on Chicken Tikka Masala, where we would even make the curry paste from scratch!  As you can see from my recipe breakdown below, it was an ambitious choice for an hour-long club!

For this post, instead of simply writing the recipe out, I am annotating it with what really goes on when kids cook in the kitchen (in blue).

Marcel and Ritvik worked on the tikka masala paste.

Jamie Oliver’s tikka masala paste
Ingredients (makes 3/4 cup)

spices for roasting:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds (could not find seeds, we added powder to the mix. Boys disappointed there were not more things to “burn”)

2 cloves of garlic
1 thumb-sized piece peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used Penzey’s Black and Red spice blend)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 fresh red chiles
1 tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tablespoons flour

First, peel the garlic and ginger. (I taught the boys to peel ginger with a teaspoon – “Cool!” – and to smash the garlic clove with the flat knife to peel it easily – “Awesome!”)

Put frying pan on medium to high heat and add the spices for toasting to the dry pan (“You mean, like, we’re gonna burn them? Cool!”). Lightly toast them for a few minutes until golden brown and smelling delicious, then remove the pan from the heat. (Boys learned that playing with food as it is cooking actually slows down the process. They couldn’t stop stirring!) Add the toasted spices to a pestle and mortar  or put them in a spice grinder and grind until fine.

When you’ve ground the toasted spices, whiz them in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients until you have a smooth paste.

Above: Adding Black and Red, coriander, paprika and garam masala.  We all had a good smell of the ingredients and some brave souls tasted them – yes even the Black and Red!  No tongues were injured during the course of this recipe.

Above: coconut, flour, tomato paste and oil being carefully measured and added…

(And, you know we didn’t just use any food processor. Les Petits Chefs have inherited my Magic Bullet.  Good times guaranteed, always!) We had some issues with the Bullet (“It’s not so magic after all!”), mainly because the ginger and garlic were not chopped that finely but in the end, with the addition of some extra oil – 2-3 tablespoons –  it worked out.  Ritvik said “It looks right” so we felt pleased!

Over the other side of the room, Sasa, Charles, Michael and Henry worked on prepping the ingredients for the main dish.

Jamie Oliver’s Chicken Tikka Masala
Ingredients (serves 4 to 6)

4 boneless skinless chicken breast fillets
2 medium onions
1 fresh red chile (We used a banana pepper)
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger
1 small bunch fresh cilantro
peanut or vegetable oil
a pat of butter
1/2 cup tikka masala paste
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (14-ounce) can of coconut milk
1 cup natural yogurt
a small handful sliced almonds
1 lemon

to prepare your curry:
Slice chicken breasts lengthways into 3/4 inch strips (I had Charles cut small cubes of the chicken).

(Charles is an old pro at this – he requested the job – from last term in club. He and Sasa did a good job at cutting even pieces. Believe it or not, others were jealous of this job – apparently it’s fun when the meat feels “goopy”)

Peel, halve, and finely slice the onions (and – ahem, don’t touch your eyes…).

(Michael is new to the club and was not around to witness the great jalapeño caper we had with Liam last year.  I made sure to tell him to wash his hands after he was finished but didn’t realise he would rub his eyes part-way through. Enter Ms Baby, administrative assistant extraordinaire and operator of the magic eye bath machine. It’s always an exciting day when someone gets to use the eye bath! No eyes were harmed in the making of this recipe)

Finely slice your chile. (and don’t touch your eyes!)

Peel (Marcel did this for them when he was peeling for the curry paste) and finely slice the ginger. (perhaps a bit more finely than we managed. Sasa loved this job. He smelled the ginger a lot!)

Pick the cilantro leaves and put to one side then finely chop the stalks.

(Henry was a little confused that we were using the stalks – we chatted about how they have a lot of flavour too!)

With the mise en place complete, we got cooking.

to make your curry:
Put a large casserole-type pan on a medium to high heat and add a couple of lugs of oil and the butter.
Add the onions, chile, ginger and coriander stalks and cook for 10 minutes until softened and golden.

Add the curry paste and the strips of chicken (ahem, yes, I could have photoshopped the chunk of ginger out but we’re all about keeping it real and learning from our experience)

Stir well to coat everything with the paste and season with salt and pepper.

Add the coconut milk and tomatoes (we strained the tomatoes – I don’t like sauce too watery).

Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes with the lid on (and don’t lift the lid when you think I am not watching. It just won’t cook with the lid off!)

Check regularly to see it’s not drying out and add extra water if necessary (We added some extra cilantro for colour here).  When the meat is cooked and tender, taste and add more salt and pepper to taste.

The boys finished cleanup when the chicken was simmering. It’s important to learn that fun in the kitchen means you clean up after yourself. I am sure their future wives will thank me in 20 years!

Pack the curry in Tupperware to serve with fluffy brown basmati rice, lemon wedges and slivered almonds. (Hand to happy-looking mum coming to pick up her boy. Instruct other boys that they are not to eat it on the subway on the way home and to save some for their mums)

to serve your curry:
Serve with fluffy rice and a spoonful of yoghurt dolloped on top.  Sprinkle with almonds (if desired) and some roughly chopped cilantro.  Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing over. (for my portion I skipped the almonds and lemon)

And the result?

Absolutely amazing. I was so happy with this – a little bit of spice, lots of flavour and colour.  The boys (and mums!) reported they liked it though it could have used a bit more of a “thick” sauce (yup, more simmering required) and it was a little on the spicy side for some.  Neil had some for lunch the next day and gave it two thumbs up.  Yes, there was a couple of chunks of ginger on the larger side but on the whole, Bravo Petits Chefs – you outdid yourselves!

I hope you agree this post is true to the spirit of my blog.  It’s what I do and what I love to do.  I took most of these photos over the course of an hour whilst I was supervising 6 boys under the age of 10 wielding knives and spicy ingredients and dealing with hotplates and kitchen gadgets.  If I can produce a step-by-step tutorial and the boys can produce an outstanding chicken tikka masala under those conditions, it’s do-able for anyone. In under an hour.  I don’t know what more I could offer you.

If you liked this step-by step demystification of chicken tikka masala, I would appreciate your vote to go to Round 5.  I have a great idea for a “pizza remix” – you definitely want to see it.  Voting starts at 6AM Pacific Time on October 11th and run through 6PM Pacific Time on October 14th.  Simply click here to vote. You have to be a Foodbuzz member to vote but it’s a simple sign-up process. Once you’re signed up, click the red heart to vote.  Thanks in advance.

Disclosure: The gorgeous bamboo disposable serving dish of the end result was provided at no cost by

Jamies Food Reovlution Cookbook



Buy Jamie’s Food Revolution on Amazon (this link should bring you to the Amazon store closest to you). Or for free worldwide shipping, buy from the Book Depository.





Please note: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. This post also contains affiliate links from the Book Depository. This means that if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you). Thank you in advance!

92 thoughts on “Project Food Blog 2010: Picture Perfect”

  1. I love it, Mardi. The photo-tour of the cooking class – with the descriptions in blue of what the boys were saying or experiencing – really brought me into your cooking classroom. I could almost taste that beautiful chicken curry dish!

    And I must say that, as a mom, I would LOVE for my kids to have this kind of opportunity. Kudos to you for sharing your passion with them. You are changing their lives.

  2. I absolutely love the pictures and the step by step instructions. Your recipe was so easy to follow. How great that you involved the boys cooking club in the challenge! Great job and best of luck! 🙂

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  4. Mardi, this is just amazing. And in an hour no less!! I would have loved so much to have a cooking club like this when I was younger, it’s really awesome what you are doing with these boys. And that chicken tikka masala? Looks FAB!!!! Great job on Round 4, I’ll be voting for you!!!

  5. Mardi, this is adorable, clever and delicious! I’m so impressed with how you work with the children, and how you were able to capture this so well, while guiding them, in an hour! Especially love the kid commentary in blue, too cute! good luck this round, I’ll be voting!

  6. It`s so great that you`re helping to get young kids excited about REAL homemade food…it just tastes better, doesn`t it? Good luck in round 5! Theresa

  7. this looks great… and the first and last photos? GORGEOUS.

    I feel lucky that I had a mom who was VERY active in the kitchen while I was growing up, and I was able to learn in the kitchen.

    Les Petits Chefs will appreciate these fabulous experiences and knowledge, if they don’t already! 😀

  8. What a wonderful idea for this challenge! Great post…wish you luck in advancing. Hope to join you in round five 🙂

  9. I love the picture of the messy recipe!! That happens to all of my recipes. Everything looks great. Curry is so foreign to me, but this makes it look not so intimidating!

  10. Bravo, boys. I hope I get to meet them when I finally sort out coming to visit you- every creation outshines the last. The magic eye bath does not sound like fun though, I must admit. Your photos are super instructional- I could probably do it on them alone, which is the measure of success for this challenge. Well done, M, as usual.

  11. That’s it! You’ve done it! You’ve been elevated to ‘Saint Mardi’ in my book. Great recipe; cooperative boys, beautifully photographed….
    You are my latest culinary hero. Fabulous, fabulous post!!!!!

  12. What a great post! How fun getting the kids involved….I bet they loved it!! This looks seriously amazing….it’s making me hungry!!

  13. Wow Mardi – I luv how you included the kids…so cute and endearing to see little hands shots working in the kitchen…very well done and fantastic images. Great post. You’re on your way to the next round of PFB! 😉

  14. Wonderful post, Mardi. It would be good to keep an eye on some of these boys – one or two may end up as superstars in cuisine… thanks to your streaming them in this direction.

  15. Les Petits Chefs are just perfect for this challenge! It’s so funny now I can actually hear their voices saying the quotes when I read these posts now 😀

    You are SO right about their future wives. I’m sick of kitchen-useless men!

  16. What else can I say but well done Mardi and les petits chefs ! Photos are brilliant and love seeing reading their reaction. Another successful challenge.

  17. Not only do you take great photos, you made a wonderful tutorial with them and wrote a very engaging and informative post. You and the boys made a wonderful masala and curry paste. Congratulations and I love the fact that you used a bamboo placemat in the presentation shot.

  18. I absolutely agree that this post is very true to you and the spirit of your blog… its wonderful!! You have my vote 🙂

  19. You have this one in the bag. I have seen other “cooking with children” and it is clear that most never do this. And, cooking with children is critical to our future food world.

  20. I love this. I love that you got your 8 & 9-year-old boys to do it, I love the presentation, I love the photos, I LOVE HOW EASY AND DELICIOUS IT LOOKS.

    Excellent entry all round! Well done 😉

    Jax x

  21. That Chicken Tikka Masala looks mouthwatering. I love that your kids are as involved in the process as you. I wish you the best of luck in this round!

  22. Congrats on your continued Project Food Blog success! And thanks for the tikka masala recipes – I love Indian food and have so much trouble finding authentic and easy recipes but these sound and look delicious!

  23. Love to see the cute little hands on your pictures! We need MORE people like you who take time to teach kids how love food and to cook dishes that will develop their palate from an early age. I am also a long time J.O. fan and can’t help but admire all the efforts he puts into his Food Revolution campaign. I think you chose a perfect angle for this challenge and of course, you’ll go on to the next round and even further. Always a pleasure to read you.

  24. I love it- the sight of those little hands working so hard to take some food home to their Mum’s just makes my heart melt. Cooking for all the right reasons. Congrats again- you get my vote!

  25. I absolutely love your posts about the petits chefs and this is so perfect for PFB. Great job, Mardi…you really do set the bar (and high!) for each challenge. I am honored to be in it with you 😉

  26. I’ve always enjoyed your posts that include Les Petits Chefs; it’s clearly evident that children can do more than just watch others prepare their meals!

    My two daughters were always involved in meal preparation; from a very young age they would help set the table and as they got older were given greater responsibility as I saw fit. I won’t deny that sometimes they grumbled about having to help (heck, if I had thought it would matter…I would have grumbled sometimes too!) but for both girls, going to college made all of that experience invaluable.

    They were known as ‘the’ place to visit…even in a dorm room they could throw together something resembling home and I spent many years having them and their friends visit for the weekend and for some of those kids, it was often their first hands on experience with food preparation. Left me sort of amazed, especially since they were all so eager to know how to cook their own food!

    Most recently I helped a friend of my daughter Lauren make the first cake she had ever made (she’s 25!) so that she could give it to her Dad for his birthday.

    So, seeing these boys learn and enjoy the skill of cooking is heartwarming a I know first hand how this will be a part of a life long experience.

  27. Bravo! Have to admit that I left out loud at a couple of your side notes about the boys. The food looks wonderful, and how cool to be teaching future generations how to cook (not to mention clean – not only will their future wives thank them, but their moms, roommates, children…)! Best of luck in the rest of the challenges – you have my vote!

  28. This post captivated me. I love the simple photos that illustrate the process perfectly, and the annotations make the recipe real. It looks like you’ve got a great group of boys there, and I can tell that you are a wonderful teacher. You’ve earned my vote!

  29. Mardi, you took picture perfect to another level. I love it!! Great step-by-step narration. I love that you are teaching the boys to cool. They will truly remember this forever!

  30. Great post, Mardi. Just getting a group of boys to whip up a chicken curry from scratch in an hour is a pretty impressive feat in and of itself… documenting the whole process step-by-step is nothing short of a miracle. 🙂
    Great photos, great recipe, great post. You’ve totally got my vote.

  31. Great tutorial! I’m glad you stayed true to your blog. And the chicken tiki masala looks delicious! Nicely done. I voted for you!

    Good luck! Hope to see us both in round 5!!! =)

  32. Mardi!!

    That was too fun to read – totally made my day!! I suppose it helps that Chicken Tikka Masala is still one of my favorite Indian dishes !! I definitely think you hit that one out of the park – definitely has my vote!!
    Also loved seeing the boys in action!!!

  33. With pictures and clear instructions, even a 7-year old boy could make this dish…Wait. He did. Great post. Here’s my vote so you make it to round 5!

  34. Incredible. And I can’t even manage to take decent pix or follow a recipe when I cook with my one tot in my own kitchen. You’ve shamed me yet again, Mardi. Great job. And I loooove chicken tikka masala and always order it made spicy.

  35. Congratulations Mardi on making it through to another round. Cheering from the sidelines here 🙂 Great photo tutorial, love the addition of the Magic Bullet (a sure fire winner to get boys & their love of gadgets into things) – the recipe looks awesome and sounds like it was a real winner.

  36. The final product looks wonderful and I LOVE the idea of teaching kids to cook Indian food. I only recently started experimenting with it and wish I learned earlier. Good luck!! 🙂

  37. love all the cute little hands working the food! Awesome! And the dish looks great as well. It has me craving some good home cooked Indian food. 🙂 You have my vote.

  38. Bravo to your boys! And you too! It’s pretty incredible you were able to do this all in an hour! Hee hee, I still have never tried making Indian food before, mostly because the hubby doesn’t like it. 😉

  39. love the “step-by step demystification” and the photos!! what an awesome opportunity this cooking club is for your boys. amazing that you did this in an hour – i always think of indian food as taking ages to prepare. thanks for sharing!

  40. You are right Mardi, this post is definitely true to your blog, and as usual, your petit chefs post is fun and entertaining! You are doing an amazing thing working with these kids, and you did tackle a challenging dish! definitely got my vote, good luck!

  41. I think it is absolutely fantastic how involved you have them in the kitchen at that age! I wish all parents would! Then maybe our youth would have a better appreciation and knowledge of real food.


  42. What a great post, Mardi! I love that it really shows off what you do best and like you said, “the true spirit of your blog.” I also love seeing little hands cooking such a gorgeous curry – Jamie Oliver would be so excited to see this! Good luck this round!

  43. It’s so true that when you’re cooking with kids (or not!) nothing ever really goes QUITE as well as planned. I love how you detailed that in this post! This chicken tikka masala looks excellent. One of my favorite dishes for sure!

    You’ve got my vote!

  44. What a great post! I love that you have a cooking class for young boys. I am quite new to Indian and curry so I’ve been on the lookout for some new recipes to try. I am definitely going to be trying this one soon. Thanks for the tutorial! I voted! Good luck!

  45. Why don’t I read your blog more regularly? This situation needs to be remedied stat.

    Enjoyed this post a lot – apparently I have quite a few things in common with 9 year old boys. The smudged recipe after-shot could just as well have been taken in my kitchen, except my notes normally have stains on them too. 😉

    Voting for you right now.

  46. Wow – once again floored by your support and how much you all loved the post! I am proud to include a Petits Chefs post in PFB because it’s what I do. Every week. It’s true to who I am and what I believe and what my blog is all about. I was worried that many people would be turned off by the imperfections, the photos (can you say “hello fluorescent lighting?”) and that it was not staged. But this is so real and I see it’s spoken to a lot of you, making you feel like if little boys can do it, you can too! And you should! Don’t be intimidated 🙂 Thanks again for reading and your support.

  47. You are an amazing Canadian woman!! BRAVA!!! Cannot wait to meet you in SFO – I hope you’re there. This was just beautifully executed, with love, and hope and dreams. Those little hands. Delicious!!
    Claudia (fellow Canadian girl!)


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