chicken tikka masala my way

Dear Soulmate,
I know you are all about FAST in the kitchen, but you're also a very thrifty girl. Here is my version of chicken tikka masala, which I liked better than that store-bought stuff in the jar. It's way cheaper, too… In our area, a 16-ounce jar of Masala sauce is around $4.
Masala is a simple tomato sauce and by making your own, you can customize spices to your own taste. You can make a few batches of the sauce at a time and freeze it. (If you hate it and still buy sauce in a jar, I won't be offended or consider disowning you.)
To arrive at this recipe, I studied several articles written by Indian women. They were all very interesting and I learned a lot from reading the history of the dish. I adapted this version for simplicity and flavor. It is as tasty as it is colorful and beautiful.
I love your idea of adding peas and carrots, but am not a fan of the sweet potato. I had a butternut squash, so I cubed it up instead. I've included a vegan version at the very bottom of the page as well. 

History lesson: In Indian kitchens, there is no such thing as "curry powder." They call it Garam Masala, (translation: hot spice mix.) Each region and family group has their own version. IF the curry powder you have doesn't contain the following, just add a little of the missing spices to the one you have. 
List of possible Garam Masala ingredients:
Celery seed
Coriander seeds
Cumin seeds
Bay leaves
Dried chili flakes

For Chicken Tikka:
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
½ tsp cayenne
1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 1/2 tsp ginger garlic paste... make your own or purchase in Indian grocery.
½ cup yogurt (any fat % is fine)
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper
For the (Masala) tomato sauce:
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp garlic paste
1 Tbsp ginger paste
1 Tbsp coriander
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 small onion, diced
1 14.5 oz can of tomato purée
½ cup canned coconut milk or heavy cream
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro (for garnish)
Optional veg:
Diced carrots
Sweet potato or butternut squash cubes.
For Chicken Tikka:
Mix all the dry ingredients into a small amount of olive oil in a non-stick pan. Heat until spices become fragrant. Add ginger garlic paste and spices to the mixture of yogurt and lemon juice to prepare a marinade. Toss chicken pieces into the marinade. Mix well.
Cover the bowl and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight.
Cook chicken on grill until done or pop it into the oven for 15-20 minutes at a temperature of 400 degrees F. Allow to rest and cut into bite-sized pieces. Cover and set aside.
For Masala tomato sauce:
Pour oil in a thick bottom pan. Add ginger and garlic paste. Turn on the heat and let the paste slowly cook as the oil heats up.
When the oil is hot, add onion, coriander, fennel, black pepper and garam masala. Mix it all together. Cook a few minutes until onion is soft and spices have started a party in your kitchen.
Add tomatoes and mix well with onion and spices. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes until the sauce starts reducing and the excess water evaporates. Stir occasionally scraping the bottom.

While sauce simmers, steam any raw veggies. Add cooked chicken pieces along with the drippings, cream and veggies to tomato sauce.
Mix it all together and let it simmer for another 5-7 minutes.
Turn off the heat, cover with a lid and let it sit for at least 10 minutes before serving. It lets all of the flavors get friendly!

Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with toasted Garlic Naan or fragrant Basmati rice.
For Yellow basmati: To cooking water add half of a chicken bullion cube and a tsp. of turmeric, 1 tsp. coconut oil and salt. Cook as directed.

If you’ve spent all day gardening, teaching someone about bees or giving a tour at the museum, here is the fastest way possible to a fabulous dinner:
Being the smart girl you are, you’d have some masala sauce already made and frozen. Skip the Chicken Tikka portion of above recipe. Instead, take chopped rotisserie chicken meat, cooked veggies and ½ cup of cream and combine with premade, homemade sauce. Let everything simmer in sauce to let flavors get acquainted. Serve as instructed above.
To make a vegan version, skip the fowl and roast a 15 oz. can of chickpeas and a head of cauliflower tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder in the oven until chickpeas are crunchy and cauliflower is brown. Add those to sauce instead of chicken. Enjoy.

Your soulmate