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March 30, 2009

POTATO SAGU RECIPE | ALOO SAAGU RECIPE

Potato Sagu / Aloo Sagu Recipe
The first time I heard about Potato Sagu recipe is from my mother in law. She mentioned it when talking about a buffet lunch they went to and how the aloo sagu tasted really good. When I said I hadn't heard of it before, she gave me the rough recipe. I made some notes but then forgot about it. This happened before I was gifted the awesome Simply South by Chandra Padmanabhan

The saw the recipe again in that book with very detailed ingredients and a nice picture too, under the title Urulaikizhangu Sagu, so I had to try it. Its a bummer that khus khus (poppy seeds) are not available in Singapore (something to do with how you test positive for drugs if you have eaten this!). I hear its even banned so trying to ship it in from India may not be such a good idea either. 

So my version does not have khus khus in it, sadly. But if you have it handy, please add it in. I am sure the taste will differ considerably! 

Potato Sagu  | Aloo Saagu Recipe 

Ingredients:
5 medium potatoes - boiled, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 onion, chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1/2" piece ginger
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
Grind to a Smooth Paste
1 tsp poppy seeds / khus khus, powdered (I didn't have this)
3 dried red chillies
1 tbsp roasted Bengal gram / Channa dal / Kadala paruppu
1 tbsp coriander seeds / malli
1/2 tsp fennel seeds / saunf / perum jeerakam
1/2" stick cinnamon
2-3 tbsp water
For Tempering
2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds / jeera / jeerakam
1/2 tsp urad dal / ulatham paruppu / uzhunnu parippu
1 tsp Bengal gram / Channa dal / Kadala paruppu
1 sprig curry leaves

How to Make Potato Sagu Recipe: 

1. Heat oil in a pan and add all ingredients for tempering. When mustard seeds start spluttering, add onions and saute till golden. 

2. Mix in green chillies, ginger, tomatoes, turmeric and salt and fry for 1-2 minutes. 

3. Stir in 1 cup water, lower heat, cover pan and simmer for about 5 minutes. 

4. Mix in ground spice paste and potatoes and simmer uncovered for another 5 minutes until well blended. 

5. Pour in coconut milk and simmer for 1-2 minutes longer. 

Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve sagu with roti, poori or steamed rice. 

Potato Sagu / Aloo Sagu Recipe
Notes:

- You can use this spice paste base for any vegetable or even a mix of vegetables. A great idea to use up the leftover vegetables almost rotting in the fridge. 

- If you have a different version or do something differently, please leave a comment, I would love to try it differently!

March 27, 2009

Carrot and Baby Corn Stir-Fry Recipe | Indian Baby Corn Recipes

Carrot and Baby Corn Stir-Fry Recipe | Indian Baby Corn RecipesThis Carrot Baby Corn Masala recipe is from Das Sreedharan's Easy Indian, and he is right, it is easy! The book is a good mix of really simple recipes like this one and ones that require a bit of practise, like Indian dumplings. Even then, the entire book has recipes with easy-to-get ingredients and something all Indian kitchens stock up on anyway.

Though there is nothing much that's unique or different about the recipe, the combination was quite new to me, something I hadn't tried before - carrots and baby corn! The crunchiness of the baby corn offsest the soft cooked carrots and the simple masala mix gave it a nice twist. Try this recipe if you are looking to make an easy Indian baby corn masala.

March 25, 2009

Vangi Bath Recipe | Brinjal Rice Recipe

I love anything with eggplant in it. Roasted, grilled, fried, sauteed, curried, you name it! I don't remember liking kathirikkai so much as a kid but now, I pick it up every week during vegetable shopping. In Singapore the more common variety is the longer purple ones that are called Japanese brinjal. The good part is, they usually don't have worms or bugs in it and stay fresh in the fridge for a longer time.

Vangi Bhath-Vangi Bath-Brinjal Rice Recipe-How to make Vangi Bath
But I really couldn't resist these smaller eggplants that we see more in India. I got it from the local Malayali store and immediately made vangi bhath with it - something amma didn't make and so had been on my to - do list for a long long time.

March 24, 2009

Adding Banners To Food Pics Using Powerpoint

Sometimes you feel your pictures need some zing, something extra to take it to the next level. The answer may not always be picasa, or photoshop or other editing software. It could even be Powerpoint!

When I started off food blogging, I used powerpoint to add watermarks, borders and banners to my pictures. It was simple and I used powerpoint so much at work that it didn't seem like much of an extra effort to me. As soon as Picasa came up with the feature to add text to pictures, I slowly moved away from powerpoint.

But, I still use it to jazz up my pics a bit, add a border and make it look a bit different, maybe like a cookbook cover which is what a lot of you said after seeing this picture of mine :)

So let's see how we can make this picture..

.. look like this in a few easy steps.



March 19, 2009

Butterscotch Blondies Recipe | Step By Step Recipe

TH and I were due to visit my cousin for lunch. A cousin with two kids. Which meant, we should be getting them something.

Fruits? Naah.. Reminds me of visiting someone at the hospital.

Chocolates? I am a bit careful when I get this for kids 'cuz I know parents who don't introduce chocolates to their kids until they are about 10 or so. Yeah, really. Though I am super glad my parents didn't think of something like this, I respect these parents' decision.

That's when I decided to play it safe and bake something myself. TH may disagree about the 'safe' part but who listens to him anyway, right?

So I decided to bake these lovely butterscotch blondies. This is a step-by-step recipe, my first one inspired by Zesty Cook. These blondies are quite foolproof and really yummy, not to mention a great variation from the usual chocolate brownies!

The best part is, the recipe doesn't involve any kind of whipping, or beating, or creaming, or other complicated baking techniques. This is best suited for baking beginners. So this is for all those of you who are looking to bake something simple and easy.

*The final recipe is at the end of the post, so if you want to skip the yada yada and get to it straightaway, please keep scrolling. Thanks!*

Butterscotch Blondies - Step By Step RecipeThis is before melting, by the way

March 17, 2009

Angles For Your Food Pictures - Experiment!

I have been lazy and unwell over the weekend. Well, mostly Sunday. So meals over this weekend were mostly comfort food, like dal chawal - the everyday yummy yellow dal recipe that I use and use and use again atleast once a week. I also made pepper rasam, lots of it, and it was so good for my sore throat.

After making the yellow dal for our dal chawal on Sunday, I realized that I have never posted the recipe here. In fact, quite a few of my friends, especially those who are abroad, have emailed me asking for basic yellow dal recipe or dal-chawal recipe. It just seemed too simple to post here but I now I know better.

I don't know why I went yada-yada over the recipe so much because I am not going to post it now :D I just wanted to share the pictures I took of the dish and the various angles I tried.

Ok so, first, I transferred the dal to two of my white bowls. I was a bit eager to use my napkin papers from Ikea so I took out the bright blue ones thinking they would make a good combination with the yellow of the dal.

Blegh. How boring is that? Really!


*Rotates the napkin to try a different angle*


still, very meh. Whatever. The dal looks dull in this one. Not excited at all.

Looks like the napkin has to go. Sigh..


Its definitely an improvement but what's that bright shot of light from the top left doing in the picture?

*Walks over and closes the window*

*tap tap tap*

Two bowls of dal feels like an overkill. After all its a simple dish so why not go for a simple look?

Hmmm..

Just one bowl, overhead shot, no colours or fancy napkins, nice and comforting, just like the dal. What say?


Hmm.. naah! Too boring. I have done a zillion shots like this, I need more in the picture. Something's missing!

Last chance with both bowls. Different angle this time and maybe I can blur off the bowl in the background later.


YUCK! No! Two bowls is not an option. Discard idea. Dis-caaaaaaard!!!

*tap tap tap*

Ah! The messy look! I haven't experimented much with this. How about that? Messy dal! Everyday yellow dal that's also messy!

Like so.


Hmmm.. not bad. I do like it but don't feel like this is it. Since I tried the messy look, how about also giving the 'holier-than-though' look a shot?

*Quickly licks spoon*

Yumm. Good thing I have another bowl of dal ready.

*Switches bowls, messy for non-messy*


Ah.. that's nice too. Simple and neat and nice. A little unhappy with the glaring light on the spoon. Quite pleased with the 'licking job' though ;)

Ok hold on! What about the 'bowl-in-bowl' look? Ahh! That could look good too.

*Rushes to clean the bowl that featured in the messy-look picture*

*Click*


Oooh, nice. Quite classy. The shadows are not too bad. Should I fit in the spoon there? Hmm.. nah! This looks fine. This could work.

*Smiles*

But wait, what about the same thing on my wooden sticks coaster?


Even better! This one wins. Congrats buddy, you get to go on the post. And maybe even to Click - Wood if nothing else works. This would be a lame entry but what the heck! Am feeling adventurous ;)

Which pic(s) did you like, if any?

Do you try out different angles, backgrounds and set ups too? If not, what's stopping you? Go on, play!
I also have one exercise for you guys. Here's what you need to do:

1. I want you all to pick 5 of your most favourite food blogs, especially the ones you admire for their photography. Make sure you pick food blogs and not food photography blogs.

2. Go to their oldest set of posts, using their archives link or something. The longer they have been blogging, the better this would work.

3. Look at their first few pictures and be amazed. Be prepared for some serious jaw-drops, in most cases.

Moral of the exercise: We all start somewhere. Its okay to take so-so pics initially as long as you have the interest and the determination to learn. Some take their pics and recipes and templates to the next level in a few weeks' time, some take months and a few, even years. There is no right time or too much time, its all decided by you.
PS: If any of you take a look at my old pics, you'd be quite amazed too :) Not that I am spectacular now, but trust me, you will see a lot of difference!

PPS: I need some ideas for posts in the photography series. Otherwise you are going to be bombarded with posts like this one. Consider yourselves warned!

Click HERE for the initial posts in the series.


March 12, 2009

Kadachakka (Bread Fruit) Fry and Kadachakka Roast Recipe

I was never much of a kadachakka fan. I didn't even know its called breadfruit in English but I wasn't surprised to see it in the Kerala store near my house one Sunday. I immediately picked up one and stashed it in the fridge to cook with later. Amma makes only two kinds of dishes with this - thoran and mezhukkupuratti. In fact, when I was younger and liked to play "what's your favourite..." with her, her answer was always "kadhachakka thoran" when asked what her favourite side dish is.

Kadachakka (Bread Fruit) Fry and Kadachakka Roast RecipeIt started turning brown as soon as it was cut and I had to click like
crazy before it started looking bad. Any ideas to prevent this?
Do we dunk them in water as soon as we chop them, life for brinjals?

I, however, have always preferred kadachakka mezhupuratti and I was sure even TH would like that better so that's what I made with most of it. I am glad I came across Cynthia's post before I finished off the entire breadfruit because she has this amazingly simple idea to make chips out of them.

So, even though this is not much of a recipe, I would like to share this idea of hers with you - breadfruit chips!

Kadachakka (Bread Fruit) Fry and Kadachakka Roast Recipe
Cut the breadfruit into thin strips and deep fry in oil. You can sprinkle them with spices or herbs of your choice, after frying. I only used salt.

When I asked Cynthia if this is an authentic Caribbean recipe, her answer was "Yes my dear, I am sure other people make them too but we do consider it to be very Caribbean :)"

Well, that's why this plate of freshly fried breadfruit chips goes over to the Monthly Mingle - Caribbean Cooking hosted by Meeta.

As a bonus, let me also share my Kerala recipe with breadfruit, or kadachakka, as we call it.

Kadachakka (Bread Fruit) Fry and Kadachakka Roast Recipe
Kadachakka Mezhukkupuratti Recipe

What I Used:

Breadfruit - 2 cups, chopped into slightly long cubes
Red chillies - 4, torn into pieces
Garlic - 4 pods, crushed
Turmeric - 1 pinch
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Salt - to taste
Oil - 1 tbsp

How I Made It:

1. Heat oil in a pan and throw in the mustard seeds. Once they start popping, lower the heat to minimum and add the garlic. Fry for a few seconds, making sure it doesn't burn.

2. Add the breadfruit pieces, turmeric, and the chillies and fry on medium-low fire until soft and cooked. Add salt when the vegetable is almost cooked. You can add a bit more oil if you feel the breadfruit is sticking to the pan. I used a non stick pan so ended up using not much oil.

The whole frying process takes about 10-12 mins so be patient. You can also add some curry masala or garam masala to spice it up a notch but I kept it very simple and basic.
Kadachakka (Bread Fruit) Fry and Kadachakka Roast Recipe

March 10, 2009

Food Photography Basics : Using Photoshop To Blur The Background

Ever since I started the Food Photography Basics Series, the most often asked question is 'how do I blur the background of my food picture?' or 'I tried and I am getting some results but its not great or as blurred as I'd want it to be'.

I hear you.

Until last December, I was using my Nikon L10 which is a really basic point and shoot that only had a macro mode to boast about and no other manual settings. It was hard to get the nice blurred effect that I so badly wanted and even though I had lots of natural light and used to set up the picture just right, it was frustrating to get a wuss of a blur in most cases!

This changed when I got Photoshop. Since its an expensive software and I knew nuts about it at that time (or even now for that matter), I bought Photoshop 7.0 which was an older version back then and so, much cheaper.

The first step is always deciding to buy the software and actually getting it. I felt so guilty for sitting on my lazy ass without using it for 2 months, that one fine day I decided to search around for some photoshop tutorials. It definitely wasn't easy to sift out what I wanted from the 1000s of articles out there. Surprisingly, none of them were meant for food pics so I randomly tried out a few things and came up with a solution.

So let's see what we are trying to do today.

We are going to make this picture ..


.. look like this.


Excited? Good!

1. The first step is to open up your photoshop program and go to File --> Open and browse for the picture you want to edit.

Quick tip: Choose a picture that is not just one item, but has a definite 'background' and an item in it that you want to 'highlight' while the rest of the picture is blurred. Something like the picture I have chosen.


The good news is, we are not going to use any of the scary-looking colourful stuff on the right hand side. I have no clue what you can do with those! Let's just concentrate on the left hand side, the long bar, the Tools Palette.

2. The next step is to choose the Brush Tool from the Tools Palette on the left.


3. Once you have chosen the brush tool, your mouse pointer will turn to a circle or a tiny dot. We need to adjust the size of this circle, or brush, by using the brush size setting on top. Just move the pointer to the right until you get a brush of the required size.

Quick tip: The size of the brush should be adjusted according to the area you want to blur. If its a big area, then choose a bigger brush size so that you can save time. If you are working with a bunch of tiny areas in the pic, then stick with a smaller brush size.


4. Now that we have a brush we can work with, the next step is to choose the area you want to blur. For that, you need to switch to the Quick Mask Mode. You will see two sqaures towards the bottom of the Tools Palette, click on the one on the right hand side.


5. Next, we need to select the area. Click and drag your mouse pointer over the area you want to blur making sure that you leave out the portion you want to highlight. I left out the slice of orange in the front and 'chose' the entire area outside of it. As you drag your pointer, the area will turn red so you can see what you are doing. The process is similar to using stuff on MS Paint.

Quick tip: if you accidentally highlight some portions you didn't mean to (like the top half orange slice in the front in my pic, for eg) use the 'eraser tool' to clear out the red highlight. You will find the eraser on the left hand side of the Tools Palette, 5th from top.

6. Once you have 'reddened' the entire region you want to blur, this is how it will look.


Now, go back to the Tools Palette and click on the square to the left of the Quick Mask Mode Button. This is get you back to the Standard Mode. Once you do this, you will see a dotted line around the area you don't want to blur. In my eg, its the orange slice, as below.


7. What this means is, the orange slice is selected as of now for the next edit that we peform. Since we want to blur the background and not the orange slice, we need to reverse the selection. Its ok if you find this confusing, just trust me and hold down CTRL+SHIFT+I.


Now you will see the dotted line shifted to the perimeter of the pic and also around the orange slice. This means we have selected everything except that slice to be worked on next.

8. Now that we have the entire background selected for Operation Blurring Background its a breeze from here.

Click on Filter --> Blur --> Gaussian Blur..


You will see a window appear where you can specify the amount of blur you want.


I have chosen 10 for the picture below.

Gaussian Blur - 10

For 10, its hard to see much difference so I have also tried 15 and 20 to illustrate the difference.

Gaussian Blur - 15

Gaussian Blur - 20

I'd probably go with 20 for this pic since that setting has highlighted the orange slice beautifully and made it look nice and crisp. I have never gone above 20 because I feel the picture may look too artificial beyond that.

9. Once you have chosen the blur amount you want and like what you see, go to File --> Save as --> and save your file.

10. The final step, of course, is to upload the picture to your site with the recipe and wow your friends ;)

I'd love to see the results in case anyone tries this. Please do leave a comment with the link to your picture.

For more examples of pictures edited in this manner, check out the following posts. All of them were taken with my Nikon L10 which is a 5 megapixel, 3x zoom basic point and shoot.

Paneer Peas Pulao
Rasmalai
Curd Rice
Eggless Butterless Chocolate Muffins

NOTES

- The options and menu items may change with a change in the Photoshop version. I have Photoshop 7.0 so if you have a different version and absolutely cannot find any of these options, please let me know.

- I am no photoshop expert but if you get suck in between, feel free to email me at naagu.v@gmail.com and I will try and see what could be wrong.

For previous posts in the series, please click here.

If you want to keep up with the Basics of Food Photography Series, you can subscribe to my RSS feed here or via email here.

March 6, 2009

Gobi Paratha Recipe | How to Make Gobi Paratha Recipe | Step By Step

I have been putting away this Gobi Paratha Recipe post for the longest time possible. I made these Gobi Paratha over a month back and took step by step pictures. I was too lazy to edit and upload and post so kept picking the simple recipes to post. Today I had to share this with you because I tried making layered gobi paratha in a different way and it was so much better than the traditional method of making the paratha, addng the filling, bringing the edges together and rolling it out again before cooking it on the tawa. I have given the shots of the usual method below. More Paratha Recipes on Edible Garden!

Gobi Paratha
Now for the different method I tried, you have to endure the whole post :D

Let's start with 1 cup minced cauliflower or gobi. Make it as tiny as possible. Like this.

Gobi Paratha
I recently got a Philips chopper/blender/whisk set and used the chopper blade to get it minced. Its super quick and I use this for pretty much all my chopping now.

March 4, 2009

Stir-Fried Tofu With Beans Recipe - Stir-fried Tofu Recipe

We love tofu and any recipes and dishes with tofu in it. Since it's very easy to find good variety of tofu in Singapore, I really haveno excuses to not cook with them more often. I tried this easy stir-fried tofu recipe the other day and we absolutely loved it!

Golden Fried Tofu
The Ingredients for Stir-Fried Tofu

Stir-fried tofu seems so simple yet tasted so good at local hawker centres in Singapore that I had to try it at home. I did ask the aunty at the food stall what they add to it but she just waved me off after saying "tofu, tomatoes, tomato sauce.." so I was thinking I'll pretty much improvise on my own. The basic recipe is inspired by Hooked on Heat with some minor changes from my end.

Ah but before I go on, I had some trouble finding the right tofu to make this dish, in Singapore. So, if anyone else here has had trouble finding firm tofu in Singapore, please look for 'Tau Kwa'. Any brand will work, the most popular one being Unicurd. I use the NTUC housebrand too.

Ok on to the Stir-Fried Tofu recipe now. This is a killer combination with vegetable fried rice.

Stir Fried Tofu with Beans

Stir Fried Tofu With Beans
Ingredients:
Firm tofu - 1 block, cubed
Beans - 1/2 cup 1" pieces
Tomato - 1, finely chopped
Onion - 1, finely chopped
Tomato paste / ketchup - 1 tbsp
Garlic - 3 pods, crushed
Tamarind paste - 1/2 tsp
Red chilli powder - 1 tsp
Coriander / malli / dhania powder - 1 tsp
Turmeric powder - a pinch
Oil - 2 tsp
Salt - to taste
Spring onions - 2 stalks for garnish (optional)

How to Make Stir-Fried Tofu:

1. Lightly fry the cubed tofu in the oil until golden brown on all sides. Make sure you keep the flame on medium-low. Drain on a kitchen napkin and set aside.

2. In the same oil, add the onions and garlic. Fry lightly until the onions turn soft and transparent. Take care not to burn them by maintaining the heat at medium-low.

3. Next, add the turmeric, coriander, chilli, salt and tamarind paste and fry for about a minute. Then add the chopped tomatoes and beans and cook till the tomatoes break down and the oil separates from the sauce. The beans will be more than half cooked at this stage.

4. Finally add the fried tofu and mix well. Simmer for a minute or so, remove from fire, garnish wtih cilantro / spring onions and serve warm with steamed rice, vegetable fried rice, or even roti.

March 2, 2009

Basics of Food Photography - Q&A 1

After the first four posts in the series, a bunch of you got back to me with specific questions. Though it was great to get all the positive feedback on the series, I wanted to make sure that I helped those of you who were not able to put the tips to practice. Though its hard to do this in a perfect manner remotely, I am going to try and answer the top two questions most of you had.

For your reference, here are the first four posts in the series:

1. Food Photography Basics
2. Aperture, F-Stops and DOF (Imp!!)
3. Basic Editing with Picasa 3
4. Using the Right Bowls, Plates & Colours

Q: I read in your previous post about blurring backgrounds by controlling the aperture. I tried doing this in my camera but I can't figure out how to change the f-stop value. Help!

A: I really wish I could take a look at your camera to help you with this. In all likelihood, I would give you a blank look back and go Google your camera model to see how its done, but either ways, its hard to help you with a setting in your camera when I can't see it, even if I know the make and model.

The most likely case is that your camera doesn't allow manual aperture settings. The best way to figure this out would be to bring out your camera manual and look it up. Yes, look up that dull, thick book that you got with your camera that has instructions in 33+ languages.

A Google search should also help. I would recommend dpreview. Its a pretty cool site that has information and reviews on almost all cameras available out there. If you look around a bit, you should also be able to find online manuals for your cameras.

Q: I found the apeture setting on my camera and set it to f 3.0. But I am still not getting a blurry background like you said. Did you lie?

A: No I didn't lie. Really.

Even if you set your aperture and your shutter speed and a dozen other thingamajings in your camera, your picture still heavily depends on one thing - Light. How much of it is there or how little, what time of day it is, are you using flash or not (you shouldn't be, ever! Never ever!), etc.

Once you have set your aperture setting at the lowest, make sure you have macro on, make sure there is tons of light coming in from somewhere, get close to the food and click away. It also helps if you have some stuff in the background as opposed to just a wall or a coaster. That will help you see the effect better.

For example:

If you are taking a picture like this where there is only one main subject, then its hard to play around with aperture and get an effect. There is one subject and pretty much the entire thing is in focus. (You can actually focus on just one yam in the bowl and stuff but its hard to get that effect without a high-end camera)

Now, in this picture, there are a few yams spread out in the frame and you want to focus on one while blurring the others in the background. This is a good way to lay out your food while testing the aperture setting and macro and what-not on your camera.

It takes practice and again, I wish I could do a demo or something, but what I would keep on saying until you get sick of me is, use as much natual light as possible. Open that window, sweep out that balcony and set up a stool there, click away.

If you still think I am lying, wait for my post next week on how to blur your backgrounds using Photoshop. Its not hard. I swear.

If you want to keep up with the Basics of Food Photography Series, you can subscribe to my RSS feed here or via email here.