Saturday, August 29, 2015

Beginner's Guide to BALCONY GARDENING

"Gardening is a blissful and tranquil experience altogether." :) Well, those of you who have had their own gardens would definitely be able to relate to my statement. However, I have met many, who are literally afraid to garden, either because they fear they need to know a lot and invest a lot into having a garden of their own or they need a lot of "SPACE". Nooo! you don't!! All you really require is a safe window sill or a balcony would be even great!! A couple of pots, some potting mix, some seeds or vegetable cut-outs from your kitchen and of course water is all you really need for a simple start!! :D If it works for you, and is indeed developing a tranquil experience, well, then it's the most blissful and satisfying hobby ever! :) 

Well, if you have been wanting to garden, but, don't know where to really start from.. Then, here you are.. at the right place and at the right time of the year to start anew! :) Your very own Garden can soon turn into a reality.. :)

To transplant a plant into a pot, gently slide the plant out of the container, by lightly pressing the sides and tapping the bottom to loosen the root ball if necessary. Then, into a pot with potting mix, make a small hole and set the seedling into it and fill in around the roots with soil. Water it moderately and then add more soil if needed to completely fill the hole.

Different seeds germinate differently. Therefore, even transplanting time would vary from plant to plant. 

Some plants do not really require much care. But, some plants require time to time fertilizing, shielding from insects and diseases and even artificial insemination during the flowering stage. Well, that's an entirely different story altogether, which is truly a learning experience and nothing that needs to be panicked about. Let's not complicate things at the beginning itself.. ;)

Another option is to buy seedlings, perennials or fully grownup plants from plant nurseries or the farmer's market. The advantage of doing so, is that you can personally inspect the plants to make sure they are healthy. However, here's a guide to inspecting perennials that are displayed and picking the best for your garden.

1.      Do not pick a plant with yellow or wilted leaves. This is an indication of illness or improper watering.

2.      Frail stemmed plants or a plant with its roots crawling out of the pot bottom are signs that the plant has been growing in a starting pot for far longer than it should. Avoid such plants.

3.      If you discover weeds in a container, chances are that it has already begun slowly robbing the plant of its required nutrients. Avoid them too.

4.      Do not pick a perennial which already has many flowers. This could be an indication that the plant has exhausted most of its energy into blooms and may easily die off when transplanted. 

As soon as you have brought home your new perennials, water them slightly and allow them to settle into the new atmosphere for a day or two. 

Then, fill a clean pot with pot mix and prepare a planting hole. Gently slide the plant out of the container, by lightly pressing the side of the container and tapping the bottom to loosen the root ball if necessary.  But, never remove any parts of the root. Set the seedling into the hole and fill in around the roots with soil. Press down the surrounding soil so that it is firmly anchored in place. Water it moderately, yet, well soaked and then add more soil if needed to completely fill the hole. If you are using a watering hose, make sure that the force of the water does not expose out the roots of  your new plant.

Make sure you do not place the newly transplanted plant under direct sunlight for the first couple of days. Every new plant is fragile, and needs time to settle in.

Hope this post has inspired you to start your own little garden. Trust me, "Gardening is a blissful and tranquil experience altogether." :)

Wishing you a blissful gardening experience.. :) Stay Happy! :)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Vellarika Curry

Kerala style curry prepared with Indian yellow cucumber and lentils cooked in coconut milk.

Vellarika also called Indian yellow cucumber, is a special kind of cucumber that's more often cooked than eaten raw. A little more larger in size than ordinary cucumber, with a brownish yellow skin. Its texture and taste is more like melons, though not sweet. The other important ingredient needed in this recipe is Mung dal, which gives the curry the thick consistency. Like almost every other Kerala dish, coconut milk is inevitable, and for the final finishing touch, infuse it with the tadka (tempering).

Rice served with this Vellarika curry, a little pickle and pappadam (paappad), and fried egg (if you are a non-vegetarian), is all you need for a mouth-watering meal.. :) Yuummmmm... ;)

Ingredients :

Mung dal

1 cup
Turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon
Indian Yellow cucumber

1/2 of a large
Garlic (crushed)

2 cloves
Onion (sliced)

1 no.
Green chilli (slit)

2 or 3 nos.
Coconut oil

2-3 tablespoons
Mustard seeds

1 teaspoon
Cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon
Dried red chilli

3-4 nos.
Curry leaves

2 stems
Shallots (finely sliced)

3-4 nos.
Coconut milk

1/2 cup (first extract)

2 cups

To taste.

Preparation Method :

Wash and drain the mung dal like how you would wash raw rice. Some people soak dal prior to cooking. But, I don't think mung dal requires soaking, since it cooks pretty fast. To the cleaned dal, add half a teaspoon of turmeric. Dal cooks faster if cooked with turmeric. But, adding salt slows down cooking, so make sure you add salt only after it is well cooked.

Then add the crushed garlic and some water and cook. Only till half cooked. 

While the dal cooks, wash the cucumber, cut it into half and keep the unused half covered with a cling wrap or keep it closed in a container and refrigerate until next use.  Of the half you would be cooking, remove the seeds and peel the skin off. 

Then cut off the end and cut into half. Then dice it equally. 

Finely chop the onions and slit the chillies.

When the dal is half done add the cucumber, onion and green chilli. 

Give a quick stir and cover with a lid and cook on low heat until dal becomes tender. But make sure it doesn't become too tender or it will become a paste.

Then add the coconut milk while the heat is still on low and cook until the curry begins to bubble on the sides slightly. Turn off the flame.

In a wok, crackle the mustard seeds and cumin seeds.

Then add the sliced shallots and curry leaves and fry until the shallots begin to brown. Then add the dried red chillies and fry for just couple of seconds.

Add salt to taste and give a quick stir. Pour the tempering above the curry and close with a lid immediately.

Before serving stir the curry well. Goes well with any kind of rice and even roties

Serves 5-6
Wishing you all Happy and Safe weekend folks! :)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Beginner's handbook to Kitchen Essentials

Beginner's handbook to Kitchen Essentials

A section for "Beginner's in the Kitchen" or "The confused Cooks" who are lost when it comes to understanding what are the essentials they need to buy for their kitchen. Trust me, a few essential items are all you really need to stock and yet, you can do plenty of cooking with them. You do not require fancy and expensive utensils, cookware, appliances, equipment and gadgets to be a good cook. Below, I have assembled some basic tips I hope will come handy as you bravely step up into the fascinating world of Cooking! :) 

You don't have to wait until you buy all that you require in your kitchen to start cooking! If you have the basic stuffs, then start gradually. You will realize most of your requirements or what you are missing in your kitchen as you gradually start cooking.

Basic shopping tips :

Before you go shopping, keep in mind the following :

1.      What is your cooking style.
2.      What is your kitchen size.
3.      What would your cooking needs be.

Save money :
If you have a low budget, then, before you eventually begin buying, just stroll through your favourite store, look around and learn. Go back to your kitchen and you will have a better idea as to what you genuinely require and what is actually available to buy. List down your basic requirements. I have put up a list below, that might come handy. Do refer.

Shop for quality over quantity :


For instance, if you come across a special offer pack of half a dozen of knives, do not pick it up instead of getting a good quality useful knife. Understand the use of it. A good quality knife will save you the cost of a knife sharpening stone as well and it will reduce your work with faster and better cutting and chopping.  

Invest smartly!!


Set your initial budget and only get regularly required items. Keep those once in a while required items for later.

Informed decision :

Before deciding on major investment always collect information. Your mother can give you a good feedback. Take advises from an aunt or family friend who is experienced. Or sometimes advise from a good salesman can help.

Focus on the long run usage :

Never make a mistake of buying small utensils or small cookware considering that you are a bachelor or that you are just married and it's only the two of you.  There will be additions to your family and do remember that in the future you will cook for guests as well. So, when time passes by and you realize your requirements, all the tiny pots and pans are sure to pile up behind your cabinet. Why let that happen??

Well, now that you have a rough idea, refer to the following list that would give you a basic idea on the bare minimum initial requirements for regular use in your kitchen. You can minus the ones you can do without.

Basic essentials for beginners:

1.  A Serrated knife
1) Helps cut thick skinned vegetables or fruits.
2) Is handy with peeling vegetables like onion or garlic.
3) Helps cut tender fruits or veggies like very ripe tomatoes, bananas, peaches etc without mashing them.
4) Helps neatly slice fruit cakes or any tender cakes.
5) Helps give a clean cut to hard crusted loafs or hard toasts.
6) Helps neatly cut steaks.

2.  An 8" and 10" Chef's knife, or either one initially
1) Helps slice, chop, mince, crush and cut.
2) Cuts through meats as well and through small bones of fish and chicken.

3.  Silicon spatula, straight spatula, whisk, basting brush
One of my best friends in the kitchen. If you have invested on some non-stick cookware, then always use a silicon spoon to sauté.  Your pans will remain in shape for longer. Do not substitute with wooden or melamine spoons. Won't serve the purpose.

4.  Stainless steel sieves
For me, this a multipurpose kitchen tool and I simply love it. I use it to sift flour or coco, as a colander to strain noodles, pasta, legumes even rice,  as a coconut milk extractor, purée extractor, to strain hot oil, to strain water from food, as a steamer etc etc.

5.  Metal measuring cups and spoons.
A very handy tool in your kitchen, especially if you are very new to cooking or you follow exact recipes for your cooking. Also a must when it comes to baking.

Other measuring cups/scales that will come handy.

Check list of other basic items :

Vegetable peeler
Steel tongs
Steel whisk
Can opener
Serving spoons
Steel ladle
Slightly angled wooden spatula
Tea strainer
Food processor

Cooking Utensils :

Heavy bottom, cast aluminium, non-stick 24cm Oven safe, Stock pot with glass lid. Will serve as a pot, skillet, cake pan, baking pan as well as a roasting pan.

A medium non-stick frying pan

A heavy bottom non-stick wok
This is my favourite cooking utensil. From stir fries to soups or deep frying or curry making etc. I make everything in this shallow sauté pan. The larger the better.  You can even omit a steel shallow pot or any simpler pans or pots if you have this one wok.

Sauce pans in 3 sizes, Large, Medium and Small all with lids.
Use this pot to cook rice, boil vegetables, or make a small batch of soup. 

A non-stick tawa.
Rolling pin

Wooden cutting board.
If properly used and maintained, it's the best cutting board. I personally do not like the plastic ones. Somehow I feel it unhygienic and unhealthy. I have a large one for cutting vegetables, a small one for cutting fruits and chopping nuts and a long one for cutting meat or fish.

Stainless steel mixing bowl

Plates/Bowls/Casseroles/Teacups/Glass/Cutlery/ Salt & Pepper shaker/Water Jug

Checklist of not so important, Optional items :

Mortar and pestle
Idili maker
Indian Spice dubba
Traditional Clay curry pot
Pressure cooker
Stainless steel mug
Lemon squeezer

That's all I can really think of now.. Just in case you realize something important that I may have omitted out, please let me know by leaving a comment below. Your feedback would be great! :)