A Mixed Bag – A bit of everything under the sun


Biryani is undoubtedly a finger licking food. But making it at home is a laborious process if you want to do it DSC04814the right way. But the biryani served in restaurants taste so mmm mmm good, I’ve always wondered how they do it. It’s spicy, it’s sweet, it’s creamy, it’s sour all at the same time. Surely they don’t bake it, they do some kind of a stir fry and give it to you within ten minutes of your ordering. I’ve been trying to imitate their taste by experimenting with the ingredients and I think i’ve finally hit the jackpot! I made this yesterday and it came so very close to the ones you order in restaurants. The first thing i wanted to do was post the recipe on my blog so I don’t forget it ;). And yes, also share it with everybody.

This recipe makes 6-8 servings. I’ve only eyeballed the measuremens. Play around with the quantities to suit your taste.

Ingredients:

Vegetables of your choice – carrots, beans, potatoes, cauliflower, peas, lima beans (about 1 1/2 cups each) cut into large chunks

For the rice:

Rice – 2 cups

Water – 2 cups

Salt to taste

For the veggies:

Oil – 2 tbsp

Onion – 1 large

Tomatoes – 1 large

Jeera – 1 teaspoon

Ginger garlic paste – 1 tbsp

Cashews – a handful, cut into pieces

Green Chillies – 4 to 6

Whole Garam masala – 2 black cardamoms, 3-4 cloves, 1 inch cinnamon, 1 bay leaf

Butter – 4 tbsp

Coriander powder – 1.5 tbsp

Paprika powder – 1.5 teaspoon

Red chili powder – to taste

Garam masala powder – 2 teaspoon

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Jaggery – 1/4 small cube

Tamarind – 1 inch piece

Yogurt – 1 cup

Kasoori Methi (Dried Fenugreek) – 2 teaspoon

Raisins

1/4 cup Fried onions (store bought)

Though the ingredients look like a lot, most of it is easy to find in your kitchen.

Method:

For the rice:

1. The rice is best if it is cold. Use left over rice or prepare it a few hours before.

2. Wash rice thoroughly and add two cups of water (more or less depending on your cooker and type of rice. This is what works for me).

3. Cook in the pressure cooker upto three whistles or in the rice cooker until it is done.

4. If you are preparing rice especially for the biryani, you can spice it up by adding 2 green cardamoms, 1 inch cinnamon, 2-3 cloves, a handful of mint leaves and 1 teaspoon of jeera.

For the veggies:

1. Microwave the veggies until they are half done to reduce the cooking time.

2. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan. Add jeera, onions, a bit of salt and fry until light brown.

3. Add tomatoes and fry for a minute more

4. Transfer this to a mixer. Add a tablespoon of ginger garlic paste, green chillies, a handful of cashews and a few mint leaves if you like.

5. Blend it into a fine paste and set aside.

6. Next, heat oil in the pan again. Add jeera, 1-2 black cardamoms, bay leaf, cinnamon and cloves.

7. Add turmeric and the veggies. Transfer the onion tomato cashew paste. The cashews are one of the secret ingredients which give the biryani a rich taste.

8. Add pepper, paprika powder, chili powder, coriander powder, salt and mix.

9. Soak the jaggery and tamarind in 3 tbsp of water, mash it well until all the taste is transferred to this water and then add it to the vegetable mixture. This is anothe secret ingredient which gives the biryani a sweet and sour taste.

10. Add 4 tbsp of butter (another secret ingredient) and let it cook until the vegetables are done. If you have cream, you can add in a tablespoon or two at this point.

11. Once done, turn off the flame, add a cup of yogurt and crush the dried fenugreek leaves with your hands and drop them in.

12. Add deep fried onions (available in stores). This is anothe secret ingredient and makes a huge difference to the biryani.

13. Add raisins for extra taste, mix with rice and serve hot with raita.

All this is done in about 45 minutes or so and it tastes delicious. It has all the tastes at the same time and plays tricks in your mouth. Hope you like it. Do let me know how it turned out for you and what additions you made. Enjoy!

You might want to note the recipe down on printable recipe cards for future reference.

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I had been wanting to do this at the start of the Spring Semester. They say, better late than never!

School is full of happening events. Professors give you new assignments, some of them get cancelled (because of snow, maybe?), a dance event comes up, a hot guy asks you for a date and you don’t know if that is going to be a busy week! It’s always useful to record everything in a central place instead of letting them free float in your mind.

Calendar Screenshot

Click to enlarge

This excel has the remaining weeks of the Spring Semester, each page devoted to a week. It is clean and simple, with no unnecessary bells and whistles. You can have the whole week at a glance. The week begins on Mondays, which would be more appropriate for students.

I’m happy to share it with you all. Click on the link above for a preview of the calendar. You can download it from the links below. The links open in mediafire, which is a free file hosting service and is absolutely safe to download from.

Spring Calendar 2010 (Office 2007)

Spring Calendar 2010 (Office 2003)

Stay organized with it and free up your mind for other important dreams!

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With Valentine’s Day approaching, I’m sure everybody must be making plans. What is always part of the plan is something good to eat.

If you’re thinking of heading out for good food, make sure your reservations are in place!

I cannot enjoy the food if the restaurants are crowded, so this time I have decided to cook at home from a few recipes online. I always jot down the recipes on my recipe cards which go into my cute recipe box. So, while I was searching for recipe card templates today, I decided to make some of my own instead and share them with everybody!

Here are 6 recipe card templates in 4″X6″ format. Click on the pictures below to download the cards. Print them out and stick ’em onto index cards for sturdiness.

Hope they help you make memorable meals!

Recipe Cards I

Recipe Cards II

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Organize with a master grocery list and menu planner


The first step in taking charge of your finances is to make a budget. It gives you a clear idea of how much of you income is going where and what you need to cut down on. Only then can you think about saving money. Given that it is such a simple and important step, here is an excel template that makes it even easier.

This excel sheet was created by me based on another budgeting template available online the author of which is unfortunately not known.

Features of this budgeting spreadsheet:

Budgeting Template

1. Track your budget every month – There are 12 sheets for each month of the year and you can track the budget for the whole of 2010 in just one workbook. Also, it’s easier to refer to the previous months when you need to.

2. It is customizable – You can enter your checking account, savings account and credit card account names. You can add your own budget categories and their amounts.

3. Displays the amount budgeted and spent in each category – For every category you name and set a budget for, you can track your progress.

Click to enlarge

4. Summary graph of your spending – A graph in the summary page shows how your spending varies in each category every month

5. Shows your net worth – Once you enter all your accounts and their initial balances in the first month, the spreadsheet displays your net worth every month

6. Tracks your savings each month – Every dollar you enter as “Savings” in the category column is kept track of by the worksheet and is displayed at the top left corner of the page.

Click to enlarge

7. View all your account balances in one page – You don’t have to log into multiple accounts everyday. Once you have entered the initial balances, the spreadsheet automatically calculates the balances and you can see them all in one sweeping view.

8. Alerts you when you are exceeding your budget – A red box on that category immediately warns you that you are exceeding your budget allotted in this category.

Download this spreadsheet:

1. Download the spreadsheet in xlsx(Office 2007) format

OR

Download the spreadsheet in xls(Office 2003) format

How to use this spreadsheet:

Step 1: Use the categories given or add your own in the drop-down box.

You can do this using Data Validation. Also update it in the budget section.

Step 2: Add your own accounts in the Account Summary section. Also add them to the drop-down box

Step 3:. Update the initial balances. You need to do it only once. The spreadsheet will keep track of it for the rest of the months.

That’s it. You’re good to go. Start tracking your spending.

More cool features:

1. Enter the initial balances only once – Once you do it, for the rest of the year, the worksheet will work out your balances for you.

2. Change the budget amounts whenever you like – When you do, the rest of the months will reflect the changed budget.

3. There’s place to figure out your budget – There is one sheet dedicated to planning your budget where you can enter your income, see how much you need for paying bills, how much you can spend in other categories etc.

4. Formulas are protected from accidental changes– Just to prevent accidental clicking and changing of formulas, the sheets are protected. You can nevertheless type in the fields which require you to. If you however need to make some changes, you can always go to Review -> Unprotect Sheet and make them.

Hope this proves to be a useful tool. If there are any bugs or questions, please do let me know. I will address them immediately.

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Organize with a Master Grocery List and Weekly Menu planner

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vegetables-mckaysavageI hate running to the grocery store in the middle of the week. It’s both a waste of time and money. Every time we go to a store, we buy at least a couple of items not originally in the plan. So for the most part, I try to hit the stores just once a month and maybe once in between for milk and other perishable items.

Last year I decided to follow a few steps to be more organized and also save money in the process.

Two of those were to make a monthly grocery list and a weekly menu.

I have been following these two rules quite consistently for over a year and two templates have helped me tremendously in this:

Since I shop for groceries only once a month, I have to make sure I don’t forget something that might be over in a month’s time. So i rummaged through the entire kitchen and conjured a list of all the items that I had. This is my Master Grocery List. All I have to do is go over the list and check the items I need. My husband and I love it now and can’t go shopping without it. Over the year, I improved upon the list and added a few other items that I seemed to use. Feel free to download it. Since I’m Indian and I’m vegetarian, the list is customized for my needs. However, you can edit it according to your requirements and print it out.

Download the Master Grocery List

I love going to the Farmer’s market to buy vegetables. They are so fresh, plus there’s a lot of variety. Yes, they are less expensive too. Initially we had no idea of how much to buy and we’d end up wasting a few by the end of the week. Also, we would buy the same set of vegetables all the time. So I started pouring some time into making a menu for the entire week before buying the vegetables. That way, both my problems were solved. Even now, there’s a dramatic difference in the food we eat when there’s a menu and when there isn’t. I visit the farmer’s market about once every 15 days, so my weekly menu planner is good for two weeks.

Download the Weekly Menu

I’d love your feedback on these two lists. Do let me know if you find them useful and if you think any other items need to be added.

Happy Organizing!


Make My Husband Exercise

Courtesy: Dr JimiGlide

Courtesy: Dr JimiGlide

I know, it sounds funny. All resolutions are about the self. And here I am, going easy on myself and making my husband exercise instead!

No, he is not overweight and fitness is not his problem. What he needs to do are arm exercises. This is a highly personal resolution.

Some background. He fractured his shoulder about 2 months ago and it took about 6 weeks for the bone to heal. Because of the restriction in movement, the muscles have become stiff and physiotherapy should bring back the range of motion. But the physical therapist cannot do it alone. We need to be exercising regularly at home too. Which is what we don’t.

Getting his arm movement back to normal is my priority now and that is why I decided to make this my resolution.

In keeping with the guidelines I posted in my previous entry about resolution making, here’s my plan to make this work.

Analyzing the reason behind failure –Thinking about why this hasn’t been working so far is important to find a workaround. In out case, we were not exercising simply because we forgot. It was new and not part of our daily routine. So it was easy to slip out of our mind.

Action Plan

1. One at a time – One resolution is the optimal number and I am going to concentrate on nothing but this. Since it’s the beginning of the year, my temporary enthusiasm will tempt me into trying many things at once. But by now, I know better. I will resist the temptation and focus on just this goal.

2. Choosing an indivisible goal – My ultimate goal is to make his left arm move just like the right arm. This is the most basic step for that to happen. And since the time frame is about a month or two, it is perfect to qualify for a resolution.

3. Making it fun – We have decided to play a ‘simulation game’ to make him exercise. I pretend to be the physical therapist and we work just like in the actual physical therapy session. The room has all the props we have resourcefully added with everything available at home. I have a timer for the exercises(my mobile) and an ice pack to relax the sore muscles afterwards. He needs to take an appointment just like the real one. I even have a log sheet where he needs to sign in and sign out. I also record the progress in the same form. He needs to make new appointments after each session and when he misses an appointment, I charge him a penalty. If I miss the appointment, he charges me a penalty.

You can download the exercise log sheet here. It is a basic log and can be used by anybody.

4. Making it convenient – He needs to be exercising twice a day and so the best times would be right before going to bed and right after getting up. That is why, ‘my setup’ is in the bedroom itself. And we came up with the appointments to get around the problem of forgetting. Each time when we decide a convenient time, we are going to set reminders and make ourselves available at that time.

5. Laying the groundwork – Before starting, we always need to pre-prepare so that we do not have unavailability of resources as an excuse. By simulating the physical therapy environment, I have made sure that all the necessary items are in the room when we need them. I also have printed the log sheet and filed it along with a pen and have it in an easily accessible place. So, the groundwork is laid. We only need to follow it from now.

What if we fail?

We do excpect to fail at this at times. But I think it is going to be minimal because of our ‘penalty’ system. Each time he misses an appointment, I will sleep on the couch and every time I miss it, he would be sleeping on the couch. Since we both do not want the other to be uncomfortable, we sure will try our best not to miss it.

So, this is my plan and I hope we follow it. Will post the updates to this entry.

All the best for yours too and have a happy New Year!


Another year is going by and we are all making preparations for the next. This time of the year is always filled with resolutions and new found confidence that you will follow them come what may. In general, this year and every year, you plan to become more disciplined and more awesome!

But … How many have honestly followed a resolution? Well, truth is bitter.

Why do resolutions fail?

1. There are too many – Seriously, our small brain cannot hold those many at once and follow all of them. We are bound to sideline some of them. The optimal number, I would think is just one at a time.

2. Self talk does not work – Can you keep saying to yourself that you will do a task regularly? It is not long before my own mind starts to ignore me. How consistently can I keep writing to myself that I am going to follow my resolution and put them where I can see them? Before long, I will walk right past it without even noticing. Such measures honestly don’t work.

3. The problem always lies elsewhere – There are so many steps to a goal and the reason for failure is always a basic problem lurking somewhere in the process.

For example, if my resolution is not to eat out often and I fail to do it, it is mostly because I would have come home tired and not found anything ready to eat. Being too lazy to cook then, I’d have opted to eat out.

I’d do better by deciding my resolution to be “to cook in advance” than not to eat out. The least indivisible the step is, the better is the probability that it’ll succeed.

4. It is too much of a deviation from our usual self – You are a night owl and suddenly from tomorrow, are you going to become an early riser? Is that realistic? Of course, even before you decide that, I can state you will fail. Inertia sets in and the body will resist it with all its might. We never make it easy for us to follow!

So how do we make them work?

1. Keep one resolution at a time – Enough said. That is indeed the best number. You will fare better deciding on one resolution a month than 12 all at once.

2. Make it as indivisible as possible – The ultimate goal should only be a consequence of doing something else, not a resolution by itself. Your resolution should lead to it.

For example, if I want to lose weight, a better resolution would be to go swimming. As a result of this I will lose weight. The fewer the steps involved in achieving it, the better.

3. Make it the most convenient thing for you to do – The best way to follow a resolution is to arrange everything else so that it is the next natural step to take. It will not take as much effort as required then.

For example, if I plan to journal at the end of the day, do you think I’d follow it if I keep the journal in my study room?

Instead, picture this.  I keep the journal on the bedside table next to where I sleep with a working pen next to it and a bedside lamp which I can switch off right there. How much of an effort is it then to write a line before going to sleep?

4. Pre-prepare: Have everything ready – When you plan to kick off something by January 1st, decide the steps you are going to take beforehand. If you wait until the D-day and you are clueless about what to do, you are going to lose the enthusiasm. Instead use the energy to catapult yourself by keeping all the required resources ready. Have an action plan ready, gather all the materials necessary, keep them in strategic locations, all before January 1st. That way, when you wake up to the New Year, you have everything you need to carry out your resolution.

5. Excite the inner child in you – Remember the school days when we would be excited to start school again when we bought the new books, uniforms and pens? Remember the days in kindergarten when they would make our days exciting by fun things to do like coloring, painting etc? The child still lives in us; excite it by adding fun elements into your steps to keep you going. These fun little steps should make you want to follow your goal.

If I want to lose weight, I would have a colorful chart stuck to the door with a nice felt pen beside it to chart my progress. Seeing my weight go down and down, I would definitely want to do more of it.

I would buy pretty little inexpensive boxes to make frozen dinners that would make me want to use them. Each of us will have something that will make us happy in a childlike way. Recognize it and use it.

6. Make a specific list of steps you will take – Keeping all the above factors in mind, write out a detailed plan of what actions you will take to achieve your goal, how you are going to make it easy for yourself, what materials you require, what obstacles may creep in and how you will get around them. The clearer you are, the better you will succeed.

That being said, are you going to expect a 100% success? Of course not, there will be times when we stumble, but the most important rule is to get up soon before it is out of your mind. Reading anything remotely related to your resolution and talking about it helps you not forget your goal altogether and keeps you motivated.

I hope these ideas help you. A detailed plan about my resolutions will follow soon.