Categories
Healthy living Random

Scrambled eggs in the office microwave..

Yup. It’s possible. Needs a little creative thinking, but here are the quick steps:

  1. 2 eggs into a small bowl
  2. Add some milk + butter
  3. Whisk, whisk, whisk
  4. Microwave for 30 seconds (assuming 800W power)
  5. Whisk, whisk
  6. Another 20 seconds in the microwave
  7. Whisk
  8. Now its just 5-10 seconds of microwaving and whisking. Stop when it hits your preferred runny state.

IMPORTANT:  It’s a bit like a cliff. The eggs will be runny up till a point, and then immediately become solid in the microwave. So the last step requires very careful watching and whisking.

And feel free to share other tips below.

(And thanks Daniel B for the original insight that made this possible!)

Categories
Random

The Healthy Biryani experiment..

Aneesh Varma Biryani

 

So many of you have asked for this, that I will try to remember what I did and type it out below. Unfortunately I only have pictures of the end product.. so use your imagination of the steps.

AIM:  Can Biryani be healthier?

REALITY:  Can you somehow knock 30-40% of the calories off while only sacrificing a bit of the taste?

The whole process originated from my love of Biryani and but yet not being able to freely dive into it!  So I started thinking (over several weeks infact) about how to substitute ingredients to make it healthier. Here is the recipe from the first major attempt (suggestions welcome).

(Made for 3-4 people)

1. Rice: Naturally this is one those ingredients that adds tons of carbs into the recipe, but is absolutely essential. So my alternate suggestion was:

  • Use 3 cups of Basmati (Tilda or something)
  • And 1 cup of long-grain brown or wild rice (therefore reducing carbs)
  • Also, soak the rice in cold water and rise repeatedly. Let first round soak for about 30 minutes, and then do it in increments of 5 minutes each. The aim is to really rinse out the surface starch. Keep doing it till the water becomes clear (it took my nearly 8 rounds).
  • Cook it in a lot of water (2.5 times the amount of rice) with some Bay Leaves till about its three-fourths done (ie: still a bit hard. Test if you squeeze a grain, it breaks into 3 pieces rather than crushes into a paste). Drain out all the water then.
  • Put it aside once its drained (maybe even run some cold water through it to stop the cooking process).  Also try to time yourself such that the curry (step 5 gets done just in time for the semi-cooked rice).

2. Turkey (lean mince):  A bit unconventional, but I chose to move away from Chicken (and definitely lamb) to Turkey which is a leaner meat. I also tried to find an extremely lean mince version. In all it worked well — so dont worry. Get about 500 gms.

3. Ingredients for the process:

  • Garlic (4-5 pods) – finely chopped
  • Ginger (2 inches) – finely chopped
  • Onions (Red ideally) — 2 big ones, chopped
  • Shallots (optional) — 1 or 2 — thin long slices (mostly for garnishing). Can mix in with some onions here too.
  • Yogurt (again, chose to go for Low Fat, Greek version is better)
  • Mint leaves (dried, you can do this in the oven too!)
  • Chillies (as you prefer)
  • Raisins (handful, up to taste)
  • A little bit of milk
  • Saffron (3-4 strands)
  • Bay Leaves (optional)
  • Shan Biryani mix (its a bit of a cheat, but otherwise you can get the raw ingredients like Garam Masala and tamarind to mix together). Google around — you will find some pictures of this. Its very widely available in UK and US supermarkets.

(And dont even think about Tomatoes!  I dont know who has been advocating adding tomatoes to biryani)

4. Philosophy:  This is important stuff.

My biryani has always been a layered biryani with Rice + curry + rice + curry and so on.. And then the whole thing cooks slowly for the last 20 minutes to get the rice to cook. This also gives it the characteristic white, yellow, orange and red rice tones.

Some other people like to mix the rice and curry together and make a different type of biryani. I dont particularly like that style — I call that more of a pilaf.

5. The curry:  Its important that this curry stays a bit dry, otherwise the whole biryani experience becomes mushy (the rice should stay separate at the end, therefore curry has to be relatively dry).

  • Start with low fat oil (minimal required) to get the chopped onions, garlic, ginger going (Pro Tip: You can add Star Anise and Cloves at this stage, optional)
  • Once they start browning well, add in the minced turkey (drain out as much water prior to this)
  • When the mix starts getting brownish (golden) — then add in 4 tea spoons of the Shan Biryani Spice Mix (some people suggest using more, up to you). If you are doing it the old-fashioned way, add in the Garam masala now with a bit of the tamarind
  • Keep cooking for another 5-7 minutes as the spices get cooked and mixed in well with the turkey.
  • Slowly start adding a bit of water (less than a cup) and a bit of yogurt (1-2 table spoons) to start forming a dry curry paste. It is very important you manage this process well to ensure it doesnt get too “liquidy”
  • Throw in some raisins at this stage as you start feeling that the mix is hitting the right consistency. The sauce should be thick.

6. The layering:

  • As you get to this stage, turn on the oven to 180C with Fan. Put some of those long cut shallots in there and let them get cooked (its a healthier way to to a saute). Takes 2-3 minutes at most and no oil used!
  • Meanwhile, take a large baking tray (pyrex) or you can split it over 2-3 smaller ones.
  • The first layer has to be the traditional “ghee” layer. However, in this version I took melted reduced fat butter (margarine) and mixed it with olive oil to give it that same effect. Big saving on calories here!
  • After you have greased the bottom of the dish, add a layer of your semi-cooked rice, and then a thin layer of the curry mix. Try to get some of the Bay Leaves in there too.
  • At this stage, I chose to put a very thin layer of yogurt and some of those dried mint leaves (you can add more raisins too).
  • By now your shallots must be ready, so get them out and sprinkle half of it on this layer.
  • Then add the second layer of rice and the remaining curry mix and more shallots. (I typically aim for 2 rice + 2 curry layers, though you can do 3 + 3 as well I am sure)
  • At the very top, just pour in a bit more of the Oil + Butter mix (optional).
  • Finally, take some of the saffron and mix it with 3-4 table spoons of milk. The milk will take on this strong orange-red colour and has a distinct smell. This is your final topping that you can “throw around” over the mix below. Apart from the sporadic colour blots in the biryani, it also adds a gentle sweetness (along with the raisins and shallots). That balance of taste is quite important (and part of my philosophy that good biryani is only made by layering — see point 4).
  • Just make sure that there is not too much liquid accumulating at the bottom of the mix (having a transparent glass pyrex dish helps).

7. The baking:

  • People on the internet talk about all types of complex methods to use flour mix to cover etc —- I think its too much. Just cover with a aluminium foil and stick it in the oven (which you might want to lower to about 160C and no fan).
  • Keep an eye on it, typically I find that 10-15 minutes is enough and then then let it sit there and rest for another 20-30 minutes in the residual heat. Some people have a habit of giving it a bit of a mix at this stage, to get the layers to start mixing.. that is up to you.

 

You can top it up with some more “saute-oven” shallots if you have.. and also crush over some dried mint leaves.

A good raita here is absolutely essential. If nothing else, just do these 5 steps to get a basic raita:

Yogurt mixed with Salt + Pepper + Paprika + Dried mint leaves crushed + Touch of garam masala!

Hope it works out for you guys.. Biryani is one of those things that gets better the next day after a night in the fridge.. so I tend to make a bit more.

Give me any other suggestions from your own experiments to make it any healthier if you can. My end product looked like this (you can see the different colours of rice in there.. 50 shades of orange!)

Categories
General Healthy living Random Travels

The amazing things I ate in 2011 ..a foodie reflection


Not everything amazing I ate was captured as a picture (eg: Borough Market) — but here are some of them that I did manage to take a picture of:

Wiener Schnitzel in Vienna at the famous Figmuller ... its was so large, it didnt fit in the plate
Wiener Schnitzel in Vienna at the famous Figmuller ... its was so large, it didnt fit in the plate
KFC Biscuits.. so good! (in Hong Kong)
KFC Biscuits.. so good! (in Hong Kong)
This was at a great restaurant in London called Manaa. Its a coconut + Mango mix. Just unbelievable (great restaurant too, must go for all)
This was at a great restaurant in London called Manaa. Its a coconut + Mango mix. Just unbelievable (great restaurant too, must go for all)
Chirashi from Wasabi.. always good
Chirashi from Wasabi.. always good
Wonton soup in Hong Kong IFC (4th floor).
Wonton soup in Hong Kong IFC (4th floor).
Most amazing Macaroons (At Le Gouter Bernardaud in Hong Kong IFC)
Most amazing Macaroons (At Le Gouter Bernardaud in Hong Kong IFC)
Black Bean chicken.. (Guangzhou China)
Black Bean chicken.. (Guangzhou China)
Biryani.. a Varma & Varma Production
Biryani.. a Varma & Varma Production
Dal Makhani from Dishoom in London (must go for Indian food lovers)
Dal Makhani from Dishoom in London (must go for Indian food lovers)
Experimental cooking at home. I remember it being very good - no idea what it was..
Experimental cooking at home. I remember it being very good - no idea what it was..
Chocolate Custard cake (somewhere in Asia)
Chocolate Custard cake (somewhere in Asia)
Mongolian lamp bake wrap thing
Mongolian lamp bake wrap thing
Korean hot bowl
Korean hot bowl
BBQ Pork -- Chinese style
BBQ Pork -- Chinese style
Grilled Red Snapper
Grilled Red Snapper
The most chocalatey cake ever.. thats all I remember
The most chocalatey cake ever.. thats all I remember
A Haagen Daas creation (China)
A Haagen Daas creation (China)
Fresh Coconut guy (India)
Fresh Coconut guy (India)
Aloe Vera Drink in Asia
Aloe Vera Drink in Asia
Crepes near Hampstead (London)
Crepes near Hampstead (London)
Indian Papri Chat.. essential
Indian Papri Chat.. essential
Malini Mami's Butter Chicken..
Malini Mami's Butter Chicken..
World best sandwich from Fine Foods Deli near London Bridge
World best sandwich from Fine Foods Deli near London Bridge
Cheesecake.. (obviously has to be on my list)
Cheesecake.. (obviously has to be on my list)
Som Tam.. extra spicy
Som Tam.. extra spicy
Some gigantic fruit in Asia (if you know the name, please let me know)
Some gigantic fruit in Asia (if you know the name, please let me know)
Coconut-style indian curry from Masala Zone in London
Coconut-style indian curry from Masala Zone in London
Kebab lovers paradise somewhere in Southall
Kebab lovers paradise somewhere in Southall
Pav Bhaji in Mumbai (had to try the local cuisine)
Pav Bhaji in Mumbai (had to try the local cuisine)
Guacamole from Chipotle in London (also should mention Tekila in Guangzhou which had fresh Guacamole)
Guacamole from Chipotle in London (also should mention Tekila in Guangzhou which had fresh Guacamole)
Categories
Travels

Japan: Travel advice and tips

A lot of you have asked for this – so I made it publicly available

Start with Tokyo
(Narita Airport Landing. Caution – Narita Airport, though serves Tokyo, is almost 2 hours away despite excellent train lines. Do not take a cab – it’s quite expensive. Trains are very well-organized)
Tokyo is a very fast-moving and crowded city. It has all the modern flavours of a typical western capital. But in midst of all the modernity is eclipsed the real and traditional Japan which most foreigners would love to see.
So all tourists begin with a sightseeing tour of Tokyo. As Tokyo has been a cultural, political and economic centre of Japan since 1603, it has some places of interest. Though Tokyo has been destroyed many times by fire, earthquake and bombing , it has risen from its ashes.Must see places in Tokyo are:The Nijubashi Bridge
    • Meiji Shrine
    • Shinobazu Pond In Ueno area, the most interesting is the traditional entertainment area Asakusa. This has been the Japanese amusement area in Tokyo for centuries. There is also a temple here.
  • One can also take a one day trip to Nikko National Park which is a popular resort area and is located about 150 kms north of Tokyo. It can be reached both by train and car.
  • Another day tour can be made to Kamakura and can be reached by train in about one hour. The city is full of ancient temples and shrines. It has one of the biggest bronze statues of Buddha.
Apart from seeing the old Japan , Tokyo has one of the its most bustling , colourful and lively area called Shinjuku. It has  the worlds busiest pedestrian crossing almost from eight sides (which is often highlighted in broadcast media). Its metro stations are so crowded during peak hours that professional pushers are employed to gently elbow the people in. You see Japanese life in all its shades and forms here.

Phase 2 of the trip to the Kansai area
South of Tokyo, about 500 kms, 3-4 hrs by Bullet train –
Shinkansen.
Major cities are
Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe

It’s important to go to Nara.

For 1000 yrs, Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan. As it was not bombed during the second world war, the whole ancient city has been well-preserved.
    • Higashi Honganji
    • Kinkakuji
    • Sanjusan gendo,
    • Cherry blossoms in April at Heinan Shrine and beautiful maple trees seen all over the city during the fall season (The cherry blossoms might work well with the timing of your trip. Its quite a sight that Japanese people yearn for themselves)
Kyotoso many traditional Japanese gardens which make the city cheerful and relaxed. The Japanese gardens are basicall two types- the
    • Daisen-in
    • And the very famous rock and sand garden at
  • Also a must do thing in Kyoto is to walk through its ancient market places which are usually located in and around the temples.
  • The traditional Japanese inn called
  • Must try the
Moving on to This is the one place a lot of people miss out. Must go.
    • Kofukuji
    • Yakushiji
    • Toshodai-ji
    • Kasuga

Some of them have paintings and sculptures which have been declared national treasures. The citys mascot is deer and no wonder you find deers crossing in front of your cars. They come trailing behind you in the Nara Park often looking for some food. They are docile and friendly.

  • While in Japan one must see the ancient performing arts like
  • Also while in Kyoto must take part in a tea ceremony called Chanoyu. It is meant for relaxing the mind and to appreciate the natural beauty around while sitting in midst of a garden.
  • Awaji Bridge is another thing you can add-on if you have time. Its a feat of engineering – but might not interest everyone.

You should be able to fly out of Osaka (Kansai) airport. It’s connected to most of the worlds large airports.

Hope you enjoy your trip. This note is more of a guidance of things to incorporate – you might however find that your Japanese travels open up to new places that you would like to share back with us too. Enjoy

Credit to Alka Varma (
Categories
Technology

Changing scene of Ecommerce in the UK – December 2009

As you know we are quite eagerly focused on Ecommerce especially in this market environment since its essentially equivalent to adding a sales team online without the real estate and personnel costs.

I recently attended a very good summit on Ecommerce (Hosted by Bryan Garnier) at the Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair London (with a Bugatti Veyron out front – see my Flickr). The conference was attended by some of the leading ecommerce companies in Europe as part of the panel:

  • SeatWave (CEO, Joe Cohen): They are a fan-to-fan ticket exchange (secondary market for tickets for events, concerts, sports)
  • Wonga(CEO, Errol Damelin): It allows consumers to get short term cash loans
  • ZooPlus(CEO, Cornelius Patt): German ecommerce dedicated for Pets accessories and stuff
  • Google was also there to talk about Analytics and ecommerce side of things from their perspective. (Head of ecommerce partnerships, Adrian Blair)

The audience had many of the leading VCs.

Here are some of our notes.

  • For Ecommerce, Search Marketing is ABSOLUTELY Crucial.
    • It is something you HAVE to get right – there is no margin that SEO or PPC not working for ecommerce companies.
    • Most common business model in ecommerce is that you bring in the user from PPC for the right word, and ensure that you can convert that “lead” into a sale and the PPC than becomes Cost of Customer Acquisition
  • An interesting metric to measure your success as a brand is called:  Net Promoter RankIts basically a measure of how many people would recommend / promote your service to their friends
    • For companies that are selling online, this becomes a big metric
  • When buying for PPC ads – do consider the Long Tail effect, that cheaper words at the end of the tail might be more fruitful. The Google guy suggested that upto 20% of searches on google daily have never been done before (strange stat?)
  • Web is becoming real-time. The Marketing on the web has to become real time too
    • For a company that is dependent on social trends, they have to adapt their marketing rather fast to these changes
    • eg: Seatwave saw that a documentary on Rod Stewart on ITV sent the internet searches related to their concerts soaring. They quickly started buying more keywords (PPC) in that area and brought in additional revenue on the back of that ITV documentary. Real time, flexible, nimble.
  • The CEO of Wonga (Errol Damelin) made a statement: You can pretty much buy everything online now. So the real challenge for ecommerce companies is now differentiation and price comparison
  • Google commented that Google Analytics has really helped observe the user behaviour on the site and how to improve the Conversions of Visitors to Buyers (the others all agreed that Google Analytics has been a game changer)
  • The User Experience and adaptation to the International aspects was also discussed as a great example of how to maximize revenues. What works in the US does not work in Europe (and we know that by looking at the designs of US sites vs. European sites)
  • Fulfillment use to be the biggest struggle – but now isnt even issue for all ecommerce companies. Some of them are selling digital products, so there is instant online fulfillment like e-tickets, vouchers or even cash (eg: Wonga).

So in a nutshell, I think there is a lot of scope for Ecommerce to grow. One of the comments in the summit that really stuck with me, was that the internet industry is still very young (at most 15 years old) – and if you compare that to the automotive or aircraft industry – you realise… that the web is just about becoming a teenager.. with skin acne, some hormonal rushes… and lot more need to grow and mature!

Written in Dec 2009

Categories
Gaming

Core elements of Game Design (from Ernest Adams, NASSCOM 7th November 2009)

I attended the NASSCOM Summit in this past week (November 6th & 7th) on Gaming and Animation as part of my trip arranged by the British Council for UK’s Young Interactive Entrepreneur 2009 program. The conference was a good gathering of the who’s who in the gaming and animation sector in India and also brought about some interesting dialogues through the various forums and panels.

The key note speaker on Day 2 was Ernest Adams who is a well known authority on game design, author, co-founder of the International Game Developers Association, and a regular lecturer at the Game Developers Conference. Ernest has been a lead designer at Bullfrog Productions, and the audio/video producer on the Madden NFL product line.

He has developed games for the IBM 360 mainframe, the Playstation 2, and many other platforms. He is a member of the International Hobo game design and narrative consultancy. Adams’ is the author of “Break Into The Game Industry: How to Get A Job Making Video Games”. He also wrote two books with Andrew Rollings. Their 1st was “Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design”. They followed it with “Fundamentals of Game Design”, part of the “Game Design and Development Series” in 2006.

Summarized below are some of the points from his keynote presentation. While I disclaim that this is an effort to capture all his key points, I hope its a useful summary of his speech (His lectures can be found here)

Ernest started with a very simple but important topic: How does a game entertain its players?
He went on to list some of elements that help create that entertainment value. These might not all apply to all games, but its easy to see that most successful games have covered several of these bases.
▪    Game Play remains the most important aspect. Content is king.
▪    Story is equally paramount to get the user to be entrenched in the game
▪    Exploration adds the required challenge and curiosity
▪    Progression: Hardness, new avatars
▪    Risk & Reward: Again fundamental to user experience
▪    Novelty
▪    Learning
▪    Creativity
▪    Role Playing
▪    Socializing: This is becoming a bigger factor in recent years with the growth of social gaming platform whether on social networks or otherwise with increased connectivity.

One of the issues that Ernest reasoned is important in the growth of the gaming industry is to be able to start creating long games (those that are beyond 12-15 hours). So it raised the obvious question of how to make games longer?
▪    Themes & Variations
▪    New Challenges & Complexities
▪    Progression: Difficulty should increase steadily, not spikily. Character upgrades – Power Up, New moves
▪    Good Pacing: Periods of high activity, low activity
▪    Change Setting
▪    Player Achievements changes story plot (adaptive games)

One fundamental issue that Ernest highlighted was that the very core DNA of short games is different than long games. You cannot just extend a short game to make it a successful long game. And the rationale is in the purpose with which each of these type of games are made: Short games vs Long Games
▪    Short games are intended to be played repeatedly, but yet should be different at every start (i.e.: shuffle a deck of cards)
▪    Long games are once through and never back. Should be realistic goal – but yet challenging.

So what is so unique about Long Games. What makes them its own special class of games?
▪    Long games are a means of escaping reality – bring a dream to live
▪    Reward the investment of time from the player. Let them live something they cant do in live (e.g.: own a farm, own a team, be a F1 racer)
▪    Take care of your players – User Interface and usability is key
▪    Usual budgets of about 5-10mm (EA, Ubisoft, Namco)

Player-Centric Game Design: Actions and game play arise out of the players choices

Animation is also something that game designers have to be extra cautious, especially in this increasingly competitive environment.
Expect users to try to do weird things. Smooth transitions are your saviour.
e.g.: what happens when a character is jumping, and a user presses Crouch. Be ready for that

In Story Telling, animation is controlled. However in gaming, animation has to be ready to adapt to changing demands of the users.
Animation data is stored on the objects, not on the game. Each object has its own dynamics, behaviour, procedural animations.
This has led to the following features in the development cycle:
▪    Inverse Kinematics – Produces graphics on the go (i.e.: the characters shouldn’t have their feet sink into the floor as they walk up the stairs)
▪    Ragdoll Physics – Falling and Gravity
▪    True Locomotion – Speed of character moving should match the speed at which their legs are moving (i.e.: the Skating effect is unwanted)
(Games now create character animations on the go. However there are often pre-rendered motion graphics).

There are only two film companies that have made it in the game area, Lucas Arts and Disney. And this has been because they understand software engineering and not just creative and animation.

Ernest also talked about major challenge for the Gaming industry is: “How do you go from Outsourcing to IP development?”
▪    Design a brand
▪    Begin with characters – create a character that is a strong symbol of the game (i.e.: Lara Croft)
▪    Requires more dedication as a Game Publisher than a Game Service Provider
▪    Everything matters, anything can make it fail
▪    Skilled game producers – if you don’t have them, get them from somewhere (internationally)
▪    Testing, tuning and polishing – spend 50% of time on this. The difference between a good game and a bad game – is the amount of QA and refinement
▪    If development is N days. Then testing & polishing is 2N day.
▪    Don’t promise what you cant do: Don’t hurt your reputation if you cant do. Honesty wins
▪    Know your audience tastes. Understand local styles of entertainment – what works in India is because India works that way. You cant just bring in western thinking and implement. e.g.: German games don’t have blood. British sense of humour is different than American.
▪    Don’t hire just gamers, hire game developers (its a different thing)
▪    Don’t copy – improve
▪    New features alone are not improvement. Do things better, faster, richly, cleaner. Fix the issues – don’t just add things.
▪    If you cant do a thing well – then don’t do it all. A smaller beautifully built and polished game is better than an average longer game

How do you transition into a Game Publisher in a couple years (i.e.: 5 years rather than 30 years):
▪    Education towards Game Development: Education provides a place where students can make risk free mistakes and grow.
(See Ernest Adams 10 Game Development Commandments)

▪    Professional game development training: There are experts and freelancers to teach large scale asset management, SCRUM management, division of tasks

Ernest concluded that the promise of India is still very much there and infact its threefold:
I.    Talent: This is a country with a lot of very talented people: arts, engineering, design, language and education. And it helps that India is an English speaking country
II.    Markets: Don’t just aim at the US & EU are target markets. There are sufficient pockets in your own country. The top 25% of Indian population is larger than the entire US. The early market movers are ready to take advantage. Make games for your own market.
III.    Culture: Don’t overlook your own culture. India invented Chess, Snakes & Ladders, Pachisi… game is part of the Indian culture.

The core issue right now is that game design industry needs experience – but that will come with training and time. Till then its prudent that they the steps to help foster the culture of game design by looking inwards as well as outwards and attract talent where required.

Game companies are mostly making games based on North American stories (i.e.: Tolkien) and a bit from Japan (medieval & shogun). The rest of the world’s stories never make their way into game. What happened to Mahabharat, Ramayana… the opportunity beckons…

P.S.: Of the all the questions he got at the end of the speech, probably the most interesting one was about some of his all time favourite games. To which he replied: “Tetris. Its absolutely perfect. Its simple. If you make any changes to it – you will make it worse”

Categories
General

Starting a blog

So guys – everyone has twisted my arm into starting a blog.. so here we go!