Saturday, 25 October 2008

Tandoori Chicken Recipe

Tandoori Chicken simply means oven chicken. The name indicates the origins of the dish. It is chicken cooked in a traditional tandoor - a cylindrical clay wood or charcoal burning oven. The tandoor can reach very high temperatures, but tandoori chicken can be cooked to perfection in a slow pre-heated oven.

Tandoori chicken is one of Northern India's classic dishes. The results are always mouth-watering and your guests will never be disapointed.


1 large chicken

The Marinade:
1 tub of Plain yoghurt
1 table spoon of garlic powder (or 3 to 4 cloves garlic - minced)
2 table spoons of coriander
a pinch (1/4 teaspoon) of turmeric
1 table spoon of mustard seed or mustard powder
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of chilli powder
1 table spoon of ground ginger
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamon
3 to 4 table spoons of paprika (for a good red colour)
The juice of 2 lemons
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil to baste

There are a number of ready mixed Tandoori chicken mixtures on the market. If the ingredients resemble those above then try it out. But the best is generally to maske your own mixture.

For Garnish:
Lemon wedges
Fresh parsley

To serve:
Rice is optional, as tandoori chicken is generally served with a traditional bread called a papad. This is quite a thick and fluffy bread.

Basmati Rice is ideal, but plain white rice cooked with a little turmeric will also do.
A fresh garden salad
A cucumber salad may be served with very thinly sliced cucumber with a little lightly spiced plain yoghurt. To spice use a little garam masalla.

If you are using fresh ingredients then make sure that these are finely crushed. Mix the spices together and roast them for a minute on a low heat. Roasting the spices brings out the flavour.

Place the spices in a bowl and mix thoroughly with the yoghurt.

The chicken may be kept whole or cut into quarters. Skin the chicken. Make a number of diagonal incisions into the breast and legs of the chicken. Take the mixture and rub it into the chicken making sure that the chicken is completely saturated. Make sure that the marinade has been rubbed into the incisions. Place the chicken in the fridge and leave to marinade for the next 24 hours turning several times. If you do not have enough time then two hours is the minimum.

To cook:
Place the chicken into a roasting dish and place in a pre-heated oven at about 150 degrees centigrade. Allow to cook for about two hours or until the chicken is dry and looks a deep red. Remove the chicken from the oven and squeeze two lemons over the chicken to provide a glaze. Replace the chicken back into the oven and cook for another ten minutes.

Garnish with the parsley and lemon wedges. Serve with the rice, the papads and the salads.

Once you have tried this recipe, you can attempt a whole range of variations. Everything remains the same except for the cooking method. A rotisserie over a charcoal barbecue produces wonderful results with this recipe. Alternatively use chicken pieces and cook over a wood or charcoal barbeque. To make the most delicious kebabs, cut the chicken into cubes and put onto skewers before adding the marinade. The kebabs may be barbequed of grilled.

I no longer use yoghurt for my Tandoori Chicken. I have gone kosher - milk and meat can never be mixed. But there are choices! I have used lemon juice as a substitute, or coconut milk and even orly whip. The results are still awesome!

Whichever method you choose you can hardly go wrong!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Financial rescue packages fail to restore confidence

The world has been reeling from the aftermath of the sub-prime crisis. The offending banks have been coming very close to insolvency. Banks will not lend to each other. Governments are panicking. The markets are panicking.

The banks have survived. Governments around the world led by the US have bailed out many of the offenders. George W Bush has pushed through a $700 billion rescue package. Other countries have followed. Interest rates have been cut.

But each rescue plan is followed by even greater panic. The sell-off continues. The markets' response reflects the fact that all the measures taken so far have been panic measures. Panic measures do not inspire confidence. If the government is panicking, why should investors feel confident?

Each action seems only to increase market anxiety. Each government move is followed by frenzied selling. There has been talk of depression.

Handouts to business have not impressed or reassured investors. Confidence has not been restored.

What is next on the agenda?

South Africa: Democracy wins

There has been a huge amount of controversy surrounding the change of leadership at the ANC conference last December. The party was effectively split into two camps. The Jacob Zuma camp won all the key posts in the organisation. The new president of the ANC Youth League is one Julius Malema. Lacking education and refinement, be has become the personification of the new leadership. He has promised to "kill for Zuma" and "eliminate the counter-revolutionary forces". The counter revolutionaries include the judiciary, the constitutional court judges and anyone that does not support Jacob Zuma.

One of the main objectives of this new leadership is to keep Jacob Zuma and the corruption allegations away from the courts. They want to find a "political solution".

The ousted ANC establishment remained silent for a few months. Then Lekota spoke out. He wrote an open letter to the ANC pointing out issues regarding long established ANC principles and policies. He was shouted down and showered with insults. As a result Mosiuoa Lekota called a press conference. Divorce papers have been served. The formation of a new party loyal to traditional ANC principles appears imminent.

The ANC seems to have been taken by surprise. Overtures have been made to try to keep the dissidents within the fold. But perhaps this is too little, too late. There seems to be a ground-swell of support for the new formation.

The ANC currently hold a 2/3 majority in parliament. The new leadership have been confident of maintaining and even increasing this majority. The new leadership's belief that the ANC could not lose promoted an excess of confidence and arrogance.

If the breakaway party goes ahead, then the next election should usher in a new era in democratic South Africa. This future will be one where the ruling party has at most a reduced majority. There is even a possibility that no party will hold an absolute majority.

To date, the opposition parties have had little impact. The Democratic Alliance is seen as a white party. The breakaway could change all of that.

This is good for democracy and provides renewed hope for the future of South Africa.

Monday, 06 October 2008

Photography in the digital age

Digital photography represents freedom to the photographer. Freedom from film. Freedom to shoot whenever and wherever. Freedom to use your pictures instantly. Freedom from the Dark Room! The photographer can print directly from the digital camera to the printer. Photographs can be posted to an on-line gallery, distributed and shared with the world - all the the click of a mouse. Life, for the digital photographer, has become much simpler and much less expensive!

Photography remained very much the same for many years. The technology improved, light meters became more accurate and electronics began to play a major part with automatic exposure, auto-focus, and the ability to imprint a name or a date on a photograph.

Through all these changes, the basic principles remained the same. Film at the back of the camera captured the image that came through the lens when the shutter opened and shut. Film was developed through immersion in a series of chemical baths. The outcome was either positive images (slides) or negatives that had to be printed on special photographic paper. Processing was done in a dark - either in an automated machine or in the dark-room.

As the digital age dawned, it became possible to scan the photographs onto a computer. Images could be manipulated on a computer screen using a number of editing techniques. Exposure errors could be corrected, colours could be changed, and pictures could be cropped, enlarged and touched up. Share photo's over the Internet or sending them by email became popular. Instead of printing pictures, they could be scanned directly to a CD. Photo sharing had arrived.

Digital cameras seemed a long time coming. The earliest of these had low resolution, and an annoying delay between pressing the shutter and the picture being captured. These rather primitive devices produced poor to average results at a high initial cost. Far superior film cameras were still available at a much lower price. But not for long! As with all things digital, as the quality has improved, the price has dropped. The range of digital cameras available today rivals - probably exceeds - the traditional film camera.

Before long, almost every cell-phone included a digital camera. Initially these were low resolution - great for snap-shots but not much else.

Today, each new camera offers more for less. Digital cameras are available with resolutions that match the resolution of film.

My Canon SLR is capable of taking some very good photos. But, it uses film! This has become my reserve camera, only for use for special events. For most purposes it has become obsolete.

The camera that I use the most doubles up as a cell phone! The 5 mega pixel resolution is good enough for most purposes. It can do almost anything - compensate for exposure, change the medium to black and white, adjust the colour balance and so on. With 1 GB of memory, hundreds of photographs can be taken before the space is used up. Of course it has limitations. The Carl Zeiss lens is a high quality lens but is rather small. There is no optical zoom, which means that zooming-in loses resolution.

Digital photography has given us a new freedom with photography. Not restricted by film size, we can shoot until we get it right. We can experiment without any cost penalty. Photography in low light conditions is easy with or without a flash.

Of course the camera is always with me. If I spot something I want to shoot, then I shoot! There is no cost for shooting more. Apart from the cost of the camera, photographs are free. Most are loaded onto the computer and shared on the Web. A select few are printed at minimal cost. There is no developing charge and no cost of film.

Digital photography has freed me! The dark room is gone, and my old enlarger gathers more and more dust as the years pass.

But there is a down side. Everyone has a digital camera. Many take dozens of pictures at every event. These near identical pictures are shared on Face Book. The same 150 identical pictures are emailed to all and sundry. The ease of point-and-shoot has led to some rather sloppy photography. Blurred pictures, red-eye and camera shake don't worry the photographers. Every picture is posted and shared.

Digital photography is both a blessing and a curse. For me it is mostly a blessing. Cell-phone photography is in its infancy, but with five mega-pixels, I have little need for anything else. Apart from printing a few enlargements for an artist's portfolio, I rarely need to spend money on a hobby that used to be very expensive!

Saturday, 04 October 2008

The best free photo editing software

Most digital cameras come with free software to allow editing of digital photos. Most of these are extremely limited in what you can do. For a simple, easy-to-use photo editor have a look at Picasa2 - a totally free product available from Google.

The free offerings from Kodak and Adobe allow for pictures to be cropped and rotated, correction of colour balance, bightness and contrast and little else. Picasa has some additional features. Pictures can be straightened - anything from 0 to 360 degrees. Straightening a picture is simply controlled using a single lever.

Picassa allows for pictures to be converted to black and white, sepia, soft focus, tint, soft focus, filtered black and white, and focal balck and white. All very useful functions. The tuning option makes provision for fill light to be added, highlights and shadows may be accentuated and the colour temperature adjucted.

Of course there are a number of even simpler adjustments that can be applied automatically. Redeye makes it simple to elimitate the annoying red eyes common with flash photography. I'm feeling lucky allows Picasa to make the decisions. Auto-contrast, auto-colour and the fill light lever complete the offerings of the editor. Use the collage function to create a collage of your photos.

To start, Picasa2 will search your computer for all pictures. Picasa creates a gallery that is quick and easy to navigate through. Information about the camera used and date are maintained and a facility to add additional albums and sort by category is included. Finally, it is easy to share photos, upload them to the web and to upload a slide-show for your web-site.

I have been using PaintShop Pro for many years. It is still one of the best photo editors available on the market. It is not a free product but allows for complete professional editing of photos and graphics of any kind.

Gimp is an open source product that can do everything that PaintShop Pro can do - perhaps even more - for free. For professional work, Gimp is highly recommended. My own experience with the product is limited. For my purposes, Picasa is usually enough. But if you need to seriously touch up a picture, airbrush a face, change the perspective or almost anything else then Gimp is the answer.

Picasa is great for the layman and for enhancing and cropping your pictures with great ease. Gimp is a professional graphics editor offering much more functionality. Picasa allows you to become familiar with all its features within a few minutes. A very cleverly designed application that can be used by anyone from a professional to an amature.

Expect to spend a couple of hours exploring Gimp's rich array of features and learning how to use the product. Once mastered, you will be able to produce truly professional pictures.

Tips for better holiday photographs

Holidays are over all too soon leaving only memories memories that can be re-awakened by great photos! To make the most of your holiday snaps, follow a few simple rules.

Carry a camera with you at all times! Opportunities for pictures present themselves unexpectedly. A simple cell-phone camera is extremely mobile and can do the job. Keep the SLR for special occasions. The Nokia N95 comes with a 5 mega pixel camera that can produce excellent results.

Look after your camera and remember to protect it from sand and sea water at all times! The last thing you want is to lose the camera and your precious pictures.

Ensure that you have enough memory (or film) to take as many pictures as you want, and don't forget to charge the batteries. An extra memory card may be the answer.

Before you go, spend time with your camera. Get to know what it can do. Many cameras have special settings for landscapes, portraits, close-ups and night scenes. These can help produce great results.

A common holiday maker mistake is to try to capture people and landscapes in one shot - for instance the spouse or kids posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. Both lose out! A good rule of thumb is that people photos should focus on people. The person should be the main object. The pyramids make a great backdrop, but don't try to do both. Spontaneous people pictures are often the most memorable. Children caught at play, people admiring an unusual scene and people celebrating. If you have a zoom option, then keep your distance and zoom in on unsuspecting subjects and capture the moment!

Children can be photographed in almost any lighting conditions, but older people benefit from indirect lighting. Back lighting only works if you adjust the exposure to suit the portrait or use a fill-in flash.

Holidays are often spent in beautiful - perhaps spectacular surroundings. Look through the camera to find interesting shots. Experiment with different angles. If your friends or family are with you let them explore the scene and capture them as part of the shot. A person near a pyramid provides a sense of perspective. The time of day can make a huge difference to the results. Look at the lighting, and try to avoid huge contrasts. Our eyes adjust easily from strong sunshine to a dark shadow. Cameras don't manage these that well. Your camera will respond differently to the same scene at different times of day.

Events and celebrations benefit from lots of photographs. Too many is better than too few. More is more! Most modern digital cameras perform well in at night with or without a flash.

Back at home, touch-up you pictures. Red-eye reduction, changing the brightness, contrast and colour saturation can enhance them. Crop photos to focus in on an interesting detail. Great holiday shots make calendars, key-holders or table mats. Print some enlargements and laminate them for stunning results!

Friday, 03 October 2008

Can a cell phone replace your digital camera?

Many photographers will dismiss the idea of using a cell phone camera to replace a digital camera without much thought. To them, a cell phone camera is nothing more than a sophisticated toy, incapable of taking serious pictures. But cell phones using the latest technology are able to compete very seriously against the more moderately priced digital cameras.

I use my cell phone almost exclusively as my digital camera. A cell phone has one advantage over a digital camera that is impossible to beat. It is always available. It goes everywhere with me and can be used as a camera whenever opportunity knocks. The technology now available means that cell phone photography can be used for much more than simple snap-shots. My phone is a Nokia N95. It comes standard with a 5 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens and a 1 GB memory card. This arrangement suits me more than any camera that I have previously owned.

My cell phone pictures are used on my various web sites as well as tom promote various art works. 5 Megapixels provides a resolution that is more than enough for most day to day purposes.

As technology continues its rapid development, cell phone cameras improve by an equal measure. 10 megapixel cell phone cameras have already been launched onto the Japanese market.

The Nokia N95 camera has some impressive features.

The large screen provides an excellent preview of the scene to be captured. The camera includes auto-focus and auto exposure. The automatic flash includes a manual override.

The camera has a variety of modes for shooting under different conditions and subject matters.

The close-up mode allows for crystal clear pictures of tiny flowers or similar items from 10 to 60 cm. There is no difference between this and the macro facility on a sophisticated camera.

The portrait mode quickly provides the right settings for portrait photography. In addition, the flash may be used for fill-in lighting.

The landscape option provides the best settings for shooting landscapes.

Other settings include the sports setting; this apparently uses fast shutter speeds to freeze action onto an image.

The night mode makes using available light simple and effective while the night portrait option allows for fill-in flash for low-light night shots. The flash settings include red-eye prevention.

To make things really easy, there is an automatic mode that selects the right setting for you.

The camera is able to achieve quality results in almost any lighting conditions with or without the flash.

Another fairly sophisticated feature is the sequence mode. Burst captures six (or more) images in rapid succession - great for recording rapid movement in stills! Other options allow for a picture to be taken automatically at a variety of time sequences ranging from 10 seconds to 30 minutes. The sequence shooting continues until the memory runs out! This is a great option that is available when using the phone exclusively as a camera.

A whole range of additional options allow much more to be done with the camera. These include:

  • A selection of colour tones,
  • A viewfinder grid that divides the image into both vertical and horizontal thirds aids good composition,
  • White balance,
  • Exposure compensation that allows for exposure bracketing, and
  • Sharpness, contrast and light sensitivity controls.

Every camera has limitations. A cell phone camera may have more limitations than some of the cameras on the market. For me the greatest limitation is the absence of an optical zoom. The electronic zoom results in a loss of resolution. There is no manual control of the shutter speed or aperture stops. But knowledge of the limitations allows you to work around them.

The phone allows for most of the simpler editing functions on the phone itself. It is even possible to print directly from the phone to some printers, and to upload your photographs directly to the Internet. The photos can be easily transferred to a computer for more sophisticated editing, distribution and printing.

My SLR camera usually stays at home while my cell phone is always with me. It is easy and convenient to carry around and is always available. Carrying a purpose built camera involves a degree of inconvenience! The cell phone can capture pictures at a moments notice when the opportunity presents itself.

I have built-up a collection of photo's from my cell phone that compare favourably to any that I have taken using a purpose built camera. My default camera is the cell-phone. When I photograph a planned event I have a choice of cell phone or camera. The cell phone usually wins, while the digital camera serves as an indispensible backup.

Thursday, 02 October 2008

How to take great pictures on a cell phone camera

A good photograph is not only about high resolution or huge amounts of detail. Some digital cameras today provide the ability to enlarge detail from great distances. Many great photographers have never had access to that kind of equipment. A simple cell-phone camera will do the trick with certain limitations.

Something to remember is that cell phone cameras come in a huge range of resolutions and capabilities. From the most basic EGA to 5 and even 10 mega pixel cameras. Just a few years ago a 5 megapixel camera was at the cutting edge of technology.

With the quality of cell phone cameras available today, the quality of the camera reflects the quality of the photographer not the camera. The most advanced camera in the world does not turn a snapshot into a quality photo!

The first requirement for taking quality photos on your cell phone camera is to get to know what the camera is capable of. That means exploring and experimenting with the camera. Try out the various options and settings. Experiment with the camera and practice. Even a professional photographer will spend some time getting to know a new camera before using it for professional purposes. You need to get a feel for the camera. Find out what it does well as well as its limitations. Good photography is as much about working within your camera's limitations and with its capabilities.

Composition is an important aspect of photography. It applies as much to cell phone photography as anything else.

The first principle of composition to remember is the rule of thirds. Divide the screen into three horizontal levels and three vertical areas. Place the horizon or dividing point a scene along the top or bottom third dividing line. This creates a sense of balance. Placing an object on the vertical thirds intersections creates an area of interest. The rule of thirds works. Try it and use it. Once you have mastered it then feel free to abandon it.

Symmetry does not work in photography or in the visual arts in general. As a rule it is to be avoided. The rule of odds is a good principle to follow. Three or five similar objects work better than two or four. Perhaps it is the human brains quest for complexity?

A few other rules to bear in mind are that horizontal lines suggest tranquillity, a winding disappearing road or river creates an atmosphere of mystery and diagonals suggest movement.

Following these rules will generally produce above average results.

Remember to work within the limitations. A low resolution camera can produce quality pictures. These become very grainy when enlarged.

The photos can be uploaded onto your computer. Use Picasa, Gimp or Paint Shop Pro to edit and perfect your result.

A cell phone camera is just like any other digital camera with one great advantage. When you come across an interesting scene your cell phone is more likely to be available than your camera!