This is the season for enjoying rich sweets like laddoos. Please tell us how we can make besan and aata (wheatflour) laddoos at home?

Now that the festive and winter season is here, making laddoos is a good choice. Because they are not difficult to make and moreover they remain fresh for a long time. You will get the best results if you are patient while making them. Use a little coarse besan or aata. For both the type of laddoos you will need about 450 grams of desi ghee for 1 kilogram of besan or aata and about 700 grams of powdered sugar. For besan laddoos you will also need finely cut almonds and cardamom powder. In aata laddoos you can mix in finely cut almonds, coconut powder, raisins and fried gound. To fry the besan for the laddoos, mix half of the ghee with the besan in a heavy-bottomed karahi and fry on low flame till rich golden brown. Mix in the sugar together with the almonds and cardamom powder. Add as much ghee as required to make the mixture into smooth round laddoos. The procedure is same for the aata laddoos.

Please give us a few buying and storing tips for lemon.

This is a good question as lemons are available in abundance in this season. You can use them in a number of ways, but you have to keep in mind that you select and buy the best. While buying lemon, choose brightly coloured, firm and heavy ones. Avoid shrivelled, soft or blemished lemons. Whole lemons will keep up to ten days in a plastic bag in the refrigerator at least. You can also freeze lemon juice in small amounts and use as and when required. The lemon juice can also be preserved as lemon squash (lemon juice mixed with thick sugar syrup) at room temperature.

There are many theories going around about when and when not to eat fruits. Please clarify.

We all love to eat fruits, and they in turn are very beneficial for our health. But we should keep a few points in mind, so that we get the maximum benefit out of them. Fruits should always be eaten as a mid-meal, and not with or immediately after a main meal. This is because if fruits are eaten with cooked foods, they do not get digested easily and tend to ferment in the stomach. So, eat a normal cooked meal 1/2 an hour after eating fruits and fruits 21/2 hours after a cooked meal.

We usually use plastic strainers to strain tea, but it gets choked with tea particles, especially around the rim. Please tell us how we can clean it.

The tea strainer we use, be it made of steel or plastic, does get clogged with tea particles if not cleaned properly every time it is used. It doesn’t get cleaned even in the dish washer. Try putting dishwasher detergent and the strainer into a small cup, then add boiling water and let it sit overnight. The residue will come off easily with a tooth brush. If too much deposit has accumulated, make sure it is dry. Then use a small brass brush to brush off the gum. You can also simply use an old tooth brush to clean it, but remember not to clean it too vigorously or the plastic strainer will break.

How can we prevent the red pumpkin from rotting when kept on the kitchen counter and not in the refrigerator?

Though you should always store fresh vegetables in the refrigerator, if you have to keep the pumpkin outside, keep a few points in mind. Firstly, do not remove the flesh with the seeds, until you are ready to use it. Secondly, do not store it in a plastic bag. Just keep it covered with a thin cloth in a cool place.

Sometimes knives we buy, tend to get rusted. Can we get the rust off by any method?

Rust stains. They happen. Our only reaction is am I doing something wrong with the washing technique. So, the only solution we see is to just hide those embarrassing knives. Gather some basic supplies that you almost certainly already have in your kitchen: a cup, some lemon juice and water. Make a mixture of half warm water and half lemon juice in your cup, enough to cover the metal parts of your knives, and drop your knives in for about 10 minutes. Now, you can either use a cloth or a scotch brite to wipe away the rust spots. Better still follow the tip, to wash your cutting knives by hand and not in the dish­washer, then dry them immediately, they won’t get rusty.

What is ‘China Grass’, why is it so called and how is it prepared?

‘China Grass’, as such has no resemblance to grass and it is available in grocery stores and not in a vegetable shop. It is not green in colour as you would imagine, but is transparent or whitish and comes in pieces about the thickness of a straw. China grass is a derivative of a seaweed gathered on the East Indian coast and generally exported to China and that’s probably why it got this name. China grass is derived from a seaweed from the algae family called Agar Agar. The seaweed is collected and spread out on the shore. After it dries, it is boiled in water and the mucilaginous solution strained, the filtrate dried and hardened in the sun. Agar agar is an excellent and very effective natural gelling agent and thickener. It contains a powerful gelatinising agent called Glose which is a carbohydrate. Unlike gelatin, Agar Agar does not require refrigeration to set, it will simply gel any liquid food into solid form at room temperature.