Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Family heirloom - restored!

I think this might be the best birthday present we have ever given to my dad!  He's been loving the tablet my brother and I got him for his birthday last year, so we were a little hardpressed to come up with something better. Then I remembered these ancient weighing scales.

According to my dad, these scales have been in the family for over forty years. My late grandfather, Dada, used it in his trading business in 1960s colonial Penang. I imagine him sitting at his desk in a crisp white shirt and dark tarbus, ledger on one side, scales on the other, thick plastic-rimmed glasses perched firmly on the bridge of his nose as he puts pen to paper. Those were moments when I wished I could travel through time and see what my Dada was like in his prime.

Anywho, I remember seeing these in tangled heap in a box when I was a teenager. About a year ago, owing to my penchant for crafting, my dad finally asked me to restore them so we can put them on display. It then stayed in a tangled heap in my collection of odds and ends because I couldn't find a proper stand to hang it from. Then I saw this bamboo banana hanger (of all things!) at Winners and I thought, "Bingo! Just what I need"

A banana hanger - who would have thought, right? The rest just came from my pile of crafting supplies. I'm not an expert brassware restoration so I simply brushed the plates with some toothpaste, which did the trick and brought back some of their shine.

Next it's all a matter of hooking the plates to the chains, the chains to the arm, and the arm to the banana hanger's hook with a total of nine jumprings.

As a finishing touch, my brother got a personalized plate from a local engaraver to mark the occasion for posterity's sake.

The bamboo-and-not-quite-shiny-brass combo gave the ensemble a rustic quality, which, I think, perfectly suits this "family heirloom". My dad was visibly moved when he saw this - just the reaction we were aiming for! I'm really glad we didn't head to the mall to find my dad a birthday persent.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Whimsy-fy a vintage blouse (with a ruffled hem!)

I love simple designs with little whimsical embelishments.I was online window shopping a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon this dainty little number and instantly fell in love.

I won't say where I found it or how much it cost (hint: somewhere around an arm and a leg) but suffice it to say that my reaction was, "Hey, I can make that for SO much less!" And so I did. I happened to have a Victorian-esque blouse with sumptuously puffed sleeves that I bought for an absolute bargain at a local vintage store, Netty Vintage. I can't remember the exact price but I'm 100% sure it wasn't more than $15. Then I simply headed over to my local crafts store to get a matching fabric for the ruffle and voila!

Vintage blouse whimsy-fied!

This is the first major refashion project I've done and I'm quite happy with the way it turned out.The stitching is a bit messy because I'm still a newbie on the sewing machine but you can hardly tell from afar. What's important was that the ruffled hem was in place, my blouse now has the whimsical touch I was aiming for, my wardrobe has something new, so I'm happy!

Full tutorial (with pictures!) after the jump.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Medu vada - South Indian deep-fried lentil dumplings

Who's feeling a little adventurous today? How about we travel to South India for lunch?

Medu vada is a delicious South Indian dumpling made from urad dal (black gram), a bean from the pulse family originating from India. I grew up eating vadas because my home country, Malaysia has a minority Indian population so it's easy to find road-side stalls selling crispy vadas fresh out of the deep frier. Here in Canada: not so much. So even though the recipe seemed completely different from the stuff I'm used to making, my craving for vadas compelled me to be brave and try my hand. Now, five batches of vadas in, it's my one of my favourite snacks to make and I can almost say I'm a pro at it!

Black gram has a black outer skin, but you'll need split black gram which has had its black skin removed.

I found a relatively easy-to-follow video/recipe from the awesome ladies at Show Me The Curry. The recipe itself it pretty simple but shaping the vadas into donuts does take some skill. My advice is to just be brave and go for it! My first attempt at making medu vada only produced donut-like shapes, so I consider this recent batch a huge improvement! The green bits in the picture are cilantro (which I add to pretty much everything!) but I'd suggest using curry leaves for a richer flavour. Feel free to tune the chillies up or down according to your tastebuds' threshold for heat. I've also tried deep-frying the chillies for a few seconds before adding them to the batter; that makes the chillies crisp and not as flaming hot, which is more to my liking.

A few tips on grinding the dal: The goal is to use as little water as possible during the grinding process. This is because the less water added, the thicker the batter will be, and the easier it is to form the batter into donuts. So when grinding, be careful not too add too much water at once; add only a few tablespoons at a time as neccessary. Through a happy accident, I discovered that soaking the dal overnight (or longer) makes them absorb more water, so less is needed during the grinding process.

An important tip on shaping the vadas: The donut shape ensures that the vada cooks evenly throughout, so don't skip the step! Trust me - I'm speaking from experience. It takes a few tries to get it right, but you'll realize it's worth the effort once you bite into one of these crunchy-on-the-outside-fluffy-on-the-inside deliciousness.

Full recipe after the jump.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Grilled halloumi and aubergine platter

Photos like this one make me wish I could eat with my eyes! Not only is it beautiful, it's also simple, fresh, healthy and uber easy to put together in a hurry.

Cheese, eggplant a.k.a. aubergine and tomato - only three simple ingredients go into this gorgeous platter. Because it's such a pretty little composition, you can make it as both a side dish and a center piece (see what I did there? "Side", "center", get it?). It's actually inspired by a caprese salad I had at a local resto a while back. Since I couldn't find any fresh mozzarella that's halal or kosher, I decided to use my other favourite cheese - halloumi.

I first tasted halloumi while working in a Lebanese restaurant as a student in Brisbane, Australia. The halloumi is usually sold in small, vacuum-packed miniature bricks to customers but behind the counter, us workers would grill slices of it for our salads or our kebab lunches. Pretty soon I was getting my own regular supply of halloumi to experiment with at home. I was in love with the rigid but tofu-like texture and the subtle buttery flavour. Pan-fried at high heat, it'll form a nutty outer crust that's the perfect crunchy protein substitute in a salad.

You can probably find halloumi in most Indian or Middle-Eastern supermarkets today. I don't have an exact recipe for this platter since it's something I whipped up on a whim. Slicing the ingredients is probably the largest part of the recipe, so don't be intimidated. Here's a general description of what I did:

Tomatoes - get large, ripe ones. Cut into 1/4" slices.
Halloumi - cut into 1/4" slices. Preheat pan to medium high high heat and add just enough olive oil to coat the pan. Place halloumi slices in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden brown crust forms.
Aubergine - I used Italian eggplants of about 3" in diameter. Cut into 1/4" slices, sprinkle with salt and leave in a colander for 5-10 minutes. Water will start to draw out of the slices. Pat dry with paper towels. Brush lightly with olive oil, pan fry or grill on medium high heat for 3-4 minutes on each side.
Assembly - alternate tomato, aubergine and halloumi slices on a platter. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper (if you want), rip up a bunch of cilantro and sprinkle from on high so that they fall like delicate petals onto the grilled halloumi, aubergine and tomato.

And that's all there is to it! My family was impressed when I placed the platter on our dining table but, really, I barely broke a sweat. I think it's a pretty good deal for such an amazing-looking assemble!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Accessorizing for Eid, the eco-friendly way!

Welcome to part 2 (of two) of my Eid/Thanksgiving post! (Click here for Part 1).

This is a quick (and image heavy) post on how I accessorized my Eid oufit the eco-friendly way.

My love affair with beads goes all the way back to my childhood; the earliest piece beaded jewelry I have is a knitted seed bead necklace my mom made at one of her crafting classes when I was five or six years old. It was only last summer that it occured to me to try my hand at beading. Needless to say, my relationship with beads took a different turn from then on.

I call this necklace the Blue Lantern and it's one of the first necklaces I made for myself. This would have cost more than what I'm willing to pay at a retail store so being able to make simple things like this can be really good for your wallet. There are no intricate maneuvers involved, just stringing one bead after another and putting together colours that complement each other. Simple, right?

Oh, and here's my favourite part: memory wire bracelet from repurposed clay beads!

This summer, my beading career made a right turn down Eco-friendly Boulevard. I started "harvesting" beads from accessories I find in thrift stores and second-hand shops. The beads I used for this bracelett came from a necklace I found at Value Village for $1.99.

There are huge benefits from repurposing beads from old accessories. First, I'm salvaging things rather than adding to the global garbage heap. Second, I know I'm not adding to the pollution that result from the production of brand new beads. Third, profits from thrift stores like Value Village, St. Vincent's and the Salvation Army usually go towards helping the needy or funding research on cancer or diabetes*. Fourth, used beads have the antiqued, worn-out quality which I like in my accessories. Plus, knowing that each string of bead has its own history prior to my finding it gives that much more meaning to the pieces I make. It's a perfect arrangement, isn't it?

I still need to purchase new materials, such as wires and crimps. Nevertheless, I'd like to believe that every little thing we do makes an impact, no matter how small.

*Not all charities contribute 100% of their profits to their stated goals, so do your research and find out where your money's going.

Malay pumpkin fudge cake - a sweet Eid/Thanksgiving/Fall treat!

A belated Eid al-Adha Mubarak and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who celebrated! Welcome to part 1 (of 2) of my Eid/Thanksgiving blog post. (Click here for Part 2).

As with any festive celebration, there was a lot of food involved with Eid. Apart from the usual curries that my mom makes every year, I decided to try something different with a fall staple: the pumpkin. I was so excited when I found this recipe at Tiffin Biru because it's the perfect blend of my Malay culture, Eid al-Adha, Thanksgiving and the fall season.

Bingka is a category of desserts whose texture is somewhere between a cake and a fudge, much like a very moist fudge cake (duh!). It basically comprises of flour, eggs, sugar and coconut milk (yum!) and it can be made with yam, tapioca, sweet potato, and a few other different vegetables. You can even make it plain with a curried minced meat topping. Labu means pumpkin; so Bingka Labu is, roughly translated, pumpkin fudge cake.

I think it turned out well for a first attempt. The sweetness is mostly from the sugar but the pumpkin flavour is very distinct. My favourite part is the crust, which is extra sweet and pumpkin-y due to the caramalization. Plus, the brilliant shade of yellow is all pumpkin - no artificial colouring whatsoever. How amazing is that?

If you're feeling a little adventurous, follow the jump for the full recipe. I've taken the liberty of translating the recipe into English for your convenience.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Red and green pasta stir-fry with the Ultimate Garlic Spread

Hello folks! This is a quick post to share a simple dish I made with just pasta, some veges and the Ultimate Garlic Spread (click here for the recipe!).

Laura Vitale said in her video that you can use the spread as a base for any stir-fry, so I decided to give it a try. I decided to go with mushrooms (my pasta has to have mushrooms!) and red bell peppers (so fabulous against the green garlic spread!). I used spaghettini but any thin pasta will do the trick. You can up the amount of garlic spread and pepper if you prefer a stronger flavour.  If your spread is already chilling in the fridge and your pasta is already cooked, this dish will take about ten minutes tops.

Still thinking of ordering pizza? I didn't think so!

Full recipe after the jump.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Ultimate Garlic Spread (is here!)

Folks, brace yourselves; I've found the ultimate garlic bread spread for the ultimate garlic bread!

I hereby declare my search for a garlic bread recipe over! Yes, it's that good. Three ingredients and less than 20 minutes - that's all you need.

The first time I ever had garlic bread was at a Pizza Hut restaurant as a little girl. I admit, I do have a penchant for Italian food. But still, I think garlic bread is an excellent comfort food, especially when you're generous with the cheese. You can make it in minutes, you can eat it on its own or turn it into a meal by pairing it with your favourite stew or soup. What more can you ask of a loaf of bread?

I first tried store-bought garlic spreads to make my own garlic bread (Ick!). Then I graduated to making my own spread with fresh crushed garlic, butter and parmesan, but that combination doesn't keep well, nor does it taste as good with all the butter involved.

Then I discovered Laura Vitale's garlic-parsely-olive-oil formula. Trust me - it is belissimo! It positively saturates the bread with garlicky goodness and the recipe ensures the right amount of crusty and ooey-gooey-chewiness. Plus, as always, this recipe is a winner because it takes minutes to make.

I used mini Italian loaves but any dense bread should do, like ciabatta, baguette, focaccia or even bagels. I would, however, advice against ordinary sliced bread because you do need some thickness to absorb the spread and withstand the heat to melt the cheese. I followed Laura Vitale's recipe as a guide but I made a few adjustments; I reduced the amount of garlic, upped the parsely and sped up the cooking time. I also experimented with different garnishes and herbs like red pepper flakes (Hot! Hot! Hot!), oregano (my favourite!) and fresh chopped parsely (fresh!).

Here's a final tip: double the volume for the recipe, put it in an old jam jar and stick a fun label on. The next time you're craving for some cheesy comfort food, simply head over to your fridge! (Click here to see how I used the spread in my Red and Green Pasta Stir-fry!)

Read on after the jump for the recipe.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Zucchini pizza bites

"Zucchini? Yes, please. Zucchini pizza bites? Marry me!"

That's my stream of thought when I saw this recipe on The Comfort of Cooking. As I've mentioned in a previous post, zucchinis are currently my ulitmate favourite vegetable so I'm always on the lookout for recipes using these delectable moss-coloured squashes. I must have stared at the computer screen for a full minute after I stumbled upon this recipe.

I have to be honest, though, and tell you that the recipe had me at "zucchini". I didn't realize what a bonus the rest of the ingredients were until I assembled each "bite". The fun part of this recipe was that I got to play around with toppings. This made preparing and eating these little bites so much fun!

 The recipe only takes about fifteen minutes so this is definitely going into my bank of quick bites. I decided to jazz things up a bit with a few extra toppings but you can definitely make these with just the sauce, cheese and herbs.

A few extra tips for beginners:
1. Be sure to cut the zucchini slices no less than 1/4" in thickness and to grill them on medium high heat just enough to brown, NOT to cook through. This is important to ensure the zucchini slices will be firm enough to hold their toppings and keep some of their crunch.
2. If you're using relatively small zucchinis, as I was, cut them diagonally to get more surface area for your toppings.
3. Finely shred your cheese. If you're using pre-shredded ones, chop them up well. Long or thick strips of cheese might not fit well on the slices.
4. I used some left-over spaghetti sauce, but any marinara or pizza sauce should do the trick.
5. Feel free to substitute the vegetable toppings, cheese and and herbs to something of your liking.

How fabulous do these look?

Get the step-by-step guide and recipe after the jump.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Battered green beans

We're healthy-snacking today, folks!

I'm a big fan of vege snacks, and I'm not talking about those orange, green and yellow corn puffs that are colour-coded to remind us of real veges but are actually loaded with MSG. I'm talking about fresh veges turned into bite-sized morsels packed with flavour. I think a good way to get into healthy snacking is to keep a bank of easy recipes that you can whip up in a jiffy. These Battered Green Beans recipe is one of them - all it takes are five main ingredients and about 15 minutes of your time. Deep-frying can take some skill but, trust me, these beans are worth it.

First, grab a bunch of fresh green beans and strike a mean pose for the camera.

Next, trim the ends of the beans and blanch them in boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Do NOT over-blanch them or you'll have icky-textured beans.

Immediately drop the beans in icy water to stop the cooking process.

Drain thoroughly and pat dry. Patting them dry is optional, but it saves you time waiting for the beans to drain completely.

Dredge in flour.

Dip in egg-and-Parmesan batter seasoned with salt and pepper. I used Romano cheese because I couldn't find any halal Parmesan.

Fry in batches on medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes or until evenly golden-brown and legitimately mouth-watering.

Drain on paper towels and season with salt to taste. Serve hot - the crisp factor goes down the cooler the beans get.


P/S: I eyeballed all my measurements so if you'd like the full recipe, head on over to Laura in the Kitchen!

Notes on deep-frying:
1. It's important to fry the beans in batches so that the oil's temperature doesn't drop too much and too suddenly.  If this happens, the beans will take longer to brown and absorb more oil, giving you soggy battered beans. Ick.
2. Don't be afraid to keep the heat sufficiently high - we're working with only a thin layer of batter and the beans are already cooked through. When the beans are golden-brown, they're done.
3. The oil will splatter quite a bit due to the water content in the beans so use protective gear if you need to. On the bright side, frying takes less than five minutes so I didn't find the splattering too much to handle.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The mirror and the bow

I previously hung a bigger mirror in this spot. Then I replaced it with this oval mirror. I didn't want to puncture the wall with more nails so in simply hung my new mirror in the same spot.

Obviously, it was too high. So to adjust the mirror's height and avoid damaging my wall at the same time, I did this:

And voila! A mirror at the right height, no extra nail holes in my wall and a bow to make it all pretty.

The best part about this DIY? The string, which I salvaged from an old pair of running pants. So this DIY solution came at zero cost. How cool is that?

Click here to find out how I made the framed jewelry organizer pictured above.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Upcycle a photo frame into a jewelry organizer!

So here's another DIY project I have had in my Ideas folder for, like, forever. Although I love upcycling things I have lying around and the frame looks really cute, I put it off because I already had a jewelry organizer. My dad had artfully installed hooks and nails on the side of my old dresser and that's where I've been storing my bracelets, bangles and necklaces. Last month, however, I replaced the dresser with a new one, so there goes my jewelry organizer. And so came the reason to make a new organizer!

All I used were an old (and not very pretty) photo frame, a cork board (which I salvaged from my previous study), spray paint and some nails.

I first removed the frame and spray-painted it white to match the rest of my room's furniture. I applied two coats of paint to get the finished surface I wanted. When reassembling the frame, I discarded the frame's glass plate and put the cork board in its place. My cork board happened to fit the frame perfectly, so no cutting or trimming was necessary. Finally, I hammered several *nails in a zig zag pattern from which to hang my necklaces.

It's that simple!

Now, I not only have an easily accessible organizer for my necklaces but I also made a functional wall art that fits my room's deco. Winning!

Click here to see what I did with the simple mirror below for some aesthetic appeal.

*I originally used thumbtacks but they weren't long enough to hold more than one necklace each so I upgraded to some nails.