Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fennel au gratin

Winter is here! Well, the first snow fall is, at least. I woke up this morning to a flurry of snowflakes and immediately thought, "Comfort food time!" Although it's now bright and sunny again, I could still use some cheering up and there's a fennel waiting in my fridge, so fennel au gratin it is. Nothing says warm and comforting better than something cheesy and baked. Anything au gratin is fine by me but - and this might not be everyone's cup of tea - I personally love fennel because it's slightly fiberous and aniseed-y in flavour. This dish takes a little bit of effort and TLC but I always feel it's worth it by the time I'm bundled up in a blanket on the couch with a warm plate of gratin and hot mug of tea. Mmmm.

Read on after the jump for the recipe!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tomato Salsa with Calamansi Orange


I've been told that this is pico de gallo, but after researching various ways of making pico de gallo, I can assure you that this isn't pico de gallo. I'm not sure how this came about but my family calls this "salsa" although, after researching various ways of making salsa, this is certainly not salsa either. Nevertheless, it is one of my family's favourite side dishes. I first came across this recipe in a food/travel show on Discovery channel hosted by Padhma Lakshmi. She was visiting a papadum factory and at the end of the show, they served this concoction as a simple way to enjoy papadums. 

This recipe is exactly the same one I saw in that episode - it's so easy and simple that I didn't even need a pen and paper to write it down. All it takes is prepping the ingredients, chopping them and mixing everything together.

I used calamansi oranges because they're a little sweeter and more fragrant, but you can use any kind of lime juice you have on hand. This salsa is also really dynamic - you can serve it alongside savoury rice dishes like biryani or pilau, or as dips for papadums, chips or nachos.

Alternatively, you can spoon the salsa onto nacho chips, sprinkle grated cheddar overtop, place them under the broiler for 3-4 minutes and serve on a platter.

Continue reading after the jump for the super easy recipe.

Zucchini Fritters with Dill Yoghurt Dip

So my obsession with zucchinis continues! If you don't know already, I LOVE zucchinis (see proof here and here). It's been a month since I last posted a recipe with zucchini, so this recipe is inevitable.

This time around, we're going Greek. I love the idea of vegetable fritters for the crunch factor. Research has shown that crunchy food makes our brain perceive them to taste better. That's why potato chips are full of air pockets and are always too big for a single bite - that way you'll always need to break them into smaller pieces to fit into your mouth and hear the crunch. Do you ever notice how it's hard to stop at just one chip?

Anywho, crunchy chips aside, there's no way I can stop at just one zucchini fritter either. If you take care to make really thin fritters, they'll come out beautifully crispy. It's also important to get rid of as much moisture as possible. You can simply squeeze the shredded zucchinis in a tea towel or take the extra step - salt them, let sit for about 15 minutes and strain well. Most zucchini fritter recipes I found didn't require feta, so that's a personal preference. Just remember to adjust how much salt you use depending on how salty the cheese is.

Get the full recipe after the jump.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Oktoberfest and birthday cards

October is always special for my family because my niece, my brother-in-law, my dad and my brother all have birthdays one after another in this month. That usually calls for an abundance of birthday cards and presents to make in October and I'm always in search for fresh ideas. I always believe that presents don't have to be expensive, shiney and flashy to be meaningful; something made personally and marked with imperfections are worth more than anything to me because they come from the heart. Browsing through craft blogs is a great way to get your creative juices going, but this year I found my inspiration in the very people for whom I'm making these cards. Here are the two birthday cards:

Since my niece Dina is only three, I wanted to make something that she could identify and relate to easily. According to my sister, one of Dina's favourite movies at the moment is Up. I came across a card with a picture of the famous flying house from "Up". It had a pretty close representation of the house, with intricate architectural details of the windows, doors, verandah, etc. I don't have the tools or the skills neccessary to replicate such details, but I figured a tilted house with balloons coming out of its chimney is close enough.

Since this a really small collage, most of my materials came from remnant cardstock. The bonus part is the balloons - I didn't have cardstock in the colours I need, so I punched them out of colourful magazine pages. Pretty nifty, right?

My brother-in-law, on the other hand, sports a mustache and a pair of geeky glasses, so this is what I made for him:

I Googled images of glasses and mustaches (most of which came with a nose) and scaled them to size in a Word doc. Then I printed them on plain paper, pasted them onto cardstock and cut out the shapes. To get the faux-3D effect, I simply layered foam double-sided tape for extra height.

For the letterings, I simply typed them up in a Word doc and estimated their location on the card. It would be a good idea to test-print them on paper to make sure you're happy with the location before printing on your cardstock.

So there you go - two simple greeting cards inspired by the people I'm giving them to. Who needs Hallmark, right?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Vanilla Coffee Granola

I was going to start this post with a little rant on how crazy busy I've been for the last few weeks, but let's just skip ahead to the good stuff, shall we? Question: what does coffee-vanilla-granola spell? Breakfast, of course!

I used to eat a lot of Uncle Toby's granola bars as a kid and I've recently become a fan of granola of again. They're really great for breakfast on the go because I can just pop a few chunks in a ziplock bag and munch on them during my commute. All that crunchy fibrous oats tell me I'm getting a good start to my day. If you use complex sugars as sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and dates, you'll get a slow release of energy throughout the day, which is perfect for those I'm-too-busy-for-long-lunches days. Plus, you can custom fit your granola recipes to fit your palette by using your choice of grains, nuts, dried fruits and even chocolate! Finally - and here's the part I like most - granola recipes are almost fail-proof. There are no complicated maneuvers or skills necessary; all you do is measure, mix, bake and break.

This recipe was inspired by Vegetarian Ventures' Vanilla Bean Espresso Granola recipe. What I've made is basically a poor-student-on-a-budget version of that recipe: I used vanilla extract instead of vanilla beans and instant coffee mix instead of espresso. Out of personal preference, I opted for olive oil rather than coconut oil, which I'm sure has a higher cholestrol content. I also used dried shredded coconut from a Middle Eastern grocery store which is a little darker in colour and still has bits of its brown husk. I like that better because it's less processed than the pristine-white (possibly bleached) shredded coconuts you get from giant supermarkets.

If you like loose granola with your milk, yoghurt or ice cream, then you need to bake for 15 minutes, stir and bake for another 10 minutes. To make chunks like mine, press your mixture down firmly to make a compact layer in your pan, then bake for 25 minutes straight. Be sure to let it cool completely before breaking the granola into chunks. Otherwise they'll crumble into little pieces and you might burn your fingers (duh!).

I experimented with using egg white to help the granola clump better but it took a little bit more work to get everything sufficiently crispy. The granola turned out just as chunky without the egg white so I'd suggest skipping the extra work.

My favorite way to enjoy this Vanilla Coffee Granola is by making a yoghurt parfait. Simply layer yoghurt, granola and fruit or berries. I didn't have either on hand so I dolloped some jam and drizzled some honey for sweetness. The tangy bite of the yoghurt, the deep hum of coffee, the sweetness of fruit/jam/honey, the crunch of grains and nuts - seriously, that's a heavenly mix of flavours and textures!

Get the full recipe after the jump!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Personalized Tees

Got some plain ol' tees? Want to give them some personalized touch? Well check out what my sister a.k.a. crafty-momma Nani did with her little girls' T-shirts in her first guest post. With just five things, she added a personalized design to mark their ages and jazz up a couple of plain T-shirts. No special skills required!

Full DIY after the jump.

Personalized Tees

Plain T-shirts
Acrylic paint - white or a contrasting colour to your T-shirst

Sponge brush
Design template
A pice of cardboard

1. Print and cut out your choice of design to be used as a template. I chose a leaf shape with the number three cut out of its center and a 12-petal floral shape with the number five.

2. Place the piece of cardboard inside your T-shirt to stop the paint from seeping to the back layer of the shirt.

3. Place your T-shirt on a flat surface. Position your template on your T-shirt and press down firmly to set it in place. Optionally, you can pin the template to your shirt with a few straight pins to stop it from moving around while you paint.

4. Dab your sponge brush in a little paint, remove access and dab it onto your T-shirt. Fill in the areas on your template accordingly.  Remember NOT to use too much paint or your design will be stiff and crack once it's dry. Use just enough paint to cover your design areas.

5. When you've filled in the areas of your design, remove your template but keep the cardboard piece inside the shirt. Let dry for 24 hours.

6. Turn the T-shirt inside-out, iron on low heat to set the paint and voila, it's done!

*Alternatively, you can pre-wash your T-shirts before painting them or chuck them in the washer after setting the paint. I washed mine after I was done because I was too excited to get started on this DIY!