Saturday, 31 March 2012

Day 42: Halvas, Semolina Halva - Χαλβάς

There are two different types of halva that we all know and love.  The first kind that comes to mind is the store bought sesame treat.  We tasted two different brands of the sesame treat and found that we all like halva, and it is difficult to buy a bad one!  Then, we decided that we like the semolina pudding kind of halva a little more -- it is a more satisfying treat for a sweet tooth.

The pudding type of halvas is the more old-fashioned kind.  It is a homemade pudding, with no dairy and no eggs, which makes it perfect for Great Lent or any fasting period.  We have never acutally made our own halva, but we have eaten at other homes and always walk away telling ourselves that one day we will make this at home.  So, today is the day! 

Through all the reading that we have been doing in our cookbooks and online, we found that Halva can be made by following a simple formula: 1-2-3-4.  That means that it is one part oil, two parts semolina, three parts sugar, and four parts water.  The semolina is the interesting ingredient here.  We all have sugar, water, and oil at home, but what exactly is the semolina?  

Semolina is a coarse wheat product that comes from the process of milling wheat.  When wheat is processed, the different parts are separated into the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.  Semolina is the endosperm -- the coarse grains.  It is the coarse texture that we are looking for, as opposed to the semolina flour which is highly processed to become fine flour, mostly used for pasta and dough.  

When we went looking for the right, coarse semolina product, and we started asking questions, we learned a few things.  We learned that the coarse semolina is actually what is used to make Cream of Wheat, Farina, and a variety of baby foods and cereals.  When the semolina is boiled, it makes a creamy porridge type hot cereal, that is the consistency of halva.  We found a lot of products that listed the ingredients as "farina" but wanted to stay true to the texture.  Therefore, we bought the Cream of Wheat.  The difference is that farina is a finer ground product.  Either one will work in this recipe, though.  The other deciding factor for us is that the Farina brand is not sold in Canada, and it is sold only in some parts of the U.S. anymore.  With that in mind, we had to use the Cream of Wheat hot cereal.

We wanted to follow the formula for a typical halva, and see if that held true, since it is what "everybody" knows as the recipe.  We chose to use 1/2 cup oil, 1 cup Cream of Wheat, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and 2 cups water.  The process seemed to be as simple as the formula.  

There are many recipes that include walnuts, pine nuts (pignoli), almonds, cinnamon, and raisins.  We wanted to add just raisins and walnuts, figuring that is our favourite combination, and offers a little variation in the creamy texture.  So, we soaked 1/2 cup of raisins in boiling water for about 10 minutes to get them nice and plump.  Then, we chopped up about 1/2 cup of walnuts -- some we will use in the pudding, some we will sprinkle on top of the dessert before serving.

Start by gathering your ingredients.  You will also want to get a moulded pan (a jello or pudding mould will work, too).  If you don't have one, don't run to the store just to buy one!  You can simply use a glass baking dish, cake pan, form, or individual bowls.  We had these interesting tortilla pans that seemed like they would work.  We sprayed the inside with a little pan spray, just to make sure the pudding would slide out in the shape of the pan without too much fuss. 

So, now that everything is together, the first step is to make the syrup.  This is a basic simple syrup that is made by putting both water and sugar in a pot and bringing it to a boil.  Let the mixture boil for about five minutes, then turn down the heat to a medium-low so the syrup will simmer.  This is where the thickening actually takes place.  Allow the syrup to simmer for about 15 minutes, until it is a syrup consistency.  You may see that the syrup takes on a little colour, and that is from the caramelization of the sugar -- that's okay.  

We also added 3 cloves, a little cinnamon stick and the zest of 1/2 a lemon.  That was just to add a little flavour, but it is not necessary at all!  For the sugar and the water, we stuck to the formula and used 1 1/2 cups sugar and 2 cups of water.

Before using this syrup, we will have to strain it to remove the lemon zest, cinnamon, and cloves.  But, they all float, so it is easy to use a skimmer across the top of the mixture to remove them all at once!  Keep the syrup hot until we are ready to use it.

While the syrup is simmering, and close to the end of the cooking process, which should total about 20 minutes to make a rich syrup, start cooking the semolina. 

First, heat the oil until it shimmers.  This is not quite as high of a heat as frying something, but it is close.  You will see the ripple pattern start to form on the bottom of the pot.  Heat the oil and steadily pour in all the Cream of Wheat.  You must stir this consistently to prevent the semolina from sticking to the pot.  

Within a few minutes, you will see the semolina start to take on a light golden colour.  We thought the smell was similar to burning flour or popcorn.  It filled the house and stayed there for a few hours.  

When it is almost chestnut colour, remove the pot from the heat.  

Mix in the walnuts and raisins at this point.  

Then, pour in the hot syrup to the pot with the hot semolina, raisin and nut mixture.  Stir, stir, stir!  This mixture will start to bubble ferociously, so stir like crazy, but carefully!  

Return the pot to the medium heat and continue to stir the mixture until the Cream of Wheat and the syrup have formed a pudding-like consistency, and all of the syrup is absorbed.  The mixture will start to pull away from the sides and bottom of the pan.  Then, remove the pot from the heat and put a lid or a towel on the pot.  Let it sit for about 10 minutes.  This gives you a chance to clean the pot where you cooked the syrup.  You want to at least get some hot water in there so the sugar does not crystallize and make it difficult to clean.  

After ten minutes, spoon the pudding mixture into whatever pan you decided.  It will still be hot, so do this carefully.  Like we mentioned, we have these two small tortilla pans that have interesting shapes.  Then, set the pans aside and let the halva cool completely.

Turn out the pudding onto a serving dish and garnish with a little sprinkle of cinnamon and maybe some chopped nuts. 

Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.  Store this in the fridge, unless you live in a house like ours where it won't last overnight!  

This halva was not too hard to make.  The 1-2-3-4 recipe seemed to work.  We did cut the ingredients in half originally, which is how we decided on 1/2 cup oil, 1 cup Cream of Wheat, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and 2 cups water, but then, we made the recipe a second time with the full 1-2-3-4 cups, and it worked so much better.  The thickness, the texture of the final pudding, the consistency, and the flavour were all much better than half the recipe was.  We still added raisins and walnuts.  The second time, we did not plump the raisins, but we did not notice a difference in their fullness when the halva was all done.  Next time, we would not take the time to plump the raisins.  

So, this halva recipe was better the second time using the full cups.  We don't know why this is true, it just is.  There are some recipes that do not double well, and we suppose that this is a recipe that does not split well.  That means that we will need a couple more pans so the next time we make it, we can share!  Good luck and good eats!

Proverbs 16:24

New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Pleasant words are a honeycomb,
Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.


Friday, 30 March 2012

Day 41: Greek Style Oven-Roasted Potatoes with Lemon

Diane Kochilas is known for being an amazing cook.  Today, we are following her recipe for making Greek style Oven Roasted Lemon Potatoes.  This dish is something that we have all had at the various Greek restaurants, and that we always strive to make, and now, thanks to Mrs. Kochilas, we now know the secret to making these so delicious.

We chose to use the cookbook The Food and Wine of Greece because Kochilas is very traditional in her methods and her recipes.  Traditional methods interest us and we are often interested in comparing directions among the cookbooks to find one that matches our natural cooking styles.  So, from what we read, this recipe is a classic.  It is also a one-pot meal, in the sense that you put everything together in the pan, mix and bake.  Clean up is a breeze, and with the right baking dish, you can serve directly from it!

To make this roasted potatoes recipe that serves four, you will need the following:
2 pounds large potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup strained, fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
salt and pepper to taste

First, preheat the oven to 450° F.  Place the peeled and quartered potatoes in a medium size, preferably glass baking pan.  Add all the ingredients to the potatoes and mix well.  

Put the pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes until all the potatoes are golden brown and tender.  If you check the oven while the potatoes are baking, and you see the water has evaporated, add a little more. 

These are some of the shortest and easiest directions that we have found for a while.  Simple food is such a blessing.  But, it is even better when it is simple and delicious.

We found this recipe to be quite nice.  We should have added a little more water to the pan to make sure the potatoes stayed soft instead of crispy on top.  We also found that the potatoes needed a bit more lemon.  We usually like to put the lemon right in the baking dish, and let it brown with the potatoes.  But, since we were following an actual recipe, we opted not to do our own thing.  The next time we make this dish, however, we will definitely squeeze two lemons and throw the rinds into the baking dish to let that lemon flavour soak into all the surrounding potatoes.

The one adjustment that we did make to the recipe is that we put the entire stem of oregano into the pan.  We have found that when we cook with oregano, the flavour is intensified when we use the full stem.  That has been true with fresh oregano, and we wanted it to be true using dried oregano.  The lingering flavour that oregano leaves and that lovely aroma that spreads through the house is unmistakeable and unsurpassable.  So, we thought about that when we put the stems into the pan.  Sure enough, we were right -- the oregano was aromatic, flavourful, and identifiable.  Personal preferences said that we should have added a little more salt, but we chose to squeeze some fresh lemon instead.  That just sealed the deliciousness into the potatoes.  They were creamy, crispy and quite tasty.

The other thing we would do a little differently is to double or triple this recipe.  Serves 4?  Not really.  Not 4 Greeks, that is.  Potatoes are a staple food in our diets.  If this is the main side dish to a meal, then maybe it serves 3 comfortably, but not 4.  If we were following the food guide standards exactly, then we would agree this serves 4 people.  This dish is a perfect accompaniment to a variety of entrees.  We will make this exact recipe a few more times, and we are sure that each time we will enjoy it as much as we did tonight.  We hope that you enjoy it, too, and let us know what you think.

Matthew 5:13-16

New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how [a]can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.   14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a [b]hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a [c]basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Day 40: Zattarain's Jambalaya with Seafood

There are days that we just don't have a lot of time to cook, but we still want something healthy and filling.  What do we do?  

We could order pizza, but that has cheese -- otherwise, it's not really pizza.  Or, we could order Chinese food, but that could get expensive and way too much time to wait.  Why even spend the money if we have food at home?  Well, today, we used one of our backup plans that we keep in the pantry.  We were so excited to have learned that this is absolutely vegan in its ingredients, and we could use it during Great Lent as well as other times of the year. 

What are we talking about?  We are using the pre-packaged Zatarain's Jambalaya Mix.  There is nothing like adding a little spice into your night through food, especially if you are exhausted after a day of work, meetings, appointments, and hustle-bustle.  Sometimes, these packaged foods are a great way to get a rather healthy meal on the table very quickly.

Zatarain's is a company that is based in New Orleans.  They claim to specialize in French-Acadian (Cajun) and Creole dishes -- typical New Orleans cuisine.  They have a variety of products that are readily available in the U.S., and they have some markets in Canada.  To find where to purchase this brand, click here

So, we decided that this jambalaya was going to be dinner tonight with a salad and some greens, which go with any food of any nationality.  Since the word jambalaya means "mish mash" or "mix up," it may not matter what we serve with it.  So, it was a clean slate, and choice was easy; whatever we have in the fridge to cook is always the right answer!  And, to make it even easier, we followed the directions on the package.  There was no real thought process about what we needed to do -- it was right there on the box.  It was a nice idea -- no special tools or equipment, no special ingredients for this dish... just a simple dinner sounded perfect for today.  You really don't need anything special for this meal, just some water, a little oil, and, if you choose, some protein to add in to the package.  

Traditionally, making Jambalaya is a chore.  There are a dozen or more ingredients, each one is chopped, sliced, cleaned, and mixed into the pot individually.  There is typically a variety of meats such as sausage and chicken combined with vegetables and some shrimp.  Each one must be cooked separately from one another, as well as separately from the rice.  Of course, this is one of those dishes that everyone makes a little differently, and the method may vary some, but overall it is the same process.  Oh, and the spiciness changes from place to place.  

So, for us, today, we decided to use the jambalaya mix to suit our needs -- our fasting needs.  We added some frozen seafood -- shrimp, mussels and clams to replace any of the meat options.  Having used this mix two times before, we have experimented a little bit.  We have tried it with the meat and seafood, we have tried it as a plain rice, and we have added just shrimp, and that is nice, too.  Seeing how we are not having meat, we opted for a little variety with our seafood choices.  Though the type of seafood you add may vary, you may even omit it all together, and just have a flavourful, seasoned rice dish.  This is a good side dish that can be made into an entree.  So, you decide if you are going to add any seafood or what combination you want.

As mentioned, we followed the directions on the package.  Basically, after gathering the ingredients, the first step is to boil 2 1/2 cups water with 2 TBSP oil.

While we waited for the water to boil -- remember with the addition of oil in the water, the boiling point is now a higher temperature than straight water, so, it may take an extra couple of minutes.  But, while we waited, we cleaned the tails off the shrimp, so they would be ready to use.  Because we used frozen shrimp, we ran them under cold water for a bit to thaw partially (enough to pull off the tails).  We also thawed the mussels and clams at this point by running those under cold water.

Once the water is boiling, add the Zatarain's package of rice and seasoning.  It's one pouch, so empty the entire pouch into the pot and let the water come back up to boiling.  You can see the chunks of dried vegetables, the pieces of dehydrated spices, and the colour of the water instantly changes from the seasonings.

Once you have reached a full, rolling boil again, then turn down the heat to simmer, and put a lid on the pot and allow the mixture to simmer for 25 minutes.  While this simmered, we cut a salad and steamed some greens in a separate pot.  That way, the rest of the meal was ready by the time the rice was cooked.  Salad is eaten cold, and the greens are fine at room temperature, so we did not worry about hurrying for the reason of other food getting cold.

After about 18 minutes, we added the shrimp, mussels, and clams.  The directions on the box state that if you are using shrimp, add it in the last ten minutes of cooking, and make sure that it becomes fully pink in colour.  That would be after 15 minutes in a 25 minute cycle.  The directions did tell us to simmer for 25 minutes. Since our seafood was all pre-cooked, and we did not want it to become too chewy or tough, we thought 10 minutes of cook-time was long.  We waited a little longer to add the seafood to the pot.  Just over 3/4 of the water had been absorbed by the rice at this point.

Add all the seafood.  And mix it well to get it fully covered with the spices that come with the package.  Then, cover the pot again and let the rice cook the rest of the way.  It should be less than 10 minutes (maybe 5 or 6 minutes).  

Serve this dish hot with the vegetables of your choice, and enjoy.  You can add a hot sauce to your plate if this is too mild for you. 

In the past when we have used this boxed mix, we have used it as a side dish with barbecue, and everyone who tastes it loves it.  It's flavourful, it is colourful, and it is easy to use.  We always tell people that it is from a package, but it is not often that they all believe us.  

Although we prefer our fresh, natural, and homemade foods, it is nice to have a fall back dish like this for those very busy days when you just don't know what else to make.  We do keep a couple of boxes on hand for these rare occasions, although, we know that when there is time, we could assemble all the spices and ingredients to make our own jambalaya that would likely have less sodium and a homemade touch.  But, like we said, for a back up plan, this is a great dish.  Fresh is best, but sometimes you just need a little help.  

Matthew 9:10-17
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
 10 Then it happened that as [a]Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and[b]sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, It isnot those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn [c]what this means: ‘I DESIRE [d]COMPASSION, [e]AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Day 39: Hummus: Chick Pea and Tahini Dip and Spread

Hummus is, according to Wikipedia, an "Arab food dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas, belended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic.  It is popular throughout the Middle East and in Middle Eastern cuisine around the globe."  We know that in the past twenty years, hummus has become more popular in North America, and is now an almost common household word.  We are able to find hummus in the grocery stores, at delis and at specialty stores.  And, you may see that each time the name of this spread/dip is spelled differently -- everything from hummus, hummous, hommos, and humos.  None of these should be confused with humus, which is the organic matter in soil.

Along with the variety of spellings comes a variety of flavours.  Most store bought brands of hummus are a basic chickpea dip with a topping of different things like olives, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, hot peppers, etc., that you can mix into the container to reach a different kind of hummus.  If you make your own hummus at home, you could always add in these flavours, and others.  Today, we are going to show the basic preparation of hummus, and then we will list some of the "add-ins" that you can use.

If you are concerned with having the right recipe for hummus, The Globe and Mail Food section offered a local Toronto chef's version that we found to be very simple and light.  It takes three to five minutes with a food processor, or ten minutes by hand mashing.  We have also used a plunge blender or a regular blender to make this.  Both of those will work just fine, but it depends on the texture that you are trying to achieve.  With the food processor, it is easier to get the smooth, silky texture that we would find in the store-bought versions.  Although if you continue to use the pulse button, you will be able to keep some of the chunkiness that signifies the hummus is homemade.  The two blenders will more likely give you the chunky texture.

While I like the smooth and creamy version, husband always prefers his a little chunky.  We usually end up making one batch into two -- we take half of the mix out of the food processor while it is still chunky, and then process the rest of it until creamy.  This way, I can also add a little more garlic to my half, and husband can add a little Frank's Redhot to his half.  Yummy for both of us!

To make enough dip for 6-10 people, you will need the following ingredients:

Chick peas - one 19 ounce can
2 cloves garlic, cleaned
4 TBSP tahini (optional)
1/3 cup olive oil
3-4 TBSP lemon juice
1 tsp. salt

Put everything in the food processor and blend until it is the desired consistency.

Actually, we do break this into a couple of steps.  We puree most of the chick peas with the garlic, tahini and salt.  Then, we add the olive oil.  Last, we add the lemon juice.  This way, we can get to the consistency we want, and adjust the flavour with the lemon -- sometimes it takes even more lemon than what the recipe states.  We also adjust the salt.  Then, we add in the rest of the chick peas and puree to get that chunky texture that husband likes so much. 

Most of the ingredient amounts are negotiable and done to taste.  Even the tahini is completely optional.  But, this is a basic recipe that will take your own special touch to make it your own.  Some recipes will call for cumin or lemon zest or even black pepper. You can add any of these, all of them, or none of them -- it really is your choice.

So, this will take you three minutes, maybe five if you have a hard time opening the can of chickpeas.  I think the clean-up is actually a longer process than making the dip.  Either way, put the hummus in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it.  It should be at room temperature for serving.  We garnished our hummus with paprika and chopped parsley salad.  You could garnish with anything, and if you are using any of the added ingredients (olives, peppers, etc.), then you would garnish using those ingredients.

To serve this, you can use it as a dip with vegetables or pita bread, or even crackers.  Or, you can use it as a spread on sandwiches, as a filling for celery sticks -- really, you can put this with almost anything.  When our nephew was younger and carried his lunch to school, he would regularly ask for a hummus sandwich which consisted of two slices of bread, hummus, sliced olives and a little lettuce.  To this day, it is a comfort food for him.

We hope that you find the recipe that you like and can make easily to suit your needs.  We would like to talk about one variation here, that may not be mentioned elsewhere.  We made some hummus before Clean Monday, which was the beginning of Great Lent.  We were trying to figure out what was the best way to make this without oil, especially since olive oil is one of the main ingredients.  We found that if we used the liquid from the can of chick peas in place of the oil, the flavour was still bang-on and the texture was very good.  We would do that again, for sure.  The liquid with the chickpeas is a little salty, so we omitted the additional salt.  We did, however, find that we needed a little more lemon juice to overcome some of the salt.  The tartness of the lemon cleaned up the saltiness and gave a nice punch to the taste of the hummus.  So, if you are making this for an oil-free day, you now have a really good option.

St. John Chrysostomos on Repentence
"Enter into the Church and wash away your sins for this is a hospital for sinners and not a court of law. Do not be ashamed again to enter the Church; be ashamed when you sin but not when you repent."