Saturday, 5 April 2014

Day 34: Versatile Vegeta - Οι πολλές χρήσεις του Vegeta - April 5, 2014

Vegeta is not a name that rolls off your tongue every day.  In fact, it may be something that many don't know exists.  But  we know it and use it and want to share it with as many people as we can because of what it does for some foods. Sold in virtually all countries in the world, we believe that you will likely find it easy to locate no matter where you live.

Vegeta is the name of an animated manga character in the Dragon Ball series, but that is not the one we are using for food!  Vegeta is a Croatian seasoning blend used for many foods, including vegetables, fish, and poultry.  It is an all-purpose seasoning made with dehydrated vegetables, herbs, and spices, making it a versatile condiment in your kitchen.  And, with the variety of ingredients, it really brings a flavour combination that gives some foods a certain "je ne sais quoi".   We try to buy only the varieties that have No MSG, which is identified on the top of the individual packages.  In our picture at the top, you see that this package is different from the ones that you see on the Vegeta website.  We bought this at a Polish bakery and market, realizing that this may not be identical to the traditional Vegeta that we have grown to love.  This Vegeta Natur has no MSG, is gluten free, lactose free, additive free, and 99% fat free. Of course, having a high sodium content (like virtually all powdered bouillon-like seasonings), people with low-sodium diets should dilute the Vegeta broth to the appropriate level of saltiness that is suitable for their requirements. Too bad the price wasn't free!
The original Vegeta variety we buy (see photo above) has no MSG; however, there is also the original Vegeta which does contain some MSG. That is an additive to which some in our family have sensitivities, so we avoid it when possible.

We use Vegeta seasoning in some foods regularly.  For example, when we are preparing rice or vegetables, there is a good chance that we have sprinkled some Vegeta in the water  Today, we are going to show you how we use it when preparing a simple vegetable greens dish.

For this demonstration, we chose to boil some kale.  Typically, we would boil or steam the kale and sprinkle it with oil and lemon to serve.  While using the Vegeta, you may find that you do not need added oil or salt or even lemon!  The dehydrated seasonings and herbs get into the water and coat the kale to add that little bit of extra flavour.

First, choose your vegetable to cook.  Fill a pot with some water, whether you are steaming or boiling.  If you are steaming, you want only an inch of water in the pot.  If you are boiling the vegetables, then add more water than that.

Sprinkle the Vegeta on top of the water.  Read the instructions on the package to give you precise guidelines for amounts. You don't want to put this in by the spoonful because it may lump in the pan.  So, sprinkle it into the water and bring the water to a boil.  The dehydrated vegetables and herbs will start to reconstitute, and you will see the colour of the water change to a yellowish hue.

Once the water starts to boil with the Vegeta in it, you will see the lovely nibs of vegetables and herbs rolling around in the pot.  This is the time to add your vegetables to the pot and put a lid on the pot.  This will keep the steam inside and help to cook the vegetables.  We chose kale which because it does not take a very long time to cook.

Boil or steam your vegetables to the desired doneness.  We like a little crunch to most veggies, but some, like kale, are just asking to be soft and tender.  And, we know that using the Vegeta to season the cooking liquid will save us a step in seasoning after the kale is cooked.

When you strain the liquid, you will find the solid bits dispersed through the kale (or other vegetables).  You may want to drink the liquid since it has flavour and it has many of the nutrients from the greens.  It is a good way to cleanse your palate, and it tastes flavourful and light.  This leaves you with a lightly seasoned vegetable and a glass of vegetable juice to wash it all down!

The final dish will show the sprinkles of Vegeta throughout the kale, almost like it sparkles, awaiting to be eaten!  If you like, you can still put the oil and lemon on top, but know that this is a clean, simple preparation that adds a little extra flavour with no extra work!

This is the delicious kale/Vegeta cooked water drink that is left over after the kale is cooked in the Vegeta mixture. Several members in our family love to drink this (both warm and cold).
Notice the flavourful reconstituted veggie specks within the cooked kale. The final product is flavourful, juicy and rich-tasting.
"You wish, or rather, have decided, to remove a splinter from someone? Very well, but do not go after it with a stick instead of a lancet for you will only drive it deeper. Rough speech and harsh gestures are the stick, while even-tempered instruction and patient reprimand are the lancet. 'Reprove, rebuke, exhort,' says the Apostle (II Tim. 4:2), not 'batter'."

From St. John Climacus (The Ladder of Divine Ascent; Paulist Press pg. 149)
Source of quote:

Friday, 4 April 2014

Day 33: Olive Bread - Monastery Cookbook - Ελιόψωμο - April 4, 2014

We like using our "Greek Monastery Cookbook" and have shared our experiences with you on several blog entries (here, When we think about olive bread, we often think of a yeast bread with black olives.

Today's recipe, an olive bread was not made with yeast, nor was it made with black olives! In fact, calling this a bread is almost a misnomer and should be called a quick bread or a muffin. It was delightful, moist, and fluffy like a muffin and had a savoury flavour and slight saltiness from the green olives.

As you read through the ingredient list and are gathering the things you need, you will notice the orange juice on the list.  This did not seem right at first because usually olives and orange juice would not pair well.  However, in this recipe, the sweetness of the orange juice really complemented the saltiness of the olives.  Of course, you could rinse the olives or soak them to remove some of the salt, but the orange juice did counteract the saltiness well, so rinsing the olives was unnecessary.  This helped us keep the process simple.

To make this even easier and more simple, as well as an overall nice recipe for us, making this bread took about seven minutes to gather ingredients, mix it all together, and get it into the oven.  That's it!  We are always impressed with quick and easy recipes that taste delicious and give results that seem like the product was a lot of work.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

1 cup green olives
1 1/4 cups orange juice
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups water

Start by combining the dry ingredients in one bowl.  Make sure to include the flour, baking powder, and the baking soda.  Mix these together to combine, assuring that the baking powder and soda is well distributed throughout the flour.

Now, add the water and stir the mixture five or six times, then add the orange juice and mix well.

Once the batter is mixed well, add the olives and stir to distribute the olives.  Allow this mixture to sit for five minutes before pouring it into the prepared baking dish.

The baking pan that you use should be coated with oil and then dusted with flour, or greased with vegetable shortening, or pan spray (like we used).   We photographed the oil thinking that would be the best route, but ended up using the pan spray after seeing the consistency of the batter.  Pour the mixture into the greased baking pan and bake this at 400º F (about 205º C) for 45 minutes until the centre is firm and dry.  Check it with a toothpick as  you would a traditional cake, or feel the bread with your hand and make sure the middle of the bread bounces back when pressed.  You will also see that the bread will turn a golden colour, and the edges of the bread will pull away from the sides of the baking dish (as will any quick bread).  Allow this to cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes before cutting.

"Fire and water do not mix, neither can you mix judgment of others with the desire to repent. If a man commits a sin before you at the very moment of his death, pass no judgment, because the judgment of God is hidden from men. It has happened that men have sinned greatly in the open but have done greater deeds in secret, so that those who would disparage them have been fooled, with smoke instead of sunlight in their eyes."

St. John Climacus

Source of quote:

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Day 32: Vegetables with Balsamic Glaze - Τηγανητά Λαχανικά με σάλτσα βαλσάμικου - April 3, 2014

This was a dish that appeared easy and delicious, and something we could make quickly to accompany our meal.  The directions are straight forward, and the twist of using vinegar to season the veggies appealed to us in many ways.

Sauteed vegetables are one of the easiest side dishes that go with every entree.  They are used in many restaurant menus, banquet hall menus, and at home.  In the warmer seasons, grilling the vegetables may replace the fry pan method, but even then, you can put the frying pan on the grill!  So, the biggest appeal about this recipe was the variety of vegetables that you can use, and, of course, the balsamic vinegar glaze.

Balsamic vinegar has so many healthy properties.  It is made from grapes, as is wine.  That is the first indicator that there may be a healthy side to it!  Throughout history, different vinegars were used as medicine to address specific ailments.  The Greeks, for example, used cider vinegar to treat respiratory illness.  But, what is different about balsamic?  Balsamic vinegar starts with grape must.  It s cooked into a syrup and then aged.  Over the course of ageing, the alcohol created from the cooking process is then transformed into acetic acid.  It is that acetic acid that gives the benefit to maintaining cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.  Think of it this way… we use vinegar and water to clean our houses, and if we eat vinegar, it can clean our systems!

So, picking the right vegetables to carry this strong cleaner through our systems will be key to this recipe.  There are many vegetables that you can add to this recipe.  We used the basics, trying to keep it simple.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

oil for sauteing
1 onion, sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced
1 zucchini, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 TBSP balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

First, start by cutting up all the vegetables and the garlic.  If everything is cut up and ready, you will have an easier time to figure out what cooks faster or slower, and you will be able to time the cooking process.

Saute the onions in a small amount of oil.  You can use vegetable or olive oil.   Make sure the pan is hot so the vegetables will cook quickly, and maintain a little of their texture.

Add the peppers.  Get the peppers cooked half way before you move on to the next step of adding the zucchini.  You will see the peppers turning brighter in colour, whereas the onions will become more translucent and golden.  When you see the colour change, add the zucchini.

Cook this for about 5-10 minutes to make sure all the vegetables are cooked.  You can cook them longer or shorter times, depending on how much crunch you want them to have.  Then, add the garlic.  If you want a subtle garlic flavour, you add the garlic in the beginning of the cooking process.  If you are going for a stronger garlic taste, add the garlic at the end of the process.

Now, pour the balsamic vinegar all over the vegetables.  You will see that there is a rapid change in colour, from the bright vegetable colour to the brown hue of the balsamic.  Mix this well so that all the vegetables are coated.  Lower the heat to a medium-high, and cook this until the amount of liquid in the pan is reduced by half.  That means, let the pan cook until the liquid goes away.

When the liquid is reduced and the vegetables are cooked, you may see a dark colour on the bottom of the pan that looks like something burned. Not to worry, this is the reduced balsamic vinegar (after you remove the vegetables and plate them on a dish you can use a splash of warm water to deglaze the pan and use the sauce on the vegetables).

This is the point when you add salt and pepper to your liking to season the dish.  Then, serve this hot, right from the pan to the plate.  It is a lovely recipe.  The only down side of this recipe is that the beautiful bright colours of the vegetables turned brown -- all of the vegetables turned brown.  That was unfortunate.  We found that the balsamic vinegar gave us the tangy taste  that we expect from vinegar along with a sweet after taste that we like from balsamic vinegar.  The combination of tangy and sweet made this a great complement to a simple rice.  We would definitely make this again.

"When hungry, do not throw yourself upon food - else you will overload your heart and body. Eat slowly, without avidity, with reflection to the glory of God, remembering the God Who feeds us, and above all His incorruptible food, His Body and Blood, that out of love He has given Himself to us in food and drink, remembering also the holy word of the Gospel."

From St. John of Kronstadt (My Life in Christ: Part II, Holy Trinity Monastery pg. 273)
Source of quote:

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Day 31: Tea Biscuits with Rosemary - Μπισκότα του Τσαγιού με Δενδρολίβανο και Μέλι (Rosemary) - April 2, 2014

Often when we think about rosemary, we think savoury foods.  But these tea biscuits are not savoury.  We don't classify them as sweets, either, because there is such a small amount of sugar in them.  In fact, there is no sugar -- only 2 tablespoons of honey!  How could a tea biscuit, which is often considered a cookie have rosemary and no sugar?  Does this interest you as much as it interested us?

We found this recipe in the ARGIRO, EVERYDAY GREEK cookbook.  Argiro is Veffa's daughter, so we had high expectations for her recipes.  We had made similar tea biscuits before, but not with rosemary.  That was the most appealing part.  When we looked at the amount of rosemary used (1 tablespoon in the recipe), we thought that maybe these would be very pungent in flavour -- almost biting, like rosemary can be in large quantities.  It may not seem to you that 1 tablespoon is a lot, but there is not another flavouring in the tea biscuits to off set the rosemary.  That was our concern.  There is honey for sweetness, a splash of vanilla which would not be enough against the dendrolivano, and then some pecans, which are also very mild flavoured.  So, would these be overwhelming?

There are very few ingredients to make these biscuits.  And, we are glad that they are called tea biscuits, because they really do need the cup of tea to complete the joy in eating them.  And, it took us about 20 minutes from start to finish, which is nothing, and we know we could make these in a pinch if we needed to (provided we had all the ingredients on hand, of course!).  The directions could not be easier, and this made our baking experience even better!

O.K. Here's a blooper for you. Can you spot one ingredient in the photo above that isn't in the recipe? You're right! The Kyknos tomato paste is NOT part of the actual recipe. 
For this recipe, you will need the following:
1 1/2 cups flour
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 TBSP honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 TBSP crushed rosemary
1/2 cup crushed pecans

Mix everything in a bowl.  It did not seem to matter about the order of ingredients, but we tried to stick to the "add dry ingredients to wet" theory, just from our own experiences.  We crumbled the rosemary with our hands, so that it maintained some texture.  We also smashed the pecans into various sized pieces to add a little interest to these cookies.  We thought about our mortar and pestle after the fact, but that would have been a nice way to crush the rosemary for the utmost flavour. Then, we put everything in the bowl and mixed.  The dough started to form , although it was a bit crumbly.  The more we played with it in our hands, the more the dough stuck together.  That's when we started to shape the discs.

Now, the directions in the book say that you should use a teaspoon to form the biscuits and drop a teaspoon at a time onto the baking sheet.  That did not seem to work for us.  The dough did not scoop well, and needed that moment in our hands to take a shape.  So, we opted to put a  pinch of dough in our palms, and flatten it with the other hand  The, we pinched the edges to make a disc or a more round shape than a lump.  You may have dough that is more moist, and the teaspoon could work for you.  You will see in the pictures that we went with something about the size of a toonie (a Canadian two dollar coin).  That seemed like a nice size of cookie to eat.

Once all the cookies are formed and placed on a parchment lined baking sheet, or a silicone mat lined baking sheet, then bake them at 350º F (175º C) for 6-8 minutes.  We have mentioned in other posts about convection baking taking a shorter period of time than non-convection ovens.  These cookies really need the non-convection baking.  The dough is dry to begin with, so you want it to have that extra moment in the oven to dry out  and bake through the center of the cookie.  Allow the cookies to cool on the baking pan before moving them to a serving dish.  This will help to complete the baking process in the centre rack of the stove.  Had these been the ball shapes they were supposed to be (as the cookbook recommended), we may have taken longer baking them.

Bake the cookies unit they have a very light golden colour and they move freely on the baking sheet.  That's how you will know that they are fully baked.

Serve and enjoy with Greek Mountain Tea (tsai tou vounou), tea or coffee! We certainly did!

"'Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord' (Heb. 12:14), Why did he say 'strive'? Because it is not possible for us to become holy and to be saints in an hour! We must therefore progress from modest beginnings toward holiness and purity. Even were we to spend a thousand years in this life we should never perfectly attain it. Rather we must always struggle for it every day, as if mere beginners."

From St. Symeon the New Theologian (The Discourses; Paulist Press pg. 91)