Saturday, 21 March 2015

Day 28: March 21, 2015 - Lenten Spaghetti with Tarama - Νηστίσιμο Σπαγγέτι με Ταραμά

By now, you may know how much we enjoy the recipes of Diane Kochilas.  We read through her cookbooks to get ideas, to verify how to make something, or to find new dishes to make. Having owned Diane's books since the 1980's, we particularly appreciate her references to the Ikarian diet, given that members of our own family also share an Ikarian background. Her latest book on Ikaria and the Ikarian diet is an excellent book that all readers should get their hands on.

Recently, we found that she had an easy version of Linguine with Poor Man's Caviar (a.k.a. tarama); we recognize, however, that she gives credit for this recipe to local Scarborough (Toronto, Canada) legend Peter Minakis (  And, although we did not have linguine noodles on hand, we did have spaghetti , which is just a thinner noodle, so we knew it would work.

We like easy recipes with few ingredients.  Who doesn't?  We had read other recipes for the same dish, but those recipes had many ingredients, many of which we did not have on hand.  And, when you want to make dinner that is quick and uses the items you have on hand in the pantry or the fridge.  That was the other appealing part about using Kochilas' recipes.  This took about 20 minutes to complete from start to finish, which means less than 30 minutes from the time we got home from work to the time dinner was served.  Now, spaghetti with tarama is on the list of dishes to make for company.

As  you read the ingredients list, you will see that one of the ingredients is Bukovo, which is the Greek term for red pepper flakes.  In our house, this is a staple that goes with many meals.  We use the red pepper flakes, various hot sauces, tabascos, and dried chiles for different dishes.  But, we are aware that we are a little different that way, and not everybody likes spicy foods.  We do, so we thought that this time, we would add just a little more zing to the dish, and we used a red pepper pasta.  It is made with pepperoncini peppers, so the strands of pasta have a nice little bite.  Since the spiciness would be in the pasta, we were able to use the Bukovo for garnish, or as needed per individual.  There are a variety of pasta types and flavours to use, you just have to pick out what you like.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

1 pound of spaghetti (we used a spicy (3% hot pepper) Divella spaghetti) or linguine (about 500 g)
6 TBSP oil
1 medium onion, chopped (can use spring onions, scallions, red onions, or white)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup glanced sliced almonds
6 TBSP tarama (not taramosalata) (see our entry from March 1, 2012)
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 teaspoon Bukovo (red pepper flakes) to taste
salt and pepper to taste

In one pot, boil the salted water and cook the pasta.  Cook the noodles long enough to your liking.  We prefer when noodles have a little bite (al dente), and others prefer very soft noodles.  When the pasta is done, drain most of the water, leaving about 4 TBSP in the pan with the noodles.  Let that pan sit while you cook the topping/sauce.

Here we are toasting the slivered almonds

In a dry sauté pan, toast the almonds.  Do not add oil; the nuts have their own that will help the browning process.  Toast the almonds long enough that they become a beautiful golden colour.  The almonds will brown quickly, so you have to keep moving them around the pan.  This will take about 4 minutes in total.  Our almonds were a little crushed, so the small crumbles of almond browned a little more than expected.  We did not mind, because they tasted delicious, even if they looked a little burnt.

Now, in another pan, sauté the onions and the garlic until the onions are soft.  They should not turn brown, merely translucent.  Once the onions are soft (about 5 minutes), it is time to add the other ingredients.  Add the tarama, almonds, lemon zest, and a bit of bukovo.  You may want a little more bukovo, if you want a spicier dish.  Mix this together until the ingredients are well combined.

Let the onion/tarama mixture heat through, mixed well, and then, it is time to add it to the pasta.  Pour the contents of this pan into the spaghetti pot, and mix well.  You will notice that the little bit of water that was in the spaghetti will help mix the sauce/topping all around.  Mix everything together enough to get all of the noodles coated.  Then, squeeze the lemon over the spaghetti.  This will brighten and freshen the flavour of the sauce/topping.

Serve immediately while it is warm and fresh, and enjoy!

This should take most people less than 30 minutes to prepare.  We would love to know how your dish turned out.  We especially enjoyed the different textures in the dish, from the soft onion, to the crunch of the almonds.  Husband found the layers of flavour very complex.  There was a slight bitterness from the lemon zest, a slight bite from the bukovo, and the tarama was creamy and a little salty. All of the flavours and textures together made this a great meal.  For us, this is a winning recipe not only for the ease, but also for the taste. Thanks to Peter Minakis for the original recipe and Diane Kochilas for the modified, simpler version. Our own modification of using slightly spicy spaghetti made, in our opinion, for a more piquant version that all in our own family enjoyed tonight!

A man will know his brotherly love and his genuine charity when he sees that he mourns for his brother’s sins, and rejoices at his progress and graces.

St. John of Climacus (From the Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 4, Section 47)
Source of quote: 

Friday, 20 March 2015

Day 27: March 20, 2015 - Tim Horton's Vegan Options - Νηστίσιμες Επιλογές στο Tim Horton's

There are some coffee chains that make vegan diets easy.  For example, Starbucks regularly offers soy milk products, and there is often a fruit offering on the menu.  But, does Tim Hortons take care of the customer with dietary restrictions as easily?  We think there are options, but not really as many options in the drinks.  Here is the story:

When you hear the name Tim Hortons, you may think about hockey, or you may think about coffee and donuts.  In Canada, both are true.  In the U.S., most people may think about the coffee/doughnut chain. The late Tim Horton, winner of several Stanley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs, lived in a house on Warden Avenue during the 1950's, not far from where we live in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada.  In 1965 Horton partnered with a police officer, Ron Joyce, to create the first of many Tim Hortons coffee and donut franchises. In recent months, this wildly successful iconic Canadian brand was purchased by Burger King (by the way, we do like the Burger King veggie burger).

A few days ago, we were travelling by car to the U.S. to visit family and friends, and when we do, we plan our drives with stops along the way at different places and different sites.  One of the stops that we made is a Duty Free shop near Niagara Falls. This Tim Hortons is a convenient location for us to buy a coffee or buy a snack.  Here's what we discovered: if someone enjoys a black coffee, or just a little sweetener, then this is an easy purchase.  Or if a person wants a cup of tea, this is easy.  But, buying a cup of coffee with a non-animal milk product in public is not the easiest thing at this chain.

We stopped at Tim's to buy a coffee, typically we have coffee with milk.  During Great Lent, we use almond milk or rice milk at home for coffee.  This is one of the few areas we actually do a substitution instead of just eliminating that food from the diet.  And, for us, rice milk and almond milk do not leave a residual flavour in the mouth (as we feel that soy milk often does), and are mild enough, as well as thick enough to make a good cup of coffee.  These substitutes work for smoothies and frappe, too!  But, we did not know if Tim Hortons would offer these choices, nor had we planned ahead to bring our own container of "milk", so we asked the workers, "Do you have any non-animal milk alternatives for coffee?"  Of course, this was not a very clear questions for the young worker, so we had to ask again, "Do you have any soy milk, rice milk, or powdered non-dairy creamer to use in coffee?"  The young man answered with, "No, we have tea."

How does one add tea to coffee to make it creamy?  Who knows?  But, it was not something that we were about to try, and we asked again.  "Do you have milk alternatives for someone who doesn't eat animal products?"  The young man explained, "We have whole milk, 2 %, and fat free milk.  Or, you can have it black, or have tea."  This was not the answer we wanted to hear, but it was clear.  We looked over the menu items that were available, but we just wanted the coffee.  And, since drinking black coffee is not really an option unless it is a small Greek coffee in a demitasse with a cold glass of water, then black coffee was not of us.

So what items are vegan choices at Tim Hortons?

Well, by looking at the Tim Hortons website allergy information, there are a few options.  It may not be the milk for beverages, as the young worker explained, but we did find this list of acceptable (without animal products) foods. We have tried to identify all the possibilities from Tim Hortons website (as of March 2015).

Bagels - plain bagels without toppings or flavours are typically vegan, since they are made with flour, salt, and water.  Watch out for speciality bagels-- they likely contain egg.

Condiments/toppings - food condiments are usually safe.  Ketchup, mustard, veggies, and the like are often clean of animal products.  Of course, we avoid mayonnaise, which is egg based, creams, cheeses, and whipped toppings.  Tim Horton's, though, does have one vegan topping -- the Chocolatey Drizzle is free of milk products and free of eggs.  The mustard spread and the margarine, however, have milk product at Tim's, so be careful!

Beverages - here are lists of the ingredients in some of the beverage choices.  That way, you can see which drinks are fine, and what the ingredients make up those drinks to decide if you want to drink them:

Bottled Beverages:
Apple Juice: Water, concentrated apple juice, vitamin C.Orange Juice: Water, concentrated orange juice.Citrus Green Iced Tea: Brewed green tea leaves, cane sugar, natural flavor, citric acid. 
Lemon Iced Tea: Brewed tea leaves, cane sugar, natural lemon flavor, citric acid. 


Original Blend Coffee: 100% Arabica coffee.
Dark Roast Coffee: 100% Arabica coffee.
Decaf Coffee: 100% Arabica coffee, decaffeinated by The Swiss Water Process. 

Apple Cinnamon Herbal Tea (Caffeine-free): Cinnamon bark, roasted chicory root, apple pieces, rosehip berries, hibiscus flowers, natural flavors, nutmeg, allspice, citric acid. Blueberry 
Chai Tea: Black tea leaves, cinnamon bark, ginger root, black pepper, cardamom seed, cloves, star anise, nutmeg.
Chamomile Herbal Tea (Caffeine-free): Chamomile.
Earl Grey Tea: Black tea leaves, natural oil of Bergamot.
English Breakfast Tea: Black tea leaves.
Green Tea: Green tea leaves, lemongrass, lemon balm herb, verbena leaves.
Honey Lemon Herbal Tea (Caffeine-free): Rosehip berries, lemongrass herb, lemon peels, golden rod herb, roasted chicory root, natural flavors, citric acid, green anise seeds. 

Orange Pekoe Tea (Decaffeinated): Black tea leaves. Decaffeinated with ethyl acetate.
Peppermint Herbal Tea (Caffeine-free): Peppermint.
Pomegranate White Tea: White tea, hibiscus, rosehips, orange peel, chamomile, natural pomegranate flavor, licorice root, natural and artificial flavors. 

Neutral Base Raspberry Flavor Shot
Hazelnut Flavor: Glycerine, caramel colour, propylene glycol, natural and artificial flavors, water, FD&C yellow #5, triacetin. Contains sulfites. 
Raspberry Flavor: Glycerine, propylene glycol, water, natural and artificial flavors, FD&C red #40, FD&C blue #1.
Vanilla Bean Flavor: Glycerine, propylene glycol, water, natural and artificial flavouring. Contains sulfites. 

Specialty and Herbal Teas:
Steeped Black Tea: Black tea leaves.
White Tea: White tea, rosehips, hibiscus, natural blueberry flavor, licorice root, natural vanilla flavor, natural raspberry flavor, other natural flavors.
Orange Pekoe Tea: Black tea leaves.

Frozen Lemonade:
Original Frozen Lemonade:
Lemon Syrup Neutral Base
Raspberry Frozen Lemonade
Lemon Syrup
Lemon Syrup: Water, sugar, citric acid, natural flavor, lemon juice concentrate, xanthan gum, sodium benzoate (preservative), turmeric (color).
Neutral Base: High fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, sodium benzoate (preservative), citric acid. OR
High fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, citric acid and sodium benzoate as a preservative, antifoam (dimethylpolysiloxane). Raspberry Flavor Shot: See under FLAVOR SHOTS. 

Flavor shots (for beverages):
Creamy Caramel Flavor: Glycerine, propylene glycol, water, natural and artificial flavouring, caramel colour. Contains sulfites.
Mint Chocolate Flavor: Glycerine, propylene glycol, water, artificial flavors, caramel colour.

Beverage toppings:
Chocolatey Drizzle: High fructose corn syrup, water, sugar, cocoa processed with alkali, corn syrup, natural flavor, salt, potassium sorbate (preservative), citric acid.  (mentioned above)

"But I say to you," the Lord says, "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you." Why did he command these things? So that he might free you from hatred, sadness, anger and grudges, and might grant you the greatest possession of all, perfect love, which is impossible to possess except by the one who loves all equally in imitation of God."
St. Maximus the Confessor

Source of quote:

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Day 26 - March 19, 2015: Nettle Tea - Τσάι Τσουκνίδας

There is usually one time in the day that seems like a good time for a cup of tea.  But, there are days when you may feel like you need a cup of tea for your health.  There are so many alternatives to flavours and types of tea, and you can have loose leaf, stems, or bags.  There are all kinds of fancy devices for boiling water, too, but that does not necessarily give you the tea that you want or need.  We decided to follow the advice from Yiayia Panagiota.  She used to go and pick the nettles from the field, until husband was old enough to pick them and clean them, and make the tea.  And, you may know that nettle tea are from the stinging nettle plant; however, not all nettle plants sting.  

The stinging nettle plant should be picked while wearing gloves since the stinging part is on the leaves. If you want some guidance for identifying, picking, and preparing nettle leaves, visit the Wolf College website.  Yiayia Panagiota let Husband  figure out how to pick the leaves without getting hurt.  He learned very quickly, and is glad to know the art of identifying the plant and preparing it.  But, Husband is even more glad to know that Nettle Tea is available in the store! 

Medicinal qualities of Nettles: Nettle stings have been used to deal with a variety of ailments since ancient times in the Greek world. Recent research has indicated that the nettle stings actually are used to reduce arthritic pain (please read this article which was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine). Please note that the nettle tea IS NOT delivered in the same manner as the research cited in the article above. The use of nettle plants (cooked in the form of soup) has been used for many hundreds of year to treat kidney ailments in the Greek world and beyond.

Nettle tea has some medicinal benefits, which we learned from Yiayia, but  there are more than, "It will make you feel better!"  Yiayia Panagiota would tell you that the tea would cure your stomach ache, clear your cough, help in your digestion, and ease away your worries.  That may be her interpretation, but it is valuable advice which we still follow to this day.  In fact, the best part is when one of us starts saying the same, "Have a cup of nettle tea and you will feel better!"  Web MD has a nice summary of the main benefits that the scientists claim to be true about nettles.  But, the only way you can really understand the benefits is by drinking the tea!  So, put on the water … it's tea time!

We opened up the bag of tea to see what the leaves looked like inside.  There were several hues of green, and the smell was very fragrant.  This was a surprise, since neither of us thought that the stinging nettle plant had a scent.  Well, the tea does have a sweet, earthy smell that was quite noticeable.

Anyway, looking at the tiny, chopped leaves, it was exciting thinking about all the possible ways to enjoy this drink.  Our first step was to share stories about when this tea was most useful.  For Husband, it was any time Yiayia was near.  For Wife, it was usually when she had a cold.  Everyone will use it for different benefits, depending on what that person's Yiayia said.

Using one teabag per cup, pour boiling water over the tea bag.  Make sure to allow the tea bag to steep for 3 minutes.  That is the time needed to get the rich colour, flavour, and benefits of nettle tea.  If you are making tea in a pot, we found that using 1 teabag per 2 cups of desired tea was fine.  We then allowed the tea to steep for 5 minutes.  Those 5 minutes made the tea taste quite good.

While the tea steeped, we could smell green tea.  Oddly, it was similar in smell and taste to green tea, but the ingredient list did not contain any.  In fact, we looked at the ingredients listed, and the only ingredient is nettle leaves.  That was good to read that this particular tea was made from the actual nettle that we wanted.

When we looked online for some information, we found so many sources for nettle tea and dried nettle leaves, we were fascinated and talked about growing a patch of stinging nettle so we could dry our own leaves.  That is a while away, so we can just purchase the tea for now.  You can conduct your own search to find out the specific research you want on nettle tea, for us t is about fasting appropriate, taste, and authenticity.

Once we started drinking this tea, it had a light, fresh flavour that took Husband's mind to his Yiayia Panagiota.  For Wife, it was a light and refreshing cups of tea that will "ale you feel better."  And, even though it smelled like green tea, it tasted more like something that would be good for us.  It is a great thing to have access to a store that carries this tea so we don't have to go and try to pick the leaves!

P.S. We have started to grow seedlings of the stinging nettles from seeds purchased from the excellent  herb company Richter's Herbs (in the town of Goodwood, about 40 minutes north of Toronto). We hope we have good results growing our own stinging nettle plants for harvesting.

“An angel fell from Heaven without any other passion except pride, and so we may ask whether it is possible to ascend to Heaven by humility alone, without any other of the virtues.” 

St. John of Climacus (From the Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 23, Section 12)

Day 25: March 18, 2015 - Tofurky "Sausage" vs. Yves Breakfast "Sausage" - Διάφορα Νηστίσιμα Λουκάνικα

We are a couple who prefers to avoid fake meat product to make it through Great Lent.  But every once in a while, we find a product that seems so interesting that we want to try it.  Or, we run across someone who speaks so highly of a product, that we want to taste what that person tastes.  That's what happened to us today.  We were having conversation with several people who are following the strict fast like we do, and they were talking about the various things they eat for breakfast.  One lady started raving about these breakfast sausages that she buys at the health food store.  She stated that the texture was just like meat, and she has a few sausages when she is feeling weak, wanting to beak the fast.  This lady claimed that once she eats a vegan sausage, she knows that she can continue fasting.

It is odd to talk about sausage, when the sausages we are discussing are completely vegan.  There are absolutely no animal products of any kind in these sausages, nor in the casing.  So, what can we expect out of these fake meat sausages?  We took our time to find out what it's all about.

Before we go on, we must share the memory of a beloved uncle who is no longer with us. Theio Steve (Stavros was his actual Greek name) was the owner of a very famous hot-dog restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. Steve's Lunch, the name of his restaurant, served hot dogs so legendary that comedian Drew Carey used Steve's Lunch in one of this show's infamous opening credits. Husband loves good quality hot dogs and regrets that he never got to meet our beloved uncle Steve. (We had written this entry a few weeks ago and have a very sad update: Steve's Lunch burned down completely on St. Patrick's Day, 2015 - two days ago! We wish all the best to all the families affected by this loss!)

Alright now-back to discussing vegan breakfast sausages. We want you to know that these are not inexpensive.  At the health food store, the Yves brand package cost $ 4.30 CDN, whereas the Tofurky brand package cost $ 4.00 CDN.  Most of the other products in this section cost between 4 and 5 dollars.  The section included lunch meats, hamburger patties, sausages, and seasoned tofu strips to simulate chicken.  We chose the breakfast sausage links because they were directly comparable.  The Tofurky brand of sausages ranged from breakfast links, hot Italian style sausage, and Polish style sausage.  The Yves brand of sausages included breakfast links, sausage patties, hot dogs, and lunch meats.  We wanted to compare apples to apples… or sausages to sausages in this case.

When you look at the two packages, you can immediately notice the Tofurky sausage is less expensive for more product ($ 4.00 for 227 grams) than is the Yves sausage ($ 4.30 for 200 grams).  This would have swayed our decision if we did not know what we wanted out of buying these.

Next, you can see that the Tofurky brand sausages are a much darker colour, and larger in size than the competing Yves brand.  Although there are more sausage pieces in the Yves brand package, the Tofurky sausages are longer, thicker, and heavier.

Yves brand on the Left, Tofurky brand on the Right.
When we cut the sausages raw, we noticed that they had very different textures.  Surprisingly, the Yves brand breakfast sausages had a very flat and processed texture -- just like a hot dog! The Tofurky sausages had a more granular texture that, surprisingly, were rather satisfying.  A couple of the people who tasted these uncooked were surprised at the difference in textures.  What they wanted to know was if the textures would change once the sausages were cooked.

So, we cooked them.  We read the directions on the packages.  Both offered directions to heat these in the microwave or pan fry them.  We thought that the microwave would just warm up the already soft sausages, and that did not sound too appealing to us.  To pan fry the sausages offered an opportunity to make the outside a little crispy to change the textures, and that is what we chose to do.

To pan fry these, put a little oil in the frying pan and get it nice and hot.  We cooked at a medium high heat.  Put the sausages in the hot oil and cook until they are browned all around.  You will have to turn them several times to make sure that all sides are browned.  Serve them hot.

We had the same people taste the cooked (fried) sausages.  First, we liked the look of the Yves brand sausages.  They looked like genuine meat sausage.  We thought the look of the Tofurky brand sausage had not changed significantly.

What was interesting about having cooked these sausages is that the Tofurky brand sausage was the same cooked as it was uncooked, with a little crispiness on the outside.  The Yves brand, however, actually changed textures inside!  We keep referring to the similarity of a hot dog, because that is what we thought of with each bite -- not the taste, that's something else-- but for texture, colour, mouthfeel - this was a small sized vegan hot dog!  We actually hoped that it would taste like a hot dog, but it did not. It tasted more like a creamy paste with a slightly crispy outside.   Neither the texture nor the taste changed  from the cooking process for the Yves brand sausages.

The Tofurky brand sausages did not change, either.  However, they had a very meaty feel to them, and had some flavouring similar to a spicy meatball.  These sausages were considered to be "pretty good" by those who tasted, and one person claimed that he would eat these again, even if it were not a fasting period.  That said everything we wanted to know!

If you are looking to replace some protein with a substitute, tofu can be useful.  We enjoyed the process of tasting these new items, and are thrilled that we tried something different.  If we were to use more "fake meat" products, the breakfast sausage may be one we would include.  After all, we would pay $4.00 for meat sausage, so paying for tofu sausages is the same thing.

"If you find that there is no love in you, but you want to have it, then do deeds of love, even though you do them without love in the beginning. The Lord will see you desire and striving and will put love in your heart."

(St. Ambrose of Optina)

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Day 24: March 17, 2015 (Repost from March 17, 2012) - St. Patrick's Day and Greek Potato Salad - Ημέρα του Αγίου Πατρικίου και Ελληνική Πατατοσαλάτα

Today's entry is a repost from three years ago. Today happens to be St. Patrick's Day. We are travelling, and thought that enough new readers of our blog will enjoy reading this classic potato salad that we SHOULD post this recipe again! So here it is. Enjoy!

Source of icon:
March 17 usually means St. Patrick's Day to people of Ireland and North America.  The theme of the day is typically about Irish folks, shamrocks, parades, and festivities.  But, to the Greek Orthodox, Saint Patrick was someone who did not represent just one day, but he had a legacy of his own.

According to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Online Chapel, there is an interesting story of how Patrick became a saint.  Here it is:

"Saint Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland: March 17
Saint Patrick, the Apostle of the Irish, was seized from his native Britain by Irish marauders when he was sixteen years old. Though the son of a deacon and a grandson of a priest, it was not until his captivity that he sought out the Lord with his whole heart. In his Confession, the testament he wrote towards the end of his life, he says, "After I came to Ireland - every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed - the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was so moved that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many at night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountain; and I would rise for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm." After six years of slavery in Ireland, he was guided by God to make his escape, and afterwards struggled in the monastic life at Auxerre in Gaul, under the guidance of the holy Bishop Germanus. Many years later he was ordained bishop and sent to Ireland once again, about the year 432, to convert the Irish to Christ. His arduous labours bore so much fruit that within seven years, three bishops were sent from Gaul to help him shepherd his flock, "my brethren and sons whom I have baptized in the Lord - so many thousands of people," he says in his Confession. His apostolic work was not accomplished without much "weariness and painfulness," long journeys through difficult country, and many perils; he says his very life was in danger twelve times. When he came to Ireland as its enlightener, it was a pagan country; when he ended his earthly life some thirty years later, about 461, the Faith of Christ was established in every corner."

So, what does any of this have to do with Lent?  Well, while people are thinking about St. Patrick, St.  Patrick's day, and focusing on things that are related to the Irish, we are thinking about another association with the Irish -- their food -- specifically, potatoes.  Potatoes are a good source of vitamins, an easy to prepare food, and in season all year long.  We love potatoes for their flavour, creaminess, and their shelf life.  Potatoes can last a month or more if stored in a cool dry place.

Greeks and potatoes have a long history and a loving relationship.  Many times, potatoes are used for the base of a food, they are included in stews, they are used as the main dish.  One of the ways that we use potatoes is by making potato salad.  Often, you can find potato salad in the grocery store and it is coated with mayonnaise, and may have a little bit of chopped vegetable mixed into the dressing.  Or, if you find the oil and vinegar version, you taste a low quality oil with a small amount of vinegar, and you  may have to add seasonings of your own to enjoy it.  So, why not just start with one you enjoy.  It does not take that much work, and it is absolutely worth it to get a good, high quality, tasty dish that you made yourself with fresh ingredients.

Greek potato salad is a staple food around here.  We call it Greek potato salad for several reasons -- first, we are Greek.  Therefore, much of the food we make is Greek food.  We like our own cooking.  That is not to say that we don't enjoy being guests at other people's homes, or eating out-- we do.  But, we do like to cook and eat good food.  Second, it is a version that will survive the summer heat without too many worries of spoilage from egg (like the mayonnaise based salads).  So, in order for us to make a delicious, high-quality Greek potato salad, we need to have the right, fresh, high-quality ingredients.  

First, you need potatoes.  Many people will use whatever potatoes they have on hand.  There are different types of potatoes, and the different types yield different results, so we think it is important to have the right type of potato.  

According to the website All About Potatoes,  many varieties of potatoes exist, but only a few basic types.  It is the type of potato that matters, not the variety.  We must make sure to have the right type.  Here is an abbreviated list:

Russets are common, but not the best choice for potato salad.  They are dry, high starch potatoes perfect for baking and boiling.  They create a nice starchiness, almost a stickiness for mashed potatoes.  

Yellow potatoes are more common now than ever.  They can be used for any "all purpose" recipe, and will be a good choice for salads.

Red potatoes are available all year.  They are best if they are steamed or boiled, since they are young and moist, they fare well in moist heat.

White potatoes are also very common.  They are low in starch and have thin skins -- the perfect type for potato salad.  

There are the multicoloured potatoes and fingerling potatoes that you can find in the stores.  Both of these varieties are very low to medium in starch content, and can be used for baking and roasting.  If you want to see more specific information about each and every individual type of potato, look at the Cook's Thesaurus on line, under potatoes for all kinds of useful information.  

So, for our potato salad, we are going to use yellow flesh potatoes.  They are all purpose potatoes that will give us a fine and colourful potato salad.  They typically have a creamy texture when boiled and that will be nice in binding our potato salad.   We will also use olive oil, lemon juice, and red wine vinegar.  You can add to it olives, capers, feta cheese, artichokes, or other chopped vegetables.  The nice part about knowing how to make potato salad is that you know a basic guideline, and then, each time you want to make it, you can individualize it, change it, and adapt it to suit your tastes.  So, we are writing the guideline for making Greek Potato Salad as per a recipe by Diane Kochilas.  These directions should serve about 4 people.  

Here it is:
1 1/2 to 2 pounds potatoes, peeled, boiled, diced
1 medium red onion, sliced
15 - 20 Kalamata olives, rinsed, cut in pieces
4 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. oregano

• Wash and boil the potatoes.  When they are soft in the center, and done boiling, allow them to cool for 15 minutes at room temperature.  Then, peel and cut the potatoes into large cubes.  You could cut them before boiling, but you want to make sure that the potatoes keep their shape.  If using fingerlings or red potatoes, you may want to leave the skin on, but then, cut the potatoes in half or quarters after boiling.  Put the cut potatoes in a bowl.
• Next, slice the onions and cut up the olives.  Put them in the bowl with the potatoes.
• Add the seasonings, oil and vinegar and mix well.
• Be gentle in mixing so not to destroy the shape of the potatoes.
• Adjust the seasonings to your liking.  
• Allow the potato salad to sit in the refrigerator for 30 to 60 minutes before serving.  Serve chilled.

This is a basic guideline, remember, and you will turn it into your own recipe (we hope).  We decided to garnish this salad with a few capers.  Be sure to rinse the capers well if you are going to use them, so they are not too salty for you. 

Break off one more leg of Kyra Sarakosti -- three down, four to go! 

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
O Holy Hierarch, equal of the Apostles, Saint Patrick, wonderworker and enlightener of Ireland: Intercede with the merciful God that He grant unto our souls forgiveness of offences.
Apolytikion © Holy Transfiguration Monastery - Brookline, MA
Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
The Master revealed thee as a skillful fisher of men; and casting forth nets of Gospel preaching, thou drewest up the heathen to piety. Those who were the children of idolatrous darkness thou didst render sons of day through holy Baptism. O Patrick, intercede for us who honour thy memory.
Kontakion © Holy Transfiguration Monastery - Brookline, MA

Source of the Apolytikion and the Kontakion: 

Monday, 16 March 2015

Day 23: March 16, 2015: Quick and Easy Baby Octopus in Marinara Sauce - Γρήγορο και Εύκολο Χταποδάκι με Σάλτσα Μαρινάρα

Who doesn't like a quick meal?  It is a treat to be able to fix dinner in 15 minutes, without picking up the telephone for take-out or delivery.  We think there are some shortcuts worth sharing to try to simplify our lives.  And, by taking less time to prepare the food, we have more time to focus on our spiritual lives.  So, since this is a quick meal to make, we are going to make this a quick entry, too!

For this recipe, you will need the following:

1 package baby octopus (we used a 300 g package of frozen baby octopus)
1 cup Spaghetti/Marinara sauce

Here are the packages that we bought of the frozen baby octopus.  You can pick these up in many Asian grocery stores.  We like to have one on hand in the freezer for those days when you just don't have much time to prepare food.

When you open the package, there are 6 to 8 baby octopi, frozen, and stuck together.  To make this dish, it is okay to keep them frozen.  The first step in the directions is to boil the octopus for 5 minutes.  Drop the frozen block into the boiling water.  You do not need salt or seasoning or anything else, just water.  Set your timer for 5 minutes, though.  If you cook the octopus longer, you will have a chewy, rubbery dish.

After five minutes of boiling, you will see that the skin of the octopus will turn dark purple-brown.  That's a good sign.  Also, the tentacles will curl at the ends, which is the typical indicator that the octopus is cooked.  Allow the octopus to cool for a minute, long enough to be able to handle them.

If the octopus has not been cleaned, then cut the head in half and remove the eye.  It is the solid piece at the top of the head, and feels like a small softish rock.  Discard the eye, and cut the body into pieces.  Some folks like to leave the legs intact and have them whole because they are a beautiful  presentation.  For us, we took the moment to cut the octopus into bite size pieces.  And, because of that, we know that we could make this same dish using a full-sized octopus (with a longer cooking time to account for a larger diameter of the tentacles).

Once you have the octopus pieces the size that you want (cut or whole), it is time for the third step.  That is to put the octopus pieces into a small pot or pan.  Add to the pot 1 cup of your favourite Marinara or spaghetti sauce.  We like the Victoria brand because it tastes most like the sauce that our Italian neighbour, Maria, used to make (she has passed away, but we remember her sauce clearly).  It has no additives, and no weird seasonings.  It is just tomato sauce.  We would love to know what sauces you are using and why.  It is always nice to try new products or brands so we can learn!

Now, put the heat on medium, and simmer the octopus for about 5-10 minutes until the sauce is heated through and the octopus is well coated with the sauce.  Stir this occasionally so that nothing sticks to the pan, and nothing has a chance to burn if your heat may be a little too high.

Mix the two ingredients together well.  Once it is fully heated, you can serve this over a bed of rice, noodles, or alone with crusty bread.  Make sure that you like the sauce you are using because that is going to be the main flavour of this dish.  If you want to get fancy, you could add a little wine, oregano, or anything else you want to add.  We have known others to use a seafood mix or calamari to make a similar dish (same thing, different seafood). 

This is a quick and easy way to prepare octopus.  It does not take long to make, it is not too expensive to purchase the ingredients, and it is appropriate for the most strict fast.  For us, it is a nice dish to add to the list of options while we are fasting for Great Lent.  

“To admire the labours of the saints is good; to emulate them wins salvation; but to wish suddenly to imitate their life in every point is unreasonable and impossible.” 

St. John of Climacus (From the Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 4, Section 42)