Saturday, 28 March 2015

Day 35 - March 28, 2015 - Baking Yellow Snapper With Stuffing for March 25, 2015 Dinner - Ψητό Κίτρινο Λυθρίνι Με Γέμιση Για Την 25 Μαρτίου, 2015

With just over two weeks remaining in Great Lent, we are excited to have a day to eat fish.  Fish can be eaten on March 25th and Palm Sunday.  With that, for the 25th of March, we did just that!  To celebrate the two Feast Days (Feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos and Greek Independence Day), we thought it would be interesting to have a fish that may be less traditional for this day.  Typically, Greeks and Orthodox Christians will enjoy fried bakalao (fried salted cod) with skordalia (garlic sauce).  We made skordalia, but we chose another fish that is common in Greece, we chose the yellow snapper.

By the way, eating fish is also permitted on Palm Sunday, so we may prepare this dish (using yellow snapper or another whole fish) again next week.

Now, as we were having dinner, one person asked if there was any difference between yellow snapper and red snapper, because he had heard of red snapper.  The truth is, they are just different colours.  They are considered cousins, but have the same firm, yet delicate texture, mild flavour, and present beautifully on a plate.  We liked the idea of having a bright and colourful fish on our plates, so we chose the snapper over porgy or tilapia.

Cooking fish is easy, especially if you have a fresh fish from a fish monger who cleans it and scales it for you.  All you really need to do is drizzle some oil over the fish, sprinkle some salt and pepper, maybe some oregano, and grill it, broil it, or bake it.  The key is getting fresh fish.  Yesterday, we wrote  about choosing fish.  Today, it is all about the filling.

Once we brought them home from the market, we took about 30 minutes to get everything ready and into the oven, which was a short enough time that we did not have to refrigerate the fresh fish while cooking.  Any longer than that, we would have put them on ice or in the fridge for safe keeping.  We bought 6 whole fish, and this filling made enough to generously fill all of them.

So, for this recipe, you will need the following:

1 leek
2 onions (red or white)
1 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (in this case, sliced mini portabellas)
1 cup parsley
1 stalk celery
1 cup bread crumbs (we used Panko)
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon to garnish

Start by setting aside the fish and chopping all of the other ingredients.  Slice the onions, celery, leeks, mushrooms, and garlic.  You can chop the parsley or leave the florets whole -- we left ours whole.  We also sliced the lemon to get ready for the garnish, and now the process moves quickly.

The first step is to use medium-high heat to heat a little oil in a frying pan.  Saute the onions, leeks, celery and garlic, just long enough for everything to become almost soft.  This should be about 5 minutes.  You want to make sure  to maintain the lovely colours of the ingredients without adding any carmelization.  Season with a little salt and pepper.  Then, add the mushrooms and the parsley.  Cook this for another 5 minutes, allowing the mushrooms to get soft.  Mix this well.

You are going to notice that there is some liquid in the pan from the onions and the mushrooms.  That's okay, because now we are going to add the bread crumbs to absorb some of that.  Mix the bread crumbs well, so they are evenly spread around the filling.  Turn off the heat, and/or remove the pan from the heat.  Check your seasoning and adjust the salt and pepper.  For some, a shot of white wine gets put in the filing for a bit more flavour.  For others, we just let the natural liquids of the ingredients.  You do not want the filling to be too wet in the frying pan because the vegetables will continue to release moisture, and the fish will release moisture.  And, we are adding bread crumbs to absorb some of that moisture from the baking process, so why add more?

Once the filling is made and combined, it is time to stuff the fish.  You will need a large glass baking dish with a little oil at the bottom, a spoon, the fish, and the stuffing.

Using your hands, open the cavity of the fish, where it was cleaned.  Spoon in some filling to stuff the space from the jaw to the tail.  Whatever cavity was created when the fish was cleaned is fine -- no need to make any of your own cuts.  Scoop enough stuffing to fill the gap, and lay the fish in the glass baking dish on its side.  Continue this process until all the stuffing is used and all the fish are stuffed.  Laying the fish head to tail (opposite directions) in the baking dish will allow you to fit more in the dish.  We baked two in the pan for photography purposes.

Now, it is time to dress the fish and get them ready to bake!  Start by laying the lemon slices on top of the fish (on the side facing up).  We used 3 lemon slices because 3 is a nice number and the fish was long enough for that many.  Then, sprinkle some salt and pepper over the fish so it is generously covered.

Pour about one half inch of water into the pan -- you don't want the fish swimming in water, but add a little so there will be "zoumo" ("juicy sauce") when it is baked.

Then, put the fish in the oven.  Bake at 350º F (about 175º C) for 25-30 minutes, until the fish is flaky, golden brown, and fully cooked.   You will know it is cooked by the way the body  takes on a golden, toasted edge, the eyes are baked through, and the lemons will be caramelised.  Allow this to rest for about 5 minutes before you try to take the fish out of the pan.  It is best to use two spatulas, so you can lift both ends simultaneously and present the entire fish.  Then, serve with a little of the zoumo on top and a wedge of lemon.  It is a lovely fish that has enough flavour to keep the garnishing simple.

The Parable of the Net
47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Matthew 13:47-50 (New International Version)

Friday, 27 March 2015

Day 34 - March 27, 2015 - How We Choose a Fresh Whole Fish For Baking - Πώς Διαλέγουμε Φρέσκα Ψάρια Για Ψήσιμο

Just over two weeks are left in our Lenten Journey, and we are blessed to learn something new every day.  Some days, it is not that we have learned a new fact, but a new perspective.  Today was one of those days.  We were getting ready for our fish dinner for the March 25th Feasts (yiortes), and we had gone to the market to choose the fish we were going to prepare.  There were so many choices, as there always are.  But, we had a budget in mind, and an idea of how we wanted to cook the fish, now it was a matter of choosing the type.  

We went to the fish market where a dozen other people were shopping doing the same thing, asking questions, choosing specific fish.  For sure, these folks were all Greek and they were all going to cook their fish for the celebrations of the day-- or not.  We don't know, but we were looking at all of our options trying to decide which fish?

Later that day, after having settled on our purchase, returning home with cleaned, gutted fish, we were talking on the phone with our nephew, Alex, and he asked a question that made us want to elaborate and answer with pictures.  Alex asked, "How did you choose the fish?"  The most basic answer we were able to give is, "We like snapper."  But, that wasn't really Alex's question, and he asked again, "How did you choose those fish?"  Ahh, now there is understanding.  In the brief words of an inquisitive and thoughtful teenager, what our adult minds translated to was, "How do you know which are the fish that are good, fresh, and okay to buy?"  Well, here is our answer.

How do you know if the fish is fresh?  Well, the first sign is the smell.  Fresh fish should not smell fishy.  There is something very fishy about smelly fish!  When you walk into a fish store, or near a fish counter, there is usually that pungent odour that can be rather offensive.  Sometimes, this is understandable, because the stores and the counters have a lot of scrap and waste circling through there, a slight smell is understandable.  But, you want to particularly smell the actual fish-- the body of the fish.  That is how you will know which individual fish is fresher than the other.

Next, the eyes tell a story.  The eyes of the fish should look fresh.  They should be clear and bulging a little, to make it look like the fish is still alive.  The cloudiness that appears in the eyes shows how a fish is not so fresh, because the more cloudy the eyeballs are, the older the fish.  The bulge of the eye is the other indicator.  When the fish is alive, the eye sticks out a little from the head.  Once caught, the eyeball sinks in slightly and will sit flush with the head.  That's what you want-- an eye that has not sunken into the head.  As you are looking at the fish, the fish is still looking at you!

Lastly, the flesh tells a lot about freshness.  Fresh fish should be shiny on the outside.  Yes, many fish are shiny while sitting in ice under those bright lights.  But, fresh fish have a slight film on them.  You want that film to be on the fish.  They dry up as they age, so they lose shine.

Also with the flesh, the feeling of it should be firm and plump.  If you get a chance, poke the fish.  Does the flesh bounce back after being poked?  It should.  When a fish sits for a long period of time, it loses some of the moisture; and, of course, the more moisture lost, the drier the fish will be.  A moist, plump, yet firm fish is fresh, and by feeling it, you will know.

Lastly, the easiest resource for finding fresh fish is to ask the sales person.  We buy fish from vendors who we know are reputable.  Many times, we know the fish monger and believe that he would carry some of the best product on this side of town.  The simple act of asking, "Which fish came in today?" will lead you in the right direction to choosing the right fish.  Otherwise, you will have to go fishing and take it out of the water yourself to get the freshest product.  Now, it is your turn to "Go Fish!"

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

"On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. 11 When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. 12 Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” 13 But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” 14 For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 And they did so, and had them all sit down. 16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces."
Luke 9:10-17 (English Standard Version)
Source of quote:

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Day 33: March 26, 2015 - Leeks with Lemon and Flour Sauce - Πράσα με Σάλτσα Λεμονιού και Αλεύρι

The Cretans are known for many things, including their food.  One of the recipes that we tried today came from a cookbook all about Cretan food.  It is called "Cretan Cooking" by Maria and Nikos Psilakis.  The authors refer to the Cretan diet as "The most wholesome cuisine in the Mediterranean."  As we read through the recipes, there were some that sounded like what Yiayia Maria used to make, and since she was from Crete, this makes sense.  Yiayia made dishes that combined ingredients that typically did not sound good together, but they worked beautifully, and the final products were memorable.  This dish is one that sounded interesting, and, true to form, tasted amazing when finished.

Leeks in lemon and flour sauce is an easy recipe, even though it takes some time to cook.  We wanted to know what the lemon and flour sauce would become, if it would be creamy or if it would be lemony, and this was a great way to find out!  And, having cooked many times with a traditional avgolemono sauce (egg and lemon), a monastery style Lenten avgolemono (tahini and lemon), and with just lemon and oil, we were curious.  Best of all, we were right -- this was a slightly creamy, lemony sauce on sauteed leeks with a hint of dill that really "worked" for us.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

1 kilo leeks, cleaned, chopped
1/2 cup oil
1 cup chopped dill (could use fennel)
salt and pepper to taste
1 TBSP flour
juice of 1-2 lemons

In the past, we have talked about cleaning leeks after they are cut.  This is to assure that all the dirt particles are removed from between the layers.  Chop the leeks, or cut them into slices so you get these pretty little circles.  Then, wash them well under running water, trying to separate some of the layers to remove all the dirt.

Heat the oil in the pot (or fry pan would work).  Add the leeks and fry them.  They will take on a little colour, but you do not want to lose all of that beautiful green and white.

Add the salt and pepper and the dill.  If you are using fennel, chop the fronds and the white stalks.  Make sure that all the ingredients are coated with the oil and seasonings.

Next, add 2 cups of water to the pot.  The amount of water should just cover the leeks.  You don't want to make this too soupy, but you want enough water to make a sauce.  Cover the pot.  Simmer this for 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, the leeks and the dill will be soft and tender, and the mixture will be slightly boiling.  Dissolve the flour into the lemon juice.  Start with the juice of one lemon, dilute the flour and then, add more lemon juice as you need.

Once the flour and lemon juice make a thin paste, pour that into the leek mixture and mix well.  The leek mixture will turn very cloudy.  Cook this for 10 to 15 minutes to cook out the flour and allow it to fully dissolve in all the liquid.

After the 10 or 15 minutes, turn off the heat and allow this to sit for 3 to 5 minutes before serving.  That allows the sauce to set a bit, and with one more stir of the pot, serve this delightful treat.  It is very good eaten with a crusty bread or with rice.  Now, you can experience food like Yiayia Maria used to make, and you can understand how Yiayia's cooking turned us all into lovers of good food!

"A dream is a movement of the mind while the body is at rest. A phantasy is an illusion of the eyes when the intellect is asleep. A phantasy is an ecstasy of the mind when the body is awake. A phantasy is the appearance of something which does not exist in reality."

St. John of Climacus (From the Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 3, Section 26)
Source of quote: 

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Day 32: March 25, 2015 - (Repost) McDonalds Filet-O-Fish vs Burger King Big Fish Sandwich

During Great Lent, the Greek Orthodox Church allows fish to be consumed during the Annunciation of our Lord (March 25) and Palm Sunday. Last year we compared the fish sandwiches of McDonalds and Burger King. Several thousand readers have made this post one of the most popular ones from last year; therefore, we decided to repost this entry again today. Two days from now we will post the entry from our March 25 fish dinner. Hronia Polla! Χρόνια Πολλά!

We thought we would put our creativity to the test for today.  Today is one of the days that we can eat fish during Great Lent, so we did.  But, we had to be a little more creative about what kind of fish we would enjoy today.  So, we went to two very well-known chains -- in fact, they are the two biggest burger chains in North America.  Burger King and McDonald's are well known for hamburgers, and a variety of hamburgers by different names.  There are some other things on the menu, of course, including chicken, fries, and fish sandwiches.  We used the two fish sandwiches to compare and learn which one, if either, offered the better fish. We also wanted to compare the Wendy's fish sandwich, but, alas, Wendy's in Canada has recently discontinued their fish sandwich from their menu.

Let's start with the packaging.  We appreciated that Burger King uses just a paper wrapper on the sandwich.  McDonald's used a box.  We did not know if either would be considered wasteful since they are both recyclable.  We liked the compact feeling of the paper wrapper, but the box made us believe that we would get a larger sandwich.

Next, we opened the packages to see what was inside.  The BK Big Fish usually comes with tartar sauce and lettuce.   The Burger King website describes it as:   Our BK BIG FISH® is a light and flaky Alaskan Pollock fillet topped with tangy tartar sauce and shredded lettuce on a corn-dusted bakery-style bun.  We were interested in learning that this fish was Pollock.  Because we were still following the other rules of fasting, we asked for NO tartar sauce.  Tartar sauce is a mayonnaise based sauce, and mayonnaise is egg based, therefore it is not permitted during Great Lent.  The McDonald's Filet-O-Fish usually comes with tartar sauce and cheese.  The McDonald's website describes the fish sandwich as:   Dive right in and enjoy our wild-caught fish from our sustainable fishery, topped with melty American cheese, creamy tartar sauce and served on a soft, steamed bun.  Again, we asked for NO tartar sauce as well as no cheese.  The only difference between the two sandwiches was the lettuce on the Burger King BK Big Fish.  We ended up taking the lettuce off the sandwich, too, because it was brown.

Then, we decided to weigh the sandwiches.  We weighed the fish fillets and the complete sandwiches.  This way, we could see if there was a difference in weight.  Surprisingly, the sandwiches without the lettuce weighed almost the same.  The lettuce added a noticeable ounce of weight to the BK Big Fish sandwich.  We wonder how much weight the sauce would have added?  The McDonald's Filet-O-Fish usually has cheese on it, but we don't t hunk the one slice of cheese would have changed the weight overall.

Next, we lined up the two sandwiches to check the size of the components; that is, top part of the bun with top part of the other bun, fish fillets together, and the two bottom halves of the buns together.  It seems that the Burger King sandwich is about half an inch (1.25 cm) longer than the McDonald's sandwich.  And, in height, the Burger King sandwich was taller -- or, at least the bun was taller.  But, for $4.29 (plus tax) for the BK Big Fish compared to the McDonald's $3.99 plus tax, is that extra half inch worth the extra money?  Plus, we have to mention that a few times a year, McDonald's has coupons that for $4.99 plus tax, you can get the whole meal (fries and drink with the sandwich).  Now, seeing this in writing makes it seem much more expensive than when we bought them at the restaurants.

McDonald's bun and fillet on top,  Burger King bun and fillet on bottom.
BK Big Fish on left, McDonald's Filet-O-Fisth on right.

The taste test was next.  We have identified that the BK Big Fish sandwich is larger in height, dimensions, and even in components.  But, did it taste better?   Well, yes and no.  Yes, the Burger King sandwich had a more fishy flavour, but the texture was so mushy that it felt like fishy mashed potatoes in our mouths.  The McDonald's sandwich actually tasted very watery, without having much of a fish flavour at all.  But, it did have the flaky texture that we expected and wanted.  As for the buns, the Burger King bun was a rich tasting egg-bread, whereas the McDonald's bun was a sweeter generic white bread.  Both buns had been heated in the microwave with the sandwiches, and that was very obvious.

Neither sandwich was far from what we expected.  They were a treat to us since fast food is not part of our diets very often.  And, it was a treat to be able to pick up something on the run for lunch, and have two days of Great Lent in which we can actually order something that is not just fries and a drink.  Both sandwiches were fine for a snack, but we are not convinced that either one would make a good meal.  Next time, we may just stick to the homemade fish!

"Give thanks to the God, because He is good; His love is eternal."

Psalm 106:1
Source of quote:

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Day 31: March 24, 2015: Lenten Mushrooms in Tomato Sauce - Νηστίσιμα Μανιτάρια σε Σάλτσα Ντομάτας

There are 23 more days until Easter.  We are still looking for new or different foods to make and include in our choices of Lenten foods.  Today, we looked in the fridge and found that we had some beautiful sliced portabella mushrooms ("baby bella" from Costco), and this dish came to mind.  There are so many foods that one could cook in a tomato sauce, so why not mushrooms?

Actually, we discuss making mushrooms in a variety of ways.  On Husband's side of the family, we often are served button mushrooms with onions and oil, which area  great topping for pasta, rice, or any food, as long as you like mushrooms.  On Wife's side of the family, stuffed mushroom caps are a traditional holiday food, used as an appetizer for a fancy meal or when there is company.  With a variety of mushrooms available, all of which have different flavours, it is obvious that there would be a variety of dishes to make from just one ingredient.  Today, with the tomato sauce, we are making mushrooms as a side dish that will go with anything else we cook.  This dish serves four and we plan to make this when we bake fish Palm Sunday, but here is the entry so you can perfect it before then!

For this recipe, you will need the following:

18 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and cut into large pieces
2-3 medium onions, sliced or chopped
1 cup white wine (unresinated -- NOT retsina)
1/2 cup olive oil
a little rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 TBSP tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

Start with the tomato paste.  In a sauce pan, dissolve the tomato paste in a little water.  You need to add enough water for the tomato paste to become spreadable.  Then, add the wine and olive oil.

Simmer this for about 10 minutes, mixing it occasionally.  You need a low- medium heat so that the tomato does not burn, and the amount of wine remains, without cooking away just yet.

After 10 minutes of a low simmer, then it is time to add everything else to the pot.  Add the mushroom, onions, rosemary, and bay leaf.  Stir this so all the ingredients are covered with the tomato, wine, oil mixture.  It looks like there is not enough liquid in the pan for the amount of mushrooms, but we have to remember that mushrooms will cook down to about half, in size.  Mushrooms are airy, and as they cook, they shrink.  This is the other reason that we stir once in a while is because the mushrooms that are completely covered by the liquid will cook down faster than any above the liquid line.  By mixing occasionally, you will keep the mushrooms cooking at an even pace.

Allow this combination to cook on medium to medium low heat for the next 20 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft and tender.  Make sure the mushrooms are soft all the way through.  You may notice that they have turned a darker colour, but this is not true for all types of mushrooms.  Regardless of what variety of mushroom, make sure that the centre is soft, and there is no raw bite to the stem.  Now, remove the bay leaf from the pot and serve.  This is best when it is warm.  Since the heat was not raised above medium, this dish should not boil.  It should be cooked at a slow simmer to allow all of the flavours to melt together gently.

As we said, this could be a main dish served over rice or pasta -- especially using larger portabella mushrooms.  If you are using button mushrooms, cremini, or any other whole mushroom, it may be a side dish or a topping for another food.  You can serve this as is with a nice piece of bread, and have a simple lunch.  Adjust the salt and pepper for the individual, or offer a little hot sauce on the side.  You will really add something special when you make this special, easy and tasty meal.

"Darkness is foreign to light; and a proud person is foreign to every virtue." 

St. John of Climacus (From the Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 23, Section 32)
Source of quote: