Sunday, 1 May 2016

Day 47 - May 1, 2016 - Christ is Risen! Our Anastasi Meal, Visiting Friends and Roasting a Lamb on a Spit!

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Last night we decided to celebrate the Resurrection Service at the Hellenic Home chapel, a Greek Orthodox church in a beautiful seniors' residence in the eastern part of Toronto, Canada. There are many people whom we know who are residents at this quality facility, so all members of our family came together for the Anastasi service. It was beautiful to see so many younger family members  present to be with their parents and grandparents (giagiades kai papoudes). 

We have a kind of an unusual tradition in our family during Easter - a couple of members also like to have Kentucky Fried Chicken to go along with the more traditional items which we also prepare.
The kontosouvli was amazing! For the recipe, please see last year's entry (click here, and here).
Another one of our family's traditions is to make a small kokoretsi (see last year's links here and here).
This tsoureki was a gift from a kind neighbour. Please note that it doesn't have an egg in it, unlike the ones which we make. Nevertheless, it was delicious!

The cracking of the eggs went fair and square - no cheating by hitting the other's egg from the side! Although we don't have any close-up photos of last night's tasty magiritsa soup, you can see it at the top right of this picture.

What a great job the three cooks did in preparing this 35 pound (about 16 kg) Ontario lamb. We recently were surprised to hear from a New Zealand - based chef that Ontario spring lamb is a sought out meat in faraway New Zealand.
Today, there were not too many cooks. They each helped to make the lamb on a spit turn out perfect. 

The cooked lamb was delicious, moist and very flavourful.
Here is Husband's plate. The family which hosted us this year made us feel very welcome. After our singing of "Christos Anesti!", we all sat down and enjoyed our meal of Lamb on a spit, Greek oven roasted potatoes, salad, home-made tzatziki and rolled tiropites. What a great way to celebrate the end of our Lenten fast!

Christos Anesti, by Serbian singer and conductor of sacred Orthodox music (in various languages), Jivna Ljubojevic.
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Christos Anesti! We would like to thank you for visiting our blog during this Great Lent period. 

The Great Lent Gourmet team looks forward, God willing, to have you join us again next year!

Saturday, 30 April 2016

DAY 46 - April 30, 2016 - Tonight's Activity: The Cracking of Easter Eggs - Το Τσούγκρισμα των Πασχαλινών Αυγών

In this picture, Husband and I are  cracking Easter eggs shortly after the 2015 Resurrection service.
 I can't remember who "won" but it looks like maybe he is denting my egg.
It is finally here!  After about 7 weeks of having no animal products (apart from fish (on March 25th and Palm Sunday), some shellfish, mollusks, squid or octopus), not much oil,  or any egg or dairy products, we are finally at the night to share an Agape Meal that includes Tsoureki (sweet bread), Eggs, Magaritsa (Lamb Soup), and one tradition that we wanted to explore a little more -- Tsougrisma (Egg Cracking).

We spend our time to make our eggs.  We boil them exactly for 8 minutes, make sure to rinse them after 10 more minutes so we don't get the overcooked dark green yolks.  We research and shop for the very best egg dye, making sure that it will produce that lovely, deep red colour that shines beautifully to represent the blood Jesus shed for us.   We also may add a little special decoration to our red eggs, such as crosses or mini icons.  We spend all this time to make beautiful eggs,… by why?  We are going to spend our night after church and our day tomorrow smashing up the beautifully coloured eggs and laughing about it in a game.  What is that about?

We wanted to show you a little bit about the game that our family plays,as do many; and if you don't already have your own version of it, then we are going to explain how it goes.  The game we are talking about is casually referred to as "Tsourgrisma " or  "Cracking".  With all the things the Greeks invented, nobody could invent a better name for this game.  It  is the game that represents Christ's resurrection and arising from the open tomb (the shell is the tomb, Christ is the egg).

For this game, you will need the following:

2 People, any age
2 Eggs, hard boiled, dyed red
1 Sense of Humor, as needed

There are very few rules with this game, although there are many within a family or a group.  This game is about "Last Man Standing".  So, two people hold their eggs in the same manner; meaning that both hold the pointed end upward and the more round end at the bottom.  Then, each person takes a turn hitting the other's egg one hit at a time.  Whoever has the broken egg Loses!  That's it.  The winner takes his/her egg and moves on to crack against the next person.

Tsougrisma becomes funny because there are often complaints like, "He hit too hard," "I wasn't ready," "He held his egg too close to the top," or, my favourite, "It was broken before we started."  There are a million excuses as to why the losing egg was the losing egg, and telling someone that they are lying -- then, you would be walking on eggshells.

There could be other rules that families include, such as the oldest person at the table picks the first egg.  Or, maybe each person is only allowed to use the egg he/she received upon leaving church (in place of antithoro).   You will find many people who touch every single egg and examine it so closely, as if they can see inside the red shell.  There are others who pick up whatever is closest and use that.  In our family, if you break it, you must eat it.  Oh, what a joy to be a loser!

Knowing that we are never losers in God's eyes, nor can we be losers in His care. Play and have fun.

Wishing everyone a Kalo Pascha! And, thank you for joining us this year. With all the challenges of time and family, we were able to let God's grace shine on us to survive the Great Fast. Hopefully, we have shared some useful recipes, dishes, methods, and information with you over the past 40 days. We pray that all have a loving and joyous Ressurrection tonight. Christ is Risen!

"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world."

-Matthew 28:20

Source of video:

This moving video, showing the amazing drama of the "Anasta O Theos" ("Arise O Lord!") hymn that takes place every Holy Saturday morning service. In our Toronto church this morning, the entire parish was banging on the pews instead. We are amazed at the joy of every member of this Greek Orthodox community (although the video doesn't elaborate where, exactly, Raitho is, our research revealed that this is a Greek Orthodox Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. Today, it is also mainly known as "El Tur").

Before leaving you today, may we share an excerpt from an interesting website about Easter customs in Cyprus:

"In the morning of Holy Saturday, the Resurrection Ceremony takes place. When the priest says out loud «Anasta o Theos», all the black clothes covering the icons fall to the floor and people strike hard on the church seats while at the same time the priest walks in the church throwing daphne leaves. All these symbolize the victory of life against death…"

Source of quote:

Friday, 29 April 2016

Day 45: April 29, 2015 - Simple Tasty Baked Macaroni with Tomatoes and Celery - Νόστιμα Ψητό Μακαρονάκια με Ντομάτα και Σέλινο

My mother used to make baked macaroni.  It was cheesy and tomato-y and served every other week while we were growing up. Now, if you say "baked macaroni", some people will think of the Kraft Dinner, and others will think of some sort of cheesy macaroni like at a traditional diner.  Well, today, we are going to make baked macaroni without cheese.  In fact, we are making baked macaroni without a lot of things -- there are only 5 ingredients in the recipe!  Although, if you don't count the water, it is really only four ingredients.  For a fast and easy way to make lunch or dinner, and one that is good reheated, too, this is a keeper!

For this recipe, you will need the following:

2 cups macaroni
2 cups water
2 cups tomatoes, peeled whole or crushed
2 stalks celery, chopped
A bit of oil, as needed

First, chop the celery into pieces.  You want pieces that get lost in the flavours of the tomato sauce, so they should be small.  We make sure to peel the celery to remove any strings, and that will make it easier to cut the small pieces.  Put the chopped celery in a baking dish.

Now, add the tomatoes.  We used canned San Marzano tomatoes.  This is a personal preference.  Some folks will use fresh, whole tomatoes that have been blanched, peeled, and cut.  Right now is not tomato season, so we opted for canned.  We left the tomatoes whole in the dish believing they will dissolve as they cook int he water.  It is probably better to chop them a little and make smaller pieces.  I liked the big chunks of tomato in the final dish, Husband preferred to pick those out of the macaroni.  Either way, the flavour of the tomato is outstanding.

Add one cup of the water and mix the celery, tomato, and water in  the baking dish.  Ad, pour a bit of oil on top so it floats and makes the whole dish look greasy.  Now, bake this.  Yes, put it in the oven at 425 F for 25 minutes.  Bake this until it is fully hot.  You will see the tomatoes are starting to cook.  But, at the 25 minute mark, take the dish out of the oven.  Mmmm, can you smell the tomatoes?

Pour the macaroni into the baking dish.  We chose to use elbow macaroni, but any short noodle will do.  Elbows have a way of making everyone happy, and are versatile for noodles.  Make sure that you keep to a small noodle, though, not the big or long ones.

Now, bake the macaroni for about 45 minutes at 425º F (about 220º C), or long enough for the water to evaporate and the macaroni to cook fully.  If you like your noodles more al dente, then you may want use a little less water, or bake a little less time.  You will want to try both to see what works for your specific oven.  We cooked for 45 minutes and the macaroni was soft without being gummy.  The end result was a rich, soft, and flavourful pasta dish with chunks of tomatoes and a little crispiness on top.  Enjoy!

A photo from tonight's Good Friday Epitafio (April 29, 2016) from our home church 
in Toronto, Canada.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Day 44: April 28, 2016 - Decorating Easter Eggs with Easter Egg Sleeves

It is this time of year that you can look around and tell who the Orthodox people are by the red stains on their fingers from the red dyes used to colour the eggs.  Other groups may choose different colours for their eggs, but ours are red.  Once in a while it is nice to add a little variety to our red eggs, and this year, we found a lovely way to do just that.

While walking through the grocery store, we saw on the rack all the envelopes of egg dye packets.  The store offered multiple colours, including red, blue, green, and yellow.  Right next to the colour packets was another set of packages that instantly caught our attention.  They were egg wrappers.  Not like egg roll wrappers, but decorative sleeves to put on the boiled eggs.  There were several themes of wrappers.  For us, it is important to keep Christ in Pascha, so we chose the religious themes.  We were so fascinated with the selection, and decided to try two packets to see how the eggs looked.  Each packet cost $1.49 (Canadian), which we thought was a worthwhile investment.

The egg wrapper packets that we bought were Biblical themed and Icons themed.  We thought those were the best choices for our needs.  Other themes included Children, Animals, Flowers, and Traditional.  They are a Ukranian company which claims, "As long as egg decorating continues, the world will exist." That was such a lovely thought that we wanted to be a part of keeping the world existence.

These were very easy to use.  First, you open the package and see the sheet of sleeves.  There is some work involved in cutting the strip of seven sleeves into the individual pieces.  You have to be really neat in your cutting skills, and for us, it was hard to identify the exact line where one started and the other stopped.  But, do the best you can with cutting.

Once the sleeves are cut and you have seven individual pictures, open each one to make a cylinder.  The cylinder is surprisingly spacious.   You put the egg into the middle of the sleeve (the opening).  The plastic sleeve looks too big for the egg, but the next step takes care of that.

Using a slotted spoon, dip each egg, one by one, into a pot of boiling water.  The egg should stay in the water for 5-10 seconds, or, long enough for the plastic to shrink and seal against the egg.  You don't want to leave the egg in the boiling water for too long, since it is already cooked inside -- you don't want to overcook the egg.

Remove the egg from the boiling water, and set it aside to dry for a moment.  Then, you are done.  We started this process with our red-dyed eggs, but the dye bled into the boiling water, and made the tips a light pink (as in the pictures).  That was okay this time, but we  believe that using a plain, white boiled egg would be more practical.  Also, we noticed that the red colour came through some of the pictures, which took away from the beauty of the sleeve.  The details of the pictures is impressive, and we were pleased with how the plastic stuck to the egg.

The Pysanka Egg Sleeve was extremely easy to use.  They offered a  lovely alternative to our traditional red eggs.  Now, we have to wait until Sunday to see if we can win the Cracking Game with one of these eggs!

Holy Thursday of Holy Week at Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church in Campbell, OhioSource of video:

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Day 43: April 27, 2016 - Greek Cookies (Koulourakia) Made with Red Wine - Κουλουράκια Φτιαγμένα με Κρασί - (Originally posted on April 16, 2014)

(Another very popular post, over the past five years of this blog, is our entry on red wine-based koulourakia (or "Greek cookies"). This entry was originally posted on April 16, 2014).

When we think about koulourakia (Greek rolled cookie), it is not often that we think about wine.  However, with this recipe, we have both together.  These are made from a simple recipe for koulourakia that is vegan and part of the liquid is red wine.  It is the wine and the cinnamon that carry the flavour through these soft little bits of yummy.

Koulourakia with wine sounded rather odd when we first had them, but then, we thought about moustoukouloura, which are koulourakia made with the wine must or petimezi, a sweetener that Greeks have used since the Bronze ages.  So, this recipe does not use the must, it uses the actual wine. And, in the end, the heavy wine flavour is lost.  Instead, we had a lightly lingering hint of wine with a more pronounced taste of cinnamon.  We thought they may be better named as spice koulourakia, but it is not our recipe.  This recipe, in fact, came from one of our cookbooks, and we liked it enough to share it.  These are great for the weekends when wine and oil are permitted.  Or, they are good for other fasting times that are a little less strict than Great Lent.

We made only half a recipe, but are giving you the full amounts.  You can make adjustments as needed.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

8 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups red wine

The directions are rather straightforward, so we will show you more in pictures than in words.

Start by mixing the dry ingredients together.  Measure all the components into a bowl and mix them well.  This includes the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and sugar.  You will know they are mixed well when you no longer can differentiate between the individual ingredients and it all becomes consistent in colour.

In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients -- the oil and the wine.  Okay, we know that oil and wine do not mix, but put them in the same bowl and mix to see the pretty patterns that the wine makes in the oil.

Then, pour the flour mixture into the oil mixture (add dry to wet) and mix until the dough is well blended.  Remember, when working with flour, you don't want to mix too long because you don't want to build the gluten too much.

Once the dough is combined, allow it to rest for 30 minutes.  Lay a towel or plastic wrap over the bowl to keep the moisture in the dough.  And, while the dough rests, you can too!

After 30 minutes have passed, it is time to roll the koulourakia.  These are a going to be a little thicker and larger than a typical, buttery koulouraki because they have more baking powder and leavening than the buttery version.  Shaping the koulourakia will be the same basic steps.

Divide the dough into small nuggets that are about even in size.  Roll each nugget into a log, about four inches in length (10 cm long).  Then, twist the log to make the shape that you want.  If you want to relate these to Easter, especially for children, you make one twist in the log and explain that you wanted to make the koulourakia the shape of a bunny head!

Lay the shaped koulourakia on a lined cookie sheet.  You will notice that we usually use a silicone baking sheet liner, but parchment paper would work just fine here.

Bake the koulourakia at 375º F (190º C) for about 15 minutes, until they are very lightly browned.  You should not see too much colour on these koulourakia because the pink hue of the wine and the brown tint of the cinnamon.  And, the longer that you bake these, the more dry they become.  We like our koulourakia to have a softer texture, so 15 minutes seemed like a perfect amount.  Ovens may vary.

Allow the koulourakia to cool on the cookie sheet.  You can serve these warm or room temperature.  Husband particularly enjoys these when they are warm. They will store in an airtight container for 1 month without affecting the flavour or the texture.  Enjoy them with friends and/or family because that is when any food is best!

ΙΔΟΥ Ο ΝΥΜΦΙΟΣ ΣΟΦΙΑ ΜΑΝΟΥ ΚΑΤΕΡΙΝΑ ΛΕΧΟΥ (Behold the Bridegroom comes sung in
Greek. Sophia Manou and Katerina Lehoux).

Source of video: