Sunday, March 31, 2013

Baked Vegetable Medley

This is one of those recipes that doesn't really need to be written out, except that otherwise you might forget to cook it.
  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. 
  • Slice your vegetables and layer over 1/2 can of diced tomatoes in a baking pan. 
    •  I sliced 3 potatoes, 2 zucchini, 1 onion, 2 green onions and 2 carrots
  • Drizzle each layer with oil. 
  • On top layer use seasonings: 4 crushed garlic cloves, cumin, parsley, oregano, salt and  pepper.
  • I finished dish with the remaining diced tomatoes but I wish I had added a can of tomato sauce and a tsp of sugar.  The dish needed a bit more flavor.   
  • Add 1/4 c water and keep an eye on dish to add more if needed so it doesn't dry out.  

Sliced potatoes over diced tomatoes.
Layer vegetables and drizzle oil.
Lots of layers

Top with diced tomatoes or tomato sauce. 
Looks great!

Lenten Meal Plan Week #3

Two weeks down, five more to go and I still have a pile of Lenten recipes I haven't even looked through yet!  Having the meals planned in advance has been such a help. I might plan my meals all year long!  This is what I am planning for this week!

SUN- Briani (Roasted Vegetables) and L/O Spinach in Rice.

MON- Baked Potatoes and TVP Cincinnati Style Chili with Guacamole Salad.

TUES- Baked Tofu and Mushrooms Over Steamed Rice with a Garden Salad.

WED- Veggie Soup and Fresh Rolls.

THURS- Potato Fritters and Baked Lima Beans with Cut Raw Vegetable.

FRI- Shrimp and Pasta Salad and L/O.

SAT- Lenten Dolmathes (didn't get to them last week) and Spanakopita and Rice Pilaf in preparation for Sunday. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

What's for Dinner? Week #2

I've been getting really excited about LENT coming and all that this season has to offer.  I love Lent.  It grounds me, redirects me. It puts me back in my place, in a way.  I find it a very beneficial time and I don't begrudge the restricted diet, added church services and call to increase what I give to others in need.  In fact, I welcome it.  It makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself.  Three hundred million Orthodox Christians all across the world and I are repenting (that means we are changing our ways) and fasting these days.  I am by no means alone in this effort.  And if all 300 milllion aren't actually fasting, I am pretty sure at least 100 million are and that's not bad company.

If you are interested in what fasting means and how it's structured I am sure you can find a good answer on  I'm not going to reinvent the wheel trying to explain this topic. So assuming you understnad the fasting guidelines I will continue.. this is after all a cooking blog of sorts. 

Last week a fellow blogger ADVENTURES OF AN ORTHODOX MOM shared a helpful menu planning system she found on another blog and I thought it looked like a good idea.   I followed her instructions and adapted it to my organizational abilities and voila!  Here it is! 

So, really quick, I will let you know that this week I am hoping and "planning" on preparing:
MON- Fish Plaki in honor of The Annunciation.
WED- Veggie Soup with Fresh Bread Rolls
THURS- Spinach and Rice with Salad
FRI- Potatoes Plaki and Boca Burgers
SAT- Lenten Dolmathes
I have a busy week planned and I may not post them all. I might actually post other dishes that I have been working on.  But I thought if I shared my plan with you, it might help you get started too.  My biggest motivator in planning is that I don't want to get in a food rut and break the fast because I am bored or unprepared.
Have a blessed fast and good strength for the "good fight."

Friday, March 15, 2013

You Can't Win Them All - Whole Wheat Flour in Pastitsio

Today I was making a meatless pastitsio and the creme wasn't working. It kept getting brown way too fast. After my second try I realized I had whole wheat unbleached flour. Ugh!!!

I poured it down the drain and switched flour. It actually worked this time. :).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Koliva- A Memorial Tradition of the Orthodox Church

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls
into the ground and dies, it remains alone;
but if it dies, it produces much grain.

John 12:24

I used to watch my mom (and grandmother) make koliva for family and church members for years.  I'd watch her sort through the wheat looking for rocks and abnormalities, boil it for hours, dry it on the dining room table, toast the almonds and walnuts, sift the powered sugar, and carry it to church early in the morning.  She would patiently copy the list of names of our departed family members, names that repeated themselves generation after generation:  Vasili, Vasili, Nicholas, Nicholas, Nicholas, Maria, Maria, Kalliope, and so on. She would place the names in an envelope with a small offering for the priest who read the names.  She prepared koliva like an iconographer "writes" an icon, with prayer and awareness of her offering.

The first time I made koliva on my own, I was preparing it for my father's one year memorial.  I gathered the ingredients, wrote out my names and began the process.  Of all the things I had done up to then- traveled abroad, moved to various cities, got married, had a child... making koliva offered me the strongest sense of passage into adulthood than I've ever experienced.  This time I was the one who experienced loss that cannot be described and so I was the one making koliva for those asleep in the Lord. 

Before I begin with the step-by-step, I want to be clear, preparing the koliva, boiled wheat, for those asleep in the Lord is prayer more than following a recipe and combining ingredients.  We pray, "Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on your servant." throughout the preparation.  We have a quiet house.  We aren't watching the news in the background.  If it helps you, play a CD where hymns or services are chanted.  You really want to keep the environment prayerful.

Some of the ingredients can be expensive, but they aren't all necessary.  You don't need walnuts, blanched/slivered almonds AND Jordan Almonds.  But I will offer you the full recipe here.  You can edit as needed.

For a small memorial service, like Saturday of the Souls or a family memorial, you will need the following ingredients: 2 c whole wheat  (uncooked), 1 c chopped walnuts, 1 c blanched / slivered almonds, 1/2 c raisins, 1/2 c golden raisins, 1/4 c Italian (flat) parsley, 1 c whole sesame seeds, 1 t cinnamon, 1 t pumpkin spice, 1 t honey, 2 c powdered sugar, Jordan Almonds.  Please note: there are two different kinds of wheat berries available for koliva.  Peeled berries only need @ 30 minutes to cook.  Unpeeled berries need to sit overnight in water and then cooked for another 2-4 hours.  Be sure which kind you are purchasing before you start. 

Also, I cooked 4 cups of wheat and used about 2 c cooked wheat in my recipe.   The remaining cooked wheat was put in a plastic bag and frozen.  I will thaw portions out for the next 2 weekends for the remaining Saturday of the Souls services that are celebrated in association with Holy and Great Lent.

For a Memorial Service your portions will look more like: 5 lbs whole wheat (cooked in 2 large pots) 4 c chopped walnuts, 4 c blanched / slivered almonds,  2 c raisins, 2 c golden raisins, 1 c Italian (flat) parsley, 4 c whole sesame seeds, 2 T cinnamon, 1 T pumpkin spice, 1 T honey, 2 lbs powdered sugar,  1 lb Jordan Almonds.
  • Spread the whole wheat berries in a jelly roll / cookie sheet and inspect the wheat.  Look for small pebbles and dark grains.  It's best to start with all the grain on one side and slowly pull the grains across the tray, little by little, so you can see one layer of grain at a time.  Do this three times, remembering to pray for those departed while you work.

Whole wheat berries

Spread out on a cookie sheet to remove pebbles and abnormalities.

Here is a sample of good grain on top and grains I plucked out on the bottom.
It's impossible to get it all, but after three passes you should find the most obvious abnormalities. 

"Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on your servant."
  • Rinse wheat grains with cool water in a large pot till water is clear. 
  • Fill pot with plenty of water to cover wheat and allow movement when boiling.  If you don't know if you have the peeled or the unpeeled wheat, you will know after 20-30 minutes... because if it's not tender in 20 minutes it could take 2 hours to cook. 

Not ready yet.


  •  When wheat is cooked, drain in large colander and rinse VERY well with cold water by placing wheat back into pot with fresh cold water and stir with your hand to release starch from wheat.   Return to colander and let sit for a few minutes.
  • On a large flat surface like a dining room table I like to lay a plastic garbage bag to protect the surface, then I use a clean towel and a lint free sheet.  I try to use the same sheet every time. 

This will absorb the moisture while the wheat dries overnight, 6-8 hours.

After a few hours I spread my hand over the wheat to rotate the grains. 

"Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on your servant."

THE MORNING OF (or maybe even the night before):

I usually do this step the morning of, but you could also prep the next set of ingredients the night before.
  • Toast the almond, walnuts and sesame seeds and allow to cool in separate bowls. 
Toast the almond slivers.  I use a dry stainless steel pan because I tend to burn them when I toast them in the oven.
  • Toast sesame seeds to a golden color.  

"Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on your servant."

  • Rinse raisins in warm water to soften and remove sticky sugars. 
  • Pat dry on a paper towel and remove stems. 
  • Reserve 1/4 c mixed raisins for decoration.


  • Gather dried wheat into a large mixing bowl. 
  • Drizzle honey into wheat and mix by hand.  This keeps wheat tender.

  • Add chopped parsley, cleaned raisins, spices almonds and walnuts to wheat.  Mix ingredients together and pour wheat into decorative bowl.  Firmly pack the wheat down. 

I forgot to buy parsley in this batch.

"Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on your servant."

  • Grind the toasted sesame seeds to a grit.  You will see the seeds on the edge of the food processor fold over when it is almost done. 


  • Spread the ground sesame seeds over the nuts and pat down till a smooth surface.  The seeds and nuts serve as a barrier for the wheat and the powdered sugar. Otherwise the sugar would melt, the wheat would start to ferment and your koliva will be watery and tough.  Other recipes will use zweibach crackers, graham crackers, bread crumbs or toasted flour for this step. 

  • Place decorative plate over a large sheet of wax paper.
  • Fill a strainer with powdered sugar and tap side to sift sugar onto mixture in decorative bowl until all the toasted sesame seed is covered in sugar.  The more the better... within reason. 

"Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on your servant."

  • Using a piece of wax paper, press down the sifted powdered sugar to a smooth surface.  I recently made kolyva and couldn't find my strainer to sift the sugar... turned out just fine by pouring 1/2 c powered sugar at a time and smoothing out each layer.  .


 When the powdered sugar is smooth use the Jordan Almonds, raisins, nuts, even cinnamon to decorate the koliva.  A perfectionist will take way too much time trying to get this part right,  so before you panic over it too much, you should know that the priest will put a candle in it and then after the prayers are said will most likely use the end of the candle to make the sign of the cross IN your beautifully designed koliva. 
"Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on your servant."

You can search online for more information on memorials, when they are offered and the Miracle of the koliva. You can also search for decorative ideas. Basically all you really need is a cross in the middle.
There is plenty of room for artistic expression in decorating koliva.

Be sure to arrive to the church service early so as not to disrupt the prayers and have your list of names written legibly. 

Visit our website for note cards


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fixin to Get Ready! Pantry Essentials

The fast is coming for Orthodox Christians.  In case you are looking for a place to start, I thought I'd write a list of what will I have on hand.  I've also already added suggestions from friends.  It may seem like a lot of food, but the trick to a successful fast is to keep a good variety so you don't get burned out on a particular food and lose your enthusiasm. 

Tomato Sauce
Vegetable Broth
Clam in Sauce
Garbanzo Beans
Crushed Pineapple

Nuts roasted and raw
Herbal Teas
Various Pastas (so I don't get bored with spaghetti)
Cincinnati Style Chili Spice Pack
Tortilla Chips
Peanut Butter
Dry Beans
Old Fashioned Pretzels

BOCA Burgers
Soft Pretzels

Fruit and Salad Stuff

Almond, Soy and Coconut Milk (rotate)
Tarama Salata

Sugar Wafers
Pop Tarts
Thin Mints- If they are still around
Lorna Doones shortbread cookies

Feel free to add a comment if I am missing anything you normally have on hand.  I'd like to know.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Skate Night- A Poetic Moment

Went to the school skate night... It was so wonderful seeing the kids skating laps, falling, supporting each other, racing, did I say falling?  The evening deserved a song- but here's a poem:

Skate Night.
(Free verse)

Wheels clanking, clomping, whirling.
Arms flailing.
Kids sailing.
Parental crutch a magic touch.
Calling, "Time to go home."
Sore bottoms.
Sorer toes.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

You Can't Win Them All - Sausage in Tomato Sauce

A few weeks ago I made dinner for a guest.  I don't usually like cooking for other people.  My biggest mistake tonight was not being sure what I wanted to cook.  I had all the right ingredients but too many questions.  Do I want the onions sliced thick or thin?  Should I cut the sausage or cook it whole?  Do I want tomato paste or sauce? Do I pair it with pasta or rice?  I had too many questions and it seems I chose wrong on all counts. 

  • I sliced one onion, chopped 3 celery stalks and minced 3 cloves of garlic and sauteed them in olive oil. 
  • I sliced the sausage in half and then cut pieces.  I should have probably left the sausage whole to contain the sausage flavor and juices.

Once I committed to rice I chose to use tomato paste thinking a thicker sauce would be better.  I forgot the sausage would itself be a rich flavor and the intense flavor of the paste overpowered the dish.  I tried to save it with a 1/2 c white wine, but I really just needed to add water, which I did later. 

The flavor was too strong, the pieces of meat were too small and by the end of the meal I was unsatisfied.  Unfortunately for our guest, you can't win them all!