Saturday, April 25, 2009


My husband and I have had the unique pleasure of celebrating certain holidays twice since we merged households. Yes, that's right...double holidays. And yes, it is as awesome as it sounds.

We recently celebrated Easter twice. This year the Christian Easter fell on April 12th and the Eastern Orthodox Easter was on the 19th. I grew up celebrating the Eastern Orthodox Easter, so to keep my families traditions alive, we celebrate both. I know, we have it really tough...

Easter was always one of my favourite holidays when I was growing up. And this wasn't because of all the chocolate. It was because this was the one time of year my mother would make Tsoureki, or Greek Easter bread.

Tsoureki is a sweet bread that is similar to brioche. It's what my family always eats for breakfast on Easter Sunday. I always helped my mother make tsoureki on Holy Saturday. The dough is left to rise at least twice, so it is an all day event!

This year my mother couldn't visit me for Easter. So I decided I would attempt to make Tsoureki for the first time alone. I'll be honest, I was a little freaked out! I always watched while my mother did 90% of the work. It was always my job to fetch items for her, grease the baking pans, and to apply the egg wash. Plus, as you know from a previous post, I am not a baker.

In order to make the bread I needed my mother's recipe. Unfortunately, it was in Ontario with her and it is written in Greek. I had asked her to translate it and have my brother email it to me. But she kept forgetting to do the translation. On Holy Thursday she offered to translate it over the phone. This seemed like a bad idea to me. I am not a patient person, plus I imagined I would end up with a piece of paper filled with gibberish and I'd be back to square one. So I did the next best thing and went online and tried to find a recipe that "sounded right." I found two, read them to my mother, and she selected the recipe.

On Holy Saturday I dragged myself out of bed at 6 a.m. and began activating the yeast. The yeast takes one hour to proof, so I set an alarm and went back to bed (I was tired!). Last year we had issues with the yeast. So I was relieved when I woke up and found the yeast bubbling away and gassing up the place.

I then began mixing all the ingredients to make the dough. The dough has to be kneaded until it is smooth and no longer sticks to your hands, or about 10 minutes.

The dough is then placed in a large bowl, covered with a towel, and left to rise for about two hours. After it is risen, the dough is punched down, removed from the bowl and separated into 6 balls. Each ball is cut into thirds. Each strip is rolled until it is about 12 - 15 inches long (imagine playdough snakes) and then braided. The braided dough can then be placed into a loaf pan, or curled into a circle and placed in a round pan. At this point you can choose to push a dyed egg(s) between the braids. My family never did this, so I skipped this step. The bread is then covered and left to rise for another two hours, or until doubled in size.

The risen bread is then brushed with an egg wash. At this point you can sprinkle the bread with seasame seeds or almonds (I passed on this step). The bread is then baked at 360*F for about 30 - 40 mins, or until the bread is golden brown. And this is where I made my rookie mistake(s)...

First of all, for some reason, I thought it would be okay to bake all 6 loaves at the same time. Unfortunately, the loaves on the top rack began to brown rather quickly. So after about 15 minutes, I had to rearrange the loaves. After another 10 minutes the bread was was VERY brown. Had I left the bread in 5 more minutes it would have burned! And man, would I have been pissed off.

The good news is the bread tasted awesome. It didn't taste exactly like my mother's, but it was close enough. We enjoyed it on Easter Sunday with a hard boiled egg. It was delicious.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Keep it simple stupid.

In a few weeks I will be celebrating my 30th birthday. For a lot of people (especially females) turning 30 is a sad, almost irritating, passage in life. They count their regrets and suffer in stoic silence. I'm happy to say that I am not one of these people. I know that on May 5th I will not feel any different then I did on May 4th. My hair is not going to go from brown to grey overnight. And I'm not going to suddenly wake up with age spots and wrinkles. I'm going to be the same Tacha I was the night before. Except for one small thing...I'm going to try and keep things simple.

Remember when we were kids? Life was simple. It was easy. And it was fun. Then we grew up. Now we have jobs and responsibilities - we get caught up in the daily grind and worry about things that do not matter. We let little things annoy us, and let our frustration build until we're Bill Foster just trying to get home to our little girls birthday party....

I digress. I think there should be a balance. So I'm going to try and strike that balance. And I think the key is keeping it simple. Not everything in life has to be overdone, filled with complicated steps, layers and processes. Complicated does not always equal excellence.

Some of my favourite recipes are quite easy to throw together. They do not utilize expensive kitchen gadgets, difficult/precise techniques, or exotic spices, and hard to find ingredients. They're made with ingredients that compliment each other. So when you taste it, you taste each ingredient alone and collectively. They're just simple. Here is an example of what I'm talking about...

Propper Blokes' Sausage Fusilli
Adapted from Cook with Jamie


2 heaping tsps fennel seeds
2 tsp red pepper flakes
olive oil
1 lb 6 oz quality sausage
1 tblsp dried oregano
4 oz white wine
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 lb 2 oz fusilli or penne pasta
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tbsp butter
4 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese + extra for serving
small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped


Smash the fennel seeds and red pepper flakes with a pestle and mortar (or bash it between some plastic wrap with rolling pin) until coarsely crushed. Put this aside.

Heat a splash of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Squeeze the meat out of the skins and into the pan, breaking it up with the back of a spoon. Fry the sausagemeat for a few minutes until it starts to brown and the fat has rendered slightly, then crush it once more so it looks like coarse mince.

Add the fennel seed and red pepper mixture, turn heat down to medium, and cook for about 10 minutes until the meat is crisp, and golden brown and slightly caramelized.

Stir in the oregano. Add the white wine and scrape up all the tasty bits. Allow the wine to reduce by half. Add the lemon zest and juice. Turn the heat down to low while you cook the pasta according to the package instructions.

When the pasta has cooked to al dente, drain and reserve some of the pasta water. Toss the pasta into the skillet with the sausagemeat. Give it a quick stir, then add the butter, Parmesan cheese, parsley and a few spoonfuls of the reserve pasta water. Taste and check for seasoning. Serve immediately with extra grated Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cooking for two

Cooking for two can sometimes be tough. Especially when you do not want to eat the same meal for dinner 3 or 4 nights in a row. Since I personally prefer to only eat left overs once, I tend to stick to recipes with 4 servings. I occasionally halve recipes, but not all recipes halve gracefully. And unfortunately, you sometimes do not know this until afterward. Also, if you're as crazy as me, you sometimes forget to cut the recipe in half and make the full recipe. And well, now you're stuck with left overs for the next 3 nights. Joy.

It's for all these reasons I get excited (yes, excited) when I come across a recipe that is for two. 2 (two) delicious servings. It's perfect. There is no halving, no remembering to halve, and no disappointment when the meal is prepared and you know it doesn't taste or look half as good as it would had you made the full recipe. Plus, a lot of two servings recipes are quick and easy.

One of my favourite two serving recipes is Tomato and Parmesan Strata. This recipes isn't awesome just because it is two servings and delicious. It's also quick, easy to prepare, and most people have all of these ingredients on hand.

Tomato and Parmesan Strata
Adapted from Cooking Light


2 slices whole wheat bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
Cooking spray
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3 large egg whites
1 large egg
1 cup chopped seeded plum tomato (about 2 medium)
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 375°.

Place bread cubes in a 1 1/2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Add spinach and garlic; sauté 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Remove from heat.

Combine thyme, salt, black pepper, egg whites, and egg in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk. Stir in the spinach mixture and tomato. Pour egg mixture over bread cubes in baking dish; sprinkle with cheese.

Bake at 375° for 20 minutes or until set; let stand 5 minutes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chicken Tamale Casserole

Awhile ago I watched an episode of No Reservations where Tony travels to Mexico. I watched this episode and I drooled. Tony and his friends ate authentic taco after taco. Quesadillas, where the tortillas are made fresh and by hand. They also had the most fabulous breakfast and ate foods I've never heard of that looked so delicious. I wanted to taste and smell everything Tony was eating. It made me wish I had smell-o-vision.

I went to bed that night and had Mexcian cuisine dancing through my head. I awoke to be confronted by the strongest and most unsatiable craving I've ever had. I wanted Mexican food. I wanted it bad. Unfortunately, it took nearly two very very long weeks to get my fix. Finally, we went to Los Tapatios and feasted. And it was everything I had hoped it would be.

Here is a recipe, that while it is not authentic, it captures a lot of the delicous flavours of Mexican cuisine. Plus, it's healthier for those of us watching what we eat.

Chicken Tamale Casserole
Adapated from Cooking Light


1 cup (4 ounces) preshredded 4-cheese Mexican blend cheese, divided
1/3 cup fat-free milk
1/4 cup egg substitute
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground red pepper
1 (14 ¾ oz) can cream-style corn
1 (8 ½ oz) box corn muffin mix (such as Jiffy)
1 (4 oz) can chopped green chiles, drained
Cooking spray
1 (10 oz) can red enchilada sauce (such as Old El Paso)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream


Preheat oven to 400°.

Combine 1/4 cup cheese and next 7 ingredients (through chiles) in a large bowl, stirring just until moist. Pour mixture into a 13 x 9–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until set. Pierce entire surface liberally with a fork; pour enchilada sauce over top. Top with chicken; sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until cheese melts. Remove from oven; let stand 5 minutes. Cut into 8 pieces; top each serving with 1 tablespoon sour cream(optional).