tyrokafteri terrine

tyrokafteri terrine

tyrokafteri is a lovely spicy cheese dip which serves as part of meze. this is a very fine tradition indeed. small plates of flavourful dips and other dishes are served alongside aperitifs at the beginning of a meal, or as a meal itself. my friends and family and i eat in this casual fashion quite often, so i generally have some dips on hand and make tyrokafteri alongside some labneh, hummus, or taratour. we make a big salad, toss some olive-oiled pitas on the grill to blister, and we have dinner.

a nice thing about this spicy feta dip, is that is gets quite firm when chilled, which means it can be moulded and turned out like this terrine. i like how it can be sliced and served on appetizer plates, or if i’m feeling really fancy, prepared in a smaller mould and served with a small salad and bread for each guest at a dinner party.

you may have seen a white version of this, which is essentially cheese and green chilis. this one has a few more ingredients, and a more complex flavour to match it’s warm, summery colour and gentle heat.

tyrokafteri terrine

tyrokafteri terrine

250g good feta cheese
3 tbsp. very thick strained yogurt (labneh) or cream cheese
squeeze of lemon juice
3 tbsp good quality greek olive oil
1 each roasted red, yellow, and orange peppers
1 tsp. crushed hot red chilis or boukovo (hot greek chilis)
1 tsp. hot smoked paprika
1 tsp. chopped fresh mint
extra olive oil, for drizzling

place the feta in a bowl of cold water and allow to stand for 20 minutes to remove excess salt. cut the roasted peppers in half, reserving one half to layer in the terrine. drain the feta and place in the bowl of a food processor, along with the yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, the pepper halves, hot chilis, and paprika. process until very smooth and creamy.

chop the reserved pepper halves into a very fine brunoise, or tiny little dice. mix together to distribute the colours. Drizzle with 1/2 tsp of olive oil, and stir in the chives.

line a 2 cup container with plastic wrap, or use 4 small ramekins, and leave an overhang. Place the chopped peppers in the bottom of the mold, or divide evenly among ramekins. Scrape the tyrokofteri into the mould(s) and smooth the top. cover with the overhanging plastic wrap, and chill for at least 4 hours, better still, over night.

turn out terrine onto a plate. remove plastic wrap and smooth the edges with a small palette knife. drizzle with olive oil and serve with warm, grilled or oven-warmed pitas. Serves 4

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mexican drinking chocolate pots de creme

mexican drinking chocolate pots de creme

it’s been a weird april here in ontario. cloudy days and snowy, wind-chill factor nights are keeping the flowers at bay and prolonging that sweet anticipation that spring will, eventually, arrive. that’s just how it is here. spring will come, and so will the heat of summer.

it’s also monday.

so how about some chocolate, with a hint of spicy chili, no less?

one of my favourite things to enjoy in hot weather is a cold cup of drinking chocolate. these little desserts combine classic chocolate pots de creme with the flavours of an icy mexican drinking chocolate, flavoured with a whiff of cinnamon and an ever-so-subtle ht of chili spice.

best of all, this takes 10 minutes to prepare.

mexican drinking chocolate pots de creme

mexican drinking chocolate pots de creme

250g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup half and half or 18% cream
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of sea salt
1/4 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup whipping cream
shaved chocolate and cinnamon for dusting

place the chocolate into the bowl of a blender. in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk together the whole milk, half and half, egg yolks, sugar, salt, red pepper flakes, and cinnamon. cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heat-proof spatula, until mixture is thick and custard-like, and coats the back of a spoon. scrape into blender bowl. carefully blend until smooth, holding a towel over the opening and allowing steam to vent. pour mixture into dessert dishes. chill until cold.

whip the 1/2 cup of whipping cream and spoon over pots de creme, and garnish with chocolate shavings and cinnamon. makes 6-8 servings.

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spicy caesar devilled eggs

spicy caesar devilled eggs

can anyone ever have too many devilled eggs? i think they are probably one of the greatest inventions in the world of two-bite appetizers. they are special enough for a party but easy enough to make for a weekend brunch or nibbly before dinner. they are tasty, and downright adorable, if you ask me.

something i really enjoy with brunch is an ice-cold caesar cocktail, so i thought, what the heck, let’s do a mash-up of devilled eggs and a spicy, savoury caesar.

i was surprised to find that a caesar seems to be virtually unknown outside of canada. tomato-clam juice is swished with vodka, worcestershire, and hot sauce, and shaken into a celery-salt rimmed glass and garnished with a whole celery stalk and lime. the flavours are so fresh and clean, that one can now find caesars garnished with everything from pickles to strips of bacon and skewers of jumbo shrimp. the same goes for the creamy foil of a devilled egg: it pairs perfectly with the flavours of a caesar.

cutting the eggs in half widthwise gives you perfectly round little cups to rim with celery salt and hold the tabasco-laced filling topped with celery leaves.

spicy caesar devilled eggs

spicy caesar devilled eggs

8 large eggs
1 tsp. tabasco sauce (or to taste)
a few drops of worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp. good, thick mayonnaise
freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp. celery salt
juice of 1 lemon
leaves from 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
8 grape tomatoes, halved widthwise

bring a medium pot of water to the boil. using a spoon, carefully lower the eggs into the water. bring the water back up to a full boil. cover, remove from heat, and allow to stand until cooled to room temperature.

peel eggs, and with a sharp knife, cut a small sliver off both ends of each eggs. slice each in half widthwise, and pop the yolks out into a bowl. arrange the empty egg whites on a plate and chill. mash the yolks with the mayonnaise and tabasco until smooth, season with the pepper, and chill.

place the celery salt on a small saucer, and the lemon juice in a small bowl or ramekin. dip the cut side of each egg white into the lemon juice, shaking off excess, and then dip into the celery salt to lightly coat. load the chilled yolk mixture into a piping bag fitted with a star tip and pipe into the egg white holes. top each egg with a grape tomato half, skin side down, and sprinkle with the celery leaves. chill completely. makes 16.

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tofu with spicy salt

tofu with spicy salt

i remember first time i ate tofu with spicy salt, in a little dumpling house close to my old office in toronto, maybe 4 years ago. the dish was so simple, just cubes of tofu dusted in some crazy spice blend, deep fried, then cooked again with peppers and onions. the very nice people who ran the restaurant always threw a little container of dark soy and vinegar blend, and some chili paste in my take out bag and i’d douse the whole lot with it before consuming like a madwoman. the slick of oil at the bottom of the styrofoam take-away box this was a good indication i should not be eating this once a week, but heavens to betsy, it was a thing of deliciousness!

on the days i decided to pop in for some, i thought about it all day. seriously, i could barely work. my meat-eating friends could not imagine how something made of soybean curd could have me in such a tizzy, until they tried it. right? that look on their face said it all. vindication! they are all vegetarians now! (no they’re not.)

when i moved jobs, i left the dumpling house behind. but like poe’s beating telltale heart, it haunted me regularly. i knew if i didn’t have some, and soon, i was going to snap like a desiccated twig.

i also knew if i managed to nail this recipe, i would want to eat it all the time, so it needed to be healthier. not even i will sacrifice my favourite jeans for a bowl of tofu.

so here we are, and this version is lightly pan-fried vs. deep-fried. the bonus? it cooks up in like, 15 minutes, and makes a great lunch, or pair with brown rice and a big bowl of stir-fried vegetables and cashews for a larger meal.

for the spice factor, i’ve used shichimi, which you can buy at most asian stores. you can also check back here on sunday for a feature on spice blends and how to make your own shichimi.

tofu with spicy salt

tofu with spicy salt

1 250g brick of firm tofu
1 egg white muddled with 1 tbsp water
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp shichimi
1 tsp. black sesame seeds
1 tsp. white sesame seeds
2 tbsp peanut or canola oil
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp tamari
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sambal oelek or other chili paste

slice the brick of tofu in half horizontally. place the cut sides down on a double thickness of paper towel and allow to drain for 10 minutes. cut each half into 1″ cubes. in a small bowl, stir together the tamari, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and sambal oelek. set aside.

in a lidded container or a plastic bag, mix up the cornstarch, shichimi, salt, pepper, and sesame seeds. in a medium bowl toss the tofu cubes with the egg white mixture, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the cornstarch mixture. shake to coat. in a large-ish ceramic non-stick pan, heat the 2 tbsp. oil until almost smoking. shake the excess cornstarch from the tofu and add to the pan. shake and stir the pan to lightly brown the tofu cubes on all sides, about 5 minutes. add the peppers and onions, reduce heat to medium, and cook until the onions are wilted and the pepper is slightly softened but still a bit crisp, about 4 minutes. add the tamari mixture, and give the pan a few shakes to coat the tofu. serve immediately.

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white bean gumbo

gumbo is a thickened soup from louisiana that always puts me in my happy place. i can’t help eating bowl after bowl…it’s so satisfying!

this gumbo starts with a dark roux, a very different flour and fat mixture than you would use for a white sauce. this one gets cooked a long time, until it’s very dark brown and nutty. the result is a toastiness that is one of the signature flavours of gumbo. once you’ve made the roux, the rest is easy.

it’s not that roux is difficult, but it needs your attention. roux while it’s cooking is extremely hot. you’re essentially deep-frying flour, so don’t walk away. don’t check your instagram feed. just, don’t. it will take about 4-5 minutes to get the roux to the right stage. it will turn golden, then become curdled and lumpy, and finally smooth and deep brown. just stand there and give it 100% attention and stir it and you’ll be fine. a dark roux like this doesn’t really thicken too much, but it makes the soup shiny and full of body.

gumbo usually contains chicken, sausage, shrimp, crawfish, or any combo of these. since ours is vegan, i’ve added some white beans. you could also throw in some vegetarian sausage, which i sometimes do.

the final thickening comes at the end, when you add the okra. i think okra is a beautiful vegetable. if you’ve never tried it, do! it gets a bad rap for it’s slightly slimy texture, but it’s no different from a banana, and it thickens this soup so nicely. 

a recipe for gumbo spice blend follows. when i’m not using it for gumbo, it gets sprinkled on roasted cauliflower, or pan-fried potatoes for breakfast.

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white bean gumbo

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup flour
3 stalks celery, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can plum tomatoes
8 cups water
2 tbsp. gumbo spice blend
2 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 cups cooked white beans such as white kidney or navy beans (2 19-oz cans, drained)
2 cups sliced okra
1/2 lemon
hot cooked rice
fresh chopped parsley

place the chopped celery, bell pepper, onions, and garlic in a bowl. open the tomatoes and dump into another bowl. crush them with your hands, breaking them up well.

in a large pot heat the oil over medium-high heat. add the flour, turn the heat down to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until it turns a rich, dark brown colour and just begins to smoke, about 5 minutes. add the bowl of vegetables, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. add the gumbo spice blend, salt and pepper, and pour in the tomatoes. give a quick stir, then add the water. increase heat to high. bring to a boil, then reduce heat back down to medium and cook, uncovered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the soup has thickened. add the cooked beans and the okra. cook for another 15 minutes. squeeze in the juice of the half lemon.

place a mound of rice in a bowl. top with the gumbo, and sprinkle with parsley. serve with hot sauce on the side.

gumbo spice blend

2 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp. hot smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. thyme leaves
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. quatre epices
1 tbsp dried oregano leaves

mix everything together and store in a glass jar.

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spicy red lentil soup

a very quick, simple red lentil soup that’s rich and full of warm spicy flavour. i do all the vegetables in the food processor for ease.

a blitz of the finished soup in the blender makes for a silky finish, but it’s not essential.

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spicy red lentil soup

2 onions, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, scraped and diced
2 stalks celery, finely minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups red lentils
8 cups water or vegetable stock
6 plum tomatoes, mashed, with their juices (i use my hands and squish them in a bowl)
2 tsp. ground cumin seed
2 tsp. ground coriander seed
1 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 tsp. sea salt
Fresh pepper
juice of 1 lemon

in a large pot heat the oil to medium. add the onion, garlic, carrot, and celery. cover and cook 10 minutes, or until vegetables are softened. add the lentils, stock or water, tomatoes, and spices. bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally at first, and more frequently at the end, until lentils have broken down, about 30 minutes. taste, and check seasoning. finish with a squeeze of lemon. puree soup in a food processor, blender, or use an immersion blender, and if you like, garnish with a swirl of natural yogurt and cilantro leaves.

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