Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Greek Orthodox Easter and Whole Roasted Lamb

In Greece, Easter is not Easter without lamb roasted on a spit. For many Greek families, the roasting of a whole lamb is a tradition that's carried out with great joy and celebration. It’s not for the faint of heart, nor those in a rush. It takes time and patience but the rewards at the end are scrumptious. After seven long weeks of fasting and dietary restrictions, families and friends gather on Greek Easter Sunday for a great feast, the highlight being the slow-roasted 'Arni Sti Souvla'. Every family has it's own idea on the best way to cook the Easter meal but in general the animal is spitted and cooked over an open charcoal bed for about 6 hours, until it is tender, juicy and falling off the bone. Constant turning of the 'souvla' is required so if the family is traditional and doesn't use an electric motor, having lots of friends around is essential, with everyone big or small having a turn rotating the spit.

For those who have grown up with the tradition of roasting a whole animal, they see it as a normal part of Easter festivities, but for newcomers the sight of an entire lamb and its intestine bound innards - the kokorestsi - the experience can be quite shocking. At the same time, one has to respect the tradition. For Greek families, Easter Sunday is always a very social occasion. Friends, family and neighbours are all be invited, with everyone turning up slowly throughout the morning and into the early afternoon, bringing plates of food, boxes of sweets and bottles of their favourite wine. Everyone takes turns at turning the souvla while sipping wine, enjoying delicious mezethes, chatting and helping out with preparations. Invited for our first Greek Easter this past Sunday, the lamb had already been roasting since early in the morning by top chefs David and son Noah, who quickly became mere apprentices once Mr. Marzokis, the family patriarch, arrived later in the day to cast his jaded culinary eye over the roast, poke a finger into the beast's belly and announce when it's done. Naturally, he's also in charge of carving the lamb with great knives and cleavers to the delight of everyone gathered to watch the spectacle. So great is the day, most people will linger on until early evening, not wanting the wonderful day to end.

The highlight of any Greek Easter feast is the roast – a whole lamb on a spit that has been cooked slowly for hours — along with lamb organs wrapped in cleaned intestines known as 'kokoretsi'

Once roasted for about 6 hours over hot coals, the lamb is removed from the 'souvla' or 'spit'  
and laid on an enormous chopping board

Using a very sharp knife and cleaver, the hot lamb is chopped into smaller portions 
and served with an array of traditional side dishes 

A festive occasion, Greek Easter brings together family, friends and the inquisitive younger generation who are destined to continue the culinary traditions of the 'old pros'

Not for the faint of heart, watching a whole lamb being roasted and carved can be an intense, 
overpowering and sometimes shocking experience

Serves 8

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill
6 scallions, finely chopped
2 small leeks, finely chopped
3 lb frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed to remove excess liquid
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 -16 oz whole-milk ricotta cheese
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 large eggs
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 package 12-by-17-inch sheets phyllo

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the chopped dill, scallions, and leeks and cook, stirring, until the scallions and leeks are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until heated through and well combined, about 2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the spinach mixture to a large bowl and refrigerate until cool, about 20 minutes. Add the ricotta, feta and Parmesan to the cooled spinach mixture, then lightly beat the 2 eggs and add to the spinach mixture, stirring to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Brush a 3-inch-deep, 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish with butter. Trim the phyllo to the size of pan. Working quickly and keeping all remaining phyllo covered with plastic wrap topped with a warm towel to keep moist, place one sheet of phyllo in the prepared baking dish and brush with butter; top with another sheet. Repeat the process until there are 10 sheets of phyllo in the baking dish, then pour the spinach mixture overtop. Top with another 10 layers of phyllo, tucking in the edges to seal and brushing with melted butter between each layer. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill until firm, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly beat the remaining egg and set aside.
Remove the spanakopita from the refrigerator and, using a sharp knife, gently cut through the top layer of phyllo to create eight 5-by-2 1/2-inch pieces. Brush with the beaten egg, transfer to the oven and bake until golden, about 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Zucchini Keftedes With Feta and Dill
Serves 12

1 1/3 lb medium zucchini, trimmed
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
3 tbsp chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
3 tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp finely grated lemon peel
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1 cup coarsely crumbled feta cheese
Canola oil, for frying
Plain Greek yogurt 

Grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater onto clean kitchen towel. Sprinkle the zucchini with 1 teaspoon coarse salt then let stand at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment or foil. Wrap the zucchini in towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Place the zucchini in medium bowl. Mix in the green onions, 3 tablespoons of chopped dill, mint, garlic, lemon peel, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Gently stir in the panko and egg, then the feta. Using 2 tablespoons of the zucchini mixture for each keftedes, shape the mixture into 1 1/2 to 2-inch-diameter patties, then place on the baking sheet and chill at least one hour. Note: This can be done 4 hours ahead, but keep chilled.

Pour enough canola oil into heavy large frying pan to reach depth of 1/4-inch and heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the keftedes to the pan and cook until golden and cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Using a slotted metal spoon, transfer to paper towels. To serve, arrange the keftedes on a platter and top with dollop of yogurt and garnish with fresh dill. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Lentil Salad with Roast Tomato, Red Onion & Cilantro

Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe for Castelluccio Lentils with Tomatoes and Gorgonzola from his award-winning cookbook 'Plenty,' I created this modified version of his inspired masterpiece, while still retaining the spirit and exceptional flavour of the original dish, but eliminating some of the needless extra calories. Instead of adding soft and sinful morsels of high-fat Italian gorgonzola cheese, a generous dollop of thick and creamy low-fat plain Greek yogurt crowns the salad in its place. Still, flavour still reigns supreme with a magnificent marriage of sweet oven roasted cherry tomatoes, marinated sliced red onions, fresh chopped cilantro and heart-healthy low-cal lentils, all dressed with a fragrant vinaigrette of garlic, cumin, olive oil and both lemon and lime juice. Simple and delicious, this dish tastes as sensational as it looks.

Lentil Salad with Roast Tomato, Red Onion & Cilantro
Serves 12

2 19 oz can lentils, rinsed
Juice of 1 lime and 1 lemon
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 red onion, thinly sliced into rings
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp ground cumin
2 small garlic clove, crushed
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
20-30 cherry tomatoes, halved and roasted
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup Greek yogurt, as garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the tomatoes together in a large bowl with 1/8 cup of olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, in one layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and lightly caramelized. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. This can be done a day before. 

Mix the lemon and lime juice, vinegar and a pinch of salt in a small bowl, then add the sliced onion rings and toss to coat. After 10-15 minutes the onions will soften and turn pinkish. Whisk in the oil, cumin and garlic to the onions, then add the lentils, cilantro and roasted tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Momofuku Daishō: David Chang's Modern Asian

Never before has there been a phenomenon like Momofuku. Once a completely unrecognizable word, it's now synonymous with David Chang's award-winning restaurants of the same name in three countries around the globe, including his spectacular bento box of restaurants in the modern Momofuku glass cube complex adjacent to Toronto's Shangri-La Hotel and just steps to the Canadian Opera Centre. Daishō specializes in shared plates, large format family-style feasts and an à la carte dinner menu that's constantly changing, inspired by the diversity of Ontario's native ingredients and showcasing the best of Canadian farms from the east to west coast. It's more than just ramen and pork buns. Completely encased in glass, the room’s vaulted ceiling is dominated by a grand finned structure made of oak, which not only brings warmth to the minimalistic space but serves as an elegant beacon along University Avenue. 

Seated at one of the small tables along the soaring 3-storey bank of windows overlooking University Avenue, we jump-started our evening with cocktails that arrived with a complimentary plate of crunchy pickled cucumbers. Looking over the menu, we selected buttery Buttermilk Biscuits served with black pepper butter and a spicy chili honey, followed by the Crispy Chicken Bun with ssäm sauce, pickled carrot and chopped scallion, Daishō's outstanding Agnolotti with oxtail, bay leaf, black truffles, and Roasted Rice Cakes with spicy pork sausage, chinese broccoli and tofu. As an entrée we shared one of Momofuku's newest dishes on the menu, Skate with Black Bean Sauce and Grilled Scallions served with sticky rice. For dessert we splurged on three warm Ricotta Filled Doughnuts with orange and honey! With its fabulous views, soft lighting, friendly professional service staff, and constantly changing dinner menu, Daishō continues to be one of the most consistently enjoyable dining experiences in the city. 

Daisho's dinner menu

A Corpse Reviver #2 with gin, lillet, orange and lemon - a vintage cocktail from the 1930s

Weller Old Fashioned from 1881, with Weller bourbon, bitters and sugar 

Complimentary pickled sweet and salty Kirby cucumbers with peppers

Buttery Buttermilk Biscuits served with black pepper butter and chili honey

Crispy Chicken Bun from Harriston Co-Op in Ontario, served with ssäm sauce, 
pickled carrot, and scallion

Agnolotti with oxtail, bay leaf and black truffles

Roasted Rice Cakes with spicy pork sausage, chinese broccoli and tofu

Skate with Black Bean Sauce and Grilled Scallions served with Sticky Rice


Momofuku Ginger Scallion Sauce 
Makes 3 cups
Recipe courtesy of David Chang, Momofuku

2 1/2 cups thinly sliced scallions, both greens and whites
1/2 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger 
1/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil 
1 1/2 tsp usukuchi - light soy sauce
3/4 tsp sherry vinegar 
3/4 tsp kosher salt, or more to taste

Mix together the scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar, and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt, adding more if needed. Although it's best after 15 or 20 minutes of sitting, this sauce is best once it's stirred together and chilled up to a day or two in the fridge. "Ginger scallion sauce is one of the greatest sauces or condiments ever. Ever. It’s definitely a mother sauce at Momofuku, something that we use over and over and over again. If you have ginger scallion sauce in the fridge, you will never go hungry: stir 6 tablespoons into a bowl of hot noodles — lo mein, rice noodles, Shanghai thick noodles — and you’re in business. Or serve over a bowl of rice topped with a fried egg. Or with grilled meat or any kind of seafood. Or almost anything".

Friday, April 29, 2016

Céilí Cottage: Paddy's Irish Pub & Oyster Bar

Nestled in the heart of Leslieville, The Céilí Cottage was opened in 2009 by Publican and World Champion Oyster Shucker Patrick McMurray. Some may say that the world is his oyster, and they might be right. I first met Paddy at Starfish in 2001 where he was head shucker and major domo. Conveniently located across the park from where we live, Starfish was one of our favourite restaurants for years. We became such regulars that before we even sat down, our waiter Rob would come trotting over with a bottle of Muscadet and a corkscrew. Alas Starfish is no longer, having been rebranded as Pearl Diver, but still under Paddy's purvue. His next venture after Starfish was Céilí Cottage, which has been on our oyster radar for years but never made the time to trundle over until now. All we needed was a nudge. On a cold frosty evening we met some fellow oyster fiends and settled into our table at Céilí Cottage for a couple dozen oysters and night of "craic" — Irish for good fun! The cottage which dates to 1884, has exposed ceiling beams, cracked stone walls and old chalkboard which features the oysters for the day and list of dinner specials.

Johnny Walker Black

A dozen select PEI oysters including Malpecque and Beausoleil from NB

The second dozen with Clarinbridge oysters from Ireland and round Belons from Maine

Céilí Cottage Mac & Cheese

Smokey Ribs and Potato Salad

Pan Seared and Oven Roasted Organic Salmon

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Céilí Cottage Sticky Toffee Pudding
Serves 9

1 cup pitted dates, coarsely chopped and puréed using immersion blender
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp each baking powder and baking soda
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla

Toffee Sauce:
1 cup packed brown sugar
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups whipped cream

For the cake, grease an 8-inch square metal baking pan and line with parchment paper. Boil 1 1/4 cups water in a small saucepan. Add the dates and stir well. Remove the saucepan from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using an electric mixer, cream sugar and butter in a medium bowl until fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. In a food processor, pulse the dates and water until dates are finely minced. Stir the flour alternately with the date mixture into the sugar mixture, starting and ending with the flour. Pour the batter into a greased pan and bake at 350ºF for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in centre of cake comes out clean.

Prepare the toffee sauce just before cake is ready. Heat the sugar and butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the butter melts. Stir in the cream and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

When the cake is ready, set the pan on a wire rack. Poke holes, about a 1/2-inch apart all over cake with a skewer. Drizzle half the hot toffee sauce evenly over the cake. Let stand for 10 minutes. Cut into squares and serve with whipped cream. There should be plenty of toffee left over to drizzle over individual portions, if desired.

Céilí Cottage Mac & Cheese
Serves 4

1 lb elbow macaroni
1 small onion, diced 
1/4 cup unsalted butter 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups homogenized milk 
1 lb cheddar, grated, with some reserved for topping 
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
1-2 handfuls panko breadcrumbs 

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large pot of salted, boiling water, cook pasta until al dente. Meanwhile, in a medium pot, sauté onion in butter until soft. Stir in flour. Gradually whisk in milk, stirring constantly to ensure no lumps form. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until no floury taste remains. Add the cheese and cooked, drained pasta. If sauce looks too stiff at this stage, add a little more milk (or cream or butter or cream cheese or mascarpone or all of the above). Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour everything into a 9″ x 9″ baking dish and sprinkle liberally with panko and reserved cheese. Cook until top is brown and bubbly, approximately 20 minutes. 

Seared Trout and Smashed Potatoes
Serves 4

3 Spanish onions
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp butter
1 1/2 lbs skin-on new red potatoes, about 12
1 tbsp olive oil, preferably light
Salt and pepper to taste
4 deboned trout fillets, each 1/4 lb
1/8 tsp salt and pepper

To caramelize the onions, chop each onion in half lengthwise, then thinly slice. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a large frying pan set over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for about 60-70 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are deep brown and soft. Adjust the heat as needed.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a large pot. Cover with water and add salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer for 30 to 35 minutes until potatoes are tender. Drain, then allow to cool. Place some potatoes between large pieces of parchment. Using a pan bottom, smash each potato to flatten. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high. Coat with about 1 tsp oil. Add 4 smashed potatoes. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes per side until potatoes are crispy and golden. Season with salt and pepper. Repeat with remaining potatoes and oil.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Season the flesh sides, then skin sides of fish, with oil, salt and pepper. Preheat a cast iron pan over high. Add the remaining tbsp of butter. Place fish skin side down and gently press for 1 to 2 minutes to help crisp skin. Flip each fillet so they’re flesh side down. Place pan in preheated oven. Cook to your preference or for 3 to 5 minutes until a knife inserted in thickest part of flesh and held for 10 seconds comes out warm. Arrange onions over serving plates. Top with potatoes and then fish, skin side up. Serve fish fillets with steamed green vegetables and a pint of Beau’s Lug Tread Lager Ale.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Anna's Oat, Honey, Flax Seed & Coconut Energy Balls

Energy balls are pretty much the perfect compact snack, offering a quick and convenient on-the-go breakfast or pick-me-up before or after a heavy workout. Healthy and delicious, this no-bake recipe can be made in minutes using just a few simple ingredients. Just mix everything together in a bowl, roll into little bite size balls and chill in the fridge for a few hours. My sister-in-law Anna, who introduced me to these little bite size boosters, makes them with oats, toasted coconut, ground flax, honey, chocolate chips and macadamia butter, however she's also uses peanut, almond and hazelnut butters with equally great results. Rich in protein, fibre and omega-3 fatty acids, these energy balls are guilt-free and devilishly-good — it's a potent combination!

Anna's Oat, Honey, Flax Seed & Coconut Power Balls
Makes 20-25 balls

1 cup quick cooking or gluten-free oats 
1 cup toasted coconut flakes
1/2 cup peanut butter, or other: almond, hazelnut or macadamia
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/3 cup honey 
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl until blended. Cover and refrigerate the batter for at least 30 minutes, then scoop or roll into 1-inch bite size balls. They can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to a 6 months. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lemon Hummus: Luscious, Light & Delicious

Light, healthy and delicious, this smooth and creamy Middle Eastern–style hummus made from chickpeas, tahini, garlic, cumin, olive oil and just the right amount of lemon juice to make it refreshingly tangy, is puréed all together and served in a beautiful bowl for a luscious lemony Levantine dip. Rich in protein, fibre and healthy fats, this heart smart appetizer is delicious served with fresh raw vegetables, breadsticks or savoury biscuits. 

Lemon Hummus
Makes about 4 cups

1 can cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp tahini
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp ground white pepper

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until either chunky or silky smooth, depending on your preference. If you wish to use less oil but still want a smooth texture, replace some of the oil with the cooking liquid from the chickpeas. To serve, spoon the hummus into a decorative bowl and garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds, fresh parsley or swirl of olive oil and sprinkle of paprika. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Orzo With Parmigiano-Reggiano and Basil

Quick, easy and delicious, this recipe for Orzo With Parmigiano-Reggiano and Basil is a sensational side dish for any occasion. A one pot wonder, the orzo is simply sautéed in butter until lightly browned then simmered with chicken broth until all the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. A handful of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and chopped fresh basil are stirred in at the end, and then seasoned with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Light, luscious and full of fabulous flavour, these five simple ingredients come together as the most mouthwatering and memorable dish.

Orzo With Parmigiano-Reggiano & Basil
Serves 6

3 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups orzo
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 cup fresh basil, washed, dried and julienned 
salt & pepper to taste

Melt butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the orzo and sauté 2 minutes until lightly browned. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the orzo is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Mix in the grated parmesan and sliced basil,  and season with salt and pepper. To serve, transfer the orzo to a warm bowl and garnish with a sprig of basil.