My Mom’s Cheese Pie (tyro pita)

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This is the final recipe that concludes the countdown to the 100th recipe! It is my mom’s recipe that is her most famous dish. She made it thousands of times, for thousands of occasions, and thousands of people. It is based on a traditional greek pie made with various cheeses most notably feta cheese. This is a much better version, not only because it is made from the best cook I ever met (my mom) bt also because it is a much lighter in taste not very overwhelming with cheese. Additionally this is a recipe that can be made pretty much with every type of cheese you have around. Here, however, we stay with traditions the one and only feta cheese.

Feta cheese is the most famous cheese of Greece and it is selected as PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). It is made almost exclusively with goat’s or sheep’s milk or a mixture of the two. The milk is boiled gently and rennet is added as is typical of all cheeses. Here however the temperature is slightly higher to separate casein (traditional protein in hard cheeses) from whey (typical byproduct of cheese making, used for creamy cheeses as ricotta). The curds are separated and are places in large containers left to dry. They are salted regularly each day for 5-6 days. For other cheeses normally the process will carry on for months multi it is dry and hard. Feta, however, once hard it is cut in large slices that are salted and then placed to cure in a brine solution (based on water or whey and salt) for several months. The word feta in greek means slice and that’s where the name comes from. The salt is not only for flavor but also and mail as a preservative. Outside the brine, it dries out rapidly so prefer to buy feta in brine. As long as it is submerged under the brine level it will keep for ever… Well it will last less than it keeps. It is among the oldest cheeses and was first recorded in the Byzantine Empire. Feta is a soft white brined cheese with small holes, a compact touch, few cuts, and no skin. It is very nice for baking as it is not melting and also on salads as it is very crumply.

So for this recipe other than the feta that is the main ingredient we will use:
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  • 1 lb of feta in brine
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 7 heaping tbsp of semolina flour
  • 4 cups of milk (1 lt to be precise)
  • 1 package of phyllo

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Start by heating up the 3 cups of milk

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Measure and add the semolina flour. This is fine semolina flour. Many times the ratio can vary, as different semolina flours have different thickening ability.

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Stir it well and bring it to a boil and let it simmer.

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Add i tbsp of butter.

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Add it in the mixture.

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Separate the yolks from the white.

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Keep the whites separate.

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And beat the whites to a foam… (sorry no pictures). Add them to the mixture slowly until it is fold completely.

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Beat the egg yolks well.

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Add them also in the mixture. Yes technically this is just mixing all the ingredients. Keep about a tbsp of the egg mixture.

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Now take out the feta from the brine.

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And crumple it over the mixture.

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Like this…

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Mix well.

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Now take the rest of the butter and melt it.

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Oil a baking dish.

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Spread the oil well.

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Lay a sheet of dough.

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Lay one on top of the other and add butter in-between.

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When you go through half of the sheets add the cheese mixture.

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Spread it evenly as you add it. Until it is all finished.

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Spread it to even out the surface.

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Fold the sheets on top.

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And add the rest of the sheets of dough.

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Add on the surface the remaining egg for nice browning.

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With a sharp nice cut it into portions.

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Bake at 350 F. Yes these are sweet potatoes. There is so much heat in there… Don’t let it go wasted.

As always when something is very good, you don’t have the patience to take pictures out of it. So you got to imagine how it looks baked.

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Oh… I love my mom’s cooking, and I love her. She taught me all I know, all I cook. Not the techniques. The techniques you can find in cookbooks. But what is Greek home cooking.

 

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Summer Food: Swordfish Steak with Zucchini pasta

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Usually around this time I start posting a series of post entitled Summer Food. But, what is summer food? What makes a great summer food plate? It has to be, simple, fresh, not heavy in oils and fats, and most importantly remind you of summer. Being in Boston the summer food time is a little late, but it is here at last, and being in Boston it is a great opportunity to get our hands on some fresh amazing fish. This time some freshly caught (or at least I want to believe freshly caught) swordfish. Served with an unusual type of pasta…Swordfish is regarded as an oily fish although it is significantly less oily than salmon or smelt. The flesh of the swordfish is white lightly translucent turning opaque when cooked. There is also a variety that is called pumpkin swordfish that has an orange tint flesh, mainly due to their diet of shrimp or other prey. This unique taste and look makes then as premium seafood that usually ends up in high end restaurants and is hard to come by. Swordfish due to its large size is a particularly popular fish for cooking with a variety of techniques. The myoskeletal structure results in a large muscle groups, small bones and very unique muscle constructions. The swordfish does not have the distinct flaky structure of other fishes have, resembling more tuna than salmon. This allows it to be cooked in a variety of techniques that are not used with other fishes like, steaks, chops, or skewers. Swordfish although flavorful and meaty it comes with a significant problem. As it is true for all large fishes that swim in the sea for many years they accumulate heavy metals like mercury. Although the levels are not very high large amounts can be potentially dangerous. The FDA recommends that young children, pregnant women, and women of child-bearing age not consume swordfish… But you know once in a while is not as bad.

So for this recipe we will need:

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  • 2 1/2 lb Swordfish steaks
  • A large zucchini
  • 1 mango
  • 1 jalopeño
  • Mint (or cilandro)
  • 2 limes
  • 1 red onion
  • 1/2 poblano peper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional… Tequilla

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Start by peeling the mango. In the past I suggested the crisscross scoring and the inside out method for cutting it. Although a fancy method, it is not very clean and not useful. Pealing and cutting is faster, cleaner, neater.

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Cut the sides of.

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And scrape the remaining flesh around the seed.

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Dice it in small pieces. Yes, I know pinky flies away Oh well…

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Using a scraping tool scoop it into a bowl.

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Take the onion… (I know it is not an onion it is a shallot, but the onion in the ingredients image was not good, and all I had was a shallot. Let’s pretend you did not see this and continue)

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Cut it horizontally and vertically…

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…and dice it. Off to the bowl it goes.

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Cut the jalepeno lengthwise. Be moderate and in control of the heat. use as much as you need. Not too spicy… (hahaha right!)

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Half we will blacken in direct fire.

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The other half will be seeded

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and diced.

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Same for the charred half.

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Now cut the poblano in half.

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Julienne the pepper (that is fancy talking for cutting into sticks).

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And dice… Note to self: Focus on the food not the hands. Of to the blow it goes.

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In the bowl add some lime zest and the finely chopped mint.

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And the juice of the related lime.

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Mix well.

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Season with some salt, pepper, cayenne. In this case I only added salt. It was spicy enough from the jalopeno. Transfer the salsa to another bowl and keep about 1 cup.

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With a blender, or lot’s of manual labor, turn the salsa into a mush.

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A mush like this. This will be part of the marinate… Actually it IS the marinate.

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If the many is not very sweet add some sweetness, like demerara sugar, or even better agave syrup. The sugars will caramelize and give an amazing flavor.

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Follow that with some oil.

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Dilute it with some water. Now save 1/2 cup of this mixture… Why? You will see…

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Add the steaks.

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And toss the around to cover them well. Let them marinate for a 30 mins to an hour. The marinate is too acidic and long marination will just make the fish very firm.

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The meantime we will be busy with the pasta… or whatever you call it. Cut off the ends of the zucchini.

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Cut it lengthwise.

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Seed it.

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With a vegetable peeler cut thin strips of the zucchini. This resembles closely linguini.

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It is a laboring process with no shortcut, but it worths the effort. The resulting zucchini has a very distinct texture.

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Add some salt. The salt not only will season the zucchini, but will also pull out some moisture, collapsing the cell walls structures, making the zucchini more like a flexible al dente pasta than a raw vegetable.

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Ten minutes in the refrigerator and you can see how much the zucchini collapsed and reduced in volume almost thy half.

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Now we cook the swordfish. Oil the pan well and let it heat up. We need a very hot pan to sear the swordfish well.

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Add the swordfish and let it sizzle. Cook for 3 mins.

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Flip one.

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Flip two. I know that is the dark mahogany color of caramel. Burned? No it is not burned. It is just the sugars from the agave and the mango that are caramelizing.

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While this is happening. Bring the reserved 1/2 cup marinate with the 1/2 of water to a boil. I know… the recipe is getting complicated, but we need a sort of a sauce to season that zucchini.

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Once the fruits and the veggies are falling apart (3 mins after heating rolling boil), strain them.

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Press them to get all the goodness out.

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And return the reserved liquid to the pot to reduce it down to a syrupy consistency. Testimony to my commitment for excellence in this effort: look at the bizarre angle my arm has to go through in order to be able to shoot the action.

Now the following steps are very, very important. We will deglaze and flambé the pan that the swordfish was in. Here are the 10 simple steps that you need to follow for a successful and painless flambé.

  1. Clear your airspace. No towels, hands, faces or eyebrows over the pan.
  2. Make sure you have lid, larger than the pot, to cover the pan if things go wrong and a pair of tongs to handle it with.
  3. Make sure you know where your fire extinguisher is.
  4. Turn the heat off.
  5. Pour a shot of the tequila (or any other liquid).
  6. Wait a few seconds for the first sizzle to finish.
  7. Light up the flambé with a long match or lighter (preferred).
  8. Turn the heat back on, to medium.
  9. Take your pictures for Facebook etc.
  10. Wait till the fire dies out.

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Here is the flambé in action (step IX).

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Once the fire dies out pour the dark liquid in the syrup. (it is tasty regardless the dark color). Boil it until it thickens a little more. This will be a very complex flavor. Hints of dark caramel, fish, sweet and tart, a little spicy, salty… it is party.

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Once the consistency is right (like a light syrup) pour part of it on a plateto coat the bottom.

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Add on top the zucchini.

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Sit on top of it the swordfish.

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Top it off with a couple of spoonfuls of tasty salsa. Some of it will just drip on the sides. It is a nice effect.

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And decorate with a mint leave.

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A great dish and (kinda) easy to make. Of course the same ingredients instead on a plate can go in taco shell for an amazing fish taco. The zucchini instead of the lettuce, salsa, fish. Summer welcome! </div>