Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hard to resist

Q. What's more interesting than an empty bag to a cat?

A. A cat-in-a-bag to a dog.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Moroccan-South African-Venetian Ghetto-Quick B'stilla

Remember in the movie Evita when Madonna sings, "You Must Love Me," tears streaming down her cheeks (or were those mine?) as she looks heavenward?
After tasting my dinner this evening, I wanted to cry tears of joy and plead to everyone, "You must make this," because it is so utterly delicious. I feel just as impassioned as Madonna/Eva Perone looked.
You must. Make. This.
Bear with me, because I didn't expect anything spectacular to occur tonight, and as usual, wasn't paying much attention or measuring.
But we can deconstruct together. You would need:
-Phyllo dough & requisite melted butter or olive oil or combination thereof for brushing
-Chicken breasts cooked in fiery spices
-Chopped parsley
-Beaten eggs (I used two.)
-Sliced almonds
-Golden raisins
-The jewel in the crown: Belazu Rose Harissa. Or harissa.

Starting out, I wanted to make a simplified version of a B'stilla, which is an amazing Moroccan dish made of phyllo stuffed with all sorts of flavorful ingredients, including (sometimes) squab and saffron. The first time I made it, I basically followed Diana Henry's recipe from Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, substituting ground beef for her guinea fowl (I realize that may sound like a strange substitute, but it seemed fine to me because I'm used to Greek dishes using allspice). Everything within the traditional phyllo pie is delicately infused with cinnamon, which makes for a great sweet-savory taste sensation.
This evening, I set out to make a chicken version for Troy, but really didn't feel like having the cinnamon aspect.
For my spice choice, I used an Elements of Spice mix called Mama Africa from the S. African Cape Herb company.

The mix is described as Southern African in flavor, and is a blend of piri piri chilies, sugar, sea salt, coriander seeds, onion flakes, red bell peppers, black peppercorns, garlic, cumin, lemon, ginger, paprika.
[On another side note, if you decide to buy a tin of Mama Africa, definitely also get a tin of their Bed of Roses spice mix while you're at it -- I'm throwing around a lot of superlatives here, but trust me, it's fantastic -- the best! These spice blends will elevate any BBQ or brai.]
Let's get back on track.
-Sautee the chopped onions until soft; add the garlic and cook but don't let it burn!
-Add the chicken, which you've trimmed, rinsed, patted dry, and sprinkled liberally with spicy spices like the Mama Africa mix.
-Let cool, shred the chicken, and put it in a bowl with chopped parsley, beaten eggs, sliced almonds, golden raisins (a.k.a. sultanas) and a spoonful of harissa.

If you can get a jar of Belazu Rose Harissa, use that. Goooood stuff.

If not, then you need to either fly to the U.K., or ask a friend to send you a jar. Or, I suppose, as an alternative for all you maniacs out there, you can be like the intrepid Sarah and make your own harissa. Still, I don't think even Sarah makes rose harissa. Harissa lends a beautiful depth of heat (although this is by no means a fiery hot pie despite all of these spices).
Moving onward, I'm sure there's no authentic b'stilla that calls for golden raisins, but I added them to the mix because I so love Nigella's recipe for Tagliatelle with Chicken from the Venetian Ghetto, and had a blast of inspiration as I surveyed my chicken mixture. They added just the right sweet note.
When I made this previously, I used a springform pan, but I only have one, which today was held hostage by an apple cake, so I used a baking sheet for this instead. Working reasonably quickly (as one must with phyllo!) I layered sheet upon sheet, brushing in between with butter.
Then added the filling. I could have used twice as much.

Folded it all in, topped with a few more phyllo sheets, and gave it a final brushing of butter before baking it in a 400F-degree oven for 20 minutes.

Mm. Nothing better than a crispy phyllo concoction!

Traditionally, a b'stilla is dusted with confectioner's sugar, which I've not yet been up for, but to each his own.
A little North African, a little South African, & with a touch of the Venetian ghetto thrown in, this pie is so delicious, you will want to sing about it from a balcony.

In the U.S., you can find Elements of Spice rubs at Chelsea Market Baskets

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lake Garda apple cake

My love of apples & Italy shines with appreciation for this delicious cake from Patricia Well's Trattoria: the Lake Garda apple cake, or, Torta di Mele.
I was given the idea by Mary...Apple, who recently launched a discussion of Wells' other fabulous apple cake, from The Paris Cookbook. I was going to make that cake, but took a detour and ended up in Northern Italy, instead, where the cakes are so perfectly not too sweet. Just right.
Wells calls this "a montage of all the apple cakes eaten late one summer on Lake Garda." It is a lovely tribute to a simple treat, and what must have been a beautiful time.

Unsalted butter & all-purpose flour for preparing the baking pan
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200 g) vanilla sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons whole milk
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (200 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 Golden Delicious apples, (about 1 1/2 lbs.; 750 g)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (175 C; gas mark 4/5)
2. Generously butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan, tapping out any excess flour. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter, 3/4 cup of the vanilla sugar, the vanilla, milk, and lemon zest until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one by one, beating thoroughly after each addition.
4. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Spoon the mixture into the batter and mix until thoroughly belnded. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix once more. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquids.
5. In a large bowl, toss together 2 tablespoons of the vanilla sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of the cinnamon. Peel and core the apples, and cut each lengthwise into 16 even wedges. Transfer the apples to the bowl, tossing with the cinnamon sugar. Set aside.
6. Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan, smoothing out the top with a spatula. Starting just inside the edge of thepan, neatly overlap the wedges of apples-thicker curved outer side against the side of the pan-in 2 or 3 concentric circles, working toward the center.* Fill in the center with the remaining apples. Toss together the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and sprinkle over the apples.
7. Place the pan in the center of the oven. Bake until the apples are a deep golden brown and the cake feels quite firm when pressed with a fingertip, about 1 hour. Remove to a baking rack to cool. After 10 minutes, run a knife along the sides of the pan. Release and remove the side of the springform pan, leaving the cake on the pan base. Serve at room temperature, cutting into thin wedges.

*Impatient as I am, I could not do this & just threw the apples on top of the batter.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Winter Windows
Snowflakes, feathers, flying geese on frosted window panes;
Trees and skis on misty slopes, and, yes, some candy canes;
See white-filmed stars and crescent moons painted on the glass.
Jack frost, of winter, gives his best with surrealistic class.

Just planning my ski vacation, and thinking of how many days until school starts.
Meanwhile, there was a beautiful sunset and the sky had a blue color to it that was most unusual.

Nevertheless, I've had enough already.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Update on Friday

Friday has settled in nicely, and the cats have decided he can stay.

Here he is, hiding from me, because he does not want to go swimming.

You can see he's gained a little weight in his behind! He needs a new collar already, but I haven't been able to find the right one yet.
I must say, he's a mellow personality for the most part. Definitely a homedog. He's very good at flopping.

Inside, he tries to blend, I think because he's not sure he is supposed to be on the beds. Outside, he tries to blend in the hopes that I won't notice him and take him for a dip.