And I Can Cook, Too

Friday, March 17, 2006

March 8, 2006

Belly Up
The wedding was only two days away and it was time to put a little more focus on the bride and groom. We made a dinner reservation at Casablanca, a wonderful Moroccan restaurant on the windward side of Oahu. We were seated at a long, low table, with bulbous chairs on one side and big fluffy cushions on the other. The server came around with a pitcher of warm water to pour for a ceremonial hand washing, and towels to dry off. Soon we were presented with gigantic platters heaping with lovely salads: tabbulah, babba ganush, hummus, roasted eggplants, and minted carrots with orange flower water, to name a few. Big basket of bread were passed, and we dug in. We scooped and dipped, and when the lentil soup course came around, used our crusts to sop us ever last drop. After the soup, we were presented with B’stilla: minced chicken, almonds and eggs, wrapped in phyllo dough, seasoned with cinnamon and topped with powdered sugar. It was as delicious as it was tricky to eat with our fingers. As we discussed the virtues of a sweet chicken pie, the belly dancer arrived.

Focusing immediately on Ed, the dancer began her seduction. Around and around she danced, taunting him with not only her lovely purple veil, but also her belly. Though he tried his best to resist, he was soon won over, and joined her on the dance floor. You have not lived until you’ve seen the combination of trained, seasoned belly dancing and the white mans over-bite with touchdown celebration demonstration.
Peg, the bride, was next on the dance floor for her bridal belly dance lesson. She swayed and shimmied, and otherwise let Ed know what is future would hold. Following her lesson, all the women folk were invited up to dance. Citing the cold struck down on me for taking a pig over the Pali, I declined, opting instead to continue eating while everyone else was otherwise occupied. Kim, Danielle, Krystal, Peg, Ann, and Marcelle jiggled and wiggled, while the men cheered them on and I ate their B’stilla. The fun nor the B’stilla could not last forever, however, and soon the dance was over. It was time for our entrees.

Spice rubbed rack of lamb, stewed game hens with prunes, and braised lamb shank were among the succulent dishes brought to the table. Though we had all claimed to be full after the B’stilla, we found room to finish every bite. Following our entrees, desert was served. Chebbakia is a thin, deep fried funnel cake drizzled with honey and topped with sesame seeds. There was enough for everyone to satisfy their sweet tooth without over indulging. With the chebbakia we were served Casablanca’s house blend tea. A combination of mint tea, simple syrup, and orange flower water, it was the perfect ending to our meal. As we sipped our tea, we were cleansed with another hand washing, this time with fragrant orange blossom water, which was then sprinkled on our head. Fully sated and smelling divine, we waddled out the door, wondering aloud how many calories belly dancing could burn.

5 Saffron Threads
1 1/2 lb. Chicken Breast, boneless, skinless
Salt and Pepper
1 ½ tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Onion, finely chopped
2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Jalapeños, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. Cumin, ground
1/2 tsp. Ginger, ground
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/4 c. Sherry
1 c. Chicken Broth
1 c. water
3 Eggs
2 tbsp. Italian Parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp. Cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 c. Almonds, toasted
Cooking Spray
1 oz. package thawed Phyllo Sheets
Powdered Sugar to cover

Pre-heat oven to 375In a dry skillet toast the saffron over low heat for 1 minute. Remove the saffron from the pan and crumble it.
Salt and pepper the chicken thighs. Add the olive oil to the pan and cook the chicken thighs over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes each side. Remove the thighs from the pan. Once cool enough to handle, chop the chicken into a small dice and set aside. Add the onion, garlic, jalapeño, cumin, ginger, saffron, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon to the pan, and stir for a minute or two, or until fragrant. Return the chicken to the pan. Add sherry and deglaze the pan, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Add chicken broth and water and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 20-30 minutes. Remove the chicken and keep warm.
Reduce the remaining cooking liquid in to 1/2 cup and remove from heat. In a separate saucepan, whisk the eggs. Temper the eggs by adding ¼ c. of the cooking liquid, a drizzle at a time, whisking constantly. Add the remaining cooking liquid and cook over low heat until the eggs begin to solidify. Add the parsley, cilantro, and chicken. Remove from heat and let cool. Cover with powdered sugar to taste.
Crush almonds in a food processor.
Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Open the phyllo. While you work with one sheet of phyllo at a time, keep the rest of the phyllo covered with a sheet of wax paper topped with a damp towel. Place the first sheet on a cutting board and spray with cooking spray. Fold in half and spray again. Repeat with 1/2 the remaining phyllo sheets, placing each new sheet crosswise on the previous one to form a star pattern. When done, lift all the folded sheets into the cake pan, and press the excess up the sides of the pan. Coat the sheets with the ground almonds and top with the chicken mixture. Spray the last ½ of the phyllo sheets in the same manner as before, but fold all the sheets into quarters, again laying each sheet atop the previous one in a crosswise pattern to form a star. Place on top of the chicken mixture, and fold the excess from the bottom sheets over the top to seal.
Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan. Cover with powdered sugar.


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