Relevance, today’s post and my French Friday’s recipe, Chicken B’stilla, is all about that word.
What I knew for sure, after Michael’s death, was I wanted to find myself. In those ten years, I’d lost Me. I also realized that everything about that experience must be treasured and mined. I needed to do better. Be a better person. I needed to make those years count, not only for my sake but to acknowledge a spouse who had gone through hell. That’s exactly, as some of you realize, what these past three years have been about.
We all have needs. That’s especially true as we age. Hey, Baby Boomers, do you hear me? I’ve never been important in that important, important manner. Never had much of an ego or yearned for power. My competitive gene got lost about five years ago. I do cling fiercely to my desire for independence and self control. If someone’s going to mind my business, it’s going to be Me. But most importantly, if only for myself, I need to remain Relevant. Be purposeful. If you’re truthful, so do most of you.
This blog and my returning to Aspen to be a volunteer forest ranger again is what’s floating my boat, pushing all my buttons. Lights on Bright allows me to be expressive, tell my story and keeps me cooking. Rangering covers everything else from keeping fit to constantly educating myself to social engagement with the vacationing public. Most importantly, the short-staffed, underfunded USFS is adamant about the value of our boots on the ground. Smokey Bear needs Me.
If only I had a video of the first time I stopped by The Gant’s front office before leaving on a patrol. For safety’s sake volunteers must tell someone daily where they’ll be working. I was all decked out in my ill-fitting, unfashionable uniform and sporting every badge and medal the USFS will legally allow. I’m wearing my Smokey cap, have binoculars around my neck, my backpack in place and am carrying my hiking poles. It’s a Look. Keep in mind, I also am old enough to be each employees’ grandmother.
I am not exaggerating. Those 5 kids staffing the front desk were shocked. Amazed. And, after a few seconds, laughing. I handed them an index card filled with information. “Here’s the deal,” I said, while leaning over the desk. “I am going to work and I need to check out and in with someone. You’re it. I’m hiking Midway today. If I’m not back by 6pm, call the USFS. I am serious.”
Suddenly, they all regained their be serious-composure. “We got it, Mrs. Hirsch,” Zach promises me and, for the past two seasons, they always have. Usually when I check back in with them, I am totally spent, exhausted. They are enthusiastic cheerleaders and make me feel proud of myself. We all need that.
This week’s recipe, Chicken B’stilla, puts Relevance in a different spotlight. More than 35 years ago I took a cooking class with the renown food writer and Mediterranean food expert Paula Wolfert. On that extraordinary day, one of the dishes she made was the classic Moroccan delicacy, B’steeya. It is a sweet/savory chicken pie made with phyllo dough and eaten with two fingers. Although I easily mastered the two-finger approach, the recipe itself is involved and complicated. I never made it.
Today, Ms. Wolfert, 77 years old and living in Sonoma, suffers from Benson’s syndrome, a variant of Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t cook and fights her personal memory battle everyday. However, Paula Wolfert, an icon in the culinary arena, will always be relevant. Her nine pioneering cookbooks on Mediterranean cuisine and the learning experiences she’s provided for others are a lasting legacy.
There is a Chicken B’stilla recipe in Around my French Table. My colleagues made it in January 2011 before I joined French Fridays. To honor Paula and knowing Dorie would carefully walk me through this recipe, I decided to conquer this classic. Surprisingly, 35 years later, it was not involved nor complicated. However, it was delicious and definitely party fare. For greens, I made Ottolenghi’s Baby Spinach Salad with Dates & Almonds from his Jerusalem cookbook. Perfect.
I linked to the salad recipe. The Chicken B’stilla information is below. Much of this dish can be made ahead. This is too unique and delicious to be put aside another 35 years. Try it.
CHICKEN B’STILLA by Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table
Six Main Course Servings
8 chicken thighs, skinned
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Big pinch of saffron threads
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 large eggs
2 Tablespoons honey
freshly ground pepper
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
8 sheets filo (each 9 x 14″)
About 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 ounces sliced almonds, toasted and chopped
Cinnamon sugar, for dusting
1.Put the chicken pieces, onions, garlic and spices into a Dutch oven or other large casserole and give everything a good stir. Cover and let the chicken marinate for 1 hour at room temperature. (The chicken can be marinated in the refrigerator for as long as 1 day.)
2. Add the chicken broth and 1 teaspoon salt to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so that the liquid simmers, cover the pot, and cook for 1 hour, at which point the chicken should be falling-off-the-bone tender.
3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a bowl. strain the broth, saving both the liquid and the onions. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and cut it into small cubes or shred it.
Clean the Dutch oven and pour the broth back into it, or pour the broth into a medium saucepan. Whisk in the lemon juice, bring to a boil and cook until you have about 1 cup liquid. Reduce the heat to low.
4. Beat the eggs with the honey and whisking all the while, pour into the broth. Heat, whisking constantly until the sauce thickens enough that your whisk leaves tracks in it, about 5 minutes. Pull the pan from the heat and season the sauce with salt and pepper.
5. Stir the chicken and reserved onions into the sauce, along with the cilantro and parley. (You can make the chicken and sauce up to 1 day ahead and keep it covered and refrigerated.)
6.Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
7. Place the filo sheets between sheets of wax paper and cover with a kitchen towel. Brush a 9″ round cake pan, one that’s 2 ” tall, with melted butter. Brush 1 sheet filo with butter and center it in the pan, so that the excess hangs over the edges. Brush another sheet and press it into the pan so that it’s perpendicular to the first sheet and forms a plus sign. Place a third and then a fourth buttered sheet into the pan so that they form and X; the overhang from all of the sheets should cover the edges of the pan.
Sprinkle half of the almonds over the filo. spoon in the saucy chicken, spreading it evenly across the pan, and top with the rest of the almonds. Fold the overhanging filo over the chicken.
8. Butter the remaining 4 sheets of filo, stacking them one on top of the other on the work surface. Using a pot lid or the bottom of a tart pan as a guide, cut our a 10 to 11″ circle. Center the circle over the cake pan and gently tuck the edges of the dough into the pan, working your way around it as though you were making a bed. Brush the top of the b’stilla with a little butter and sprinkle with some cinnamon sugar. Place the pan on the baking sheet.
Bake the b’stilla for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350°F and bake for 20 minutes more. If the top seems to be getting too brown at any point, cover it loosely with foil. Transfer the b’stilla to a cooling rack and let rest for about 5 minutes.
9. Lay a piece of parchment over a cutting board, and have a serving platter at hand. Turn the b’stilla out onto the parchment lined board and then invert it onto the serving platter, so that it is right side up. Serve the b’stilla now, cutting it into wedges, or serve it warm or at room temperature.
French Fridays with Dorie is an international online cooking group making its way through Around My French Table cookbook. To link to our site, go here. Thanks to Teresa who blogs at One Wet Foot for reminding me of this recipe. Please note the various spellings of B’stilla and B’steeya. Filo or phyllo? Fe Fi Fo Fum.