There are a few magical fairytale memories of my childhood that have helped frame my interest in and style of cooking. The one that stands out by far was a Moroccan restaurant in Denver called Mataam Fez. A veritable Harem, it was adorned with decorative tapestries, plush pillows, ornamental chandeliers and enticing aromas. You sat on the floor and got to eat with your fingers. They had belly dancers who could roll coins up and down their bellies and dance with snakes. And the food was exotic and delicious. My father once brought the spoils of a hunting trip to the owner to cook into a feast though I feel certain the scrawny bird was replaced by a plump game hen from the kitchen.
It was a place you went for special occasions. Birthdays, anniversaries, or like me, prom. Did it matter that I was wearing a slim, ankle-length dress of my grandmothers? Pish! I just stuck my legs off to one side across the pillows and floor in what I hoped was a glamorous and not terribly awkward pose.
Each table would receive several dishes in addition to the entree they ordered. A lentil soup with the most delicious, moist bread for dipping. A carrot salad with a hint of rose. And the dish that opened up my willingness to spend an entire day cooking....The B'Steeya. Chicken (or pidgeon) cooked in a spiced and flavorful broth layered with eggs cooked in the same broth and toasty sweet almonds and cinnamon all wrapped in a flakey, buttery phyllo dough baked to feathery perfection.
I first made this dish for my mother during the summer before I left for college. It took all day, I burned my fingers, realized that no matter how difficult phyllo dough seemed, it was really quite forgiving, and felt the true, intense pleasure of serving and then eating what I deemed to be one of the best dishes ever invented.
Fast forward to this week when I have a full-time job, help run a business, have a kid and the chaos of every day life. I still wanted the flavors and fancy of the B'Steeya, but I knew I had to make it easier. And so I decided on a cupcake/muffin situation. I would use ground chicken, browned in the spices, simmered in some apricot nectar and stuffed into phyllo cups. I wanted to do a custard instead of the scrambled eggs and though I did not at first want to use cream, I decided a quiche-like base might be successful.
This dish really came together with relative ease. I know some folks will not agree and for you, please note that you can buy ras al hanout already made as well as phyllo cups. Those two steps will greatly reduce the steps and still deliver you a fancy and flavorful dish. —savorthis
ground chicken (I use breast and thigh meat)
Heat oil over medium heat and cook onions and garlic until starting to brown. Add chicken, 1/2 t salt and ras el hanout and cook until chicken is cooked through. Add apricot nectar and cook until liquid has just been absorbed/evaporated. Turn off heat, stir in lemon juice, adjust for salt and let cool.
Reserve 1/4 c almonds and pulse the rest with the cinnamon and powdered sugar. Place one phyllo sheet on the counter or a cookie sheet. Brush with butter and sprinkle with some almond mixture. Top with another sheet and repeat. You will have two stacks of five sheets each. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife and cut each stack into 12 equal pieces. Use your brush to grease two muffin tins and push the squares into each cup.
Heat oven to 350°. Put a tablespoon of chicken into each cup. Mix eggs, milk and cream and remaining 1/2 t salt. Pour into each cup almost up to the edge. Bake for 20 minutes or until set. Garnish with reserved almonds and parsley. Serve right away.
* I had a batch of ras al hanout I had made from this site: http://tastefoodblog.com/2011/01/18/moroccan-lamb-stew-recipe-ras-el-hanout/ with the addition of sesame seeds.