Monday, June 29, 2015

Savory chicken apricot pie

There is a restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin, called "Mediterranean Cafe" aka MedCaf and they have perfected how to do 'fast food' right. They make huge batches of homecooked food, and have such quick turnover that it's always really fresh. Every day they have 4 specials, in addition to some standby items that are always available - it's hugely popular, and at lunch time there's often a bit of a line out the door.

One of my favorite dishes that they had, which was a special and so only available certain days, was a chicken apricot pie. I don't think this is an authentic dish in any particular country, but represents the kind of fusiony approach that make MedCaf so popular. This is the recipe from my third time making it, since the first couple just didn't come close enough to what I remember.

This recipe requires one unusual ingredient, "Qamar ad-din" paste. It's basically unsweetened apricot fruit leather that is normally used to produce a beverage during Ramadan. You can buy it at most Middle Eastern markets year round. Here's a picture of one brand of it:


  • 250 grams qamar addin
  • 3 cups water
  •  2 large chicken breasts, or 3 small
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 8 allspice berries
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 2 cloves
  •  1 stick butter
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 2 c. milk
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon


The night before making this, roughly chop the qamar addin into chunks, then soak in the water. You're hoping to create a fairly viscous liquid that is pourable but won't slosh around, a bit like a pie filling or something. Check how things are going in the morning, you may need to add a little bit more water, and it helps to shake the container a little bit. If by cooking time there are still chunks or it is too watery, you can cook it on the stove until everything is dissolved and it reaches the correct consistency. 

Boil the chicken breasts with the spices (cinnamon, garlic, allspice, pepper, cloves) until cooked. Remove, let cool, shred chicken. Retain some liquid.

Grease a brownie pan (9x9 or 9x13), preheat oven to 400, put the shredded chicken in the pan, pour the apricot over it, and then begin preparing the bechamel sauce as follows: Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the flour, whisking it in vigorously to ensure it's fully mixed. Cook the roux until it is just barely starting to brown.Very slowly add the milk, mixing continuously with a whisk. Add the spices. Simmer and stir on low heat until the sauce is beginning to thicken. Remove from heat, whisk in eggs, pour over everything in the brownie pan. Bake at 400 until the top is browned, about 30-40 minutes. 

I recommend serving this with rice, cooked with a pinch of saffron and 1 tsp of turmeric, and a green side salad. The rice helps cut down on the richness of it.  

I don't have any pictures of it since we tucked right in. Maybe next time!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Make your own mustard for fun and profit

So it turns out making your own mustard is ridiculously easy, though not actually that profitable since mustard powder is not actually that much cheaper than just buying mustard. However, given how easy it is, there's almost no reason not to make it.

The main ingredient is yellow mustard seed powder, which you should be able to get almost anywhere. You can also add brown or black mustard seeds (note that they look almost identical), in whole or ground form (I don't see much availability of these as pre-ground, you generally have to grind them yourself). To make the condiment mustard, you'll mix water, vinegar and spices in with your mustard powder/seeds. You then need to wait a couple of days for it to get less bitter - hold in mind while tasting it at first that it's going to be bitter.

The main rule of thumb is that the temperature of water you use will play a big role in spiciness - the hotter the water, the less spicy the resulting mustard is. It seems really sensitive - when I made some with not-quite-boiling water because I was being lazy, it was much spicier than when I made it with just boiled water.  What I don't think is necessary is to actually cook the mustard on the stove top - I've seen a couple of recipes like this online, and it just sounds like a good way to gas the entire house.

Since it's just a condiment, you can also continue to adjust it after you've mixed it initially. I sometimes find the balance of sweetness isn't quite to my liking once it's sat for a couple of days.

Here's a semi-recipe for a nice generic style of mustard for sandwiches. I'm not giving proportions since I just mix and taste, mix and taste until I like the result:

Yellow mustard seed powder
Brown mustard seeds
Garlic powder (I find this really helps the flavor)
Turmeric (for color)
Boiling water
White wine (not much)
Apple cider vinegar
White wine vinegar

Mix ingredients, taste. Hold in mind that the brown mustard seeds will absorb a LOT of liquid and approximately double in size, so make this runnier than you'd want it to be, and it will become thicker. Place in jar in fridge, let sit 2-3 days until less bitter, enjoy on sandwiches. 

Tasty mustard, in an artichoke heart jar (perfect size!)

Crockpot beef and broccoli

This is unfortunately a bit of a non-recipe, since I just eyeball the ingredients. However, it turns out delicious every time I've made it, it takes almost no effort, and it makes a lot. Obviously beef and broccoli is normally a stir-fry and doesn't make that long to cook. The advantage to this recipe is that it allows you to use a really cheap roast cut instead of more expensive cuts good for stir frying, and it actually takes even less effort than stir frying.

Beef roast (~2 lbs) - my favorite is London Broil, since the grain makes for pieces that are great for picking up with chop sticks
1/2 onion, cut into wedges

3-6 garlic cloves depending on size
2-3 slices of ginger
Soy sauce (Tablespoons)
Oyster sauce (Tablespoon-2 Tblsp)
Rice wine/sherry (Tablespoon)
Cornstarch + cold water (optional)


Mix up the sauce and taste. I often end up making too little - the roast will contribute less liquid than you think.Adding water actually helps the flavor, so feel free to add as much as 50% water.

Put roast and onions in slow cooker, pour sauce over roast, cook as long as you're going to be away from the house.

When you get home and are nearly ready for dinner, make sure the slow cooker isn't about to switch into 'warm' mode, and add the broccoli and put the lid back on. Go get changed, take a quick shower, whatever, and the broccoli will be cooked and delicious. If you want a thicker sauce, you can add a mixture of cornstarch and cold water.

Serve over rice, preferably rice that your automated rice-making minion has also prepared while you were out. 

A fuzzy picture, but you can see why the grain of London Broil makes it easy to eat with chopsticks