Say "Cheese!"

Once again I have left my blog unattended for far too long. I have been busy in my kitchen, and I will have some new posts on that soon. I have also been busy with a pencil lately. I have illustrated instructions on how to make the different types of cheese I've been teaching people here in Morocco. One thing I got as feedback during my last cheese making workshop in the mountains was having pictures explaining the process. Some of the women that I was teaching aren't literate. There is also the problem of language in a country that frequently uses at least 3 (more if you factor in that the "berber" languages vary greatly depending on region).

Photos can be nice, but line drawings photocopy better. Any excuse to draw! I've included one of the working copies for yogurt cheese. Since I've already done a post on that, I didn't think I needed to go into further detail on it. If the order seems backwards to you this is because I'm appealing to the direction of Arabic text. I haven't decided if that is the best way to organize things, but it is a start for now.

If you have any thoughts on this project, I'd love to hear them. Particularly if you have a cleaver way to make the instructions easier to follow without resorting to words.

Look for more of these drawings along with photos and recipes for cheese in the near future.


Morocco-Safe Chewy Peanut Chocolate Chip Cookies

It isn’t easy to make a decent “American’ cookie in Morocco. The odds are stacked against us with the lack of brown sugar and vanilla extract, different butters, and finicky ovens (literally metal boxes hooked up to gas tanks). Bicarbonate de sode (baking soda) is available at pharmacies but you’ll get a funny look if you mention using it in baked goods.

Moroccan cookies aren’t typically soft and chewy (unless they contain dates). Although I appreciate the meltingly tender and crumbly quality of a good sesame ghoriba, I miss my American chocolate chip cookie.

After many failed attempts and fiddling with ingredients, I think I have finally found a Morocco-safe chocolate chip cookie. You don’t even have to wait until your next care package containing real vanilla extract to come in!

The no-brown-sugar dilemma is fixed with a bit of honey to help with chewy-ness and flavor (although nothing beats the taste of molasses if you ask me). Baking soda is substituted for baking powder (don’t mistake the two as being always interchangeable, they aren’t!), vanilla sugar for vanilla extract. I added peanuts in place of some of the chocolate because they give a nice flavor and are cheaper than quality chocolate (which matters if you’re on a Peace Corps allowance). Add more of the good-stuff if you can afford to.

If it seems like there is a high flour to butter ratio, it’s due to the issue of butter I’ve found here to be extra moisture-heavy. If you are more confident in your butter, start with 2.5-3 cups of flour and add more if the dough is too moist or if the cookies spread too much.

Finally, I choose smaller cookie sizes because they are easier to share amongst an unknown number of family members when you get an unexpected invite to lunch. Whatever sized cookie you prefer, keep an eye on your first batch so you can better judge how long the others will take to bake.

Peanut Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 8 dozen small cookies

4 cups (500 grams) plain flour
1 Tbsp (1 package) baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup + 2 Tbsp (250 grams) butter
2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
1 Tbsp honey
2 large eggs
2 packages vanilla sugar or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 cup of roasted peanuts, chopped
1 cup of chopped chocolate

Preheat your oven to low flame, 300F/150C. Combine flour with baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl cream together the butter, sugar, and honey. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well combined.

Carefully stir flour mixture into wet ingredients. Stir in chopped chocolate and peanuts. Don’t over-mix. If you have time, chill the dough so it is easier to work with. Dough can be aged in the fridge for up to 3 days for taste-enhancement.

Spoon heaping teaspoons of dough onto a non-stick cookie sheet, leaving enough room for cookies to spread. Bake until just golden around the edges and the middle has started to set.

Allow cookies to cool and remove from pan. Store in an airtight container. Share with neighbors and enjoy!


Excused Absence

It may have seemed that I forgot about this blog in the last two weeks. I have a legitimate food-related excuse, however. I took a ten-day trip down into the southern mountains of Morocco to lead two cheese making workshops (and catalogue development for carpet weavers, but that isn’t food related). The first workshop was for volunteers, attended by Peace Corps volunteers as well as Japanese volunteers (with JICA). The second was primarily for Moroccans living in the town I visited. We made five different types of cheese: yogurt (and yogurt cheese), Neufchatel (a.k.a. farmers’ cheese), Feta, Gouda, and Ricotta.

If you are interested in hearing more about that experience, check out my Peace Corps blog. Otherwise, keep an eye out for more recipes here in the near future!