Pumpkin Marshmallows

While I have been busy transitioning to the next phase in life and morning the loss of my nice digital SLR camera, I have sourly neglected this blog. I hope to be able to return to it when I can, without excuses--just recipes. Here we go.

Squash is readily available and delicious here in Morocco. You can easily get it all year 'round but it is, of course, in season right now. Seeing those big orange hunks of flesh exposed as the seller cuts off a hunk of your choosing is just too tempting to pass up. The red squash we know and love here is not exactly "pumpkin" but it tastes and looks like a close cousin, or maybe even a brother of our American sugar-pumpkin. You can treat the two as equals.

To make pumpkin/squash puree, cut the pumpkin into hunks and brush with oil before putting them into a warm oven to roast. When you can easily stick your fork through the hunks, they are done. Remove the rind and blend or mash until the desired consistency is achieved. In the last several weeks I have already made pumpkin chili, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pizza crust and sauce (delicious!), and pumpkin granola. As Halloween approaches and I'm in the mood for something sweeter I have tried my hand at pumpkin marshmallows.

Marshmallows are pretty easy to make at home, and taste much better than store-bought. If you are living in Morocco and didn't get corn syrup or gelatin in your last care package, have no fear, this recipe is still possible using local ingredients. Corn syrup can be replaced by honey, I have made this substitution successfully with delicious honey-flavored results. Gelatin may be harder to locate, even in the larger grocery stores, but I have managed to find sheet-gelatin at baking oriented hanoots. Conveniently it is also called "gelatin" here but you may have to pronounce it with a french accent for your request to be understood. Four leaves should equal one packet of granulated gelatin, though I think I have gotten away with using two or three sheets per package for some extra delicate marshmallows.

Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows
Adapted from 17 and Baking
Makes a 9″x13″ pan, about 40 large marshmallows
3 envelopes of unsweetened, unflavored gelatin, or 12 sheets of leaf gelatin
1/2 cup (118 g) cold water
2 cups (400 g) sugar
2/3 cup (240 g) corn syrup, or honey
1/4 cup (60 g) water
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp (13 g) vanilla extract, or one packet of vanilla sugar
1/2 cup (122 g) pumpkin (red squash) puree
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of cloves
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Powdered sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch, for dusting
Grease a 9″x13″ pan, or equivalent multiple pans. Dust the whole thing with sifted powdered sugar (or cornstarch).
Pour the 1/2 cup cold water into the bowl of a mixer. Sprinkle the gelatin over it and let bloom for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the sugar (and vanilla sugar if using), corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in a medium pan. Bring to a boil until the mixture reaches 250 degrees F on a candy thermometer, or the hardball stage. Don't have a thermometer? Drop the sugar into water and it will form a hard ball that keeps its shape.
Turn on the mixer to low speed. Slowly pour in the hot sugar mixture into the gelatin/water mixture. Add the salt and turn the mixer up as high as you can without hot sugar splashing out (medium speed for me). Gradually work up to high speed. When the marshmallows stop increasing in volume and has cooled, add the vanilla extract and beat until combined, then stop the mixer.
Whisk together the pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and ginger. With a rubber spatula, fold into the marshmallow mix. Turn mixer on again to throughly combine. Pour the marshmallows into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Let sit, uncovered, at least 8 hours or overnight.
Mix one part powdered sugar, one part corn starch and cinnamon to taste. Turn the pan out onto a surface dusted with powdered sugar/cornstarch/cinnamon mixture. Cut with a thin, sharp knife, a pizza roller, scissors, or cookie cutters. Whatever you use, dust it with powdered mixture. Once all the pieces are cut, pat powdered mixture into the sides until marshmallows are no longer sticky.

What to do now? Well, you could, as I did, decorate them using melted chocolate and a plastic bag with a corner cut off. You could also just dip them straight into chocolate for an easier chocolate-fix. You could through them into hot cocoa or bring them to your next "kaskrout". This recipe makes a decent amount of marshmallows and unless you are planning to have a campfire and graham crackers to make them disappear, store them in an air-tight container in the freezer. In a container at room-temperature they should be good for a week or two. We know you probably wouldn't let them go to waste.


A Morocco Dream of Ice Cream!

Alright, it has been quite some time since my last post, and I apologize. I won't give you excuses. Just dessert!

If you have a freezer and access to the most basic of hanoot ingredients, you should be able to have your own sweet bowl of ice cream without breaking the bank or catching transport to the nearest big town. Even if you are in a country outside of Morocco, I'm sure you will find reasons to roll up your sleeves for this quick and simple recipe.

I like that it is a custard base and doesn't require real cream. If you pay attention and cook the egg yolks just right it should give you a decently creamy (and lower fat) ice cream. I have tried almond butter ice cream, vanilla bean, chocolate, and peach ice cream. Photographed is the peach ice cream. Vanilla bean with a drizzle of freshly prepared chocolate sauce is my favorite. Especially since I brought the vanilla beans back from Paris on my last spontaneous trip there. They have an extra air of arrogance about them.

I made the peachy twist by cutting up two fresh peaches and throwing a tablespoon of sugar on them in a pan, cooking them until they just started to break down and get syrupy. There are still delicious chunks of peach in there. I also threw 1/3 of a vanilla bean in when heating the milk.

Recipe for ice cream without cream:

1/2 liter whole milk
4 egg yolks
100 grams sugar (or to taste)
vanilla (to taste)
pinch of salt

plus flavorings: vanilla bean, chocolate powder, jam, fruit, melted chocolate, ground peanuts/almonds/walnuts, caramel, candy, cinnamon, nef3, orange blossom water, or anything else that sounds good!

If you are adding in flavorings, put them in a container which you can put in your freezer and add some of the milk (not too much, but just to cover) to mix them with. Have the egg yolks ready in a separate, big bowl. In a pan, heat the rest of the milk with the 100 grams sugar, vanilla and salt until it starts to boil. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the mixture into the egg yolks, stirring constantly (if you add too much hot milk in too fast the eggs will become crumbly). Return the mixture with the eggs to the pan and cook on a low heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly. It should thicken slightly. Pour into the container with the flavorings and stir thoroughly. Let cool in the refrigerator. Transfer to your freezer, removing every so often to stir and break up the ice crystals until frozen.



Can't Get Enough of Neufchatel!

Neufchatel, known also as low-fat cream cheese, and farmer’s cheese, is a good place to start when you want to take it to the next level above yogurt and Ricotta in cheese making. With Neufchatel you actually use rennet (or substitute) to set the milk. True rennet is an enzyme that comes from the stomach of young (milk-drinking) pasture animals. There are plenty of artificial or plant-based substitutes out there that work just fine. In Morocco I’ve discovered Marzyme (tablet) and Froma (liquid) availably locally at a pharmacy.

The milk you use for this cheese cannot be UHT, or ultra-pasteurized. Otherwise, anything from store-bought to straight from the cow/sheep/goat/horse will work. You need to use real cultured buttermilk (or specially packaged starter) for this recipe.

I like this cheese because it is far from labor-intensive. Especially once you’ve gotten the hang of it. I know when I started out I had the cheese instructions in front of me, carefully making sure this lab experiment would turn out alright. There is a lot of waiting time, but I think it offers flexibility. It is something you can start and come back to after attending to other things. The actual working time is minimal.

Feel free to half/quarter/double this recipe as meets your needs. All proportions can be adjusted accordingly. In the end you have a nice spread able cheese. Great for many things, and especially cheesecake!

Neufchatel/ Farmer's Cheese/ Low Fat Cream Cheese

4 liters (1 gallon) milk
½ cup (4 oz.) Mesophilic Starter Culture (ripened buttermilk)
4 tablets Marzyme or ¼ tablet Rennet

1. Sterilize a large pot by adding a small amount of water to it and boiling it on high heat with the lid on for five minutes. Dump out water.

2. Mix milk and starter in the sterilized pot. Gently warm to room temperature.

3. Disolve rennet/Marzyme in 3-4 tablespoons cool water. Add disolved rennet/Marzyme to inoculated milk and blend thoroughly.

4. Cover and let sit undisturbed for 15-20 hours. Soft curds may form before 15-20 hours, but the full time is needed to develop flavor. Gently cut curd into ½ inch cubes.

5. Ladle the curds into a clean steril cloth suspended in a large strainer.

6. Hang curd to dry for about 8-12 hours or until desired consistency is reached.
7. Remove from cloth and mix by hand in a small bowl. Add salt, herbs, etc. to taste.
8. Store in a seable container in a refrigerator up to one week.

Ways to serve: Use mould to create form; add seasonings and herbs; use in cheesecake

**Drawings were made for teaching cheese making in Morocco. They are mine, so I'd appreciate it if you'd ask permission to use them (I will likely grant it). Thanks!


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!


Secret Ingredient

As I am interested in this blog being about food and art (ideally food-related art), it is about time I’ve posted something more on the art side of things.

In my current occupation as a Peace Corps volunteer it is all too easy to feel disconnected from the “art scene” as I knew it back in the states. Recently a friend and fellow artist sent me a call for entries to a show she is curating, titled “Bricoleur-ing: An inquiry into the profundity and resourcefulness of Female Transformateurs” and I felt compelled to participate. I am hoping against hope that the mail system will work for me this time (I have gotten discouraged by the amount of mail that was sent and never seen again).

“Secret Ingredient”

Materials used: 3 wooden spoons, coffee, spices, gouache

I create my idea of home in no small part through food. I collect and trade recipes with friends and neighbors, spending many hours in their kitchens and they in mine. It is more so here than in America that the woman's social life revolves around the kitchen. The man is presented the space of the salon, as the woman prepares the meal. As a guest I am usually offered the salon, but try to make my way into the kitchen as soon as possible. This is where the action is happening-- Bread is freshly baked in the home on an almost daily basis. Food is prepared from fresh and whole ingredients.

There is no question the influence that Morocco is having an influence on how I create my home space- both in acts of assimilation as well as a heightening of characteristics that make me distinctly foreign. My behavior in the kitchen is my barometer of these changes. Food is the easiest cultural exchange for me