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


Homemade Yoghurt for the love of Cheese

Cheese, as we understand it in America, isn’t so available in most of Morocco. There is the “red ball” cheese (think Gouda), and Laughing Cow type cheese. Outside of the bigger cities, that’s about it. Not only that, but it is relatively expensive. Enough so that I hesitate buying it with my meager Peace Corps allowance.

I was in this cheese-deprived state when I read “Animal Vegetable Miracle” by Barbra Kingsolver, and realized I could actually make my own cheese. So in the slow months of the Summer I taught myself to make cheese. Not only that, but I taught myself to make cheese with locally available ingredients so I wouldn’t have to rely upon my care packages to sustain it.

You, too, can make cheese (if you aren’t already!) and without too much trouble. Let’s start with something fairly easy. Yoghurt. Then, even easier, yoghurt cheese made from that yoghurt. Note that you can use a bit of the yoghurt you made to make another batch of yoghurt--just add more milk!

Neighbor’s review of yoghurt cheese: Hadi Hsn mn lli kaybi3u f ay-blasa hna! (Translation: This is better than anything they sell around here!). They proved their point by scraping out every last bit from the container.


1 gallon milk (4 liters)
1 cup plain yoghurt, fresh as possible
1 cup dehydrated milk powder

One large pot
Glass jars
Thermometer (optional)

Serialize your glass jars in boiling water for 5 minutes, set aside. Pour the milk into the large pot and scald the milk at 185-195 F (85-90 C). . Place pot in a pan of cold water and cool the milk to 122-130 F (50-55 C), remove from bath. If you do not have a thermometor, test the milk by sticking your pinky finger into it and counting to ten. If you have to remove your pinky before you reach ten, it is too hot. Mix one cup of cooled milk with one cup of yoghurt and cup of dry milk. Add yoghurt-milk slurry to 122 F (50 C) milk, stirring slowly until well combined. Distrubute the inoculated milk to sterilized jars, cover immediately.

Now to keep your jars warm, as the yoghurt bacteria love to get busy when it's warm! There are two main approaches to this.

The quick(er) way: If you want your yoghurt done within 3 hours, you will need to constantly maintain the 122-130 F (50-55 C) temperature. You do not want the temerature to rise too much above 130 F (55 C), as the bacteria working for you will die. One way to maintain temperature is with a water bath, preferably in a cooler, but it is also possible in a plugged sink, or a tub or anything else that will hold water and the jars. A cooler will help you maintain the optimum temperature for longer. In any case, you need to test the temperature of the water either with the thermometor or with the pinky method. Add warm water as nessisary. The yoghurt is done when it has gelled. Look for gelling after 3 hours, if the yoghurt is still pretty watery, allow for further incubating.

The easy way: If you don't mind waiting, and want less active time with the yoghurt, there are other ways to keep your jars warm. You can use a cooler again, but this time fill it with warm water and leave it over night, or for a period of time during the day. I don't have a cooler, and instead use a hot water bottle snuggled up with the jars under a blanket. If I tuck them in at night I have nice yoghurt waiting for me in the morning.

What to do with your yoghurt? Mix in fresh fruit, jam, and/or granola and have a great snack/breakfast. You can use it in sauces and baked goods too. Even better, why not try making yoghurt cheese?

Yoghurt Cheese

1 gallon of yoghurt
4 teaspoons salt

“Cheese cloth” (in Morocco the best fabric for this is called “toob l Hayati”, in America I would imagine something along the lines of a clean handkerchief.)

Sterilize your clean cheese cloth in boiling water for 5 minutes.

Stir up yoghurt to a smooth consistency in a large bowl. Add one teaspoon of salt, and mix thoroughly. Pour salted yoghurt into the sterile cloth in a strainer. Tie the corners of the cloth together, and suspend over a container or sink for up to 24 hours, or until desired consistency is obtained. Remove drained yoghurt from the cloth, store cheese in refrigerator.

Serve your cheese in a middle-eastern style with olives, olive oil or pulverized mint. Or just spread it right onto fresh bread.

Trouble-shooting yoghurt cheese: Sometimes I’ve found the yoghurt to be too thin, all of it wants to slip out of the cloth (make sure you aren’t using a cloth with a loose weave). I have a feeling this comes from the yoghurt being under-cooked (If you have another answer, please share it!). Try keeping your yoghurt warmer next time (but under 130 F/55 C), or cooking it longer. If the yoghurt is too thin for cheese I just eat it as yoghurt instead.


In Search of a Healthier Granola

When I think of granola I usually picture something fairly healthy. So I become somewhat disappointed when all I find are granola recipes featuring heaps of sugar and fat. Actually, these recipes sound a lot like an oatmeal cookie. Not that I have a problem with oatmeal cookies. It is just that I want to start my daily routine with something light and not too sweet or fatty. I will save those "special occasion" breakfasts for pancakes and donuts.

This granola is one that I make, continually modifying it, every time I run out. It bakes up nice and crunchy, mildly sweet and satisfying atop a heap of cut seasonal fruit. If you are looking for a sweet granola to snack on as-is, this might not be for you (though, you could add a cup of sugar if you want). I find it to be perfect with naturally sweet fruits or yogurt (pre-sweetened or plain with homemade jam). The almonds add bursts of nutty flavor when you crunch into them.

I found a trick to getting granola clusters by using quick-cooking oats and grinding part of them into flour. I add in the old-fashioned rolled oats for additional texture, but they could be replaced by more quick-cooking oats. The molasses and honey are also fairly interchangeable, guided by taste and what is on hand.

“Healthy” Granola

5 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 ½ cups raw almonds
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
1 cup mashed over-ripe bananas, and/or applesauce
2 Tbsp molasses
2 Tbsp honey
1 ½ cups dried fruits, more or less to taste

Preheat your oven to low, 300F/150C. Grind 2 cups of the quick-cooking oats in a food processor until it becomes flour. Combine oat-flour in a large bowl with the remaining oats, the old-fashioned rolled oats, almonds, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. In a large measuring cup combine mashed bananas/applesauce, molasses and honey. Pour into dry ingredients and stir until everything is moistened. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Spread mixture out onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Break mixture into even clumps. Bake in pre-heated oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir, breaking up clumps into smaller clusters and making sure nothing is browning too fast. Return to oven. Every 10-15 minutes check on granola and stir. Granola can take for 1-1.5 hours for it to completely dry. Once dried, remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Mix in dried fruits.

Serve over chopped fruits and add milk or yoghurt. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.


Mandarin Curd

This time of year the fruit choices start to narrow. What we have in abundance, especially here in Morocco, is oranges. Morocco is almost never short on this citrus, and it is difficult to find an orange that isn’t sweet and tart, full of juice. Naturally, I look for ways to take advantage of this beyond just peeling and eating the bounty. Keep an eye out for more orange recipes in the near future.

“Mandarin” is how Moroccans differentiate the smaller, easy-peel relative. These guys have a shorter period of availability, starting at the end of November and ending in February. They make for a great twist on the traditional lemon curd. The curd can be used as a spread on toast, over pancakes, as a tart filling, or, as I used it this week, as cupcake filling.

After looking through several recipes, I came up with one using what I had (which included 3 leftover egg yolks). The egg yolks make for a richer curd, but you could probably substitute 2 of the egg yolks for another whole egg.

Mandarin Curd
Makes 1 small jar

Juice and zest of 4 mandarin oranges
Juice of 1 lemon
¾ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
3 egg yolks, beaten
3 T butter, cut into pieces

Add the zest and the juice of oranges and lemon in a medium pan with sugar, egg, and egg yolks. Whisk to combine. Cook on low heat, constantly stirring with a spoon, until thickened, about 15-20 minutes. Pour through a strainer into a bowl. Add butter and stir until incorporated. Pour curd into a sterilized jar and seal. Store in refrigerator up to two weeks.