Spaghetti with broccoli and leek

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Happy New Year! Back in Accra, where it is harmattan season, with the dry and dusty northeasterly trade winds blowing from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea. It is also the end of the Year of Return, Ghana 2019 which is an initiative of the government of Ghana is intended to encourage African diasporans to come to Africa (specifically Ghana) to settle and invest in the continent. The year 2019 is symbolic as it commemorates 400 years since the first enslaved Africans touched down in Jamestown, Virginia in the United States. (source: wikipedia)

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There are gift-wrapped cars along Independence Road, with diaspora welcome messages like this:

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And SO many lights and decorations this year in Accra this year! There are also posters for the planned new National Cathedral of Ghana, which they must still be fundraising for as it’s a 100 million dollar project. You’d think sanitation and clean water would be a better investment, but from the photos it does look beautiful.

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Building walls have gone up at the AU roundabout, where Independence meets Castle Road, with lots of glossy posters of what is planned (the brown building below at 3 o’clock). Looks like Gamel Abdul Nasser Ave would be closed right before Castle Road.

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Lovely advent holidays with family in Norway (risgrøt, pinnekjøtt, ribbe, pepperkaker) and Christmas in London with the in-laws (Christmas pudding, crackers, paper hats, Gavin and Stacey Christmas special on TV.) As usual I am not sure where I’ll be working this year, am waiting to hear if I am moving from Accra or not soon, but this time I am surprisingly chill about it. After some family health scares, I am just happy that most of the family is in good health. Time to start cooking again and get on with life.

Spaghetti with broccoli and leek

2 small heads broccoli, broken into florets
1 leek, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 salted anchovies
splash of olive oil
salt
pinch of chili flakes
250 grammes spaghetti
dried ricotta cheese

Cook the broccoli florets in salted boiling water until tender (save cooking water for pasta). Gently fry garlic in olive oil with anchovies and leek. It will not taste fishy, anchovies just provides an umami kick. With a slotted spoon scoop out broccoli and move it to the frying pan, then boil spaghetti in the broccoli water. While that is cooking, gently mash the broccoli in the frying pan with a little chiili flakes and salt. You might want to add a little starchy pasta water to loosen it. Drain pasta, stir it all together in frying pan and top with dried ricotta.

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Note: I actually used frozen raw leek, as I am trying to empty our chest freezer so we can sell it, so I just tipped the leek in in with the broccoli. As it had been frozen, the leek did not need much cooking.

Note 2: I was inspired by a recipe for Orechiette Pasta with Broccoli from the Accra Embassy Cookbook 2015. The recipe suggests using grated pecorino or dried sheep ricotta, and ends saying ” ….Serve it hot in a bowl. No Parmesan in this recipe, better no cheese at all than Parmesan, if you don’t have one of the above mentioned cheeses.”  Wonderful.

Nduja pizza for a Netflix night

chicken and plantain peel

The young chicken at the grilled plantain shack, on my way to work. My sister sends pictures of happy Norwegian allotment chickens in the green, I send her back my urban Accra chickens. There are chickens all over, even near our office in Ministries: they roam, forage, cross the road, and even manage to hatch chicks. Of course, you do not see many cats out, they tend to get eaten. The chickens are however prolific, and seem to manage well.

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After the ant debacle last week, I made pizza and brownies for Saturday night movie night at home. I do like Accra, but there are increasing reports of kidnappings and violent home invasions (guns, AK47s), also in gated compounds, and not just for expats, so I try to be home well before dark (630 PM) most nights unless I am going out with friends.  Normally December is high crime time, now locals blame Nigerians. Friends are more chill about this, but now I see mentions of fellow expats looking to buy guns, which is not encouraging. I do a lot of walking in the morning in Accra, and generally have no problems. Taxis will honk, kids will say “Obruni! Good morning!”  (obruni is foreigner). Bored guards will try to chat you up (“You are so beautiful! Are you a Christian?”  despite my being redfaced and sweat-dripping. I usually say I am an atheist, that works well. Here’s a basic focaccia style pizza, as I am trying to use up my old flour, frozen cheese and nduja (a spicy, spreadable pork salumi from Calabria). Nduja keeps for ages in the fridge in a glass jar, as long as it is covered in olive oil.

Nduja pizza

100 grammes wholewheat flour
400 grammes plain wheat flour (we used 00, though 0 is recommended)
20 grammes olive oil
4 grammes dry yeast
350 grammes water

Later: 10 grammes salt.
2-3 tbs oil, to oil the baking parchment

Mix, leave for an hour, then add salt and fold again. Leave dough covered to rise 6-7 hours at room temperature. You can also leave it overnight in the fridge, 24 hours there is recommended. It will rise and should become very elastic. It needs to be handled carefully, to keep the air bubbles in the dough. No rolling pins. It was a little heavier this time with the wholewheat flour, but tasty.

Topping:
2 tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
100 grammes tomato paste
about 100 grammes water
3 tsp nduja
Enough grated cheese to cover the pizza lightly (maybe 150 grammes?)

Gently fry the chopped onion, then add tomato paste, water and nduja. Cook for a few minutes while you heat the oven to 250C (with oven tray inside) and stretch out the dough. I used a silicon baking sheet with a little olive oil on (2 tbs or so), baking parchment would work too. The dough is poured out, then eased out using fingers to stretch into a rectangle. You want to keep the air bubbles, so gentle is the way to go. Gently spoon on topping and grated cheese. Slide the silicon sheet with dough over to the hot tray: much easier if you are two, one holding the hot tray and one pulling the silicon sheet over on to it. Bake at 250C until done (8-12 minutes, depends on your oven) and enjoy.

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Not pretty but tasty, three of us ate most of it. I still do not know how much longer I will be in Accra (three months? three years?)  so I am continuing my pantry challenge, more specifically a freezer challenge. Lots of frozen cheese (parmesan freezes well, cream cheese does not) and frozen bananas, leeks and celery: maybe a baked tuna casserole? Filo pastry with bananas? We shall see.)

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Ants, and After Eight brownies

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Trendy Accra: we have had the wax print festival, the Chale Wote street art festival, there are so many art events and concerts. Now I see fashion week is approaching. There are some very cool designers here, though I tend to wear more fair trade batik on sale. We spotted this at Accra Mall last weekend: rather fabulous.

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Back at home there is less glamour: an ant invasion, with flatmate discussions ensuing about using ant spray in the kitchen vs using practicing basic kitchen hygiene with ant powder as backup (my preferred option). If you feed the ants, they will come: there are always some ants around, but leaving food scraps out or not rinsing the rubbish bin after emptying when needed are just invitations for a teeming trail of happy ants making a beeline for the food source. You spray, they simply reroute.  So now we still had hundred of ants enjoying themselves, plus pesticide resides on the clean dishes………  I am certainly not an easygoing person to share a kitchen with at the best of times, but we did have a prior general discussion about not using ant spray near food or dishes. There are interesting cultural differences sometimes when you share a living space.  Oh well. We talked, the bin was rinsed out, an ant powder intervention followed, the dishes rewashed, and the ants retreated. Nothing today. There are always ants around in Accra, but the odd ant scouting is very different from a street party, it is perfectly manageable if they are not encouraged (and fed).

Enough complaining. Another joy in Accra is protecting your food not just from ants, but from heat and humidity. Salt clumps, spices go solid, while nuts and seeds go rancid. We’d been given a box of After Eight, which proceeded to melt through the tin and leak through, as it was not in the fridge (THAT was a fun sugary ant party, I tell you.)  Time for a rescue operation: After Eight brownies, just in time for a pizza and Netflix night (“The Set Up”). I do have one precious packet of Toro brownie mix just brought from Norway, but I am saving that so this time it was baking from scratch.

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Peeling them out, one by one………  This was like a Swedish kladdkaka, amalgamated from several recipes based on what I had. Good chance to use up some old dark chocolate as well, mainly Ghanaian (Ghana is a major cocoa producer).

After Eight brownies

275 grammes dark chocolate, broken into pieces
275 grammes salted butter
200 grammes soft brown sugar  (I had golden brown sugar)
pinch of salt
4 medium eggs
150 grammes plain white wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
25g cocoa powder
1 box of 200 rather decrepit After Eight mints
some pinches of salt to sprinkle on batter

Melt butter and chocolate on gentle heat. Cool slightly. Whisk in sugar, salt, flour, baking powder, eggs and cocoa powder: it will look like a delightfully buttery dark sludge. Heat oven to 180C. Line a baking dish of 20×30 cm with baking parchment. Pour half the batter into baking dish, then add a layer of tiles of After Eight, right across the tin. Then add rest of batter. Sprinkle some pinches of salt on top of batter. Bake at 180C for about 25 minutes, depending on your oven and how fudgy you like your brownies. It’s very buttery, and with the middle layer it can be hard to know the right time.  I use a chopstick at present,  took it out at 25 min when it did not jiggle when moved, and the top looked crinkly and done. Very dense, and lots of leftovers in fridge, mmmmm……

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PS this is actually rather funny: I looked up Toro brownie mix (it is a classic), and their website says “……TORO Brownies serveres ofte i kakestykker med et melisdryss over.”  Which means: These are often served in pieces [of cake] with a dusting of powdered sugar over. However, this Norwegian food webshop for expats says  “TORO Brownies are often served in pieces of cake with a melancholy over.”  Not quite sure what to make of that, it seems terrible even for machine translation (and a little poetic, if you were a homesick Norwegian).