Ants, and After Eight brownies

img_20190914_074948994197522.jpg

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.

img_20190908_125918

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.

img_20190914_1743591952581719.jpg

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……

img_20190914_2048591458911431.jpg

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).

Shrimp risotto in Norway

img_20190813_101300

From a small island in Tuscany to a small island in Norway: Utsira, well known for listeners of the BBC Shipping Forecast. We are here for a family holiday, a nice respite from the heat of Rome with rain and wind and some very nice days. It is a small island, great for birdwatching and with about 200 residents. Lovely trails to walk, though very wet this week.

img_20190810_131822

Nordvikvågen, the north end where you can see the ferry has arrived. Excellent connections to Haugesund. Lots of tourist information here, in several languages. Utsira has lots of interesting street art as well, and people are very nice. Highly recommended.

img_20190810_133625

Anyway, we’d had some excellent fresh sjøkreps for lunch, bought at the very well-stocked grocery store in the south end of the island. These are also called scampi, Norway lobster, Dublin Bay prawn or langoustine. We volunteered to make risotto for dinner, using the sjøkreps shells to make stock. My parents wanted some shrimp in as well, so I peeled those and threw the heads in the stock pot as well, with a little celery. It simmered for an hour so, then I sieved it through kitchen roll to get the grit out. Just use fish stock if that is easier (I buy fish stock cubes when I am in Norway).

Shrimp risotto for a rainy day

Knob of butter (I made do with rapeseed oil)
One onion, peeled and finely chopped
Three sticks of celery, finely chopped
One cup of risotto rice (I had brought Vialone Nano)
Half a glass of white wine
One litre of seafood stock, just on the boil
Chopped celery leaves
Chopped chives, a generous handful
A cup of peeled shrimp
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of dried chili

Have two pots ready, one to make the risotto in and one for to keep the stock just on the boil. Melt the butter in pot #2, add onion and celery and cook a couple minutes. Add dry rice and let it toast gently with the onion and celery. Add wine. Keep stirring gently. Now start ladling in the hot stock, one ladle at a time. Once that has been absorbed, add another ladle: keep going for 20-25 minutes. Risotto is not complicated, it just takes patience and attention, and a lot of stirring. Nice to do in a holiday kitchen with the windows getting steamy, rain beating against the window and English football on the radio (for my husband).

You’ll be able to feel the rice getting to the right consistency, not too soft but not al dente either. Add the chopped celery leaves and chives, and when it is almost done stir in the shrimp and taste: does it need salt and pepper? Serve and enjoy.

img_20190810_182004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italian seaside and ricotta tart with nectarines

img_20190729_150446

Off to Isola del Giglio for the annual beach holiday: lazy cappuccini at the bar, morning swim, lunch in the garden, relaxing in the shade, afternoon swim, apertivi and Aperol Spritz, and a great dinner with friends. Rinse and repeat: an excellent week of doing very little.

img-20190728-wa0018

Rome had been hot: not an African heat, as the papers claim, but warm enough to make sleeping difficult. A week of sleeping with sea breezes and waves (and the occasional Italian live bar music from across the bay) was perfect.Some nights we went out for dinner, some nights we cooked in: BBQ, pasta con vongole in seawater (one part seawater to four parts fresh water, we discovered last year that 1:2 was far too salty.) I really enjoyed being in a kitchen with a view and a cool breeze, not sweating in an Accra kitchen. One day I made ricotta tarts with nectarines, one gluten free tart and one regular, basically the same but one with gluten free pastry and gluten free flour.

Ricotta tarts with nectarines

One package of ready made puff pastry (pasta sfoglia)
450 gr fresh ricotta
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbs flour
3-4 peaches, sliced into wedges

This was in an old gas-heated oven, which chars things from below so I did not blind-bake the pastry. Use pie dishes of about 24 cm, line with parchment paper if not included with bought pastry. Mix ricotta, whisked eggs, flour and sugar and pour into pastry shell. Add wedges of nectarines (or apricot halves, peaches, cherries: whatever you have.) Bake at 180-200C for 45 min or so, until filling is set. Cool and enjoy.

Note: I should have used electric grill to make the top a little golden – tasted great though.

img_20190729_155226