Making marzipan for the almond prize

It’s a rainy Boxing Day in Rome, but I had a nice long walk earlier. Armed with my police declaration form, I walked around the very quiet neighborhood. No police spotted, but lots of people with strollers and dogs. We are having a very nice Christmas, all things considered. It’s hard not being home, but interesting to see Rome this time of the year. The fresh pasta shop downstairs had massive lines (socially distanced) the last days before the 25th, with time slots to collect pasta orders. They had two small refrigerated trucks to store all the orders. Trays of tortellini, ravioli, mmm…… I collected my order of two small lasagnas, on Christmas Eve morning: one with salmon, and one amatriciana (tomato, guanciale). We are technically allowed two guests a day, but are being careful, so very little socializing now and the fridge has been stuffed (as have we).

On Christmas Eve one friend came over and we had a lovely evening. Bramble gin cocktails and smoked salmon paté (super easy, great recipe from the Guardian). Then Norwegian pinnekjøtt with mushy peas, red cabbage, potatoes, Christmas-spiced meatballs and Canadian meatpies with chutney. We never even made it to dessert (riskrem) or coffee and cookies. However, yesterday we had a bracing walk and an afternoon watching “Miracle on 34th Street” and managed to make a dent in the Christmas cookies. We made shepherds pie with leftovers, and finally had the riskrem.

Traditionally many Norwegians have risengrynsgrøt (rice porridge) on Christmas Eve, served warm with cinnamon, butter and sugar. A blanched almond is hidden in the porridge, and whoever finds it wins a small marzipan pig. The cold leftover porridge is mixed with whipped cream to made riskrem for dessert the same day, served with red cherry sauce, sometimes with a new almond added and a new marzipan pig prize (there were a lot of small children to keep entertained……). Here in Italy, they grow beautiful almonds and Sicily is famous for amazing marzipan. But could I fins any marzipan in Rome? No. Well, I only tried my neighbourhood, but eight shops later I gave up and made my own marzipan. Really not that hard.

Marzipan

  • 250 gr blanched almonds
  • 250 gr icing sugar
  • 1 raw eggwhite

If you need to blanch the almonds, do it the day before so they dry. I have a small manual almond grinder but a food processor would work too. Grind the almonds once alone, then mix with the icing sugar and grind again. Keep some of the dry mix aside ad you may not need it all, that depends on the size of your eggwhite (I had maybe 1/3 cup extra, it will be used in some dessert soon.) Add the eggwhite and knead firmly until you get a smooth firm paste. Voila! Homemade marzipan!

We have some silicon sheep molds crafted by my husband, and pressed the fresh marzipan into them.

Wrap well or stick in a plastic bag) and store in fridge, invert when needed and serve to the lucky almond-finder. This made plenty of marzipan, next time I would scale it down to 100 gr almonds. But the extra marzipan is now safely stored in the freezer labeled XMAS 2020 in case I have an urgent marzipan need.

I hope you are all having a good Boxing Day!

Sweet potato soup with ginger, coconut milk and yellow lentils

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A new investment in Accra was our slow cooker. Nothing fancy, but it is perfect for hot days (which is most of the year). We like to cook from scratch, and have made ragu for polenta, chickpea curry, lots of soup, Moroccan stews…. On Sundays I usually make yoghurt for the next week, and some sort of slow cooker dish so lunch is sorted for the next few days. We like to cook from scratch, and have made ragu for polenta, chickpea curry, lots of soup, Moroccan stews….  This time, the sweet potatoes looked good, we had fresh ginger, so soup it was.

Sweet potato soup with ginger, coconut milk and yellow lentils, made in slow cooker

  • 1 tsp sunflower oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground lemongrass (optional)
  • 3 inches fresh garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1.2 kilo or so of sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 140 grammes yellow lentils
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 4 tbs coconut milk powder + 200 ml water (or half a can of coconut milk)
  • Salt to taste  (1 tsp for me)

Sunday morning: soak the lentils in a cup of water, and go back to bed to listen to the Kermode/Mayo film podcast on BBC. Yes, these split yellow lentils should not need soaking, but these lentils do — possibly old? Yours might not.

Later that morning: In a frying pan, heat the oil and gently cook the onion, cumin, coriander, lemongrass and ginger, until the onion is softened. Peel the sweet potato – I had one very large one. Ask your husband to chop the sweet potato, which he does without complaint. This is the white-fleshed kind.

I have a slow cooker, which I love, so I tossed it all in there: sweet potatoes, stock, onions and spices, and slightly soaked lentils. Cook on high for 4 hours or so, until the lentils and sweet potato have softened.. If you do not have a slow cooker, this can easily be done on the stovetop in a covered pot (maybe 45 minutes or so?) Take out a cup or so of cubed sweet potato and keep it aside for texture. With an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. At this stage, I added salt and decided to add some coconut milk, as it was a bit thick but needed more flavour. Add the cubed sweet potato back to the pot.

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Enjoy!