Photo Friday: Macaron au chocolat

Macaron au chocolat

Just another delicious way to support fair trade: French style macarons made with our Omanhene cocao powder and filled with a chocolate ganache made with our 80% dark chocolate… ethical trade never tasted so good!

The Full recipe can be found over at Mama Europa’s blog.

10 Steps to a Great Cup of Coffee

Many of my friends already know how much I love coffee, African coffee in particular.  The thing is: I used to like coffee; but only a little.  I always thought coffee was OK and I never really felt that “kick” that many people drink it for.  So, it was a beverage like any other.  Honestly, it didn’t even rank in the top 3 for me.  I was never able to understand when people spoke of how dreary their day was because they hadn’t had their morning cup of Joe. I used to meet friends at the local (or large chain) coffee shop and sit and sip a latté.  But it was the experience, not the drink that made me truly happy.  I didn’t need the caffeine and could even have a cup immediately before going to bed with no real effect.  I had purchased those expensive whole bean coffees, bought an espresso machine, dealt with cleaning the blasted thing and still I couldn’t identify with those “coffee snobs” who talked about what was in their cup the way some people describe wine or expensive Cuban cigars (No, I’m not recommending you start smoking!). Terms like: bold, fruity, notes of chocolate… Frankly, they meant nothing to me.  Man, have times changed!

You see, ever since I starting selling fair trade (and often organic) African coffees… I fell in love. I had no earthly idea what I was missing all of those years! Once I learned “the basics” from my coffee roaster, my life was changed.  I’m talking night and day here!  I still remember that first shipment of freshly roasted African coffee: I didn’t even have to open the box to smell it: incredible to the senses!  I ground a batch immediately and put it into my regular old Mr. Coffee, adjusting the setting to “strong”.  With those few little bits of advice from our roaster… my life transformed.

I still don’t feel that “eyes wide open” feeling that many of you get from coffee.  But, I smile a little bit less in the morning when I don’t have my “cup of Africa” as we call it in my house.  You see, I am in love with African coffees now.  In love with the deep rich flavor that comes with freshly ground beans that wree roasted just days before.  I’m going to share with you the tips that I’ve learned over the years.  Some seem elementary; but if you are used to that “other stuff”; many of these steps aren’t worth the time they take.  After all, if you are using coffee that was ground months ago… the type of water might not make much difference!  Try these steps though… all of them… and you might just find out what I did: Coffee is magical. It’s a way to enjoy travel: Every morning, I feel like I’m sitting with a dear friend in Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia or Zimbabwe and drinking in the sounds and sights of Africa while sipping that simple pleasure called coffee.  Join me!

10 Steps to a Great Cup of Coffee

  1. Believe it or not, you really don’t need an expensive espresso machine to make a great cup of coffee.
  2. Always use freshly roasted beans.  Coffee loses flavor over time; so freshly roasted beans are always your best bet.
  3. Clean your grinder and coffee brewer regularly to prevent build-up of oils which can alter the flavor of your coffee and eventually give it a rancid flavor.
  4. Grind your coffee beans immediately before brewing. Exposure to air slowly makes coffee grounds taste stale.
  5. Use the right setting on your grinder (depending on your brew method).
  6. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes: start with 2 tablespoons of coffee per 6 ounces of water.  Adjust based on your personal taste.
  7. The higher the quality of the water, the better the quality of your coffee.
  8. When making drip coffee, it is best to stir or swirl the pot when finished to thoroughly mix the coffee because the coffee toward the bottom will be stronger since it was brewed first.
  9. If you are making your coffee in advance; don’t leave your coffee on the burner or warmer or it can scorch and change the flavor.  Use a thermos instead.
  10. If you want to remember only one phrase I’ve written, make it this one: Freshly roasted, freshly ground, freshly brewed… and fair trade of course! 😉

Mama’s 2nd annual World Recipe Exchange: April 1st, 2011

I can’t say that I am a bonafide “foodie”; but I am sure you’ve noticed that I do love talking about, thinking about and cooking food!  Coming from a multi-cultural home where we moved more often than the average family; I learned at a young age how much food is tied to culture.  The things we eat, the things we refuse to eat, the way we cook, barbecue or roast…  all tell us something about who we are as a people.

I have had the privilege of traveling a bit and one of the things I love most about being in a new country (other than the people of course!) is food.  We all know about those dishes that seem to define a country; but what about the everyday comfort foods that each region has to offer.  Since the weather feels so gloomy and gray, I’ve decided to shift gears this year and offer a theme for our annual World Recipe Exchange: comfort foods.  Every region or nation has those dishes that just make you think of mom, family and home.  You know what I mean don’t you?  Those dishes that you might not make for a formal dinner or wedding reception; but that make you smile as soon as you think about them. It might be your grandma’s apple pie, your aunt’s meatloaf or a goat stew that makes your mouth water at the mere thought of it.  I’d love to learn more about all of you through what you love to eat most.  And I, in turn, will do the same (though I have no idea how I’ll choose!)

This year, wherever you are on this big planet; share one of your favorite comfort foods with us.  Tell us a little story about why it makes you smile and then post your link here on the blog.  If you don’t blog or don’t want to include your entry on your personal blog… that is OK too! ¹

You are welcome to include a recipe that comes from any country at all.  What is most important is that you share the basics: How (do you make it) Why (do you love it).

Everyone who enters will automatically be entered to win this year’s prizes including: 1 pound of our fair trade, African coffee, 1 tin of Mama’s Red Bush Tea (rooibos) or 3 bars of 100% Ghanaian (bean to bar) Omanhene chocolate bars.  What better way to celebrate food… than with more food, right? 😉

You’ve got a little over a week to prep so… ready, set go!



You can share your recipe one or more of the following ways:

  1. Tweet it to @itsmamaafrika
  2. In the comments section of our blog (below)
  3. On your own blog
    **  Just make sure to link back to this blog post and include a comment here on the blog to let us know where you’ve posted your recipe! All entries submitted on or before April 1st will be counted.  Again, please make sure you leave a comment here with a link so we can find it!

A Twist on an Already Fabulous Chocolate

No chocolate makes me happier to work with than Omanhene! It’s delicious, ethically traded and 100% made in Ghana from bean to bar… what’s not to love?  I must say I enjoyed taking a quick break to challenge myself to improve an already wonderful chocolate and creating this little gem of a dark chocolate bark*.  It only took a few minutes to make.  I love each of these ingredients on their own and I can tell you that they work together like some of the best a cappella music groups in South Africa… heavenly!

It’s as simple as counting to five:

  1. Melt your choice of Omanhene 80% dark or 48% dark-milk chocolate and pour on a lined shallow pan (I just put a silicone mat down first)
  2. Toast pistachios, hazelnuts pine nuts– or whatever nuts you have on hand– then sprinkle on top of melted chocolate (let them cool first). Tap to ensure it sets into the chocolate.
  3. Let chocolate set until its no longer shiny (15-20 min.)
  4. Sprinkle fleur de sel or other rock salt on top (I used pink Himalayan salt)
  5. Enjoy!

Quick and healthy dark chocolate bark

*Adapted from a recipe in Chocolate Obsession, by M. Recchiuti and F. Gage

Couscous, a North African staple

The thing I love about couscous is that, like pasta, it is so flexible! Yesterday, it was used in a four ingredient, vegetarian dinner that I think you’ll enjoy either hot or cold.
Here is the proof:

North Africans love couscous and so do I!

I know a lot of people look at couscous and think that they need to have an exotic recipe from some far away land in order to buy it at the store. For many, because it is a type of food that they’ve only vaguely heard of or seen once in television cooking show featuring Moroccan food,  it intimidates them.

I’d like to remove the mystique for you. When one of my children asked me what it was, I described it this way “Its pastina’s cousin.”  She looked at it and thought of “pastina” (literally “tiny pasta” that we use in Eritrea to make for babies or toddlers at home, topped with butter… yes, there is that Italian influence  in Eritrean cooking again!).

Food: an integral part of culture

Aleecha: a common Eritrean dish made of curried vegetables which you are sure to love.

Many years ago one of my children’s friends entered our home for the first time. He was only 7 at the time. A really nice kid with one of those great big smiles that could melt a mama’s heart. I’ll never forget it… as he walked in the door, I overheard him say: “Wow, it smells like Africa here!” He was right, it did smell like Africa. I was making a traditional Eritrean meal for dinner: injera, tzigny, aleecha, salad… the works.

I naturally guessed that he had tasted Eritrean or Ethiopian food (which are very similar) before and asked him if he liked it.  His reply surprised me though: “No, I’ve never had African food before. I just knew that it smelled like Africa when I walked in, I don’t know why though. The funny thing is that child didn’t know I am an African.  My daughter joked that “everyone knows the smell of Africa!”

Some years later, when I opened Mama Afrika in a “brick and mortar” shop; I heard the same thing of the store. “It even smells like Africa”. I read once that our sense of smell is what links us the closest to our memories. Of all our senses, it isn’t sight or sound… its smell.  And each time that I cook aleecha, it reminds me of my mother cooking over a hot stove when my aunts or her friends came to visit.

Since I love food and I love Africa, I’ve decided to share recipes from time to time on my website which will help you bring the smell of Africa into your home.   And, of course, it will also bring the color and rich wonderful flavors of Africa cuisine into your home too!

Here is my first dish: Eritrean Aleecha, a vegan dish that is sure to please you, your family and guests. It is a quick, inexpensive and delicious dish to make.

I was inspired to chose it after a recent trip to my local organic farmer’s market. The carrots were beautiful, sweet and I couldn’t leave home without them!

When looking for inspiration for my first dish, I found it in these beautiful carrots from my local organic farmer’s market

I hope that you enjoy it!  And if you have a special African recipe from your childhood that you would like to share here, please do!  I’d be happy to try it, I’m sure that your “mama Africa” filled your home with some incredible aromas too.  Share them…

Salam, (“Peace” in Eritrea’s widely-spoken Tigrinya language)

Mama’s First World Recipe Exchange

French Lemon Tart

One of my favorite desserts: Tarte au Citron from France

I had a really difficult time deciding which recipes to share with you for this (first) World Recipe Exchange; so I did what I always do when I can’t decide what to make for dinner: I let the farmers decide for me!  Both France and Italy have left their imprint on African food and culture.  Add to that the influence of the millions in the African diaspora who now live in Europe, the US and other areas of the West… well, food blends us, mixes us and shows us how we are much more similar in our tastes than we are different.  So, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to do an Eritrean-style pasta dish, a traditional French dish, or something from another part of the globe…

For those of you who haven’t yet heard me talk about it, I’ll let you in on a rather well-known secret: I love the organic farmer’s market. I go to one locally and really enjoy getting good quality food of course. But one of the other things I enjoy is walking around with my fair trade Bolga baskets in hand and filling them up with the freshly-picked seasonal treasures. You know, those fruits and veggies that some people don’t even know exist…

I like dirt on it, bugs coming out when you rinse it kind of veggies. I like being reminded that they come from the Earth and that the farmer can tell me what to do with it, how to select the best one and sometimes, yes they even tell me “Oh, you don’t want that this week; they’ll be better next week”. That is what personal relationships do. They teach us and they give us reasons to smile.

So, when looking for inspiration as to what to cook, I went where I usually go: to the market. I decided to let my senses help me choose. So here we go:
My choices were: Tarte au Citron and Aleecha, which are French and Eritrean (in that order). Here is the first recipe:

Tarte au Citron, from France because the lemons looked absolutely fabulous! They were bright, spring-like in color and with an aroma that called me from across the stand.

My favorite recipe is an adaption of the one from a book called The Food of France: A journey for food lovers. (Bay Books)

Preheat oven to 190C (375F). Roll out the pastry dough and line a 23 cm (9 inch) round fluted tart tin. I often just buy pre-made pie crusts in the refridgerated section of my grocery store, if time is an issue for me. If you use a pre-made pie crust, remember to let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before rolling it out and putting it in your tart tin!

For pie filling:
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
285g sugar (1 and ¼ cups)
185ml (3/4 cup) heavy cream
250 ml (1 cup) lemon juice
Finely grated zest from 3 lemons

To make filling: Wisk together sugar, eggs and egg yolks. Add the cream, then the lemon juice and zest.

Pre-bake your crust at 190C/375F for about 10 to 15 minutes. You can use baking beads, dried beans, or rice… whatever you usually use to keep your pie crusts flat on the bottom as they bake(until cooked, but still pale in color).. I have even used a fork to poke small holes in the (bottom only!) of the pie crust before baking; and that has worked fine for me.

Reduce temperature to 150C (300F)

Put the pie tin on a baking tray and carefully pour the filling into the pastry case. Return to the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the filling has set.
Cool completely before serving

Bon appétit!