Ghanaian Christmas Munchies

In the past week I've been to two Christmas parties – more than I went to during the first 17 years of my life. They were both very enjoyable due to the unique foods I tasted and prepeared at each.

Party #1:

This gathering was hosted by an acquaintance from the U.S. Embassy. It involved all the YES Abroad host families, a swimming pool, and an enormous amount of food.

The YES students arrived at the party earlier than our host families (and most of the foods), so we were left snacking. After four months of going 'cold-turkey' on olives, I found them to be absolutely delicious.

Olives – before I discovered them.

Olives -after I discovered them.

As soon as our host families arrived, the 'real' food was brought out. At last, I finally had more to eat than just olives and M&M's.

I tasted my first turkey at the Embassy Thanksgiving celebration in November, and was disappointed to say the least. It was dry, hardly seasoned, and overly fatty.

This bird was cooked perfectly, and had a great deal of herbs and spices. It was very enjoyable, and I went for seconds and thirds.

My host mom carving up the turkey.

For many Ghanaians, this was their first (and possibly last) time eating whole-roasted turkey. Drew's host brother thought it was the best meat he had ever tasted, and said that he wants to fly to America next Christmas just to eat another turkey.

Two dishes were catered by an Indian-Ghanaian who works in the Embassy cafeteria. The vegetable samosas (seen above),  were perfectly crispy, and despite being fried, the cilantro mint 'hari chutney' dipping sauce kept it light and refreshing. Even though there were just 40 samosas for 25 people, I ate nine of them. Hooray for a lack of self-control!

The samosas were eaten with an Indian fried rice.

Although the fried rice was lacking in salt, I found the curry spices to be pleasant and the cashews to be a nice touch. After tasting her dishes, I plan on contacting the caterer to ask if she would give me Indian cooking lessons.

Dessert: There were far too many to talk about in one blog post. I've chosen to focus on the gingerbread, which I tasted today for the first time.

Gingerbread. Tasting this bread transformed the 'dynamic duo' (pumpkin bread and banana bread) to a complete 'holy trinity'. The freshly ground ginger and cinnamon was splendid, and this bread had the perfect amount of each. It even had the perfect density – a masterpiece to behold. Watch out 'Gingerbread Man' – I'm on the lookout for you.

The party ended suddenly due to the Embassy hostess being called for an emergency meeting. Despite the brevity, it was a great time and my belly left feeling very satisfied.

All of the YES Abroad students and their host families.


Party #2:
This Christmas gathering happened tonight at the house of Kweku – an AFS board member and friend. In comparison to the first party- where all the food was catered and prepared for us, tonight's food was exclusively made by Kweku and the exchange students hosted in Accra.

We achieved our mission by dividing and conquering. Balthazar, a Frenchman, tackled the challenge of whole-roasting a chicken.

It turned out wonderful – the cranberry, ginger, and white wine sauce (don't tell my Muslim host family) turned out fantastic. Balthazar did a fantastic job cooking the bird; it was soft as butter, and was the closest I've seen poultry to being 'melt in your mouth'.

Kweku's job was making his signature 'sweet apple pizza.'

He started out by making homemade pizza crust – flavored with a splash of white wine and a sprinkling of cinnamon. One thing I learned today is that homemade pizza crust is certainly worth the trouble. The homemade thin-crust was very easy to make without holes, and the baked crust ended up so crispy that it had a 'snap' to it. As I was eating it, I kept imagining how it could make the pinnacle margarita pizza.

The final result:

It was delicious – naturally. Between the cinnamon, apples, brown sugar, and butter – what's not to love?

Last but not least: the cookies. I undertook this laborious task by myself, and ended up baking three batches:

Batch #1: Oatmeal Raisin

Oatmeal raisin is quickly turning into my specialty cookie – they started out amazing, but each time I make them they get even better. I keep the sugar to a minimum and instead concentrate on the heartiness of the oats, and the natural sweetness of the raisins. Even my host mom, who says she 'doesn't like oats', loves these cookies.

The 'trick' to oatmeal raisin cookies is to soak the raisins in warm water for 10-15 minutes before adding them. This 'brings life' back to the raisins, making them plump and delicious.

Batch #2: Orange-Chocolate Chunk

I asked Kweku to buy chocolate chips at Accra Mall- and after he brought back an orange-chocolate bar, I had a feeling deep in my gut that trouble was brewing. I cautiously tasted the chocolate bar, only to discover the orange flavor wasn't nearly as bad as expected.

After baking the cookies (and burning a few of them), I realize that there had been a mistake when converting the recipe from ounces to grams. The texture of the cookies was a bit too light and 'cakey', and should've been a bit denser. In addition, the chocolate had been cut up and pounded too small for my taste – it ended up being 'nibs' rather than 'chunks'.

And then there was the taste of it. Although the orange-chocolate was fine by itself, as cookies it just 'wasn't right'. To me the chocolate tasted a bit like soap. Baking these cookies felt like a sin to me – inexplicably wrong. I wasn't the only way who felt this way; the reviews were mixed. People either loved them or hated them.

I guess I'm a 'cookie purist'…

Batch #3: Snickerdoodle

The snickerdoodle cookie batter was the same as the orange-chocolate chunk cookie batter, minus the chocolate that is. After noting the consistency issue in the previous batch, I added the rest of the flour and stirred. The texture was better, but still not correct since it was too sticky to make into balls and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture. I resolved the issue by spooning the batter onto the baking sheet and sprinkling  the cinnamon sugar over it.

These cookies turned out amazing – especially for a first attempt. I carefully monitored the oven to avoid overcooking two batches of cookies in a row, and so they were cooked perfectly. The snickerdoodle cookies ended up being my biggest hit of the night.

Overall… Not bad for baking without a thermostat!