Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dreaming of Deutschland

What does one do when asked to travel to the Netherlands for business on a very short notice? One jumps on the opportunity, takes a few days off to mix pleasure with business, and takes the husband along! We went on a short yet satisfying trip to Deutschland last week. One post is simply not enough to talk about this beautiful land of green pastures, windmills, canals, arts and culture, and history spanning centuries. I will give you a few tasty highlights of the trip!

Chocolate For Breakfast: I fell in love with the Dutch instantly when I saw a spread of chocolate sprinkles at the breakfast table on the first day. Chocolate sprinkles, called Chocoladehagel (or chocolate hail), go with a slice of bread. These chocolate confections come in various shapes and types, such as sprinkles or shavings, pure chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate etc. It is common practice for people of all ages to enjoy a topping of chocolate sprinkles on buttered slice of bread for breakfast. The Dutch have found the mantra for happiness!

Pannenkoeken: Pannenkoekenhuis or 'Pancake Houses' can be found at every street corner in the Netherlands. And they are not for breakfast only. The Dutch pancakes are much larger and thinner than the American version I'm used to. They are akin to thick crepes. Make sure you are hungry because these pancakes can be as large as a foot or more in diameter! A variety of fruits, cheese, cream, veggies, or bacon are either incorporated in the batter or topped on the pancakes. Mini pancakes called Poffertjes drizzled with chocolate sauce are perfect for sharing for a light snack. They are fluffy and slightly chewy bite size pancakes prepared with lots of butter. Want to go for the real thing? Look at that monster pancake in the second picture topped with warm cherries, vanilla ice-cream and whipped cream..mmm mmm good! The third one was a savory pancake - topped with grated cheese and mixed veggies. The interesting condiment with the savory pancake was 'curry ketchup'. A jazzed up version of ketchup with curry powder and some other spices. This needs to be introduced to the rest of the world!

A Jumbled Mix: While pancakes are nice, the long and cold winters in Holland beckon something more hearty. I am talking about potatoes and meat of course. A traditional Dutch meal consists of mashed potatoes and vegetables with some kind of meat on the side (the 'on the side' part had me sold). I was ecstatic that the Dutch were so vegetarian friendly! I didn't have to opt for the only vegetarian option on the menu put as an afterthought. This jumbled mix of ingredients called Hotch Potch, getting its name from Hutspot or Shaken pot, has an interesting history. I won't go on telling it, but you can read it here. We ordered a hotch potch of mashed potatoes with endive, and cheese croquettes in a traditional Dutch restaurant - doesn't that look simple and comforting? The traditional dinnerware made it even more authentic.

Cheese Galore: The Dutch countryside has lush green pastures with black and white belted cows grazing in large numbers. With an abundance of milk, it is no surprise that Holland has some of the best cheeses. Cheese and bread were the focal point of lunch selections where ever we went.
The famous Gouda made with cow's milk gets its name from the city of Gouda where the cheese making process originated. By the way, I learned that Gouda is pronounced Howda with a funny, grainy sounding H as though you are clearing your throat!
We visited a few Kaas or cheese stores in Amsterdam with stacks and stacks of yellow cheese wheels. While those were great, a small cheese factory and store in Zaanse Schans, a traditional Dutch town just north of Amsterdam, gave us a peek at how cheese is made. We sampled a wide selection of cheeses flavored with cumin seeds, red pepper, fenugreek, basil and anything else you can think of. The luxurious Gouda with truffles was certainly the winner. There were quite a few aged and young goat's and sheep's cheeses as well. The cheese was served with mustard sauce which also came in many flavors. Husband and I must have eaten more cheese in one week than we did since the beginning of the year. After much picking and choosing and deliberation, we purchased 3 cheeses - hot and spicy Gouda, young goat's cheese, and smoked cow's cheese. I see plenty of good eats in the near future =D.

The Chocolate Factory: The Dutch built their country on trade. Their industries are reminiscent of the trading era. They borrowed pottery making art from the Chinese, spices from the Indians, and cocoa from the African countries. Holland is the largest importer of cocoa beans in the EU and produce some of the best cocoa powder and chocolate. We visited a small chocolate store, also in Zaanse Schans, where we got a demonstration of the chocolate making process. The picture below shows the steps in making pure, decadent chocolate from dry cocoa beans.

The beans are first roasted and cracked to separate nibs from the cover. These nibs taste somewhat like coffee beans, but don't have any chocolate taste yet. The nibs are then ground to powder, and then ground on a warm stone for as long as 24-36 hours. This warm grinding process brings out the fats (cocoa butter) and makes a smooth paste called cocoa mass. It is still very bitter at his point. Making chocolate is then as simple as mixing the right amount of sugar and extra cocoa butter for smoothness. Simple enough right? :P. All this was fun, but the most exciting part was the sampling of fresh chocolate made right in front of our eyes. It's amazing how different something fresh and pure can taste. The picture below shows our demonstrator scraping freshly made chocolate from the hot stone.

The demonstrator showing us a slab of compact cocoa powder slab, on the right is
cocoa mass (before extracting cocoa butter) and white cocoa butter. All natural and pure
There were so many other new and unique experiences, but I can't go on forever. A trip that started with chocolate and ended on the same note had to be memorable. We will cherish the memories and devour the goodies brought back with us - until next time =).

The summer is here and the schools are out. Do you have any travel plans? What are you up to?

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...