As I promised to tell about the details of my trip previously, I keep it. We had a chance to merge the national holiday and weekend to make an escapade to Amsterdam, the offbeat capital of Netherlands famous with is picturesque canals and vibrant night life. This was my third visit to that marvelous Dutch city thanks to business related issues of my better half.
The spirit of gezellig (pronounced heh-zel-ick) makes this city so damn special. You will hear this Dutch word if you have a Dutch friend or a friend living there for some time since it is the heart of local culture. Probably they will tell you that it cannot be translated into English but let me try to make you understand with some examples; having a dinner at a nice restaurant with your beloved friends is totally gezellig while eating at McDonalds on your own is not gezellig at all, cuddling up with your honey in bed while reading the newspaper together is another gezellig, on the contrary sitting at your dentist’s waiting room is definitely not gezellig.
So it means creating a warm, cosy and peaceful atmosphere allowing good times to happen with people you like. It is the commitment to connect with others so you should not be checking your favorite TV show behind your friend’s shoulder or not playing with your cell phone. That’s why I like this place a lot. In our society TV is used as a conversation filler, or better to say conversations are made between the commercial breaks on TV. We do not have the ability to talk in the absence of a TV or at least a cell phone on the table. So not gezellig!
Amsterdam is also the city of bicycles where 750.000 residents have 600.000 bicycles and I could not believe my eyes how skillful local people are riding on them. I have seen a lot of people carrying their shopping bags on the handlebars of the bicycle, with a baby on the front and talking over the phone at the same time while cycling. I felt like I was the only fainthearted rider to check the traffic at the crossroads.
The city is full of small specialty shops which you cannot find in anywhere else like the one selling only buttons or the one with a self explanatory name, Restored, the owners of which change used materials into new products to prevent waste of potentially useful stuff. If you are a persistent follower of high end fashion you can also find the designer brands in the city but do not expect to find the Viktor&Rolf jacket you like with a better price tag just because of the fact that it is an Amsterdam based brand.
As for the arts, Amsterdam has outstanding museums like Van Gogh, Stedelijk and Amsterdam History museum besides the smaller ones like Anne Frank’s house and Rembrandt’s house which Rembrandt took out an excessive mortgage to buy in 1639 and unfortunately moved out to a worker’s flat in the Jordaan area afterwards due to this life consuming debt. So the moral of this story is that be careful while deciding on the payment term of your mortgage!
Nightlife is one of the main attractions of the city due to world’s most tolerant drug laws and of course the infamous Red Light district where even the world’s oldest profession turned out to be a touristic activity. They organize guided tours (guided by a performer of this oldest profession) if you like to learn more about the neighborhood. However, limiting nightlife with the red light district will be unfair; the city has various bars and concert halls where you can enjoy live music.
The one we visited this time was Bimhuis, a premier venue which the jazz followers of the city know quite well. It was a night to remember with the fluent notes of Dave Douglas Quintet spreading all over the place while sipping a glass of wine with ease.
I know I talked a lot and you start wondering whether I would ever come to food or not. But to be honest, Amsterdam is not a food capital and the Dutch cuisine has not many diversified dishes. They have simple and modest recipes containing vegetables more than meat. A typical old-fashioned dinner starts with a soup, mostly pea soup and continues with boiled or baked potatoes, boiled vegetables (cabbage, red beets etc.) and stewed meat with some gravy. Yoghurt with sugar or a simple pudding would be served as a dessert. They also have a tendency to have dinner quite early, around six o’clock and have tea time at three o’clock in the afternoon. Each cup of tea or coffee is served with only one cookie which is a standard rule designating the thrifty side of the Dutch.
Even though the traditional cuisine is somewhat limited, there are quite nice restaurants where you can find various dishes prepared with a refined approach to embrace modern culinary trends. Here I have to mention De Kas, a place that I will always envy of the way they cherish the freshest ingredients which is the most important aspect of a fine dining experience I believe. Using fresh vegetables and herbs was so crucial for the owner Gert Jan Hageman who had earned a Michelin star in Dutch haute cuisine, that he turned an old greenhouse due to be demolished into one of the most exceptional places for fine diners in town. De Kas contains a greenhouse or rather to say, De Kas is situated in a greenhouse where they grow and harvest Mediterranean vegetables, herbs and edible flowers with respect for nature. They do not have a standard menu to choose from; instead chefs in the kitchen are using their creativity to come up with a different menu everyday according to the harvest of that day. You will not know what you are going to eat until you sit at your table, but believe me whatever they bring you, it will be delightful for sure.
Writing about Amsterdam and not mentioning world renowned Dutch cheese Gouda would be totally impolite to one of the world’s greatest cheeses. It takes the name from the town Gouda close to Rotterdam and accounts for almost 60% of all the cheese produced in Netherlands. It is a semi soft, pale yellow cheese made from cow milk with a changing flavor according to its age. Younger Gouda, aged from 1 to 6 months, is mild, sweet and soft while mature Gouda, aged 12 to 18 months, gains a complex flavor over time like a salty caramel with a harder structure. I have to mention varieties like smoked Gouda and flavored Goudas with cumin, herbs, pepper and walnut, however my personal favorite is plain mature Gouda among all I tried up to now.
If you happen to buy Gouda cheese from Netherlands first check the wax coating outside the cheese; younger Goudas come with a red or yellow coating while mature ones have a black coating outside. Packaged Gouda cheeses sold in the supermarkets have 20 +, 30 +, 40 + and 48 + labels indicating the actual fat ratio not the maturity level.
After completing our tour of Amsterdam, now it’s time to prepare my Gezellig chicken recipe featuring some delicious Gouda sauce. Make sure to invite your friends or family for a gezellig dinner and hide the TV remote under the sofa. Keep in mind; it is all about connecting with others.
Ingredients (makes 4 to 6 servings)
- 500 g (1,1 pounds) boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 cup of plain yoghurt
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml/0,5 fluid oz) Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml/0,5 fluid oz) virgin olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 125 g (4,4 oz) plain corn flakes
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
For Gouda sauce
- 15 g (0,53 oz) all purpose flour
- 25 g (0,88 oz) butter
- 1 cup of milk
- 75 g (2,65 oz) grated mid aged Gouda cheese
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- A pinch of sea salt
|1.||Combine yoghurt, minced garlic, olive oil and mustard in a mixing bowl.|
|2.||Cut chicken breasts into 2cm x12cm (0,8 inch x 4,7 inches) strips|
|3.||Season the chicken breasts with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper|
|4.||Add the chicken breasts into marinade you prepared and keep refrigerated for at least 2 hours.|
|5.||Preheat the oven to 200°C (392°F).|
|6.||Line a baking sheet on oven tray.|
|7.||Dip chicken breasts into corn flakes spread on a flat plate. Make sure each side is covered well and place on baking sheet.|
|8.||Bake for about 25 minutes or until they have a golden brown color.|
For Gouda Sauce
|1.||Melt butter in a sauce pan on medium heat.|
|2.||Add in flour and stir continuously until the color turns to a light brown and scent of flour comes out.|
|3.||Decrease heat and pour in the milk gradually while stirring with a whisk.|
|4.||Add salt and keep on stirring until the sauce begins to thicken.|
|5.||Add grated Gouda cheese and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes to melt the cheese.|
|6.||Remove from heat, combine the white wine vinegar and set aside to cool down for a while. (if consistency of sauce is right, it won’t stiffen at the room temperature)|
|7.||Note: You may keep the unused amount of sauce in a refrigerator for up to 3 days and reheat a bit in microwave oven before serving.|
|8.||Pour the sauce in a small sauce bowl and sprinkle a teaspoon of chopped chives on top. Place the baked chicken stripes in a plate along with the sauce and serve right away.|