New avenues

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I’ve been busy kneading, shaping and baking – but not in the way that you might think. Want to know more? Hop over to my new page and have a look!

 

Zoete Lekkernijen en Het Nederlands Bakboek kopen?

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Beide titels zijn inmiddels uitverkocht via de reguliere kanalen. Soms vind je nog een exemplaar op internet, al dan niet tweedehands. Ik heb van beide titels een beperkt aantal exemplaren liggen (op = op).

Zoete Lekkernijen kost €25 + €9,50 verzendkosten. Het Nederlands Bakboek mag de deur uit voor €60 + €9,50 verzendkosten.

Wil je een boek bestellen? Stuur mij dan een mailtje via gaitri@gaitripagrachchandra.com

Zodra ik de betaling heb ontvangen, stuur ik het boek op. Wil je het gesigneerd hebben? Dat doe ik met plezier!

Sweet dreams are made of these

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Who doesn’t dream of food at one time or another? Or have cravings, longings, even obsessions? As we become older, the more the mind seems to focus on the foods of our childhood. Readers will be familiar with many of the flavours of my Guyanese past and the memories they bring back for me. In fact, I’m thrilled to see that many of you have also come to like them!

Most of my family and friends settled outside the country and I recently linked up with a delightful group of people who share my sugar plantation past. We now live on every continent the world boasts and have ended up in various professional fields. There are large age differences and some of us have never actually met, but our unique childhood has forged a very strong bond. As well as catching up with my old playmates and partners in crime, I have formed a heart-warming rapport with many others. We chat about ‘small days’ and our conversations are hilarious, partly because we all seem to have spontaneously reverted to half-forgotten colloquial Guyanese speech, and type a mixture of standard English peppered with local slang in our comments to each other. To be perfectly clear: it’s just us. No spouses and no children. When I joined the group, I felt like I had found a couple of busloads of cousins all at once. It’s just us cousins having a wonderful time together.

But let me tell you how I was invited into the gang. My old pal P. said in her usual airy way ‘You will enjoy it. We talk about dal puri all the time.’ And she promptly launched me as the answer to everyone’s dal puri-making problems. At first I thought she was joking. Now, I see that she was being completely truthful. Dal puri is a near-obsession, especially with the boys. I use the term loosely, as some of the boys have already retired from active work. Even threads about completely different topics net a few dal puri comments. Ideas for serious development of this favourite theme are coming in thick and fast: You-tube video, a separate appreciation society, Skype tutorials and more.

So what is this wonderful delicacy known as dal puri? I gave a recipe for it in Warm Bread and Honey Cake and this is how I described it: ‘Dal puri is another member of the paratha family and this is the roti that Caribbean Indians make when they want to lend a festive air to an occasion.’ I also warned: ‘It is one of the more challenging flatbreads to make.’ The ‘dal’ in the name refers to yellow split peas, which have to be cooked to just the right texture before being ground and seasoned and then used to stuff the dough. The entire thing is then carefully rolled out to a thin, neat circle (ideally without tearing the casing) and is then cooked on a tawa or griddle and eaten with curry.

dal puri post

Not many of them have Indo-Guyanese roots like I do, with the battalion of dal puri-making relatives that comes with it. They are largely from expat families (although generations long in some cases) and their dal puris were made by cooks, neighbours and friends. They probably remember, as I do, the Sunday cricket matches on sun-scorched green-brown pitches flanked by flame trees with white-painted trunks that echoed the sparkling whites of the players. The high point of the day was the huge and noisy lunch afterwards, with mutton curry and dal puri for everyone on the plantation. They certainly remember something that feeds their craving and they continue to dream of dal puri. It’s not just food for the stomach, but food for the heart and soul.

The craving has led to a series of reactions, again mainly among the chaps. The main one is dal puri-hoarding followed by strict rationing. They travel the world (and indeed the Seven Seas) chasing down West Indian roti-shops. They take generous sample tastings before deciding how many to hoard and how to dole it out. They adamantly refuse to share with those who have no dal puri past; that’s just plain wasteful. The finer points are discussed, such as the ecstatic enjoyment of the shower of split pea fragments that rains over the plate when the dal puri is torn for eating. (This happens to be my pet hate.) Some of the more adventurous (or desperate) ones have tried recreating them, with varying degrees of success. One of them, however deserves a medal. He has got the filling – the hard part – down to a scientific formula. It doesn’t matter that it costs him almost an entire day to go through all the stages; it’s worth it!

In a mellow mood, I provided them with my simpler recipe and encouraged them to start practicing. However, they feel they would benefit from a hands-on workshop ‘for fine tuning’. Who am I to disagree? I believe that plans are already being made for removing camper vans from Spanish garages and, for all I know, cars are being readied in France, Poland and the UK. I can already see myself making up lots of extra beds and buying large stocks of flour and split peas, but I’ll wait a while, as the venue seems to be getting more and more elastic and shifts from country to country, and even to different continents. The number of would-be participants is growing too. Everybody seems to be looking for dal puri.

If you’d like to recreate a warm and sunny atmosphere in your own kitchen, try my quick and simple recipe for seasoned roti wrappers. It’s not dal puri, but it is still very tasty. Eat with curry or with grilled meats, as you like. You’ll find dal puri and many more roti recipes in Warm Bread and Honey Cake and some additional ones in Wrapped.

Workshops

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Hallo!

Als je op mijn website of Facebook-pagina zit, ken je mij waarschijnlijk al. Mocht je dit bericht via-via hebben ontvangen, dan is het misschien wel nuttig als ik me kort voorstel. Ik ben Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra, auteur van 5 kookboeken, onder andere Het Nederlands Bakboek (Kookboek van het Jaar 2012) en Zelfgebakken/Warm Bread and Honey Cake (Guild of Food Writers Cookery Book of the Year 2010). Op mijn website kun je veel meer over mij en mijn boeken lezen. Omdat ik regelmatig de vraag krijg of ik workshops geef, heb ik besloten om mijn keuken in de Oude Pastorie in Tricht open te stellen voor jullie en workshops in twee thema’s aan te bieden. In kleine groepjes, zodat er veel persoonlijke aandacht is voor de deelnemers. Per workshop, per tijdvak, is er plaats voor 5 personen.

Workshop: Bakken met specerijen

Je leert spekkoek en kruidkoek maken én je mag je handen vies maken in het deeg voor Friese Dúmkes. De spekkoek proeven wij samen bij een kopje koffie of thee en, mocht er wat overblijven, dan mag je dit uiteraard mee naar huis nemen! Ook krijg je een kruidkoek mee en je zelfgemaakte dúmkes. Deze workshop zal ongeveer 3,5 uur duren en kost € 50,- per persoon. De workshop begint om 13.00 uur en vindt plaats op:

  • dinsdag 17 februari
  • vrijdag 27 februari (VOL)

Workshop: Indo-Caribische curry maaltijd

In deze workshop laat ik zien hoe je een Indo-Caribische curry  met kip bereidt. Op verzoek kan het natuurlijk ook vegetarisch. Vervolgens maken wij samen twee soorten roti: de dikke Sada-roti (lijkt een beetje op een naanbrood, qua textuur) en de prachtig gelaagde Paratha, wat meer techniek vereist. Daarbij bereiden we een Indiase zoete lekkernij en eten alles samen op met een bijpassende salade/groentegerecht en een glas wijn of sap. Ik ga uit van 3,5-4 uur, want rustig en gezellig eten hoort er ook bij! De kosten per persoon zijn € 60,-. De workshop begint steeds om 9.30. Workshops staan gepland op de volgende data, maar op verzoek zijn er ook andere mogelijkheden. Wij hebben inmiddels een workshop achter de rug en de deelneemsters zeiden het volgende:

“Heerlijk gegeten, geluisterd, gekookt en gelachen, leuk!”

“Gezelligheid, gastvrijheid. De tijd is omgevlogen!”

“Leerzaam, leuk en gezellig!”

“Het maken, bakken en ‘klappen’ van de roti waren leuk!”

“A well-organised workshop with interesting content, delicious recipes, nice people, outstanding demonstration, cozy atmosphere and a nice location.”

  • vrijdag 6 februari (VOL)
  • maandag 16 februari (VOL)
  • vrijdag 6 maart

Algemeen

Uiteraard gebruik ik mijn eigen recepten tijdens de workshops. Je krijgt ook alle gebruikte receptuur mee naar huis. Een workshop kan alleen doorgaan als er 5 mensen zich inschrijven. Het is daarom handig als je een eerste en tweede voorkeursdatum opgeeft. Alle details worden je t.z.t. toegestuurd. Voor de door mij geprikte data kun je je op individuele basis inschrijven, of met je eigen groepje. Mocht je een eigen groepje al hebben en een andere datum eventueel willen prikken, dan kunnen we dat in overleg doen. Mocht je je groepje kleiner willen hebben, dan kan dat natuurlijk ook. De groep dient dan wel voor 5 personen te betalen.

Bereikbaarheid

De Oude Pastorie bevindt zich op 10 minuten loopafstand van NS Station Geldermalsen. Ook met de auto is de locatie goed te bereiken (A2 of A15).

Hoe schrijf je je in?

Als je je wilt inschrijven, of als je meer informatie wilt hebben, kun je mij een email sturen via gaitri@gaitripagrachchandra.com of een privé bericht via mijn Facebook-pagina Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO BOOK A WORKSHOP TO BE GIVEN IN ENGLISH? Please contact me for more information.

Saving the walnut harvest

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We are blessed with a large and shady walnut tree in our garden and as summer progresses, I scan the branches anxiously and wonder what the harvest will be like. When the rest of the garden starts to fade and the few remaining flowers hang their heads dejectedly, I start to look forward to the harvest and welcome the strong autumnal gusts that scatter the nuts onto the grass under the tree. My enthusiasm remains undimmed by the bending, stooping and crouching involved in picking them up from the ground. In fact, I see this as a welcome side benefit: a wonderful workout without even noticing! I brush off the black lace or slime, depending on the weather conditions, then spread them out to dry on a garden bench. After a few hours, I gather the nuts again and take them indoors to dry properly on sheets of newspaper. They have to be turned regularly and after a week or two they can be stored in their shells in net bags until needed. If the weather is good, I give these an extra airing or two outdoors on the garden benches. My husband has remarked (only half-jokingly) that the only thing left for me to do is to load them into the children’s old pram and take them for a walk.  But my care is usually well rewarded and they rarely become mouldy. They last me until the next crop comes around and even though I use prolific quantities, I rarely have to resort to shop bought walnuts.

Walnut basket

Our district boasts several walnut-lined lanes, dykes and paths and locals make a sport of gathering the nuts as soon as they fall. The less scrupulous lend nature a helping hand and throw sticks and stray branches into the trees to bring on an instant harvest. On Sunday afternoons in particular, one sees entire families out on walnut gathering expeditions. They prod and poke at the long – usually wet – grass and pounce on any finds with great enthusiasm, depositing them in plastic carrier bags before moving on quickly to ward off potential poachers. Last Sunday, out for a walk, I saw a particularly well-prepared crew. They had brought a folding ladder with them! Father was high up in the tree, shaking it for all he was worth, while the rest darted back and forth to pick the nuts that rained down.

When not under the trees, these enthusiasts can generally be recognized by their hands. Walnuts are housed in  fleshy green pods and they generally fall in two ways. Usually, the ripe green pods simply crack, allowing the nuts to fall to the ground. These usually have shreds of cream-coloured lace clinging to them and once removed, you have a beautiful and clean nut. However , the lace is not as innocent as it looks and stains the hands and nails dark brown. If the pods remain hanging for longer, they turn brown and subsequently release nuts covered with black lace. The black lace stains equally effectively. The worst stains are those obtained from gathering nuts in wet weather, when the black lace turns to slime. I have seen people come very well geared: with surgical gloves. That is not for me. Stains or not, I prefer to use my bare hands and my initial embarrassment at the beginning of the season is short-lived as most people get it in one and the enquiry ‘Been at the walnuts again?’ is commonly heard.

One year we had an extended dry spell and literally bucket loads of olive-sized nuts fell prematurely to the ground. Fearing that hardly anything would be left, I decided to take action: I watered the tree every afternoon with the garden hose, to the extreme merriment of  my family and neighbours. When I responded with a variant of my Little Red Hen act, threatening to eat the whole harvest myself,  this elicited even more hilarity. I know the doubters among you will say that my precautions were unnecessary, even useless, as the roots are deep enough to find their own water supply. Don’t spoil my fun. The dear old tree did not disappoint me. My care was rewarded with a bumper crop and if the nuts were a little smaller than average, they were still as delicious as ever.

My harvest is now safely indoors, waiting to be turned into walnut bread, baklava, Gerbeaud Slices, Potica and much, much more. For those of you not similarly blessed, buy the more expensive French walnuts instead of the cheaper Indian or Chinese ones. The flavour is far superior.

Prunes with peanut butter, the easy way

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No, this is not a recipe from Wrapped. Here’s what happened….

Yesterday, I decided to post a photo of a jar of peanut butter, a container of cocktail sticks and an opened bag of prunes on my Facebook page. It was accompanied by the following text: ‘Let’s see how well you guys know your world of ingredients. Question in 3 parts: What do you do with these? Who/which people, from where in the world, use(s) them all together? And when? Let’s hear your answers 🙂 ‘

peanut butter

Because there are such lovely people frequenting my page, answers did come in. Some thought that the prunes were dates, perhaps eaten stuffed by vegans? Another admitted to having googled the combination as she couldn’t for the life of her imagine why anyone would want to combine these ingredients. One was utterly confounded by the tiny image on the screen of her phone and didn’t know what to make of it. Some decided to wait and see. One actually got it right! She had seen a Caribbean friend make them. And yet another reader, who knows all about this, commented brightly that they seem to be catching on in other countries. Significantly, countries with large Caribbean immigrant populations.

Earlier that morning, browsing through some Caribbean cookbooks, I smiled involuntarily to see a recipe for ‘Easy prunes with peanut butter’. Yes, an actual recipe. An easy one at that, because it can also be a tricky and rather complicated business. And in case you are about to take that seriously, don’t. Seeing the recipe unleashed a great deal of silliness in me, as it took me straight back to my childhood in Guyana. I felt compelled to share the fun.

I can almost hear you. ‘Fun?’ ‘Prunes with peanut butter?!’ ‘Gosh, that sounds weird!’ Perhaps even a heartfelt ‘Yuck!’ Don’t dismiss it out of hand, though. When I was growing up, prunes stuffed with peanut butter and then impaled on cocktail sticks were considered party fare. Even cocktail party fare. I can’t say that I’ve ever tried them with an alcoholic drink, having been too young at the time, but along with almost everybody else in the Caribbean, I used to love stuffed prunes at any opportunity. Both prunes and peanut butter, and even the cocktail sticks probably, were imported items at a time when shipments were just that: stuff packed in crates and put on a boat that set off for the other side of the world and eventually got there. Back then, imported foods like these were treats for many, not the everyday staples they have now become. And as much as I was amused by the fact that someone would actually put a recipe in a book for prunes stuffed with peanut butter – the easy way – I felt a sense of satisfaction welling up alongside the inevitable nostalgia. Here was a person who apparently thought that it was good enough to share, and was doing so. No snobbery. Not even a hint of self-consciousness. So refreshing in this day and age of gourmet eating, cooking and writing.

Here’s how you do it, my way: remove the seeds from some plump  prunes (or buy seedless ones), stuff the now empty prunes with peanut butter and try to give them legitimacy as a cocktail snack by pricking in a cocktail stick. If you want to get genuine, you can even call the cocktail stick a toothpick. The prune is usually so overstuffed and heavy that it falls off the stick or almost immediately, so you end up having to pick it up with your fingers after all, to convey it to your mouth. There! It is easy,  isn’t it? And as far as I know, this is the only way to do it. I may be wrong, of course, so if you do know a trickier and more complicated way, do tell. And please don’t use Agen prunes. They are far too upmarket and trendy for this simple snack.

Try some recipes from Wrapped

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Hello all! I’ve been writing quite a lot about my new book Wrapped on my Facebook page, and have been showing you photos, both my own and some from readers who already have the book. Please be my guest and try out a few recipes, so that you can get a feel for the book and the kind of recipes in it. I know ‘fusion’ is quite passé as a term, but there’s no other word that describes some of the combinations as aptly. I’ve just uploaded the recipes

Seasoned roti wrappers

Seasoned roti wrappers

for Chermoula Chicken Skewers, Seasoned Roti Wrappers and Mango Salsa. This is a combination that encompasses three continents, but I find that it comes together beautifully on the plate. See if you agree with me. Enjoy!

Holiday research or the discovery of Chak Chak

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Sometimes I go on research trips and sometimes I just go on holiday. And sometimes a holiday provides such interesting material that it could rightly be called a holiday-research trip. Last month I went to Canada, to visit my sister and her family and our parents. It’s always lovely to be back in Canada, as it brings back happy memories of my university years spent in Halifax. This time, my destination was a suburb just outside Toronto, a pleasant place with well-kept houses and gardens that were starting to show determined signs of life after the long and cold winter.

My sister is a dedicated sampler of snacks and other good food and she always has a list of places for us to visit together. She had been planning to take me to Sue’s Market for a few years, but somehow, other things always intervened. The main attraction of Sue’s was that the owners were Jamaican Chinese, home people, from our part of the world. I had already eaten a lot of delicacies from their store, which my sister always referred to as ‘a convenience store’. I went in, expecting a tiny down-home Mom and Pop establishment. It’s not that she had deliberately misled me. I think it’s more that we have been living on our respective continents for so long that we have diverged in our interpretation of size. Mild culture shock always sets in when I fly across the Atlantic: everything seems to grow in size, from tubes of toothpaste to household cats. So I was quite taken aback to find that her ‘convenience store’ was about the size of my local supermarket. And what an assortment of top products and produce! But let me not get side-tracked, because I want to tell you something else.

Still reeling from the shock, we went on to stop number two for that day. The exterior was not very reassuring: a utilitarian-looking building whose only apparent concession to decoration was a sober logo above the door, promising a European food experience. They weren’t lying. Believe me when I tell you that it is possible to collect all the best products from Europe and house them in a single spot. And then keep on adding items for local ethnic minorities. Have you ever seen whole smoked sturgeon and salmon in the same place as pickled apples and cabbage, Dutch cheeses, mahleb, mastic and Korean beef bulgogi? Of course, I didn’t see any of these things until the next day, because first there was the bakery…

We walked in – straight into the bakery section. There were European rye breads and Parisian pastries next to baklava from several countries, including the lesser-known Azerbaijani type I gave in Warm Bread and Honey Cake. I saw an interesting-looking concoction on the counter. Not a beauty by any means, but very intriguing: a high anthill shaped pastry-thing that seemed to be coated in caramel. (Later, I was told by a Russian friend of my son’s that they call it ‘anthill’ at home.) I was still too dizzy from the rest of the display to pay it much attention at that stage, but then they gave me some to taste and I was completely lost. I discovered chak chak. You know how I love to bring the world together in my books. Well this single mouthful brought together the crunchy sugar-coated mithai of my Guyanese childhood with the ordinary but delicious North American treat made from rice crispies and melted marshmallows, but in a Russian kind of way. The pastry was crisp and unexpectedly airy in texture and it was all held together with a sticky honey syrup, sweet but not cloyingly so. And it was very moreish. In fact, I have to confess that in the time it took to take a few photographs so that I could show it to you, I managed to eat most of the back of this one. I bet you can’t even tell. The sticky coating holds it together beautifully. You just keep eating and before you know it, it has disappeared and you wonder where it went. Isn’t it wonderful when simple ingredients have that effect?

chak chak

Wrapped has been released!

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wrapped

So exciting! Wrapped has been released in the UK (Pavilion). US release to follow next month (Interlink). I’ll upload some recipes next week so that you can have a little taster. Meanwhile, read about the book here.

A plea for uniformity

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Uniformity. The mere word takes me back to my schooldays. Schoolgirls in school uniforms, standing in uniform lines at assembly, singing as uniformly as can be expected of schoolgirls, then filing out equally uniformly to our uniform classrooms. But we were relatively lucky at my school. Unlike other schools who went drably clad in maroon, dark green, navy blue and the like, we had the choice of four pastel colours: pink (yuck! too sweet), yellow (ack! makes any medium complexion look like mud), green and blue. First to third formers had to have small pleats in their skirts; fourth and fifth formers had box pleats. If you made it to the sixth, you enjoyed the privilege of an A-line skirt, even with a slight flare to it, if you wanted. So we were more fortunate than many, because our uniforms were not quite uniform. Uniformity is not something I generally admire. I’ll take eccentrics, free thinkers and flamboyant dressers any day. Misshapen fruit and veg too. And please keep the slick pastry-shop, production line cakes away from me. But there is one area in which I long for uniformity: baking tins.

Baking tins

Is it too much to ask for manufacturers to stamp their tins with the real dimensions? Or even to tell us what it is that they are measuring? And surely, when volume measurements are given, they could take the trouble to label the packaging correctly. It’s hard to measure volume wrongly. Recently, I wrote to the customer service department of a top American manufacturer, whose tins I really love. They are beautifully crafted and give excellent results in baking. Because I am a bit finicky – and because of the non-standardisation of sizes – I tend to measure a tin before I use it for the first time. The cardboard packaging of the sweetheart rose sheet blithely announced that the cavities would fit more than they turned out to fit. Which leaves you with a choice: overfill and end up with misshapen cakes, or have leftover batter reproaching you from the mixing bowl. I dutifully emailed them, to tell them about this slip-up. Next day, I received the following message from a bored customer service representative: ‘thanks for the information – I have passed on to our products team.’ Naively, I thought that ‘products team’ would let me have some kind of response. I am still waiting. And I have lost a tiny bit of my naivety.

Rectangular and square tins are an absolute nightmare. As they tend to have sloping sides, you are left with the question: ‘did they measure the top or the bottom? And if the top, was it the inside or outside?’ Volume measurements for loaf tins are the logical option, as no two companies seem to use the same length x breadth x height criteria.

I feel that manufacturers are trying to keep everyone happy, so what they do is pick a metric or Imperial number (depending on the company’s location) and match it with a rounded-off opposite number. But which is the right one? Is 8″ really 20 cm? And is 9″ the same as 24 cm? 8″approximates quite well to 20 cm, but 9″ converts to 22.86 cm. And, as they have a maddening tendency to give you the furthest exterior dimensions possible, including the curled metal rim, the inner dimensions usually turn out to be scant 22 cm. Those two centimetres can make all the difference between success and failure.

Last year, I was thrilled to discover springform tins that actually had the inner dimensions that were stamped on them. This well-known manufacturer of French cast ironware has now branched out into several other areas, including high-quality metal baking tins. In a wave of euphoria, I felt like immediately calling them up to congratulate them on using a common sense approach. (Their website proved too confusing for me to do so.) Thinking it over, I realised that these correct dimensions don’t mean much, unless other manufacturers follow suit and all use a reliable standardised system.

You may feel that I am splitting hairs. Perhaps I am, just a little, but my frustration is great. I write with joy and enthusiasm for readers around the world and my books usually carry both metric and Imperial measurements. But what actual tin size am I writing a recipe for? Will the batter run over in my readers’ possibly mislabelled tins? Or will there be too little batter in too large a tin, with a dry and unappetising end result? Please, manufacturers, make us happy and tell us the truth. Even better: use a properly standardised system that really is the same all over the world. We live in a global marketplace. We see each other’s stuff on Facebook and internet every day. And we want it too. It no longer matters where we live. A click of the button is  enough to obtain your lovely products.

Normally, uniformity of any kind is my sworn enemy. But it is there for a purpose, don’t you think?