Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bonny Bretagne, land of seafood

St. Malo

I really am a coastal girl. I really miss being close to the sound, the smell, the sight of the ocean. I wasn't too many days ago spending my waking hours at least within sight of the saltwater at least once a day. I know that is why I love Bretagne. The littoral nature of the area fits what I've loved about my regular home on Canada's west coast. Hey, even my name means 'of the sea'. So I guess it's in my nature to need the nearness of the water and all that comes of it. And I did love what came from it. The seafood of Brittany rarely disappoints me and I had a number of tasty fish, shellfish and crustacean dishes in the area this past visit.

The HRH Frog and FIL also had their fair share of sealife, too. Frog's been talking about nothing but Bretagne oysters for at least a couple of months. At least. And I too was looking forward to something--langoustines. Sadly there weren't as many options for it this time around and what I did have was, if fact, one of those disappointments I mentioned. Overcooked and far too few for the price. I could almost forgive it since we ate in SUCH a beautiful hotel dining room. But not quite. Here's a sampling of the more fishy dishies I ate. I was such a slacker that in some cases I've totally forgotten names of the fish and what the name of the restaurant was but I think the food speaks of itself in the beauty at least.

Coquilles St. Jacques cooked in Pommeau (apple alcohol)

Trout with Normandy Sauce (cream, mussels)
Yeah... I know it is Normandy border food but I was really close to Brittany. I promise!

The unfortunate langoustines I mentioned (St. Malo)

Tuna Tartare--not what I expected but still quite good. I was thinking something sashimi-like since the salmon is served like that. (Oceanopolis aquarium's restaurant--near Brest)

What I think mi-i-i-ght be loup-de-mer with a cream sauce (the apple was SO not acceptable)
(Oceanopolis aquarium restaurant --near Brest)

Le Duguesclin restaurant/hotel: friggin' outstanding food! (this pic and the next)
This is a carpaccio of salmon and scallops so delicately laced with flavour I thought I'd died and gone to heaven! And perfect on the hot, hot day we had

This fish, I cannot for the life of me remember the name, was lovely and refined in taste with a seaweed-flavoured cream sauce

Lieu Jaune with Naintes (sp?) butter sauce: quite nice, from the L'Atlantique restaurant in Vannes (I adore that quaint city--a visit to Bretagne wouldn't seem the same without a visit)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Back to Bretagne

I will be away for about a week with the Frog n FiL to Bretagne. Chartres, Mont St. Michel and other such things await. Adieu until next week.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Caught Between Two Cultures

My mother could survive a nuclear winter. No, she's not a termite nor is she currently radioactive. My mother 'stocks-up'. There sometimes seems there isn't enough storage space for the amount of food items that exist in my parent's home. Maybe I exaggerate a bit but I don't think by much. I grew up thinking it was quite normal to have enough rice in the pantry to last for three years. And maybe it isn't just my family. On any given day in warehouse-type shopping centres like Costco you'll find umpteen people racing around with huge carts buying ginormous hunks of cheese or case-lots of toiletpaper. My mother shops weekly and, like many people around her, get a heaping amount of stuff for 'just in case' or 'it's on sale' as well as food for the next week.

Then I go to France.

I'm sometimes in awe how little my Frogger in Law has in his cupboards and fridge. It's such a European thing, it seems, to have more dishes than food in the house at any given time. Mind you, I've never actually been to a working farm's pantry in France so I could be wrong. Going shopping for the next few days meals, and whatever household item you currently need, seems much more par for the course. You get what you need and that is that. Yet that seems to go hand-in-hand with some better quality 'convenience food' as well as top notch fresh items. I rarely see people in the supermarket buying more than half a regular shopping cart's full of food. And, often, it is things like paper products and beverages that take up the most space. Given that waistlines like European cars and homes, seem smaller on average here, perhaps this is a good thing.

Back home in my isolated little village, I am truly stuck for what to do. I'm rather beholden to stock up on things in case they run out of things at the store for a long period of time yet I still go nearly every day to see what they have. After all, they mayve have had some perk or extra brought up fresh on the plane. Things like that don't last very long in the village. I'd really like to go every few days for fresh items as in France but I see the necessity of pioneer attitudes in keeping lots of food stuffs around 'just in case'.

However, while in France I enjoy the freshness of food that looks like just came from field, water or tree. Here's some of the things out of Papa's kitchen that we've had in the last two weeks:

Atlantic Salmon with noodles and peas'n'lettuce (my addition)

Jumbo-sized shrimp with mint tabouli and a fresh salad

Shoulder of lamb with flageolet and Charlotte potatoes

Paupiettes de veau with noodles

Floured Sardines, fried

Quail with mashed potatoes
(yes, people, the head DOES come with the bird from the store)

Friday, July 27, 2007

New and Old Obsessions

"Bonne Maman, Bonne Maman
C'est toi que j'aime tant"

I can't get that stupid jingle out of my head. I hear it nearly every year on the radio station, RTL, or occasionally see it on the TV when I visit France. And now it is driving me bonkers as it stomps through my head relentlessly! But, I can't actually complain about the products. The fact is, the jams and jellies of Bonne Maman are stupendous! And this year I have a new favourite: Confiture de Châtaignes à la Vanille (Chestnut Spread with Vanilla). Maybe favourite isn't even the right word; obsession would be more apt. It's lovely and sumptuous, hugging your tummy like an angora sweater. I've since found that eating it on brioche takes it to an all new level. Too much spread on it and it might cause your brain to implode from too much sweetness. I could think of worse ways to die.

It wasn't even the jams or spreads I was dreaming of when I thought of coming back to France, though. All I could dream about was the yogurt. France is a yogurt-lover's paradise. Imagine a whole aisle devoted to yoghurts. It makes the average British Columbian store look pathetically amateur in comparison. And the flavour list must be at least as long as my arm, some of which I've never even seen in my end of Canada: coconut, chocolate, apple, litchi, passionfruit. But it isn't even those flavours I dreamt of. I dreamt only of Greek Sheep's-milk Yogurt. If you love yogurt, chèvre cheese and the texture of pudding, this is the yogurt for you. Yaourt de Brebis (sheep) has the rich, toothsome taste of goat's milk but it isn't nearly as pungeunt. I'm afraid cow's milk yogurt is insipid by comparison.

I can't imagine a better place to breakfast than France. Can you?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Stinky, Slimy Squid Guts: A Tale of Seduction

I've seduced the Frog. Again.

Well, that makes it sound sudden-like. Actually, over the space of a year my obsessive watching of the Food Network (Canada's version) has altered the Frog's attitude. He has gone from "Not again! Don't you watch anything else? What is that? Iron what?" to "Nothing good is ever on the TV except on the Food Network. Oooh! Look! License to Grill is on! That guy is really cool! Oooh! And look! Iron Chef is on next. I wonder what the secret ingredient is!"

It's all rather funny and kinda cute to see a guy who was inordinately proud that he cut one pepper into slices for me in 15 minutes become the guy who is listening intently to Jamie Oliver about how to cut up a clove of garlic in 15 seconds. And now we've gone to a new level. A hands-on level.

On Friday morning, we went shopping at Auchan for three day's meals. In choosing at the fish mongers, Frog became obsessed with the idea of eating squid cooked from fresh (frozen or bad resto versions have been our lot in the past). He tried to beg me to cook them and, to be frank, I balked. But, to his credit, he didn't and was so desperate he decided he'd do it himself as long as I helped him find a recipe.

The next morning, he had a stomach-turning moment when he thought that he'd gotten himself into deeper water than he could handle. I helped him track down gutting procedures and recipes on the net, suggested replacements for a couple of ingredients not possible to obtain in the given time (long story) and willingly coached him through the steps. He went a little green again when he looked at the little squiddies laying in their inky, stinky, slimy pool but he washed, skinned, gutted, cut, debeaked, etc., while gaining, in leaps, his confidence back.

What we ended up making was a marinated squid dish cooked from residual heat and then chilled. He even made the rice to go with it. He was very proud of his creation, loved me all the more for helping him make it happen and strutted like a peacock when his father asked for the recipe and praised his efforts. It just may happen that I won't be the only one obsessing over a hard-to-get ingredient anymore. I, ashamedly, didn't take his budding interest in cooking too seriously in the last month or so. But now I know it's love.

Here is the orginal recipe from White Wine- Marinated Squid

We changed two things as we couldn't get to the store. I know it would have been better with the original lemon juice but we had to use a mild vinegar for the acid. FiL's cupboards are pretty bare of herbs so we used thyme instead. But, despite these changes, the squid was meltingly soft and nicely, lightly flavoured. A nice hot summer day recipe.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

That Time of Year Again

Ack! Quiet again for so long? I've really got to kick my butt more often.

As a teacher I don't have any munchkinlettes around at this time of the year (even if I've started working hard for the next school season). But all that hard work can't always be that bad if done in the foodie heaven called France. Yes, folks, I am in France again this summer with zee Frog and zee Frogger-in-Law.

Please understand that these trips are less about finding as many touristy spots as possible as it is about family. I experience what the average tourist does not--everyday life in the land of wine and cheese. So I get to go to the regular supermarkets. I eat regular family meals. I sit at the local café-bar on the terrace and watch a little life go by. I take small trips to local spots of beauty (hoping to see a local ruined abbey soon). And that can be just fine for me as I enjoy the quiet, unpestered way of life. I enjoy exotic locations but I also enjoy biding my time and getting to know a place well.

So, if you're still interested in knowing a less Versailles-and-Eiffel Tower kind of France through a North American's eyes, please raise your hand. I can't promise Victor Hugo on a blog page but I'll try and keep you interested.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Strawberries and Chocolate: Quesadilla-style

Spring is good here. Real fruit actually haunts the aisles of our little store. Strawberries with real strawberry taste have been making their debut here in the village and the cartons disappear faster than ice in a heatwave.

Begging and wheedling are a part of my lifestyle at the village store. Sometimes some extra goodies lurk in the back room. I've never been brave enough, like some, to just walk in the back and take what I want, so I must resort to begging and wheedling to get the goodies. I've gotten things like radishes, Ribena and, yesterday, strawberries in such a way.

Yesterday there were only three cartons left in the back to go on the shelf: mine, the ones I saved for a favourite village elder, P., and one that was whisked away in the space of one minute while I was searching to give the saved, desired box to said P. I swear to you, that those strawberries didn't last two minutes on the refrigerated shelves before they were all swept away. Money is no object for fresh fruit in this village once spring rolls around.

While I could have eaten them all straight up, I did actually have a plan for those beauties that would hopefully turn out to be everything I could hope for in a dessert: fruit, chocolate and bread. Thus the strawberry and chocolate quesadilla was created for yesterday's dessert. I wish I could claim it as my own inspiration but I came across it in my newish cook book: Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates by the Moosewood Collective. There are many recipes I've enjoyed from Moosewood books and this one turned out to be a new favourite and potential inspiration, too.

Strawberry Chocolate Quesadillas

3 cups thinly sliced fresh strawberries
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
6 flour tortillas (8 inches across)
vegetable oil
3/4 cup chocolate chips [I used milk chocolate chips]

Combine the strawberries, cinnamon and 3 tbsp of the confectioners' sugar in a bowl. Leaving a 1/2-inch border at the edges, spread half a cup of the strawberry mix on one half of each of the tortillas.

Brush two large heavy skillets with oil and heat until hot but not smoking. Place one tortilla in each skillet and put 2 tbsp of the chocolate chips on the plain half of the tortilla, leaving a border of about 1 1/2-inch at the edges. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the chocolate [starts to] melts. Fold the tortilla in half and press the edges together with a spatula. Remove the quesadillas from the skillet and repeat the procedure with the remaining two pairs.

Serve immediately, dusted with the remaining confectioners' sugar and sliced in half.

Notes: An unbelievably easy and fast dessert. The strawberries could even be prepped ahead of time to sit a moment in the sugar and cinnamon. Really be careful of the heat as I burned the first tortilla, even on a lower heat, the moment I took my eyes off to say something to my guest. But the rest were an amazingly quick process with few ingredients but still looked good enough for my last-night guests to elicit gasps of admiration.

I've been dreaming of making a pear version in the "Belle-Helene" style now. I'm sure it would be good too. Yum! :9