Breizh Café

1 05 2009

So here we are, the first of May.  It’s a jour férié, which means that almost nobody is at work today.  Instead, they will gather at Place de la République to march in support of (or against) whatever issue is important to them.  I stumbled into this défilé last year by accident, and I’ll be doing my best to avoid it this year.  The Tamil Tigers have been there since Tuesday – I guess thay wanted to make sure to get a good spot.  There are a few people working exceptionellement today, notably the scientists who work on things like genetic sequencing of flu viruses, for example.  Which brings me around to why this post is a day late.  Judging from the news last night, everyone was going to be dead of swine flu by morning, and I preferred to spend my last hours enjoying a bottle of wine with my husband.

Breton Cider and Drinking Bowls

Since it looks like we’re all going to live for at least another day, though, I’m going ahead with my last Breton cuisine post.  (Anyway, it’s a holiday, so it’s not like May has officially started yet, right?)  Last Sunday evening (!), Nick and I dined at Breizh Café, a mecca for enthusiasts of that quintessential Breton creation: the crêpe.  Of course we ordered cider – we chose one that was described as “dry” by the menu, and recommended by the waiter.  It was served in little earthenware bowls.  I always feel kind of silly drinking out of a bowl, but when in Rome…  The cider itself was less than impressive.  It was dry, as in  not sweet, but it had none of the tart apple complexity I was hoping for.

Roulade with Andouille and Flags

Fortunately, the meal looked up from there.  We started with a rolled galette (savory buckwheat crêpe) filled with Andouille de Guémené and cheese.  (“What kind?” I asked, hoping it would be some as-yet-unknown-to-me Breton cheese.  “Gruyère,” came the reply.  No dice.)

For the main course, more galettes:

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Worthwhile French Beers: Britt

29 04 2009

Thanks to Nick’s skill at sniffing out beer shops, and my diligence in reading labels, we found some beer from Bretagne!

Britt's Blonde and Blanche Beers (try saying that three times fast!)

We were eager to try it when we got home, so into the freezer it went for a short spell.  Malheureusement, they got left in a little too long and started to freeze.  It was very nearly a disaster.  But we kept our cool, and more importantly, kept the caps on the bottles to maintain the internal atmosphere.  Or something. 

At long last, we opened the bottle of Britt Blonde.  An unpasteurized ale, it had a slightly cloudy appearance and a very light floral/fruity aroma.  Upon sipping, it exhibited a distinct cidery tang – this beer definitely has character!

The Blanche was cloudy and yellow, as white beers tend to be.  It tasted remarkably similar to the Blonde, only slightly sweeter.  Nowhere near as highly perfumed as a typical blanche, we were less impressed by this one.

The brewery, Brasserie de Bretagne, produces six lines of beers.  The Britt line contains three standards: Blonde, Blanche, and Rousse.  There also appears to be a rotating seasonal brew or two.

And I thought they only made cider in Bretagne!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Regional French Cuisine: Bretagne: Soupe au Sarrasin et au Lard

27 04 2009

I’ll get back to my coverage of Grande Bretagne in a few days, but now it’s time for the end-of-the-month outpouring of regional France posts, Bretagne-style.  Wondering what I could cook from Brittany that wasn’t crêpes, I turned once again to Le Tout Robuchon.  There is a section near the back of the book with regional recipes, and sure enough, there was a Breton recipe for buckwheat and bacon soup!

Mise en Place for Breton Buckwheat soup

Luckily, I still have a stockpile (ha!) in my freezer, from the stock-making extravaganza of several weeks ago.  The only “specialty” ingredient I had to seek out was the buckwheat flour, farine de sarrasin en français.  And it wasn’t hard to find.  It’s funny, now that I’m looking for them, I see Breton products everywhere!  Apple juice and cider, butter, buttermilk, sea salt, and my favorite, salted butter caramels.  It seems that many basic, everyday ingredients hail from this sometimes remote-seeming region of The France.  (Nick and I have started referring to this country with a direct translation of its name in the native tongue.)  Now that I think about it, even the majority of the shallots I buy come from Bretagne!

[I was going to put in yet another gratuitous photo of lardons and shallots sweating in a pan, but stupid WordPress doesn't seem to want to upload it right now, so I'm moving on.  Besides, if you've read this blog before, you probably have some idea what that looks like.]

Once the lardons had cooked a bit and given up some of their delicious fat, I covered them in chicken stock and added bouquet garni ingredients: a stalk of celery, a few stems of parsley, sprigs of thyme, and a bay leaf.  I seasoned with a twist of black pepper and a quick grating of nutmeg, and brought the pot up to a simmer.

Simmering away...

While that was going on, I took Robuchon’s serving suggestion of croutons browned in lard to heart.  In another fortunate coincidence, Nick had just brought home that very afternoon a loaf of what he dubbed “possibly the worst bread I’ve had in Paris.”  We decided that cubing it up and frying it in lard could only improve matters (though really, when does it not?).  Of course I have lard on hand at all times.  Doesn’t everyone?

lardcroutons-a

Meanwhile, the soup was bubbling away.  I fished out the now soggy herbs and prepared to stir in the slurry composed of buckwheat flour and more stock.

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Exploring France: Bretagne: Lait Ribot

16 04 2009

Remember the buttermilk problem I was having?  (The one where I couldn’t find it despite the fact that it was right under my nose?)  It seems to be worse than I thought.

Traditional Breton Buttermilk

It turns out that there exists a traditional French product which consists of the fermented liquid left over after churning butter.  Sound familiar?  Lait ribot has been made in Bretagne for thousands of years, and many people drink it straight or to wash down another regional specialty: sweet crèpes or savory buckwheat galettes.

So now I have two buttermilk products from which to choose for my cooking, baking (and apparently drinking) needs.  It’s amazing what you can learn when you start researching something.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Chou-Fleur de Bretagne

13 04 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I got a big, beautiful head of cauliflower in my CSA panier.

Hello, Gorgeous!

The accompanying literature indicated that the cauliflower came from Brittany (Bretagne, en français) which was odd, considering the CSA is called Les Paniers du Val de Loire, and all the participating farms are located in the Loire Valley.  I’m looking at it as a bit of serendipity, though.  I know it’s been hard to tell, but April is Bretagne month here at Croque-Camille.  While Brittany is best known for its crèpes, kouign amann, and shellfish, my preliminary research indicates that modern Breton cuisine focuses on fresh local produce and the bounty of the sea.  So lucky me, a fresh, local ingredient landed right on my doorstep, and all I had to do was figure out what to cook with it!

Fortunately, Mark Bittman had a suggestion for me, referenced in a glowing post about Parisian market-purchased cauliflower (I wonder where his came from originally?) – cauliflower pasta.  It sounded easy, fast, and hence perfect for my cooking-for-one needs while Nick was in the States.

Cauliflower Pasta

Looks a little bland, though, doesn’t it?  Kinda tasted that way, too, even with whole wheat spaghetti and a hefty pinch of red pepper flakes.  I think I can sum up the problem in two words: boiled cauliflower.  We all know that boiling is not the way to coax intense flavor out of anything, except maybe a reduction.  The good news is that I only used half the cauliflower, so I still had the other half to play around with.

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