Interlude: Saint-Malo

18 06 2011

I don’t know about you, but it seems like these days the weekends are even busier than the weekdays. While I enjoy having a full social calendar, sometimes I just want some time to sit and do nothing. Last night we had a last-minute cancellation, freeing up the evening to do some clean-out-the-fridge cooking (cheese raviolis in leftover tomato sauce, zucchini baked with breadcrumbs and jamòn iberico) and some good old lounging on the couch with a beer and a movie. It was just the kind of Friday night I needed after a hectic week.

A few weeks ago, Nick and I spent the weekend in Saint-Malo with a group of his colleagues.  It was a nice getaway, but there was a fair amount of running around – trying to make it to our lunch reservation on time, figuring out when the buses to Mont St. Michel were, coordinating schedules with 16 other people, and then there was my insistence on making pilgrimages to both of Jean-Yves Bordier’s shops.  I mean, why buy butter at the cheese shop when you can buy it at the butter shop?

Bordier cheese shop

Since the cheese shop was closer to our hotel, we went there first (following a little postprandial nap on the beach).

Goat cheeses at Bordier

Firm, mountain cheeses at Bordier

We were planning to have a little picnic on the train home the next day, and we were sharing with another couple, so we got to indulge and bought about seven different cheeses, including a Trois-Cornes d’Aunis, which I’d been dying to taste, and a Breton specialty cheese with seaweed in it, which tasted much better than it sounds.  We watched as the saleswomen lopped portions of fresh butter from the large slabs sitting on the marble and then used a special set of paddles to beat it into rustic rectangles before wrapping it up in waxed paper.  We didn’t buy any butter, though, because I really wanted to see the mothership butter shop, somewhere in the tangle of streets intramuros.  (The historic center of Saint-Malo is a walled medieval city, now filled with mostly touristy stuff, but there’s still plenty worth visiting.)

On our way there, we passed by the Larnicol pastry and chocolate shop.  And we couldn’t help but to stop.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements




Simplest Apple Tart

17 01 2011

When I’m at a loss as to what to cook or bake, I start by going through my pantry, fridge, and freezer.  I’ve had a puff pastry shell lurking in the freezer – taking up valuable space – for quite a while now, and I’ve been wanting to use it, but then a better idea comes along for those vegetables and I end up making dal again instead of that curried vegetable potpie I liked so much last winter.

Sliced apples and puff pastry...

I also tend to have a surfeit of apples in the fruit bowl in the winter.  (We are largely in the season of  storage vegetables these days, and apples keep for months in the cold.)  Two birds?  One stone.

...plus butter, brown sugar, and honey

We were already making tamales that weekend (Nick’s promised me a guest post about them, but let me assure you, they were fantastic) so I didn’t want to do anything too fussy.  A simple paste of butter, brown sugar, honey, and a pinch of vanilla salt was all I needed to turn these two pantry staples into a rustically beautiful dessert.

Apple tart, baked to a lovely golden-brown

The secret ingredient melts over the sliced apples as they bake, giving them a burnished beauty and creating a gooey filling to the tart.  Really, there are few things I’ve made that have such an incredible effort-to-payoff ratio.

What can you cook out of your pantry right now?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Butter and Salt, Together at Last!

3 11 2008

I still get a kick out of the section of my stats page that shows the search engine terms that have brought visitors to my blog.  My favorite one today was a search for “chickenstock.”  Sounds like some kind of Poultry Farmers Festival.  The music probably sucks, but I bet you’d learn some interesting new chicken recipes.  Last week sometime, I got a hit from someone searching for “buttery flavor,” which pleased me perhaps a little too much.  (Last night we had a dinner party and I said something to Nick about how I don’t like people to watch me use butter, because if they knew how much I was putting into, say, the polenta, they might not want to eat it.  But that’s why it tastes so good!)

So you could say that a lot of my cooking depends on that “buttery flavor.”  And I realized that while I have been basking in its glory for the better part of a year now, I have yet to write a post about the gastronomic delight that is French butter.  Today, I rectify the situation.

Aside from the fact that all the butter here is the “European Style” we shell out big bucks for in the States, the sheer variety of available butters makes France a shangri-la for those of us with the Fat Tooth.  They take their butter seriously.  One of my very favorite French butter products is the one with crystals of sea salt embedded within its creamy goodness.

So many salted butters, so little time.

This is not cooking butter, no, this is for slathering indiscriminately on torn-off chunks of warm pain tradition.  I even prefer it slightly cold, the better to let it slowly melt on my tongue as I wait for the forthcoming bursts of salt.  Or, as the case may be when I’m feeling less disciplined, biting into it and enjoying the contrast in temperatures and textures: cool, yielding butter; crunchy pops of salt; warm, chewy bread.  Now that’s buttery flavor!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Apricots and Ginger and Butter, Oh My!

20 06 2008

I know I just posted about clafoutis on Monday, but, as Loulou recently pointed out, it’s clafoutis season!  So maybe I’ve got clafoutis on the brain, but when I saw this month’s Royal Foodie Joust ingredients – apricots, ginger, butter – I knew that this would be the perfect vehicle to showcase them!  (This is a monthly contest hosted by Jen (aka The Leftover Queen), and it’s my first time entering, so if you are a food blogger and want to vote for me, head over to the forum and sign up.

That’s a lot of links for one paragraph!  Still here?  So apricots in clafoutis are almost a given, but what is the best way to incorporate the ginger?  I decided that adding fresh grated ginger to the batter would give the most vibrant ginger flavor. 

Grating fresh ginger

In order to enhance the flavor of the butter I went ahead and browned it.  Because who doesn’t love the nutty richness of brown butter?

Mmmm... brown butter

I also roasted the flour before incorporating it into the batter, adding to the fullness of flavor imparted by the brown butter.  I first read about this technique on Chocolate and Zucchini a couple of months ago, and have been intrigued ever since.  (Note: I did attempt the Squeeze Cookies, and they were tasty but ugly, which is why you never saw them here.)  The batter made, I set about arranging the apricots in an attractive manner in the baking dish.  They were not exactly ideal specimens, a little worse for wear after the manhandling they received at the hands of the guy selling them.  But I did my best to make them look cute for the camera.

Read the rest of this entry »





Baking Extravaganza, Act IV

31 03 2008

A week or two ago, I was browsing Doughmonkey’s website to see what I was missing.  The Goat Butter Caramelized Apple Strudel struck a chord, and I knew I would be attempting my own version in the near future.  Because I like to play around with flavors, I wondered how a caramelized apple and goat cheese strudel would be, and decided it was worth a shot.

The first step, obviously, is caramelizing the apples.  I thought that nice thick slices, à la tarte tatin, would be best, so I peeled two apples (they were Braeburns, I believe) and cut each into eight wedges, removing the core as I went.  Meanwhile, I was melting butter and cassonade in a pan, so when the apples were prepped, they went straight into the hot butter/sugar mixture.

Apples before

I cooked them over medium-low heat, turning them occasionally, until they were evenly browned on all sides.

Apples after

At this point I threw in another tablespoon or so of butter, to slow down the cooking and bump up the buttery flavor (let’s not forget the title of the dessert that inspired this one).  I let them continue browning until they were deep golden brown in color, then removed the pan from the heat and let them cool.

I wasn’t about to try to make strudel dough on my own, but I know from experience that it is similar enough to phyllo dough that the latter can easily substitute.  At the store I found phyllo without a problem, and next to it were packages of brick paper (feuilles de brick), a thin pastry dough which I believe is North African in origin.  It is quite similar to phyllo dough, but slightly easier to work with and perhaps even closer in texture to the strudel dough I was trying to emulate.  since brick paper is sold in round sheets, I had to figure out what shape I wanted the final dessert to be.  I decided that triangles would be easy and less likely to involve a huge mess than a roll- or beggar’s purse- shaped pastry was.  So I cut the circle of dough in half, brushed it with butter (and when I say “brushed,” I mean “smeared with my fingers,” since I don’t have a pastry brush yet), and folded it in half lengthwise.  I placed two pieces of caramelized apple at one end of the resulting strip and topped them with a dollop of fresh goat cheese.

Step 1

Then I folded it up, spanakopita-style, into a neat little triangle.  Note: this was just the right amount of filling – any more, and I would have had real trouble getting the dough to fold all the way around it.

Apple triangle, unbaked

I debated frying them in butter on the stove, but ended up opting for the less greasy (and cleaner) baking method for cooking my apple-goat cheese triangles.

Apple triangle - baked

They came out smashingly.  The crisp pastry surrounding the buttery-soft caramelized apples and the gently tangy goat cheese worked really well together.  We ate them unadorned, and enjoyed them quite a bit, but an apple gastrique sauce and a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream would have pushed these babies over the top.








%d bloggers like this: