Wednesday, September 26, 2007

L'Amour du Cidre: Un Collage Cidre




This year's vacation was all about cidre francais and crepes.

The above collage shows some of the many cidres Laura and I sampled in Brittany. We began our journey by flying into Paris (11 hours), elbowing our way through the Métro (1.5 hours), and collapsing into our seats on the train (4.5 hours). Meeting up with Andrew and Jenny the next morning, we drove to our destination, the Kergudon Cottages, in St Cadou (1 hour from Brest).

While driving to our accomodation, we passed by an enticing looking creperie - L'Armorique and determined we would drop our luggage and come directly back for lunch. How lucky we were, delicious crepes were ordered and consumed along with the perfect cidre - Kerné (top row, 2 on left). It has the perfect sweetness, bubbles and finish, presented in a bolée (champagne bottle). I first tasted this several years ago on my first trip to Bretagne and have been dreaming about tasting it again ever since. We (Laura, Andrew, Jenny and I) all lament the loss of the Creperie de Lost March where we first sipped its sweetness.Sharing this bottle our first day in Brittany was a lovely way to start our holiday. Pouring in action(3rd row, last pic). Unfortunately, this was the only time we encountered this delicious nectar during our trip (though not for a lack of trying). Incidentally, this town, Landerneau, is also one of the only places in Europe with an inhabited bridge (others include Florence - Ponte Vecchio, historically the original London Bridge was inhabited until the Victorians messed with it - apparently big ships where more important - bah!!!)

While in St Cadou, many different cidres were purchased and drunk, some of the labels are shown above. They ranged from the 2 pack of 1.5L bottles for €2.75 (1st row, 4th pic) to the €3 bottles (2nd row, 4th pic; 3rd row, 3rd pic) to the tasty Kerné (€8 in a restaurant). In an effort to sample other regional products Laura and I purchased a bottle of Chouchenn. Chouchenn (Hydromiel) is a mead made from honey and apple juice and is often served as an aperitif (1st row, 3rd pic; 3rd row, 1st pic; 4th row, 3rd pic). This was tasty but many others around the table didn't enjoy it. All the more for us I say!!

There are also two other breton beverages we did not get to try (we had to save something for next year): pommeau and lambig. Pommeau is a beverage of unfermented cidre mixed with apple whiskey/brandy and aged before being drunk as an aperitif (appellation in Bretange and Normandie) while Lambig is an apple whiskey/brandy

Ah, this trip was heavenly! Every corner store, grocery, restaurant and roadside stand contained some cider. It is usually served cold in the bolée or in a pitcher, with a boule (small ceramic teacup) to drink from. These vessels are seen in several of the pictures above.

Down the road from the cottages, where we were staying, we spent several days on the beach of Lake Drenec. We sampled the almond Magnum ice cream bars and couldn't resist the creperie. I ordered an andouille sausage crepe which I didn't enjoy - it was the musty smell, Laura ordered a tasty ham and cheese one. The saving grace was the bottle of Val de Rance cidre we while sitting under a clear blue sky in the sun (2nd row, 1st pic; 4th row, 2nd pic).

A note in the rare cases when in Brittany where no cidre is available (Sacre bleu!) or you are drinking alone and bottle will be too much, turn to another delicious beverage Breizh cola. Breton in the Breton language is Breizh a word often seen here. The cola is a delicious, refreshing and non-alcoholic alternative when cidre evades.

Following our week in St Cadou, we continued on to Rennes, the capital of Brittany. Rennes seems like a sea side town even thought it is completely landlocked. It had innumerable timber frame buildings from the 15 - 16th centuries and walking down some empty streets lined by these buildings, felt like you had fallen into the past. Many of the timber frames were residential on the top levels with restaurants and divey bars below ( 2nd row, 2nd picture). In a divey celtic pub, we enjoyed a boule before heading to the cinema to see Persepolis en francais. We were 2 of 7 in the theatre with no line ( unlike the lines at TIFF for the premiere in North America).
The next day we visited the Creperie de Porte des Mordelaises and supped on crepes with a pitcher of cider (2nd row, 3rd pic; 4th row, 4th pic). Porte des Mordelaises was one of the gates to the city the medieval period.

Laura had read about a good creperie in Mont St Michel called La Sirene. It has a great view of the main street from its' second floor locale and you could only gain entry by winding your way through a ultra-kitschy gift shop. We dined on crepes and cidre before heading towards the top of the mount (4th row, 1st pic).

On the final leg of our journey, Paris, we did not drink any cidre - what a shame. But after all the quality cidre from Brittany, our hearts and tastebuds just weren't into substandard drink.

We did however purchase a special bottle of cidre to bring back with us to Canada from the fermier stand in Giverny. We saved it for a special occasion when friends were together and we shared the gift of sweet french cidre with them on a sunny afternoon in September.

Until the next cidre adventure....

Photos and collage courtesy of Laura.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stylish Scallops and Soba Noodles

It was the middle of July – the fifteenth to be exact – when we decided we had been waiting to try scallops (and Seven Seas, the fresh fish place just around the corner from Alisha's) for far too long. Two recipes were called on to aid us in our quest for a scallop dinner. We settled on 1. pan-fried scallops with chicory and apples on parsleyed soba noodles and 2. a hijiki and edamame salad with creamy miso dressing.


Perhaps some of those terms need to be defined – I certainly didn't know a lot of them. Here are soba noodles. They are a Japanese noodle made with buckwheat, which gives them their greyish-brown colour. The other (and possibly better-known) type of Japanese noodle is the udon noodle, a thick noodle made with wheat.The reason soba are a sort of flat rectangular shape is that the dough is rolled flat and then cut into strips with a special knife (at least traditionally by hand, anyway).



Chicory, as we discovered, is actually endive. Well, sort of. It's a little confusing, but various types of the chicory plant are cultivated for use as salad greens. These include Belgian Endive, Curly Endive (also called Frisée – your favourite, Michelle!), Escarole and Radicchio. When we picture endive, we are usually thinking of Belgian Endive (see below). This is the blanched head of a variety of chicory known as witloof (Dutch for 'white leaf'), which is grown (and apparently, kept by Capers) in darkness to preserve its light colour and mild flavour. The lighter the leaf, the less bitter the taste.

Coincidentally, Mâche, which we just had last WeDine (some of us for the first time), is a member of the chicory family, and is also called lamb's lettuce in the UK, and was called for in my pretentious British salad. It's interesting to make all these connexions. Thanks to the Joy of Cooking for salad green information. I quite like its little pointillism drawings. I'm so glad I spilled banana cake batter on my mom's first copy, which she then gave to Michelle and I. (Sorry Mom!). Here are the light-hating endives under their stylish tea towel at Capers:


To get the scallops needed for the dish, we made our first visit to the fish shop near Alisha's (on Fourth), and it was a great success. They had a variety of fresh and frozen seafood and fish, and several sizes of scallops. We chose the mid-sized ones. The small ones were too small, and the big ones were gigantic, but the medium ones were juuuust right. The little fish-shaped signs in the shop were quite adorable.



The recipe called for the scallops, peeled apple slices and chicory to be variously pan-fried with clarified butter (butter that has been melted and separated by density into three layers – milk solids at the bottom, butterfat in the middle, and whey at the top – which are then skimmed off and strained to preserve only the butterfat). Also in the mix were light soy sauce, mirin (a slightly sweet rice wine) and nutmeg. I peeled and chopped some apples – in the wrong order! I chopped them first, and then had to peel all the segments. Whoops. Michelle did the sautéeing honours with aplomb.




Meanwhile we cooked and drained the soba noodles. Alisha's colander makes them look quite stylish, I think.



And we got to work on the salad. This involved reanimating the hijiki, a seaweed commonly eaten in Japan (a theme is emerging here!) in some water. It glistened in the summer sunshine. Also very stylish.



Meg peeled the daikon, a large Japanese white radish that is milder than small red radishes. Also in the salad went a pound of shelled edamame beans (an immature soybean), shredded carrot, spinach and soybeans. Alisha made a dressing with brown rice vinegar, olive oil, miso (soybeans fermented with mold), and garlic. The salad was colourful and incredibly healthy.





Finally, all the elements of the dinner came together on Alisha's lovely glass coffee table. The soba noodles had been sautéed again in butter with parsley and looked delicious. We dug in.



I went for the minimalist approach on my plate for the finished dish photograph, in honour of the Japanese theme, but had to go back for more salad later. It was all delightful – fresh and slightly spicy (there was also a pinch of cayenne as well as the nutmeg added to the frying pan that I forgot to mention!). The scallops were cooked perfectly, and for our first time attempting to make scallops, I was pretty proud. It was the perfect dish for summer – the right meal at the right time, as Nigel Slater says in his lovely book, The Kitchen Diaries. But that's another post for another day!




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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

L'Amour du Cidre: Un Collage Cidre




This year's vacation was all about cidre francais and crepes.

The above collage shows some of the many cidres Laura and I sampled in Brittany. We began our journey by flying into Paris (11 hours), elbowing our way through the Métro (1.5 hours), and collapsing into our seats on the train (4.5 hours). Meeting up with Andrew and Jenny the next morning, we drove to our destination, the Kergudon Cottages, in St Cadou (1 hour from Brest).

While driving to our accomodation, we passed by an enticing looking creperie - L'Armorique and determined we would drop our luggage and come directly back for lunch. How lucky we were, delicious crepes were ordered and consumed along with the perfect cidre - Kerné (top row, 2 on left). It has the perfect sweetness, bubbles and finish, presented in a bolée (champagne bottle). I first tasted this several years ago on my first trip to Bretagne and have been dreaming about tasting it again ever since. We (Laura, Andrew, Jenny and I) all lament the loss of the Creperie de Lost March where we first sipped its sweetness.Sharing this bottle our first day in Brittany was a lovely way to start our holiday. Pouring in action(3rd row, last pic). Unfortunately, this was the only time we encountered this delicious nectar during our trip (though not for a lack of trying). Incidentally, this town, Landerneau, is also one of the only places in Europe with an inhabited bridge (others include Florence - Ponte Vecchio, historically the original London Bridge was inhabited until the Victorians messed with it - apparently big ships where more important - bah!!!)

While in St Cadou, many different cidres were purchased and drunk, some of the labels are shown above. They ranged from the 2 pack of 1.5L bottles for €2.75 (1st row, 4th pic) to the €3 bottles (2nd row, 4th pic; 3rd row, 3rd pic) to the tasty Kerné (€8 in a restaurant). In an effort to sample other regional products Laura and I purchased a bottle of Chouchenn. Chouchenn (Hydromiel) is a mead made from honey and apple juice and is often served as an aperitif (1st row, 3rd pic; 3rd row, 1st pic; 4th row, 3rd pic). This was tasty but many others around the table didn't enjoy it. All the more for us I say!!

There are also two other breton beverages we did not get to try (we had to save something for next year): pommeau and lambig. Pommeau is a beverage of unfermented cidre mixed with apple whiskey/brandy and aged before being drunk as an aperitif (appellation in Bretange and Normandie) while Lambig is an apple whiskey/brandy

Ah, this trip was heavenly! Every corner store, grocery, restaurant and roadside stand contained some cider. It is usually served cold in the bolée or in a pitcher, with a boule (small ceramic teacup) to drink from. These vessels are seen in several of the pictures above.

Down the road from the cottages, where we were staying, we spent several days on the beach of Lake Drenec. We sampled the almond Magnum ice cream bars and couldn't resist the creperie. I ordered an andouille sausage crepe which I didn't enjoy - it was the musty smell, Laura ordered a tasty ham and cheese one. The saving grace was the bottle of Val de Rance cidre we while sitting under a clear blue sky in the sun (2nd row, 1st pic; 4th row, 2nd pic).

A note in the rare cases when in Brittany where no cidre is available (Sacre bleu!) or you are drinking alone and bottle will be too much, turn to another delicious beverage Breizh cola. Breton in the Breton language is Breizh a word often seen here. The cola is a delicious, refreshing and non-alcoholic alternative when cidre evades.

Following our week in St Cadou, we continued on to Rennes, the capital of Brittany. Rennes seems like a sea side town even thought it is completely landlocked. It had innumerable timber frame buildings from the 15 - 16th centuries and walking down some empty streets lined by these buildings, felt like you had fallen into the past. Many of the timber frames were residential on the top levels with restaurants and divey bars below ( 2nd row, 2nd picture). In a divey celtic pub, we enjoyed a boule before heading to the cinema to see Persepolis en francais. We were 2 of 7 in the theatre with no line ( unlike the lines at TIFF for the premiere in North America).
The next day we visited the Creperie de Porte des Mordelaises and supped on crepes with a pitcher of cider (2nd row, 3rd pic; 4th row, 4th pic). Porte des Mordelaises was one of the gates to the city the medieval period.

Laura had read about a good creperie in Mont St Michel called La Sirene. It has a great view of the main street from its' second floor locale and you could only gain entry by winding your way through a ultra-kitschy gift shop. We dined on crepes and cidre before heading towards the top of the mount (4th row, 1st pic).

On the final leg of our journey, Paris, we did not drink any cidre - what a shame. But after all the quality cidre from Brittany, our hearts and tastebuds just weren't into substandard drink.

We did however purchase a special bottle of cidre to bring back with us to Canada from the fermier stand in Giverny. We saved it for a special occasion when friends were together and we shared the gift of sweet french cidre with them on a sunny afternoon in September.

Until the next cidre adventure....

Photos and collage courtesy of Laura.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pic'nic. 1. n. Pleasure excursion including outdoor meal; (colloq.) something agreeable or easily accomplished [F pique-nique]


Thanks to my mom's 1934 edition OED for that definition of picnic. Apparently the word comes from the French pique-nique, which Michelle and I encountered in France (we thought it was funny, sort of like 'le weekend,' but since we stole the word from them, the joke's on us). Apparently in the 18th century the French pique-nique was more like a potluck in that everyone brought little dishes to share and it wasn't outdoors at all! Quel dommage.

But luckily all that has changed. The ideas that the word 'picnic' call to mind now are full of delight – and usually full of summer, that season where food and fresh air actually go together well. One of the first WeDine picnics of the summer was documented in this post and featured fantastic barbequed salmon (or so I read, because I had to experience it through the lovely blog post, like everyone else). But the following picnics I was very happy to be a part of, and I will clearly be referring back to them when it starts raining every day, a season we like to call 'fall-winter' here in Vancouver.

Picnic the first

About a week into July, the weather was still iffy, but nice enough that we starved-for-the-sun girls decided to head to the beach for a picnic. Michelle and I made White Bean and Tuna Salad, a recipe from Giada de Laurentiis' Everyday Italian cookbook which is on temporary loan from the Meg & Darryl Whetung Cookbook Foundation until we can bear to part with it (or Meg takes it back by force). The book, despite sometimes having up to three pictures of Giada's enormous grinning face on some double-page spreads, is actually well-written and just what it says – for everyday use. Very instructive. The salad was taken from her 'Fresh from the Pantry' section, and she really made me think about how to properly stock a pantry (or a cupboard – the only person I know who has a real pantry is my dad in Devon) so that you can eat well on days when, for whatever reason, you're not heading to the market. Here's the salad in all its loveliness. For picnics, tartan blankets are a must!



White Bean and Tuna Salad

2 cans tuna
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 cans cannellini beans (or other white beans) drained and rinsed
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
6 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup capers
Fresh basil leaves
Olive oil

In a large bowl, add tuna, salt, pepper, and break the tuna into bite-sized pieces. Toss in beans and onions. Add tomatoes, capers and torn basil leaves, and drizzle with olive oil and red wine vinegar until desired saucy consistency is achieved. Season with salt and pepper. This salad is really all about tasting it to make sure it's the way you want it – Giada uses dark tuna in olive oil, but I've not tried that yet, just bought regular tuna in water and then added in olive oil. Delicious. The capers are essential, by the way.

Also present at this picnic, Meg's devilled eggs, which, though they look innocent enough, were actually quite devillish.



And Meg's improvised quinoa salad, as blogged about here, rounded out the al fresco fare. Note the tartan blanket!



The weather confused us a little, and swimsuits, sunglasses, sweaters and scarves came out at various times, sometimes all together. But generally it was a lovely picnic. You have to enjoy them while you can!



Alisha brought lots of lovely fruit for after-salad, which was consumed during team Scrabble. This is at least the fifth post where Scrabble or some other word game has been mentioned, guys. Perhaps we were the geeks we were looking for!

Picnic the second

A recent spate of birthday celebrations has meant many opportunities for delicious food gatherings, and Meg took advantage of such a one by suggesting a picnic for her own birthday. We met at the always-delish (and busy!) Noodle Box (see also this entry) on fourth, where I had my usual Singapore Cashew Curry with prawns. But it's so tasty! I know I must try new menu-items though – what if some others are equally tasty?!

Then we headed for the beach (Kitsilano, this time) just as the sun was setting. Noodles were slurped, secret champagne may have been drunk, and various dessert goodies were consumed, including a lovely lemon-meringue cake made by Tess & Tessa, chocolate-chip squares made by me & Michelle, and a variety of Capers sweets from Alisha and Meg. We were all completely content by the time we'd polished off all of that! Ah picnics. What a great idea they are.


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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bagels make a reappearance!

It was in the early days of December when Meg first tried her hand at bagel-making (with the help of the trusty Mark Bittman, of course, and his perenially useful How to Cook Everything). Perhaps this or this will jog your memory (and mine!). In any case, it happened that on Michelle's birthday, the last day of June, we all decided we wanted to get in on the bagel-making action too, and so we headed to Meg's for a bagel-making session. Never mind that at least two of us were sick! There were bagels to be made!



But first we needed refreshment. Meg had made a delicious white sangria, a perfect summer drink. If you're not on antibiotics, that is. I may have had a little glass (sorry Mom!). But honestly, how could I resist?



We decided on the varieties of bagel we wanted, and gathered ingredients. The types of bagel we chose to make were poppyseed, sesame seed, sundried tomato, and onion, cumin, basil and sea salt. The seeds were gorgeous – who knew that poppyseeds vary slightly in colour? Click on the collage for larger image.




We made the basic dough and divided it amongst four bowls, covered them, found space for them around Meg's kitchen, and then left them to rise for a couple of hours. Bagel-making definitely requires a time commitment, but not a focussed time commitment. Hence the sangria!



Interlude: Imagine two hours occurred here, passed through conversation, possibly some drinking, and Michelle opening presents...

Then we got to deflate the dough by punching it! Michelle the birthday girl demonstrates below.



We worked the ingredients into the dough. Sometimes it was a little messy, as with the tomatoes.



Forming the bagels was half the fun. There are two bagel-forming schools of thought: do you form a bun shape and then pierce a hole in the centre, or do you form a snake and join the two ends. Really, how you make a bagel says so much about your approach to life. Decisions, decisions.




We noticed we were all wearing red. Everyone, that is, except me. Clearly I was picking up some Christmas vibe.



The bagels were finished and placed on the rack. Before being dunked into boiling water! Sounds torturous, doesn't it?



We fished them out and dipped them in the toppings we chose. Here I demonstrate how to get poppyseeds on both sides of the bagel by mistake. Whoops. Then they went back to the rack.




Finally, the bagels disappeared into the oven, a mysterious part of their lengthy journey, but a necessary step to produce...



The final result! Somehow, we had created finished, delicious bagels! Unbelievable. We all had our favourites. Mine was the sesame seed, cut open still warm, and slathered with butter. So violent, this bagel-making! We may have eaten quite a few bagels - though we did all divide up the spoils, I have to report that many bagels didn't survive the initial heady surprise that we could make our own bagels. Fantastic. Though there may be an ongoing debate over which is better, the Montreal or the New York bagel (or even the Toronto bagel), ours were unbeatable, really. I'm just sayin'.



We must do it again! Sadly, our efforts to complete the Canada Day giant cryptic crossword weren't quite as successful...

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Lean mean pasta machine


The hangers in my bedroom closet had no idea that they would one day fulfill such an important and beautiful purpose. Last Sunday turned out to be their lucky day, and mine too, because I got to make my very own pasta, from scratch, for the first time ever (well, except for this time). After dreaming about it for many days and nights. Our very own pasta, I should say. It was a four person job. One person to turn the handle and three to watch the magic happen...

But first, it began with a pile (4 cups) of flour (+ 2 tsp salt) on the counter, into which we cracked 6 eggs.


The recipe instructed us to mix with a fork, but we all know from watching Iron Chef that the real way to do it is with your fingers, in beautiful, messy, circles.

After mixing and kneading for a while, we shaped it into a log and sliced it up. It then got wrapped in plastic wrap and tucked away in the fridge while we worked with one piece at a time.

And now the fun part! The instigator of the night's get together, the shiny new pasta machine given to us as a birthday gift by Granny Barb, was clamped to the counter and all ready to go. So we jumped right in. I was surprised and delighted by the finesse with which the machine grabbed our not-so-flat hunk of dough and smoothed it into submission.

We passed it through repeatedly, setting the gap in the rollers a bit narrower each time, until our lump of dough had fully transformed into a long thin sheet – until it looked like it was just dying to be sliced into perfect fettuccine noodles.

Cool!

We made many batches, had many chances to improve our technique for getting the noodles onto the hanger...

... and separating them out to dry while they awaited their boiling fate.

We ended up with this:

Perfect, perfect pasta. There has never been a finer texture. It was soft and firm at the same time, fluffy light yet satisfyingly solid. We dressed it with a simple sauce of olive oil, lemon juice + zest, minced garlic, roughly chopped kalamata olives, fresh basil and fresh thyme (a long time favourite from Mom). Mmmm, mmmmm, mmmmm!

Our supply of wine (Grey Monk Pinot Auxerrois 2006 and Casal Garcia Vinho Verde – I had forgotten the names of the wines, and hadn't written them down, so praise my slowness in taking out the recycling!) ended at about the same time as the bowl of pasta. We then moved on to the sweet stuff - Amaretto. In rooster glasses no less.

So, the first encounter with the machine was a tasty, beautiful success. This weekend I'm going to bike over to Little Italy in search of Semolina flour for the next attempt. And we'll soon move on to fancy shapes and raviolini filled with who-knows-what wonderful things...


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