Saturday, February 27, 2010

So when do I get my beret?

So earlier today, my partner asked if I would mind getting bread.  He knew that I would say yes, so it was really a loaded question anyway, but he asked nonetheless.   So I walk into town and think about what I should do.  First priority is to check the game store (which I was totally psyched because I found Ico, which I had been searching for, something like 6 years.  It's like Xenogears, it's never getting resold.) and then to go pull some money out for the bread. 

I think about the really good bakery in town.  The bread is that perfect crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside mix.  It tastes delicious, and smells even better.  Also, nine times out of ten, it's warm when I get it.  Since it is a bakery, they also have desserts, and this place in particular, has doughnuts.  It's really good too.  I remembered that I saw one the other day that was dipped in chocolate.  (I have never seen any of the filled doughnuts that I love back in the US, but hey, what can you do?  Tim Horton's isn't on every block here.)  They also have chocolate croissants, and well, lots of other delicious French pastry.  I was sold on the idea, but then I really needed something to drink.  They don't have any drinks for sale there, unfortunately.

So then, I remember that there's the other bakery.  It's ok, but it's a chain.  They have a lot of good desserts as well, and they even serve sandwiches.  There's also this woman that works there that I kind of sort of joke flirt with.  (One thing to let you know, everyone will think you're cute if you play your accent just right.)  But they have so many nice pastries, and these little sugar covered hearts.  I was going to buy them the other day to bring home, but was thwarted by a mother of four followed by three high school girls coming in for lunch.  Seriously, they all ate enough for a medium sized flotilla.  Plus, they sell coke there. 

Now, as I said, it's an ok bakery but it's not like the great bakery here in town.  The bread is not nearly as crispy on the outside, and it's always kinda spongy on the interior.  That I can deal with.  After all, I lived on American bread for 26 years, a few more pieces of pain de mie aren't going to kill me.  But my biggest issue is with the flavor.  The great bakery has this soft, nutty, yeasty taste that makes them the Jesus of bread.  The ok bakery is probably a Joseph Smith at best.  It just tastes like they used chlorinated water to make it.  It's a little chemical heavy compared to the great bakery. 

So as I was pulling my money out, I was thinking it was more comical that I was rating bread, considering not only that I had lived my entire life on American bread, but more than that, my parents would always buy about 8 loaves of bread at a time, and freeze them.  We weren't even talking Wonderbread or Nickel's, or hell, even Bunny bread for those of you who know it.  This was L'oven Fresh.  We also went through a lot, and I mean, a lot of bread, and cream cheese, not so coincidentally.

So I take my money, and my American tendency to drink pop wins out.  Happy birthday to me.  So one canette of coke later, and I am set!  I return back to the house triumphantly.  I still think it's funny that no matter how long you are in a place, base emotions or wants still take precedence over any layer of foreign socializing that you may install.  On a related note, damn if that coke wasn't good. 

That's it for now.  It's a cloudy 54 degrees here right now.  I hope you're all feeling well, and things are going smoothly.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

-flettes of varying degrees

So the other day, my brother in law was making dinner with my niece.  I noticed a boiling pot of water on the stove, and in it were a lot of little squares of pasta.  I had never seen it before, and I did remember that it was being discussed the other night, when discussing this as dinner.  As with most other French meals to which I have been a party, there was also various pork products and of course cheese.  It was pretty damn good looking overall, and I briefly discussed a couple of language points, but well, my interest in food, got the better of me. 

So of course, I asked what it was called.  Croziflette.  So I have no idea what that means, but it's one of two dishes that end in -flette that I know of.  The other being Tartiflette.  It's good, and gets its flavor predominantly from the cheese you use in it, Reblochon.  It's potatoes, cheese, and some kind of meat.  It's a lot like what we would call a skillet in the US, so called because they are cooked in a skillet.  I always did wonder why my partner always got the same thing when we would go to the breakfast place down the street.  After a few weeks in France, I understood why. 

We'll start first with the pasta.  They are known as crozet au sarrasin.  When I asked about the last word in that expression, yes, all of the medieval history buffs' eyebrows should be shooting up, it was confirmed that it's the English word, Saracen.  For those who don't know, Saracen is an old word for any Muslim, but it more precisely refers to members of the nomadic tribes on the Syrian border of the Roman Empire.  I think it's most likely because of the nature of the pasta.  It is made from rye flower, and I have been told, similar to couscous in make up.  Either way, I was totally ready to eat it.  So that worked. 

Now as I said, it's similar to a skillet, an to the average American, it means meat.  There was one breakfast skillet I used to get in particular that had a variety of meats in it.  And it was paradise.  Much like the American one, -flette at the end of a dish seems to mean pork products.  Of course, being that I think I have discussed it ad nauseum, it usually means lardons.  Lardons are these tiny little cut up pieces of thick bacon.  They are poetry.  There was also ham.  Big strips of ham.  It's wonderful.  I was hoping they would be latticed like a covering for a pie, but it was not in the stars.

Of course, what skillet would be complete without cheese?  Americans are not adventurous when it comes to cheese typically.  There are people who can stomach strong cheeses, but well, most Americans are just fine with cheddar, or its exotic cousin, Swiss.  French people normally put Swiss cheese on everything.  However, if you have ever been to France, it becomes obvious that Emmenthaler cheese is not exotic, like it is to Americans.  Emmenthaler is sold in bags like how we sell cheddar or mozzarella, or when they decide to get general and just call it Mexican cheese, or my personal favorite, pizza cheese. 

No, the cheese used this night was the stuff that you find in a case across from the deli that costs about ten dollars for 3 inches.  First, there was gouda, and another whose name escapes me.  it was poetic though. And as I mentioned earlier, reblochon.  Reblochon is one of those cheeses that you couldn't even buy in the case in the supermarket in the US.  Reblochon, like Raclette, is one of those cheeses you have to buy at the whole food store or a specialty cheese store. 

Reblochon is a cheese that is naturally a little melty, like Brie or Camembert.  It has a bizarre taste alone, and complements starches and carbs really well.  It comes from cow's milk, so it's not anything too out there, to let you know.  It comes from a verb meaning "to pinch the udder twice."  This was done because the owners of the herds were charged by how much milk their herds produced.  Holding the milk back was advantageous for two reasons.  First, it meant that the owners of the herds paid less in taxes, and the resulting milk taken after was richer.  As a writer's note, if you cut it and leave it on a plate, it will stick like hell.  Just a friendly warning.

So after that triumph, there was the mixture of onions, shallots, and spices.  Everything came together a lot like lasagna.  It was about three or four layers, and then cooked in the oven for something like 20 minutes.  When it came out, it was beautifully crisp on top.  I am a huge fan of crispness, which is demonstrated by the copious amounts of breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and cheese that I believe is compulsory for good macaroni and cheese. 

So if you see something that ends in -flette, it will most likely involve carbs/starch, lots of cheese, lardons/ham, and onions.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Kouign Amann

Before we went to visit in Bretagne, we were having dinner with my sister and brother in law.  As we were speaking, the conversation turned to the trip.  My partner said that we would bring back a Kouign Amann.  Everyone at the table had wistful looks on their faces at the mere mention of this.  Of course, myself being the odd one out, I had no idea what it was.  There was a brief discussion of how wonderful it was, but eventually I had to interject, and ask what on earth this was.

Before I continue, this is apparently an exceedingly difficult thing to pronounce.  The way I heard it pronounced, it sounded like something from the Lord of the Rings.  (Apparently, when said incorrectly, it sounds like the Elven language, Quenya, with the word "man" attached.)  However correctly pronounced, I apologize in advance for my horrible phonetic transcription, it sounds something like Kwen amahn.  There's a dangerous tendency for an engma, to mysteriously appear in it.  So this little bugger is pretty hard to pronounce. 

Now, as for what it is, I will use my brother in law's explanation as it amuses me the most.  As he told me, Think of it as a cake that's 80% butter, 20% sugar, and enough flour to hold it together.  So my first thought is, "how can this possibly taste good?"  I am immediately thinking of a custard like cake, only no eggs or gelatin added.  I also question this because my partner's family are fairly health conscious individuals.  Although they may have a strong love of Galette Des Rois, this just seemed a bit too much.  Of course, they said this is the kind of thing you only have one piece of.  I still found this idea amusing, as I could out eat anyone at the table of course. 

Additionally, there was a quick discussion of where exactly we would be buying one.  My sister in law said that it would be exceedingly hard to find.  She said it was a very hard cake to make right, and it probably wouldn't be readily available.  My brother in law said it would most likely be available in the grocery store but more likely in a bakery.  So we had a plan, and we would figure out how things are. 

When we first arrive, we ask my mother in law where would be the best place to get one.  She said that there was a bakery in the next village over that had received a gold medal for baking them.  So with that question answered,  We continue our visit to Bretagne, have a great time, and on the second to last day, we decide we need to buy the Kouign Amann.  So we go to the bakery, in this little village that I had been in before.  When my partner and I came through the first time, I had actually just assumed it was nothing more than a ghost town with a church.  It turns out we had just come in the wrong side.  There were houses, a bakery of course, schools, etc.  So I was rather shocked myself.  We picked up the last kouign amann, had it wrapped up, and headed back. 

We made it back fine, and presented our cake, victoriously!  It looked very similar to other French cakes I had seen before.  It was matte on the top, with a little shine to it from the sugar.  The top was very caramelized, and sugary.  It was wonderful I have to say.  The inside was pretty much a sponge of butter.  It's not a bad cake, but not something of which I am a huge fan.  The top was wonderful, but the inside, could have been better.

I was satisfied with the outcome, and glad to see that everyone enjoyed it.  I don't know really what to make of it myself.  After I knew how to spell it, I had assumed that almonds would be involved because of the end.

I also should probably apologize for the massive update hole.  I let things get away from me, among the things that distracted me was a trip to London.  I was debating writing one on England, but well, there were too many things and not enough time.  Although I will say this one thing; way out, seriously? 

Hopefully I'll have more to rant about soon! :-)