In My Kitchen, October 2017. Bretagne

After travelling around Central and Eastern Europe for three weeks, I was really looking forward to our first French rental house. Before unpacking or looking at the other rooms, I checked the kitchen and its equipment, running around like a headless chook, opening cupboards and drawers. The kitchen in Pont Aven, Brittany, did not disappoint. The cupboards were well equipped with decent wine glasses, serving platters, quality frying pans, a set of sharp knives, a pasta pot and some oven proof gratin dishes. This was a cook’s kitchen. These things are often missing from rental houses.

The kitchen, on Rue Le Petite Tourte, Pont Aven, Brittany

Outside the kitchen, beyond the tiny enclosed stone wall yard, a rapidly running stream provided a soothing background symphony to my kitchen activities. The rapids form part of the watery world which makes up this ancient mill town. Pont Aven’s water courses, the River Aven and it’s creeks, once operated around 14 water wheel grain mills. Many old stone houses are built directly above or next to a rapid. As the weather was damp and fairly cool, winter comfort food dominated my cooking style in this stylish stone house.

Produce bought at the local market. Backyard, Pont Aven, Brittany.

The food of Brittany is tempting, with plenty of seafood and fish, apples and cider, the famous creamy butter with fleur de sel, buttery biscuits, tarts and cakes such as Far Breton and Kouign-amann, not to mention the crepes made from Blé Noir, or buckwheat. We occasionally dined out, but in the end, the lure of the kitchen and home cooked meals became too great.

Some basics from the local supermarche.

Who can resist cooking with Cr√®me Fra√ģche ( entiere s’il vous pla√ģt ) when a small carton costs around 0.66‚ā¨. My new cheat’s white sauce is a winner. Add one finely chopped garlic to a few tablespoons of cr√®me fra√ģche, let it sit while you cook some pasta. Drain the pasta well, then return to the same pan, stir the sauce through the hot pasta, add some chunky smoked salmon and lots of herbs. Voil√†.

Fasta Pasta

I found these cute pot set yoghurts at the market in the nearby village of Tregunc, straight from the dairy farm. Sold in little glass jars for 0.40‚ā¨ each. I will never eat commercial yoghurt again.

Breakfast Pont Aven. Pot set yoghurt with peaches and raspberries

Sometimes when driving about for the day, lunch is simple: a smelly cheese from the market and a baguette from the boulangerie.

Car snacks.

I’ve developed a taste for this lovely red wine from the Loire, Chinon.

A light red wine, Chinon, from the Loire region

French cooking is superb but there’s plenty of cheating going on too. Freshly cooked beetroot¬†is available in all the markets. They make a great entr√©e with some goat cheese.

On market day, the Roti stall is popular, as sensibly dressed older women come to buy their rotisserie chicken, beef or saussison along with a portion of Boulangerie potatoes.

I succumbed to the roast man’s version of Far Breton, a nice little dessert to take back to my kitchen to reheat. I make Far Breton at home, mostly for my D.I.L, who can’t get enough of the stuff. I love the way the prunes are suspended in this version.

Far Breton- for Leanne.
Trying to stay away from the Patisserie.

The Traou Mad galettes of Pont Aven are irresistible. This tin has been refilled twice!

Also trying to stay away from the real estate office! House for sale in a little village near Pont Aven. Fantasies abound in every village. Dangereux!!!

For Rod.

I’m linking up with Sherry, from Sherry’s Pickings, once again, who hosts In My Kitchen, a monthly series where bloggers share their kitchen inspirations. If you’re new to blogging and love food, this is a great way to join up with other like-minded folk. There are no rules and no obligations. Write about your kitchen and get the post linked by the 10th of each month.

It’s Not Easy Being a Carrot.

It seems that carrots receive a lot of bad press. The most common expression featuring the humble carrot involves reward and punishment, ‘the carrot and the stick”, an enduring approach to behaviour modification and a recurring political weapon. Any one for tax cuts? A quick search¬†through my cookbooks, especially those with listings by ingredient, revealed very short chapters devoted to carrots. Italian cookbooks ignore them as a principal ingredient: Asian books only make passing reference to them. I do use them but they rarely star. Like Italian nonne, I finely chop¬†carrots to form part of the trio in a¬†soffritto, that little tasty stir fry of tiny chopped ingredients that is the foundation of a good soup. I throw chunks ¬†of carrot into a slowly cooked root stew and I grate them into a cake. And then…not much else. My carrot repertoire is small. I don’t fancy them in fritters, nor as sticks ( a case of neither carrot nor stick changing my wicked ways ) when other candidates do a better job.

New carrots, vincotto, pine nuts, currants, chevre
New carrots, vincotto, pine nuts, currants, chevre

Maybe we have forgotten the taste of freshly pulled carrots? The trend, here in Australia, is to pack carrots, devoid of their fine greenery, into plastic bags where they probably linger for months in a chilled warehouse before reaching the consumer. They taste like mould. Some go into the soup, the rest end up in the compost heap.

Freshly pulled carrots, either home-grown or bought at a farmer’s market, need to be dealt with quickly before they wilt and lose their vibrancy. Since purchasing carrots from the Peninsula market gardens, I have been keen to trial recipes where carrots star. My favourite to date is a ginger and carrot pureed soup with coriander pesto. It went down so quickly with the troupes at the beach. No time for a photo.

Carrots star when just picked
Carrots star when just picked

This recipe from¬†Maggie’s Kitchen makes a colourful side dish to go with a baked fish or a roasted chicken. Where Maggie uses verjuice in her recipe, I substituted Vincotto.¬†The saucing is wonderful in this dish.¬†You could easily leave out the currants and pine nuts for a simpler version.

Carrots in Verjuice with Goat’s Cheese and Pine Nuts.

  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 1/3 cup verjuice
  • 1 bunch baby ( Dutch) carrots, green tops trimmed to about 2 cm, scrubbed
  • sea salt
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 100 g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup marinated goats cheese, or fresh goats cheese, or¬†chevre

Place currants and verjuice in a small bowl and leave to plump.

Cook carrots in a saucepan of boiling water until almost cooked. Leave carrots to cool a little then use a clean towel to rub skins off while still warm. Set peeled carrots aside to cool, then halve lengthways.

Drain currants, reserve verjuice.

Toast pine nuts in a frying pan over low heat until light brown. Transfer to a bowl, then add butter to the same pan and melt over medium heat to high, then cook for 2-3 minutes or until butter turns nut brown. Add reserved verjuice and cook until reduced and syrupy. Add currants, pine nuts and parsley, then transfer to a serving dish. Top with chevre or spoon over goat’s curd and serve at once.

Magggie Beer, Maggies Kitchen, Penguin Lantern, 2008

An update on the supermarket warehousing of carrots from the Guardian.  This explains that mouldy taste.

Carrot

Typical storage time 1 to 9 months

Immediate washing and cooling are essential to maintain the carrots’ crispness. Often, they are cooled in chlorinated water before packing.

Storage just above 0C inhibits sprouting and decay, while raised humidity prevents desiccation.

In these conditions, mature topped carrots will last 7-9 months, though 5-6 months is more typical.

 

Rainforest Markets of the Deep North

Along the coastal road through Far North Queensland, markets and roadside farm stalls provide a bounty of produce. It’s always a risk leaving a big town, with its safe supermarket and air-conditioned aisles of familiarity, to head off into the wilds in the hope of finding fresher, less uniform produce along the way. It is a risk worth taking.

Papaya for a song
Papaya for a song

Heading north from Cairns, the main source of fresh tropical bounty is the Saturday Mossman market. North of Mossman, the supplies are minimal so time your visit well. The Mossman market is an eclectic mix of old Australian of the Devonshire tea variety, new Thai farmers, old hippy and earnest organic growers. I purchased freshly crushed pineapple juice, bags of cherry tomatoes, Thai herbs and spices such as fresh stem ginger, kaffir lime leaves, and chilli as well as tropical fruits, papaya, mandarins, and large hands of lady finger bananas, the latter courteously ripening two at a time as we travel along in our camper van.  Some children had a tiny stall with limes and sweet basil, and a late arrival brought along a table of freshly pulled purple shallots.

Never too old to Busk. Mossman Market, Far North Queensland.
Never too old to busk. Mossman Market, Far North Queensland.

Heading south from Cairns, roadside stalls begin to appear after Innisfail, with a few farm stalls along the way to Mission Beach and mandarin stalls in the misty hills near the Tully River. In the winter months, look for long green Thai eggplant, tomatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and chilli, as well as passionfruit, bananas, papaya, pineapple, limes, mandarin, and  bags of small avocados. The fruits end up in our daily Sunshine Pine Salad, named after our dear friend Sunshine Pine from Taraxville, a girl who loves orange!

Sunshine Pine Salad
Sunshine Pine Salad

The Sunday Market at Mission beach is another excellent source of freshly grown produce. I was delighted to find a fragrant bouquet of fresh curry leaves, carambola (star fruit) and a bag of baby sweet potato.

Carambola and Passionfruit
Carambola and Passionfruit

Fresh seafood is available at Cardwell.  Moreton Bay bugs taste as sweet as crayfish, and the local Spangled Emperor fish has firm, white flesh, perfect for a lunchtime BBQ. This fish is caught only in the Coral Sea and is worth a trip up north just to taste it.

Our road trip down the east coast of Queensland, from Cape Tribulation to Coolangatta, is a research journey as well as a holiday. While pubs and restaurants supply reasonably priced meals, most of these are deep-fried, standardised and bland. ¬†Sadly, that’s country food. With a bit of forward planning and local knowledge, it’s possible to eat extremely well along the way. Pull up in your car, grab a picnic table, and eat with a view in the warm open air. Food never tasted so good.

View of Dunk Island from Mission beach, Far North Queensland, Australia.
View of Dunk Island from Mission beach, Far North Queensland, Australia.