18 July 2018

Deux sortes de pain...

...using the same dough. I decided to make a focaccia-bread pizza for lunch yesterday. I made dough according to a recipe I had in our database (mostly recipes we've found on the internet over the years) but I accidentally poured in too much water for the amount of flour I was using (où ai-je la tête ?).

So I just kept adding flour until a dough ball formed in the stand mixer, doing it completely au pif (following my nose) or, as we say, eyeballing it. The other ingredients were 10 grams of yeast, a teaspoon of salt, and a teaspoon or two of raw cane sugar (cassonade in French). At the end, I got tired of putting in more and more flour — in all, I must have used 6 or 7 cups — so I poured in about ¾ cup of instant-cooking polenta. I figured that would give the focaccia some texture, crunch, and extra flavor.

The toppings were fresh sliced tomatoes, frozen bell pepper strips (three colors), and a cooked chicken breast, shredded (we had one left over from grilling a whole chicken a couple of days ago). All of that topped with grated Comté ("Swiss") cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, and some black olives. I baked the focaccia pizza in a big oval oven dish, in a hot oven.

Well, I ended up with so much dough that I briefly considered freezing half of it and just using one half to make the focaccia itself. Then I thought, why not just put half the dough in the non-stick Pullman-type pain de mie pan-with-a-lid and cook it first? Then the oven would be hot and ready for baking the focaccia. Both halves of the dough ball rose beautifully, doubling in volume. The pain de mie turns out to be the best one I've made so far in the special pan. It's light, almost fluffy, and doesn't taste gummy when you eat it. I think the polenta made a big difference.

17 July 2018

More Saint-Aignan street views

There are a couple of houses on the main street in Saint-Aignan built in the style of the one in the photo below. They date back to the 14th or 15th century. Other buildings, including the church and the nearby ruins of the town's old fortifications, are a lot older.

There are several large maisons bourgeoises along the banks of the Cher River and the river road, as well as along the town's main street and market square. The church and the Renaissance-era château stand above them.

The town faces an island that divides the Cher in two at this spot. The old bridge in the photo below is the only one over the river at Saint-Aignan. Newer bridges cross the Cher a few miles east (at Thésée) and west (at Châtillon-sur-Cher) of the town.

I took the photo below from the town's main market square. The church, built in the 11th and 12th centuries, really dominates the town. The population is only about 3,000. Here's a link to a 2006 post I did about Saint-Aignan. Not much has really changed.

Saint-Aignan sits at the point where three old provinces — Le Berry, La Touraine, and L'Orléanais — come together. The town's biggest attraction these days is the zoo at Beauval, just south of town, with its giant pandas and extensive collection of animals from all around the world.

16 July 2018

The streets of Saint-Aignan

One day last week, I went into Saint-Aignan to meet a couple of Americans who were visiting the town. One of them has commented on this blog many times in the past, and this was not her first visit. Here are a few views I enjoyed as I walked up into town.

This is a street that runs from the town's main thoroughfare down to the road along the river. It's not wide enough for a car to get through. It's really just a passageway, with no shops or businesses on it. It makes a good shortcut between the bridge and town's main market square.

The main street in town is more welcoming. It's lined with shops, but there are also empty storefronts. There are sidewalks, and there is parking for cars. The town is especially busy on Saturday mornings, when the weekly open-air market sets up on the town's central square. On a Wednesday afternoon, the place was fairly quiet.
There are cafés and restaurants with outdoor seating scattered around. I met the visitors from the U.S. at this café/wine bar, called Aux Cépages, for an early evening glass of wine. Cépages means grape or wine varietals. I had a glass of Chardonnay from the same place where I bought a few bottles a couple of weeks ago. The waiter told me it was an excellent wine, and I was able to tell him I knew from experience that he was telling me the truth. On my way back to the car, I stopped a picked up a pizza that Walt and I enjoyed as a light dinner that night.

15 July 2018

A rare treat: des épis de maïs

On Friday I drove over to Romorantin, a big town (pop. 18,000) about 40 km (25 miles) from our house. It's a 40-minute drive on little roads, passing through villages like Billy and Gy-en-Sologne. I was shopping for a huge clay pot that I want to plant a grapevine in, and for groceries in stores like Picard (frozen foods) and LIDL (discount groceries) that we don't have here in Saint-Aignan.

I found the pot I wanted in a garden center (Delbard), and I found some nice things at the LIDL store. One was a rare treat: fresh corn on the cob. It was corn imported from Germany. We seldom find corn on the cob around here. My impression is that a lot of feed corn is grown in France and around Saint-Aignan, but very little sweet corn.

I also got some good saucisses de Toulouse pork sausages. So for lunch yesterday we had poached, grilled sausages, corn on the cob wrapped in aluminum foil and cooked on the grill, and a batch of Italian flat beans from our vegetable garden. Everything was delicious and it was a fine Bastille Day meal.

I cooked the flat beans in butter and chicken broth with some sliced shallot. The beans had been picked an hour or two before we ate them. They're about my favorite kind of green beans these days.

A couple of days ago I mentioned and showed a picture of some wine (or water) pitchers that I saw over in La Borne in June. They made me realize we haven't used our own wine pitchers in a while. I did a quick count and found at least 10 of them of various sizes in our kitchen and dining room. I took a photo of these five. The biggest pitcher came from a shop in Collonges-la-Rouge — we were there in 2006. The glass pitchers are standard items in France, and we have two sets of them.

14 July 2018

Baked ratatouille

Usually ratatouille, which is a vegetable dish made with zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and sometimes bell peppers, is cooked in a pot on the stove. Or it can be cooked in the oven, but not usually this way. This method makes ratatouille into a summertime, Mediterranean-style gratin or casserole.

The first step is to put a layer of sliced or diced onions in the bottom of a baking dish. Drizzle some olive oil over the onions. Cut into disks an eggplant or two, a zucchini or two, and a few tomatoes. Arrange them in the baking dish on top of the onions as in the photo on the left, alternating the different vegetables.

Season the dish with thyme, salt, pepper, and more olive oil. Peel and slice a couple of garlic cloves and slip the slices in among the vegetables. Bake the dish in a medium-hot oven for at least an hour, until it is browned and the vegetables are soft and more or less confits (slow roasted, almost "candied") in the oil and their own juices. Add a little water or diluted tomato sauce as needed to keep everything from drying out as the dish bakes.

I had more eggplant and zucchini than tomato, so I made another gratin using just those vegetables, with the same seasoning. I cut the larger eggplant and zucchini slices in half before arranging them in the baking dish as shown.

Even though there were no tomato slices in the mix, I used some thin tomato sauce to keep the vegetables from drying out. Optionally, you could peel the zucchini and eggplant before cutting them into slices, but I didn't bother.