Villandry 3 2015

Villandry and Gardens to be Jealous of…

Hard to believe but the Chateau of Villandry was once up for demolition.  Fortunately Joachim Carvallo and his wife Ann Coleman, a Spaniard and an American, bought it in 1906.  Pretty remarkable that they took this on but take it on they did.  They refurbished the buildings and uncovered and brought back to life the gardens.  And what an amazing place it is.

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So of course it was a must on our list.  It was well worth the trip.  They have acres of formal gardens, both vegetable and flowers.  I can’t lie, I’m envious of how well their veg patch is doing given theirs seems to be surviving without rabbit damage.  Unlike ours!

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The formal part of the garden “spells” out tender love, passionate love, fickle love, and tragic love.

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I do wonder how the family, who still lives there, find ways to enjoy the gardens.  I would find it difficult to have to stay out of sight until the masses have left.  But it would be a wonderful place to stroll with a glass of wine.  There are lovely spots to find whether it be the stone watchdog or the graceful swan swimming by.

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But my favourite spot was the sun garden.  I much prefer the gardens that follow the English cottage garden, rather than formal, straight, and narrow gardens.  Letting the flowers and plants do what they are meant to do naturally.

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One thing I really enjoyed while in France was the wonderful food you can get at the tourist stops.  At Villandry they had a restaurant that used the veg from the kitchen gardens.  I had a smoked duck fillet salad with roasted pine nuts and a violet vinaigrette for a dressing.

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It was delicious.  It was such a great day with the kids.  We created so many good memories on this trip that will last a lifetime.

Chinon 1 2015

Chinon and Being Flung Back to Reality

They need to come up with a way of easing you back into reality after a fabulous holiday.  Air France does not know how to do this.  In fact their goal seems to be the opposite of my wish.  I thought my husband might have been over cautious about the time we headed out in the morning to begin the long journey back stateside.  I didn’t mind as I thought it would give us plenty of time to have dinner before boarding.  You would think I was a rookie at traveling or something.

Now flying over on Air France was pretty decent.  Newer plane, it even had foot rests back in the cattle section, and the crew was pleasant.  And, get this, the food was edible!  Well, for airplane food.  See why I thought everything would be civilised for the trip back?

Whole other story on the return trip.  If you aren’t first class or priority for Air France in Paris they become very lazy in providing help.  They expect us to do it all with kiosks and self checking the baggage.  Which means weighing it, scanning it, reshuffling stuff, stand around and hope you can get help.  Then finally watch your bags leave.  This took forever.  And we needed to change the seats.  The kiosk wouldn’t do it so we had to find someone to help.  Now we are feeling bedraggled as we work our way out of that area only to go past the priority where they have several people helping out the passengers as they sit comfortably at desks.  Grrr.

Nothing decent to eat really at the airport and we were running out of time even with the delay.  Now this was a 747 fully booked.  When we flew over they called boarding by rows.  Which prevents people from having to climb over each other.  Not this time.  Everyone queue up and hope for the best.  No surprise it took longer to board.  The delay was because the plane was late coming in and they had to clean it.  What they were cleaning I don’t know but I was lucky to have wipes with me so I could wipe the food and dirt off the tray table, arm rests, etc.  Just gross.  It was an old plane so things were broken and the entertainment system for my husband didn’t work so we switched back and forth during the flight.

Reality was a swift kick up the backside!

So forgive me if I want to wander back to France and enjoy the memories. :)  One of the places we visited was Chinon.  Everyone we spoke to said we should visit.  I’m glad we did as it was a neat place.  The imposing fortress overlooking the town dated from the 10th century though evidence suggests people have been there for a few thousand years.

Chinon 1 2015

What was fascinating to me was that they were saying this was the seat of the Legend of Arthur.  I’ve seen a documentary that said there was some evidence that Arthur could have been a French legend but nothing for certain.  But by and large I’ve always thought of it as an English legend.  Of course some of our kings ruled from this area.  But this was what they were going with.  The kids had fun with it.

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For me the real history was fascinating enough.  Joan of Arc was here.  Charles VII was staying at the fortress when she was having her visions and she went to him and convinced him to let her lead an army.

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They even have a transcript of her trial for heresy.

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Quite a bit of the fortress is still standing though extensive renovations have occurred here and there given the age.  The Royal quarters is where most of the exhibits were held.

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The views all around the site were breathtaking.  And it was such a gorgeous day where you could just see for miles and miles.

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Of course all this trekking can make you peckish so we headed into town to find a place to eat.  I wanted a place where you can try new things and we were able to find that.  I ordered for a starter some stuffed mushrooms with escargot.

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It was very earthy but good.  They did a decent job with the escargot.  That is an ingredient which is very hard to cook.  At least that is my impression given how often it is screwed up.  My husband and daughter were brave enough to try it but I don’t think they were impressed!  For the next course I ordered a brouillard of eggs.  No clue what it was but I saw that my father-in-law had it for his starter.  I didn’t think I’d like it given how his looked.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  I would say it was like burratta for eggs.  With bacon.  Can’t go wrong with that.

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We finished off the day going down the famous Medieval street.  They are private homes, many of which have been refurbished, but they survived the world wars.

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It was well worth the trip to Chinon.  It’s not a huge town but there is lots to see and it was great to wander round it.  Just a beautiful place.

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Rabbit and the Need to Strangle a Cock….

4am.  Still dead of night as far as I am concerned.  Cock-a-doodle-doo!  My husband then rolls out of bed to close the ceiling window because I’m too short to reach it.  Every morning the bloody thing would go off.  And it would go all day.  There is another one down the road that answers but that is more muted.  Ours was about 10 feet from our window. I say was as this morning it’s been quiet.  I’m wondering if coq a vin is on the menu next door.  If I never hear another cock-a-doodle-doo I’ll be a happy camper.

On my list of ingredients to cook while here in France was rabbit.  So off to the market we went in search of one.  

 
We were successful.  Good thing I asked the head be removed.  An unfortunate thing about the kitchen we’re using, aside from a very anemic oven, is the knives are very dull.  We’ve tried sharpening them without a whole lot of success.  Which made butchering this rabbit quite the chore!  My MIL helped as I had to wrestle it to submission.  I ended up removing the legs and then took what I could of the remaining meat to add to the sauce.  I didn’t want to waste the rest of the rabbit so when my MIL suggested making a quick stock I went in that direction.  In a saucepan I covered the rabbit in water, added a shallot, salt and pepper, and thyme.


Bring it to a boil then let it simmer for 30-45 minutes.  Once that is done heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and brown the legs of the rabbit.

  

While that is happening, prep a small onion, a few cloves of garlic, and some fresh rosemary.

  
Remove the rabbit legs and set aside.  Sauté the onions and garlic until they soften.  Add some of the rabbit stock to simmer with the onion and garlic.

 
Add the rabbit bits and rosemary and sauté for a few more minutes.  I bought some local mushrooms at the market which were really nice.  I sliced a few and added them the the skillet.  Again add some stock.  About half a cup or 4 ounces each time.

  

Chop up a few tomatoes.  I also had a can of diced tomatoes that needed to be used.  Toss these in and add 4-8 ounces of red wine.  Bring to a simmer and add the rabbit legs to finish off cooking.

  
The tricky bit is not to over cook and toughen the meat.  In fact after simmering awhile there was still a bit of rabbit on the larger leg that wasn’t cooked through.  We still had plenty of meat to go round.  

 
The sauce with the stock was really nice.  Not sure if I’d cook a lot of rabbit going forward.  It was nice but not something I would crave.  But I can cross this off the bucket list so to speak.  

Today is packing day as we have a long journey home.  I’ll miss this place.  I’ve loved the food, the sightseeing, working on the language, and the leisurely meals.  No one rushes you and it’s perfectly fine to have a glass of wine or two with lunch.  And I could eat bread here with minimal side effects.  It’s been fabulous!  But back to reality I’m afraid. 

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Nearly Lost the Battle with the Charcoal….

So apparently chickens are flammable.  I found out the hard way last night while cooking chicken for the non fish lovers in the family.  I’m still getting used to cooking with charcoal and I made the mistake of walking away after I put the chicken thighs on the grill.  I had other parts of the dinner to prepare.  The grill didn’t think that was a good enough excuse.  When I checked the chickens were balls of flame.  I removed the grill part with the chicken from the heat and started blowing the chicken out like candles.  Oops.  Fortunately they weren’t flaming chickens for long and they turned out ok if you ignore the blackened outside.  Forgive me but I was too busy to take a pic. 

Luckily everything else went smoothly.  The other day a few of us popped down to Saumur to check out the market.  It was a lot of fun and quite large.  It wanders through a lot of streets but we found the food side and found some wonderful ingredients.  One was selling fresh mushrooms including pink ones.  I have no idea what they are called but he also had shiitake mushrooms so I got a bit of both.  I also found a lovely piece of salmon.  There was a bit of language juggling as we sorted out I wanted the skin on but the scales off.  But we got there in the end.  

  
 Following the suggestion from the mushroom man, I minced up some fresh garlic, sliced the mushrooms, and prepped the basil to sauté.  

  
In a skillet heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Once it is hot add the mushrooms and garlic.  Stir as it begins to cook so the mushrooms are evenly coated with the olive oil.  The mushrooms will shrink a bit.  As they begin to brown add a bit of lemon juice to taste along with salt and pepper.  Near the end add a healthy handful of the basil.

  
Once they have browned nicely they are ready to serve.

  
In addition to setting the chicken on fire I also grilled salmon.  I was much more successful with that.  I added a bit of lemon juice and thyme along with salt and pepper to the salmon and cooked it medium rare.  

 
Yesterday we went to Fontevraud Abby which was very interesting.  The scale of it is immense.  It has been sanitised quite a lot and almost looks brand new in some areas.  Still I was glad we went.  

   

  

  

I’m not sure what rose this was but it was stunning.  It was like it was lit from within.  The gardens were lovely though in the cisterns I thought ducks were stuck given the sounds.  Turns out to be two frogs.  Not sure if there was a massive argument or one of them was hoping Barry White music would break out.  But one was running and one was chasing!

Roger from Food, Photography, and France was kind enough to email me about Les Halles in the towns.  So I went back today as I didn’t know what market was on and this one came recommended.  It had some amazing cheeses to chose from.  And there was a fresh produce stall.  So thank you Roger!  

We found a bistro to have lunch.  They seriously know how to do cheese plates here.

  
I also spotted pork belly on the menu.  The flavour was really good.  I think they should have slow cooked it more as it was pretty firm though.

 
As you can see, I’m still having loads of fun.  It’s going to be hard going home.  Tomorrow I’m taking an art lesson so I’m excited for that.  Life is good!

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Lovely Farmer’s Markets and Grilling Cod

The schedule for the markets in the surrounding towns is being figured out.  We went to our first one in Noyant and what fun!  It isn’t a big one but you won’t lack for food.  Though for this one, in order to get fresh herbs I had to buy a thyme plant.  Where there’s a way!

 
It wasn’t expensive and my in-laws can keep it when they go home.  

  

With our phrase book, little French, and the vendors’ little English (or sometimes big English!) we managed to get everything we needed for the special dinner of celebrating my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary.  Quite the accomplishment these days!  

  
We also managed to find some lovely cured meats, cheeses, and the most amazing crevettes.  They are very messy to peel and eat but it’s worth it.

  
The fish monger had a very good selection of fish so I bought some cod to grill.  The stall that sold cured meats also sold spices and we got a mix that was like a citrusy dry rub that had paprika in it.  I thought it would be perfect for the cod.  We found some ready prepared kebabs made with turkey and beef for the non fish lovers to round out the meal.

I prepared the cod two ways.  First I rubbed the fish with the dry rub and added olive oil.  I wrapped it in the tin foil and put it in the fridge.

  
For the second preparation of the cod.  I seasoned it with salt and pepper, added lemon slices, thyme sprigs, olive oil, and dry white wine.

  
Wrap in tin foil and place it in the fridge until ready to grill.  I also prepped aubergine with salt and pepper and olive oil to grill.  The mushrooms I dipped into a lemon thyme dressing I made for the salad.

  
  
I’ve gotten the hang of the charcoal grill but it is very hot work in this heatwave!  Yesterday was 100F/38C.  Even in the shade, trying to be an asthmatic bellow to get the flames going nearly did me in.  But I was successful.  Given that it’s not a large grill I had to do the food in stages with the aubergine put on last.

  
Keep the lemon thyme cod in the tin foil so it poaches in the olive oil and wine.  I decided to be brave and place the other cod directly on the grill.  Conor from One Man’s Meat was kind enough to give me a tip of about five minutes.  This was quite the thick piece so after a few minutes I checked to make sure it was starting to flake before flipping it over to cook on the other side.

  
So far so good!  The kebabs were done so I added the leek to the grill.  You want the fish to be flaky but not dry.  It’s ok to have it medium well rather than well done.

 
My husband made delicious garlic bread and his aunt made a salad.  I have to say, I was really pleased with how the fish came out.  Both ways.

  

We are enjoying the countryside and I love the sunflowers.  Though if you stop on the roadside beware!  I don’t know if I stepped in stinging nettles or some stinging insect nest.  Either way it was painful getting the shot.  Taking the suffering for your art a bit too far I think.  😊 

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Smack Dab in the Middle of France and a Heatwave

Well we made it!  Actually we we’ve been here a couple of days but as I get older jet lag gets harsher.  We flew Air France this time round and I have to say it’s not too bad!  Food was edible, not a guarantee.  And the flight attendant presented the wine label when I asked for the Merlot.  Though for red wine it was that or nothing!

I’m stuggling with the French language.  The hearing part.  I saw what I thought was the drink cart coming down the aisle so I went over in my head what to say in French to ask for the merlot and water.  He rapidly said something and I responded with my sentence.  He looked blank.  Not a good start!  I asked my husband if I got it wrong and he pointed out I was asked what I want to eat.  Sigh.  I actually said the sentence correctly but was answering the wrong question.  Things haven’t improved much on that front but I’m forging ahead the best I can.  

 
Driving hasn’t been too difficult.  I went a bit overboard with printing out maps of our route because I don’t sleep on planes and it makes it difficult to do tasks.  We only struggled a bit round Paris because given the fact that the roads here can have 3 or more numbered names some weren’t on our maps from Google.  But we got it sorted.  There was a comedy of errors at the toll booth when it was time to pay.  Fortunately no one was behind us until the end, unfortunately not a soul to help us either.  We pull up, as you do, and put the ticket in.  Good so far.  Tried to pay with a credit card, didn’t recognise it, tried another with same result.  Eventually it spit out the ticket, just as the wind blew and it grabbed the ticket.  For about five minutes we were scrambling to find it.  We did just as a truck pulled in behind us.  We decided paying cash was the way to go.  

  
But other than that everything else was smooth going.  I do love the rest stops on the motorways in Europe, you can find real food.  And thank goodness we have air in our hire car.  It’s ranging from 90F/32C to 100F/38C this week.  The only saving grace is that the humidity is low.  If it was like it is back home we’d be having 95% humidity.  But it’s still a bit much.

    

We’re in a lovely gite.  It’s in the middle of nowhere so it is very quiet.  The villages are near ghost towns but I’m not sure if that’s because of the hot weather.  We have struggled to find a farmer’s market but we have it on good authority that there is one in Noyant tomorrow and a good one in Samaur on Saturday.  We’ve had to make do with the Super U.  Not impressed with that!  Can’t for the life of me find fresh herbs and when you buy produce you have to put them in individual plastic bags.  I’m not giving up though, this is France!  The good stuff is somewhere.

We did find a nice restaurant yesterday for lunch.  I had a delicious salad with bacon and a soft boiled egg.  The bacon was divine.

   

I tried for the first time duck confit.  Oh my that was good.  A bit heavy for the heat but worth having.  

 
We did a bit of exploring today and went to the Château de Lathan.  A small family owned one but they are doing a lot of restoration of the parks and gardens. I don’t envy them!  But they seem to be getting through the large list.

 
I think we’re going to have a grand time here.  A much needed break! 

Cedar grilled salmon 4 2015

Salmon Grilled on Cedar

Timing is everything.  I wanted to have a nice Father’s Day meal but needed to make sure I cooked something that was in my dad’s diet.  That also had a lot of flavour.  Conor from One Man’s Meat posted a wonderful salmon that immediately went on my list.

And fortunately our local kitchen store had cedar planks!  I picked a meal that could be grilled or served cold as I wanted to be able to enjoy the meal and company without being chained to the kitchen.  Luckily it was a gorgeous day so we set up a table at the bottom of the back garden in the shade.  Perfect so the dogs could be there and not bother anyone.

The longest bit of the prep is soaking the cedar plank.  I picked out a pear cider from Ireland.  I love pear and sage.

Cedar grilled salmon 1 2015

Soak a cedar plank for at least a couple of hours in the cider. Put something to hold it down as it will just float otherwise.

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I found a lovely piece of wild sockeye salmon for this dish.  Season with sea salt and pepper.  Lay a few fresh sage leaves onto the fish and then a couple of slices of lemon.  Place the empty plank on the grill to heat up.  Once the board is hot place the fish onto the plank.

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The tricky bit here is you don’t want the grill to get so hot that the board catches fire.  And you want the fish to cook somewhat evenly.  While this was cooking I also grilled steaks marinated in Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, garlic, thyme, sea salt, and pepper.  It’s my favourite marinade.

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My family loves cheese so it’s rare we don’t have a cheese plate going.

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I wanted it to be a little festive, ok a lot festive, so I made the Kir Royale with champagne and chambord.  Drop in fresh raspberries and off you go!  It’s delicious.

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The salmon was a hit among the seafood lovers of the group.  It didn’t overpower the flavour of the salmon but the pear and sage were wonderful.

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It was a beautiful day with good food and no where to be.  A perfect afternoon celebrating my husband and my dad.  What more can you ask for?

Jalapeno sausage and pasta 4 2015

Spicy Sausage and Bursting with Pride

It’s been quite the week with the kids and the end of year celebrations.  Even though I’m not a fan of so called graduations at a level below the end of high school I still enjoy cheering them on.  Our son had his 5th grade recognition and received the President’s Award for Academic Improvement.  Each child had to do a mini speech about their favourite memory from school.  They did really well.  It’s not easy speaking in front of a crowd.  And the poor kid was struggling through a cold from hell.

Our daughter had her 8th grade recognition yesterday.  Somehow she managed to go four years straight without missing a day of school.  I have no idea what that is like.  I was always sick growing up.  She also achieved high honours 11 out of the 12 quarters.  We are so proud of our kids and what they have achieved so far.

It’s quite something to see how they are doing on their journey.

We had a chilly day a week ago and my son requested pasta so comfort food was on deck.  A local farm had some lovely jalapeno sausages.  Good ones too, not like the mealy ones we kept getting at the co-op.  So I’ll have to buy them as she has them!

Because of the jalapeno I wanted to go with Mexican flavours to highlight the heat.

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Begin by browning the sausages in the skillet with a bit of olive oil.  Brown all the sides but don’t worry about cooking all the way through.  They’ll be finished off in the dish.

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Set aside and add a few cloves of garlic, chopped, and a few mushrooms, sliced.  Saute until the garlic is softened.  Then add chopped peppers and scallions.  Cook for a minute or so then add a chopped tomato.

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Add a cup of homemade stock and bring to a simmer.  Slice the sausages and add to the mixture.  Next add a tablespoon of lime juice, a tablespoon of chili powder, a couple of teaspoons of cumin, and salt and pepper to season.  Chop up some fresh cilantro and stir in at the end. Once the sausage is cooked through add the pasta and toss well.

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Top with a bit of sour cream and shredded cheese.  I really liked this as comfort food.  Loads of flavour and colour.  And it chased away the chill.  :)

Pomegranate chicken 4 2015

Pomegranate Chicken and Don’t Be Cruel

If people want plastic surgery that’s their business.  Though vanity can get many into trouble.  It gets a bit obvious.  But hey if they want to muck about with their bodies regardless of the outcome that’s their business.  But I really have a problem when people extend their vanity to their dogs.

I took my goofy dogs to the vet the other day and there was this little doberman puppy with its ears taped up.  Without thinking (something I do a lot!) I asked what happened to him.  They replied that it is normal to do this.  I said if it was normal they would be born that way.  I was so disgusted!  Our neighbour did that to his boxer as well.  The poor thing was taped up for over a year.

Of course they were a bit snarky about it and while I was weighing Murphy he overturned a cookie bowl and I had to wrestle them off the cookies.  So much for keeping my dignity!

I asked the vet if he really performs these unnecessary procedures.  Being that it was his first day he said he would ask his dad who owns the practice.  Though he did say they are between a rock and a hard place because if they don’t do it and do it safely these people would go elsewhere and possibly harm the dogs more.  I really would they would ban these procedures.

I stuck with the salad theme last week as the warm weather continued.  A while back Chica Andaluza blog about a chicken made with pomegranate molasses.  It looks amazing.  But it was too hot to bake so I mixed it up a bit so I could grill the chicken.

In a bowl mix the following:

8oz of plain greek yoghurt

2 Tablespoons of pomegranate molasses

3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1″sq/2.cm of fresh garlic grated

1-2 teaspoons of chili powder

1/2 teaspoon of garam marsala

Season with sea salt.

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Mix well and add the chicken to marinate for at least an hour.

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Heat the grill to medium. I ran into a bit of trouble with the chicken sticking which was unfortunate as it left some of the flavour on the grill!

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For the dressing I mixed up a bit of olive oil, pomegranate molasses, and white balsamic vinegar.  I also made some croutons.  Slice some bread and butter both sides.  Season with dry rub and cube the bread and brown in a dry skillet.  Slice the chicken and top the salad and serve.

Pomegranate chicken 4 2015

Nice and light.  It was the first time using the pomegranate molasses and I really like it.  Now to figure out what else I can use it!

Bruschetta chicken salad 4 2015

Bruschetta Chicken Salad

It’s a lovely rainy day today.  I say lovely because we’re still not having many of them.  Optimistically we planted more seed to replace those that didn’t come up.  Right now we have one leek and one onion coming up.  Stand back and prepare to be overwhelmed!

For the life of us we can’t grow beets.  We keep trying.  In fact we had one come up a few weeks ago but it disappeared.  So did the carrots!  So we replanted and also sprinkled blood meal round the beds.  I hope we start to make some progress.

The other night I was in the mood for Italian but nothing heavy as it was hot.  I saw various ideas for bruschetta chicken which sounded wonderful.  The drawbacks to the recipes was that they called for store bought dressings.  It’s easy enough to make it from scratch.

In a bowl mix 2 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar.  Add fresh thyme and finely chopped garlic.  Season with sea salt and pepper.

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Add the chicken breasts to marinate for at least an hour.

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While the chicken is marinating prep the bruschetta part of the dish.

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Quarter the tomatoes and add a few cloves of finely chopped garlic in a bowl.  Toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, and pepper.  The fresh mozzarella and basil should be added just before serving.  Grill the chicken and the slice it to serve over a bed of lettuce.

Bruschetta chicken salad 4 2015

As a side I also grilled up some veg to make a light supper.  I love this time of year with all the fresh veg.  Not so much the heat but you can’t have it all!