Grilled Thai Steak 7 2015

Grilled Thai Steak and Ever So Grateful

It was a very long week last week but everything went well with my dad’s surgery.  Yesterday they discharged him from hospital and now he is recuperating at home.  We were all breathing a sigh of relief.  Still are if you want to know the truth.

So he’ll be causing trouble for a good long while now and we wouldn’t have it any other way!

As you can imagine I’m a bit backed up with blog posts and getting everything else back on track.  Kids are back at school this week so we’re winding down the summer the next couple of days.  Making sure they get back into the routine of things.

Last weekend I was in the mood for Thai flavours and decided to do a grilled steak with rice noodles.  We have had some success with growing fresh garlic this year and we also had ginger and cilantro on hand.

Grilled Thai Steak 1 2015

In a bowl mix 2 tablespoons peanut oil, 2 tablespoons oyster sauce, 2 tablespoons amino acid, 1 tablespoon lime juice, one to two teaspoons of fresh chopped cilantro, a large clove of garlic, finely chopped, and salt and pepper.  Add the steak to marinate for at least an hour.

Grilled Thai Steak 2 2015

When it is time to cook, heat up a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil.  Add a few cloves of garlic, finely chopped, and a couple of scallions, chopped.  Saute until the garlic starts to soften.  Add a cayenne pepper.  When slicing use gloves, saves on burning skin.  We keep the seeds but some may find that too hot.  Saute for a few minutes.

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Add a cup of chicken stock and bring to a simmer.  I made the mistake of adding the rest of the veg too soon.  I like my veg on the crispy side.  If you like them soft then add the peppers and mushrooms when you add the stock.  Also add carrots.  I added a couple of tablespoons of green curry paste, a tablespoon of oyster sauce, a tablespoon of amino acids, and a splash of lime juice.  Continue to simmer.  As it cooks adjust the flavour to your liking.

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Grill the steak to medium rare.

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Take the leftover marinade and add it to the skillet and continue to simmer.  While the steak is resting add half a cup light coconut milk.  Add a few more teaspoons of freshly chopped cilantro at this stage as well.

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While this is being created cook rice noodles according to the package.  Toss the noodles in the sauce and serve.  Top with the steak and peanuts.

Grilled Thai Steak 7 2015

I enjoyed this dish.  The heat was mild but you could always add more hot pepper as you cook.  Tonight we are doing Pad Thai for dinner.  Another one of our favourites!

Dad 1 2015

My Dad

From day one I’ve been a daddy’s girl.  Not the spoilt, get away with anything, daddy’s girl, far from it.  But we’ve always been buddies.  He just turned 70 and I had wanted to celebrate it in the proper way.  Our plan was to have our annual family get together this coming weekend.  Unfortunately we have had to cancel, well, postpone the festivities as he has to have major surgery this week.  It will be a good thing as it will get things fixed.  But I thought he should still be celebrated!  So in the spirit of the post I did about my mum I thought I would toast him as well.

Dad 1 2015

My dad always had time for his girls, something that has never changed.  Regardless of what he was doing, whether studying or working, we could be included.  It didn’t matter how long his day was he was always up for getting down on the floor and letting us use him as a jungle gym.  Many hours were spent doing row row your boat with his arms.  And pulling up his eye lids to see if he was still in there!

He’s had quite a journey in life.  He is a son of a coal miner who was the first person to go to college and continued on to get his masters degree.  When I went back to the UK for a year at university he came with me at the beginning to help me get settled.  We did a loop round the country which was a tour of his life.  He brought me to the house he was born in to show how far the family had came.  Imagine his surprise there was grass and the neighbourhood had come up a bit!  But I did get the point.

I am grateful that though he wanted us to have the world he didn’t fall into the trap of just handing it to us.  Mum and dad made sure we worked hard and never took anything for granted.  When he thought I was losing my way he wrote me a letter talking about how I was disappointing him.  I was having a bad attitude and being very angry about things.  Lashing out and hurting the ones I loved.  It was heartfelt and full of love but also a wake up call to me.  I still have that letter.

He has always seemed to know just what to say and how to be supportive.  For Senior Hooky Day I chose to go sailing with him instead of scarpering off somewhere.  It was a foggy day and it was great fun to just hang out and be outside.  He would show up to our American Football games in high school.  We had the worst team but once in awhile he would show up, bundled up to hear us play in the band.  On the rare occasion there was a touchdown he would actually hear the band play the school song.  It wasn’t often!

I get my twisted sense of humour from him.  You know the sort that gets you into trouble.  When we were in the UK there was an interview with Rowan Atkinson and he had a running gag of butt cheeks or kissing arse.  Something like that.  So the presenter would toss out words and he kept bringing it back to the gag.  They got to windscreen wipers and he just mimed kissing back and forth between butt cheeks.  I thought we were going to die.  Tears were streaming down our face.  Wish I could find that clip.  I can’t do it justice.

Of course there is the Championship of the Entire Civilised World for cribbage.  It’s quite stiff competition.  It’s just the two of us.  It’s a great way to just talk and joke about.

dad 2 2015

I am so grateful to have a dad like my dad.  He has showed us how to be true to ourselves, set our standards high, and was a great example of what it means to respect women and treat them well.  He and my mum are a great example of what type of relationship we should be looking for.  I was lucky that I have that as well with my husband.  Dad wasn’t pleased when I wasn’t happy or treated right in past relationships.  It was a great relief, I think, to my dad when I met my husband.  One, he fits right in with my family and two, he makes me happy.

While I’m nervous about the surgery, I know it is a good thing.  It will get him healthy and ensures we have years still to be goofy, make more family memories, and to well, have my dad around.  Because he is pretty neat in my book.

Black currant jam 4 2015

Black Currant Blueberry Jam and Up Against the House

House 1 me 0.  Actually the score is probably more skewed than that if we look at the entire time I’ve lived here.  But this week I am definitely on the losing end!  And it’s all my fault.  Which is really annoying.

It’s time to redo the front porch so we began the project this past Sunday.  Parts of the old boards were being very stubborn in coming loose.  I tried pounding them up with a crow bar.  Really not the thing to do.  I reinjured my injury from the fall in January.  Each day I’ve brought the computer in bed with me in hopes I could sit up long enough to do a blog post.  Finally I can do it today.  Cooking this week has been pretty basic as well.  But I’m properly on the mend so I can blog!  Plus we need to do more on the porch this weekend.  I have a cunning plan as they say to not screw my back up again.  I feel optimistic.

I made this jam a couple of weeks ago and talked about it on the radio show.  I was inspired by a jam I had in France.  And we had a bumper crop of black currants so I had to do something with them all!  We froze quite a bit for later crumbles.  I wanted a jam that wasn’t overly sweet so I could easily use it for savory dishes as well.

Black currant jam 1 2015

I like to keep my jams on the rustic side, it’s less fussy that way.  In a saucepan put in equal amounts of black currants and blueberries.

Black currant jam 2 2015

On medium low heat bring the berries to a simmer.  Once enough liquid has been released from the berries turn up the heat a bit to continue a high simmer.  To start I added 1/2 cup of white sugar and incorporated it into the berries.  Then I added 1/2 a cup of brown sugar.  The tricky bit with black currants is that they are very tart.  But you don’t want to add so much sugar that the jam becomes stiff.  To offset this I added maple syrup.  Add a bit of a time until the jam has thickened.

Black currant jam 3 2015

Sorry about the quality of that pic!  Couldn’t use a tripod at this step!  Remove from the heat and can the jam.  I served this with homemade crusty bread and stinky French cheese.  The creaminess of the cheese balanced well with the tart jam.

Black currant jam 4 2015

Fingers crossed the porch doesn’t defeat me tomorrow!

Grilled tarragon chicken 4 2015

Grilled Tarragon Chicken Salad and Radio Show

Every once in awhile you have to go outside of your comfort zone.  I had the opportunity to do that yesterday.  I’ve mentioned Luca, a chef in town and a friend of mine, who does cooking shows.  You might remember my daughter had a chance to do a show with him.

He also does a weekly radio show on our local talk radio with Dan Mitchell talking about cooking and he brings bloggers, chefs, etc on as guests.  He invited me to join him.  I had an absolute blast doing this. I was nervous about doing it but I didn’t want to miss this opportunity to do something new.

Here is the podcast if you would like a listen.  But please, I know I sound American.  Every time it comes up that I’m English, without fail, I get “but you don’t sound English”.  That bothers me.  Like there is a doubt of who I am.  I came over very young and didn’t go back again until I was an adult.  The accent doesn’t start coming out much until I’m back in the UK.  It is what it is!  Other than that I do hope you enjoy the podcast.

And of course I had to show up with food.  But because the show was in the morning and there isn’t a kitchen so it had to be something I could serve cold.

I decided to do grilled chicken with tarragon.  For dinner I did it as a salad and for the show I did it as lettuce wraps.

Grilled tarragon chicken 1 2015

For the marinade I finely chopped a few cloves of garlic and a handful of tarragon.  Mix it with equal parts white wine and olive oil.  Season with sea salt and pepper.  Make sure it is mixed well and then add the chicken to marinade for at least an hour.

Grilled tarragon chicken 2 2015Grill the chicken and let it cool.  Meanwhile toast half a cup of pinenuts in a dry skillet.  You want to pay attention as you are doing this. The nuts can easily burn.  Keep the pinenuts moving in the skillet as you toast them.

Grilled tarragon chicken 3 2015

Once they are golden remove and set aside.  I did try to do a wine vinaigrette but it just didn’t have any brightness to it.  So I did up a tarragon lemon dressing instead.  Do two parts olive oil to one part lemon juice.  Add a bit of tarragon and season with sea salt and pepper.  Shake it up.

To assemble, lay out the lettuce leaves and layer with the chicken, veg of your choice, and the pine nuts.  Drizzle the dressing over the salad and top with creme fraiche.

Grilled tarragon chicken 4 2015

It is very easy to convert it to wraps.  Just put less into each piece and wrap it up!  Perfect for a warm summer day.  As I said this was a fantastic experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  :)

Croque Monsieur 9 2015

Croque Monsieur, Fun Food for the Kids

In some of the tourist places we visited in France I came across croque monsieur.  An inside out grilled cheese sandwich!  The kids tried it and thought it was fun.

I loved the inspiration I got while over there.  So much good food and ingredients.  I got a kick out of this vending machine we found:

Croque Monsieur 11 2015

I mean how cool is this idea?  Fresh veg, fruit, and homemade soups.  Don’t get me wrong I loved the Cadbury vending machines when I lived in London but still, this was refreshing to see.  Much better than these fish sticks I found:

Croque Monsieur 10 2015

How sad.

There are several recipes for croque monsieur, all pretty similar.  I used Ina Garten’s from Barefoot in Paris as a guide.  I used our sourdough bread for this.  I really didn’t want to use the soft storebought white bread she recommends.  I just don’t like that stuff!  I needed to make 4 sandwiches so I toasted the bread ahead of time.  Also, prep 1/2 cup of parmesan and 1/2 cup of jarlsberg and set aside.

In a small saucepan melt 2 tablespoons of butter then add 3 tablespoons of flour to the butter.

Croque Monsieur 1 2015

Keep it on the heat and continue whisking to cook the flour.  You don’t want the mixture to burn.

Croque Monsieur 2 2015

Her recipe called for 2 cups of milk but I felt that was way too much.  I decided to go with 1 1/2 cups of milk.  We still had too much sauce leftover.  Gradually add the milk to the flour mixture, again whisking the whole time to work out the lumps.

Croque Monsieur 3 2015

Croque Monsieur 4 2015

With the heat on medium bring the mixture to a near boil.  You don’t want to have it actually boil but you need it hot enough to thicken.  Keep stirring to prevent the milk from scorching on the bottom.  Once the sauce thickens remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese.  Dust the top with nutmeg and season with sea salt and pepper.

Croque Monsieur 5 2015

Spread stone ground mustard of your choice onto half the slices of the toast.  Add slices of ham and top with the other slices of bread.  Then spoon on the sauce.  Top with more jarlsberg cheese.

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Croque Monsieur 8 2015

Broil until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown.  Serve with a side salad.

Croque Monsieur 9 2015

I have to say as crazy as this dish sounded to me it was a lot of fun to eat and it was delicious.

BBQ Burgers 4 2015

BBQ Burgers and Family Time

Every summer there is nearly a month when the kids are gone.  A bit hard on the parents but it means the kids are off on adventures.  They do a two week overnight camp and then we usually get them for a couple of days then they are off to Florida to see grandparents with their mother and stepfather.

While we get a break from the usual back and forth of getting the kids round we miss them like crazy.  We picked them up from camp Friday evening and they had so many stories to tell.  It was non stop and it was fabulous.  But they were looking forward to home cooked food.

Our daughter must have missed the kitchen as she made breakfast each morning this weekend and baked cookies.  Yesterday morning she kicked us out and set the table with flowers and candles.  She really loves going all out.

When we picked them up they mentioned they were sick of cheeseburgers.  Shoot, as that was what I was making for last night!  Our daughter said oh we love your burgers so that’s ok.  Phew!

It was time for something different so I thought I would make BBQ burgers.  Our poblanos are coming in and I wanted to use them.  Our garden has been a struggle this year but our peppers are doing us proud.  I see a lot of hot pepper jelly in our future.  Unfortunately we’ve used up all our Peach BBQ sauce I had made so I had to use, gasp, store bought.  Peaches are showing up in the shops now so it is on my list to make another batch.

BBQ Burgers 1 2015

I had a pound of ground beef which is more than enough for the four of us.  The only issue is it’s impossible to find decent buns that aren’t enormous.  So the buns tend to dwarf the burger.  I think a quarter pound of meat is more than enough but I think I’m in the minority in this country.  My husband and I went without the bun.  In a bowl add the meat.  Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic and add that with a few teaspoons of fresh thyme.  I didn’t have enough cheddar to do slices on top but I did have enough to grate for the actual burger.  The amount I added was about a quarter of the meat in volume.  Then add a few tablespoons of BBQ.  Mix well and form into patties.  Set aside.  Cook up several rashers of streaky bacon and set that aside as well.

BBQ Burgers 3 2015

My husband brought home some fresh corn yesterday.  So exciting!  I love having them grilled.  Very easy to do, just soak for about 20 minutes in water.  Then grill for 5 minutes on each side until cooked through.  When these were halfway cooked I added the burgers.

BBQ Burgers 2 2015

Once you flip them add sliced onion that have been prepped with olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and pepper.  Add the poblanos after deseeding them.  You want the peppers to blister a little but don’t go crazy.  You want to grill the onions so they have the grill marks but aren’t burnt. When the burgers are almost done add slices of cheddar or jarlsberg to the burgers to melt.

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Layer with BBQ sauce, bacon, onion, and pepper.  Butter up that corn and enjoy!  My husband did up some sweet potato and regular potato chips (fries) to round out the meal.  I was stuffed.  I think a bun would have sent me over the edge.  I didn’t even have room for ice cream!

Bacon stuffed mushrooms 6 2015

Bacon Stuffed Mushrooms and Cruel Cowardice

It’s hard not to be distressed by the capacity of some people to be heartless.  Don’t get me wrong there is a lot of good in this world.  People who have compassion and work hard to bring light to those that need it.  But there is a side of humanity that seems desperate to cause harm.  There is a endless list of horrors.  It gets overwhelming.

Such a representation of that this week was the senseless killing of Cecil.  In the scheme of things it’s a lion, there are much deeper issues of children in this world not safe, women not safe, people starving.  But it is indicative people lacking the basic compassion of living things.  It takes a special kind arrogance and cowardice to travel to the other side of the world, pay thousands, and then to bait an animal to give it a slow death.

I get the need for hunting in turns of population control.  Deer can face slow and painful death with overpopulation in winter.  And I get people hunting for food.  In our area there are a lot of families who need to put food on the table.  But to hunt so you can decorate your wall?  I find that disgusting.  I do hope the outrage keeps at its current level.  We need to stop the destroying of this earth’s gifts and resources.

This just really fired me up.  Thank you for letting me say my piece and I’ll get on with the usual program of food!

Due to the dietary needs of my various family members I always try to come up with ideas of tasty dishes that everyone can eat.  I thought repurposing a crostini into stuffed mushrooms would be fun.

Bacon stuffed mushrooms 1 2015

We learned how to make this bacon crostini in Tuscany on our honeymoon.  For this recipe I added onion to it.  I finely chopped a clove of garlic, half a small onion, and a bit of rosemary.  Then chop up half the mushroom stems.

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Chop up 3 rashers of streaky bacon and begin to render it in a small skillet.  After a few minutes add the onion.

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After the onion has softened a bit add the garlic, rosemary, and mushroom to the skillet.

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Keep cooking until the bacon starts to crisp a bit.  Add a few splashes of white balsamic vinegar.  Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 375F/190C.  Remove the bacon mixture from the heat and grate fresh parmesan over it and mix well.  Stuff the mushrooms and grate more parmesan over it.

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Bake until the mushrooms are cooked.  About 10 minutes or so.  While it is baking make up the salad if you are having this as a main meal.

Bacon stuffed mushrooms 6 2015

Of course I put more fresh parmesan on.  I can’t resist the stuff!  And it’s gluten free.  :)

Tarragon 4 2015

Tarragon Steak and Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Yesterday was very frustrating.  We like to make cheese so we bought quite a bit of raw milk at a local farm.  Grand plans were made.  Grand plans failed in a spectacular fashion.  The cheddar may turn out ok but the camembert I tried didn’t get off the ground.  The pH seemed to be too low and the curd didn’t break properly.  We had issues with the cheddar as well.  Like I said very frustrating.

So being tired and feeling grumpy I needed a good dinner that wasn’t too complicated.  And it had to be quick!  There was wine to be had at the end of a long day.

We grow tarragon in our garden, though it’s currently getting overshadowed by hops.  If you ever grow hops put them somewhere by themselves.  We grossly underestimated their takeover talents.  So I waded in to find the tarragon and took a handful for this marinade.

Tarragon steak 1 2015

Chop up a handful of tarragon and a few cloves of garlic.  In a bowl add a few tablespoons of olive oil and one or two tablespoons of white wine vinegar.  Shake it up to mix.  Season the steak with sea salt and pepper then add it to the marinade.  Let it marinate for at least an hour.

Tarragon steak 2 2015

For those that follow my blog know I’m a huge fan of roasted potatoes.  I thought rosemary and lemon would be a nice touch for this meal.  Cube the potatoes and microwave them for 8 minutes.  Do not cover them with plastic or cling film.  That just leaches chemicals into the food.  In a baking dish add a few tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of lemon juice. While the potatoes are in the microwave preheat the oven or toaster oven to 375F/190C with the baking dish in it.  Add the potatoes to the hot oil, stir well and season with sea salt and pepper.  Stir occasionally as it cooks.  Once it is cooked halfway add a couple of tablespoons of rosemary, finely chopped.  Heat the grill to medium high.  I picked skirt steak which is pretty thin so it cooks quickly.

Tarragon 3 2015

Given that it’s summer a salad is called for!  Make up the salad while the steak is resting.  Then slice the steak and top the salad.  Drizzle with olive oil and white wine vinegar.  Serve with the potatoes.

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Tarragon 4 2015

We were lucky that there was low humidity last night so we had a lovely dinner outside on the porch.  The only interruptions we had was when we had to take turns chasing off the rabbits in our back garden.  They are showing no fear!

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.

Villandry 3 2015

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!

Villandry 11 2015

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

Villandry 10 2015

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.

Villandry 9 2015

Villandry 8 2015

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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Villandry 1 2015

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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.

Villandry 2 2015

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.

Chinon 6 2015

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.

Chinon 8 2015

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.

Chinon 9 2015

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.

Chinon 10 2015

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.