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.  😊 

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.

Bruschetta chicken salad 1 2015

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

Bruschetta chicken salad 2 2015

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

Bruschetta chicken salad 3 2015

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!

The Lovely Yellow of Saffron…

It’s a busy week with the kids off from school.  For our daughter’s birthday we are redoing her room.  Which means lots of painting.  It’s strange because we’re getting rid of the little girl’s room and ushering in a young lady’s room.  I have to say I like her vision, it is going to look really elegant when it’s finished.

But it does put me in a position of figuring out dinner at the last minute.  I knew we had to use up some chicken but what to do?  A quick trip to the shop to pick up some saffron and paprika did the trick.

Saffron is not cheap but since you don’t need a lot in a dish it can last a very long time.

Saffron Chicken 1 2015Take about two tablespoons of hot water and steep a good pinch of saffron.  Set aside.

Saffron Chicken 2 2015Prep the other ingredients.  This whole dinner is cooked on the grill except the sauce.  For the veg I wanted to do skewers.  I brushed the veg with olive oil and white wine and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Saffron Chicken 4 2015Season the chicken with sea salt and paprika.

Saffron Chicken 3 2015Fire up that grill.  While the chicken, skewers, and the potatoes were grilling I did up the sauce.  In a small skillet I heated up a few tablespoons of olive oil, 1/4 cup of dry white wine, and two large cloves of garlic finely chopped.  Slowly simmer the garlic.  Then add the saffron and a cup of chicken stock.  Continue simmering to reduce down.  Then season with a bit of sea salt and paprika.  About a teaspoon each.

Saffron Chicken 5 2015I am so happy it’s warm enough to grill.  Really cuts back on having a bunch of pots to wash!

Saffron Chicken 6 2015Once the chicken is done, slice and serve with the sauce.

Saffron Chicken 7 2015This is a case where once the components come together the balance is really good.  The sauce by itself was a little sharp but add it to the chicken it was a delicious dish.

Now off to continue with the painting!

Sweet Potato, Apple, and Pork

With trying to branch out in our cooking and the gluten free experiment I have to get creative in how I use the ingredients.  That includes trying to use veg that I really don’t like.  Being a supertaster I’ve been limited because things like squash, sweet potato, zucchini, etc can be bitter to me.  Fortunately I’m having success in making these ingredients palatable for me but still letting some of that flavour that my family likes through.  Which is great because I’d love to be more seasonal with the local foods.  Kind of makes me wish I tried this before!

There was some sweet potato and rutabaga in the fridge that needed to be used up plus a bin full of apples.  I chopped up the sweet potato and rutabaga and covered with two cups chicken stock and 1 cup water.  Cook on a high simmer until they are about half cooked.

Sweet potato apple puree 1 2014

Add some sage and lemon thyme and one chopped apple.  Finish cooking the sweet potato and rutabaga.

Sweet potato apple puree 2 2014

While this is cooking, brown the pork in a skillet and finish it by baking.  Mix some olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.  Set aside and chop up some mustard greens.  In a food processor spoon in the sweet potato, rutabaga, and apple leaving the liquid in reserve.  Add 1/4 cup of dry white wine.  Pulse while adding the cooking liquid a bit at a time until you get the consistency you want.   Layer the pork over the puree and top with the mustard greens.  Dress with the olive oil and lemon.

Sweet potato apple puree 3 2014

Next time I would use a little less rutabaga but we had to use it up.  Other than that I can say I like sweet potato.  In some things.  😉

Homemade Sausage Ravioli with Arrabiata Sauce

For Father’s Day we like to cook my husband dinner.  Just like they do for me for Mother’s Day, we come up with a menu and the kids help out with the food prep.  It was such a gorgeous weekend.  We finally got some tennis in.  We managed to get a few volleys back and forth so we felt good about that.  Plus we made a dent in the garden chores.

For my birthday my kids had given me a ravioli form so I wanted to try it out.  I need to practice with it but I did make homemade sausage ravioli and as my husband loves spicy sauces I did an easy arrabiata sauce.  This meal did take a few hours so it is definitely a weekend deal.

I started with the ravioli stuffing as it had to cool before mixing it with cheese and stuffing the pasta.  Finely chop half a cup of onion and 4 cloves of garlic.  I also grabbed thyme from the garden.

Sausage Ravioli 1 2014

In a skillet heat up a tablespoon or so of olive oil and saute the garlic, onion, and a couple of teaspoons of fresh thyme.  After the onion has softened add 1/2 a lb of Sweet Italian sausage or Hot Italian sausage.  Whatever you have on hand.  Add 1/3 a cup of nice red wine.  Cook until the meat is cooked.

Sausage Ravioli 2 2014

Set aside to cool.  Prep the homemade pasta and let it rest.  Once the sausage has cooled mix in half a cup of ricotta cheese and half a cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese.  After the pasta has rested roll it out in sheets.  Place one sheet on the ravioli mold and create the dents.

Sausage Ravioli 3 2014

Fill with the sausage mixture.

Sausage Ravioli 4 2014

Coat with beaten egg. Place another sheet over the sausage mixture and then roll over the pasta.  I struggled with this bit.  I had to use a pasta cutter to separate the individual raviolis.  And it was a struggle to keep the air out.

Sausage Ravioli 5 2014

Chill the ravioli in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.  For the sauce saute onion and garlic in olive oil.

Sausage Ravioli 6 2014

Add 1/2 a cup of the same red wine used for the sausage.  Add crushed or diced tomatoes.  I could have used a 14 oz can but I used a 28 oz can and it was a bit much but my husband loves sauce so it didn’t go to waste!  Bring to a simmer and add a few teaspoons of red pepper flakes as well as salt and pepper to taste.

Sausage Ravioli 7 2014

Add a handful of basil near the end of cooking to the dish.  Start cooking the ravioli at this point in boiling salted water as it only needs to cook for about 4 minutes.  Once it is cooked add it to the sauce.

Sausage Ravioli 9 2014It knocked our son’s socks off but we all loved the simple sauce with the ravioli.  And we got to eat outside and enjoy the lovely evening.

The Lovely Zing of Fresh Horseradish…

The fun thing about our local co-op is we can find unusual ingredients not normally found in our box store groceries.  This time I found fresh horseradish root. As we are fans of this ingredient when we have roast beef I figured I would branch out a bit and play around with it.  If you ever have stuffed sinuses have a bite of fresh horseradish.  It will make you stand up and blink!

I planned an easy dinner to make because our plan was to whack some tennis balls back and forth.  But it rained.  Boo.  Now that is is finely warm enough we were looking forward to running around and having some fun.  That will have to wait.

I decided to do grilled portobello caps with steak and horseradish sauce.

Horseradish sauce 1 2014

Oregano is growing like crazy in our garden so I choice to use some to pretend I was making some kind of dent in the abundance of the herb.  I made up a marinade of olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, chopped garlic and oregano.  The ratio of oil and vinegar is 2 to 1. Season with salt and pepper.  Mix well and add the mushrooms.

Horseradish 2 2014

Set aside.  On to the horseradish!

Horseradish sauce 3 2014

I had some plain Greek yoghurt so I used it as the base for my sauce.  In a small bowl add 8 oz of yoghurt, about 2 tsp of fresh thyme, salt and pepper, a few squirts of lemon juice, and grated horseradish.  The amount is up to you depending on how much zing you want.  I do suggest adding a bit at a time until you hit the level of heat you want.

Horseradish sauce 4 2014

When I bought the steak, the way it was packaged it looked like two equal pieces which is what you want when serving two people.  Does this look equal to you?

Horseradish sauce 5 2014

Like the moon to the earth!  Season with salt and pepper and a dry rub of your choice.  We like using the Salt Lick Spicy Dry Rub.  Grill the steak and mushroom until cooked.  We like ours on the rare side.

Horseradish sauce 7 2014

After letting the steak rest slice it and spoon the sauce over the meat to serve.  Grate an aged Italian cheese of your choice over the mushrooms.

Horseradish sauce 8 2014

A perfect meal for after an activity like tennis.  I hope we get to that soon!  Maybe this weekend.  🙂

A Short Stack of Grilled Deliciousness…

My husband came home after a 2 week trip for work.  I thought our two dogs were going to burst with excitement.  Leaping about like dolphins.  Needless to say my husband was missed.  By all of us.   The kids will be back today and we get to have our family dinner before a school concert.  It’s nice to get back to normal.  And to have help walking our Murphy dog during the walks.  During his anxiety he got a bit much the other day and I had to carry him for a distance.  When he gets picked up he calms down immediately but I must have been quite the sight carrying a 50lb dog down the street.  Such a dope but he’s our dope.

Earlier this week I wanted to make a light dinner for the kids and I.  As my husband wasn’t here I thought I’d do some eggplant as he’s not the biggest fan of it.  But the kids and I enjoy it particularly on the grill.

Grilled chicken and eggplant 1 2014

I did up a quick marinade for the chicken using olive oil, lemon, and garlic with salt and pepper to taste.  I drizzled the eggplant with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Fire up the grill and cook both ingredients until done.

Grilled chicken and eggplant 2 2014

While this was cooking I did up the dressing with the lemon and olive oil.  Stack the chicken on the eggplant then add tomato and basil.  Add the dressing and some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Grilled chicken and eggplant 3 2014

It looks like a small meal and it is but it was surprisingly filling.  And we enjoyed it.  🙂

Picnic Perfect Chicken Salad

Sunday we had a wonderful crazy day of celebrating 5 family birthdays with a family get together at the lake.  The only thing wrong with the day was that my husband is travelling for a couple of weeks so he couldn’t be with us.  The kids had fun swimming.  I thought they were nuts given how cold the water was!  But hey, they had a blast so who am I to argue.  It took them a long time to actually get in though.

We planned a potluck and I wanted a light dish without mayo as it was going to be warm.  I came across an idea to use slices of apple instead of using crackers with chicken salad.  The chicken salad they had was mayo based so I used my own but I loved the serving idea of fruit.

I marinated chicken breast in olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper then grilled the chicken.

Chicken salad 1 2014

Let the chicken completely cool.  Chop up the chicken into small pieces and toss with olive oil and lemon juice.

Chicken  salad 2 2014

Finely chop a shallot and add a few teaspoons of fresh thyme.

Chicken salad 3 2014

I got all excited when I saw the co-op was selling individual celery stalks.  I only need two so it was perfect!  Thinly slice the celery and mix in with the chicken and then season with salt and pepper.  I made this the day before which allowed the flavours to meld together.  Slice the apples and top with the salad and then add a nut of your choice.

Chicken salad 4 2014

Easy, delicious, and fun!  And perfect for a picnic.  🙂

 

Paella with Chicken and Chorizo

One dish I didn’t have a chance to have was traditional paella on our trip to Spain last year but I did have it years ago on my first trip.  I’ve always enjoyed good food but in the past few years I’ve approached it with an eye to be able to recreate dishes.  Given all the great food on our trip I just didn’t have enough meals to get round to it.  Guess I’ll have to go back.  🙂

I found a recipe for an Easy Paella  to try with chicken and chorizo sausage.  While this wouldn’t be a traditional paella it does have a lot of the flavours and it takes about an hour to make.  Traditional recipes can take 2 hours to make.  I didn’t include the shrimp as half of us don’t like seafood but it can easily added to the dish.  I also used brown rice as that is what we had on hand, it takes a little longer to cook and doesn’t show off the saffron as much but works well.

I cubed 3/4lb of chicken and tossed it with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of paprika, a couple of teaspoons of dried oregano, and salt and pepper.  Chill in the fridge while prepping and starting the rice.

Pealla 2 2014

In a large skillet that has a cover heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and saute the rice.  I used a cup of rice as there was only four of us.  Add 3 cloves of chopped garlic, and a teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes.  Cook this for a couple of minutes.

Pealla 4 2014

Add a pinch of saffron.

Pealla 3 2014

Add chicken stock in the amount that is needed for the rice you use.  For this dish I needed 2 cups of chicken stock.   Add fresh flat leaf parsley, a bay leaf, and a few squirts of lemon juice.  The recipe called for lemon zest instead and I would normally use that but I couldn’t find organic lemons at the store so I went with the next best thing.  Bring to a boil then cover and then lower the heat to a simmer.

Pealla 5 2014

About 10 minutes or so before the rice is finished cooking chop up half a red onion and a bell pepper.  Saute the chicken, chorizo sausage, pepper and onion in olive oil.

Pealla 6 2014

Add to the rice and finish simmering. Once the rice is cooked it is ready to serve.

Pealla 7 2014

I’m curious about the root of this dish as it’s not far off from a gumbo.  I have a feeling that a cousin of paella made it’s way to New Orleans at some point and influenced the gumbo.  I find it fascinating the journey of global food.