Monday, July 30, 2018

Château de Cheverny

This castle was another favorite from our Loire Valley trip.  I loved the charming grounds of this one.  They were peaceful and serene.  The staff working here were so friendly.  We actually didn't plan on spending much time here- we were seeing many castles in one day.  But after entering, we stayed here a few hours.  We really enjoyed the on-site cafe, L'Orangerie.  We enjoyed a delicious lunch here between wandering the grounds and touring the inside of the chateau.  I noticed (later) on Tripadvisor, L'Orangerie has really bad reviews from 2017 about rude staff.  Well, we didn't have any problems; our waiter was very attentive.  He did seem nervous because of the language difference, but he was very good and kind to us.  And, they offered us tap water!!
Pics above and below- I finally got a Croque Monsieur Sandwich!  I've wanted one ever since high school French class.  Even though I've been to France a few times, I've never been able to find one (except a Croque McDo, on one late evening after walking around Paris all day.  But that doesn't count).

At L'Orangerie, my son ordered chicken nuggets from the kid's menu, and I loved that they came artfully arranged on a plate surrounded by salad, and he also got fruit and a cookie with it.  (No good pics of that, though.)
 We finished with French hot chocolate.

Cheverny is still occupied today, and they have a large kennel on the property with a ton of hunting dogs.  This was the only part I didn't like about Cheverny.  There's a ton of dogs all kept together in a too-small space, and they fight, and they smell bad, and I just feel bad for them.  A lot have tumors or open sores on them.  There was a sign in French that said they were healthy and well taken care of, but still.  The pic below is just a small number of dogs that are actually there.
Pic below is a stained-glass pic of the dogs and people, getting ready for a hunt.

The inside had rooms decorated with a special Lego display.  I don't think it's there all the time, but it was cool for the kids.  There were all sorts of large animals and other stuff built all with Legos. 

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Friday, July 27, 2018

The Loire Valley, France

Back in April, we took a week-long trip to the Loire Valley in France.  It was an awesome and amazing trip!!  We drove and it wasn't bad.  There was no traffic in France.  I absolutely loved the trip.  We spent one whole day seeing castles.  We also saw local sights (by the town we stayed in), and relaxed some.  One day, we took the train to Paris for the day.  I've already posted about that (our trip in 2017) so I won't share any new Paris pics.

The castle above is in Sully-sur-Loire, and it was only 10 minutes away from our Airbnb!  I loved this castle.  It wasn't crowded, was easy to find, and had lots of free parking.  We toured the inside of this one.  The pic of the red bed a few photos down is from inside this castle.
These two pics, above and below, are of the breakfast in our Airbnb. It wasn't included in the rate, but you could ask for it if you wanted and pay the owners when you checked out.  On most days we were out and about early, but we had one day right before we left where we slept in and got this breakfast.  It was SO good!
Below is the castle in Sully-sur-Loire again.  My favorite.

 Above is a fresh bread and baguette vending machine, in the middle of nowhere in a field by the side of the road.  Our whole family loved this.  We stopped a few times.  Lol.  We got baguettes and French butter (from the store, sadly, not a vending machine) to spread on them; so good.

Below, a random small castle in a town we visited.  Springtime meant all the blossoms were out.

Above, Château de Chambord.  We didn't go inside this one- we were content to look upon it from the outside.  We paid 6 Euros to park, walk around and take pics.  Very stunning in real life.  It's HUGE.  The pics don't do it justice.
 Above and below, Château de Chenonceau.  We did go inside this one- you can't see the outside or grounds at all unless you pay.  So we paid for that and for going inside.  A huge rainstorm struck as we were outside, walking the grounds to get to the castle (there are huge grounds).  All the tourists were soaking wet and vying for space in front of the fireplace when we got inside.  Lol.  My pics from inside are unremarkable, so I won't bother sharing them.  If you've watched the TV show Reign (lol), you'll recognize a lot of names from this castle, the one above, and others in the Loire Valley.
Small house on the grounds at Chenonceau, below.  There's also a maze that the kids enjoyed (on the grounds).

Another castle.... but I forgot which one.  Oops.  We saw so many.  Some were just from the road so I don't have good pics.  But it was a lot of fun going castle-hunting.  We also got some delicious pastries and went to a Michelin-starred restaurant.  Those pics were all taken on my phone and I can't find where I put them.  But later I'll share pics of my fave castle we visited, Château de Cheverny.  We spent so much time there it deserves its own post.

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Easy Taco Dip

We enjoyed this Taco Dip a few weeks ago before we went on vacation.  Well, actually I had to get my wisdom teeth out, but whatever.  I got a few good days in beforehand! This dip is super easy and served cold or at room temp.  (No baking.)  Summer is the perfect time to make this and use good summer tomatoes. 

Easy Taco Dip
adapted from Center Cut Cook

16 oz cream cheese, fully softened (can use Neufchatel)
16 oz container sour cream (can use light)
1 Tablespoon taco seasoning
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 tomato- diced
Shredded lettuce
Sliced black olives, optional
Tortilla Chips, for serving

1.  In the bowl of your mixer, combine cream cheese, sour cream, and taco seasoning and mix until the dip is light and creamy. You can also use a food processor. If there are clumps, it likely means you didn’t let the cream cheese soften enough.

2.  Top with shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato and olives, if using.  Serve with tortilla chips.
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Friday, June 29, 2018

Buttered Balsamic Mushrooms

My 6-year old son really wanted mushrooms recently; he said they are one of his favorite foods.  I don't love mushrooms; in fact I've spent most of my life until recently saying that I don't like them, and they're one of the only foods I don't like.  But I decided to give them another shot about 2-3 years ago, and I find them ok now.  Until I tried this recipe- and I found them so delicious I ate all of my 6-year old's mushrooms because he was having a weird tantrum about something I forgot now, all during dinner.  Then he was even more sad when he came back to the table and found them all gone.  I felt a tiny bit bad, so I made them again a few days later.  And he enjoyed them tantrum-free. 
Buttered Balsamic Mushrooms
adapted from the Kitchn

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large or 2 small shallots, peeled and finely diced (I used part of a sweet onion)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 pound white or cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/8-inch thick
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary or thyme leaves (can use 1 tsp. dry thyme)
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, to taste
1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire or soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated

1.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat until shimmering, about 15 to 20 seconds. Add the shallots and cook until they begin to soften and brown at the edges, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes.

2.  Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and stir until melted. Add the mushrooms, salt, pepper, and rosemary or thyme and stir well. Cook, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until the mushrooms have a rich brown color on the edges and some of the sides, and have just begin to release their juices, 3 to 4 minutes.

3.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the vinegar, sugar, Worcestershire or soy sauce, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are soft and tender and the liquid reduces in volume considerably, thickens to the consistency of agave or maple syrup, and coats the mushrooms, 6 to 8 minutes.

4.  Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and stir constantly, allowing the butter to melt completely and coat the mushrooms, until they shine and the sauce is a bit lighter in color, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.
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Monday, June 25, 2018

Summer Minestrone

My husband and I loved this veggie-packed soup.  It felt so good and flavorful and healthy.  I loved all the ingredients and especially the fresh basil.  And what a good way to use some of the Parmesan rinds I had in the freezer.

Summer Minestrone
adapted from NY Times

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with liquid
1 medium turnip or potato, peeled and diced
¾ pound zucchini, diced
A bouquet garni consisting of 1 Parmesan rind, 1 bay leaf, 3 sprigs parsley and 3 sprigs thyme, tied together with kitchen string or tied into a piece of cheesecloth
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini or borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
6 ounces green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
½ cup soup pasta, such as elbow macaroni, little shells, ditalini, or broken spaghetti
¼ cup slivered fresh basil leaves
Freshly grated Parmesan for garnish

1.  Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add the onion, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes, and add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Continue to cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 more minutes. Add the garlic, stir together for about a minute, and stir in the tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 quarts water, the turnip or potatoes, zucchini, and the bouquet garni, and bring to a simmer. Add 1-2 teaspoons salt (start with 1 and you can add more later), reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 35 minutes. Add the green beans, and cook about 10 minutes longer.  Stir in the canned beans. Taste and adjust salt. Remove the bouquet garni.

2.  Add the pasta to the soup and simmer another 10 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked al dente.  Grind in some pepper and taste and adjust seasonings, including salt. It should be savory and rich-tasting.  Stir in the basil. Serve in wide soup bowls, with a sprinkling of Parmesan over the top.

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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Fudgy Cocoa Brownies

These brownies are really similar to some others I've made, but I decided to try them anyway because they seemed so easy and are supposed to be fudgy.  They are super good and fudgy and MOIST (lol). The addition of a little oil plus the use of brown sugar helps with all of that. I really love these.  I made them three times in a few weeks.  Once just for us, and twice to take to potlucks.  The first time I used peanut butter chips, and then I chopped up some Ritter Sport chocolate bars for the other batches.  Both ways were great.  These don't cut very cleanly because of how fudgy they are.  But they're delicious so who cares.
Fudge Cocoa Brownies
adapted from Closet Cooking

1 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons oil (vegetable or coconut)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (optional)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
7oz (200g) chocolate chunks or chips or pb chips (optional)

1.  Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.  Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.  Line with parchment- optional. 
2.  Mix the butter, oil and sugars before beating in the eggs and vanilla extract. (I make these brownies right in the saucepan I melted the butter in.)

3.  Mix in the flour, cocoa powder and salt until just combined before mixing in the chocolate chunks.
Pour the batter into baking pan and bake until the top looks just set but still jiggles a little, about 18-22 minutes, before pulling out of the oven and letting it cool in the pan for 30 minutes. Slice and enjoy!

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Mango Lassi

We finally made Mango Lassis at home!!  We tried them once, years ago, but our mangos weren't good and the whole drink was chalky.  These are so easy to make; I don't know if we'll order them in Indian restaurants anymore!  I got this recipe from a friend and really enjoy how tasty and easy it is.  We've made this a few times- at first we used milk, as the original recipe states.  But the last time we made it, we used 16 oz. pure mango puree instead of the milk, and it was so good this way.  It's hard to get mango puree sometimes (we got this online; it was 100% mango puree), so one can use milk.  I also like using a bag of frozen mango chunks in this.  I love the texture of the finished product, we don't have to add ice cubes, and it's way easier!
Mango Lassi
from my friend J.R.
makes a lot- enough for our fam of 6

1 16-oz. bag frozen mango chunks*
500 grams (about 2 cups) plain Greek or European yogurt (full-fat)
16 ounces mango puree OR 1 cup milk (may need more milk to fully blend)
dash of cardamom powder
2 teaspoons sugar, optional (we didn't need when using mango puree)

1.  Blend all ingredients together in blender until smooth.

*If using fresh mango, may need to add a few ice cubes to blender to improve texture.

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