"Slap Ya Mama!" Heritage Pork Chops

We started school last week, and since then, we've been trying to prepare quick and easy dishes to get us through until we're back in "the routine." However, "quick and easy" doesn't have to equal "from a box/can" or "doesn't taste good." It was with "quick and easy" in mind that we spotted Hurricane Farm selling heritage breed pork at the Coventry Farmers' Market and we were interested. For $10 a pound, would we be able to tell the difference? Would it be worth the money?

The quick and easy answer, a strong and heartfelt "YES." The chops were bone-in and came two to the cryo-vac package, weighing in total at a little over a pound. We seasoned them only lightly, with a sprinkling of Louisiana-made Slap Ya Mama original blend Cajun seasoning, and a drizzle of olive oil, then grilled them for a three or so minutes on each side. The end result was the tastiest, juiciest, most tender pork chop either of us have had outside of a good restaurant.

Was it Chris, for being such a master griller and cooking the chops to a perfectly juicy medium? Was it the seasoning, a nicely balanced mix of salt, red pepper, black pepper and garlic? Or was it the high-quality, lean, all-natural, heritage breed pork? Who can tell for sure? In the end, we're sure that we'll buy chops from Hurricane Farm again, even at $10 a pound.


The Fungus Among Us

Throughout Connecticut, this time of year is synonymous with tomatoes. There are usually heirloom tomato festivals to be found, people are singing the praises of their beefsteaks, bags of cherry tomatoes pass from neighbor to neighbor, and home cooks are cooking down their plum tomatoes to freeze for the long winter ahead. Alas, not this year.

This year, Connecticut was hit with late blight, the same fungus that destroyed the Irish potato crop in the 1800s, and farmers and home gardeners alike have witnessed the destruction of their beloved tomato plants. In an August 12
article, the Hartford Courant reported that Urban Oaks Organic Farm in New Britain lost over 80% of its 7,000 plants, a loss equal to over $100,000 in sales, and that the blight had spread to six out of eight state counties. Add to that the wet summer which made some fungicides ineffective, and there are few good tomatoes to be found.

Last week's Coventry Farmers' Market theme should have been "Heirloom Tomato Fest." Instead, the market masters put their chins up and held "Fungus Fest," a celebration of mushrooms and an attempt to make light of the blight. The CT Valley Mycological Society was on hand to show off some prized specimens and to take folks on foraging walks. Local chefs performed culinary demonstrations showcasing mushrooms and other CT grown products. Even the soapmakers got into the spirit - Rich Valley Farm offered a special "Dirt" fragrance goat milk soap.

If you are lucky enough to have tomatoes this summer, please enjoy them, celebrate them, and have one for us. While we enjoyed the celebration of the fungus among us, we miss our tomatoes.


100th Post!!! Pay It Forward Giveaway

To celebrate our 100th post, we are going to Pay It Forward.

Back in May, we read
this post written by Cathy from Wives with Knives and fell in love with the idea. A couple of weeks later, we got an email saying we were selected, and later, we received in the mail an apron with the Wives with Knives logo. How excited were we to get a package from a fellow foodie?!?! Well, you too can find out because it's time for us to Pay It Forward.

We'll follow Cathy's rules, which are:

We will randomly select a food blogger who leaves a comment on this post and send him or her a Connecticut-themed gift within the next 365 days. The catch is that you must be willing to do the same thing. thus Pay It Forward. To enter, leave a comment on this post no later than midnight (Eastern) on Friday, September 4, 2009.

We will announce the winner on Sunday, September 6, 2009. Hope to hear from you!


Whirley Pop Popcorn Popper

We love popcorn. Not the chemically-enhanced microwave version, but real, cooked on the stove popcorn. With butter. Not butter sprinkles or any other butter substitute, but real, melted butter. And salt. Can't forget the salt. My best friend Karen knows this about me, and years ago, she bought me the Whirley Pop Popcorn Popper. This is probably the one kitchen "appliance" we use the most. We usually use Orville Redenbacher's original kernal popcorn, but every now and then we get some gourmet kernels at a farm stand or a specialty food shop. Whatever corn we use, the Whirley Pop ensures that virtually every kernel comes out crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The stirring mechanism prevents sticking and burning, and it's easy to clean. Best of all, we have fresh, hot popcorn in about three minutes. Yes, we love popcorn. But we love our Whirley Popper even more.


Canoe Club, Hanover, NH

(Originally written long-hand, July 8, 2009)

The end of the school year went by in a blur of papers, exams, coffee and take-out. Now I find myself spending a week on the campus of Dartmouth College at what my husband lovingly calls "
Latin Camp." The pros? Professional development, personal enrichment, a week in charming Hanover, New Hampshire. The cons? Living in a dorm room and eating every meal at the campus dining hall. I'm half-way there, and I have no choice but to skip the "mess hall" and take myself out to dinner.

I first read about the Canoe Club while browsing the New England travel books at Bank Square Books in Mystic and remembered it this afternoon after deciding to "go gourmet." I enter and take a look around. A canoe on its side behind the bar holds high-end bourbons and scotches while postcards, old photos, and canoe-race awards adorn the Dartmouth-green walls. I am reminded that the Connecticut River is a short mile away and appreciate the unique functionality of the well-placed canoe.

The menu boasts of partnerships with local farms. In fact, I caught the tail-end of the Hanover-Area Farmers' Market on the walk to the restaurant. I'm seated at a high table facing the bar and my server greets me straightaway. I order wine and peruse the menu.

I start with the black-bean and sausage soup. It's full of tomatoes, carrots, celery and onion, all in a spicy minestrone-type broth. I sop up what remained with the chewy Portuguese dinner rolls. The soup is hearty and nicely seasoned with a hint of heat in the sausage. Off to a good start.

Maybe I'm in a soup mood or maybe it's the damp weather, but I order the cioppino next. I can't believe the amount of seafood that comes in the bowl: two large tiger shrimp, six "rope-cultured" mussels, and two dozen bay scallops. All of this, along with onions, stewed tomatoes, carrots and potatoes, rests lightly in a saffron sauce. I dig in and enjoy while I observe my surroundings. Next to me, a young buck seemingly new to the workaday world is chatting with his mentor over beers. A couple is sharing a romantic meal at a table near the window. Two college-age girls are gossiping over wine at the bar. With its warm feel and ideal location, this seems like the perfect place for all types.

Desire for decent food, a touch of PMS and an abhorrence of my recent Spartan living style drives me to order three, yes three, desserts. The first, called "Lime Cloud," I can't resist - it is sweet-tart, has bits of lime pulp, and is as light as its name implies. Next, "Canoe Club Chocolate Kisses," slightly larger and more squatty versions of those made by Hershey, these are darkly decadent and melt without bitterness on my tongue. Finally, the seventy-five-cent shortbread cookie is the crispy balancer of the other two treats. I ordered a couple more to enjoy with a later-that-night cup of tea.

An evening lecture draws me away from my leisurely dinner, just as the live entertainment, a female jazz singer, belts out the opening lines of "Girl from Ipanema." Darn professional development!
Canoe Club on Urbanspoon


Cajun Shrimp Alfredo

Chris came upon one of Emeril's shows while channel-surfing the other day. He didn't catch the beginning, but it seemed to be some sort of "hot and spicy" cooking contest. It was the last contestant's dish that really caught his eye: a spicy Cajun shrimp alfredo. He DVR'd it, and when I entered the living room, he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and asked me to grab a pen and paper. We did our best to jot down everything Emeril did to recreate the dude's dish but forgot to take down the contestant's name. We cooked it the next night, and here's our version of it. It has many layers of flavor, from the heat of the spices to the smokiness of the andouille, as well as texture, from the bite of the shrimp to the creamy cheesiness of the sauce to the al dente pasta. This one is a keeper. Way to go, guy from Emeril's show!!!

3/4 lb. andouille sausage, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
8 tablespoons Worcestershire
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy half-and-half
3 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 stick butter
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound shrimp, peeled
1 pound fettuccine

In a large, deep skillet, render the diced andouille in one tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and cook for four or five minutes. Add the chopped garlic and red pepper flakes and continue to cook so the andouille starts to caramelize. Meanwhile, put the pasta water on to boil. Coat the peeled shrimp with two tablespoons of Cajun seasoning and set them aside. Deglaze the sausage/onion/garlic pan with the Worcestershire sauce and cook for two minutes, stirring. Add the milk and half-and-half to the pot and continue to stir and cook. Add the butter and parmesan cheese and lower the heat on the sauce to simmer. Cook the pasta according to the directions. In a separate skillet over medium heat, saute the shrimp until they turn pink. Toss the drained pasta in the sauce and serve the cooked shrimp on top. Garnish with some parsley and serve with crusty bread.


Garden Pizza

It was a hot, humid day (thankfully one of only a few we've had this year) and we don't have central air, so we decided to spend most of the day at the movies. We saw two comedies in a row -- The Hangover and The Proposal -- and were entertained by both, enjoying the coolness of the almost-empty auditoriums and the countless good laughs. Afterwards, we hit the grocery store for a stock up, came home, and decided we were too tired to cook anything complicated, thus the pizza. We used a store-bought dough that we brushed with olive oil and topped with fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, green and purple basil, salt and garlic. We're calling this pizza "Garden Pizza" because the toppings came from...can you guess?...our garden. It took a long time, but our tomatoes, plentiful and free from the blight that has wreaked havoc throughout the state, are finally ripening on the vine. Our herbs are like little bushes, and their scent perfumes the front porch as we lounge on the porch-swing. We're enjoying two different varieties of lettuce and are awaiting the many green peppers that will soon be fodder for the grill. Suffice it to say that we're grateful for summer's bounty and the time we have to savor it.



I'm not sure where we were when I saw them...various flavors, neatly wrapped, moist and delicious. Whoopie Pies. I didn't buy one and I've been thinking of them ever since. Thus our Sunday project, to make homemade whoopie pies. Which neither of us have ever done before. Should be interesting. We started by finding a recipe on Cooks.com that called for ingredients we thought we had in the house. We had to beg the neighbor for some baking cocoa but luckily she was home and had some to spare. Then we called my mom for her famous "Flour Frosting" recipe. We gathered the ingredients, took out the KitchenAid and went to work. After what felt like hours, we had whoopie pies. Not the best whoopie pies we ever had, but the creamy, sugary frosting made up for the dry, somewhat flavorless cakes. If you have a good whoopie pie recipe, please pass it along! We need one! In exchange, here is the recipe for Flour Frosting.


5 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup softened butter

In a medium saucepan, cook the flour and milk over medium heat, whisking constantly until it turns into a ball. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Beat the remaining ingredients together very well, then blend them with the cold flour/milk mixture until you have fluffy frosting to spread on your favorite cake, cupcake or cookie.


Chris Makes Good Breakfast

Chris makes good breakfast. This is a fact. My first restaurant job was serving, then later cooking, at a breakfast/lunch joint so I make good breakfast. But Chris outdid himself with this one for sure: bacon and "eggs in the hole" using crusty Italian bread and spreading blackberry jam on the bread "holes." To drink? Blood orange mimosas! The bread was grilled to perfection and the egg yolk oozed out as I cut into it. What a luxurious way to start a gorgeous summer morning!!!