Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad with Broccoli and Grapes

Some time ago, we learned about the Fortune Asian Noodle Blogger Recipe Challenge and decided to participate. We emailed our interest to JSL Foods, and in exchange we received three packets of Fortune Thai Peanut Rice Noodles to experiment with.

We chose to enter the Cold Salad category because it's summertime and we knew we'd have several opportunities to feed a crowd at a picnic or potluck during the summer season. In fact, our recipe is a riff off of the ubiquitous Broccoli-Grape Salad, you know the one with the vinegary-sweet mayonnaise dressing that has broccoli, grapes, bacon and sunflower seeds that you can find all over America anytime in July or August? Yeah, that one. And we also loved the idea of playing with the idea of peanuts and grapes because we both have such nostalgia for peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches.  

So this is what we made, and it was so very easy. First, it only has five ingredients (well, six if you include hot water). Second, the Thai Peanut Noodles can be microwaves in 3 minutes, so the whole dish is done in less than 10, and most of that is choppin' broccoli. Like Dana Carvey. And finally, the peanut seasoning packet just needs to be whisked with hot water to become its spicy, nutty self. So easy!

This salad tastes best with the noodles, grapes and broccoli allowed to chill slightly and then dressed with the sauce right before serving. You can buy Fortune Noodles at Shop Rite and Stop N Shop when you're ready to try this for yourself. To get more info on JSL Foods and their products, check out their Facebook or Twitter pages.

Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad with Broccoli and Grapes

3 packages Fortune Thai Peanut Rice Noodles
1 cup hot water
2 cups small broccoli florets
3 cups halved grapes
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil 
1 cup chopped peanuts

Prepare the 3 packages of noodles according to the directions (microwave for three minutes). Combine the cooked noodles, broccoli florets, grape halves and sesame oil in a large bowl. Cover and set in the refrigerator to chill for 20-30 minutes. Then open the three seasoning packets into a small sauce pan and whisk in the cup of hot water to make the peanut sauce. Gently stir the peanut sauce into the noodle mixture. Serve garnished with chopped peanuts.

Disclaimer: This recipe was created as an entry into the Fortune Asian Noodle Blogger Recipe Challenge. We received free samples from JSL Foods to create the recipe, as stated above. However, all thoughts and opinions stated here are our own and we were not paid to publish this or to post only positive comments.

UPDATE: With this recipe, we won an HONORABLE MENTION in the Fortune Asian Noodle Blogger Recipe Challenge.


A New Spin on Shrimp 'n Grits

Having lived in New Orleans for several years, Amy loves her some Southern food. One particular favorite is shrimp and grits. The other night, though, we decided to play with it a little and try a new spin on this Louisiana classic. 

We married Amy's other favorite -- New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp -- with grilled polenta cakes. For what is polenta but Italian grits, right? To boost the corn flavor, we roasted fresh corn and sprinkled it on top. This could be how we eat shrimp 'n grits from now on! 

Tip: Leaving the shells on the shrimp allows the sauce to get trapped inside and keep the shrimp juicy. Serve this dish with lots of napkins because these shrimp will have to be peeled to be eaten by diners.

New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp over Grilled Polenta

2 ears fresh corn
1 roll pre-cooked polenta 
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. raw shrimp, shells on
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cracked green peppercorns
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
5 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 cloves minced garlic
1 large lemon, sliced, seeds removed

For the corn: 
Heat your grill to medium-high. While the grill heats, soak the corn, still in the husk, in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Shake off the excess and place the corn on the grill. Close the grill and cook, turning often, about 20 minutes, or until the kernels are tender. Cut the kernels off the cob and set aside.

For the polenta: 
Slice the polenta into 1/2-inch slices and drizzle with olive oil. Place on the grill and cook, flipping once, until heated through.

For the barbecue shrimp:
Preheat oven to 450F. Cut the butter into pats and place in baking dish large enough to hold the shrimp in one layer. Add pepper, peppercorns, Creole seasoning, rosemary, Worcestershire and garlic. Place in oven until butter is melted, stirring to combine ingredients. Place lemon slices in one layer over the sauce, then lay the shrimp on top, also in one layer. Return to the oven. Cook approximately 3 minutes. When shrimp start to turn pink, turn shrimp over and cook another 3 minutes. 

To assemble: Arrange the polenta on a plate, place the shrimp on top and around the polenta. Drizzle entire plate with the shrimp sauce and sprinkle with corn kernels. 


Cherry-Fig Chutney

Amy's mom recently made a comment that our recipes were getting a little crazy. She briefly mentioned fish sauce as a particularly odd ingredient. Well, Mom, you're not going to like this one, we expect. So let us start by restating something we've said before, which is that we feel recipes are mostly suggestions, not meant to be followed to the letter. We write about what we did and encourage you to try it your way. 

That said, on a recent summer motorcycle ride out to Brooklyn, Connecticut, we stopped at the Creamery Brook Bison Farm (see also our old post here). If you are ever in the area on a weekend, you should go check it out. Besides bison, they have emus and many different birds. They offer farm tours and wagon rides, host seasonal events, and have a store in which they sell their meat along with an astounding array of bison-themed products. Plus, there's ice cream! It's a small, family-run farm, so definitely check their website before you go for their hours and other pertinent information.

On this particular day, we picked up a gorgeous bison tenderloin at the farm's store. When we got home, Chris trimmed it to remove the extra fat and silver skin. We tossed some small potatoes in olive oil with fresh herbs and Chris set out to the deck to put those on the grill. Once they were nearly cooked, he put on the meat, first searing it on all sides, then turning down the heat to cook it to medium rare. It didn't take long, and he was very careful not to overcook it, because it was a beautiful piece of meat. (If you're not sure how to cook bison, the farm has handout to guide you).

While Chris was grilling, Amy made this cherry-fig chutney to serve over the meat. In case you don't know, besides being the most annoying character in Legally Blonde, a chutney is a spicy condiment made of fruits or vegetables with vinegar, spices, and sugar, sort of like a savory marmalade. We had fresh cherries in the house (see also Cherry-Lemon Clafoutis) and thought they would work nicely with the bison, although we think this sauce-of-sorts would also be great with beef or pork. 

Chutney in Legally Blonde

The "strange" ingredient Amy's mother might not like here (besides the bison, that is) is the fig-infused balsamic vinegar, a gift from our neighbors D and J. It really gave the chutney a deeper, darker, sweeter, less acidic flavor than a regular balsamic vinegar would. If you can't find it at your grocery store, they would certainly carry it at one of those specialty olive oil/vinegar shops that seem to be all the rage lately. Williams-Sonoma has one as well. In other words, while it may take more effort, it will be well worth it. 

Cherry-Fig Chutney
makes 3-4 servings


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup demerara sugar (or light brown sugar)
1/4 cup fig-infused balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
a dash of cayenne pepper
1 cup black cherries, pits removed
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions to a small bowl and set aside. Put the sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, and cayenne in the skillet and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to low. Add the cherries and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Return the cooked onion to the skillet and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over bison, beef, pork, or whatever you wish. 


Summerin' Succotash!

Summerin' Succotash

Huzzah, it's corn season! This year, we even tried to grow our own, and while we have a few very small ears, they certainly aren't ready for harvesting. Around here, the typical corn varieties we find are Butter and Sugar (alternating kernels of sunflower-yellow and butter colors), and Silver Queen (white-blonde kernels). We love them both and eat as much as we can from late July until the end of September when our local farmstands abound with ears.

A Couple in the Kitchen's own corn patch and Thai pepper plant

Straight off the cob is the perfect way to eat corn, in our estimation. But now and again we buy or cook too many ears and like to experiment with the leftovers. Some recent market finds mingled with our own garden veggies in our latest favorite side dish - succotash. 

Fresh mise en place for Summerin' Succotash

The recipe is simple and the result, summery fresh goodness. From the farmers' market, we shelled whole lima beans and sawed the corn off of two freshly shucked ears. From our own garden, we dug up a couple of shallots, shredded a few basil leaves, and chopped two tiny Thai hot peppers (love how they grow end-up!). We ran across the street and "borrowed" a beautiful red tomato from our neighbor which we diced. A little bacon grease leftover from that morning's breakfast, some time over medium heat, and a dash of seasoning and we had a side dish worthy of the season, perfectly paired with smoked pork chops.

Cooking process - so easy!

Substitution tips: You can use olive oil instead of bacon grease to keep it meat-free. If you can't find fresh lima beans, use about a cup's worth of frozen. Jalapeno would work instead of the Thai pepper as well.

Summerin' Succotash

1 tablespoon bacon grease
2 shallots, peeled and sliced
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 ears corn, shucked, kernels removed
1 quart fresh lima beans, shelled (yielding about a cup) 
1 large tomato, diced
2 Thai peppers, finely diced
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
13-15 basil leaves, shredded

Heat the bacon grease in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic powder and cook until they start to soften, about two minutes. Stir in the corn and beans and allow to cook until they are warmed through, about five minutes. Add the tomato and peppers and cook another 2-3 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and the cider vinegar. Remove from heat and toss in the basil leaves. Serve warm.

Grilled, smoked pork chop and "summerin' succotash"


Pairings That Pop

Amy writes:

It's not that I want to wish my summer away. Believe me, I definitely do not want that. But I am jonesing for Fall TV. Character-driven dramas like Scandal and Shameless. Quirky, smart sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory and New Girl. And perhaps a reality show or two that if I don't mention can remain my secret shame.

No matter what I'm watching, though, I take my snack cue from one of my favorite TV characters, Olivia Pope. Yes, gladiators, you know what I'm talking about: wine and popcorn. Wine and popcorn is Olivia's nightly ritual, a snack for someone whose job it seems is to save America, one episode at a time. 

When I learned that Skinny Pop Popcorn had put together a pairing guide that I would be able to share with my readers, it was kismet, almost as if they could see into my living room. Thank goodness I'm not too paranoid! 

My usual pairing is Whirley Popper-popped corn topped with melted butter and kosher salt, paired with a full-bodied red. Since I can't afford high-end Bourdeaux (à la Ms. Pope), I tend toward Cabernet Sauvignons. But I was inspired by the Skinny Pop guide (above) to try something new. Here's what happened.

Pairing Suggestion #1: White Cheddar and Chardonnay: 
I'm not entirely into white wines, but this pairing reminded me of a summer picnic. Crisp, buttery wine? Check. But instead of cheese and crackers, I had chewy, cheesy popcorn. Wine and cheese, but more fun. This may become my summer re-run go-to. 

Pairing Suggestion #2: Naturally Sweet and Banyuls:
I bought some kettle corn at the farmers' market recently, which has the same flavors as Skinny Pop's "Naturally Sweet," made with cane sugar and salt. Banyuls is like port, so I tried it with a sip of Evenus Zinfandel Port, which is slightly syrupy with lots of dried fruit flavors (dates, raisins, prunes). This port is sweet, but not cloyingly so, and the sugary popcorn played up the sweetness very well. I liked this pairing a lot, and think it would be a perfect night-cap.

Pairing Suggestion #3: Original and Malbec:
I made a batch of salted popcorn (sans butter) and left my Cab behind to try it with an Argentinean Malbec (Alamos, 2013 to be exact). The wine had a lot going on...black fruits, chocolate, pepper are some of the notes I got. It was perfect with the plain, crunchy, salty popcorn. This one was the closest to my "usual," but I have to admit, I like it more! Fall TV, I'm ready for you!

The Verdict? Wine and popcorn make a perfect pairing but the possibilities are endless. Use the guide and try something new yourself. I think Olivia would be proud.

Olivia Pope with Wine and Popcorn


What We've Been Up To

We haven't been home much, so publishing a "real" or "substantial" post lately hasn't been realistic. Let's just say it like it is: we are teachers, so as much as the summer affords us the opportunity to be more active on the blog, the blog is "work," and we don't "work" in the summer. Simple enough.

Anyway, in the interest of keeping up, we thought we'd let you know what we have been doing the past couple of weeks. A sort of foodie photo journal of what we've been up to (food-wise, anyway). Enjoy!

Dinner a couple Sundays ago at Millwright's Tavern:

Gnocchi with Fried Kale

Beef Cheek Sandwich

Ice Cream Cone Trio

Oysters in Compound Butter on the Grill at home two weeks ago:

Seafood Pasta in Allentown, PA last week:

Fresh Blackberry-Topped Dutch Pancake at home yesterday:

Beet Chips with Bleu Cheese Sauce and Bacon from Iron and Grain Co. 
at FARE, Willimantic last night:


Go Local Magazine - August 2016 Issue

The August issue of Go Local Magazine is out! Go Local is a local lifestyle magazine promoting life around the Massachusetts/Connecticut line. The magazine features nearby businesses where you can play, shop and eat, and showcases the citizens who make the region a great place to live. The August issue is filled with people and places that are invigorating the Go Local area. Consider it required summer reading!

On page 20 you can find three of our favorite summer snack recipes, perfect for a light lunch, appetizer or party nosh. Amy wrote the article on Ellington Farmers' Market favorite, LuAnn's Bakery (page 11). There's a list of local farmers so you can "meet your farmer, know your food," a feature on Rice's Fruit Farm in Wilbraham, Mass., and so much more. You can read the current issue online here, or pick up your FREE copy today and Go Local!