Things You Can Count On

There are so many things in life you can count on.  Certain friendships, finding chicken and Lipton tea in the grocery store, and relying on your "go-to" restaurant.  You know, the place where they smile when you enter, give you the best table, and where the chef comes out before your guest arrives and chats you up.  It's not the best restaurant in your repertoire, nor the fanciest, or plainest.  It's consistent enough with a few razzle-dazzle dishes and showy decor to make it feel fresh every time you go.  But much like the mid-term elections, lunch yesterday was a disaster. The experience brought out the worst in me; perhaps it began when the waiter told me that Grüner Veltliner was a French wine (it's not, it's Austrian), and suggested that I opt for a very pricey chardonnay instead.  Maybe it was the 1 hour and 15-minute wait for the main course when we were one of the first tables to arrive.  Maybe it was because I wanted my friend, one of those friendships I count on, to be happy and impressed and satisfied with her meal.  Being "an insider" in the restaurant world makes it difficult sometimes because the flaws are so evident and...preventable.  But knowing the vicissitudes of the industry also makes me a much more appreciative, generous, and patient customer.  I know you'd never know it by this little rant.  I won't divulge the name of the restaurant but would advise the general manager never to pull out a chair and sit down at a customer's table.  Especially when she's cranky.

I won't divulge the name of my friend, either, except to say that she is one of the most generous women I know.  There is never a time that I'm with her that I don't learn something -- about being a mother (she has 3 beautiful daughters), about books for children, about famous authors, about diplomacy, about graciousness and gratitude.  She's also funny.  After hunting for the lamb in her lamb salad (after a good 10 minutes), she declared "here it is!  Everything's okay."

And speaking of things to count on, we all need a recipe, or two, that work.  Here's one from Radically Simple that was featured yesterday in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. And be sure to click here to "like" me on Facebook and enter to win a free autographed copy of Radically Simple!

Sauteed Chicken With Roasted Grapes and Grape Demiglace Makes 4 servings

3/4 pound small red or black seedless grapes 3/4 pound small seedless green grapes 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, divided use 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (each, 8 ounces) 1/4 cup minced fresh chives

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Remove the grapes from their stems. Put half of the grapes on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast 1 hour, turning after 30 minutes.  Puree the uncooked grapes in a blender until very smooth. Strain through a sieve, pressing down hard on the skins.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook 4 minutes on each side. Add the grape juice and cook until the chicken is cooked through and the juice becomes syrupy, 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a platter. Add the remaining butter to the pan and cook, stirring over high heat, 1 minute. Add the roasted grapes and cook 1 minute longer. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle with chives.