Wrinkled Grapes

A few weeks ago, my husband brought home a rather large amount of seedless red grapes.  They were the size of marbles and looked like they would pucker your lips.  Instead they were delicious and sweet.  But they lingered in the fridge and began to wrinkle like the tips of your fingers after a long hot bath.  Didn't give it much thought until I got a Facebook message from Nancy at Expendable Edibles.  She and her partner are in the business of making sure people discover fascinating ways to use the odds and ends in the refrigerator:  the last dregs of vinegar, the dehydrated knob of ginger, two pieces of leftover soppressata, a gnarled carrot.  Nancy, who, after seeing the large photo of my Sauteed Chicken with Roasted Grapes (from Radically Simple) in the New York Times queried, "Hey, couldn't you use oldish, wrinkled grapes for that dish?  After all, that's the way they wind up after roasting?!"  I liked the question and the theoretical construct.  Using pre-wrinkled grapes already gave you a head start!  More importantly, though, not throwing those grapes away benefits the planet -- and stretches the family grocery bill.  "Of course the sun does some of this for us already," I thought, as I contemplated the inverse evolution of some of our favorite foods -- grapes into raisins, plums into prunes, ripe tomatoes into sun-dried tomatoes, botrytised grapes into Sauternes.  I'm certain there are others, some of them are lurking in your fridge.

In addition to that gorgeous chicken dish, however, is another splendid recipe that features grapes as a prime ingredient:  "Grape and Pignoli Breakfast Cake."  A huge hit from Eat Fresh Food, my cookbook for teenage chefs, no one (including adults!) can resist the pleasure of pushing grapes, one by one, into the batter. I will be using the last of my wrinkled grapes this morning with a nod to the girls at Expendable Edibles.  Look for my "live interview" with them tomorrow.

Grape-and-Pignoli Breakfast Cake Not too sweet, but full of flavor, this moist breakfast cake is an original spin on more ordinary coffee cakes.  My daughter, Shayna, is a grape freak and thinks the cake is "divine."  It lasts several days in a tightly-covered tin.  And yes, you can use slightly wrinkled grapes.

12 ounces red seedless grapes (not too large) 2 extra-large eggs 1/4 cup milk 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 teaspoon vanilla extract grated zest of 1 lemon 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar 1-1/2 cups self-rising flour 2 tablespoons pignoli nuts (pine nuts)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Wash the grapes and discard stems.  Dry well and set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, 1/2 cup olive oil,vanilla, lemon zest, and 1/2 cup of the sugar.  Blend thoroughly.  Stir in the flour and mix well until smooth.  Use 1 tablespoon oil to grease a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and pour in the batter.  Place the grapes evenly, about 1/4-inch apart, in concentric circles on top of the batter to cover the entire surface.  Press the grapes halfway into the batter.  Scatter pignoli evenly on the cake and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.  Bake 45 minutes until golden and firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool.  Serves 8 to 10

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.