Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Grape Expectations, again

One of the most innovative sources for recipes continues to be the California Table Grape Commission. Several years ago, they sent a recipe that combined grapes and salmon .... Oy, it is to weep for such lush perfection.

They've struck gold again with their fall and holiday recommendations:

Three recipes with authentic culinary pedigrees featuring grapes can make fall and holiday entertaining fun and easy. One is a terrific aperitif for a cocktail party, an intimate dinner or a gathering of the book club. Two is an easy entrée with a delicate treatment of sole. Three is a James Beard original.

One: California Grape Cocktail – Taste is what matters in the 21st century revival of the cocktail and the cocktail party. Many modern mixologists use fresh juices of all kinds to create multi-layered drinks that can rival any Jazz-age 20th century predecessors. In this sugar-rimmed aperitif, that cocktail workhorse vodka infuses the fresh grape and lemon juice base with a measure of zip, while the champagne top-off gives the drink a bubbly finish.

Two: Sole Véronique – Here's an entrée to send cooks back to their food history books with pleasure. None other than the famous chef Auguste Escoffier created this time-honored soul-mating of poached sole and green grapes in a classic velouté sauce. It's a simple preparation that still has the power to "wow."

Three: Grapes with Brown Sugar and Sour Cream – The legacy of the famed James Beard is featured in this simple dessert. One of his favorites, Beard often served this lovely finale when other more complicated dishes preceded.

These recipes showcase the trend towards reviving the elegant and sophisticated menus of the past, while still maintaining our insistence on the best, freshest ingredients. That grapes – a fruit always associated with sumptuous dining -- are components in each one should be no surprise.

California Grape Cocktail

2 cups green, red, or black seedless California grapes
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
2 to 4 ounces vodka
2 ounces champagne
1/4 cup sugar (optional)
Blend all but one grape with the lemon juice. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Measure 2 parts juice to 1 part vodka into a small pitcher or measuring cup. Divide the juice and vodka mixture evenly between the glasses and top off with a splash of champagne. Serve immediately.
Optional Sugar-Rimmed Glass: Spread the sugar onto a small plate. Slice the reserved grape in half and use it to moisten the rims of two martini glasses. Dip the rims in the sugar and shake off any excess. Fill glass with drink mixture and enjoy.
Makes 2 drinks.

Nutritional analysis per serving: Calories 333; Protein 1 g; Carbohydrate 56 g; Fat <>

Grapes Suzette

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup green, red, and black seedless California grapes, sliced
8 sweet crepes (recipe follows)
1/4 cup Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or Cognac (optional)
Melt the butter in a large skillet or sauté pan. Stir in the sugar, orange juice, orange zest, and sliced grapes. Cook on medium-high until bubbly. Reduce the heat to low. Working quickly, place a crepe into the sauce and fold into a fan shape. Lift the crepe from the pan and arrange on a warm serving dish or platter. Repeat with the remaining crepes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the Cointreau, being careful to avoid lighting the liquor on fire unless that is a desired effect. Stir to blend and spoon the warm grape sauce over the prepared crepes. Serve immediately.
Serves 4.

Sweet Crepes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon brandy or cognac
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

In medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the eggs, yolk, milk, and brandy. Gradually blend the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until the mixture is smooth and lump-free. Let the batter rest for at least 30 minutes.
When you are ready to cook the crepes, the batter will have thickened slightly from resting. Add water to the batter 1 tablespoon at a time until it has thinned to the consistency of heavy whipping cream.
Heat a nonstick skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Brush lightly with the oil and swirl in a scant ¼ cup of the crepe batter to coat the bottom of the pan. Cook for 1 minute, or until the very edges of the crepe are lightly brown. Flip with a flexible spatula and brown the other side. Repeat with the remaining batter. Use crepes immediately or cover and keep chilled for up to 24 hours.
Makes 8 to 10 crepes.
Nutritional analysis per serving (without optional liqueur): Calories 483; Protein 9.7 g; Carbohydrate 63 g; Fat 21 g; 39% Calories from Fat; Cholesterol 199 mg; Sodium 139 mg; Potassium 301 mg; Fiber 1.4 g.

Sole Véronique
6 large or 12 small fresh sole fillets (about 11/2 pounds)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 small onion slice
2 to 3 slices fresh lemon
Sprig of thyme
5 to 6 peppercorns
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup green seedless California grapes
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter a glass or ceramic ovenproof baking dish.
Fold the fillets in half, skin side in. Place the fillets in the prepared dish with the wine, onion, lemon slices, thyme, and peppercorns. Cover the dish loosely with foil and bake for 10 to 12 minutes for small fillets and 16 to 18 minutes larger fillets, or until the fish is just cooked through. Carefully lift the fish from the pan and place on a warm serving dish. Strain any cooking liquids and reserve. Discard the solids. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook until the roux is bubbly and golden brown. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the strained cooking liquids. Stir well. Return the pan to the heat, add the half-and-half, and simmer the sauce for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Season with the salt and white pepper. Add the grapes and lemon zest. Spoon sauce over the sole and serve immediately.
Serves 6.
Nutritional analysis per serving: Calories 188; Protein 22.5 g; Carbohydrate 7 g; Fat 5.5 g; 27% Calories from Fat; Cholesterol 70 mg; Sodium 298 mg; Potassium 516 mg; Fiber .5 g.

Grapes with Brown Sugar and Sour Cream

4 1/2 cups green, red or black seedless California grapes, halved
6 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cups sour cream

Divide and arrange 3/4 cup of halved grapes in each of six dessert dishes. Sprinkle each with brown sugar and top with 1/3 cup sour cream. Chill until ready to serve.
Makes 6 servings.

Note: A slightly fancier version of this is sometimes called Grapes Romanov. Arrange halved grapes in individual heatproof serving dishes, but top first with sour cream and then brown sugar. Chill for at least 1 hour so that the brown sugar melts into the sour cream, then caramelize or “brûlée” the sugar with a small torch or by placing the dishes under a preheated broiler until the sugar is bubbly, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.
Nutritional analysis per serving: Calories 301; Protein 3 g; Carbohydrate 38 g; Fat 17 g; 48% Calories from Fat; Cholesterol 34 mg; Sodium 49 mg; Potassium 380 mg; Fiber 1.2 g.