24 August 2014

Sunday in Frenchtown: Farm Market Vegetables

At Grandma Annie's, Sunday dinner fare was almost always the same: Roasted chicken with potatoes and whatever vegetables were in season.

Vegetables were prepared simply: Boiled and served with butter, salt and pepper.

Save for the addition of herbs and sautéed almonds or walnuts, that is often the best way to prepare them today. At least once a season, I serve vegetables with nothing to detract from their earthy flavor.

22 August 2014

Season of the Witch Finger Grape

Witch Finger Grapes
I've had a hankering for chicken salad with onions, walnuts and grapes. Served chilled, it's one of my favorite summer salads. A dash of cinnamon and thyme adds layers of taste. It's great served with popovers or even muffins.

I ran across these odd-shaped grapes at the supermarket yesterday and the sample I tried from the woman who was promoting them was juicy and sweet - and seedless.

These elongated grapes are hybrids, as you've probably guessed, a hand-pollinated marriage of American cultivar developed by the University of Arkansas Division Of Agriculture and a Mediterranean variety. They are grown in Bakersfield, Cal., and sold at farm markets in California and distributed to supermarkets nationwide. That didn't stop me from buying them: I eat local about 75 percent of the time in summer, anyway. And this hasn't been the best growing season, as local farmers will tell you. Plus, you can't find grapes at local farm markets.

Speaking of summer, apparently that's the only time you can buy Witch's Finger grapes. Too bad, because they would be a healthy treat for a kids' Halloween party, given their resemblance to an old hag's wizened claw.

Here's how I used mine:
  • 1 chilled roasted chicken breast, white meat cut into chunks
  • 1 medium sweet onion
  • 2 cups Witch's Finger, or other seedless red grape
  • 1 Tablespoon green pepper, minced
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or Tablespoon fresh, chopped)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Combine chicken, onion and grapes. Add mayo and walnuts. Blend. Add seasonings. Serves two.

You can substitute any kind of seedless grape, red or green, and almonds instead of walnuts. Optional additions include celery, chevre, or even blue cheese.

21 August 2014

Throwback Thursday: Bleu d'Auvergne Cheese

Bleu d'Auvergne Cheese, Cahors 2008
A few weeks ago my husband and I had lunch at a local restaurant known for its views of the water and daily specials. We both chose a salad with apples, walnuts and dried cherries that sound good but was in reality overly sweet and well, a little wimpy.

We were disappointed.

A salad combining lettuce and fruit demands a bold counterpart like blue cheese or a savory pairing like bacon to bring out its full flavor.

Bleu d'Auvergne, a relatively new French cheese with roots in the 1850s, is robust and pungent, but creamier and less salty than other blue cheeses. As its name suggests, it originates in the Auvergne, a region of south central France just northeast of the Midi-Pyrnees. When I last visited the latter region, I purchased my first wedge (above).

I used my Bleu d'Auvergne in a salad of regional walnuts and apples, purchased at the market in Cahors. I served it with a main dish of chicken roasted with onions and rosemary and a glass of pear cider, although I understand it also mates well with the black wine of Cahors, which was also an option.

Learn more about Bleu d'Auvergne here and here. I buy it whenever I find it, which is not very often, sad to say, unless I happen to stumble upon a cheese shop that sells something other than Wisconsin cheese.