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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Two Easy Holiday Appetizers--and Two Thanksgivings!

 Seedless Red Grapes with Rosemary, ready to pop into the oven

Two Easy Holiday Appetizers--and Two Thanksgivings!
by Victoria Challancin

One of the things I love best about the Holiday Season is that friends unite and celebrate together. When I was young, growing up in the American South, people just "dropped in,"  usually unannounced, to join in a little Christmas cheer. Gone are those casual days when leisure time was more plentiful, when conversation, rather than devices, provided entertainment.  I miss those days, but am still thankful for the scheduled gatherings of today.

During this special time, it is nice to have some easy appetizers on hand ready for almost instant entertaining.  As you probably know by now, I am a cheese "freak," a cheese lover, who could be content eating some kind of curdled whey in some form daily.  Strong, mild, smoked, soft, hard, semi-hard, pungent, made of goat's milk, made of cow's milk, made of ewe's milk...I never met a cheese I didn't like.  And a mixture of the above is even better, with each taste a textural, olfactory, and gustatory sensation.

What could be better to serve with cheese than fruit or something fruity?  Hence, the following two recipes, which although made for Thanksgiving, are also perfect for Christmas.  The first is a simple roasted seedless grape recipe, spiked with sea salt and fresh rosemary. Roasting the grapes intensifies the flavor and brings out their inherent sweetness, making them a perfect accompaniment to good cheese.  The second is a simple chutney, perfect with Indian food, of course, but also delightful alongside a tray of cheeses.  Both recipes are simple to prepare and terrific condiments to have on hand any time, but especially during the holiday season.

 The roasted grapes

Cook's Notes:  You can hardly call this a recipe; rather it is a technique that screams for reinvention.  For this version, I simply tossed seedless red grapes with olive oil, rosemary, and sea salt before roasting.  Sometimes I mix a little port with sugar and add that.  Or balsamic vinegar.  Sometimes I use thyme instead of rosemary.  Lavender would also work.  I suspect the possibilities are many. 
Great with cheese, these also work well in salads.

Recipe:  Roasted Grapes with Rosemary
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)

1 1/2 to 2 lbs seedless grapes
1/4 cup olive oil, or as needed
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
Sea salt or Kosher salt to taste
A few grindings of black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Leaving the grapes on the stem, place in a bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the chopped rosemary, salt, and pepper.  Add the rosemary sprigs.  Gently toss, making sure that all of the grapes and the rosemary sprigs are moist with the olive oil.  If the rosemary isn't fairly wet, it will burn.

Spread the grapes on a baking sheet, drizzling any remaining oil from the bowl over them.  Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, or until grapes begin to soften and skins start to shrivel.  Remove from oven and allow to come to room temperature before serving.

 Fresh Pear Chutney

Cook's Notes:  My friend, Maryanna (a great cook), sent me this recipe for a simple pear chutney years ago which she said is from Eating Well Magazine.  I have made it as written once, and it was delicious.  Then, as I couldn't help myself, I starting tarting it up.  Now I consistently add extra garlic (3 large cloves), much more ginger root, several teaspoons of two colors of mustard seeds, dried cherries (here) or cranberries, a bit of ground cumin and coriander, a cinnamon stick, 4 or 5 cloves, salt and pepper, plus 1/4 cup crystalized ginger.  You can play with this recipe and make it your own, but even in its simple, original form, it works beautifully.
Recipe:  Pear Chutney
(Original recipe from Eating Well Magazine with my version written above)

3/4 cups sugar (I used brown sugar)
3/4 cup cider vinegar
3 large firm pears, such as Bosc, peeled, cored, and diced (about 1 1/4 lb total--I used a bit more)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger root, 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes or to taste
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed

Place sugar and vinegar in a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes.  Add pears, garlic, ginger, red-pepper flakes and mustard seeds to the saucepan and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer briskly, uncovered for 45 minutes, or until the chutney thickens.  Spoon into another container and refrigerate until chilled.

The chutney can be made and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.  Makes about 1 1/2 cups (as written).

Additional Serving Ideas for both condiments:
  • On a cheese platter, alongside the cheese
  • On crostini spread with cheese or atop cheese slices
  • Alongside roasted turkey, chicken, lamb, or pork
  • With yogurt
  • In a chicken salad
  • In a lettuce salad with nuts and cheese
  • On a sandwich, especially a good, melty panini
  • Blended and added to a balsamic or sherry vinaigrette or marinade
  • In rice or grain pilafs
  • Ground with nuts and a bit of butter and made into a spread for apple slices or bread

Thanksgiving I:
Thanksgiving is such a special holiday to Americans, and maybe even more so to ex-pats who are far from their families of origin and their roots.  I must be the luckiest of the lucky of those ex-pats, however, as I get to celebrate two Thanksgivings. my favorite food fest and loving gathering, each year.

Thanksgiving I is on Thanksgiving Day in the country at my friend Tom's beautiful home.  If not too cold, swimming is involved in Tom's pool, heated naturally by thermal waters.  Because of his Indian and Tibetan connections, non-traditional surprises always appear on the table.  This year it was a fruity, Kashmiri-style stuffing or dressing for the turkey--and a little dal alongside traditional candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, pecan pie, fruitcake, and more.  My only contribution to this feast was these two condiments!

 Tom's pool, fed by thermal waters

 Mexican pottery on a granite-topped table

 I never know which of his beautiful dishes he will choose, but this time it was Mexican talavera

Thanksgiving I--a quiet, but perfect gathering, of loving people and great food, filled with gratitude all around.
Thanksgiving II:
Thanksgiving II is an equally lovely, but very different get together, celebrated on Sunday due to a mish-mash of work schedules.  Hosted lovingly by my best friend, who is American, and her Mexican husband, this lively feast is a pot-luck filled with generations of people from both cultures, with a couple of delightful Canadians thrown in the mix. The hosts prepared the hors d'oeuvres, turkey, and a lively dish of beef tongue in green sauce (wonderfully Mexican), desserts and more.  The rest of us brought sweet potatoes, a modern green bean casserole (me), beets prepared several ways, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade rolls, a heavenly pumpkin soup, salads, and more.  I also added the Pumpkin Tres Leches Cake, the recipe for which I posted recently, to the mix by request.

Our kids, who were raised together, are all young adults now.  With their various partners, they made up the boisterous end of the table.  The sedate elders rounded out the other end near the fireplace, content with our conversation and wine.

At this fiesta, we always go around the table to count our blessings, with each person giving thanks in his or her own unique way.  And we have much to be thankful for, so very much--each of us alone and together.  I always feel extra blessed and awash with love when I look around at the faces of those I love, thankful for having them in my life.

 Dahlia, my friends' daughter and best bud of my son who is the same age, made unique and clever table decorations

The drinks sideboard, with the Virgin of Guadalupe looking on and, no doubt, blessing the entire affair
 A unique cork and glass-piece topped trivet,  no doubt made my my unique and creative friend, lovingly displayed on a cactus-fiber woven cloth I brought as a gift from Morocco

Can you understand why I feel so blessed?  Thank you, family...thank you, precious, treasured friends.

Parting Shot:  Hydrangea Shadows

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!


GlorV1 said...

Just beautiful. Thank you for the inspiration.

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

I make roasted grapes as well and they are always a hit. How nice that you got to lovely Thanksgiving meals…both sound wonderful.

Eha said...

Thank you for sharing your two Thanksgivings . . . both lovely and obviously full of love. Like the idea of the Kashmiri stuffing and the dhal to make that turkey a little more interesting. Shall try both your own recipes. That one could roast grapes I actually did learn from Karen a while back but have yet to try - with rosemary: would not have thought of the idea!! And the pear chutney also has to be made soonest: garlic and ginger - what a flavour combo!! Thanks!!

Hotly Spiced said...

I love both recipes and yes, I can see these would have many uses. I love the look of your friend's swimming pool - looks like he lives in a resort! And the table settings for both Thanksgivings are gorgeous - thanks for sharing them with us xx

Joan Nova said...

What a wonderfully warm, loving and totally enjoyable post!

P.S. I'm a big of stewed fruits with cheese though only recently started including grapes.

janet @ the taste space said...

I have yet to try roasted grapes but your idea is so simple, how could I refuse? Totally trying that next time :)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

First of all, those roasted grapes look SO good! I must try that one day! And how fantastic to have Thanksgivings-so much to be thankful for!

Nagi@RecipeTinEats said...

Wow! The roasted grapes look so good! And the Thanksgiving sounds fantastic and amazing!