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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Peel Me A Grape

My morning visits to the Tuesday/Thursday farmers' market are usually quick fire grab-and-go shopping sprees on my way to work. Sometimes, I don't even remember what I picked up until I'm home from work. This past week, I had the luxury of time. It wasn't a sprint as I strolled leisurely through the dusty gravel visiting every vendor, stand by stand. I sensed the growing season was starting the slow process of winding down. The crazy weather had taken a toll on the growers.  Their faces and voices exuded it.

My favorite Casey County vendor had baskets of teeny baby yellow squash.  When I remarked how unusual they were this time of year, he simply responded, "That patch is nothin' but dust." He wasn't selling cute cheffy baby squash. He brought what he had to the market to sell.  Purposeful neccessity.  I bought them all. The whole lot. Sweet tiny bites.

We've been away for a while on a seaside vacation. Our pantry was bare, so I needed stuff.  I think I bought something from every vendor. Too much, in fact.  Heavy bags bounced off  my knees as I meandered through the market. 

On my way out, something caught my eye as I passed by Elmwood Farm's well stocked stand. Tiny clusters of seedless Reliance grapes spilled over the gigantic basket that held them. I was mezmerized. They looked like delicate champaigne grapes. Grapes of any kind usually don't pop up at the market. They completely took me by surprize. I dropped my bags around my feet, pinning me in place, and tasted one. It snapped like a grape, but tasted like a sweet small plum. That lone exploding little bite was exactly what I was hoping to find at the market that day. I happily handed over my last two dollars, dropped a small cluster of them into one of my bags, stumbled to my car, and made my way home.

While on vacation, we devoured incredibly fresh seafood at whim. It was there for the taking and we took brilliant advantage of  it. After eight straight days of seafood gluttony, we were in desperate need of a meat intervention.  Specifically, pork. Yeah, baby.  Pork with roasted plum-like grapes. I could taste it just thinking about it.

I pulled a couple of plump boneless pork chops from the freezer to thaw while I sliced a few juicy heirloom  tomatoes, dried apricots, and onions. When the chops were completely thawed, I wrapped  them with thick cut applewood smoked bacon, secured the bacon with skewers, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and set them aside.

Using a small baking dish, I layered alternating slices of fresh black and yellow brandywine tomatoes, topping each layer with fresh thyme, salt, pepper, and pungent crumbled stilton cheese.  The cheese filled tomato stacks would have been fabulous simply dressed with a vinaigrette, but I couldn't leave it at that. Nope.  I roasted them until the cheese melted into a wonderfully smelly pungent cheese puddle while the tomatoes remained somewhat firm. I let them bathe in the fondue while I cranked a skillet on high heat to saute the pork medallions.

When the skillet was blazing hot, I added a splash of olive oil and sauteed the pork until it was deeply caramelized, about 4 minutes per side. After pulling the pork out of the skillet to a side dish, I added sliced onions to the pan juices and allowed them to sweat until translucent before deglazing the pan with 1/2 cup chicken stock combined with 1/2 cup madeira wine. After tossing a handful of loose Reliance grapes  into the sauce, I slid the bacon-wrapped pork medallions back into the skillet, topped them with the remaining grape clusters along with fresh rosemary sprigs, clamped on a lid, and carefully placed the simmering mix into a 350 degree oven to braise for 25 minutes.

After two or four glasses of wine with Michael, I pulled the pork from the oven to rest and plumped pearl couscous with slivered dried apricots  in simmering  chicken stock for about 15 minutes.

It was time for pig.

After plating the saucy pork medallions, I spooned the apricot-flecked couscous to the side, nestling  the oozing tomato stacks between the two. I dropped a few fresh grapes onto our plates and finished with snipped chives, parsley, and thyme leaves.

It was a ridiculous flavor party. There was so much going on. The sweet tiny grapes collapsed from the heat and melted into the madeira wine sauce, infusing it with additional soft sweetness. The velvety sauce napped the tender pork, enhancing its clean taste with a savory and sweet balance. Crazy. While the braised grape-clinging pork evoked an incredibly rich sleepy trance, the oozing pungent roasted stilton-tomatoes provoked mouthwatering culinary chaos. Bold.  Fabulous.

Beulah, peel me a grape.
                 -I'm No Angel

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