Through The Years...

Embarking on this cookbook project and working my way through the past decade of my cooking career has been not only a nostalgic experience, but also a pensive one. My recipes, and the stories behind them, reflect not only how I have grown in my kitchen skills, but also how I have grown as a person. I've become more adventurous, more confident, and more open-minded over time. Plus, my recipes conjure memories of people in my life; someone for whom I made a specific dish, someone I learned from, someone who I taught a given recipe.

I think, in part, that this powerful connection to memory is why I don't make today's dish more often. At one point, in college, it was the star of my cooking arsenal -- the recipe I kept up my sleeve for when I needed to impress someone. It was a little unconventional, a bit unexpected, but it was also a huge hit with anyone I ever served it to. I wouldn't say I ever made it often, because its rich, cream-based sauce made it more special occasion fare, but I certainly made it every few months. Now I'm lucky if I make it once a year.

The recipe is for chicken with grapes, and it consists of sauteed chicken, browned and then served with a mustard cream sauce and a combination of cooked and nearly raw grapes, for textural contrast, served over a bed of noodles. I saw it on an episode of Rachel Ray (like I said, I added this dish to my repertoire while I was in college), was intrigued by the marriage of sweet and savory flavors, and decided to give it a try. It became so popular among me and my friends that when a friend asked me for advice on what she could make to impress her boyfriend who was visiting her from out of town for the weekend, I taught her how to make it over the phone, and emailed her the recipe.

Chicken and grapes became a thing between the two of them, and I gradually came to associate the recipe with her because she mentioned it so often. People change, or sometimes fail to change, however, and friendships come to an end, as did ours. I wouldn't say that I mourn the loss of that relationship, nor do I have any ill will towards her, but I did stop making chicken and grapes as often I once did because it reminded me of her, and I felt that I had largely left that part of my life in the past.

Still, this dish is just as delicious as it ever was, and it deserves to be revisited every now and then regardless of the memories attached to it. I shouldn't punish the recipe just because somebody once liked it, and now that I've introduced it to Justin, he's become a fan himself. Hopefully, I can build up new positive memories surrounding this dish, and it will resume its rightful place in the pantheon of my most-beloved recipes. Until then, you should give this recipe a try. Since you have no baggage associated with it, you are missing out on all the comforting, rich, sweet/savory goodness for no good reason.

Chicken and Grapes
adapted from Rachel Ray

2 tablespoons light tasting olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
seasoned salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chicken stock, measured in 1/2 cup increments
1/4 cup stone-ground Dijon mustard
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces

1. Heat a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add the butter and olive oil to the skillet and wait for the butter to melt.
2. Season the chicken with seasoned salt and pepper to taste. Place the flour in a large Ziploc bag. Add the chicken and thoroughly toss to coat.
3. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook for 7-8 minutes or until browned. Remove chicken once it is done and set aside.
4. Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock to the pan and scrape up any browned bits sticking to the pan. Allow the stock co cook down for 1 minute.
5. Add the remaining stock, heavy cream and mustard. Stir the chicken and half of the grapes into the sauce, tossing to coat. Simmer for at least five minutes over low heat. Season with seasoned salt as necessary.
6. Add the remaining grapes and serve immediately over egg noodles.

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