Shoestring Menu With French Twist

This undated file photo shows Ahmad Wali Karzai brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaking during a meeting with elders in Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan.
AP Photo/File
California native Michael Kramer once thought he'd be surfing or cycling his way through life. Lucky for us, he found his true calling in the kitchen.

Kramer, as he calls himself, is the executive chef at McCrady's restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, where new American cuisine is served with a modern French twist.

For our Chef on a Shoestring challenge, Kramer created a three-course meal for four for under $30. His menu: an appetizer of Asparagus Salad with Grapefruit; an entrée of Roast Chicken served with a White Bean and Mushroom Ragout; and for dessert, Grape Panna Cotta Parfait.

Terminology:

Asparagus: Asparagus is in season from February through June. You can also find hothouse asparagus year-round in some regions. White asparagus, preferred by Europeans, is grown underground to prevent it from becoming green. It tends to be thicker and smoother than the green variety. Kramer used green asparagus for his salad.

Parfait (pahr-FAY): Most Americans know parfait as a dessert which consists of ice cream layered with flavored syrup or fruit and whipped cream. The French version of parfait is a frozen custard dessert made with egg yolks, sugar, whipped cream and fruit puree. Kramer's version of parfait is a loose interpretation of the French definition. He used panna cotta as the base for his parfait, and is adding a fruit flavor made with gelatin and grapes.

Champagne Vinegar: Champagne vinegar is exclusively produced in the Champagne region of France. Just like Champagne wine, the vinegar has millions of aficionados in France and other countries. Kramer says the light, mild vinegar is a good choice if you want to dress delicately-flavored salads or vegetables. If you can't find champagne vinegar, you can try the following substitutes: white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, raspberry vinegar or apple cider vinegar, but none of them will be as mild as Champagne vinegar.

Ragout: (ra-GOO) A ragout is a thick, rich, well-seasoned stew of meat, poultry or fish and sometimes vegetables. Chef Kramer chose to make a ragout of beans and white button mushrooms.

RECIPES

Asparagus Salad with Grapefruit and Citrus Vinaigrette

Vinaigrette Ingredients:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons honey (approximately)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Salad Ingredients:
1/2 pound arugula
2 bunches of asparagus
2 whole grapefruits, cut into segments
4 ounces goat cheese
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Wash the asparagus and trim the ends.
  2. Drop the asparagus into a pot of boiling water.
  3. Leave in for one minute, two at the most. Remove the asparagus and chill immediately in a bowl of ice water. This stops the asparagus from cooking and leaves it crispy, with a vibrant green color.
  4. Cut the asparagus into 6-inch lengths.
  5. Season the asparagus with salt and pepper and place on a plate in a square formation.
  6. Place 5 grapefruit segments on each plate.
  7. Sprinkle crumbled goat cheese around the plate.
  8. In a large bowl, toss the arugula with the citrus vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.
  9. Place arugula in the center of the plate.

Roast Chicken with a White Bean and Mushroom Ragout

Ingredients:

4 chicken breasts, bone-in with skin
1 cup white navy beans
1 small yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch dice
12 pearl onions, peeled
4 cloves garlic, crushed
12 button mushrooms, washed
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

For the Chicken:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

    In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 1/4 cup of canola
    oil.

    Season the chicken breast well, on both sides, with salt and pepper and place in pan skin-side down.

    Brown evenly and turn the breast over, to sear the flesh side.

    Place the skillet in the oven and cook the chicken until done (about 12 to 14 minutes). Set aside and keep warm.

For the White Bean Ragout:

  1. Soak beans in water overnight.
  2. Strain water.
  3. In a medium size pot, place beans, crushed garlic, 1 sprig of rosemary, 1 sprig of thyme, bay leaf and chicken broth.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until beans are almost tender, about 20 minutes.
  5. Add the onion, carrots and mushrooms and cook until vegetables are tender, about another 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. When vegetables and beans are tender, remove from heat. Strain off cooking liquid and reserve it.
  7. To finish, take four cups of the cooking liquid and place it in a small pot, whisk in the 2 tablespoons of butter and season with salt and pepper.
  8. Finely chop the remaining two sprigs of rosemary and two sprigs of thyme, and add the chopped herbs to the cooking liquid.

To Serve:
In four large bowls add 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid in each bowl. Place a small amount of the bean and mushroom mixture in the center of the bowl. Finally, place the chicken breast atop the white bean mixture.


Grape Panna Cotta Parfait
Serves 4

3 cups concord grape juice
2 3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder
1 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons superfine sugar
4 1-inch strips lemon zest
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
4 martini glasses

For the Fruit:

  1. In a medium saucepan, boil the grape juice over moderately high heat until reduced by half; allow to cool.
  2. Transfer 1/4 cup of the juice to a small skillet.
  3. Sprinkle 1 1/2 teaspoons of the gelatin over the grape juice in the skillet and allow to stand until softened (about 10 minutes).
  4. Warm the mixture over low heat, stirring once or twice until dissolved.
  5. Allow to cool, then stir the mixture back into the remaining cooled grape juice; reserve 3/4 cup of the grape gelatin and carefully pour the rest into 4 martini glasses.
  6. Refrigerate the glasses until the grape gelatin is chilled and set (at least 2 hours).

For the Panna Cotta:

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the heavy cream, sugar and lemon zest and bring to a simmer. Let cool, then discard the lemon zest.
  2. Pour 1/4 cup of the cream mixture into a small skillet and sprinkle the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons of gelatin on top. Warm the gelatin mixture over low heat until dissolved, then stir it into the remaining cream mixture along with the buttermilk; let cool completely.
  3. Carefully pour the buttermilk mixture over the grape gelatin in the martini glasses and chill until set, about 2 hours. If the remaining grape gelatin has congealed, re-warm it over low heat until it's just pourable, and pour a thin layer of it over the panna cotta in each martini glass. Refrigerate until set.