yet another way to cook chicken.

It’s officially winter. So let’s talk about warm, cold-weather-tasting, stick-to-your-ribs food. We have to, because the next several recipes I have to share with you are only appropriate for the summer months, because I am a monster.

Chicken with apples in honey mustard sauce is a gem by the wonderful Elise at Simply Recipes. As you might have guessed by its name, Simply Recipes is a low-profile, non-fancy food blog serving up highly delicious recipes without bells and whistles. It’s one of my all-time favorite blogs, and this recipe is a great example of why. It’s simple to make, requires no unusual ingredients, and is incredibly delicious. It’s the poultry counterpart to this pork dish that I wrote about in 2011, and I must say that I strongly prefer Elise’s take on these same elements – mustard, apples, cider, meat – to Jenny and Andy’s. Here’s how she makes it, with my own tiny changes included. You’ll need:

1/2 cup apple cider
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 apples
Olive oil

Start by prepping your sauce: whisk together cider, chicken broth, cornstarch, honey, and Dijon, and set aside. Let the flavors marry. You’ll definitely have to whisk again before adding to the pan, as cornstarch has a tendency to turn into cement if you let it sit, but don’t worry, it will quickly re-mix.

Slice your chicken breasts in half longways to make four thin filets (and pull off the chicken fingers too, if they’re there). Salt and pepper them in the pan – this is a great way to kick up your flavor base, as opposed to doing it on the plate – and brown in olive oil on each side, about 4 minutes per side (if your oil was hot enough to begin with).

Once the chicken is brown, turn the heat down to medium and add the apples, which you’ve previously prepared: core, don’t peel, slice thin, bam. Mix them in around the chicken and let them soften for a few minutes, then add your cider mixture. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and let it cook for about 15 minutes or until the chicken is done and the sauce is reduced and the apples are lovely.

This is great cold weather food. Cook it ASAP.

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my recipes: corn, chicken, and potato stew.

In my quest to use up some motherfucking corn, I created a stew of corn, chicken and potatoes, inspired as loosely as it is possible to use the word by some excellent-looking corn stews in Good Maine Food, a borderline insane cookbook I acquired on a trip to Maine last summer and which I should probably tell you about at some point because it is just delightfully batshit. Anyway, here’s how you make my stew. I came up with it using my own brain. You’ll need:

3 slices bacon (I tell you what brand you want here)
1 small onion
1 green bell pepper
1 fresh hot cherry pepper (not the kind from the jar!)
2 good-size boneless skinless chicken breasts (or whatever part of the chicken you prefer; I like BSCB, as I’ve decided to call them, because they’re super easy and chunk up nice but you can do your chicken however you like)
3 – 4 large ears of corn, kernels stripped
Two handfuls of potatoes
Chicken broth
Heavy cream

Obviously, these quantities can be monkeyed around with in whatever way you see fit (though I don’t recommend fucking with the aromatics until you’ve made this at least once). Add whatever veggies excite you. Go buckwild.

But start with bacon. Cut your three large (because you were sensible and bought the kind of bacon I told you to buy) strips of bacon into small pieces and render them until crispy. Lift your little crispy bacon bits out of the pot – I like chopsticks for working with bacon better than any other kitchen utensil – and set aside. Into the bacon fat put your diced green pepper, diced hot cherry pepper, and diced onion. Breathe deeply for several minutes.

Once you’ve acclimated to how fucking good your kitchen smells, go ahead and add your chopped chicken. Again, I like boneless skinless breasts because they are incredibly easy to work with, particularly in a preparation like this where you’re just adding them into a mix of stuff, but you could definitely level this soup up by making chicken stock with a whole chicken, using the chicken you used to make stock in place of the BSCB chunks, and using the stock you made as the base for this soup. But I’ve never made chicken stock and I certainly wasn’t going to start on COOK ALL THE CORN Day, so I used BSCB.

Mix your chicken chunks all up, then add your corn kernels (stripped from the cob aggressively, using a chef’s knife to get all the awesome corn goo out the cob) and your potato chunks. Oh, and just for the record, you chopped everything beforehand because this is soup, and soup is one of those things where actually doing a mise en place will legit save your dumb ass. So you add your corn and potatoes, and then over everything in chicken broth. I would say two cartons should do it? You might need more than two cartons, but you can always top off with water. Anyway, cover everything, add a good slug of heavy cream (maybe 1/2 cup if you feel like measuring) and boil! Then cover, simmer until the potatoes are donezo, and you’re done.

Make this now. Thank me later.

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corn muffins twice.

I mentioned to you earlier that I joined a CSA this summer? One of the …. consequences? I’m comfortable with the word “consequences” – has been a staggering proliferation of corn in my kitchen. There is no recipe that can use up this much corn. There are no two people that can eat this much corn. I spent an entire Sunday cooking almost exclusively recipes involving corn and the pile did not appear to have reduced at all. I think right now I have approximately twenty ears of corn in my fridge. Would you like some corn? I’ve got some corn.

In the spirit of, you know, having a little corn, I tried two corn muffin recipes. (Pro tip: corn muffins are a terrible way to get rid of a gangfuck of corn in one’s fridge. One batch typically calls for the kernels from one ear of corn, and that is insufficient to my needs.) One was smitten kitchen‘s corn, buttermilk, and chive popover recipe; the other was Melissa Clark‘s Fresh Corn Muffins with Maple Syrup. Let’s start with the popovers.

Popovers, if you’ve never had them, are light, fluffy creations, full of air and meant to be eaten hot. As such, they’re not a great candidate for a make-ahead breakfast, and that’s on me. I also didn’t have chives by the time I finally got around to making these, so who knows – maybe they were the missing ingredient that would have put the dish over the top. What I can tell you is that the finished product was seriously Not Great. First of all, as I alluded to earlier, these don’t keep for shit. I made them hoping for a week’s worth of breakfast at best and a few days at worst, and they were hard as unappetizing rocks by the next morning. Worse, though – they didn’t even taste that good. The black pepper did not complement the corn, but it did dominate the flavor profile of the popovers.

These were a failure. I ate one. Maybe try them if you’re making popovers for a crowd to eat immediately and you take out the pepper. Otherwise, avoid.

Melissa Clark’s muffins are a different story! Let me tell you right off the bat, they don’t taste like maple. Foolishly – foolishly! – I thought this meant I could leave the maple syrup out with no effect on the flavor as long as I boosted the sugar. You guys, I was so wrong. It might be because the maple-less batch I made was also made in a loaf pan large enough to swaddle a baby in and I’m pretty bad at figuring out how to adjust recipes for larger pans, but the maple-less batch did not hold a candle to the enmapled batch, despite the fact that the enmapled batch did not taste at all like maple.

It did, however, taste delicious. These muffins are fantastic. You should make them. I made no adjustments to the recipe, except that I don’t know where Melissa Clark lives that she can get maple yogurt in large enough quantities to put 1 1/4 cups in her muffins, I’ve only seen maple yogurt once and I bought it because it had a water buffalo on it and it didn’t taste like maple at all. So I did what she said to do and mixed some more maple syrup into the recipe along with plain yogurt. Next time I might use extra maple syrup, because goddamn right am I making these again.

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Pie Cook-Through #5 and #6: Sugar Plum Pie & Banoffee Pie

I’m not entirely sure sugar plums are a thing. The farmers’ market definitely sells something it calls sugar plums – they’re about the size of a half dollar, scarlet on the inside and sweet as all hell, I eat ’em like actual candy – but Wikipedia and the Google machine, when asked, kick up only sugar plums the weird British candy and sugar plam the Tchaikovsky tune. In First Prize Pies, the cookbook from which I’m sure you remember all these pies are drawn, it seems pretty clear that author Allison Kave is drawing more on her fond memories of The Nutcracker in naming this pie than any sort of nod to actual plum physiology. (Do plums have physiology? I’m thinking no, but I’m also thinking that I’m really enjoying that use of “physiology.”)

Anyway: Sugar Plum Pie is a basic plum pie seasoned with cardamom and honey, and I have to say, I wasn’t wild about it. My assessment of the pie was definitely colored by the fact that pitting plums is a gigantic pain in the ass and I had to pit something like twenty, given the size of plums with which I was working. For me, that sort of time investment demands high return, and flavorwise, it just wasn’t here. I did not think the plums were improved by cooking, and cardamom …. I really, really love cardamom, and I think part of the problem here is me. The recipe calls for 1/8 teaspoon of cardamom, and I have not yet got through my head how powerful cardamom is, so I doubled it to 1/4 teaspoon. And the flavor was overwhelming. So while this pie was not a winner, I wouldn’t hold it against it just yet. I’m sure this is an entirely solid recipe for plum pie that I’d turn to again. If I felt moved to make it again. Which I don’t.


If you, like me, are American, you can be forgiven for having one solitary reference to banoffee pie in your world, and that’s Keira Knightley in Love, Actually. You know, the part where she goes to visit Mark at his apartment to forcibly befriend him/get her wedding video and she says, “Bdlkjgvadf pie?!” and he says “no” and she says “It’d have broken my heart if you’d said yes” and then later she references her terrible taste in pie? You know exactly the scene I’m talking about, don’t front. Anyway, that gibberish word she says is “banoffee,” which is an English dessert pie combining bananas and toffee. I’d never had it, but my pie companion requested we make it for her birthday.

I’ve talked about this cookbook being fussy, and the banoffee pie recipe is a prime example. For the “toffee” component, just folded into the recipe, not printed in red or all caps or anything, no warning, Kave instructs you to boil a can of sweetened condensed milk, unopened, FOR FOUR HOURS. Now, if you read the wikipedia entry for banoffee pie you will learn that that is in fact the traditional way to make banoffee, but if you make one more click to dulce de leche, you will learn that that ubiquitous South American dessert which you can get at literally any market with a Hispanic clientele is just boiled sweetened condensed milk. So what I’m saying is that in the name of veracity, Kave has you spend FOUR HOURS PLUS TIME TO COOL on making something that you could probably get within ten minutes of your house with the exact same end quality.

So that’s fun.

Pain in the ass cookbook fussiness aside, this recipe is fucking flawlessly delicious. I wouldn’t have thought Carr’s Whole Wheat crackers would make a good crust for a sweet pie, but in reality they taste like what a graham cracker crust wants to grow up to be. The mix of fresh bananas, soft toffee, and whipped cream is perfect. I would eat this every day and twice on Sunday and I’d be hard pressed to come up with a reason to stop.

Because of the extent to which I intend to blog about this cookbook, I will not be publishing the recipes. However, if a particular pie speaks to you, let me know and I’ll be happy to send the recipe along privately.

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Pie Cook-Through #4: Ginger-Peach Pie

So you might remember I had a crust situation.

After making that pie, I was mad, you guys. Making the crust made me mad. I didn’t want to be mad. I wanted to eat delicious crust wrapped around a fruity filling (that is, “pie”). So I did what I always do when some aspect of cooking kicks my ass: I went to my friends. I believe what I said was something along the lines of “FUCK PIE CRUST help me make it less enragingly.” My friends are smart and skilled and had many tips, and when I sat down to make this pie, I had all of their advice open in my browser, ready to be referenced at a moment’s notice.

My watchword was “calmly.” I decided I was going to have faith in the process. I was going to trust that this recipe would work, given that its creator is a fucking professional pie baker. And I was going to accept that pie crust is not something I can make in twenty minutes and be thrilled with the result.

So, that crust situation I had? I don’t have it anymore.

The crust for this pie was fucking impeccable. For days, it maintained a crisp texture and excellent flavor. It cut easily with only a little brittleness in the outer edge. It looked pretty. It was everything I’ve ever wanted my crust to be. Here’s how I did it.

* Everyone always says that EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE COLD and now I believe them. I didn’t keep my dry ingredients in the freezer, but I did keep my butter in the freezer until the moment of incorporation. I took it out to chunk it, and I then wrapped it all up in a dish towel and put it back for the intervening minutes so it would be as cold as possible when I put it in the food processor. I mixed my milk and vinegar in advance and stored them in the fridge until the moment I added them to the dough. I think this definitely contributed to the level of crispness I was later able to achieve. (For those of you who don’t know, colder ingredients steam when they hit the hot oven, creating pockets of air that lead to fluffiness/flakiness. Here is an article about butter. For those of you who are facebook friends with me, you can see me learning all about this in the Note titled “serious baking questions.” from 2011.)

But I didn’t stop there. I refrigerated this bitch after I took it out the food processor and pulled it together (more about that in the next bullet). I then refrigerated the half I wasn’t rolling out (once I remembered I’d made a double crust recipe, which was ten frustrating minutes into the rolling out process. Amazing how much easier it goes when you’re not doing double work). And then once it was rolled out, I refrigerated the large rolled-out sheet. And then after it was pressed into the pie dish, I refrigerated the pie dish. Basically, I refrigerated for at least ten minutes and at most thirty minutes after every step and I am glad that I did.

* One of my biggest sources of frustration last time I made crust was that the quantity of wet ingredients called for in the recipe did not seem scientifically capable of moistening the quantity of dry ingredients. This time, I did add probably 2 tablespoons more milk than the recipe called for, but I really tried to stay minimal and stick to the recipe. I turned the dough onto the counter and, as last time, felt strongly that there was no way this was enough wet, but I forced myself to stay calm and trust the process, and I started working the dough. I didn’t full out knead it, conscious of introducing as little body temperature as possible into my COLD!!! dough. I just sort of pulled the dry bits at the edges into the middle and prodded and pressed and lo and behold it started to come together. I did this for a few minutes and then I refrigerated. Faith in the process, you guys, faith in the process.

* For rolling out, one of my friends recommended saran wrap between the crust and counter and more saran between the crust and rolling pin. I didn’t have saran, but I did have wax paper, and I foolishly assumed there would be no difference.

So, um. Wax paper is … waxed. It doesn’t have traction. And if you try to roll out a pie crust between two pieces of wax paper, it will slide all over the counter and you will become enraged.

Packing tape is your friend. It was mine. Just tape all your wax paper to the counter, get back to rolling out, and put saran on your shopping list.

* Remember you are making a double crust and do not try to roll out the entire dough ball as one crust. You will be mad.

I think that’s it. I think that’s everything. It was a long process but the resultant crust was so, so worth it.

Oh and the pie. Ha! The pie was fine. You toss peaches with fresh ginger, powdered ginger and sugar. I definitely prefer Deb’s peach pie filling, but this is my go-to crust, now and forever.

Because of the extent to which I intend to blog about this cookbook, I will not be publishing the recipes. However, if a particular pie speaks to you, let me know and I’ll be happy to send the recipe along privately.

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it’s summer. eat vegetables.

Today I would like to tell you about two vegetable salads that I have been devouring recently because I am in a CSA and absolutely drowning in delicious fresh vegetables. Seriously you guys, I drastically overestimated my household’s ability to eat vegetables. And I love vegetables! I’m known for it! But holy mother of God. They have sent me two heads of lettuce per week. Yesterday was my third pick-up, we got a double share because we’re out of town next week, and we still have a whole head of lettuce from last week! No human can eat this much lettuce.

Anyway. Let’s discuss the humble beet.

I love the humble beet. I know people who think it tastes like dirt, but that mostly makes me think they’ve never tasted candy (which is, for the record, what the humble beet actually tastes like). I mostly eat beets steamed and plain. They don’t need anything else; they’re perfect. However, I’m trying to branch out and get creative with my vegetables, so I decided that I would use my CSA beets in a beet salad. I chose one from Jenny and Andy’s list of top ten side dishes: roasted beets with honey, thyme, and feta. I’ll admit, I was skeptical of those three flavors together, but the salad is fantastic. The freshness of the thyme pairs beautifully with the sweetness of the beets, and the feta adds a nice savory kick. Here’s how you make it.

1) Roast beets. The recipe says to roast them at 425 for 40 minutes, but I got weird results – my larger beets were undercooked and my small beet was overcooked. I might stick to steaming in the future.
2) Cool and chop.
3) Add a drizzle of honey, a drizzle of olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper. Add generously of fresh thyme and feta cheese crumbles. Toss. Refrigerate. Devour.

The other salad I’ve been eating is a green been and potato salad, the brainchild of my best friend’s boyfriend’s family, who were kind enough to invite me to join them for their July 4th celebration. I ate it, loved it, asked for the recipe, and promptly made up a batch. Here’s how you make it. You’ll need:

Small potatoes (you can buy little potatoes in bags at the grocery store)
Green beans
Garlic powder
Fresh basil
Olive oil

Boil your potatoes until done (it’s nice to boil them close to the state you’d want them in for mashing, because then when you assemble the salad potatoey goodness gets all over everything). While you’re doing this, blanch your green beans. This means: submerge them in boiling water for 1 – 2 minutes, then pull them out and throw them violently into a bowl of ice water. (This sounds like more trouble than it is. I did it for the first time for this recipe and found it to be very easy and an excellent method of cooking green beans.) Also while you are boiling your potatoes, sautee a couple cloves of garlic, chopped fine, in a fair amount of olive oil with some salt. This is your dressing, so be generous. Cook the garlic until it’s reached the level of doneness you like best – mine browned, which is not what I wanted to happen.

Now we assemble! Slice your potatoes in half longways and toss together the potatoes, green beans, garlic and oil, black pepper, a shake or two of garlic powder, and a healthy amount of chopped fresh basil. Let it sit for a few minutes and then taste it. Mine definitely needed more salt, yours may have other needs. Doctor it up, let it cool and enjoy!

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quick thoughts on Hamlet (2000).

This morning I decided to check out Ethan Hawke in director Michael Almereyda’s 2000 adaptation of Hamlet. It’s a modern-day version set in New York City, where Denmark is a corporation the CEO of which has been murdered. Here are my disorganized impressions.

* This is heavily edited, as is usually the case for screen adaptations of Hamlet. That in itself is not surprising. However, there are a few elisions that struck me as especially significant for our interpretation of the text. First, Hamlet’s speech after he first sees the Ghost (beginning at roughly I.5.170) is dramatically shortened, leaving out the part where he informs Horatio that he may “put on an antic disposition” in the future. This has the effect of shifting emphasis from the question of Hamlet’s mental stability that is central to many performances of the text (certainly, the 1990 Zeffirelli version starring Mel Gibson grapples extensively with this question) to the observation of his obvious psychological disintegration. The play-within-a-play is also reduced, removing entirely the traveling troupe of players – instead, Hamlet shows the “court” a short film he’s made called The Mouse Trap. Once again, this stripping down of external factors foregrounds Hamlet and his deteriorating state of mind, making the story less plot-driven and more of a psychodrama.

* The other significant elision was of a simple line: “Madam, I wish it may.” Spoken by Ophelia to Gertrude (III.1.43) in response to Gertrude’s hope that Ophelia’s “good beauties be the happy cause of Hamlet’s wildness” before Ophelia is sent to provoke Hamlet by Gertrude, Claudius and Polonius, this line implicates Ophelia as at least somewhat agentive in the royal family’s machinations. Leaving it out casts her explicitly as a pawn, forced to conform to the will of others and powerless to work her own. I found this reading of Ophelia more persuasive than those I’ve seen before, which render her more childlike.

* I really like Ethan Hawke. I’ve liked him for years and I’ve seen him in a variety of films and I know he has range and can act. I feel this disclaimer to be necessary because he is just not very good in this. He’s mostly mopey and, later, unstable. And here’s the thing about Hamlet – it’s funny. It is clever as hell and features some of my favorite wordplay in all of Shakespeare, particularly in IV.3, when Claudius confronts Hamlet about Polonius’ murder. Hawke delivers his lines there – clever, witty stuff – like depressive insights, which I guess is consistent with his overall interpretation of the character but does not fit the material at all. (Seriously, if you can hear “he will stay ’till you come!” said about a dead body and not split your sides laughing … then you probably weren’t shown Hamlet a lot of times at a formative age, which really might be for the best when all is said and done.) The only scene where he shows any range is, strangely, III.2, when he approaches Ophelia at the viewing of The Mouse Trap. He’s sharp and energetic, and as a viewer you’re left wondering where this guy was for the other 105 minutes of film.

* Hawke also, and I’m sorry to say it, blows every single soliloquoy. This isn’t entirely his fault – for reasons known only to him, Almereyda staged the soliloquoys largely as voice-overs, rendering them toothless. I was especially struck by this choice because of my recent rewatch of Slings and Arrows, the brilliant Canadian TV show about a Shakespeare company (I should have a post on the show up sometime in the next few weeks). The first season of Slings & Arrows follows a production of Hamlet, and when its lead actor is paralyzed by the role, his director “reduces the role of Hamlet to its core elements to calm his overwhelmed actor. It’s six soliloquies, and the rest is filler. “Nail those six soliloquies, everyone goes home happy.”” In many ways it’s true – we watch a new version of Hamlet to see what the lead is going to make of “To be or not to be” and “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I.” We don’t get this opportunity with Hawke. It’s disappointing.

* The other performance I found thought-provoking was Julia Stiles as Ophelia. Stiles was 19 at the time of filming, but has had an older-than-her-years dignity and grace throughout her career, and let me lay my cards on the table: I adore her. I think she’s brilliant. I think she’s a generational talent and I am utterly baffled that she hasn’t had a bigger career. So, with that said – I am just not sure what she’s doing here. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. Stiles is really good at her job. But I didn’t feel like her performance came together until her final scene, Ophelia’s famous mental collapse. The confrontation between her and Hamlet (III.i, which I mentioned above, also known as the “Get thee to a nunnery” exchange) is also extremely well done. In particular, I love that rather than doing as the text does and hiding Polonius and Claudius offstage (and forcing the audience to decide if Hamlet knows they’re there or not, and therefore to whom he’s speaking throughout) the film makes Ophelia wear a wire. We know exactly to whom Hamlet is talking until he discovers the wire, and casting his building rage in that scene as a reaction to his beloved’s betrayal makes the whole thing make a lot more sense. I also appreciated the film’s approach to Ophelia’s characterization, which I discussed above: she’s a pawn, totally disempowered, but not at all naive. I found this more resonant and relatable than the usual portrayal of Ophelia as an easily led innocent child.

* The only person in this film who knows what to do with the language is Liev Schreiber (Laertes), which is in my experience standard in filmed Shakespeare adaptations. You’ll be watching along, thinking about performance and characterization and staging, not even noticing the language with which everyone is, you think, doing a serviceable job – and then someone waltzes in and opens their mouth and it is immediately clear that their command of the text is so superior that they are doing something utterly different from everyone else in the film. Brian Cox had this effect in Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, and Schreiber does it here. It’s no surprise – he’s an accomplished Shakespearean actor (I saw his Henry V in Central Park in ’03 and it remains one of the theatrical high water marks of my life) – but it is sheer joy to hear him work with this text.

Overall, I enjoyed this version of Hamlet. As with nearly every adaptation of a beloved and familiar text, there were things I loved and things I didn’t like and things I found fascinating and things I found stupid. Which is why I continue to seek out adaptations of beloved and familiar texts. Have you seen this version of Hamlet? Do you have a favorite version? What do you think?

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