Chicken Tostada

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This is what you think of when you think of Mexican food, right—iceberg lettuce, red wine vinegar, parsley? Oh, the parsley! Just like I remember from Teotihuacan!

Nevertheless, Nonnie’s take on a chicken tostada—which, it must be noted, appears in the “salad” section of her cookbook, lolololol—is a lot tastier than I thought it’d be. After all, it’s pretty tough to mess up cheese, beans, and chicken; Taco Bell has built a vast fast food empire on that very principle. And it’s even harder to mess up those things when they’re smeared on top of a freshly fried tortilla, one that tastes even better because you made it out of nothing but a regular tortilla and brawn.

All in all, it makes for a satisfying meal that’s relatively light in Nonnie terms (despite, you know, the fried tortilla and melted cheese)—at least, if you only eat one. Which might have flown in the ’60s, but probably doesn’t fly today. Continue reading

Buttermilk Chicken

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This is not soul food.

Soul food is rich in both history and calories, a rib-sticking fusion of African cooking techniques and southern ingredients. It’s a cuisine born of poverty and necessity that’s perhaps as symbolic as it is delicious, the sort of thing that inspires popular historians and high-low chefs and understandably possessive custodians.

This is, you know, Shake ‘N Bake. Without the shake. Continue reading

Honey-Baked Chicken


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When I was a freshman in high school, my advisor told a joke he probably shouldn’t have to a select group of students. The joke, he claimed, was a foolproof way to determine whether or not a person is Jewish. If it makes you laugh, you are; if you don’t get it, you’re not.

I just looked up the punchline — and if you’re in the mood for a TL;DR version, this one’s a lot shorter. But as I remember it, the gag goes a little something like this: Continue reading

Barbecued Chicken and Cucumber Salad

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I spent the last week of 2015 in Mexico City, blissfully gorging myself on meat, cheese, and gloriously simple carbohydrates. I ate red mole and black mole and guacamole, corn fungus (surprisingly delicious) and goat-milk caramel (ditto) and grasshoppers (not… great), barbacoa and chilaquiles and weird Mexican convenience store snacks, sandwich cookies and pastries and a pink drink called a Lulu that I absolutely would have been embarrassed to order at home, but whatever, we were on vacation, and if you can’t have pink drinks on vacation, when can you have them?

Naturally, I returned to New York with a heavy sigh and a mild case of scurvy. I was more than ready for January, when we atone for the excesses of the holidays with whole grains and hot water with lemon and diets disguised as “cleanses.”

Cucumber Salad 1

Unfortunately for January, there’s a real deficit of “healthy” recipes in Nonnie’s cookbook. Continue reading

Chopped Liver

As a kid, the cartoons that consumed a good, oh, two-thirds of my waking hours warped me into believing a lot of erroneous stuff. Vintage Looney Toons made me wary of dogcatchers, limburger cheese, anvils, and banana peels, all dangers I somehow have yet to encounter in real life. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles taught me to shun anchovies, leading to a tragic Caesar salad deficiency in my early years.

And then we have liver and onions, a combination that several cartoons used as shorthand for “something disgusting your parents will force you to eat.” I’m thinking specifically about an episode of Doug that revolves around the title character’s fear that he’ll be forced to eat the dreaded dish when he’s invited to dinner at Patti Mayonnaise’s house. You know, the stuff of your worst 11-year-old nightmares, although I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what liver was until my animated pal taught me to hate it. Having brought a pile of raw liver into my kitchen recently, I can’t imagine why he wasn’t a fan.

Continue reading

Green Beans, German-Style and Chicken and Dumplings

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You know that scene from the second season of Mad Men, when Betty serves a  globally-inspired “trip around the world” dinner to Don and his colleagues — gazpacho, rumaki, Irish leg of lamb, and German noodles, with Bordeaux and Heineken to drink? And it’s funny but also sad, because she’s trying so hard to look cosmopolitan and sophisticated? I never really got how true that rang until I started studying Nonnie’s cookbook.

The binder is studded with recipes made to seem exotic by the ethnic modifiers they carry — Scandinavian Duck, Devonshire Turkey Sandwiches, Spanish Omelet, Mexican Hot Sauce, Norwegian Salad, Hawaiian Chicken. The irony, of course, is that there’s nothing authentic about any of them; they’re basic midcentury Americana, as far removed from the traditional dishes that inspired them as a Chinese fire drill is from China. (The worst offender is probably Nonnie’s “Armenian Vegetable Casserole,” a melange of eggplant, peppers, and zucchini mixed with ketchup and baked for two hours. What? Exactly.) Continue reading

Hawaiian Chicken

Hawaiian Chicken 1

Can’t you just feel the island breezes blowing?

Hawaii had a hold on Nonnie. She and my grandfather took my mother and her brothers to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel shortly after its grand opening in 1965; at the time, it was allegedly the most expensive hotel ever built. The trip made such an impression on her that 50 years later, my mother and I discovered that Nonnie had saved the menus from every single meal her family had eaten on that vacation.

I didn’t take any pictures of those menus, because I am a dummy. However! I’m pretty sure none of them featured this chicken, which is basically Shake ‘n Bake with a can of pineapple dumped on top. Continue reading