This Leap Day, we dance on winter's grave.

February's free play gives us a chance to go nuts with a wild Friday edition.

Winter has been long, dreary and gray. The wet, chilly weather and painfully short hours of daylight have made us lethargic. Confined indoors, we’ve slowly gone collectively mad, while our screens have fed us a nonstop stream of fear, anger, and heartache. I think it’s safe to say that, unless you REALLY like Valentine’s Day (in which case: what the hell), February is probably the worst month of the year. There’s nothing going on. No good sports, no good weather, nothing to look forward to whatsoever except the month ending and March arriving with its promise of spring.

And this year, there’s an extra day of it.

We’re not going to despair, though. We know the truth. We know that February 29th is the desperate, dying gasp of a month — and a season — whose time has drawn nigh. We know that spring will dawn soon. The permanent blanket of clouds will part, the sun will return. The clocks will spring forward, to a place where they should stay year-round. We’ll head outside and bask in the rebirth of the natural world around us. In fact, we should treat February 29th as a gift. An extra life. A free play, where we can take a deep shot for the end zone knowing our opponent has already been flagged.

We have won this game, winter. On Leap Day we will dance on your grave.

7. First? Tunes.

Normally I start these Friday countdowns with the recipe of the week, but I really want to get the mood going. I want this to feel like that first warm day of pre-spring, when everyone is energized and happy, shedding our jackets, sitting outside, and acting like it’s 80 degrees when it’s probably just 53. 

To me, this song captures that feeling.

Remember Nappy Roots? Surely you heard them everywhere during their heyday in the early aughts, but there’s a chance you haven’t thought about them in a while. That doesn’t mean they’ve stopped making excellent music, and their depth and complexity of their sound has only increased over the years. I highly recommend you check out their two most recent studio albums, 2015’s 40Akerz Project and 2017’s follow-up Another 40 Akerz.

6. Let’s get the flavors of warmer weather on our tongues, too.

I long for those hot summer days when my garden is in full bloom and I can incorporate fresh-off-the-vine elements into my cocktails. We’re not back there yet, and it’ll be a while before we really are. But I’m a little tired of the hearty, heady drinks of the winter months, the ones suited for a dark bar with a roaring fireplace. I want something that tastes fresh and light. That’s where the Desert Sunset comes in.

Yet another entry from my favorite drink resource, Maggie Hoffman’s superb The One-Bottle Cocktail, this lively drink combines bright citrus with earthy vegetal notes and a background smokiness. It’s the best thing this side of a summer barbecue, but we don’t need to wait for anything to come back in season.

Here’s what’s involved:

  • 1-1/4 ounces lime juice

  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt (I used Maldon sea salt)

  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

  • 2 ounces mezcal (I used blanco tequila, which she says is fine)

  • 1/2 ounce of a 1:1 mixture of agave nectar and warm water

  • 1 ounce carrot juice

  • 1/2 ounce orange juice

Pour 1/2 oz of the lime juice on a small dish, and stir together the salt and paprika on another small dish. Dip your glass in the juice and then the seasoning to rim. Shake the rest over ice and strain into the glass.

I highly recommend you do not omit the salt, as I inadvertently did on the first batch I made for guests recently — without it, the paprika is overwhelming. When you get it right, though? It’s like the winter’s breaking right in your glass.

5. Okay, you’ve got a few drinks in you? Great, now let’s talk about my plan for wrecking your kitchen this weekend.

A preface: I have been known to dabble in a fad diet from time to time, and I found myself at the end of 2019 at a weight I was entirely unhappy with. Careless eating combined with several years of, uh, less-than-consistent exercise meant that I’d need to institute a turnaround in 2020. As many people have started doing these days, I took up intermittent fasting — taking a 16–18 break between one day’s last meal and the next day’s first. I can’t vouch for it medically or scientifically, nor can I promise that it would be right for anyone else, but I’ve already (with exercise in the mix as well) dropped 20 pounds since January 1st. It turns out, apparently, that cutting off all the wine and snacks I’d have after the kids were in bed had an immediate impact. If you’re interested, check out The Obesity Code, which is not my book recommendation this week, but is a book I am recommending this week. (There’s a distinction.)

ANYWAY. Why do I tell you this? Well, because who doesn’t like to brag, for one, but also because it’s still allowed me to sneak in my occasional bonehead flights of culinary fancy while reclaiming pants that stopped fitting two years ago. Heck, if I haven’t eaten in almost a day, I might just want to combine three meals into one.

Maybe I want French toast, a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, and fried chicken all at once.

YOU: oh no

ME: oh yes

Enter The Fastbreaker. Peanut butter and jelly chicken served on French toast.

YOU: why are you like this

ME: no one’s really sure but I’m having fun with it 

Now, the simplest way to achieve this would’ve been just a glob of peanut butter on normal chicken, right? Probably. I never do things the simplest way, though, do I? I want that peanut flavor integral to the chicken, and I’m pulling out all the stops. First, I’d recommend you use either thinly-sliced breast cutlets or other cuts pounded schnitzel-thin, for reasons that will become clear in a moment.

Next, a marinade.

I made a simple peanut sauce from a cup or so of creamy peanut butter and enough lime juice to thin it out — a quarter- to half-cup. I let this sit overnight. Next, it’s time to dredge and bread. Normally, I’d do the standard three-step process of dusting with flour, dunking in beaten egg, and rolling in breadcrumbs, but we can tweak that a little. First, the flour. Ever use this stuff? 

It’s powdered, defatted peanuts. It’s a great addition to breads or smoothies, but here we’re going to use it in place of the wheat flour in our dredge. Next, give it the egg wash as usual. Finally, the breading. Instead of just bread crumbs, I used a 1:1 mix of bread crumbs and peanuts crushed in the food processor. This is where the thinness of your pieces becomes important — you’ll want them to cook quickly, because this breading will burn faster than a standard one.

Heat oil to 350F — I used peanut oil, which was probably an unnecessary final flourish, considering everything else, and regular, cheaper, vegetable oil would probably be fine. Keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn, and remove onto paper towels right as they hit a golden brown, maybe 4 minutes. (This is where I again tout the benefits of an instant-read thermometer, something that immensely improved my cooking.) 

Oh yeah. 

Next, let’s make some jelly. If you’re not into this, I’m sure a regular spread of store-bought jelly would be delicious here, but I’m promoting a newsletter that’s apparently about food here, so I need to be a little more extra. I made a quick coulis, boiling 6 ounces of raspberries with 1/4 cup sugar and a couple tablespoons of water. Once it all broke down, I let it cool, blended it, strained out the seeds, and put it in a squeeze bottle for serving.

If you wanted to get really wacky, you could mix in jalapeños like I did with my Thanksgiving Hot Cranberry Sauce venture. I did not do this, as I’ve exceeded my quota of “filling the house with hot pepper fumes” for the next several months at least. Since I always want a heat element, though, I parceled out some of the coulis for my spice-averse wife and children, then mixed hot sauce into my portion. Any kind would work, but I chose this smoky sambal produced by Louisville chef Edward Lee.

Finally, the bread. You’re a citizen of the world. You already know how to make French toast. If you need a refresher, this Serious Eats recipe is solid. A nice soft brioche is best.

So, we’ve got a fried chicken dinner, a PB&J in our lunchbox, and French toast for lunch, and I haven’t eaten since yesterday. Fast Breakers, assemble!

This was really good and also really good to follow up with not eating for another 18 hours.

4. The definitive sitcom episode on our quadrennial non-holiday.

There are few shows on television that I’ve ever enjoyed as much as the late, great 30 Rock. Maybe it’s not for you; I know a lot of people whom Tina Fey’s style of humor does not land. I personally love it, and it’s only every fourth year that one of their finest episodes becomes relevant again: “Leap Day”.

Come! Trade children’s tears for candy! (The episode is on Hulu, and available for purchase elsewhere).

3. Some light reading amidst all of this.

My book recommendations can be a little heavy sometimes. This isn’t the post for that, so I’m going to share with you a book of short comedy essays that I blew threw in one evening, only stopping to laugh hysterically: “Hits and Misses”, by former SNL writer Simon Rich.

Rich offers big laughs throughout this collection but his biting tear-down of fawning celebrity magazine profiles, “Adolf Hitler: The GQ Profile” might be one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

2. A podcast that’s informative, funny, and knows how to keep pace.

I like an informative podcast when I’m on the treadmill, working off my peanut buttered chickens and whatnot, but being informative doesn’t mean you can’t also be hilarious.

“The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week”, hosted by Popular Science writers Rachel Feltman, Eleanor Cummins and Claire Maldarelli, is an absolute delight. Each week, the three hosts compete to offer the strangest actually-true fact they’ve come across, including such topics as astronaut farts, fatal insomnia, and poisonous wallpaper.

A secondary thing I appreciate about this podcast (beyond the great hosts and fun, interesting content) it that it keeps a nice structure. That is, they have fun, but they stay focused and don’t let it sprawl to a length I won’t be able to finish. Episodes are almost always 45 minutes, which I firmly believe is the proper length for a podcast, and they break down into three roughly-equal 15-minute segments, which makes it easier to consume between commutes and the gym.

1. CAN WE GO OUTSIDE NOW?

You know who’s really ready for spring? You know who didn’t so much mind the winter, but wanted you to join them outside for a nice walk in the park or a rousing game of fetch?

YOU: Frank Stallone?

ME: please stop talking during my newsletter. there’s a comment section at the end 

No, the dogs are ready for spring, too. They’re ready to run and jump and tell the first bluebird of spring to GET OUT, THIS IS MY YARD.

Let’s give them their due.

First up, Nate R. writes in:

Hey Scott —

Short time subscriber, but I have loved each issue. I nuked my family on Thanksgiving with the hot cranberry sauce. They were less appreciative of the surprise.

Anyway, here's Pogi, the most comfortable dog in the world:

I have never been this comfortable in my life. That’s probably because I’m not a good dog like Pogi.

Next up, Zachary C. shares:

Clover Clarice, a good dog guarding the baby human's toys.

Like all good dogs who preceded babies in their households, Clover Clarice has the “I did not sign up for this job but I will do it well” face on, and I salute her for it.

Longtime reader Eleanor T. shares:

You've seen this dog before, the late, great Teivi. Here she is sharing the Saturday newspaper with the man of the house.

A magnificent and regal dog, and I sympathize with this man, because corgis are deceptively heavy beasts. It’s like having a furry cinder block sit on your leg.

Finally this week, Jesse (@Jessico09) shares a dog who’s just as ready as I am for winter to be over:

As I desperately wait for summer through the bleakness of Minnesota winter, I present to you Ranger (named after my boat of course):

It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

Here is what he was like when we got the very good boy from the shelter.

I AM DEAD. I HAVE DIED.

Thanks to everyone for submitting these wonderful dogs, and if you’ve submitted one that I haven’t published yet, don’t worry, I’ve got them queued up! You can always send me your own very good dogs via Twitter DM or by responding to this email.

Thanks for reading and supporting The Action Cookbook Newsletter. Please share with your friends, and subscribe if you haven’t already!

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I hope you have a great weekend, and make the most of this extra day we found in winter’s coin return.

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)