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The Household Item That Will Up Your Dinner Game Dramatically

It's stashed in the drawer where you keep the plastic wrap and zip-top bags.

Cooking "en papillote" is a classic technique for steaming individual portions of food in some sort of packet. All it takes is a few sheets of parchment paper, or aluminum foil, which you can find in any large supermarket. Cut a sheet into a circle the size of a dinner plate, lay food on one half of the circle, then fold the rest over so it covers the ingredients and crimp to seal. Slide it into the oven, and in a few minutes, everything will have cooked to perfection. Not only is this method easy, but it's also tough to beat the "wow" factor of gently unfolding your very own parcel of gorgeously cooked protein and vegetables assembled in a lovely arrangement. 

You most often see seafood cooked en papillote -- it's a great way to keep fillets moist and intact -- but we were surprised to learn that chicken breast is also perfect for the treatment. The trick is to use escalopes or paillards, which are pieces of boneless meat that have been pounded until thin and flat. Because they're only about a quarter-inch thick, these cuts cook quickly and won't dry out.

This totally-doable-on-a-weeknight recipe from the new book, Cook for Your Life, by Ann Ogden Gaffney, starts with chicken you marinate in mustard and white wine. Then, over a piece of parchment, you layer a smattering of sliced Yukon Gold potatoes, sweet-tart apples, shallots and tarragon and place the piece of chicken on top. Cover with a few more potatoes and herbs, seal the packet and slide it into the oven. You'll be, er, tearing into dinner in 25 minutes.

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