Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Project Lunch: Nuggets 'N Fries (or: Texas Chicken Massacre)

Today was my September installment of the MOMS Club of Kent "Kids Cooking Class." School has started, so my attendance has gone down. I initially had 6 kids as a 'yes' and 3 as 'maybes.' But a few days ago, 3 of the yesses became noes. Not a problem! I was worried about trying to fit up to 9 kids (plus mine) and some parents into my kitchen! I had originally planned 2 sessions, in case there were too many kids, but all the RSVPs were for the first session anyway, so I dropped the later one and decided to risk being swamped with kids. Little Z would be banished to the basement with Unka Seesee if it got too crowded. She gets overwhelmed and upset very easily when she sees too many kids touching her toys. (She can't grab them ALL away, and is torn in 100 directions as she tries to decide which toy is most important first!) In the end, I had 3 kids as a yes (plus 3 baby siblings) and 2 maybes.

Last night my husband and I were up late cleaning. We were aiming for 'passable,' as we aren't known for our pristine show-house! After we settled for 'good-enough,' I got to work prepping the chicken while he went to bed. First let me start out by saying how much I hate to touch raw meat. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is 'would rather have stomach flu' and 10 is 'BRING IT ON!' I'm at a -3. As I was massacring this disgusting chicken, I realized something. I don't actually love my child enough to do this for her. If I hadn't already stupidly committed to it, without thinking the process through, I never would have done it. But midnight last night was not the time to come up with (and buy food for) an alternate plan!

First I cut all the extra gross looking parts off the chicken breasts. Anything fatty or bloody looking. Barf,

Next I covered it with plastic wrap, to use a rolling pin to flatten it out, since the recipe called for thin-cut breast fillets, but they were more than twice as expensive. Unka Seesee is a font of food knowledge, so when I asked him about cutting them in half lengthwise, he suggested rolling them out. Something about the muscles still being malleable. I try to tune out anything that reminds me my food was once alive.
Slight problem... We don't appear to have a rolling pin. I got my daughter's little wooden one from her play kitchen, and my husband laughed at me. It didn't have enough weight to do anything with. He tried a hard plastic sports bottle filled with water as a rolling pin, with little success. Finally we decided to risk waking the Munchkin by using the mallet. (Or whatever that hammer thing is with spikes on one end of the hammer-knob.) He held down the cutting board with one hand to reduce the noise from it clattering around, and BANG! BANG! BANG! Success! He got the skinny end of the breast flattened nicely, but the thick end was still thick-y. So he sliced it off, then sliced it sideways.

Note the thicker end on the right of the rightmost picture.

***Warning! Skip to the next asterisks if you are squeamish (or my husband)***
Watching him slice it in half was creepy. It looked too much like labia. For me, it was akin to how a guy feels when he sees another guy kneed in the balls. I just kept crossing my legs and tried to stay upright. To cut down on the creep factor, when I did the other 2 breasts, instead of slicing from the smooth, rounded outer edge, I sliced from the inner, flat, cut edge.
***Okay it's safe.***

I was a little overeager at hammering the first 2 breasts, and made some chicken mush on the very edge of the skinny end. It didn't hold up well at all. For the third breast, I didn't even hammer that end. Just the middle (I didn't bother hammering the thick end, as I'd be cutting it in half.)

Next I tried to cut the chicken into 1.5" squares. I was somewhat successful. Mostly I had squares, but there were some amorphous blobs and some rectangles. They all went into a Ziplock and into the fridge for the night. Since I had bought such a large package (7 boneless/skinless breasts = ~3.5lbs for around $8.50, which was loads cheaper than the Foster Farms $5/lb ones. I kept asking my husband if he was sure of the price, since it was so much higher than the ones I was looking at on the other side of the display) I paired up the last 4 breasts, 2 per bag, into freezer bags, pushed and rolled out all the excess air and tossed 'em, into the freezer. They're Unka Seesee's problem now!

Bag o' chicken chunks

I painstakingly made a step-by-step list of what to do, since we'd be trying to make and cook 2 things, chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries, and the goal would be to try and have them ready around the same time.


First things first. The Princess and I woke up on time, so that was good. She had wanted to wear her short-sleeved "Pinshess Air-ee-oh" nightie to bed. Only problem is, if her arms or legs aren't covered, she wakes up multiple times during the night. (She might also wake up other nights, but on no-pants or short-sleeved nights, it's a guarantee.) So we compromised. She agreed to wear PJ pants, and 'arm warmers.' (BabyLegs legwarmers on her arms! Other companies make them too, but they had a BOGO sale, and some nice ones in their clearance section, plus free shipping, so I went on a shopping frenzy bought some from them.) It made for a funny '80's look, but she slept mostly soundly. So a win for mommy!

I finished scrubbing the stovetop and did some dishes. Moved the cat boxes from the guest bathroom into the master bath. Swept. Moved my diaper bags from the hallway and piled them onto the bed. That kinda thing. I also scrubbed the sweet potatoes. I hadn't planned to peel them, since the peel has nutriments, but no amount of scrubbing made the peel look clean or appealing (pun intended,) so I did a lazy peel. (I didn't peel off every molecule of peel, just a slapper-dasher peel-peel-peel around the outside and called it good.) I then sliced off the little ends, both to flatten them, but also since the root didn't look very yummy. Then I sliced them in half/thirds (depending on the length) so they would be shorter for pushing the veggie slicer through. They were very hard to slice.

As I was coaxing her downstairs to watch her shows with Unka Seesee (her choice. Since I only had 4 yesses coming, I thought she might be able to handle it better, so offered to let her stay upstairs with me or go downstairs with Seesee,) our first guests arrived! D and his little sister K, who just turned 1 recently. They ran (or toddled) around throwing around ball pit balls (we took the ball pit pool down, but still had a tub of balls in the living room) and having a generally good time. We sat around and talked and waited. And waited. And waited.
While waiting, I decided to try and use my vegetable slicer on the sweet potatoes, to see if it would be too tough for the kids or not. It was impossible. I got the slicer about an inch in before it stopped. Luckily, Little Z decided she wanted to come back upstairs, and Unka Seesee came up with her and offered to slice the sweet potatoes for me. Scoooore! He even sliced them into fry shapes!
Z, D and K had fun fighting over toys playing together. They even improvised a ball pit out of the ball storage tote.

Z refused to make an even remotely appealing face for the camera.

I thought there may have been some confusion, as I had suggested switching to 11 once I decided to just do one class (instead of 10am and 12pm,) but I had sent out a reminder yesterday that we would just stay at 10, since I hadn't heard from anyone. So we played and talked until 11. And eagerly awaited more guests. And waited. And waited.
I went and checked on our invite, to see if someone had said they weren't coming after the last time I'd checked. Nope. I checked Facebook, since I knew that Stef had an account, and might have posted there that she wasn't coming. Newp. But she had been online posting at 10, when we were supposed to start, so I decided to just go ahead without her or Sunny.

On my list, the first step was to preheat the oven. Did that at 11, in preparation for maybe people actually showing up. TOTALLY forgot about putting 'WASH HANDS!' on my list, thinking that it was an obvious first step. Newp. Forgot to do it until we were hand-deep into the food!
Next step: kids slice sweet potatoes. Nixed.
Oil & salt. No problem. I had them already out on the counter from the night before. But I didn't have my measuring spoons out. Doh! D was happy to dump the oil into the bowl for the sweet potatoes. It was Z's turn, and she dumped the salt mostly onto the table. I randomly shook some more into the bowl and called it good. Then we poured in the potato fries from the flexible cutting mat, and hand tossed them in the bowl. They had fun doing that. Many samples were snitched by Z and K during this process. Ugh. Raw. But they ate them. And had seconds.
Cook. I even remembered to set the timer. Forgot to have my pans pre-lined with foil though. We laid them out on my hastily-foiled pan and popped 'em in.
Crush crackers. Oops. I skipped ahead and made the egg white-mayo-mustard sauce first. Z had scarpered off with her raw fries, so D got to dump it all in. (I separated the egg, but he poured that little bowl into the mixing bowl.) Also forgot to have sauce bowl handy, and had to dig around to find one. And an egg-separating-bowl, but I just grabbed one of Z's Ikea bowls out of her cupboard.

Mix sauce. Done! So we crushed the crackers. Each toddler got a Ziplock with 8 saltines to crush. They did a pretty good job.
Z mostly leaned on her bag to crush the crackers. D did a bang-up job, and only needed a little help from his mom getting the last bits pulverized. Many crackers were had by all.

Dip nuggets. By this time, the kids were off noshing on saltines, so we were on our own. 
Coat with crackers. We took turns shaking slimed nuggets in our baggies. I poured a little oil on a baking pan and used my silicone basting brush to spread it around (MUCH easier and tidier than pouring oil into a dish and painting it on from there. As long as you don't start with too much oil! But you can always blot excess with paper towels.)

I had cooked the fries for the first 15 minutes on 450, as per the recipe, and then set the timer for another 5 as I put the nuggets in the oven. Since the fries were looking a little burned, I moved them to the bottom rack. I was supposed to turn the dial down to 400 for the last 5 minutes, and for the nuggets. Oops.
Since I had completely forgotten the kids couldn't be bothered to participate anymore, we didn't make the Kool-Aid. Another 10 minutes for the nuggets (still at the wrong higher temp. Doh!)

They look mostly okay here. The bottoms were a solid plank of blackness though.

The charred and blackened slightly overcooked fries were cool enough to eat fairly quickly, so I chipped eased them off the foil, and Little Z went to town. She ate them like watermelon - leaving the charred rind from the bottom behind!

When the nuggets were done, all 3 kids were at the table eating fries, and Z was already on her second plateful, so I made another batch. I can't remember if I had noticed the wrong temp at that point, or not until I turned off the oven. Either way, this time I decided to turn them in the middle of cooking, to try and avoid the charred bottoms.

The nuggets looked okay, but I think they were a little dry, probably due to the high temp. But my next batch of fries looked much better! 

D and his mom had their nuggets with Ranch, and I gave Z ketchup, Ranch and honey mustard on her plate. She dipped a nugget in ketchup and ate off the breading, but only while waiting for her third plate of fries. I had honey with mine. (And after she was all done, I tried all 3 of her dips. I liked the Ranch best, but the honey mustard and ketchup bites were okay too. Which surprised me. I don't like anything but honey on McD nuggets, and I don't like mustard at all. Ever.)

All in all, a success. And while only D had come to cook, K not only tried to help mix, she ended up eating more than her brother did! And they both loved the nuggets, so their mom asked for the recipe. Yay!

Here are the recipes, from Sesame Street's C is for Cooking:

Bert's Sweet Potato Stripes
  • 6 medium sweet potatoes, peeled
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
2. Cut each potato lengthwise into 8 spears (this may have been where we went wrong too. Ours were much smaller, and probably more prone to burning.)
3. In a large bowl, toss potato spears with oil and salt. Arrange potatoes in a single layer on baking sheet.
4. Cook in oven for 15 minutes. Use a spatula to turn potatoes over. (Oops. Didn't see that part. I thought it was odd that I wasn't supposed to turn them! Turns out that I was!) Reduce oven temperature to 400 F. Roast potatoes 5 minutes longer or until tender.

Kids should be able to help with step 3.

Grover's Little & Adorable Chicken Nuggets
  • 24 saltine crackers (the whole wheat variety give them a darker coating, so that's what I went with)
  • 1 pound thin-sliced chicken breast (approx. 2 boneless skinless. And instead of thin cut, I pounded and sliced and mangled some cheaper ones. Tasted fine.)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (Oops. Never noticed that part. Skipped it completely.)
  • 1 tbsp mayonaise
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tsp honey mustard
1. Preheat oven to 400 F (I put it on Bake for the other dial.) Lightly grease large baking sheet. (I used olive oil.)
2. Place crackers in a large plastic zipper bag. Gently pound on bag with fists to crush the crackers into find crumbs (chunks, in our case.) Pour the crumbs onto a large plate and set aside. (We just Shake N Baked them and coated them in the bags!)
3. Cut the chicken breasts into 1 1/2" squares. Sprinkle evenly with salt. (Cut in advance, and not only forgot the salt, I was never aware of that step!)
4. In large bowl, stir together mayonaise, egg white and honey mustard until well mixed. Add the chicken to the mayo mixture and gently toss to coat the chicken pieces. (I used a medium bowl and we dipped the nuggets 3-4 at a time. I had tongs to turn them and remove them and drop them into baggies.)
5. Gently press each piece of chicken into the cracker crumbs until the nugget is covered all over. Transfer to greased cookie sheet. (see notes on step 2.)
6. Bake until thoroughly cooked, about 15 minutes.

Kids should be able to help with steps 2, 4 and 5.

 (I actually have an older version of the book, but this one is cheaper and has more recipes!)

I would have taken more pictures, but I forgot, and my camera was taking around 15 seconds between when I pressed the button and when it took the picture. Turns out I had it switched to the wrong setting. Ah well. You didn't really need to see the slimed nuggets, nuggets in bag, toddler attempting to dive off back of couch & stair railing down into stairwell, etc.

1 comment:

  1. I dislike working with chicken as well -- and that is our main dish.

    I buy latex gloves (at least, I think they are latex. really tight to my hand) like they use in the hospital and put those on all the time when dealing with chicken. it makes it bearable.


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