Thursday, May 9, 2013

Homemade McNugget Meal - I'm Lovin' It!

I love cooking. That doesn't mean I always feel like cooking when I get home. And yeah, we try to keep some easy dinners on hand in the freezer, but sometimes we're out of them...or just sick of them. On those days, the following conversation occurs:

“We should just go get dollar menu food.”
“Perfect! You go.”
“Me? I'm not going, you go!”
“Screw that, I'm not going anywhere, but you totally should, it sounds really good.”
“You know, it really doesn't make sense to spend the money on fast food.”
“I suppose you're right.”
“It does sound good, though, if you want to go get it...”
“Nah. You're right, we shouldn't spend the money. Besides, it's healthier to eat at home.”

And then I make dinner. Not because it's cheaper or healthier, although it is, but because any amount of effort in the kitchen is somehow less than getting in the car and driving the mile to McDonald's.  Usually on these nights, I end up making chicken nuggets and fries. This isn't what we'd have ordered, but it's significantly less effort than making buns, grinding beef (if we even have any) and making hamburgers.
To distract you from my extreme levels of laziness, here's a picture of one excited birthday girl!

The best thing about this meal is that it can all cook at once in the oven. I can throw it in, and go sit down for a little bit. On the type of evening where I want to get fast food, sitting down is high on my priority list.

The process starts by pre-heating the oven to 420. Throw 2-3 pieces of bread in the oven to dehydrate while it preheats. My oven takes forever and a day to get up to heat, so it works out pretty perfectly. Your mileage may vary. You may prefer to buy bread crumbs or use cornflakes so you can skip this step. Really, whatever makes your night easier is the solution here, with the caveat that you need some sort of bread-type product.  

The less motivated I am, the bigger these fries get
While waiting for the oven, peel up a bunch of potatoes. How many depends on size and relative hunger, but my general rule of thumb is one mid-sized potato per person. I count Parker and Zoey as full people, both because Parker eats like Paul Bunyan and because I know Randy and I will clean house on any leftovers. And if we don't, potatoes are so cheap that it's only a waste of $0.07, which I'm willing to live with.

Anyway, once the potatoes are peeled, cut them into 1/4” (ish) slices, then rotate and cut those into strips.
Just like with the Brussels sprouts recipe, throw them in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag to season them. I love my Ziploc; they let me mix things up without making a mess or coating my hands with oil and spices. Here again, you have a lot of options. I try to mix up the seasonings, but I always use olive oil to coat the potatoes, then add salt and pepper and curry powder, or garlic, or parmesan, or...

All the extra oil sticks to the bag!
Give the bag a few good shakes to coat all the fries evenly – or, if you're brave, give the bag to your kid to shake, then dump it out onto a greased cookie sheet. After a quick shake to get the fries in an even-ish layer, toss the bag, and half the prep work is done.
There's no such thing as over-garlicked fries

The chicken nuggets are almost as easy, although a bit messier. Dice up about a pound of chicken breasts or
thighs. I personally prefer the flavor of thighs, but I'm more likely to have boneless breasts, so I go with the breasts. Nothing about de-boning a chicken thigh says “low effort” to me. After cutting the chicken up into bite-sized pieces, comes the prep for the only mildly effort-ridden part of the dinner – breading the nuggets.
Size varies with motivation here, too

By this point, the bread is usually nice and dried out. If not, I declare it dried out enough because I'm not waiting! A few quick pulses in the food processor creates nice bread crumbs. If the bread isn't fully dried out, some of the crumbs might be a bit on the large side, but hey, it just gives better texture, right? (It's really not hard for me to justify taking shortcuts here, if you haven't noticed). Two or three pieces of bread will create around a cup of crumbs. Add an equal amount of flour and some spices and the breading is done.
There's no way to avoid egg hands

Beat up a couple of eggs to dip the chicken in. Coat the chicken in eggs, then the bread crumb mixture, a few pieces at a time. Try to ignore the nasty buildup of egg and flour on your fingers. It's inevitable and there's no point in cleaning it off until the process is done.

I'm sure at this point, you are wondering why I don't bust out the magical Ziploc to solve the problem. Sadly, this is the one area my trusty Ziploc has failed me in. Not enough of the breading sticks, and what does stick does so unevenly, as the chicken pieces try to stick to each other instead of the breading. Momentarily putting up with hands that feel like they're turning into the Tree Man's is a small price to pay.

Go crazy with the breading; it's worth it
Once the chicken is breaded, it goes on a greased cookie sheet and both pans go in the oven for 15 minutes, while you sit down with a drink of your choice. After 15 minutes, pull the chicken out, and flip the fries. Cook the fries for an additional 15 minutes while you relax some more.

There's only about 10-15 minutes of active effort involved, which is about as long as it would take to go and get food from the drive through. And it comes with the benefit of being cheaper, healthier, and (most importantly) not requiring you to put on shoes and leave the house.
Mo-om! Quit taking pictures so I can eat!


Baked French Fries
4 medium potatoes
1 T olive oil
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp pepper (or to taste)
optional: 1 T curry powder (Seriously, try this. You won't regret it!)
1T chili powder
¼ c grated Parmesan cheese
1T minced garlic

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 420
  2. Peel the potatoes
  3. Cut the potatoes into 1/4” sticks
  4. Put potatoes, oil, and seasonings into a gallon-size Ziploc and shake until all fries are evenly coated
  5. Put fries in a single layer on a greased baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through.

1 lb chicken
2 eggs
2-3 pieces of bread (or 1 c bread crumbs)
1 cup flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 ½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 420 degrees.
  2. Put the bread in the oven to dry out as the oven pre-heats
  3. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces
  4. Beat the eggs
  5. Mix the flour and spices together.
  6. Remove the bread from the oven and pulse in a food processor until you have small, even crumbs
  7. Add the crumbs to the flour mixture and mix thoroughly.
  8. Working with a few pieces at a time, coat the chicken in the egg mixture
  9. Press the chicken into the bread crumb mixture until coated thoroughly and evenly
  10. Place the on a greased baking sheet
  11. Bake for 15 minutes

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