Saturday, February 19, 2011

High Expectations Can Only Lead to Disappointment

What kid doesn't like chicken nuggets?  Mine absolutely love them and, strangely, don't really care for cheeseburgers.  Weird, I know.  This love of little breaded and fried chunks of chicken has sent me on a quest to make them at home many times.  Not every time has been a complete failure, but I have yet to achieve complete success.  Although they don't say it, I can see that my kids are all thinking, "these aren't as good as McDonald's."  My biggest obstacle in trying to recreate the ultimate nugget is that I abhor the process of deep frying.  Just the thought of glugging oil into a pan sends my blood pressure into an upward trend.  I realize it's not that big of a deal to other cooks, it's just not for me.  The problem is, baked chicken nuggets will never measure up to the likes of McDonald's or Chic-fil-A.  About a year ago, I had pretty much given up and resigned myself to just buying the big bags of popcorn chicken at Costco and occasionally, (more often than I like to admit) hitting the drive-thru.  Until this week, that is.

Through some correspondence with an old friend, I've been graced with a recipe for chicken nuggets using ground turkey.  It's something I haven't tried yet, and her very picky girls love them.  It seemed so simple: ground turkey meat balls dredged in flour, dipped in egg, rolled in bread crumbs and then flattened onto a baking sheet.  Bake until crispy and cooked through.   Since I was headed to the grocery store anyway, I just added ground turkey and bread crumbs to my list.  My expectations of the experience were already forming in my head, which was my first mistake.  Knowing my kids, I don't know how I managed to conjur up this idyllic image of the four of us standing calmly at the counter, happily making these little turkey meatball nugget things in an assembly-line fashion, but that was the picture in my head when we got started.  Though it felt like things started to go horribly wrong almost instantly, I now realize that my expectations were so high, the only direction we could go was down.  My children are super-cute and have angelic moments, but they are not suitable subjects for a Norman Rockwell painting!

My friend doesn't do anything to the turkey because her girls, and I quote, "like their food as boring as possible."  I was going to leave the turkey alone too, but before I knew it I had added some salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and a little worcestershire sauce.  I just couldn't help myself.  As I mixed in all of my little additions, I could sense the impending doom.  If you've never worked with ground poultry before, (and I hadn't) let me tell you now that it is nothing like ground beef.  It is a lot looser and very sticky.  My first attempt at rolling this stuff into a ball left my hands coated in turkey glue and my brain scrambling to figure out how to get through this project without having to make a trip to McDonald's.  I decided to just pull off a chunk of the ground meat and roll it in the flour without trying to shape it.  Thankfully, this solution worked.  Once covered in a little flour, the mixture was much more manageable.  Dipping the little chunks in the egg and then coating them in the bread crumbs was relatively easy.  As I flattened this first breaded turkey chunk on the baking sheet, I was overjoyed to see that it looked just like a commercial chicken nugget!  So now it was time to get the kids involved. 

I often imagine myself calling to my children in this melodic June Cleaver voice and having them obediently come running to form a perfect little line in front of me.  I did sweetly call to them, but none of my kids came running.  In fact, they flat out ignored me!  Again with the ridiculous expectations leading me down a path of disappointment.  When I resorted to my mom voice which is much deeper and has a growling undertone, two of the little voices yelled back,"What!"  So much for Hollywood's version of family life.  I had to resort to yelling at them through the window that it was time to come in and help me make dinner.  I have no idea what my neighbors were thinking, but I doubt it was "Awwwww, how nice that she has them help her prepare dinner!"

Once I got them in and set up at their flour, egg and bread stations the arguing and whining commenced.  They wanted to do the whole process themselves, not just one part.  This actually sounded fine, so I decided to have them take turns.  Anytime we have to take turns, there is always an argument as to who will go first, and this time was no different.  I could feel precious minutes slipping away from me, so I just picked Abby to go first because she is the oldest.  (I usually try to be more fair)  I explained the steps to her slowly, clearly and concisely, and she retained none of the information.  So I led her through the process step by step.  After all, it is much easier to learn by doing.  Our first nugget took over a minute to complete, but I will say she did a great job and had a huge smile on her face while she flattened her meatball into a nugget shaped pancake.  Eli went next and while the process was a little messier and a lot slower, he too did very well and loved the smashing part.  The baby, also known as Jonah, insisted on having a turn as well, and with one swift movement he dumped a handfull of bread crumbs into the egg.  Needless to say, he was sent away with a cracker and my voice echoing behind him, "No more turns for you buster!"  Ok, so I was a little cranky at this point.  Dinner time was looming above me and I could tell that we would never eat if I didn't hurry this process along.  We were 10 minutes in and 2 nuggets down.  Since both of my older kids didn't really care for the turkey flouring or egging, I took over these two steps and left the breading and smashing to them.  Finally we were getting somewhere!  Fifteen minutes later we were all coated with turkey, flour, egg and bread crumbs, the baking sheet was full of cute little nuggets, the kitchen was an absolute disaster zone, and I was in desperate need of a drink.

My kitchen still shows some of the signs of this little experiment.  I keep stepping on runaway bread crumbs and finding little dustings of flour, and there is something on my ceiling that wasn't there before.  But, I have to say, the end product was delicious, and that my friend was right to not add anything to the turkey.  Everytime my kids took a bite they would look at me with suspiscion.  My daughter even looked at Elijah and said, "they're really good with lots of ketchup."  Even though the experience was a little harrowing for me, I did learn a few things.  When it comes to ground poultry and adding little hands to dredging, egging and breading, I'm a little wiser.  I've been reminded that while my children are not the perfect little cherubs that Hollywood depicts, they are perfect, and as long as I can keep my imagination and expectations in check, they will never disappoint me.  To my friend who provided the recipe, you know who you are, "Thanks, I think."

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