What a Treat

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This post is brought to you by the America’s Test Kitchen Community Challenge: Cook Like It’s 1983!

When you’re five years old, the world is your playground. At least it was for me. Granted, it was 1983 and the world was a different place at that time, but still. My days — especially in the summer — were filled with imagination. I remember hours playing with my sister, swinging and running, digging in the sandbox, coloring, playing with my Strawberry Shortcake figurines, listening to Sesame Street exercise records (you know, those big black CDs), and riding bikes. I also remember getting in trouble that summer for keeping a large black crayon in my pocket which then went through the washer and dryer… Little did my mom know that I was a police officer and I used that to write speeding tickets. Yeah, some things you just can’t forget. 🙂

When I was five, it was a special treat to go out for supper at McDonald’s. At home we ate what everyone else ate (which was tasty most of the time; and even if it wasn’t, you didn’t dare complain — I learned that firsthand when I complained about beef roast and ended up with bread and water). But when you went out to eat — especially at McDonald’s — there was a Happy Meal, just for you. With French fries. And a toy. H-A-P-P-I-N-E-S-S in an arch-handled cardboard box.

Today I watch my own girls filling their days with imagination. I found great joy this summer watching them run, race, bike, color, dress up, splash in the water they were supposed to be dumping on flowers, find caterpillars, play with Barbies, and imagine their way through each day. Thankfully I didn’t find any crayons in pockets. I imagine there are things that are treats for them, too. Ice cream cones. Popsicles. Playing in the sprinkler. Using tape. 

I don’t usually deep-fry food. Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely love fried food — but I know that it’s not the healthiest, and it can be a huge mess. But when I’m given the opportunity to win a copy of a Cook’s Country cookbook that’s not even out yet and an autographed apron from Bridget Lancaster, one of my cooking idols, I’ll give it a try. So, I pulled out my cherry-red, ATK-recommended dutch oven, made a rather large mess in my kitchen, and tried my hand at chicken nuggets. The results were tasty treat indeed, no toy required.

In the end, we all grow older. Our days become more filled with grown-up things. But it doesn’t mean we give up dreaming, playing, or imagining. It just means that we see things a little differently. We all still hold a bit of that five-year-old in our heart, the one that still enjoys eating chicken nuggets. It just so happens that the five-year-old in me found a kitchen to play in. And guess what? I have three little girls who like to play with me. I can only imagine what stories they’ll have to share thirty years down the road. Riding bikes? Going camping? Planting a garden? Watching cooking shows and helping me in the kitchen?

Winner! Winner! Chicken dinner! What a treat indeed!

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Part of the challenge is to send in a picture of you and the dish you made, or at least a picture of the dish. Well, here’s a sampling of the treat we enjoyed!


Chicken Nuggets

from Cook’s Country

Don’t brine the chicken longer than 30 minutes or it will be too salty. To crush the panko, place it inside a zipper-lock bag and lightly beat it with a rolling pin. This recipe doubles easily and freezes well.

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 4 cups peanut or vegetable oil
  1. CUT AND BRINE Following photos 1 to 3 (at left), cut each chicken breast diagonally into thirds, then cut each third diagonally into ½-inch-thick pieces. Whisk water, tablespoon salt, and Worcestershire in large bowl until salt dissolves. Add chicken pieces and refrigerate, covered, for 30 minutes.
  2. COAT CHICKEN Remove chicken from brine, discard brine, and pat chicken dry with paper towels. Combine flour, bread crumbs, onion powder, remaining salt, pepper, garlic powder, and baking soda in shallow dish. Whisk egg whites in second shallow dish until foamy. Coat half of chicken with egg whites and dredge in flour-crumb mixture, pressing gently to adhere. Transfer to plate and repeat with remaining chicken (don’t discard flour-crumb mixture). Let sit 10 minutes.
  3. FRY Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Return chicken to flour dish and turn to coat, pressing flour-crumb mixture gently to adhere. Fry half of chicken until deep golden brown, about 3 minutes, turning halfway through cooking. Drain chicken on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet and place in oven. Return oil to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining chicken. Serve with dipping sauces (see related recipes.)
  4. MAKE AHEAD: Cool fried nuggets, transfer to zipper-lock bag, and freeze for up to 1 month. To serve, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Place nuggets on rimmed baking sheet and bake, flipping once, until heated through, about 15 minutes.
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