Wednesday, January 5, 2011

School Lunch!

Sometimes you just need an excuse to use your Fry-Daddy. Fortunately for us we found an excuse tucked into the back of a cabinet. Ceramic lunch trays with the compartments and everything! Wife Zube found these a few years ago at Marden's and couldn't resist their allure. She brought them home and we both agreed that we could do some fun food ideas with them. Then we promptly put them away and forgot about them for two years.

So yesterday with our dust encrusted lunch trays in hand we pondered what to make. If you take just a couple of minutes to reminisce about your own school lunch experiences, you'll discover there are plenty of options. We went with chicken nuggets, tater tots, fish sticks, and green beans. Wife Zube made up a batch of gluten free brownies for desert as well.

Obviously something had to be done to elevate school lunch from the wincingly painful memories we have of gluey potatoes and grease soaked everything. The whole point of serving food on lunch trays would be lost if it actually tasted as poorly as school lunch did. Jamie Oliver would be very upset too.

Operation Chicken Nugget: I have been perusing my copy of Ratio lately looking for inspiration and by golly I found some! I made my chicken nuggets by following the recipe for a basic chicken mousseline and folding in chunks of chicken breast. In retrospect it wasn't the best technique for the application, but it got the nuggets fried if you know what I mean. Mousseline is a fancy French technique for more or less pureeing a protein with some stuff into a paste. You can then use your meat paste (actually called a farce, but I couldn't resist typing meat paste) as dumplings, ravioli filling, sausage, etc. Or for a chicken nugget!
Get your food processor cold, and by this I mean I put mine in the freezer. You need 8 oz of chicken thigh meat, 1 egg, pinch of salt, and 4 oz of heavy cream. Pulse the chicken, salt, and egg until pureed and then drizzle in the cream slowly. Bam! Meat paste. In went some diced chicken breast and then I was stumped. The farce was way to loose for me to shape into nuggets and bread. Huh. So I read Ratio for a second and got my next wave of inspiration via Ruhlman! I plunked gobs of them into a pot of simmering water, pretending they were dumplings, and let them cook enough to set into shape. Out of the water, cooled/dried on a rack, and presto they were breaded and fried!

Tater-Tot Mania: Michael Symon does a side dish of crab tater tots. I just omitted the crab, but put in a whole head of roasted garlic instead! This is a pretty straight forward recipe. If you need to fancy it up you can talk about making a pate a choux and folding in pomme de terre. (I think that is French for potato...) Melt two tablespoons of butter in 1/4 cup of water and when it simmers whisk in 1/4 cup of flour. It will bind up instantly and you want this so don't scream and run away like I did my first time. (Boy that was embarrassing.) Let it cool a bit because you need to mix in an egg and scrambled doesn't really work here. After the egg is incorporated you can congratulate yourself on making pate a choux and then fold in one cup of mashed potatoes and a head of roasted garlic. Shape into tots, bread, and fry.

Fish Stick Fiasco: I didn't do anything creative with the fish sticks. I cut up cod and made a batter of club soda and flour. The bubbles in the soda make the batter a little lighter. Sorry, but that's all I got for these sticks.

Green Bean Berets: Simply sauteed with garlic and onion. I thought about frying these also, but too much of a good thing crossed my mind.

Our selection of dipping sauces were homemade tartar, homemade barbeque, and some San-J spicy thai peanut sauce. K and E were the guest of honor so they went first in line and got to wear the hair nets!

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