If You Can’t Stand the Heat

Have I mentioned before how much I hate frying things in oil? I don’t mind sauteeing a few veggies, but ask me to drop some meat into a significant amount of hot oil, and you’ve lost me. Not only am I petrified of being attacked by jumping droplets of fiery hot oil, but every time I try to cook meat this way, it burns to a crisp on the outside while staying 100% raw on the inside. Every. Single. Time.

I’ve had a recipe for Crispy Buffalo Chicken Tenders hanging out on my Pinterest board for several weeks. Lately I’ve been playing the “shit or get off the pot” game with my recipe pins. It was time to either make the chicken tenders or delete the pin and admit that I was never going through with it. After all, the recipe involved cooking the chicken tenders in a frying pan and finishing them off for a few minutes in the oven.

I finally opted to shit—er, cook the chicken tenders. If I failed, there was always plan B (burrito bowls from Chipotle, as always!).

This was the first recipe I’ve ever made that involved “dredging” the meat in flour. Yeah…I’ve had this blog for three years and I’m a first-time dredger. I still don’t know what purpose it serves, but my breading clung nicely to the meat, so I won’t argue its importance!

The instructions were to heat the oil on medium-high heat and leave the chicken tenders untouched in the pan for seven minutes. I did lift them up at about five minutes and they were the most perfect shade of golden brown, and I admit that I flipped them at that point for fear of charring them. After a few minutes on the other side, I moved the tenders to a cooling rack over a cookie sheet and transferred them to the oven. Eleven minutes later, the meat was perfectly cooked and (gasp!), the outsides were gloriously crispy.

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After removing them from the oven, I may have dropped one of the chicken tenders on the kitchen floor. The dog was quick to attack the fallen food and she seemed thoroughly satisfied with the taste. Good sign!…I think. She also enjoys the flavor of cat poop, so it actually could have been a very bad sign.

The chicken tenders were supposed to be dipped in ranch, which sounded delicious. But it turns out our bottle of ranch was two months past its expiration date. We had nothing else to dip our chicken tenders in. I crossed my fingers and hoped they were flavorful enough without a dipping sauce. And they were. They were fantastic.

They were also hotter than hell.

My husband couldn’t even finish his. He loved the flavor, but his mouth was on fire after his second chicken tender and he wasn’t able to eat the other two on his plate. I ate three, but I think it was at least an hour afterward before I found any relief from the burning sensation in my mouth.

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Thanks a lot, expired ranch dressing. Yeah, I’m blaming you.

So, I guess it’s time to go through my kitchen and check the expiration dates on everything.

At least I did a good job at frying the chicken!

Pinterest-free week, day seven: To the moon and back

Well, it’s the final day of my “Pinterest-free week” and I have to say, though not all of my cooking was “successful,” per se, I feel like I learned a lot more this week than I have in the past months of my fumbling through recipes I’d found on Pinterest.

I spent a preposterous amount of time in my kitchen today.  It started around noon, when my fiance’s 8-year-old son and I teamed up to make some Father’s Day cheesecake brownies.  Last time (which was the first time) he helped me cook, I was a nervous wreck.  I thought:  I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m going to screw this up, and he’ll never again want a thing to do with cooking.  But this time, I was comfortable.  I did know what I was doing, I felt like there was only a slim chance I’d screw up, and I was relaxed enough that I knew I was making it enjoyable for him.  I taught him how to use a hand mixer and I learned that he’s better than I am at cracking eggs (okay, let’s be honest; this was a blow to my ego).

Now, before you see the picture, you need a bit of an explanation.  My fiance has a strange obsession with the moon.  Ask him anything:

Q:  Where do you want to go to dinner?
A:  The moon.

Q:  What do you want for your birthday?
A:  The moon.

Q:  What do you want to do this weekend?
A:  Go to the moon.

Q:  Where have you been?
A:  The moon.

So, while we prepared the batter, I laughed out loud when my fiance’s son said, “We should write ‘MOON’ on the top of this when it’s done!”  Good plan, little man.  Good plan.

And of course, when an 8-year-old is involved, there must be sprinkles.  I’m proud to report that these puppies were pretty darn delectable.

After an afternoon break that entailed purchasing wedding rings (yay!), I was right back in the kitchen making whole grain corn muffins and baked buffalo-style chicken nuggets.  The corn muffins had me a little nervous because the recipe involved a couple of things I haven’t dealt with much in my cooking adventures thus far.  First, I needed to make a “well” in the dry ingredients in which I would pour the wet ingredients.  Now, to me, a “well” is a vague term.  Are we talking a pot-hole sized well or a crater-sized well?  Or a well-sized well?  But it turned out the size of the well didn’t matter much.  I could only dig so much of a hole inside the dry ingredients before they all began to landslide back into the center of the bowl.  Here’s the kicker:  I’m still not sure why I had to go to all that trouble in the first place.  Once you pour the wet ingredients into the well you’ve made, you simply stir everything together until the dry stuff is moist.  Honestly, did the well play that big of a role?

However, I have no right to question anything.  I followed the directions like a good girl, and the corn muffins were so STINKING perfect.

I paired these babies with some baked buffalo-style chicken nuggets, which were also divine–even if they did make all three of us guzzle water and juice like it was going out of style.

(Random note to self:  you eat too many peas.)

It feels good to end Pinterest-free week on a good note.  My mom made the comment the other night that I no longer qualify for Worst Cooks in America, and I’m starting to think she’s right.  I’ve stumbled through some idiotic moments in the past four months, and while I’m sure I haven’t seen the end of them, I know I’m capable of doing this!  Bring it on, kitchen!

Pinterest-free week day two: Things ruined

I’m pouting right now.  I mean, I am really pouting.

I had a pretty rough day.  When I stepped into the kitchen to start cooking dinner, I took a deep breath and thought:  You’re going to cook an awesome meal, and it’s going to make you forget about all of the stupid parts of today.  But no, dinner tonight simply became another stupid part of today.

Since potatoes haven’t really been my forté lately, I wanted to make another attempt.  Because, you know, I’m not smart enough to throw in the towel yet.  I read a Cooking Light recipe for potatoes that are cubed, then boiled, and then sauteed.  Their photo of the end result was of a pile of crisp, polished cubes of potato.  Cube, boil, and saute?  Pssshh, I can do that!  I brought the potatoes to a boil and simmered them, and then I got to work on the chicken.

Though I’ve used my fair share of bread crumbs, I have never cooked with panko.  I finally purchased a big bag of it in bulk at the grocery store.  Tonight, I mixed it with a “Southwoods” seasoning consisting of cracked pepper, salt, garlic, and dried flakes of a few different peppers.  Then I dipped some raw chicken tenders into a beaten egg and coated them with the seasoned panko.  It was much cleaner than using regular breadcrumbs.  See how nice they looked?

While the chicken tenders baked, I drained the potatoes.  The recipe had suggested 20 minutes, with a note that you didn’t want to over boil the potatoes, and I drained mine after about 17 minutes.  When I tossed them into a pan with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, I damn near cried when they crumbled at the softest touch of the spoon.  I knew then that we’d be having nearly mashed potatoes with dinner.  On the bright side, I did (for once) make sure to add enough salt.

I also used up some leftover lettuce for a salad.  I shredded a carrot for the first time.  It took about a year and I don’t think I did it “correctly,” but I got the job done.

So, after I checked on the chicken tenders a couple of times, they looked done and I took the temperature of each one, which exceeded 180 degrees.  I cut into a couple and they were nice and white.  The normal drill for chicken.  Yes, there is a point to this blabber.

First, here’s a picture of my dinner plate:

And a close-up of my unintended mostly-mashed potatoes:

And finally, the chicken tenders I was certain would be prize-worthy:

The potatoes, though not what I’d wanted, were decent.  But the chicken tenders.

Arrrrrrgggggghhhhhhhhhhh, the chicken tenders.

Something wasn’t right with them.  Though they weren’t the least bit pink, and though they’d measured at 180+ degrees, their texture was still that of raw chicken.  Their taste was that of raw chicken.  They were raw chicken tenders disguised as thoroughly-cooked chicken tenders.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  They were so cooked in appearance that I felt cooking them longer would simply burn the outsides (which had already turned a nice crispy brown).  But the bottom line is, neither my fiance nor I trusted them.  Neither one of us ate them.  As I write this, I am waiting for the vomiting to begin because I’d eaten a few bites as I tried to determine what was wrong with the chicken tenders.

Long story short:  I made a reasonably good lettuce-and-carrot salad tonight.

Pinterest-free week, day one: Taco salad

I will never learn to cook as long as I keep using Pinterest.

This is my prediction, at least.  I’ve been thinking long and hard about my use of Pinterest for recipes.  Almost all of the cooking I’ve documented so far on this blog has resulted from recipes I found on Pinterest.  And nothing against the people whose recipes are circulated on the website, but I’m truly starting to believe they are detrimental to novice cooks.  They’re not designed for people who don’t know what they’re doing.  They offer no method of coaching a brainless cook through the tasks they might not understand.  Therefore, I am dubbing this week “Pinterest-free week.”  This week, the majority of what I’ve planned to cook comes straight out of my Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook.  I chose this book because it is, without a doubt, written for people who haven’t mastered the ropes of cooking.

I started off Pinterest-free week with a simple recipe for taco salad.  I’ve been feeling bad about the flavorless food I’ve put on the table this week, so I chose something easy to make and hard to screw up.  There truly aren’t many good, hearty meals that are simpler to prepare; nevertheless, I’ve never before made a taco salad, so it was still new to me.  I started with browning some ground pork.  Easy peasy; I could do it with my eyes closed!

Then I added kidney beans, taco sauce, and corn.  No sweat!

While that simmered, I chopped some veggies–lettuce, tomatoes, and green onion–and set out some tortilla chips and shredded cheddar cheese. I opted to go with a “build your own salad” setup because my fiance and I differ on our salad preferences.

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, dinner was done!  It was delicious as all get out.

I’m feeling really good about my Pinterest-free week.  My inner chef can only stay in hiding for so long…