Fake Out Take Out

Fake Out Take Out

One of my many food enemies is MSG, which is short for monosodium glutamate. It’s a soybean product that I don’t know too much about, but I know it makes me sick. The bummer deal about it is that it’s in a LOT of stuff… from chicken stock to salad dressing. One of the most common places to find it is in Chinese food, which means that our family rarely goes out for Chinese, despite the fact that egg drop soup is the ninjas’ “favoritest soup ever.”

In the past I have attempted to make our own Chinese food at home, and I have had mixed results. I make some really good egg rolls, but any type of stir fry I’ve made has just been mediocre. And then, I found this recipe on BudgetBytes.com for Sticky Ginger Soy Glazed Chicken.

This recipe is two of my favorite things: Easy, and cheap. Since the ninjas did so well with the raw chicken last time, we decided to make this our challenge this week.

I must make a disclaimer here… Our summer schedule has changed a lot and it has been more difficult to squeeze in our cooking lessons. Although the boys helped me do all the prep on this one, we were serving this meal to a dinner guest so I ended up taking the reins for the cooking. And you’ll have to refer to Budget Bytes for the really delicious looking after picture, as our dinner guest was hungry and dinner was about forty minutes behind schedule, as you will read about.

The first step is to make the marinade. I highly recommend using fresh ginger root for this and not powdered ginger. I learned a really useful tip from Rachael Ray (she taught me a lot my first year of marriage) about ginger root. You can buy it and freeze it, then use it right from the freezer in recipes. It keeps indefinitely, I’ve found.

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The new tool we worked with for this challenge was the Microplane grater. If there was a fire in my house, I would go back for my kids, my Pampered Chef cookie scoop and my Microplane grater. Just sayin’. For a very short video of Ninja Chase demonstrating the ginger root process, check out our Facebook page.

After we made the marinade and whisked it around, we cut up some chicken thighs and Mark “put them in the bath.”

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There they sat for a couple hours, marinating in the wonderfulness that is brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger and garlic, until I browned them all nicely and served them to our hungry guest. Actually, in reality, it went something like this:

I started to heat the oil in the pan and forgot about it because someone was at the door. So when I came back, not only was the oil scorched, the kitchen and dining room was filled with smoke. It was about 100 degrees that day, so opening the windows to let out the smoke made the climate in the house similar to that of a sauna. So I scrubbed the scorched-ness out of my skillet, started over with new oil, and voila! Our dinner guest arrived, right on time. She was gracious and waited patiently as I browned all the chicken, made the rice, and thickened the marinade until it was reduced to a sticky, delicious glaze that covered the tender, juicy chicken bites.

The details of this dish make it really special. I sprinkled toasted sesame seeds over the top and added fresh green onions and salty cashews. It was a hit with everyone, especially the ninjas. #IWishIHadAPicture #EvenTheLeftoversAreGone

We’re winding down to our last couple of Ninja challenges! We’d still love to hear your suggestions for something you’d like to see us make!

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Oops, My Bad: A Cookie Problem

Oops, My Bad: A Cookie Problem

As you can see from my son’s attire in the picture above, we’ve had a pretty laid back summer. Part of my letting go of control this summer has been letting the boys choose their own clothes every day (except Sunday, I still rule on Sundays). That’s why he has this used up light stick necklace creation going on. That being said, we have pretty much our only scheduled “summer thing” this week and next: daily swimming lessons. For that reason, and the fact that I’ve been watching another little girl a few days a week (who’s an absolute doll), the last thing I wanted to do this week was to do a cooking lesson. But I also wanted to keep my commitment, so we decided to double up: The ninjas make chocolate chip cookies, and I have a snack for our home group. I think they call that “boo-ya.”

Normally, we’d want to try something just a little more challenging than cookies, but we inadvertently learned two valuable lessons from this week’s challenge: 1) Don’t let mommy cook when she’s exhausted and 2) Mistakes are learning experiences in themselves.

I will tell you right now… these cookies are the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had. I found this recipe a year or so ago, and it immediately replaced every other chocolate chip cookie recipe I’ve ever even thought about making. This recipe is from Host the Toast and you will want to go there right now, pin it, print it, tweet it….(that’s the wealth of my social media terminology) and then put all your other recipes right in the recycle bin.

I won’t go through the steps with you… after all, you know how to make chocolate chip cookies. What I will tell you is that apparently when I am this exhausted, I lose all ability to function in the kitchen. And yes, I had my afternoon coffee. I was guzzling it like a champ. But everything I told the ninjas to do, I told them wrong. And I kept calling them the wrong names. And I kept running into things. So many times during this process I wanted to throw in the towel, but I kept trudging on.

After carefully measuring all the dry ingredients, the boys whisked them around and then measured the sugars and cracked the eggs. For yet another adorable video, please visit our Facebook page. Everything was going smoothly, except for the fact that I told Ninja Mark to pour the white sugar not in the KitchenAid, but in with the dry ingredients.

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“Sorry, buddy…that was mom’s fault.”

Here’s where lesson #2 comes in… sometimes we make mistakes and we have to live with them. There’s no way I was going to waste all these ingredients, so I told them we were going to do a little experiment with these cookies. We were going to see if putting the white sugar in with the flour would still create a good cookie.

You know what? It did. I don’t think it hurt the cookies at all. I think the dough may have spread just a little more than normal, but that means a bigger cookie, and if that’s the worst problem you have in a day, then please trade lives with me.

The boys learned another important lesson from the day’s events: When mom is tired, and she gives you a cooking lesson, and is entertaining friends for home group that night, you get crackers and cheese for dinner. And cookies, of course.


Extra Credit!

We tried another of Sammi’s recipes from Grounded and Surrounded this week: Coconut Lime Energy Bites. I don’t always like dates in things, so I was a little hesitant… but we needed something healthy for a snack and these looked so easy. I picked up the FOUR ingredients I needed and whipped these up in about five minutes. The kids loved to roll them into balls for me! I’m sorry that I can’t share pictures, but they contain kids that aren’t mine so I don’t feel comfortable putting them on a public page. But these are GREAT and next time I will make a double batch for sure. My kids don’t usually get too excited about nuts so I was really excited that they liked these so much! The whole family loved them. Go protein!


Hey, friends! Due to Facebook’s increasingly frustrating algorithms, most of you who liked our Facebook page are not seeing the updates. They want me to pay for you to see them, and as I don’t make any money from this blog, that is a financial impossibility. So would you do me a favor? Would you choose to “get notifications” for our page? I promise I won’t overwhelm you and that way you won’t miss a thing. Thanks in advance!

Kid food, hold the fries

Kid food, hold the fries

Fingers, tenders, crispers, strips, nuggets… call them what you will, but a tender piece of white meat chicken wrapped in crunchy, seasoned coating is hard to pass up. There’s a reason this is a popular “kid food”: it’s easy to eat, fun to dip, and there are no bones to get in the way.

Now in general, I don’t like the concept of “kid food.” I think kids should eat what adults eat about 99% of the time. It discredits their growing taste buds to give them the same bland food all the time. But in my opinion, everyone can enjoy a chicken strip from time to time, and if you can make them in your own kitchen where you control the ingredients, all the better (and cheaper)!

Let me confess right now…. I was dreading this ninja challenge from the beginning. I get pretty neurotic about the whole raw chicken bacteria thing when I’m making it myself, but when you give two children under the age of 7 a big pile of raw chicken, well, that’s enough to keep any controlling mother up at night. But a huge part of this summer blogging adventure for me is to give up some of that control and give it to these smart and capable boys the Lord has entrusted me with. So here goes….

This is one of the few things I cook without a recipe. It’s different every time, but it is delicious every time, so I’ll do my best to share all the steps with you so if you want to try and recreate it, you sure can.

I start with two chicken breasts. Don’t be tempted to buy the already cut chicken strips. They aren’t as tasty and they are way more expensive. It will take about ten minutes to make them yourself.

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We have a family of four, and we can get filled up (sometimes with leftovers) on just two chicken breasts. This is how we do it: Cut the chicken breasts crosswise so that you have four pieces of chicken. This takes some practice to get right, and I did this part myself.

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There was an extra little piece that fell off one of the breasts. It was destined to be a chicken strip.

To stretch the chicken even further (and make it juicy and tender), we pound it out with a meat mallet. This part was so fun for the boys!

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Use the flat side of the meat mallet so as not to tear up your chicken. Use a piece of plastic wrap to cut down on spreading bacteria.

You don’t need to pound too much, just enough to get the chicken breasts to an equal thickness of about 1/2″.

Then, the chicken breasts can be sliced lengthwise into strips. Cutting them width-wise makes for chewier bites due to the muscle fibers going the wrong way.

In addition to chicken safety, one of the lessons we focused on for this project was seasonings. I explained to the boys what the difference was between spices and seasonings, let them smell a variety of seasonings, and they chose what would go on our chicken.

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You can use whatever you like at this stage! Simple salt and pepper, garlic, a seasoned salt, lemon pepper, cajun (if you want them spicy), or whatever you can come up with! A quick side note: my cooking has improved immensely since having found Penzey’s Spices several years back. Some towns are lucky enough to have a physical Penzey’s location, but I get mine via mail order. The spices and seasonings are fresh and affordable, and it has really made a difference in everything I cook with them. Plus the seasonings do not contain MSG, which is very important to me.

We laid out all the chicken strips on the cutting board, and after a generous sprinkling of kosher salt, we added our seasonings. The boys chose Penzey’s “Old World Seasoning” and “Barbecue of the Americas.”

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We sprinkled just one side of the chicken with salt, but flipped them over and sprinkled the seasonings on both sides. It’s up to you and your seasoning how you’d like to do this step.

Now came the part I was dreading the most! The breading of the chicken. I use a “wet-dry-wet” method of breading, so I dip whatever protein I’m breading first in flour, then in an egg/milk mixture, then in Panko bread crumbs (sometimes with a little fresh Parmesan cheese added with the crumbs). I was truly amazed at how well the boys did with this. In truth, as much as I love making my own chicken strips, fish sticks, etc., I really find the breading process tedious. After today’s project, I will no longer be doing this! The boys did so well, they have a forever job. For some really adorable (trust me, you don’t want to miss them) videos of the boys doing the breading, check out our Facebook page.

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All ready to go in the pan!

I suppose you could deep fry these for a true restaurant experience, but all that hot oil terrifies me so I choose to shallow fry in a little olive oil (not extra virgin, the light stuff). Just a few minutes on each side over medium to medium high heat gives you a beautiful, crunchy outside and a juicy, tender inside.

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When I make this without the cooking lesson, I like to serve it with some raw veggies and the best french fries at home recipe ever from Bless this Mess. I will admit that the french fries take a lot of time, so after the emotional stress of all the raw chicken we decided to just snack on all these delicious chicken strips and call it dinner.

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Really, the only negative part about this project was my broken heart as my older son asked for ketchup to dip his chicken strips in. 😉

Is there anything you’d like to see the ninjas cook? We would love your suggestions in the comments below!


Hey, friends! Due to Facebook’s increasingly frustrating algorithms, most of you who liked our Facebook page are not seeing the updates. They want me to pay for you to see them, and as I don’t make any money from this blog, that is a financial impossibility. So would you do me a favor? Would you choose to “get notifications” for our page? I promise I won’t overwhelm you and that way you won’t miss a thing. Thanks in advance!