Sunday, May 15, 2011

Frugal Tip for Kid-Friendly Food

This is going to be very basic, but sometimes I find myself needing to be reminded of the essentials. What are two foods that are notorious favorites for children? Yes, pizza and chicken nuggets! How often do we buy these favorites at restaurants, fast food windows, or in the frozen food section of the grocery store? The truth is, we can make our own pizza and chicken nuggets at home and save our weekly food budget from hitting the roof in the process. My kids actually like the pizza and chicken nuggets that I make at home better than they like them anywhere else. I do understand the convenience of fast food and pizza delivery on nights when the kids have soccer practice or some other activity that makes it difficult to cook dinner. I have been there and done that many times. It is better to plan ahead for such evenings, however, rather than to spontaneously eat out when we find ourselves unable to “get it together” in time for dinner. Eating out or purchasing convenience foods on impulse will destroy the food budget faster than almost anything else. It might be wise to use the slow cooker on days that are especially busy or to double a recipe each week to freeze for later use on busy nights (more on this in future posts). To save money by providing our children with home-cooked pizza and chicken nuggets, read on!

Fried Chicken Fingers

I have tried several different recipes and methods for making chicken nuggets or chicken fingers at home and this is my family's favorite. Deep frying has a bad reputation for obvious reasons and I don’t do it often. When I do, I use healthier oils such as olive oil and grape seed oil. My daughters like these chicken fingers better than those they have eaten anywhere else!
1 - 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Oil for frying
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
2 cups flour (use unbleached white flour; whole wheat flour does not work well for this)
3 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Cut the chicken into “fingers” or “nuggets”, depending on your preference. Heat about 4 inches of cooking oil in an electric deep fryer or deep pot on the stove to 375 F (use a candy thermometer to gauge the temperature if you’re not using an electric fryer).
Beat the eggs and milk together in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a 9 x 9 baking dish or gallon-sized zipper bag, combine dry ingredients.
Dip the chicken pieces completely into the egg mixture and then transfer to the flour mixture. Roll each piece (or shake if using a zipper bag) to coat completely.
Carefully place each piece into the hot oil and fry for approximately 10 minutes until bubbling slows and chicken is golden-brown. (The number of chicken pieces you can cook at one time will depend on the size of your fryer or pot. Do not crowd the fryer).
Remove cooked chicken from oil and drain on paper towels.

*It will be necessary to double the dry ingredient amounts if you use a larger amount of chicken.

The World’s Easiest Pizza Crust
I have attempted many pizza crust recipes and this is the one that my children like the best. Thankfully, it also happens to be the easiest one! Homemade pizza, using this crust recipe, is far from difficult. In fact, pizza is one of the “easy” meals that I save for busy days. Many children prefer cheese pizza or pepperoni pizza. If this is true at your house, be happy because you won’t need to cook or chop any additional toppings!
Preheat oven to 425 F. Dissolve 2 packets of yeast in 1 ½ cups very warm water. In a large bowl, stir 4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, and yeast mixture until blended. Knead a few times, cover bowl, and let dough rest for 5 minutes. Brush two 12-inch pizza pans or baking stones with olive oil and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon cornmeal. Pat or roll dough onto bottom of pizza pans, creating rims at edges. Pre-bake for 5 - 10 minutes, then remove, spread with pizza sauce, and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and desired toppings. Return to oven until cheese is melted and crust is golden.

Tip:  Although the above crust preparation is extremely easy, it will not result in a particularly crispy crust in most home ovens. For a crispier crust, preheat pizza pans or stones in the oven prior to greasing them. Roll out the dough on a separate, floured surface, then carefully transfer to the preheated pans.

For an easy pizza sauce, combine one small can tomato sauce, one can tomato paste, 2 minced or crushed garlic cloves, a pinch of sugar, and Italian seasoning to taste (I like to use an Italian seasoning grinder for this).

Enjoy these recipes and be inspired to make foods at home that you typically buy elsewhere. It will save you money, it will be healthier for your family, and your children will think you are a fabulous cook!  Have a great week!