I’ll admit, if it weren’t for the fact that I have a mortgage and a respectable corporate job and a grey hair (or two) on my head, it would be awfully hard to believe I’m a real honest-to-god grownup most days. Inside the body of this 31 year old, there’s a 12 year old who’s wondering how life managed to get so stuffy and boring.
That probably explains why I still have a soft spot for all those childhood foods, especially when the whole grownup life has me feeling a little overwhelmed. There’s nothing like the warm fuzzy feeling I get from a grilled cheese – and by that, I mean the kind you make from cheap sliced bread and processed cheese, and slather in generic brand ketchup. I have nothing against thick-sliced artisan ciabatta and crumbled aged cheddar, but that ain’t a grilled cheese.
This grownup version of a McNugget Happy Meal is probably a better choice than my beloved white-trash grilled cheese – it lets me feed my inner child without compromising my foodie cred quite so badly.
Oven-Fried Chicken Fingers
1 lb chicken tenders (or boneless chicken breast, cut into strips)
1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp water
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with foil, and brush with a light coating of canola oil to prevent sticking.
Set up your breading assembly line – place three shallow dishes in a row. In the first dish, mix together flour, thyme, salt and pepper. In the second, lightly whisk together egg, mustard and water until combined. In the third, place the panko crumbs. Last, but not least, place your prepared baking sheet at the end of the line, next to the panko.
Working with one chicken strip at a time, dredge the chicken in flour, ensuring it’s evenly coated on all sides, then repeat the process with the egg mixture, and again with the panko. Place the breaded chicken strip on the prepared baking sheet, and continue with this process until all the strips have made their way to the baking sheet.
Bake chicken in preheated oven for 10 minutes, then turn over and continue baking for another 5 minutes, or until golden and crispy on the outside and no longer pink inside.
Serve right away with plum chutney for dipping (recipe below) and a side of oven-fried potato wedges. A cheap plastic toy, while authentic, is entirely optional. :)
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 cup sugar
1 cup white vinegar
2 lbs plums, pitted and quartered
1/2 cup diced white onion
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tbsp chili-garlic paste
1/2 tbsp kosher salt
2 whole star anise
7-10 whole cloves
5-6 whole allspice pods
5-6 whole juniper berries
2 cinnamon sticks, broken up into pieces
Heat a heavy bottom pot and add the mustard seeds to the dry pot. Within a minute or two, you should hear them popping like popcorn – this is your cue to turn down the heat to medium-high, and stir in the sugar and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook 2-3 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. Add plums, onion, raisins, ginger, chili-garlic paste and salt.
To make the spice pouch, place spices onto a 4″x4″ square of cheesecloth and tie into a bundle using cotton twine. Nestle the pouch in the plum mixture and simmer until the chutney has thickened up and is reduced by half, which should take about 45 minutes to an hour.
Stir the chutney occasionally as it cooks, stirring more frequently as it begins to thicken at the end to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom. You’ll know your chutney is ready when it takes on a glossy, thick and jam-like sort of consistency.
Pour the hot chutney into clean jars. It will keep in the fridge for up to 2 months, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Alternatively, use canning jars that have been sterilized and process the chutney for 20 minutes in a hot water bath. Processed jars can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.
Makes about 2 pints of chutney.