Nostalgia Week #7: Copycat McNuggets

Rolling out the big ones for our last day of Nostalgia Week. And if you’re lucky, I’ll do it again around Foodette’s birthday with a big, awesome lunchbox giveaway. The response we got to this was crazy! If we do decide to do a VH1 copycat of “We Love Nostalgia Week” was there anything we didn’t get to this time around that you’d like to see us scout out?
The quest for the perfect chicken nuggets has spanned far more than just this week’s set of postings. As nugget aficionados and six-year olds in disguise, we’ve been tinkering with the recipe for well over six months. Our conditions: the nuggets had to be baked, they couldn’t use more than two tablespoons of oil or any xanthan gum or strange ingredients, and they had to be really crispy and nearly identical to McNuggets from McDonald’s. With those rules in mind, we developed a Frankensteinian recipe with amazing results using a few different starches for batter and a guilt-free chicken goo to mimic the shapes of the noble nugget. Make them adult-friendly with an assortment of Robert Rothschild dipping sauces like we did!
Copycat McNuggets
Ingredients (makes 35-45 depending on size)
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon of light corn syrup
1/3 cup of plain, unseasoned bread crumbs
3 tablespoons of yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of flour
3 eggs
Hot sauce to taste
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons of corn oil
1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor, combine salt, pepper, chicken, and corn syrup. Blend until it resembles a thick, pink paste.
2. Place flour in one bowl, egg and hot sauce in another, and bread crumbs, cornmeal, flour, and seasonings in another to create your breading station. I like to mix up my bread crumb mixture first and put it in a bag, replenishing the bowl if I run out so that whatever I don’t use can be repurposed for the next batch and isn’t contaminated by the raw chicken. Scoop tablespoons of the chicken mixture out and coat them in flour, shaping them as you go along. Dip in the egg and coat in the bread crumb mixture and place on plate or cutting board.
3. Spread an even layer of oil on your baking sheet and place the nuggets on top. Cook in oven for 10-12 minutes per side and flip with two forks, working carefully so that the breading does not fall off. Serve with condiments and eat immediately. These also keep exceptionally well for a day or two in the refrigerator.

Nostalgia Week #6: Kid Cuisine Bug Safari Chicken Breast Nuggets

This was always the consolation prize of babysitting night- when your parents didn’t trust the sitter to go out and not buy drugs with the pizza money, Kid Cuisine was on the menu. And if they really hated the baby sitter, they left her one, too. When I was little, Kid Cuisine came in more varieties than you could count on all of your hands and they always seemed to be testing some child-formulated version of lazy adult products. Salisbury steak, taquitos, and a knock-off of Ellios’s whizzed through the freezer.
I distinctly remember having this once, not because my parents never went out, but because they figured out very quickly that children could also be sustained by leftover duck confit, raisins, and salt-free almonds when left to their own devices. “Canape night! My favorite!” A phrase we never uttered. Today I took one for the team and sampled the least unappealing version of KC that I could find, fun shaped chicken breast nuggets. Though, not gonna lie, I would have loved to find miniature corn dogs to flick at my cats.
The presentation and preparation is overly complex and strange. I gauged myself at being around the stumbling motor capability of a small, dull child as I was hung over from last night’s celebration of Thursday. To read multiple paragraphs about taking out chicken nuggets and putting them back in, gently stirring corn and macaroni and cheese, and not microwaving gummy bugs felt beyond my skill set so I just nuked the savories and kept out the sweets. The gummies were housed in a package that kept them dry but absorbed all the savory flavors, adding insult to injury by not providing them their own separate compartment to rest in prior to consumption. Those suckers had to sit next to the nuggets.
The meal is perfect for children as it is completely devoid of texture, seasoning, and any remote resemblance to the food it is inspired by. Change its color or put some foam on it and it’s practically a Wylie Dufresne kid’s menu. I mean, just look at that macaroni. It has some serious issues brewing beneath its taut, taupe skin. I want to sit it down and refer it to a good psychoanalyst, maybe buy it a drink and just sit back and listen. Kid Cuisine is no place for authentic Italian elbow noodles, I’m sure. It had bigger dreams at one point, but now…just look at it. The nuggets are placidly bouncy and squishy. I’m sure that was intentional but it’s doubly disturbing as they are shaped like bugs.
If you really have to eat this, you could look at it as a more homogenized, muted version of the KFC famous bowl. Like said bowl, it also tastes like a healthy dousing of arrhythmia-topped dairy with a few vaguely crispy nuggets thrown in for protein. Also this dinner is basically a pussy magnet if you have two cats and they can smell chicken from three miles away like ours can. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, it’s just not as condiment and flavor laden as I typically like my food to be. I wish Kid Cuisine had gone the duck confit route and incorporated just a little more oomph to these. Kids should know what coriander tastes like by their sixth birthday.

Nostalgia Week #5: Hunt’s Snack Pack Ice Cream Sandwich Pudding

Hunt’s, the liquid assets of kids. Insert random story about making friends at Jewish summer camp here, bada bing, bada boom. So! Woe betide the kid whose mom packed peanut butter and jelly on flax bread fo’ sho’. It was almost as embarrassing as for the kids who thought that the Marilyn Monroe quote I invented on a quiet Facebook day was real and not completely made up, but I’m banking that the bulk of them won’t read this, so…I win.
Handi-Snacks has come out with quite a few funky flavors lately, and by funky, I obviously mean designed to make little kids cry. While I’d never tried ice cream sandwich inspired pudding before, I figured it deserved the old college try, as anything that costs under a dollar warrants. Perhaps it’s the power of suggestion, but there’s an aggressive milkiness to this that makes it almost taste like the real deal. Or at least, the chocolate wafer part. Despite its glossy, thick texture, the pudding itself has a certain severe lack of moisture and a dry, very cocoa-heavy aftertaste that mimics the cookie pretty well. The package is also incredibly meta and its enthusiastic visual, an ice cream cookie whizzing at record speeds into a pile of what I assume is this very pudding, provides a bonus recipe if you don’t care about health or sugar or dignity.
Where things fall apart in the realism factor is the mid-section. Most companies would slap some vanilla in there, call it a day and go home to watch Mad Men on DVD, but Handi-Snaxxx opted to try and flavor it like ice cream with less than stellar results. The end product tastes somewhere in between cereal marshmallows and Splenda and has a snarly, artificial aftertaste that lingers around like a teen loiterer. I mean, just look at that pudding pompadour. Fortunately, this was tempered by the strong and doubled chocolate layers, but still left a dry feeling in my mouth along with that fake sweetener on my breath. Bland. Boring. Lacking substance and riding on a tired gimmick. Ah, such is life.

Nostalgia Week #4: McCain Smiley Fries

Well, readers, it’s shaping up to be a pretty crappy day and it’s barely past noon over here. My phone, which I’ve had for the last three years, stopped working today. It registers as on, but the screen is blank and I can’t read texts or receive calls. So it’s basically a light-up brick. I feel overworked, I’m stressed looking for a summer job, I’m the goddamn Batman, and I have an enormous baking project to undertake tonight. So I’m pretty peeved right now.
Luckily, I remembered I had these fries in the freezer to review today, which brightened up my day significantly. These fries are getting more dreamy eyes and shooped tumblr posts than Titantic, One Direction, and puppies with broken legs combined. It fuses together 17 year old girls’ love for their childhood, which they perceived as idyllic and uncomplicated in retrospect, and their projected appreciation of the simple things in life. No joke, I once saw a Facebook status circulate around a specifically dumb group of pre-deletion friends that read something like, “~i would rather have a boy make me dino nuggets n smiley frys then take me out for a fancy steak dinner ♥~ REPOST IF U LOVED UR CHILDHOOD!!! Or something like that. And yes, the “then” was spelled like that and nobody noticed that the re-poster made herself out to be an enormous hambeast.
My point is, people, specifically people my age, love reliving their elementary school glory days for no other reason than to relate to people who, like them, were also children at the same time they were. It’s a little pathetic. Likewise, Disney sing-a-longs, Lion King marathons, and Harry Potter fanart also falls into this category of the 90’s Nostalgia Generation. Regardless, everyone can still agree that it’s immensely satisfying to bite an anonymous face apart piece by piece.
I’ve seen grown college students, legally defined as adults by the state of Massachusetts, push each other and grab at these like toddlers lacking fine motor skills. Why? Because they’re absolutely delicious. They’re the best of french fries and tater tots, with the increased crispy surface area of the former and the thick, pasty sustenance of the latter. Salt for all. Even better when you dip them into ketchup because then you can justify eating them due to their extended cranial injuries. Even better than feeling like God when you’re able to injure them at whim and then consume them before anyone notices are the deformed ones.
You’re special in your own way. And possibly incapable of frowning. Smiley fries, you are the best. Your starchy, whipped texture makes cannibalism almost seem pure.

Nostalgia Week #3: Shark Bites

Ernest Hemingway’s shortest tragedy: For sale: baby, shoes (never worn)
The better version (mine): Grew up in Southern Connecticut, hated the beach.
A true story, and a rather pitiful one, too. Growing up, we belonged to two beach and tennis clubs and I hated both equally. The club closest to our house was the most tolerable and thus, the one we went to most frequently. I liked it because it had a killer snack bar and plenty of trees and grass to sit under and read. Less sand, more J.K. Rowling for me. And beach snacks. What is it about salt air that makes people bust out their best stash of mindless foods to eat? Kettle Corn, charred hot dogs, puffy Jax, and Stewart’s Orange and Cream Soda were exchanged and consumed rapidly.
By far, the most superior of these snacks was Shark Bites. Easy to carry and overtly beach-themed, it was voted the best way for children to both absorb and repel the power of the shark. Everyone likes Shark Bites. They’re clearly the best of the fruit snack varieties, with their strange opaque colors and the widely disputed mystery flavor of the great white shark. Sometimes it was orange. Sometimes it was cherry. Either way, it was the most coveted of the pack and if you had two, giving one to a buddy signified a lifelong bond. At least until someone dropped theirs half-eaten into the sand and cried about it. Babies.
The doughy, glutenous chew and generic fruit-flavored profile in no way deters from eating these. With their mild tang and gentle sweetness, it’s easy to go through a pack of these- or three! They truly are the poor man’s Sharkies, and a worthy competitor at that.

Nostalgia Week #2: Little Debbie Zebra Cakes

It hurts to write this post because it feels like I’m peeling away a very dear, but vestigial part of my body. Like taking out my appendix, or lopping off an earlobe, admitting that Zebra Cakes are an abject failure, the wheezing obese diabetic token of snack cakes, physically pains me. Dr. D used to take me on weekends in her yellow VW bug and typically, our first order of business was to pick up some treats for the visit, forbidden favorites that followed an excursion to an animal shelter or Toys R Us. It was one of my first real feelings of equal power, how wonderful it felt to just hold up a pack of Zebra Cakes and get a nod of approval. Because of that the treat has stuck with me, holding a significance far beyond snack cakes. The zany zebra heralded one of my first brushes with responsibility- the joy and ensuing pain of eating too many Zebra Cakes.
Over a decade and a half later, I decided to revisit them out of pure nostalgic longing. I wasn’t disappointed to eat them again as they did rekindle the same delight I felt so many years back, still best paired with a 4-piece kid’s meal from Burger King and an episode of Angry Beavers, but I was disappointed to discover that a pack of these is worse, in almost every single respect, than eating a McDouble. This is right behind colored sunscreen and puppy feet on the ever-expanding list of “things that are adorable but should not, under any circumstances, be placed in a human’s mouth.” With a flimsy, crumbly structure and a persistent filminess, these things are basically the edible equivalent of the FBI Most Wanted List. They’re nasty hexagonal calorie bombs glued together with sweetened Floam. The texture seizes up and improves when subjected to a bout in the freezer, but primarily remains waxy on the outside and grainy with sugar on the inside. The zebra stripes don’t impart any chocolatey flavor to the cake at all.
While I’d wished the little cakes had tasted better, the reminiscence of kicking back with these and classic 90’s episodes of Nickelodeon is parallel to none, even the post-consumption guilt of realizing how much saturated fat is in these.

Nostalgia Week #1: Lunchables Cracker Stackers

Lunchables, as much of a household name as Justin Bieber, terrorism, and Alf. If you grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, you know them as the number one underground currency of the lunchroom and playground. Seriously, at 7:30 in the morning in any classroom across America, intense trades were going down with these suckers before Wall Street even woke up. Unless you were one of those kids whose parents stopped giving a crap and just slipped you one of these babies and five bucks for milk every day, having one of these was like Christmas, your birthday, and a surprise appearance by Mickey Mouse all in one.
And the most famous and coveted of all these was the cracker stackers. Long before the advent of deep dish cold pizzas with chewy, dog-treat esque pepperoni and cold sliders was the beloved combination of crackers, a cheese block, and bologna or turkey. For many kids, this was our first introduction to the concept of handheld food and likewise, the very same subconscious reason that compels us to keep eating cracker and cheese sandwiches at parties.
What used to be a grubby, sticky means of self-immunization via finger-transmitted germs atop turkey flavored petri dishes is now a remarkably sterile, kid formulated version of crudites. The crackers are enhanced with whole wheat, the turkey circles are free-range, the Skittles are organic and free of allergens. It’s like they don’t even know me any more, man.
However, the Capri Sun libation remains untouched and the Lunchables folks still had the wherewithal to include the obligatory games and prize on the back of the-what the fuck is this!? Win a trip to Illinois? Why? And not just the awesome, deep-dish pizza eating, Chicago Bears Illinois, the type that brings back aaaaaaallllll your horrible repressed memories of agonizing family vacations. This trip sucks.
But the Lunchables! The Lunchables! They’re just as delicious as I remembered and maybe even more so because they’re now bereft of sticky kid germs. The flavor is classic- creamy cheese product dominated with a slick, liquid salinity from the turkey, shaped in discs sourced from the frisbeenus part of the turkey breast. Washing it down with my Pacific Cooler, a fine example of the classic Capri Sun varietal I know and love, delivering a healthy dose of sugar to fuel a body through recess.
My mind wandered the nostalgic romance and betrayal of trying to woo Allison from the 3rd grade with a pack of contraband filched Doritos, only to discover that she’d been driven to sharing Pat’s cracker stackers with him tableside style, Caramel the lunch lady waiting anxiously to deliver their valet-parked Big Wheel. Damn them all. True to form, as I remembered this awful time in my life, I blew up the Capri Sun container after drinking its contents and stomped on it, the straw shooting out of the box like my disgruntled sexual frustration.
Regardless, these deliver a flavor that doesn’t make me want to run for the garbage can or even trade these for someone else’s gummy bears. It’s both heartwarming and edible, a classic combination almost as classic as turkey discs and Skittles.
Too bad their website is straight-up sketch. Now we’re packing fruit indeed, says the Hannibal Lecter of pineapples.
Also, Allison, call me. Please. My mom made Rice Krispy treats!