A Homemade Happy Meal?!
I know this must be very confusing — just days ago I was railing against the evils of McDonald’s, posting the SuperSize Me art alongside a vitriolic rage against the notion that anyone would dare to feed their children such horrific non-food.
Let me introduce myself. I’m Marissa, and I’m not an absolutist.
That’s right. As passionately as I believe that fast food is very, very bad for your health, I also know a few things about reality. I know that when you’re driving cross-country, as I have more than once, fast food drive-thrus are a God-send, and mostly the only option. I can imagine it feels the same when you’re on your way to soccer/band/karate/ballet with a minivan full of hungry adolescents. It’s cheap and easy. It tastes good.
Or so we think. The truth is, when you stop eating it for long enough (as I also have) going back to fast food is actually pretty gross, as I discovered on a recent road trip wherein all I ate for lunch were McDs french fries.
But french fries, the real thing, are quite delicious. So are chicken nuggets. So is pizza and ice cream and nachos supreme. The key to making good junk food, it turns out, is not making is fast, cheap and easy.
Because I’m not an absolutist, I believe it’s important that we all understand why food is either good for us or trying to kill us. I wrote my book, and I’m writing this blog, because I want us all to pay a little more attention to the long story behind each meal. So I’m going to keep writing about why McDonald’s is unhealthy, and why pigs shouldn’t be raised in CAFOs.
But I’m also going to show you how to make delicious junk food, and keep bacon in my header photo: you can have it all!
So to counteract the vitriol in the last McDonald’s post, I was inspired by a recipe on the amazing 100 Days of Real Food website to make chicken nuggets the other night for dinner. And I figured, while I was at it, I’d make some homemade fries, too. I found a recipe for oven fries from Cooking Light, and off I went.
French Fry Prep: The key to crispy, delicious french fries that aren’t deep-fried in oil is extensive prep work. First, you start with — gasp! — real potatoes, then slice them into french fry shape. You can use a mandolin, which I do not have, or do it the risky way wherein you may lose a finger. I opt for danger.
Yes, I admit no great culinary ability–I learned from a For Dummies video.
Next step in prepping the fries is soaking the sliced potatoes in a bowl of lightly salted water. This helps remove the starch from the potatoes, and makes them crispier. I’ve heard anywhere from one to eight hours of soaking time recommended, and because I am impatient, I always go with the minimum.
Then, drain the fries and let them dry on a paper towel. This is key. If the potatoes retain water, they won’t crisp up in the oven, so allow them to take their time and pat them dry to finish.
After all that prep, it’s remarkably simple. Toss the fries in a little olive oil, with salt (feeling free to add pepper, paprika, garlic, or onion powder, if you’d like, for extra flavor) and bake in a single layer on a cookie sheet. I did 450 degrees for 35 minutes, but you can do a lower temp for longer. Just make sure to keep an eye on the fries. The first time I tried this at home, I nearly started an oven fire.
Chicken Nugget Prep: I followed the recipe pretty closely on this one, as it was my first time doing these at home, so I’ll just defer here. Suffice it to say that the whole wet hand/dry hand idea changed my kitchen life. I’ve made chicken and fish breaded many ways before: walnut-crusted, parmesan-crusted, oven-fried, etc. and this is such a simple, but brilliant suggestion.
The chicken nuggets didn’t take long at all, so I’d get started as soon as you put the fries in the oven, allowing for time to slice up the chicken breasts, mix the breadcrumbs, prep, cook, etc.
Then I made a simple dipping sauce of mustard and ranch dressing, et voila! McDonald’s at home.
The lesson to learn here is that any food is good food if you’re making it from scratch. And, as you can see, that can often be a lot of work. That’s exactly the point. If you make it yourself–whether french fries, or an elaborate cake, or macaroni and cheese–you discover that much of the food we eat and take for granted is complicated. And something can only be both complicated AND fast if corners are being cut along the way with processed ingredients, chemical stabilizers, artificial flavors and other carcinogens.
One of my favorite Michael Pollan food rules is: Eat all the junk food you want. As long as you make it yourself.
You’ll learn more about why McDonald’s is unhealthy by trying it yourself, and you’ll indulge in these kinds of food less often. Plus, you get to feel seriously accomplished. That’s what good, real food is all about.