Divorced Dads – Cook For Your Kids: Part 3

Divorced Dads – Cook For Your Kids: Part 3

So by now, you like many of the divorced dads out there should have tackled chicken, but you want to do something a little more impressive when you cook for your kids than just perfectly cooked meat.

That’s boring, right? Where’s the wow factor? How do we bring it up a level? I’m here to help.

Hold on to your butt, because you’re about to make chicken parmesan, and the techniques you learn here will open up even more possibilities for you down the road. Let’s begin.

Chicken Parmesan

What you’ll need: 3 pie pans, one baking sheet (preferably lined with parchment paper)

  • 1 boneless/skinless chicken breast (or more if cooking for your kids)
  • 1-1 ½ cup panko bread crumbs (more for kids)
  • 1 egg + 1 tbsp water, beaten
  • ¼ cup cornstarch (heaping for kids)
  • Dry basil
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • 2 cloves freshly minced garlic (or garlic powder if you must)
  • Fry pan on medium heat
  • ½ cup or more extra light olive oil
  • 1 jar pasta sauce (whatever you like is fine)
  • Thin spaghetti
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh basil, finely chopped

Start by preheating your oven to 375°F and laying the chicken breast on your cutting board and making sure it’s nice and flat (do not pound it!). Take a fillet knife and, keeping it parallel to the board, gently slice the chicken down its length, keeping the two pieces as equally thick as possible. Congratulations, you have learned butterflying! (Normally, the two halves would be attached on one side, but this is not especially helpful to us, so skip it,)

Lay out your breading ingredients in the 3 pie tins (or bag + whatever combination) and put half of the minced garlic into the egg wash. Salt and pepper both sides of each piece, sprinkle on some dry basil and cover with cornstarch, making sure to get in every crevice. If you’re using a pie pan, this can get messy, so I’d recommend the bag method. You can put both pieces in at once. Shake off any excess and move each piece one at a time to the egg wash you made, coating thoroughly. Now it’s time to cover the eggy chicken in the bread crumbs and get ready to fry.

Make sure to give the oil plenty of time to heat up. This is important, because the oil is supposed to be a heat conductor, not an ingredient and if it’s not hot enough, it’s going to soak into the breading and you’ll end up with greasy breadcrumbs. Not cool. Medium heat or just above is perfect for this application. Just make sure to pay attention when you put in the chicken, as the browning will happen fast. You’re looking for the same golden brown you see in the fast food commercials and it happens pretty quick. Flip with tongs (or a spatula if you don’t care about splash back) and once the other side is browned, remove to your sheet pan.

Just make sure to pay attention when you put in the chicken, as the browning will happen fast. You’re looking for the same golden brown you see in the fast food commercials and it happens pretty quick. Flip with tongs (or a spatula if you don’t care about splash back) and once the other side is browned, remove to your sheet pan.

Now it’s time for cheese. For best results, you’ll want to use fresh-grated parmesan, but bagged will do okay. Believe it or not, the best grate I’ve gotten for this recipe is with a lemon zester (one of those long ones you see in the cookware aisle). It comes off really fine and melts beautifully. Pile it on high, over as much of the chicken pieces as you can, cause it’ll melt down like crazy. You can sprinkle on some fresh herbs if you like at this point. The moisture from the cheese will prevent burning. Place the chicken in the oven and attend to the sauce and pasta.

Pile it on high, over as much of the chicken pieces as you can, cause it’ll melt down like crazy. You can sprinkle on some fresh herbs if you like at this point. The moisture from the cheese will prevent burning. Place the chicken in the oven and attend to the sauce and pasta.

Spaghetti Is A No Brainer to Cook For Your Kids

Thin spaghetti cooks quicker than you think it will pretty much every time, so the best way to manage the stuff is to make sure your pot is just coming to a light boil by the time you put the chicken in the oven. At this point, throw in a couple of heavy pinches of salt (just barely more than you think you need) and it’ll be ready to go by the time your hands are free again. Stick the pasta in (if you’re cooking for kids, this would be the best point to break up the noodles) and if you’ve got a timer, set it for 7 minutes. When the pasta is ready to check, just taste it. No throwing against the wall. That’s over, you’re a grown up now. Drain when ready and replace in

Stick the pasta in (if you’re cooking for kids, this would be the best point to break up the noodles) and if you’ve got a timer, set it for 7 minutes. When the pasta is ready to check, just taste it. No throwing against the wall. That’s over, you’re a grown up now.

Drain when ready and replace in the pot,  off the heat. By now your sauce should be ready too, so turn the heat off on that.

Pull the chicken out of the oven and get ready to plate.

Ways to Change It Up

There are many, just barely different interpretations of chicken parmesan. Some use mozzarella, some require covering the chicken in sauce before you put the cheese on. This method is designed for efficiency in a kid-friendly kitchen. When you plate, you’ll see why. Start by spicing up the pasta. A little extra virgin olive oil, some fresh herbs, the rest of the garlic and toss. Plate that up on one side of the plate and on the other, put the sauce in a pool (mind you’ a very shallow one). Next, slice the chicken. Bite sized pieces for kids. Even, long slices for um, anybody else. ( You can cook for your kids – and ggrown-up guests, too.) Lay the pieces on the sauce, sprinkle with some extra parmesan and serve the awesomeness.

When you plate, you’ll see why. Start by spicing up the pasta. A little extra virgin olive oil, some fresh herbs, the rest of the garlic and toss. Plate that up on one side of the plate and on the other, put the sauce in a pool (mind you’ a very shallow one). Next, slice the chicken. Bite sized pieces for kids. Even, long slices for, um, anybody else. Lay the pieces on the sauce, sprinkle with some extra parmesan and serve the awesomeness.

You’re Now A Cooking Rock Star

Now that you know how to do this, you know how to make a whole bunch of other things. This was the big one to cook for your kids, the one that leads to all the others. You can now replace seasonings and make chicken strips, chicken nuggets, use Asian seasonings and sauces to make any number of dishes with noodles, rice or vegetables. You can use this breading method for fish

You can now replace seasonings and make chicken strips, chicken nuggets, use Asian seasonings and sauces to make any number of dishes with noodles, rice or vegetables. You can use this breading method for fish

You can use this breading method for fish, too, if that’s your thing. Frying chicken is an essential skill when you have kids. You have to learn this,

Frying chicken is an essential skill when you have kids. You have to learn this, because frozen nuggets, while fine, are not what your kids will remember or (ahem), anybody else for that matter. The versatility of breaded and fried chicken is legendary, as I’m sure you know.

Now you know how to do it yourself. So go nuts! Try everything from soy sauce marinade to breading and frying vegetables (watch the kids try turning up their noses at that!). You learned this recipe to unlock all the other recipes, so go explore.


(c) Can Stock Photo / GeorgeRudy

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Divorced Dads – Cook For Your Kids: Part 2

Divorced Dads – Cook For Your Kids: Part 2

For those of you divorced dads who never had to cook yourselves anything more complex than ramen noodles or ravioli from a can, it’s time to buck up. It’s time to square your jaw, roll up your sleeves and cook for your kids. Don’t be scared, you can do this! It’s a lot easier than you think, and after a while, you’re gonna find yourself binge-watching cooking shows just as much as anything on your Netflix watch list.

Takeout Gets Tiresome Fast

Pizza. Again. That fast food place that shall remain nameless. Again. Sure, there’s enough variety in takeout these days that you, as one of the divorced dads, can change it up when the kids come over, but how many permutations of “burger” or “pizza” can you feed them before they stop cheering mindlessly when you tell them they’ll be eating out?

Why Chicken Is Your Food Fallback

The most important skill you can learn as a homemaker/divorced dad is to cook for your kids, and that’s what you are now, gender stereotypes be damned. By far the most versatile and simple thing to prepare is going to be chicken.

The sheer variety of things you can do with it will surprise you if all you’ve experienced is FRIED! or BARBEQUE!, but I assure you that chicken is the be-all-do-all of the proteins. You can do anything with it. Let’s start simply.

My go-to recipe for chicken is simple, it’s quick, and it tastes amazing. Before you know it, you’ll be able to cook this with your eyes closed while riding a bicycle (for obvious legal reasons however, I must advise you NOT to do this). This recipe is the easiest thing I know to do with chicken, and it can be the basis of a limitless array of meals.

Quick Chicken

 What you’ll need: 1 oven-safe frying pan

  • 2 boneless/skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 bottle extra-light olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • tongs
  • oven mitt

First, preheat your oven to 375°F, and get your pan onto a burner set to medium and let it heat up. Once the pan is hot, pour just enough oil into the pan to coat the bottom after a little swirling. While you’re letting the oil heat up, salt both sides of each chicken breast (don’t need to go crazy with it, just so you know it’s there) and pepper the top side only. Lay the chicken, top side down, into the pan.

Wait at the other side of the kitchen for at least two minutes. Do nothing to that chicken until those two minutes are up. Good things are happening there, and poking, prodding or peeking will only screw it up.

When you see the chicken start to go white at the bottom edge, it’s time to check it. Gently shake the chicken loose from the bottom of the pan, lift up with the tongs and check for browning. If you see golden brown, flip them both and slice the garlic. Lay thin slices of the garlic cloves over the tops of the chicken breasts and, once they’re all on, put the pan in the oven. Wait.

Waiting sucks, but it’s going to take at least 7-8 minutes for the chicken to even be ready to check, so use this time to make sure any accompaniments you’re preparing are on track.

Pasta Is Great to Cook For Your Kids

Pasta’s good, and you can use one of the many cloves of garlic you have now to spice up spaghetti noodles, bow-tie pasta (kids love that stuff), rotini, angel hair, whatever you want really.

Either finely chop a clove or use a garlic press if you have one and add some butter, olive oil, pepper, parsley flakes (or fresh if you’re feeling like a badass), maybe some basil. Just toss the pasta back in the cook pot after draining (DO NOT RINSE!) and throw all that stuff in. Stir to coat, and by now the chicken should be ready. Let’s check.

Pro Tip on Checking Meat for Doneness

Checking doneness on a piece of meat you don’t want to cut yet can be intimidating, until you learn how to do it. Make a tight fist. Go ahead, just do it. Now poke the skin between your thumb and index finger. That’s well done for a steak. Loosen it a little, so there’s some amount of give. That’s medium well. Loosen it some more, that’s medium rare. Loosen it all the way, and that’s “Moo”. Tighten it back up again. Remember how that feels, because that’s how the chicken should feel when it’s done.

If you’re paranoid like I was when I first started doing this, feel free to check the meat with a thermometer, but only after it reaches the “It feels done, but I’m not quite sure” level of springy. If you have to put it back in after poking it, you’re going to lose some juice. Not the end of the world, but not the best case either.

Let It Rest

Once you feel like there’s some serious push-back from your chicken (or it reads as done at 165 F or more) take the chicken out of the pan and let it rest on a cutting board. Do NOT cut it yet. If you do, you’ll be grinding your teeth through dry rubber the whole meal. When meat cooks, the juices go kind of crazy, looking for the most expedient way out so they can quickly evaporate, just like any liquid would do under similar circumstances, so you need to trap it inside the meat until it settles the hell down. This is called resting, and it’s the most important step in the preparation of good meat, no matter what you’re cooking. So don’t touch it for a few minutes. At least five, if not more. Better to have a warm piece of juicy perfection than a piping hot piece of shoe leather. But I didn’t need to tell you that, did I?

Now that your chicken is rested, it’s time to cut. The way you slice the meat will change the texture and tenderness, so getting it right, believe it or not, can be the difference between “melts in your mouth” and “is it supposed to be crunchy?”. The best way I’ve found is to start at the smaller end and slice at an angle (about 45 degrees) and do about a quarter to a half inch cut, depending on how thick you want it. If you have young kids who can’t use knives or cut their own food with a fork, you can cut the pieces down smaller from here to a nice bite size, no harm done. Plate up and serve how you want. Mixing the chicken in is best for short pastas, or you can just lay it on top if you like.

Getting Dinner On The Table

Good pairings with this chicken are: the pasta described above, potatoes (we’ll get into those in another installment), rice (the possibilities are endless there), in wraps with some lettuce and cheese (kids love putting those things together) or even quesadillas if you slice it thin. Use your imagination. Go crazy with it. You can use this recipe as a step in preparing a larger dish, maybe douse it in teriyaki sauce and stir fry some vegetables, maybe cook it before bed and take it to work as a chicken salad. You could add spices you like to completely transform this dish. Trust your taste buds.

You can only hit a wall with this one to cook for your kids if you stop thinking of new ways to use it. This is the basis of a new world in cooking not just for your kids, but for yourself, your friends, or (ahem) anybody else you might want to cook for (eh? EH?). Just get in that kitchen and try it. Divorced dads: you can do this!

 

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Divorced Dad Cook For Your Kids : Part 1

Divorced Dad Cook For Your Kids : Part 1

Want to maximize visitation without breaking the bank? Here’s my divorced dad secret weapon: Stay home and cook for your kids. If they’re old enough, cook with them.

If you’re like most divorced dads, you’ve got visitation rights with your kids, so you want your time with them to be special. In fact, you want your time with them to be memorable and awesome and SO much better than when they’re with their mom. So you take them out to eat, you go see a movie, maybe cave and buy some toys, right? The time you spend preparing a meal together will be memorable if you use it effectively.

Good Stuff Happens While You Cook For Your Kids

Chances are your “divorced dad’s” pad isn’t that big. This is actually good news for our purposes, as it reduces the number of places your kids can go to distract themselves while you make cook for your kids. Have an open kitchen? Talk to your kids in the “dining room”. Bar stools at the counter, have them hang out and tell you about their day. If they’re old enough, put them to work! There are no child labor laws when it comes to home making, and you can happily remind them of this fact if they complain about having to peel carrots. All the while, just talk with them, show an interest in what’s going on with them. It may take a few tries before they get into it, but keep at it. Make it clear that you’re not going anywhere, and they have your full attention.

If they’re old enough, put them to work! There are no child labor laws when it comes to homemaking, and you can happily remind them of this fact if they complain about having to peel carrots. All the while, just talk with them, show an interest in what’s going on with them. It may take a few tries before they get into it, but keep at it. Make it clear that you’re not going anywhere, and they have your full attention.

All the while, just talk with them, show an interest in what’s going on with them. It may take a few tries before they get into it, but keep at it. Make it clear that you’re not going anywhere, and they have your full attention.

Kids Can Talk Freely At Home

Now sure, all of you divorced dads could talk with them at a restaurant, especially a nice one that doesn’t have music blasting away. You could have a limited range of conversational topics to choose from, and have a very nice time. But at your place, with just you and your kids, you can talk about anything. The walls can come down a lot easier at home than they can in public, and far less embarrassingly if things don’t go well, because sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they’ll go really, really bad. But that’s the point. The point is to give them a place where they can yell at you if they need to, or cry, or just talk. Those things don’t happen as easily at a restaurant as they do at home, because home is

The point is to give them a place where they can yell at you if they need to, or cry, or just talk. Those things don’t happen as easily at a restaurant as they do at home, because home is safe.

By spending time at home, you’re also sending a message to your kids that you don’t want anything or anyone between you and them. Kids pick up on behavior a lot more than we give them credit for, and always going to restaurants and movies and public stuff tells them that private stuff is not up for discussion. I can say from experience, this is not a good thing for a kid to learn from their dad.

Cooking For Your Kids is a Shared Experience

In addition to providing a safe place to talk, cooking at home with your kids can be a shared experience. Put them to work. I’m not kidding around about this! A six year old can shred cheese man, stop letting your kids sit around like deadbeats! Speaking of cheese, a great meal for little kids is english muffin pizzas (recipe below). Have them make their own. They freaking love putting their own toppings on. It’ll be a great time for them, and no matter how terrible you may think the food was, they’re gonna go back to their mom demanding to make them again. Now using your own judgement, you can decide if you feel comfortable giving sharp utensils to your child, but generally about eight is a good age to start them on the simple stuff. Teach them to be safe, be right there the whole time and show them they can do the grown up stuff. They’ll love you for it.

Cooking Is An Act of Love and Respect

The act of cooking for your family is at its root an act of love and respect. To take raw ingredients and turn them into a meal that you invested time and thought in, is not something to be taken lightly. Getting your kids involved in that process, even as

Getting your kids involved in that process, even as good company, is also a loving and respectful act. They will remember those meals fondly in the years to come. The kitchen sees the best of us, and the worst. (Divorced dads have plenty of both.) It is the center of any home, whether you use it or not, so use it.

Now that you’re a divorced dad, use your kitchen to form memories, and get to know your kids in a way that may be unfamiliar. It will not be easy, it will get messy, but it is worth doing. For you, for your kids, and most of all, for the people they will grow up to be. Now dust off those pans and get to work.

English Muffin Pizzas

  • One pack english muffins (regular is fine, but sourdough is awesome)
  • One jar spaghetti sauce (whatever you like is fine, just stay away from chunky varieties)
  • Cheese (shred your own for best results, but pre-shredded is okay)
  • Toppings (this can range from pepperoni, to pineapple, to bbq chicken, just make sure any meats are pre-cooked)
  • Large sheet pan

The best way to go about fixing these with your kids is to set up an assembly line in your kitchen. Start with lightly toasted english muffins, then sauce, then cheese, then toppings. Let each kid take their turn putting sauce and toppings on, then move the finished pizzas to the sheet pan. Keep an eye on sauce levels, as too much will create a layer the cheese will just slide right off of. You could go all out and get mozzarella and really good pepperoni, but the truth is it works just as well with any kind of cheese and stuff your kids like.

Once everything is made, stick the pan in the oven on 375°F 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is well-melted (which ever comes first) before removing.

Make sure you let the pizzas cool down a bit before cutting them, or your cheese is gonna slide. Usually two pizzas is a good portion per child, but some kids are hungrier than others, so allow for extras (maybe make some plain cheese ones in case of seconds) and make sure you remember who made which ones, because your kids definitely will. Cut in half or in fours and serve.

This meal is a great way to spend time with your kids, to get them excited about dinner, and impart some lessons at the same time.

You can show them the importance of organization in the kitchen with the assembly line, the importance of hand washing when cooking, cleaning up after the preparation is done, and how to follow steps in a recipe. These are subtle lessons for young kids, but they learn through doing, which is why this dinner is so cool.

The most important things you will show them though, are that you can cook for your kids, and that you want to do stuff with them.

Those are the biggest things your kids will learn from you , and they will always remember.

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