Fast Food Made Slow

I've written about my family's occasional over-dependence on McDonald's. But there's something that I may have failed to mention: McDonald's and I have a past.

From the summer before my senior year in high school to the summer before my freshman year in college (and during a really low couple of weeks over that first Christmas break), I was a not-so-proud McDonald's crew member. Sharing this feels only slightly less revealing than posting bikini shots might. I only told my now-husband after we'd been dating over a year, and I introduced my confession with so much tortured fanfare that I'm pretty sure he thought I was about to tell him that I'd slept with his roommate or had a communicable rash.

I spent my high school years as a scholarship student at a private day school where summer jobs consisted of "helping out" in one's father's office or caddying at the club, and careers in fast food were regarded with the same patrician disdain as things like aerosol hairspray and work boots. Sadly, I needed to work and an exhaustive job search turned up only one offer. It occurs to me now that if I'd found the gumption to simply own this fact, my classmates would have been understanding and I would have been much happier; unfortunately, I lacked the moxie that would have required and so, taking advantage of the fact that I lived and worked nearly an hour from my school, I kept it a secret from all but my two closest friends.

I was like an angsty, self-hating teen super hero. By day, I was just a mildly-anorectic, extremely self-conscious prep school girl, blushing deeply with secret shame at any mention of fast food, but 8 to 16 hours a week I became a barely competent, thoroughly mortified McDonald's counter girl, wishing to God I could land something a little more respectable like bagging groceries. I would casually enter the restaurant with my uniform and visor tucked discretely in a Gap duffel, glance furtively over my shoulder, quickly punch in the employee's only door code and disappear to the downstairs changing room only to emerge through that same employee entrance eight hours later, looking the same, only a little greasier and more fragrant.

So why am I now revealing this, the ignominious golden M etched on my soul? Because it is all prologue to the New Year's Eve dinner that allowed me to finally come to terms with all this high-low duality -- at least in a culinary sense.

My menu was inspired by this "Make Your Own McRib" recipe from Saveur, which replaces the rib-shaped pork patty with braised pork belly. I followed it to the letter (except for cheating with store-bought pickles), and found it deliciously successful. I also made baked sweet potato "fries," whipped up a round of shakes, and, because the girls aren't McRib-eaters, served homemade chicken nuggets. Everyone was happy, though Little E did ask me what the toy was in her homemade happy meal.

Baked Sweet Potato "Fries"

2 or 3 good-sized sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon light brown sugar

  • Peel the potatoes and cut them into fries about 1/4 inch thick and 3 inches long.
  • Fill a large bowl with water and soak the fries for about 10 minutes, as you preheat the oven to 425. The soaking helps them to cook faster.
  • Drain the fries, dry out the bowl, return the fries to the bowl, toss them with the olive oil and salt them.
  • Spread the fries in a single layer on a baking sheet and put into the oven.
  • Stir and flip the fries occasionally. They took about 25 minutes for me.
  • When the fries are ready, remove them from the oven and toss them in a large bowl with the brown sugar.

Chicken Nuggets

1 pound of chicken tenderloin pieces, cut into "nugget-size" bites
2 eggs
1 cup of flour
1 1/2 cups of panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons of olive oil (plus more as needed)

  • Beat the eggs with a tablespoon of water in a shallow bowl and dredge the chicken in flour.
  • Dip the floured chicken pieces into the egg and then coat with panko.
  • Allow the chicken to sit for about ten minutes; this seems to help the coating to adhere.
  • Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Be sure that you allow it to heat up enough. I did not and my first batch was a bit rare -- not attractive in a chicken nugget.
  • Cook the nuggets in batches. They take about 4 minutes per side, depending on thickness.
  • Be sure to replenish the oil as needed.

Milkshake Trio: Vanilla, Coffee and Mocha

8 scoops of good quality vanilla ice cream
1 1/2 cups of milk (use less for thicker shakes)
1 tsp. of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of coffee syrup (such as Coffee Time or Autocrat)
1 tbsp. of unsweetened cocoa powder (more for stronger chocolate flavor in the mocha)
1 can of aerosol whipped cream (optional)

  • Put the ice cream, milk and sugar in a blender and blend on low speed for about 30 seconds.
  • Pour about 1/3 of the contents of the blender into a large glass.
  • Add coffee syrup and blend just long enough to combine.
  • Pour half of the remaining contents into a large glass.
  • Add cocoa powder and blend just long enough to combine.
  • Pour the remaining contents into a glass.
  • Top the shakes with whipped cream, if desired.

Photo Credit: Avlxyz.

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