When Life Hands You Cider, Make Chicken Tenders

I must confess: I screwed up with the lunch thing this week.  Truly, monumentally screwed it up.

It’s not that I screwed up in the sense that my kids haven’t had decent lunches.  They’ve been okay.  But I screwed up in the sense that I had to sort of off-road the meal plan more than usual this week, due to many factors, and therefore the anticipated leftovers and bits and pieces that would have been fashioned into lunches did not exist when I needed them.  In short, I made myself scramble more than I should have, and I improvised waaaaay more than I meant to.

What went wrong?  Well, I’m a little foggy these days, for one thing; all this driving around to doctors and therapists and doing insane, intense, and probably crazy-making research on all the things that might be wrong with L. while we wait for the evaluations to be done and the real diagnosis to arrive has meant that my usual aplomb is in short supply.  We also got thrown off our game last weekend by all the traveling and busy-ness we enjoyed (not a bad thing, by any means, but a thing that had domino effects throughout my cooking process all week long).  Then there was the shrimp debacle.  And last night, the ribs.

What was the matter with the ribs?  I was supposed to have cooked ribs in the slow cooker earlier this week, and if you’ve been reading, you’ll recall that it didn’t happen.  So I figured I’d make them for today, but again, it didn’t happen — I forgot to defrost them, and at 9:oo last night, I stood in my kitchen grappling with that fact and wondering if they’d defrost in time or not and thinking…well…frankly, screw it.  I’ll punt.  I’m comfortable with that. J.’s been out of town on business for the past few days, so I’ve been just a little more “on-duty” with everything.  And I just did not feel like trying to defrost a rack of ribs in the microwave (ick — that always seems to par-cook parts of them before defrosting the rest) or in running water, in time to then bake said rack of ribs to seal in the moisture before placing them in the slow cooker with apple butter and barbecue sauce.  And it was a moot point anyway, because I haven’t had time to make the apple butter yet.  Sigh.  Things really HAVE snowballed this week.

So in the wake of that decision came lunch packing, and I stood there pondering the fact that I had intended to have leftover barbecued pork all ready so that I could make quesadillas with it for the kids.  Clearly that wasn’t happening.  I thought about making plain cheese quesadillas, but I had some chicken that needed to be cooked up — I made some stir-fried chicken and veggies last night with chicken tenders that had been on sale at Whole Foods, but there were enough of them that I didn’t feel it was necessary to stir-fry them all.  I thought about just putting the chicken into the quesadillas.  But then it occurred to me that the cheese I had on hand for such an application was not L.’s favorite, and anyway, the boys have eaten a LOT of quesadillas lately.  Hm.

Thus harried, but undaunted, I rooted around a bit and came across the apple cider in the refrigerator.  For some reason that probably won’t surprise anyone who’s read this blog even once before, my brain felt it was perfectly logical to do this:

Hm.  Apple cider.  Chicken.  Apple cider chicken.  Apple cinnamon chicken.  Cinnamon chicken…wait a minute…where have I heard that before?  Oh, right.  Little House on the Prairie.  What was in that again, allegedly?  Paprika?  Got it.

No joke.  My mother is absolutely addicted to the old “Little House” TV series, and I’ve seen every single episode probably 50 or 60 times, all told.  There’s a particularly quaintly amusing one involving Almanzo Wilder and Nellie Olson, in which Nellie is supposed to win Almanzo over by cooking his favorite dinner: Cinnamon Chicken.  Of course, Laura Ingalls is jealous, so in “helping” Nellie to prepare the dinner, she substitutes Chili Powder for the Paprika in the spice jar, and Nellie’s chicken sends Almanzo screaming from the room and straight to the pump out back for a drink of cold water.  Oh, the nostalgia and innocence of 1980’s television.  (To those of you who have never seen the series, just nod and smile.  I’m done now.)

So having absolutely no idea whether or not such a recipe — cinnamon chicken with paprika — ever actually existed; nor whether it would even work; I decided to make it.  (Of course I did.  I have no shame.)  I tossed the chicken tenders into a bowl and poured in cider, oil, cinnamon, paprika, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  I let the whole mess marinate for about 20 minutes while I was doing other things, then popped the chicken into the oven along with a tray of peas for popcorn peas (a desperation veggie; we’d eaten every other viable option).  And you know what?  It turned out pretty darned good.

So for their last lunch of National School Lunch Week, my boys have: Cinnamon Chicken tenders, pumpkin biscuits, cheese sticks, and blueberry applesauce.  L. has popcorn peas and brown rice as well; P. has an organic fruit-and-veggie yogurt cup and a banana.  My mother, sister, and I have always joked about being “Pioneer women,” but I’ve never actually drawn my inspiration from pioneers before (fictional or otherwise).  As a side note, I sincerely doubt that the REAL Laura Ingalls Wilder had access to paprika and chili powder on the Minnesotan frontier in the 19th century, but I’ll thank the historically lazy screenwriters of the TV series for their falsified recipe nonetheless.  Let’s hope my kids like my chicken more than Almanzo liked Nellie’s.

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5 Responses to When Life Hands You Cider, Make Chicken Tenders

  1. First, totally get the Little House reference (Almanzo – sigh).

    Second, wanted to mention our own version of Cinnamon Chicken, taken from the Six O’Clock Scramble cookbook. It’s similar in flavor profile to yours (cinnamon, paprika) but also uses cumin in the spice mix for a Morroccan-y thing going on, and it includes a maple-butter glaze. When Waverly of Peace & Love in the Kitchen profiled me (which I still find a wee bit embarrassing) she found someone’s reprint of the recipe online: Here’s the link that leads you to the recipe. http://bit.ly/ac4Oly Two corrections: Oven heat is 500 degrees (the transcriber used Celsius) and you glaze the chicken twice, once ten minutes before taking out of the oven, and once five minutes before. Very popular with kids and adults alike.

  2. Liz in Vermont says:

    I love cinnamon chicken, but never put paprika on it. I’ll have to try that and yes, I remember that episode!

    • So glad somebody knows the reference! I figured that cinnamon and paprika feature together often in Moroccan recipes, so they couldn’t be TOO terrible. The kids’ lunches came home empty that day and all the teachers said that the chicken smelled awesome, so hopefully it’s a keeper!

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