Both of my parents are talented, dedicated cooks with demanding law careers. This means that in order to feed themselves and their four kids homemade dinners during the week, they were, without ever calling it that, masters of meal planning. Huge swatches of the weekends were spent on intricate recipes that I failed to fully appreciate at the time and have since avoided replicating in my current kitchen, since it could probably fit inside the refrigerator in my childhood home.
Even without any counter space to speak of, though, this week I recreated a couple of the simpler staples I grew up on: breaded chicken cutlets, and my dad’s not-so-secret pesto.
Grocery store additions:
Pantry staples you probably already have (but should add to the grocery list if you don’t):
There are only a couple of real recipes this week—mostly we’re just stretching those few with different applications—but there are some things you can pre-prep before the real cooking even begins. As is often the case, we’re using pasta a couple different ways this week, so go ahead a cook a pound of your favorite shape (I went with orzo). We’re also going to use roasted red peppers, which are easily acquired in jarred form but are almost as easily made at home. If you have a grill, by all means go that route; and if you have a gas range, you can cook the pepper directly on the flame,;but in our makeshift office kitchen all we had is a hot plate, so the video features a pepper just sorta sitting in a skillet. Regardless of where the heat comes from, turn the pepper (with tongs!) a few times until all the sides are blackened. When it’s sufficiently roasted, seal the pepper in a closed container—a covered dish or a paper bag work well—and let it steam. When it’s cool enough to handle, rub the burnt skin off (you can also leave some of the charring behind if you like the flavor), clean out the seeds, and slice the pepper into strips. Drizzle the pepper slices with some olive oil for storing and let’s get to the week!
Over the weekend, you’ll want to set aside some time to make the chicken cutlets that we’ll be eating in three different meals this week. This is a great recipe to make in bulk, but it will get a little bit time-consuming as you scale up. You’ve been warned, but also rest assured that it’s worth it.
First, you’ll want to flatten the hell out of some chicken breasts. Put each piece of chicken between two pieces of parchment paper or wax paper and then just sorta pound on it with a skillet or other blunt object (designated meat-flattening mallets exist, but people without storage space in their apartments should avoid purchasing single-use kitchen supplies). Once you’ve gotten all the chicken to a desired thickness, but before you’ve fully mutilated it, set up a breading assembly line. In three separate bowls you’ll need: Flour, a couple of beaten eggs, and a parmesan-breadcrumb mixture. If your ingredient list is not limited by the constraining conceit of a blog post, you can add some extra seasoning to the breadcrumbs like dried herbs, spices, or garlic powder.
One piece at a time, you’ll dredge and dip the chicken first in flour, then in the eggs, and finally in the seasoned breadcrumbs. Get some oil really hot in a skillet and fry up the chicken cutlets in batches, letting each side brown before flipping. Make sure to keep the oil hot—adding big hunks of cold chicken will lower the temperature—so you don’t lose too much of the breading or get the cutlets too oily.
For Monday, pack one sandwich-size piece of chicken, a couple slices of mozzarella, and some tomato slices. When it comes time for lunch, toast your sourdough slices, reheat the chicken with the mozzarella on top, and assemble your faux chicken parm sandwich.
The first thing I loved about the recipe for this corn chowder salad is the intuitive and paired-down ingredient list. All the flavor comes from the featured produce and the bacon fat (the second thing I loved about it), which makes it especially well-suited to when you’re cooking for a full week and don’t want to buy obscure spices for a single dish.
As written, the steps are pretty straightforward—cook bacon, remove; cook potatoes; add other ingredients—but for the sake of getting two different meals out of this, I’ll recommend one annoying intermediary step. So you’ve sautéed your chopped bacon bits, removed the cooked pieces, and left the grease behind. You’ve cubed your potatoes and crisped them up in the bacon fat and now they’re holy crap, crazy delicious. The recipe calls for adding the the corn kernels and chopped bell pepper in with the potatoes, but instead we’re removing and setting aside the potatoes (drizzle them with the cider vinegar now while they’re still hot) and cooking the rest of the veggies separately. Add back the bacon, divide the whole thing in two, and mix the crispy potatoes into one of the halves. You should end up with one mixture of bacon, bell pepper, corn, red onion; and one that has all that plus potatoes.
For Tuesday, pack the potato half and one of the chicken cutlets for. There ya go: lunch.
As far as edible memory-triggers go, nothing has the power to be more consistently evocative of childhood than this pesto, which my dad has made seemingly without fail every week of my life. He’s had some time to perfect it.
That said, there’s no real secret to this pesto. Dad uses walnuts instead of pine nuts and is very particular about the order of the ingredients, but mostly this is just a reminder that your basic basil-nut pesto is delicious and versatile.
In a food processor, blend a heap of fresh basil, walnuts, garlic, and black pepper until coarse. Stream in more olive oil than you think you’ll need and blend again. Add a generous portion of grated parmesan cheese and maybe another few pepper grinds and whir until mostly smooth. The flavors will intensify as the pesto sits (it keeps just fine in the fridge for up to a week) so don’t over-season now.
Stir pesto into cooked orzo and add chopped fresh tomatoes and an extra sprinkle of parmesan cheese for a simple, vegetarian lunch on Wednesday.
You’ve already made the chicken, the roasted red pepper, and the pesto, so Thursday’s sandwich comes together quickly. Spread a thick layer of pesto on toasted sourdough and layer a chicken cutlet, roasted red pepper strips, and a few thin slices of red onion.
The other half of Tuesday’s corn mix—the half without the potatoes—gets mixed with leftover orzo and mozzarella cubes for a summery pasta salad that’s just as good either hot or cold.