If I didn’t know that September was here by the first-day-of-school butterflies, the sudden, almost primal urge to re-organize my bulletin board, or the to-do list spinning through my brain like a slot machine at 3am, I’d know it by looking at my DALS email inbox. Help! You all write. I need quick dinner ideas for the back-to-school scramble. I started replying one by one, but then I thought almost everyone out there would be interested in my suggestions. So here they are, in no particular order.
1. Pretzel Chicken Courtesy of City Bakery (pictured Below).
2. Chicken and Rice for Beginners. You’ll never go back.
3. Pork Chops with Kale A Bugiali favorite.
4. Angel Hair with Corn and Bacon Your window for sweet summer corn is about to shut — take advantage of the fresh ears as much as possible!
5. Sausage Stew with Kale and White Beans I’m making this tonight.
6. Avgolemeno Insane how creamy this lemony Greek soup tastes — without using any cream at all.
7. Salmon with Brussels Sprouts and Ginger-Scallion Sauce Superfast, superhealthy.
8. Quick and Easy Pork Fried Rice Easily made veg by omitting the pork. It’s almost too easy!
9. Turkey Sloppy Joes with Melted Cheddar For nostalgia night.
10. Chicken with Artichokes in a Creamy Mustard Sauce This is in danger of becoming my new “Stairway to Heaven” of Dinners. It always makes whatever list I’m compiling. But I promise it’s more satisfying.
Quick Dinner #2.
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In some ways I feel like I could tell my life’s story through the breaded chicken cutlet.
It started with my mother: Mom could make a chicken cutlet. Crispy, golden, never overcooked. When I was growing up, she’d serve them with sautéed garlicky zucchini wedges. I’d slap the cold leftovers on a baguette with a slather of mayo. No one could replicate it. Then, when I was in fourth grade, Mom decided she wanted to master more in life than pan-fried poultry. She headed to law school at night and joined a practice four years later. Three nights a week, while she was out learning about torts and civil procedure, my dad was in charge of the kitchen. And, since his great enthusiasm for eating never seemed to translate to actually learning how to cook, my mom decided to teach him some basics … including making those breaded chicken cutlets.
He learned them, he cooked them. Three nights a week. For four years. A long four years. I never wanted to eat another one — until college, when I decided to make my boyfriend (now husband) dinner. My repertoire, it turned out, was as varied as my dad’s had been, and my skills considerably worse. On that romantic March evening in 1993, we popped open a couple microbrews, turned on some Seinfeld, and sat down to the rubberiest chicken dinner ever served.
Fifteen years later, with kids in the equation, I have been forced to master the meal. Not only out of respect to Grandma, but because, like all moms, I was forced to compete with the omnipresent twin evils: The Chicken Nugget and The Chicken Finger.
When Phoebe was little, we regularly fed her the packaged, pre-breaded nuggets. This was 2002, before I developed any sort of opinion about the provenance of my meat and before it ever dawned on me that I might be able to actually cook homemade meals for her. Since I headed into the “two under two” phase soon after, the idea of setting up dredging stations after work and serving homemade cutlets to toddlers, who were 99% likely to reject them was downright hilarious. But, man, those dinosaur shaped nuggets? We didn’t have to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma to know that they just weren’t right.
So we did what we’ve done probably two dozen times since. We embarked upon a baby-step transition, using Trader Joe’s Chicken Bites as a homemade halfway house. Though the T-Joes nuggets were not 100% natural either, there were fewer additives and, more important, they had a similar shape to the ones we had been eating, minimizing our risk of a tableside revolt. Only when we were really ready did we start experimenting with the chicken that might compete. Eventually, I struck on this magic formula.
The No Chicken-Nugget-Ever-Again-Breaded Chicken Cutlet
1. Pound the living hell out of four organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts. (Do not bother continuing with this recipe if you skip this step.)
2. Set up your dredging stations: a rimmed plate with two lightly beaten eggs, a plate with a mound of 3/4 cup flour (salted, peppered, and dry mustard-ed if you have it), a plate with a huge mound of Kellogg’s Corn Flake Crumbs. Toss in some ground flax if you have it.
3. Dredge your chicken pieces first in the flour, then in the egg, then in the crumbs.
4. Sauté each breast in olive oil over medium-high heat for about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Serve hot with garlicky sautéed zucchini (recipe below), broccolini and roasted butternut squash (shown above), or just a big, huge dollop of ketchup.
1. Cut two pieces of zucchini in half lengthwise, then split each half in half, and each quarter in half lengthwise. Cut into wedges.
2. In a frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add one clove of garlic (halved) and swirl it around in the oil. Remove garlic before it turns brown, about one minute.
3. Add zucchini wedges, salt, pepper, and sprinkle of flour. (If you are making chicken cutlets, use some of the leftover dredging flour.)
4. Mix every few minutes until zucchini is cooked through and has a nice golden color, about 3 to 4 minutes.
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