My weekly menu planning has leveled up since I have been working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. With restaurants closed to dine-in service for nearly two months, I had to become even more reliant on home cooking than I normally am. Coming up with meals for each day of the week, and then prepping those as best I can, is one of the ways I’ve been entertaining myself on weekends and days off.
In my house, meals must feed me and my husband, and it’s always a bonus if there are leftovers. On Sundays, I like to take stock of what’s in my fridge and pantry, and make sure I don’t have anything that’s about to go bad. If I do, I’ll cook it up and try to eat it for lunch the next couple of days. That’s also when I take meats out of the freezer that I plan on using in Monday or Tuesday dinners.
Here are some dinners I made recently.
Gochujang-roasted chicken: A slowly roasted chicken is a perfect Sunday meal. You can start it early, then enjoy it when it’s ready or even use it as a meal for later in the week. This past Sunday, I made a chicken coated in gochujang, a fermented red chili paste. The sugars in the paste help flavor and tenderize the chicken, which roasts for hours. I followed the Slow-Roast Gochujang Chicken recipe on bonappetit.com. If you don’t have the condiment, you could certainly still follow the slow-roasting method, and slather your chicken with a combination of salt, pepper, plenty of oil or butter and any spices that sound yummy to you. I served the chicken with a side of roasted carrots.
Sloppy joes: I made the majority of this meal on Sunday, and it really came in handy on a busy Monday when my husband and I didn’t sit down to eat until later than normal. I had a craving for sloppy joes, the messy sandwiches typically made of ground beef or pork and onions seasoned with a mixture of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and other savory seasonings. I used turkey meat, because it’s what I had, and had definite doubts about the flavor at first. I followed Ree Drummond’s Sloppy Joes recipe on foodnetwork.com (though I didn’t have bell peppers) but ended up tasting as I went and adding more ketchup and Worcestershire until the mixture had just the right flavor. It was a hit. On the side, I served a coleslaw made with a head of cabbage I picked up from Pennrose Farms in Wimauma. I shredded it on a box grater then mixed it with enough Greek yogurt, white wine vinegar and black pepper to coat.
Pasta with squash and Parmesan: This one was a big winner. I wrote about it for the Tampa Bay Times last week, sharing the recipe for Squash Pasta With Parmesan and Herbs on this page and at tampabay.com/food. The magic of this dish is that it uses up lots of yellow squash or zucchini, which I can never seem to use up in a timely manner. You can use any sort of pasta here, and if you don’t have fresh herbs, that’s perfectly fine. A big portion was quite filling (and full of veggies in addition to the pasta!), though you could definitely serve it with a salad if you want.
Chicken and rice bowls: Rice bowls are a great way to use up ingredients you have accumulated by the middle of the week. In this case, it was leftover chicken from that slow-roasted bird I made Sunday. Any leftover protein you have will work. Load it up with leftover vegetables, too. Got salad greens that are about to go bad? Cook them in a skillet with some garlic, and toss those in. Dress the bowls with your favorite store-bought or homemade sauce or dressing, and top with something crunchy and interesting, like sliced almonds or sunflower seeds or chopped scallions.
Fennel pork chops: One of my favorite recent recipes came from recipe developer and writer Alison Roman (it’s in her first cookbook, Dining In), via Times food critic Helen Freund, who started talking about these pork chops months ago and hasn’t stopped. I finally caved. They are simple to make, though they do require one ingredient not everyone may have: whole fennel seed. About 2 tablespoons of those are ground/crushed and mixed with a big pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons brown sugar, and the whole mixture is used to coat the pork chops. Bone-in are best, but boneless actually work very well, too. The idea is to let the fennel mixture sit on the chops for a half-hour or so, then cook the chops in a hot, oiled skillet until the chops have a nice, dark sear on the outside. Cook for 5 or so minutes on each side, and remove just before you think they’re done. I sliced up some fresh fennel and cooked it in the pork fat in the skillet, though you could do this with just about any vegetable, or onions. Serve with cheesy grits or mashed potatoes.
Prime rib: This Friday meal comes courtesy of my colleague Kathy Saunders, who graciously offered me the other half of a prime rib she bought a couple of months ago. I took it home, cooked it all and froze half of that for yet another meal. Well, it was a very exciting day when I discovered that half in my freezer last week. I sliced the meat thinly and warmed those pieces in the oven. Earlier in the day, I had cranked the oven up to 400 degrees and threw in a couple of potatoes, cooking them until soft. I served the prime rib with the baked potatoes, topped with lots of salt and butter, and a hearty salad of kale, Parmesan cheese, walnuts and grape tomatoes.