Menu planner: Start week with soup, end it with steak

Bright bird: Lemon brightens the flavor of chicken breasts in this weeknight dinner recipe.
Bright bird: Lemon brightens the flavor of chicken breasts in this weeknight dinner recipe.

Monday: Meatless

As the weather turns cooler, our thoughts turn to steaming bowls of nourishment. In a word, soup.

Mushroom and brown-rice soup is especially satisfying when the temperatures start to dip. To make it, sauté 1 medium, finely chopped onion in olive oil until soft. Add 8 ounces sliced white mushrooms and 1 cup shredded carrots. Cook for 10 minutes. Add a minced garlic clove, 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, salt and pepper; cook 1 minute. Stir in 4 cups vegetable broth, 3/4 cup quick-cooking brown rice and 2 cups water; cover and heat to boiling on medium-high. Reduce heat to medium; cook, partly covered, 5 minutes or until rice is tender.

Serve with old-fashioned German pumpernickel and butter.

Tuesday: Citrus chicken

Let’s face it, the more ways we can learn to make chicken, the better. It’s a go-to protein for many of us, but preparation can get a bit boring.

Lemon Chicken Romano (see recipe) is a tasty way to dress boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Serve with steamed broccoli and a green salad with honey-mustard vinaigrette.

Wednesday: Bread salad

Day-old, slightly stale bread gets a second life in chicken panzanella salad.

To make, toss large cubes of day-old (or more) Italian or French bread with chopped tomatoes, cubed cucumber, diced red onion and small balls of fresh mozzarella. Dress with extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar, and then gently fold in shredded rotisserie chicken.

Thursday: Open up

Bagels aren’t just for breakfast. Turn them into dinner fare by making open-faced crab salad sandwiches.

Make salad with canned crab combined with diced celery and sliced scallions. I like to mix a bit of Old Bay seasoning with mayonnaise for a light dressing. Toast the bagels then top with salad mixture and a couple of tablespoons of shredded parmesan. Place under the broiler until brown and bubbly. Serve with fresh fruit salad.

Friday: Go fish

Sautéed fish fillets with green and bean orzo ends the workweek with flavor.

Sauté whatever thin fish fillets you prefer in olive oil after seasoning with salt and pepper. While fish is cooking, prepare orzo according to package instructions. When fish is done, move to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

To sauté pan, add a bit more oil and some crushed red peppers. Dump in a bag of baby spinach leaves and cook until wilted, then add 1 cup of halved grape tomatoes and 1 can of drained cannellini beans. Heat through. Add drained orzo to the pan. Spoon portions of orzo on serving plates and top with fish.

Saturday: Easy Entertaining

Everyone at the table will agree that Baked Cod with Cherry Tomatoes and Chickpeas (see recipe) should go into the “keepers” file. Serve the colorful fish dish with fresh broccoli florets and whole-grain rolls.

Make baby berry tarts for dessert. Spoon 1 (8-ounce) package light strawberry cream cheese spread into a pastry bag or large sturdy food bag with a star piping tip. Pipe the cheese into 15 thawed baked mini phyllo dough shells (from a 2.1-ounce frozen package). Slice each of 15 fresh strawberries about 3 times from tip nearly to top. Fan slices; place on filling to garnish.

Sunday: Family Day

For family day, make this simple Creole pepper steak. Combine 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon white pepper, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper and 1/2 teaspoon black ground pepper; mix well. Press evenly onto both sides of 1-pound beef top-round steak (cut 1-inch thick). Grill over medium coals 16 to 18 minutes for medium-rare; turn once. Let stand 5 minutes; carve steak diagonally into thin slices and serve.

Accompany the steak with roasted red potatoes and roasted carrots. Add a lettuce wedge salad and dinner rolls. Meringue cookies are a melt-in-your-mouth dessert.

Main dish

Baked Cod with Cherry Tomatoes and Chickpeas

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons ground coriander, divided

2 teaspoons paprika, divided

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided

2 pounds skinless cod fillets, divided into 8 portions (1 to 1-1/2 inches thick)

2 (15-ounce) cans reduced-sodium chickpeas, rinsed

12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved

1/4 cup fat-free chicken broth

2 shallots, minced

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Chopped cilantro for garnish

In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon coriander, 1 teaspoon paprika, cayenne and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Rub cod evenly with mixture. Place cod in resealable plastic bag, seal and toss to coat. Refrigerate 1 hour. When ready to bake, heat oven to 400 degrees. In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, combine chickpeas, tomatoes, broth, shallots, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon oil, remaining coriander, remaining paprika, remaining salt and pepper. Nestle cod into chickpea mixture. Bake 20 to 24 minutes or until fish is opaque throughout. Drizzle with remaining oil and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 282 calories, 24 g protein, 10 g fat (33 percent calories from fat), 1.3 g saturated fat, 23 g carbohydrate, 43 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 358 mg sodium. Carb choices: 1 1/2.

Source: America’s Test Kitchen

Main dish

Lemon Chicken Romano

2 (8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed, halved horizontally (see note) and pounded to 1/2-inch thick (you will have 4 thin pieces)

2 ounces (1/2 cup) shredded mozzarella cheese

2 ounces (1/2 cup) shredded provolone cheese

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 large egg

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) finely shredded Romano cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Lemon slices or wedges for serving (you can use the one that was zested)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle each side of the chicken cutlet lightly with salt and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Combine mozzarella and provolone cheeses in a bowl and set aside. In a shallow dish, whisk together flour and egg until smooth. In a separate shallow dish, toss together panko bread crumbs, Romano cheese, oregano, lemon zest, garlic powder and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Working with one chicken cutlet at a time, dredge chicken in egg mixture, coating both sides and allowing excess to run off, then immediately transfer to bread crumb mixture and coat both sides, pressing gently to allow crumbs to adhere. Transfer chicken to a plate and repeat process with remaining chicken cutlets.

Pour 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and vegetable oil into a 10-inch nonstick skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Once oil is hot, add 2 coated chicken cutlets and fry without moving them until bottom is crispy and golden brown, about 2 minutes, then use metal tongs to rotate to opposite side, cooking until golden brown, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer fried chicken to a large plate lined with paper towels to drain. Repeat process with remaining pieces.

Place cutlets on rimmed baking sheet, then sprinkle tops with cheese mixture and transfer to preheated oven to bake until internal temperature registers 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer, about 12 minutes (you can broil during the last 1 to 2 minutes if desired). Remove from oven and garnish with lemon slices or wedges, squeezing fresh lemon juice from lemon slices over chicken just before enjoying. Serve warm.

Note: Freeze chicken breasts for 15 minutes for easier slicing, then lie each breast flat and trim into two pieces through the thickness of the breast. Makes 4 pieces; serves 2 to 3.