Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dinner on the Road, Part II

While we were visiting my new nephew and his family in New York, I took the opportunity to assuage my guilt.  He was born about seven weeks ago, but since we live so far apart, this was our first opportunity to visit.  If we lived closer, I would have brought a complete meal to his mommy, daddy, and big sister in the first week.  That’s how I like to take care of new mommies and welcome new babies!  Since I didn’t get to bring them a meal right away, I decided I would cook a meal for them while we visited and give my sister-in-law a night off.  I know how much I always appreciated a night off, no matter how old my baby was!  I wanted something I could freeze and take along in a cooler, but finish cooking there.  I thought about several casseroles, but I settled on a yummy recipe I got from Cook’s Country last year and that has since gone into heavy rotation in my meal schedule.  Chicken Parmesan Roll-ups are a nice twist on Chicken Parm, which I make fairly often.  This version is quick-cooking—another of their 30 Minute Meals—and has great flavor.  First, the recipe, then I’ll describe how I made it portable.

Chicken Parmesan Roll-ups

onion , chopped fine
garlic cloves , minced
(14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
cup chopped fresh basil
1 ½
cups shredded mozzarella cheese
thin-cut, boneless, skinless chicken cutlets , about 1 1/4 pounds
cup panko bread crumbs

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in half of basil. Transfer half of sauce to 8-inch square baking dish.

2. Combine mozzarella and Parmesan in medium bowl; reserve ½ cup. Add remaining basil to remaining cheese. Pat cutlets dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Top cutlets with basil-cheese mixture, leaving 1-inch border at bottom of cutlets. Roll up tightly and arrange, seam side down, in prepared baking dish.

3. Toss bread crumbs with remaining oil in small bowl. Top chicken with reserved cheese, remaining sauce, and bread-crumb mixture. Bake until chicken is cooked through and crumbs are golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve.

I actually broke this recipe up into two stages since I was transporting it.  At home, I made the roll-ups first and froze them in two layers in a Tupperware freezer container.  Since I was feeding four adults and four kids, I roughly doubled the recipe.  I didn’t really measure the amount of chicken.  I got two large packages of fresh boneless skinless chicken breasts and cut them into cutlets, getting about four good cutlets per breast, and there were two large breasts per package.  I am still not great at making chicken cutlets, so I had lots of trimmings that didn’t make it as roll-ups, but that was no problem—I used those for the Chicken,Charred Tomato, and Broccoli Salad.  Usually I would just use thawed frozen chicken breasts, but I knew I wanted to freeze the roll-ups for traveling, so I had to start with fresh this time.  If I can plan ahead well enough, I might stick with the fresh chicken for this recipe in the future, because they were easier to cut and pound than the thawed usually are. 
To make a simple recipe even simpler, I skipped measuring mozzarella and parmesan and instead used the Italian blend shredded cheese from Aldi, which had both types of cheese in the blend anyway.  I chopped up a ton of fresh basil, stirred it into a large helping of cheese in a small mixing bowl, and started rolling.  I had a wide variety of sizes of cutlets, but I figured that would work out since I would be serving a wide variety of sizes of diners.  It wasn’t particularly pretty, but here’s what I had to pop in the freezer the night before our trip:

The chicken traveled well buried in ice in the bottom of a cooler, and thawed in the fridge after we got to New York.  When it was time to make dinner, I put together the sauce (I took all the ingredients with me, figuring that if we lived closer I wouldn’t have raided her kitchen to make dinner for them!)  I roughly followed the recipe, adapting it slightly to double the amount of sauce and adding a bit here and there to make it more like the Quick Tomato Sauce I love.  The two recipes are pretty close to begin with, so it wasn’t much of a change.  Once the sauce had a few minutes to bubble, I poured a bit in an 8x11 baking dish (I think, although I didn’t measure it.  It was smaller than 9x13.)  In went the roll-ups, which packed in there pretty tightly. 

Next came the same Italian blend cheese I used for the filling:

No measuring--just keep sprinkling until it looks good
 And then the panko bread crumbs.  I got these panko crumbs at a discount grocery to give them a try, and I like them, but before I found them I always just tossed some slightly stale bread in the food chopper and toasted it very lightly in the toaster oven, and the results were pretty much the same.  I don’t think I’ll probably buy panko again.  Unless Aldi has it.  I’ll try almost anything there once.
Whoops!  After I generously sprinkled on the panko, I realized that a layer of sauce was supposed to go under there.  Crap.  I briefly entertained the idea of pouring the sauce over the crumbs, but their crunch is an important part of the appeal of this dish, so I decided to bake it and serve the sauce on the side.  Twenty minutes later we had this:

And that’s the last picture I have of this dish.  Once it was on the table with sides of pasta, sauce, a green bean-wax bean-carrot blend, and a big bowl of Fluff for dessert, it was gone in a flash.  It worked out fine without the sauce on top, although the sauce on the side was gone pretty fast.  I should have more than doubled that to feed our hungry crowd.  Kids and adults alike devoured it, and there was one little roll left for someone’s lunch the next day.

If you’re making this, and you want to make it even quicker and you aren’t as fanatical about homemade sauce as I am, you can really streamline it by using a good jarred sauce instead.  It’s an easy dish that’s impressive enough for potlucks or even a dinner party, but easy enough to make for a weeknight family dinner.  If you try it, let me know how it turns out for you!


  1. These look yummy! We're getting ready to go away for a week but these will have to go on my menu once we get back. Your blog looks great, by the way. Keep your recipes coming!

  2. This sounds, and looks, so good. James and I like dishes with light sauce so the way you made it sounds perfect for us. I may try this tonight.

  3. Yum. We are definitely going to make this soon. Looks great! My husband's favorite meal is Chicken Parm. He orders it at every restaurant we go to for dinner. lol

  4. Thanks for your comments, ladies! I can't wait to hear how it works for you! Ann and Nancy, this is one even my picky eater enjoys, so it's a kid-approved recipe.

  5. Hello, I have a quick question for you about your site. If you could please get back to me at your earliest convenience I would greatly appreciate it. Have a great day!

    Dan Gilbert
    Communications Coordinator
    Primrose Schools