It’s been said that California, where I reside, currently has the worst possible air quality in the entire world and having been everywhere from Beijing to downtown Los Angeles, I can well believe it. I find myself coughing out of turn, generally unhappy with the quality of breathable air which seems to be in short supply.
I cannot wait until the fires abate and the air clears. Last week we actually had an orange sky, a color I named burnished kumquat with relish, something I then mused about making again, relish that is. Then I decided I should binge watch The Crown and figure out how to leverage one of my favorite frugal dinner strategies, the sheet dinner.
I think it was The Pioneer Woman who, pardon the pun, pioneered sheet dinners. This fits well with her being as a busy mother of four and running her cooking empire as she does with such seeming joy and ease, all from the wilds of Oklahoma on her family’s massive cattle ranch. I like to give props where props are due. Plus, she loves dogs. I don’t trust a cook who doesn’t love dogs.
Sheet dinners are a great time and clean-up time saver. The strategy being to just pile all the seasoned ingredients on to one sheet, drizzle with olive oil, pop into a hot oven and a short time later, dinner is served.
In theory, I like this strategy but feel it is best approached in a more free form manner than most recipes permit. Thus, I prefer to line a baking sheet with parchment or foil, lightly spray it with non stick spray and then wonder over to my refrigerator to see what mischief the two of us, my baking sheet and I, can get into. I head first to my vegetable bin which is always a need of a bit of clearing out. This last time I found some broccolini and some sugar snap peas that needed using straight away. No problem. Enter the sheet pan.
I poured a couple of tablespoons of my good olive oil into a bowl and spooned in a generous amount of minced garlic. Then I added in a hefty handful of grated Romano cheese along with an equal amount of Panko bread crumbs. I could have as easily used homemade bread crumbs which I keep at the ready in my freezer but I was going for an extra crispy texture this time. I mixed everything together before adding another splash of olive oil to make a moist paste. I added in a fist full of well chopped parsley and the zest of an entire lemon for brightness. I tossed in the broccolini and a couple of cups of sugar snap peas and spilled everything onto the sheet pan, baking at 400-deg for 18 minutes. When it came out of the oven I took the lemon I had zested and squeezed the juice over top. Yum. The perfect vegetarian sheet pan. With a hunk of homemade sourdough bread and a side of good quality cheese, it has often been a meal in and of itself.
This approach works well with many vegetables including broccoli and cauliflower and even sturdier root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes. I generally microwave root vegetables first, cooking them to the equivalent of par baking them before tossing them on a sheet pan in this manner because 18 minutes really isn’t long enough to fully cook them that way and longer in such a hot oven would burn the cheese and bread crumbs while lowering the temperature would not result in those crispy, crunchy bits clinging to the smoky broiled greens which all result in sort of a savory buttery bite that is so additive and delicious. But there are as many ways to cook a sheet pan dinner s there are ingredients in the world.
When constructing your sheet dinners, be mindful of the protein you are selecting. Shrimp will take a very short time while pork chops, chicken thighs or beef chunks take significantly longer so build your oven time around your protein. I’ve taken to cooking the protein most of the way through and then added the vegetables to finish so everything is cooked through at the same time. It still qualifies as a sheet dinner by the way.
Some ideas for quick sheet dinners: (350-F deg preheated oven works best for this).
1. Chicken breasts and something. Par cook well seasoned chicken breasts for about 15 minutes before adding vegetables such as sliced onions, cherry tomatoes and sliced sweet peppers, all drizzled with good quality olive oil and salt and pepper.
2. Shrimp and whatever. This one is cooked in reverse. Roast the veggies first, about 12 minutes, and then add the shrimp for another 12 to 15 minutes, watching them closely. Veggies should be sliced squash, sliced garlic and sliced lemons that have been doused in good olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Once removed from the oven, sprinkle with Romano cheese.
3. Beef and stuff. Roast well seasoned beef (bite sized chunks work well for this) for about 20 minutes. Then add your vegetables for another 20-25 or so. Choose thinly sliced potatoes, carrots and, in the last five minutes, peas still frozen. Be sure and season with olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Chicken thighs and oh my. Roast the thighs for at least 30 minutes after they have been well seasoned. Add seasoned veggies, broccoli and sliced red peppers, the last 15 minutes. The last five minutes, sprinkle with crushed rosemary.
5. Salmon and such. The oven needs to be 400-F deg for this one. Season salmon fillets well with salt and pepper and roast for just 12 minutes. You roast your veggies at the same time so they need to be cut small. Choose cauliflower bites and lemon slices along with trimmed green beans. Top with slivered almonds once you pull everything out of the oven.
6. Pork chops and apples but not sauce. Chops need some 45 minutes to roast and cook thoroughly depending on how thick they are so make sure they reach 165-deg internal temperature. The last 20 minutes add in sliced apples. If cooking potatoes, they can roast the entire time. Sprinkle with sage and a touch of cinnamon before roasting. Salt and pepper always.