Sheet pan dinners are easy to make

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Everyone’s doing it and here’s why: It’s an easy, fast, quick-clean way to cook almost anything.

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that sheet-pan meals are a thing. No special gizmos or expensive gadgets are required other than a humble and heroic sheet pan, a sharp knife, your ingredients and your trusty oven turned to 400 to 425 degrees.

That’s all you need to make every dinner (or breakfast, lunch, appetizers or dessert) a winner! Most meals cook up in 30 to 90 minutes and can be on the table in no time. Think of that shiny pan, no matter what the size, as your blank canvas. You are the artiste!

Do you need more good news about cooking on a sheet pan? This technique is compatible no matter what you like to eat. Are you vegan or vegetarian? Eat steak and potatoes a few times a week? Love fish? Paleo all the way? It doesn’t matter. Virtually anything you can think of can be plunked down on a sheet pan to be roasted in the oven.

If you don’t believe it, just troll sheet-pan meals on the internet or hustle over to the cooking section of your neighborhood bookstore. You will be mightily impressed by the plethora of concoctions that will give you something different for every dinner for years to come.

EASY AND SAVES TIME

We’re always trying to make meal planning and prep quicker and easier. That includes apres meal clean-up, too. Who wants to wash a sink full of pots and pans? To make that easier, line that sheet pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper before you layer on your ingredients. If you don’t mind a tad of washing up, there are silicone non-stick baking mats that assist in keeping the heat evenly distributed, if you care.

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Your hectic weeknights will go even more smoothly if you chop and assemble ahead of time, whether it’s the evening before or in the morning. And if you know you’re going to need to get a meal on the table in a really big hurry, simply chop your ingredients up smaller.

A rule of thumb: all ingredients should be about the same size, so they cook to the same tenderness. If you have smaller or more delicate ingredients that will cook faster than the others, add them later, accordingly, to achieve the same consistency.

Sheet-panning is a great way to get the kids involved with cooking. They can help by coming up with ideas to mix and match their favorites. If they are old enough to handle a knife, they can be in charge and pop the meal in the oven when they get home from school. It’s a proven fact that kids eat better when they have a hand in the decisions and the prep.

BOOST THE FLAVOR

Sheet-panning lends itself well to marinades, rubs and herbs that will boost flavor and give your meal an ethnic flair, whether you’re in the mood for Tex-Mex, Greek or Japanese cuisine. Simply apply the rub to the meat and vegetables, cut to the size you want, and pop the pieces into a sealable container or plastic bag to soak up the flavors.

If you’re using marinade, mix it in a bag and add the meat. This can all be accomplished ahead of time with very little effort. Arrange all that goodness on the sheet pan when you’re ready to cook.

If you don’t have time to mess with a marinade, this type of basic meal is a great vehicle for sauces that can be whisked together while your dinner is in the oven and spooned onto the food at the table.

Meat is a natural for sheet-panning, but by no means necessary. Fish is perfect, whether you’re working with fillets, steaks or the whole thing. And don’t be afraid to try roasted tempeh or tofu. Just hankering for a big serving of roasted vegetables to serve in a wrap, over rice or mixed with your pasta? Sheet-panning, it is!

Be sure to think outside the box when adding elements to your sheet pan combos. How about toasting up some nuts and fruit (roasted grapes are glorious) with that chicken or pork? Or toss on a few handfuls of greens to wilt on top of the salmon during the last few minutes of roasting time. All these ingredients add another layer of flavor and nutrition.

Don’t stop there. Raw veggies such as pea shoots, bean sprouts and shredded carrot are colorful finishing touches that add texture and a touch of sweetness once the meal is plated.

FOR A CROWD OR A COUPLE

More than anything else, this oven technique is popular because it’s a great way to cook for a crowd. Everything from tiny shrimp appetizers on skewers to Thanksgiving dinner can be cooked on a sheet pan.

Having guests over for Sunday brunch? Set your oven to 400 degrees then sandwich a pound or more of bacon between two layers of parchment paper and cook to perfection in 15 to 20 minutes on a sheet pan. You’ve got to love that! A whole breakfast, including the eggs and enough homemade granola for 8 to 10 hungry guests, can be done up on sheet pans in the oven.

Don’t overlook cooking for one on a sheet pan, though. These hard-working, inexpensive kitchen helpers come in various sizes. For example, my kitchen has a large “half-sheet” pan (17 by 11.5 inches), a medium pan (15 by 11.5 inches) and a “quarter-sheet” pan (13.5 by 9 inches). You’ll find yourself using the biggest one that will fit in your oven though because, yummm, leftovers!

JUST RIGHT FOR DESSERT

Desserts can also be “sheet-panned.” Remember those old-fashioned sheet cakes that perhaps your grandmother used to make for family picnics? Mix up any cake mix or “from scratch” recipe and simply minimize the baking time by 10 minutes or so to account for batter being spread more thinly. Bar cookies are a natural for sheet pans, too. Just take your favorite 8-by-8-inch pan recipe and double it — or even triple it for that largest pan. Again, adjust the cooking time as needed.

And do you know about “slab pies”? These giant pies cut into serving-size squares will have you throwing your traditional pie plates out the window. After all, who doesn’t want more pie in their lives! (Check out this website for some examples: https://tinyurl.com/slabpies

So conduct a kitchen inventory and be sure you have sheet pans in ALL the sizes, then jump right in and experiment. You’ll be a pro in no time flat. This way of preparing a meal, a dessert or just a big ol’ batch of bacon is fabulously easy and quick. As we say at our house, “Zip. Zap. Zoop!”

Karen Schneider, a writer and editor, has been a regular contributor to the Lewiston Sun Journal for over 20 years. Contact her at [email protected] with your ideas and comments.

A flat-out winner. Succulent, savory roasted chicken and vegetables sweetened with apples and maple syrup. Thanks to your humble sheet pan. (Karen Schneider photo)

Jack, age 11, gears up to prep the produce for an easy sheet-pan meal. (Karen Schneider photo)

The main ingredients are coated with a couple teaspoons of olive oil to keep them from sticking to the pan and to aid in browning. (Karen Schneider photo)

Anna, 12, sprinkles dried thyme over chicken, sweet potatoes, onions and apples. (Karen Schneider photo)

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