That’s certainly being reflected in a new wave of recipes and cookbooks aimed at putting real food on the table in the most efficient ways.
Of course, the holidays aren’t occasions to take shortcuts or mess with tradition. But the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day are counted among the most hectic of the calendar year, and call for using any trick you can find to feed the ones you love.
Having already explored the pot and the crock and the kits, I recently picked up on another trend that’s been taking off over the past year or so, while inspiring another round of cookbooks.
Variously known as one-pan or sheet pan cooking, the recipes are adapted for putting an entire meal (or a hefty main dish) on a rimmed baking sheet (or two) and cooking everything together in a preheated oven.
The lure of the method, beyond the obvious idea of using one pan, is that after a bit of prep, the oven does the work, giving you time to help with homework or do some shopping online. And when dinner is over, there’s less to clean up.
New books dedicated to the trend include “One Sheet Eats” by the Editors at Oxmoor House (Oxmoor House, $19.99) and “Sheet Pan Suppers Meatless” by Raquel Pelzel (Workman, $16.95).
“The Complete Make-Ahead Cookbook” by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen (America’s Test Kitchen, $29.95) is a comprehensive resource for making meals in advance in a variety of ways. But it was the recipe for One-Pan Roast Chicken Breasts With Butternut Squash and Kale that really attracted my attention.
Not only does it employ seasonal winter vegetables, it even has cranberries. And as usual with Test Kitchen recipes, it imparts lots of information — in this case about sheet pan cooking, with tricks that are explained in the “Why It Works” intro to the recipe.
Recently, I talked with Jack Bishop, best known as the smiling guy who does the taste test segments on “America’s Test Kitchen,” about the book and one-pan cooking.
“For this book, we had to define make-ahead, because I think it means lots of different things to different people,” Bishop said. “So we sent out a very detailed survey to our magazine subscribers to help answer that question, and we learned a lot.
“We thought people wanted more help with entertaining and holidays, and they actually wanted help with Tuesday night dinners. You still need to eat during the holidays, and somebody’s going to have to make dinner, so this book is really heavily skewed toward that weeknight meal.”
Speaking specifically about the one-pan roast chicken recipe, Bishop noted that it contains many of the things the Test Kitchen learned in researching the make-ahead book.
“You can prep the vegetables the night before, and come home and cook,” he said. “But this is a recipe that only requires a few minutes of hands-on work, then you can go and get the mail or walk the dog or do some laundry.
“It really doesn’t take much active cooking time when you consider you’re getting a complete meal on the table. This one personally appeals to me because it’s all fresh ingredients.”
Of course, I had to ask what the Test Kitchen would recommend in terms of the best one-pan equipment.
“Sort of broad strokes, we like what we call a rimmed baking sheet,” Bishop said. “Ideally one that’s 13 by 18 inches that you can also set a wire cooling rack in to elevate things. Think about buying them together, because you can never have enough rimmed baking sheets. They are great in a home kitchen.
“Our top-rated one is the Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheet. That one just doesn’t buckle, which is what you want if you don’t want things flying around the kitchen. I think that’s the key to one-pan cooking, and why more people are buying these kinds of heavy-duty sheet pans like you’d see in a restaurant. Home cooks are seeing what they can do with them.”
Super Creamy No-Boil Mac and Cheese
It’s pretty cool that you can make mac and cheese on a sheet pan in the oven — no fuss, no muss, and no preboiling pasta necessary. It’s ultra creamy thanks to evaporated milk, a good bit of heavy cream (you could substitute half-and-half, if you like), and not a shy amount of cheese. For extra nutrition (and less fat), try substituting 1 cup vegetable puree for 1 cup cream. It will be less dairy rich but still creamy and luscious — carrots, cauliflower, and butternut squash all work well.
Seafood Bake With Buttery Wine Sauce
Finally, an easy seafood “bake” that lives up to its name. The ridiculously tasty, buttery white wine sauce — kicked up a bit with a little hot sauce and seafood seasoning — is heavenly sopped up with the potatoes or some crusty bread if you have it on hand.
One-Pan Roast Chicken Breasts With Butternut Squash and Kale
A sheet pan full of roast chicken, kale and butternut squash promised a satisfying, nutritious meal with minimal cleanup. However, in order to combine sturdy squash, dark leafy greens, and chicken in a single pan, we’d need to get them to cook at the same rate. We used bone-in split chicken breasts, which contain less fat than a whole chicken and wouldn’t smother the vegetables underneath and cause them to steam. Halving the breasts assisted in even cooking. A simple sage marinade seasoned both the chicken and vegetables. In just 25 minutes, we had crisp-skinned chicken, tender but not mushy squash, and lightly crispy kale. A sprinkling of dried cranberries added fiber and a sweet-tart chew to the mix. We topped our chicken with a drizzle of light, creamy yogurt sauce accented with orange zest and garlic to bring the dish into harmony.