This is the time of year when I usually begin
griping writing about my family’s hectic schedule and how challenging it is to try to make dinner (which would optimally happen before 9 p.m.), let alone get everyone to sit down and eat it (at the same time; again “optimally”). Coordinating soccer carpool and commiserating about baseball practice being across town is how moms in my world bond. What would we talk about if we couldn’t complain about the trip from Aurora Sports Park to Brent Mayne baseball field that needs to happen in less than 30 minutes — during rush hour and with the kids eating and changing clothes in the car?
But it never ceases to amaze me that my kids put themselves out there on these teams, and the lessons they’ve gained in doing that can’t be taught. They’ve also gained (some) toughness, built character, and of course gotten a lot of exercise — not to mention the many really cool friends they’ve made. I am aware of all the current brouhaha about over-scheduled kids not having a “real” childhood or learning how to play imaginatively (or occupy themselves). Which is why we generally keep the craziness contained to the spring and fall seasons (although my son’s baseball is starting to creep further and further into the summer, urgh). Both the winter and summer offer plenty of trampoline-jumping, doll school-playing, and Mom-I’m-bored time. (As do random snowy weekends in May, which sometimes feel like a gift from God, just sayin’.)
But right now, a typical weeknight involves juggling homework, soccer or volleyball practice, Boy Scouts, a baseball game, and lots of time in traffic. That doesn’t leave much time for goofing around. Or making dinner.
Thus, my roasted-dinner obsession. Baking a bunch of foods together in one pan is the easiest way I’ve found to get a full (healthy) meal on the table, and I turn to this technique again and again. Roasting dinner is not exactly quick, but the oven does most of the work unattended. The prep (mostly trimming and cutting veggies into bite-size pieces) can be done ahead of time, so all you have to do in the evening is toss with oil and dump on a baking sheet.
The other thing I love about this way of making dinner (I’m not calling it a recipe because it’s more of a concept than an exact set of ingredients and directions) is that I can make a balanced meal using just one bowl and one pan. Which means no whining about dish duty for a change.
The meal shown above contains chicken legs, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and carrots. I served this with a super simple salad. You could also put a dinner roll on the plate. You can use the same basic technique to cook almost anything in your fridge — and end up with a meal that looks and tastes like it was a lot harder than it was.
Here are some variations:
- Chicken thighs with baby potatoes, quartered onions, and green beans
- Pork chops with apples, leeks, and sweet potatoes
- Wild cod pieces with broccoli and shallots
- Sausages with cabbage, sweet red peppers, and bok choy
You get the idea. Of course you can get creative and add spices to these to change up the flavor profiles. But if you just toss with olive oil and salt & pepper, they are still plenty delicious.
Here’s the basic technique (and a tasty combination to try).
Sheet Pan-Roasted Chicken Legs & Vegetables
12 chicken drumsticks (preferably organic, free range, etc.)
1 bunch Brussels sprouts, trimmed (and halved if they’re big); do this with the outside leaves!
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
3-4 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
3 tbs. olive oil, divided (maybe a little more)
Pinch fresh thyme
Salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the veggies in a large bowl and toss with about 2 tbs. oil. Spread on a large rimmed sheet pan (I’ve tried this in a large casserole dish, and it wasn’t quite big enough). Sprinkle with salt & pepper and thyme. Place chicken legs on top of vegetables, preferably with the drumsticks not touching each other. Drizzle or brush with about 1 tbs. oil and lightly sprinkle salt & pepper over the top. Bake for 30 mins. and check on the pan. You may need to turn it or move some of the veggies around to keep the ones on the edges from getting too crispy (no such thing in my mind). Bake for another 10-15 mins. until chicken skin is lightly browned and the meat is cooked though.