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Cooking for Comfort

Ken Morris: Cooking for Comfort: Sheet pan cooking: The family dinner made simple

What is the one item in your kitchen that you can use to cook an entire meal? No, not the Instant Pot. If you’ve ever used it or the slow-cooking Crock-Pot, you know you often have to use another wide pan to brown meat or reduce the sauce before everything is thrown in a pot and left to cook. I’m nominating the trusty, aluminum sheet pan as the single best kitchen utensil that allows you to feed the whole family and dirty only one pan.

If you’re in a cooking store or online, you may see it listed as half sheet pan, but you’re not being short-changed: you’ll get the 13-inch-by-18-inch pan that fits perfectly in your oven. Full sheet pans are 26 by 18 inches, which is too big to fit in home ovens, but are made for the standard commercial oven. And don’t be confused about cookie sheets: Baking sheets have rolled edges, which keeps your food from sliding off, cookie sheets do not.

There are several books stuffed with ideas for this cooking method; “Sheet Pan Suppers: 120 Recipes for Simple, Surprising, Hands-Off Meals Straight from the Oven” by Molly Gilbert; or “Sheet Pan: Delicious Recipes for Hands-Off Meals” by Kate McMillan.

And, if you only want your chicken cooked on a 13 inch by 18-inch pan? Don’t worry, there is: “Sheet Pan Chicken: 50 Simple and Satisfying Ways to Cook Dinner [A Cookbook]” by Cathy Erway.

Even if you’ve gone to the Keto Diet side, there is “The Keto Sheet Pan Cookbook: Super Easy Dinners, Desserts, and More!” by Sarah Anne Jones. The point is, if you’ve not yet embraced the Sheet Pan, you’ve got lots of options.

Sheet Pan Salmon

Serves 4

As I’ve confessed before, I spent 13 years in Alaska. I always thought I should have gotten a job writing for the Alaska Seafood Council: they could have paid me in Alaskan seafood and I would have been happy. The mortgage company may not have been as understanding. The Seafood Council did produce several well-thought-out cooking brochures, including a Mexican theme one by Chef Rick Bayless, which just happened to feature Alaska seafood. This recipe is not one of them, since they never embraced the one-pan cooking technique that I am revealing to you. If only they had hired me to write the brochures, they could have been included in this column.

3/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro 1 tablespoon finely chopped seeded jalapeño 1/4 teaspoon lime zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice 1 small garlic clove, grated 1 1/4 pounds peeled and deveined raw large shrimp 1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips 1 orange bell pepper, sliced into strips 1 cup sliced poblano chile, sliced into strips 1 cup thinly sliced red onion 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon chili powder 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander 8 (6-inch) corn or flour tortillas 1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves 2 limes, cut into wedges

Stir together sour cream, chopped cilantro, jalapeño, lime zest and juice, garlic, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a bowl.

Place oven racks in the center and upper third positions of the oven. Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss together bell peppers, poblano, onion, oil, chili powder, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and coriander on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Place shrimp in a single layer next to the vegetables and slide the rack onto the middle rack of the oven; roast until shrimp are cooked through, 9 to 10 minutes. Transfer shrimp to a plate, stir the vegetable mixture on a baking sheet. Cover shrimp with foil to keep warm.

Switch the oven to Broil. Grill the sheet pan of vegetables on the upper oven rack until slightly charred, 3 to 4 minutes, and set aside.

Spoon shrimp and vegetables evenly onto warm tortillas; top with sour cream mixture. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves; serve with lime wedges.

Harissa-Roasted Chicken with Sweet Peppers

Serves 6

Adapted from “Yogurt: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner” by Janet Fletcher

I know your first question: isn’t yogurt supposed to be nonfat, have fruit in the bottom of the cup and eaten only by people who are trying to diet? I once thought like you, until my wife and I were on a trip to Istanbul, seeing the history and tasting the wonderful food from this ancient city. Our Turkish hotel laid out a large spread in the dining room each morning for breakfast but the only milk product in sight was plain yogurt.

Not a yogurt fan, I reluctantly mixed it with the granola, gave a hesitant taste and quickly thought, ‘Hey, this is pretty good. They should market this stuff.” Turns out what I didn’t like was the nonfat, no flavor yogurt that was usually offered in the US. When I came home, I started buying plain, whole milk yogurt and we’ve been together ever since.

Full disclosure, the author, Janet Fletcher, and I belong to a gastronomic group that used to gather every two months, everyone creating a dish from a cookbook selected by the host for that meeting. Unfortunately, we have not had the pleasure of our joint cooking since March but we’re hopeful for 2021.

½ cup plain whole-milk European-style yogurt

½ cup coarse harissa paste (Janet recommends the Les Mouline Mahjoub brand, which I’ve found in Hudson’s Green & Goods in the Oxbow Market and online. We found we use a little less than ½ cup but taste your paste to get a feel for how hot you want it.)

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Kosher salt

6 bone-in skinless chicken thighs. Janet uses skin on but the entire tasting panel (my wife and I) enjoy them without the skin, which gets too flabby for us after marinating.

2 large red bell peppers, halved, seeded and thinly sliced

2 large yellow bell peppers, halved, seeded and thinly sliced

1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced

1/3 cup vegetable oil

In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, harissa, lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon salt. Add the chicken and use a rubber spatula to coat the chicken all over with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours.

When you’re reading to start cooking, remove the chicken from the refrigerator, position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat it to 425°F. Toss the sliced peppers and onions together with the vegetable oil on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Season with salt and arrange vegetables as a single layer bed for the chicken. Top with the chicken pieces and scrape out all the marinade onto the chicken and let it flow onto the vegetables.

Bake until the chicken is well browned on top and reaches 165°F internally, checking with an instant-read thermometer. The vegetables should be tender by this time but good to check.

Remove the sheet pan from the oven and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter. Using tongs, toss the vegetables in the drippings and sauce from the chicken and then place on the platter with the chicken and serve immediately.

WHAT COMFORT FOOD IS ENJOYED AROUND THE WORLD?

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Ken Morris has been cooking for comfort for more than 30 years and learning in kitchens from Alaska to Thailand to Italy. He now cooks and writes from his kitchen in Napa. Email macmor@sbcglobal.net.

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