Tray bakes without the cakes?
January 6, 2014 4:26 PM   Subscribe

What food combinations cook at the same time on a tray in the oven. Fast. For one.

So, my quest to eat healthier while not killing myself (due to lack of culinary prowess) continues...

I happened upon a 'tray bake for one' special at the grocers and it revolutionised dinner. It was a small metal tray with diced baby potato, red onion, red/yellow peppers and a few chunks of chorizo. This magical dish cooked in 15 mins and, most importantly I was able to eat quickly and healthily without anything demanding cooking-wise. I am the type who burns boiling water, so the last point is so important to me.

In a bid to recreate and expand on this dish, I'm hoping the hive can recommend lots of combinations of starch + 1 or 2 veg + meat that I can substitute, throw on a tray and eat in 15-odd mins time.

I would especially like to try these foods: sweet potato, lamb, broccoli, salmon, but have no clue what to combine them with. The respective cooking times for each food also worries me. I'd love different themed trays to try, like 'Italian' (olives + pepperoni + peppers + err...?) No food group is off limits, except anything requiring soy sauce.

(Bonus points for making this as simplistic and idiot-proof as possible, i.e. no marinating, browning)
posted by Chorus to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
I do the not healthy version of this: french fries (whichever shape has the closest cooking instructions to ..) and fish sticks or chicken nuggets. I'd love to hear if someone knows if there's a vegetable that you could chop up and also cook for about 20 minutes at about 400 degrees.
posted by ansate at 4:35 PM on January 6, 2014

Tinned chickpeas make a good, quick protein with roasted vegetables (courgette, peppers) and potatoes. Just season with olive oil, salt and pepper and maybe dried rosemary. Sweet potatoes and squash are also great roasted. Potatoes will take longer than 15 minutes unless you par boil them. Oooh sprouts are surprisingly nice roasted as well.
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 4:37 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

It takes a little bit of prep work (that you could do the night before and probably hold everything in the fridge.

But Alton Brown's Smoked Paprika Chicken over Potatoes? O.M.G.
posted by sparklemotion at 4:44 PM on January 6, 2014

Ok, this takes a little longer than 15 minutes (closer to 30), but another great technique for one-pan, single person cooking is foil packets. Throw in any kind of vegetable you like (might want to pre-cook potato or sweet potato in the microwave for a few minutes first), top with your protein and seasoning, seal up and bake. The foil keeps things moist, salmon especially.
posted by cabingirl at 4:54 PM on January 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

The 20-minute breakfast (or breakfast-for-dinner) version. Just sub in proper bacon and butter!
posted by jaynewould at 4:55 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well for the salmon, your best bet would be a slight variation on the tray, by making a foil packet. You can use whatever strikes your fancy--say, a layer of thinly sliced potato, then your salmon, then julienned zucchini and halved cherry tomatoes, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Put it in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or 8 minutes from when it starts sizzling.
posted by HotToddy at 4:57 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of my go-to weeknight dinners is actually to roast two bone-in/skin-on chicken breasts with a 12-oz package of sliced mushrooms. I use this recipe, which involves searing the chicken breast first and then creating a pan sauce afterwards, but you could absolutely skip those steps if you want. Just season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and roast with the mushrooms for 20-25 minutes at 400F.

One other thing is that having some sort of liquid makes baking a lot more forgiving. Keeps things from burning. I like to bake chicken breasts in salsa (again, 20-25 minutes at 400F) and sometimes will also throw in things like sliced peppers and/or canned black beans. It's not as good as sauteeing, but it's decent for a quick meal.

This may be a bit more involved than what you're looking for, but I like to do this very, very, very simple roast chicken on top of a bed of chopped root vegetables. The root veggies roast in the chicken fat and it's all very delicious. I suspect you could throw in some hardier non-root veggies too - maybe some brussels sprouts or mushrooms.
posted by lunasol at 5:01 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

sweet potatoes cut into wedges will roast in about 25 minutes in a 400 degree oven, if you want a healthier variation on the fish stick/nugget option ansate describes (and sweet potatoes are much better for you than white!).

another thing you might consider is, instead of forcing yourself to cook multiple things at once, roasting a fair amount (say three or four nights' worth) of a different thing each night of the week (and maybe making a big pot of some grain or something on another night) and then combining them in new ways as you run out of old things and have new things. The cooking is still dead easy, but you don't have to worry about timing things together, and you're not eating the same thing over and over again.
posted by dizziest at 5:13 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Foil packet recipes are sometimes named "________ en papillote," which is French for "in parchment." You can use foil as long as it's not in the microwave. The trick is to chop your vegetables so that the more dense ones (potato, carrot, fat broccoli) are in smaller chunks than your less dense ones (peppers, onion, celery, garlic). (This is the same as if you're stir-frying.) You can throw a packet in the oven, you can toss it in boiling water (just be serious about the folding the edges on your foil). Pre-fab and label.

Cooking in parchment/foil should be thought of as steaming or braising when there's liquid inside-- no browning to be had from this technique alone. But you can cook in a sauce, you can season in the sauce (e.g. soy), and so on. When there's no liquid inside, the liquids in the food will steam out into the packet.

Cooking in foil is the most tolerant form of cooking: you can throw foil packets onto hot coals, too. Always use two layers of foil when cooking in the dishwasher or on the engine manifold of a car. Heat is heat.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:14 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I came in to suggest foil packet cooking.

This technique is similar to cooking en papillote, which is usually done with parchment paper. I'm sure you could just as easily use foil for any recipes that come up under that search term.

Here are more recipes.
posted by bunderful at 5:18 PM on January 6, 2014

I go to my local Middle Eastern market and buy big bags of 14" pitas which are super-delicious and inexpensive, then freeze them with little squares of plastic wrap in between so that they don't stick together, to use as pizza shells. They're thinner than a pizza crust, so relatively low-carb compared to your normal pizza, thus if you top it with some sautéed mushrooms and peppers and onions and go light on the cheese it's probably pretty healthy. As long as you don't eat the whole thing in one sitting. Cooks up nice and crispy in 12-14 minutes.
posted by XMLicious at 5:37 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The thing is, we could suggest any number of combinations and unless you learn some basics, none of it will come out right. A one inch cube of potato is going to cook far faster than half a potato, just as half inch coin slices of zucchini will roast faster than big three inch chunks. I would suggest that you come up with two or three flavor combos that you would like to try and then google roasting times taking careful note of the size of each piece.

Also, roasted baby carrots rock. So easy! Spritz with oil, season with salt and roast till tender. Yum.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:51 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, the secret is the size of the food being cooked. Just about any veggie, including potatoes, will roast in 20 mins if cut in bite-size pieces. Broccoli, carrots, brussel sprouts, green beans. All you really need for the basic baked dinner is a little salt, pepper, and olive oil. Meat will be a little trickier. The sausage cooked so fast because, as a mix, it's not as dense as actual meat and was sliced. Think heat dispersion. But if you slice any meat thin, it will cook in 20 minutes. All of the ones you suggested will work. Just experiment a little and you can do it, easy. The cooking method is the easy part. All you need are the spices and combinations. An Italian spice mix and a few olives would make anything Italian. Ditto with Cajun spice mix, dry barbecue rub, honey/mustard mixed together and spread over the meat, and so on. You can also sauté it all on a burner and get the same result.
posted by raisingsand at 5:53 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some collections of one-tray bake recipes from:
posted by mon-ma-tron at 6:50 PM on January 6, 2014 [9 favorites]

Tinned chickpeas make a good, quick protein with roasted vegetables (courgette, peppers) and potatoes.

One of my favorite really quick, cheap meals that has leftovers for days is to get a mix of stuff like this (say a can of chickpeas drained, diced potato, red peppers, broccoli and cauliflower), enough to fill up a half sheet pan in a single layer. Toss it all in a big bowl, pour a glug or two of your oil of choice, then copious chili powder, cumin, salt, whatever other spices work for sorta faux-Mexican fare (smoked paprika is always always welcome), then just toss it in the bowl to coat and dump onto the baking sheet. Bake at maybe 400 until the potatoes and broccoli are done (they'll take the longest). Serve in tortillas with cilantro, diced onion, lime juice and maybe some crema or sour cream. Super cheap, really good (the different textures work really well in a tortilla and the broccoli florets especially just absorb the seasoning like little flavor bombs), reheats no problem, cleanup is dead simple if you use foil or parchment paper on the baking sheet.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:05 PM on January 6, 2014 [11 favorites]

My typical fall/winter weeknight meal is this:

Some sort of meat (cooked on the weekend) or beans/rice (cooked on the weekend in large batches)

Then I prep:
a few small fingerling potatoes cut in half (3-5, depending on size)
a small sweet potato cut into rounds (I peel them, though you don't have to) about 3/4 inch thick
whatever vegetables I have: carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, winter squash, beetroot, kale, etc.

and it's all thrown into a cast iron pan with either bacon fat (a little goes a long way! and it's a left-over product of soup making on Sundays, which is what I do for lunch every day during the week) or olive oil and salt/pepper, and sometimes fresh thyme or rosemary. It cooks in 15-25 minutes (depending on thickness/size of pieces) at 425, and I always check it/turn it half way through. And it really is easy and delicious.

I will usually cook a larger joint of meat or whole chicken on the weekend (or even just some bacon) and just have some of that each day, but I've found that roasted vegetables and potatoes aren't great as leftovers. So I keep it just what I need for the day.

If I don't have meat (and I don't probably half the time), I will cook a big pot of red/pink rice and/or some beans (yellow eye, cannelllini, or whatever I have on hand). I try and get good quality beans (like Rancho Gordo, which, happily, is local!) and rice (especially heirloom varieties like red/pink that hold up well day after day) so that they are both delicious and filling.

I know that requires a little bit of planning ahead (like a pot of beans takes about 2 hours to cook, but don't require soaking), or time spent on the weekends. To short-cut that, you could easily get a pre-cooked piece of meat, or whole roast chicken and use that all week.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:06 PM on January 6, 2014

I'd love to hear if someone knows if there's a vegetable that you could chop up and also cook for about 20 minutes at about 400 degrees.

Most of them. Cauliflower and broccoli are amazing roasted, just pull them out when they reach whatever level of browning/slight char appeals to you. A little cocoa powder dusted on the cauliflower first (NB: cocoa powder, not instant hot chocolate powder, which a friend of mine did) is nice. Cumin goes very nicely with broccoli.

Brussels sprouts roast very nicely in about 20 minutes. For extra noms, toss with olive oil, honey, chili flakes, salt/pepper before roasting.

Potatoes will very much cook in that time frame, it's just a matter of size. Parsnips are lovely roasted. Squash can roast in that time period, but again it's about size. And I don't know about you but I hate breaking down squash so don't feel bad if it's not something you want to do.

Also, roasted baby carrots rock

Roasted carrots rock, period. Most if not all 'baby' carrots are just regular carrots that have been machined to a specific shape and size.

The thing is, we could suggest any number of combinations and unless you learn some basics, none of it will come out right.

This. I get that Serious Cooking isn't a thing for everyone, but basic cooking is one of those life skills like cleaning the bathroom that everyone should have at least some proficiency in. Not least because cooking well is really really really easy. Next time you're looking for something to watch, skip whatever it is, and find some episodes of Good Eats to watch. Brown is engaging and charming, and explains the why of cooking along with the how, so you learn basic skills and how to apply them in different situations.

I mean, you could make delicious pasta in 15 minutes:

1) Put on largeish pot of water to boil. Protip: fill the pot with hot water from the tap to save time. Salt the water well when it reaches the boil (salting early can cause pitting in metal cookware); 1tbsp of salt per two litres of water, approximately. Almost as salty as the ocean. And on the subject of salt, throw out the iodized stuff you probably have, because the iodine tastes awful. Big boxes of kosher salt are available dirt cheap at any supermarket.

2) While water is boiling, open a can of tomatoes--whole or crushed doesn't matter; if using hole just crush with your hands when you put them in the pan. Crush a clove or two of garlic with the flat of your knife. Just smash it and whack the knife at it a couple of times until you have smallish bits. Don't use a garlic press, they suck, they're hard to clean, and the crushing releases far more of the flavour compounds; bigger pieces mean a more subtle garlic flavour. Italians often leave garlic in very large pieces in their recipes so guests can pick them out as they choose.

2) Put a pan over medium heat. When it's hot, add a tablespoon or two of olive oil, and lightly cook the garlic. Then add your crushed tomatoes. Lower the heat and let this simmer while your water is coming to the boil. Taste, add a little less salt and pepper than you think you need.

3) When the water reaches a rolling boil, add whatever pasta you feel like using. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking until it's back at the boil. Cook according to package directions, minus a minute or two.

4) Drain and do not rinse your pasta. Toss pasta in your yummy tomato sauce, in the pan, for a minute or so until your noodles are cooked. Tear some basil leaves, toss them with the sauce and pasta. Eat.

Seriously, from-scratch dinner, almost zero effort (less effort and technical skill required than prepping proteins and vegetables for roasting), simple, delicious, in 15-20 minutes. Plus your home will smell awesome.

Also learn the joy of pan-roasting: hot pan, put your protein in. Sear one side until golden. Flip, put the whole pan in a 350 oven to finish cooking. NB: your pan must be all metal, no plastic handles, and definitely not Teflon.

This method will give you more flavour, and assuming you're using say a chicken breast, will give you pretty bang-on the 15-20 minute window you're looking for. (I would advise against roasting chicken with your one-tray method; chicken tends to develop a weird dry skin when roasted from raw. You kind of need to pan-sear it first.)


En papillote (parchment or foil, doesn't matter): Filet of salmon, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, olive oil, salt/pepper, little dash of white wine. About 20 minutes, which is perfect timing for making a pot of rice. (Or make rice ahead of time in a larger batch. Just remember to cool it as fast as possible if you're not using it all at once; rice can easily harbour botulinum spores so you don't want to leave it at room temp for too long).

Beyond that I'm at a bit of a loss, not knowing your likes/dislikes, dietary restrictions if any, etc. You say you're not very good in the kitchen (hey, that's not a problem! it's easy to learn just the very basics), so your one-tray method is actually not a great idea. It requires some technical skill in cutting and preparing everything in the right sizes so it all finishes cooking at the same time.

If you're interested in simple one pot kinds of meals, a really good place to start is a slow cooker/crock pot. Lots of recipes that really involve just throwing things in, turning it on, and going to bed. In the morning you have pasta sauce/chili/stew/soup/pulled pork/pot roast ready to be chilled, portioned, frozen, and ready for use later.

Lasagna is something that is also very easy to make, minimal technical skill required, and will provide meals for several days. The initial cooking is outside your 20 minute ideal (probably about 10 minutes of prep followed by an hour of cooking), but the upside is having up to a dozen meals waiting in the freezer for a quick cook in the oven.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:51 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here's one that I make all winter long. Diced Sweet Potatoes, Pork Chop, Diced apples. You can get everything all chopped up in your produce section (the apples may be in wedges) coat lightly with Olive Oil and dust the potatoes and pork chops with barbecue seasoning. Cook in the oven at 375 for about 20-25 minutes. You can nuke a frozen veg, or have a pre-made salad if you like.

Rather than broccoli, use broccolini. Lamb chop, broccolini, diced potatoes (you can get the bagged, potato cubes for potatoes O'Brien.) Toss all in olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 375 until done, about 15 minutes.

Salmon, sliced squash (available in your produce section, usually zuccini and yellow squash) and microwaved rice. BirdsEye makes rice, and it's fool proof. Olive oil, lemon juice, salt/pepper on the fish and squash. 375 for about 10-15 minutes. Throw bag of rice in microwave.

I maintain that roasting is the easiest way to cook, and it's very efficient. The trick is to get everything pretty much the same size and density.

Lamb and Salmon are very fast cookers, you don't want to over cook. You may want to give the veggies a head start of about 5/10 minutes, and then throw the protein. It's not any harder and it ensures that your veggies are cooked through, while your proteins are moist and delicious.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:52 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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