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Home Alone in the Kitchen

Friday was Day 30 of making do with what I have to cook three meals a day. A few meals have been memorable, a few have been miserable failures and most are simply nothing worth mentioning. Nutrition, flavor and easy cleanup all matter.

My favorite meal is the easiest: Italian sausage with Trader Joe’s frozen sweet potato fries, success guaranteed, no recipe needed. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a quarter sheet-pan with parchment paper. Prick an Italian sausage all over with the tines of a fork. Place at one end of the pan. Spread sweet potatoes—no oil or seasoning needed—over the remainder of the pan, leaving space between each piece so they will crisp up. Roast on the bottom rack of your oven for 10 minutes; turn sausage and potatoes; roast for 10 more minutes. Serve with a generous dollop of country Dijon or German mustard and applesauce or cole slaw.

One of my favorite additions to this meal is:

Sweet and Tart Red Cabbage

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2 T. olive oil
3 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 tablespoon honey (or substitute brown sugar)
1½ tablespoon country Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 bag shredded red cabbage (or substitute green cabbage cole slaw mix)
½ cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon caraway seeds

Mix together in a medium-sized bowl the olive oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper until thoroughly blended. Add cabbage, onion and caraway seeds. Stir until well blended. Set aside to marinate for up to an hour if desired. Use a slotted spoon to transfer cabbage mix to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Spread in a solid but fairly thin layer over the paper. Place on the bottom rack of your oven; roast 15 minutes; stir and spread out more thinly in the paper; roast 15 more minutes. If you are serving with sausage or any other faster-cooking food, simply roast 10 minutes, add the sausage and/or other meat or vegetables, roast 10 more minutes, Stir and turn everything and roast 10 more minutes. 3–4 servings. Keeps well in the refrigerator, reheat in your microwave.

This recipe was an accident, when I failed to follow directions properly for Ellie Krieger’s recipe for “Honey-Mustard Pork Chops with Sweet-Tart Warm Slaw.” I had thick bone-in pork chops and I had red cabbage. I was ready to go. It was pretty obvious that the olive oil, cider vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper were for the pork marinade and cabbage. I mixed it all together before I read the directions. Oops! SOME of the ingredients were for the pork chops, some for the cabbage. I proceeded with what I had. Bland, undercooked pork chops, fabulous sheet-pan red cabbage. The leftover pork chop went in the freezer while I enjoyed the cabbage for three days and wanted more.

Variations on the Theme

Meanwhile, the New York Times Cooking writers are busy providing quick and easy recipes with whatever is on hand, and recently one of the writers provided recipes for cooking with condiments. “Stir-Fried Chicken with Ketchup” caught my eye. Ketchup, cayenne pepper and garlic. What could be simpler? And if it worked with chicken, it would work with pork. I thawed a leftover pork chop, cut the pork off the bone in thin strips, and while mixed vegetables and cabbage roasted in the oven, I prepared stir-fried pork in ketchup sauce. Incredibly easy, incredibly good.

Stir-Fry Chicken or Pork With Ketchup Sauce

3 cups cooked chicken or pork, cut in chunks or slices
4 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup ketchup

In a 10-12 inch skillet, heat 2 tablespoons canola oil over medium-high heat before adding meat and stirring long enough for the meat to warm. Remove meat from skillet. Add remaining 2 tablespoons canola oil to skillet over medium heat, then stir in minced garlic, cayenne pepper and ketchup; cook until sauce bubbles; then stir in meat to coat with the sauce. 2–3 servings. I am visualizing leftovers in a pita pocket or perhaps chopped more finely and enjoyed like pork barbecue on a whole-wheat bun.

My repertoire of successful sheet-pan recipes is still small, but here are a few originals that I prepare regularly.

Sheet-Pan Hash Brown Potatoes

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

about 12 fingerling potatoes, sliced or diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 clove minced garlic (or substitute ¼ teaspoon garlic powder)
½ teaspoon each salt and pepper

Mix together all ingredients but the potatoes in a 1-quart plastic storage bag.

Depending on the length of time to cook the other items you plan to roast, slice or dice potatoes to cook the same length of time. Half-inch cubes take about 40 minutes; ¼-inch, 30 minutes; and nickel-sized sliced fingerlings, 20 minutes. Add the sliced potatoes to the plastic bag, seal and mix until the onions and potatoes are thoroughly blended. Spread the potatoes on the sheet pan, keeping individual pieces separate. Roast on the bottom rack of the oven; halfway though, remove from heat, turn and return to finish cooking. You may sprinkle a little parmesan cheese on top for the final five minutes of roasting. Serves 2.

Hamburger steak with asparagus and potatoes

Buttered Asparagus

1 bunch fresh asparagus
1 fresh lemon wedge
2 tablespoons butter, cut in 4 pieces
salt and pepper

Wash your asparagus soon after purchase; snap the tough stems off. Fill a glass or jar with an inch or two of water; stand the asparagus in the jar and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place half the butter in an unlined small sheet pan or baking dish (about 7×10 inches), squeeze the juice of a lemon wedge over the butter. Lay the asparagus spears in the pan, add salt and pepper to taste and place remaining butter chips on top the tender tips. Roast for about 12–15 minutes, depending stalks’ thickness. Remove from oven and gently turn the stalks in the buttered pan before serving. Drizzle any remaining butter from the pan over the asparagus. Serves 2–3.

I like a touch of sweetness with pork and ham, and I have found two sheet-pan fruit preparations that I like a lot.

Preparing a sheet-pan meal

Roasted Pear:

Peel and core 1 firm ripe pear. Cut in 6 to 8 wedges. Lay on a parchment lined sheet pan leaving space between wedges. Sprinkle generously with ground cardamom. Roast at 400-425 degrees for 20 minutes, turning halfway through. I love this with sausage and sweet potato fries. Don’t place the grapes near a vegetable you want crisp or caramelized, because of the pear juice. Serves 1. Leftovers are great cold.

Roasted Grapes:

Allow about 1 cup of seedless grapes with stems removed per person. Drizzle with a neutral oil such as grapeseed oil; place on lined sheet pan with other vegetables and meat dish the last 10–15 minutes of roasting. They are shockingly good and are sure to delight and surprise children in the family.

What are your favorite sheet-pan recipes?


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Note: I am inspired daily by the easy but innovative recipes in the food sections of the New York Times and Washington Post. My cookbooks of choice these days, ranging from easiest to most sophisticated are:

  • Sheet Pan Paleo, by Pamela Ellgen. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press, 2016.
  • Whole in One: Complete, Healthy Meals in a Single Pot, Sheet Pan, or Skillet, by Ellie Krieger, Washington Post food writer. New York: Lifelong Books, 2019.
  • Dinner: Changing the Game, by Melissa Clark, New York Times food writer. New York: Crown Publishing, 2017.

Photos, from top to bottom: Italian sausage, red cabbage, hash-brown potatoes and roasted pears with sour cream; hamburger steak served with a mushroom gorgonzola sauce, buttered asparagus and hash-brown potatoes; ready for the oven—cole slaw mix, grapes, Italian sausage and potatoes.

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About the author:

Ella Wall Prichard—widow, CEO, mother, grandmother and now great-grandmother—divides her time between Corpus Christi, Dallas, Nantucket and the rest of the world, blogging and posting on social media about her travel, food, cooking, gardening and life in general as a single. She is author of Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows, published in 2018 by 1845 Books, an imprint of the Baylor University Press, and co-editor of the top-selling Fiesta: Favorite Recipes of South Texas, first published in 1973 by the Junior League of Corpus Christi.

Coming soon: 28 Days of Coronavirus Cooking