Ann Arbor Chef Shares Easy Weeknight Family Meals

Family Dinner Rescue: sheet pan meal for the win!

Hello, I’m Natalie!  I’m a professionally-trained chef and culinary instructor living in Ann Arbor.  A career change, a trip through culinary school 20 years ago, and being a lifelong Julia Child enthusiast has led me to a career doing my very favorite thing:  making food and cooking approachable to home cooks of all ages!   

My passion for creating great food experiences and getting people excited about learning and having fun in the kitchen is always at the heart of what I do.  I teach virtual adult and family cooking classes through Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, as well as my own private cooking classes and corporate events at NatalieMarbleCooks.com.  You can find me on social media at @NatalieMarbleCooks and can sign up for my bi-weekly email newsletter here, where I share family-friendly recipes, tips & tricks, new class information, and hopefully a little inspiration!

The key is to always understand the cooking times of the various components – and to not skimp on the garnish and sauce – it’s the perfect way to sneak more veggies into your children and to take the flavor from ordinary to extraordinary.  And the beauty is, it’s all served on one sheet pan, allowing for minimal cleanup.  It’s not just a sheet pan dinner… it’s  sheet pan magic!This month I’m sharing a family-friendly sheet pan dinner, where the goal is maximum flavor and minimal dishes!  I used to not like the sound of the phrase ‘sheet pan dinner’, as I thought it sounded un-interesting, boring, blah.  Of course, that was before I had busy children, and didn’t appreciate just how precious my time in the kitchen would become.  Dinners like these can offer up creativity and variety, while still healthy and delicious.  

Sheet Pan Spiced Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Roasted Garlic-Tahini Sauce

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

4-6 chicken thighs (skin-on and bone-in, preferred, but optional)

6 tbsp. Olive oil, divided in half

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp. Smoked paprika

2 tsp. Cumin

2 tsp. Coriander

½ tsp. Chili flakes

½ tsp. Cinnamon

1 ½ tsp. Kosher salt

½ tsp. Black pepper

2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ⅓ inch matchsticks

1 English cucumber, sliced on the diagonal

3 spring onions, sliced

½ bunch cilantro, leaves and top half of stems chopped

4 big handfuls of fresh baby spinach

 

Roasted Garlic-Tahini Sauce

1 head garlic

2 tsp. Olive oil

½ c. tahini

Zest and juice of an orange

Kosher salt, to taste

 

Preparation

  1. Start by preparing the sauce.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cut off the top ¼ inch of the garlic head to expose the cloves and place the head onto a piece of foil.  Drizzle the garlic with the olive oil and then tightly wrap the garlic in the foil, place on a sheet pan and roast for 40 minutes.  After 40 minutes, check the garlic to see if it’s done – the cloves should be a light golden color and the middle cloves should be soft when pierced with the tip of a knife.  When it is done, remove it from the oven, open the foil and let it cool. (This step can be done up to 3 days in advance, if you prefer!)
  3. While the garlic is roasting, marinate the chicken by combining it with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, garlic, paprika, cumin, coriander, chili flake, cinnamon, salt and pepper and set aside.
  4. Next, peel the sweet potatoes and cut into matchsticks – about ⅓ inch thick.  Toss them onto the sheet pan with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and season them well with salt and pepper and roast them (same oven where garlic is roasting) for about 10 minutes.
  5. While the sweet potatoes are roasting, prepare the fresh garnishes by slicing cucumber on the diagonal, spring onions, and cilantro and set aside.
  6. Pull sweet potatoes out of the oven and move them to one side of the sheet pan.  Add the chicken thighs and return the sheet pan to the oven for 20-25 minutes.
  7. At this point, check on the roasted garlic, as it should be done or very close to being done.  If it’s done, carefully unwrap the foil and let it cool for a few minutes.
  8. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the head to force out the cloves of soft, roasted garlic into a bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and mash garlic up with a fork.
  9. Add the tahini, orange zest and juice to the garlic and whisk well to combine.  The texture should be thin enough that it can be drizzled.  If it’s too thick, it can be thinned a little with more orange juice or water.  Set aside.
  10. When the chicken is done, remove the sheet pan from the oven.  Using tongs, move the chicken onto the sweet potato fries and place the spinach where the chicken was.  Using your tongs, toss it around in all of the flavored juices on the pan and season it with salt and pepper as it starts to wilt.
  11. Place the chicken onto the bed of spinach.
  12. Tuck piles of cucumbers into a couple of corners of the sheet pan.
  13. Drizzle everything with the roasted garlic-tahini sauce and then sprinkle with spring onions and cilantro leaves.  Bring the entire sheet pan to your table and ENJOY!

Notes:

  • Only have boneless skinless chicken thighs?  No problem – just proceed with the recipe as usual.  Your cook time may be just a few minutes shorter.  In general, I like to use chicken with skin and bones because it makes for more flavor in the finished dish (you can always opt not to eat the skin).
  • Only have chicken breast?  Although I prefer chicken thighs because they provide a juicier texture and flavor, you can certainly substitute chicken breasts.  Depending on the size, they should only take about 20 minutes to cook.
  • Vegetarian?  You can substitute extra-firm tofu or tempeh – they both have about the same roasting time as the chicken.  You can drizzled them with the olive oil and spices – just the same as you would the chicken (you can even coat the tofu with a little cornstarch as well).  Flip them over, half way through cooking.
  • Don’t want to roast the garlic?  I understand.  Sometimes, you just can’t be bothered.  In that case, just grate one clove of fresh garlic into the sauce instead.  The flavor profile is not the same, as roasted garlic becomes earthy, mellow, and borderline sweet – but it will still be good.  Just promise me you’ll try it with the roasted garlic another time!
  • A couple of tips on roasted garlic: you can roast the garlic in a toaster oven if you have one.  You can roast the garlic up to five days ahead and keep it stored in an air-tight container in your refrigerator.  Roasted garlic is good on almost everything!  If you have leftovers, use it on sandwiches, pizza, pasta, avocado toast, sauteed vegetables, etc. – the sky’s the limit with this one!