In our mother’s day it was the casserole. The working mothers little friend; a can of this, a can of that, maybe some frozen vegetables thrown in. Top with bread crumbs and bake in the oven for about half an hour and voila: dinner was served all in one neat, tidy little package.

Today we eat differently. Convenience remains important but healthy, fresh, and interesting also come into play when we plan our dinners. Sure those cans of cream of something soup do come out every once in a while but the home cook is working on another level thanks to access to delicious fresh foods and more variety on our grocery shelves.

Enter the Traybake.  The term “Traybake” is often used in the UK to describe a sweet baked dish, all in one pan. Think brownies, slab cookies, and yummy squares. But it has also developed into a savory form. And the savory form is saving dinner for busy moms (and dads) everywhere.

I love Traybakes. They involve prep, sure, lots of chopping, but in the end everything goes in one dish and gets cooked together. The tools are minimal; all you need are a large cookie sheet and a knife. Dinner comes together simply and is tasty and healthy. I find it also allows me to add some variety to what we are eating. No longer is it the usual meat, side, veg on every plate. Instead we get a mix. I have tween aged kids in my home (as well as a toddler) and my older kids are developing a more nuanced palate. They want some spice, something different on their plate. And I’m so glad to be indulging their interest in good food. And another bonus with Traybakes is they are great for a busy family. Prep can be done in the morning and then everything can just be thrown in a pan and into the oven when you are ready. In my house with a variety of evening activities from soccer to Guides to Cubs it is great to have a meal ready for everyone to eat whenever it is they get home.

To master the savory Traybake you just need to master a simple recipe: 1 meat, 2 or 3 (or more) veg (and even fruit! See my first recipe below), simple vinaigrette and bake. How long you bake it will depend on the cut of meat you choose. For example I like to use chicken thighs on the bone and they take longer than chicken breasts.

The vinaigrette is where you add your seasoning and fats. The fats help caramelize and brown the delicious veggies in the tray. The vinegar adds tang. Here is where you add your herbs and spices to the mix to add in more flavor. A vinaigrette is just a salad dressing, though it has many more uses beyond salads. It is a simple formula to master too: 1 part vinegar, ½ part Dijon, salt, pepper, seasonings, and 3 parts oil.  The mustard helps bind the whole thing together.

As for veggies the sky is the limit. I recently joined a veggie co-op and Traybakes are a life saver for using up the one or two veg that I’m just not going to get around to using. The best tip I can give for veggies is to cut them in similar sizes so that they cook at the same rate.

Finally one thing to consider is after the tray bake comes out. A topping can add another dimension of flavor that adds to the dish. Think cilantro on a Mexican-inspired Tinga bake, or goat cheese on a bake with beets and chicken, or fresh spinach wilted into the hot dish to add even more nutrition.

Below  are a couple of my favorite traybake recipes.

Winter Flavor Traybake
serves 6

Ingredients
8 skin on, bone-in chicken thighs
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
½ lb brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
½ turnip, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 small apples cored and sliced
2 pears cored and sliced
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, or 1 tsp dried
2 tsp fresh thyme, or ½ tsp dried
2 tsp chopped fresh sage, or ½ tsp dried sage leaves
3 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil. Toss all the cut veggies into the pan. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables.
In a measuring cup or small dish add the vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper, herbs. Slowly add the oil in a steady stream while mixing with a whisk.
Pour the vinaigrette over the veggies and the chicken and with your hands work the vinaigrette all over the top of the chicken and through the veggies.
Bake for about 40 minutes or until the vegetables have caramelized and the chicken is cooked through and has a crispy skin. Serve hot with fresh bread if desired.

Rainbow Traybake
serves 6

Ingredients
8 skin on, bone-in chicken thighs or one whole chicken cut into quarters
4 slices bacon cut into pieces
3 medium sized beets, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small (or ½ large) butternut squash, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
3 or 4 small potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
½ turnip, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (I like to use a balsamic vinegar glaze instead)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp fresh thyme, or ½ tsp dried
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ cup olive oil
Goat cheese to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil. Toss all the cut veggies into the pan.

Place the chicken on top of the vegetables. In a measuring cup or small dish add the vinegar, brown sugar, Dijon, salt, pepper, thyme, and garlic powder. Slowly add the oil in a steady stream while mixing with a whisk. Pour the vinaigrette over the veggies and the chicken and with your hands work the vinaigrette all over the top of the chicken and through the veggies.

 

Bake for about 40 minutes (if using a whole chicken bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes) or until the vegetables have caramelized and the chicken is cooked through and has a crispy skin. Serve hot topped with crumbled goat cheese on top.

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