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Sheet Pan Sweet Spiced Chicken Thighs and Vegetables

Dinner, Make-ahead, Recipe, Sheet Pan, Meal PrepLeannda Cavalier3 Comments

A simple sheet pan meal with tender chicken thighs and crunchy vegetables coated in sweet spice and umami flavors. Perfect for a big family meal, or meal planning for the week. 

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Cool blog post, but I'm hungry. Skip to the recipe, please!

Do you ever come home at the end of a long day and feel like you'd rather walk into a lion's den than cook (at least you'd get in one blissful pet)?

HA. Hilarous question right?

I'm pretty sure EVERYONE has this feeling sometimes. I do more than I'd like to admit, especially during busy periods. I even feel it sometimes when I'm on a roll with food blogging work, which is a little bit of a head-scratcher. I really don't think anyone is immune. 

And you know what? Sometimes it's okay to give in to that feeling. Maybe you go out or pick up some general tso's. Maybe you decide grazing is enough. Maybe you've already prepared for this and have some pre-made meals in the refrigerator or freezer—

Hold up, you prepared? That's great! Then this recipe for sheet pan sweet spiced chicken thighs and vegetables is PERFECT FOR YOU. But wait. There's something else.  

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The thing about not feeling like cooking (and yes, I know some people don't want or need to cook) is that if you give in too much, it becomes a habit. I give in my fair share, but I know when I don't I usually end up enjoying cooking by the time I start chopping and slicing.

Every task I complete is another box checked, another obstacle I've overcome. Sounds dramatic, but sometimes it's the little things. It is a lot for me, anyway.

One of the ways I push through is to pick something that doesn't require a lot of cleanup, and something that I can do without spending a ton of time prepping things. Bonus points if it makes more than one meal so I can skip tomorrow without ordering out again.

This. Is. That. Recipe.

And again, just for the record. Takeout is great! But doesn't it feel more special when it's a once-in-a-while thing? Doesn't that make your wallet happy? And doesn't it feel good to know you're eating healthy things you made yourself? You don't have to care about those things, but in my heart...

Five spice, so nice

The main flavoring in sheet pan sweet spiced chicken thighs and vegetables is Chinese five spice powder, which I have been on a real kick with lately. I don't use a lot of spice mixes unless I make them myself, but this is a notable exception along with garam masala, shwarma spices, za'atar and ras el hanout. Here convenience wins out most days, and it adds such a punch of flavor that I don't regret it.

Five spice powders are not all created equal, as they can include any variation of cinnamon, star anise, cloves, sichaun pepper, fennel, ginger, orange peel, licorice, turmeric and the list goes on. If you're a flavor savant, you might get the flavor profile going here regardless of which mix goes in the jar... sweet and spicy (like my current favorite tea!). 

Sweet and spicy goes really well with fattier meats like ribs, duck and yup, chicken thighs.

The mix I have right now isn't particularly spicy as it uses cinnamon, anise, fennel, ginger, clove, and licorice root. HEY, THAT'S SIX. Oh well, still nums. Anyway, that's why I added paprika to the recipe. You can add some chili paste or red pepper flakes too if you're really feeling spicy, you firecracker, you. 

Point is, you may want to look at the mix before you go out and buy a jar. Check to see if you might need more spicy or sweet to your taste, and if you're like me you probably want to avoid any extra ingredients like salt or MSG since you'll already be using salt and soy sauce in the recipe. 

It's all up to you, my friend. 

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Trimming the fat

When you're prepping the chicken, you may choose to trim excess fat off of the thighs. Don't stress about this too much, because it's easy and you might not even need to with good quality chicken. The fat is one of the draws of chicken thighs, and contrary to popular belief, eating fat doesn't make you fat.

So how do you trim the fat? All you need to do is pick up the chicken by the fat so the chicken is just touching the counter, and gently scrape it off of the pink flesh with a sharp knife. Alternatively, if it's a neat little seam on the edge, you can lay the chicken against the cutting board and slice it off just like sandwich crusts. Just try not to cut through too much of the meat itself. 

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One way you can cut way down or even eliminate the need to trim fat is to buy organic or even better, free range chicken. The better treatment chickens get, the better the quality of meat.

Sorry if that sounds preachy, but it's true. Eating better, having the space to walk around, and being raised without hormones and antibiotics all naturally reduce the amount of fat and filler in your chicken.

Seriously, just compare a package of organic free range chicken to one of the bigger brands next time you're at the store to see for yourself. 

Plus, if you're like me it might give you a little piece of mind to support businesses (often local or at least regional) that treat their animals well, often against the odds. I've bought meat a lot more mindfully ever since I moved to a farming area where I see a lot of chicken transport trucks. Don't look that up before eating or going to bed, because it's nightmarish. 

Okay, off my soapbox. 

Just don't let the idea of trimming off the fat scare you, okay? First, you don't have to do it—some people like fat, and a little of it isn't the end of the world. Worst case scenario? If you "mess up" and hack a thigh to pieces, you can still eat it. Still nums.

Messing up is called practice, and it's no biggie. Especially if you still get a meal out of it.

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Choose your own vegetables to customize or save a trip to the store

This is one of those recipes I love because it's so adaptable. You can go through your fridge and use vegetables left over from other meals, or ones you bought on sale with good intentions, but a week later you have to use them or lose them.

One thing I will say is that I would use bigger vegetables you can chop up and that cook fairly quickly such as broccoli florets, peppers, thin strips of carrot, onions, and soft squash like zucchini. Something hard, dry and starchy like potatoes wouldn’t cook through in five minutes.

I like to use a chopped red bell pepper, a yellow onion cut into wedges and an Eat Smart bagged stir fry mix with broccoli, carrots, red cabbage and snow peas. Simple, quick and nutrish-on-trish-on-trish.

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My rule of thumb? Stick to veggies you’re used to seeing in stir fry. If you’re really nervous, go ahead and stick to the recipe to get comfortable. Once you feel good with that, maybe you can branch out and experiment. That's what cooking's all about, friend-o. 

Choose your own base

Brown Rice: I really like to use short-grain brown rice in this recipe. It's a little fluffier than long-grain and I think it's a little more tender without losing all of it's al dente bite. Plus the big benefit: it's a complex carb and thus better for you than white rice.

White Rice: Always a good bet flavor-wise if that's what you have on hand, and it's not the end of your waistline if you eat it once in a while. Sticky short-grain Chinese-style rice is a good choice, but there's nothing wrong with some jasmine or basmati rice!

Noodles: You can always go a little outside the box and serve this over some noodles. I would probably go with thicker styles like ramen or soba noodles. You may want to toss them with pan drippings or a little oil and soy sauce to keep them slick and flavorful, especially if you use udon noodles, which don't have a lot of flavor on their own.

Zoodles: If you try to keep refined carbs to a minimum, avoid gluten or you just want something light and fresh, you could always serve over some zucchini or other spiralized noodles. I'm sure cauliflower rice would work just as well. Both of these options add a little extra work though, so you have to really want it. 

In the nude: Feeling a minimalist vibe? Just eat the chicken and veggies. Let me know if the world ends or anything like that. 

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Why cook the chicken on a rack?

You could probably cook the chicken right on the vegetables instead of the rack if you don't have one, but I tend to like them that way so they don't get so mushy on the bottom, and so they don't cook with vegetable imprints at the end. If the difference between you cooking this and getting pizza for the third time this week is not wanting to clean a rack, SKIP IT PLEASE. Not a big deal at all.

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A bit of truth about sheet pan recipes

They're technically one-pan, but most of them actually aren't. I know, ugh. As with this recipe, you may have to marinate or coat things in different seasoning. But hey, that's not so bad!

There are still some big advantages, like the fact that everything cooks at once. That's great for beginners because you don't have to worry about juggling a bunch of cook times. It's still pretty great for me because everything cooks at once. Know what that means? Once it's out of the oven, I can eat everything at once.

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Also, I'm lucky enough to have a dishwasher, so I can throw everything but the sheet pan and the rack in when I'm done, unlike if I was using a bunch of pots and pans. 

I only mention this because I don't want to be misleading. Sheet pan meals definitely have advantages, I just think they're a little over-promising sometimes. You'll have some dishes, but the mess is pretty well contained, so if you have a dishwasher you're made in the shade. If you don't, you still cut down on scrubbing you might have to do heating a bunch of food in a bunch of pans. 

Here's the pan pre-broiler. Technically done, but I'll do you one better.

Here's the pan pre-broiler. Technically done, but I'll do you one better.

BOOM! Two minutes under the broiler gives you those nice, crispy edges. 

BOOM! Two minutes under the broiler gives you those nice, crispy edges. 

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So let's get roasting!

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Did you make this? Take a picture and let me know! You can always tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (links below), or use the tried it feature on Pinterest.

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Roasted summer squash and tomatoes

Recipe, Sides, VegetarianLeannda CavalierComment

Yellow squash, zucchini and grape tomatoes team up with herbs in this east side dish to sing the real song of summer. Nutritious and delicious, this simple side is surprisingly filling.

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Hear that? It's my stomach growling. Skip to the recipe, please.

If you could only ever have one side dish ever again, what would it be?

Honestly, I don't know if I could answer that myself. I'm kind of a side dish fiend. Sometimes I need to remind myself that you don't have to have 2-3 with every single meal. 

I like it all. Mac and cheese. Tabouli. Stuffing. Fruit salad. Sweet potato casserole. I love sides so much, sometimes I'll get a bunch of them as a meal if a restaurant has good ones. I do what I want. 

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Through it all, there's a soft spot in my heart for veggies. First, I just love the way they taste. Second, I love the way they make me feel. I know I'm doing something good for my body when I eat them, and it's a health solution that doesn't involve rocket science or too-good-to-be-true fixes.

As I get older... I can definitely feel if I'm not eating enough of them. 

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So if I really had to narrow down to my top five, roasted summer squash and tomatoes would for sure make the list. It's one of my most-made side dishes. It's such a favorite that a form of it was one of the four(!) side dishes at my wedding. It was also a frequent item on the menu when I was doing personal catering. 

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It takes a little prep to get it together, but what it comes down to is throwing a bunch of fresh foods on a sheet pan and roasting it until everything is nice and soft with some crispy spots. The zucchini and yellow squash are perfection when they start to get nice and roasty, especially with the garlic and shallots pitching in. The tomatoes add the perfect tangy twist, almost like a tomato sauce.

It's one of those dishes that tastes fresh and bright, but still comforting and satisfying. You're not going to regret only making one side dish if you choose wisely, and this is choosing wisely.

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Need a shortcut?

Mincing garlic and shallots will be the thing that turns a lot of people off of this recipe, I think. Both can seem daunting to beginners, and it might seem unnecessary to people who just want dinner on the table.

Here's the deal. If you're TRULY in a crunch, you can just cook the squash and tomatoes with some olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, and any herbs you have on hand. 

I get it, I really do. We’re all busy, and taking the time to make dinner can seem like such a killjoy when you’re on a roll with other tasks. I’ll be honest, I do this almost as much as I do it my preferred way if it's a weeknight.

BUT... and this is an important but. 

Here’s the thing. If you don’t do the work, you’ll never get better at cooking. Do you believe there will ever be a time when you’re less “busy”? Do you believe there will ever be a “right” time? 

There might be. Then again, if you’re one of those people who is constantly saying “yes” to the next challenge and who enjoys work, there might not be. 

A 2016 New York Times article about health habits to build in your 20s points out the decisions we make may be more long-term than we realize. That goes for heart health, how we look and feel, and potentially how much weight we carry.

Cooking is like anything else you do. It takes work.

It comes to some people a little easier than others, but ultimately what you get out of it is what you put into it. If you take a little time a couple of times a week and learn how to effectively do the basics—chop an onion, mince a shallot, crush and mince garlic, cut a tomato in a way that doesn’t leave you wondering if you’re doing it right… you will slowly but surely learn how to cook confidently and more quickly.

That’s the hard truth of cooking. Sometimes what makes it take so long is being in the beginning stages. Wavering over how long it’s going to take to cut an onion, rather than knowing it takes a minute or two with experience. Wobbling as you cut the potato, because how are you supposed to cut something round anyway? 

It takes practice. It takes being slow for a little while. But it's an investment with clear, guaranteed results. 

Listen, you have to eat. No matter what, you’ll have to spend some money, go someplace to get the food (cooked or not), and spend time waiting for and eating it. If you take just a few nights a week regularly to work on making it yourself, you WILL get better. 

You'll need to look some things up, maybe more than once. You may need to ask for help. You may burn a meal or two. But soon, you’ll figure things out well enough that the struggle won’t be how to get something cooked. Instead, it will be how much effort you feel like putting into it tonight.

To add a new ingredient or not? To leave out that hard-to-find, expensive ingredient you’re out of, or try a substitute? To bother plating it, or to let everyone serve themselves right from the stove?

I'd serve that right. from. the. stove. 

I'd serve that right. from. the. stove. 

Not only will you develop skills, but your brain will start to recognize which flavors go together. What things cook similarly enough that you can put them together in the oven and not burn them. How to throw together a meal with what you found on manager’s special at the supermarket, or what came in your CSA box. 

You’ll learn to cook on the fly, and how to plan to cook based on your resources. THAT is how you get reasonably healthy meals on the table most days.

The goal for most of us, after all, isn’t to become a chef. That’s what culinary school is for. It’s to be able to cook tasty food that fuels your body. It’s to enjoy one of the pillars of life: creating food to eat with your loved ones.

Decent results for making a delicious side dish a couple times a week, right?

So, what's your favorite side dish of all time? Let me know in the comments! I'm always looking to add something new to my ever-expanding list. 

As always, I want to hear from you! If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen & tag me! 

So let's get roasting!

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Before you go, I want to let you know about a resource I created. If you're still a little intimidated by anything outside of microwaving, I created it just for you!

The WhipSmart Kitchen Guide to Mise En Place is a workbook I put together to show you a method to the madness of cooking. You can use as much or as little of it as you like, but I think every beginning cook should at least get familiar with the concepts in this booklet. 

Just click below for a free download and let me know how you like it!