Chicken thighs are used in this Chicken and Veggie Skillet with Herbs and Parmesan because they’re quick cooking and ultra flavorful. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Sara Stirs: Reduce cleanup time, treat your taste buds with one-pot wonders and single-skillet sensations

Editor’s note: For even more recipes, you can follow culinary columnist Sara Jeran on Instagram at @sarajstirs.

BUCKHANNON – The skillet and Dutch oven (or any large pot), both humble kitchen staples, are essential for any home cook.

These vessels appear basic; however, hidden behind their plain facades lie opportunities for even the most elaborate dishes. From basic eggs to fancy French tarts, these two can surely master the challenge. Skillets and large pots have always been essential for daily cooking, but over the past few years they have become the main topic. “One Pot Wonders” and “Showstopping Skillet” recipes have swept the internet.

Could it be possible to fix an entire meal in one pot? Would it still have flavor, without being too “casserolish”? A few simple techniques will aid in your new one dish culinary achievements, starting with the type of skillet and pot you are using.

There are a vast variety of skillets on the market. Some offer promises of zero scrubbing (I am skeptical about this). There are those with steep price tags, while others are sold in the wee night hours on discount TV infomercials. I believe only two skillets are required in a home kitchen – a stainless steel and a cast iron skillet. Arguments for a third – a non-stick – are valid. While I understand this line of thinking, I do not find it necessary, but if you prefer the security of “non-stick,” I will not contest. Any additional skillets could be size variations of stainless and cast iron, but they are absolutely not critical. Quality not quantity is most important here.

I advise choosing skillets that can be transferred from stove top to the oven and ones can withstand high temperatures. Using oven-safe skillets can reduce cleanup; if a recipe requires finishing in the oven, this eliminates the switch to a new dish. Good quality products are available in a range of price points, and a little research will aid in a useful purchase. But remember, beauty does not always equal practicality.

As for pots, the same two – stainless and cast iron – are my top picks, although practically everything can be prepared in a cast-iron Dutch oven.  If you only have one pot make it a cast iron Dutch oven.

I use my two skillets with equal frequency, but I do all “pot” cooking in cast iron Dutch ovens. The heat retention and distribution are incomparable. From baking a loaf of crusty bread to slow-cooking a roast, most days, these pots do it all. I would suggest a four-quart size. I own a few sizes, and the mid-sized is my go-to. They are heavy, extremely durable, and with proper care, could last your lifetime. Many come with enamel coating on the inside, but this is not my preference. It stains and it is prone to cracking. If selecting a pot with enamel coating, I suggest it be limited to the outside (all of mine are like this).

Traditionally one-pot dinners consisted of dishes that required lengthy cooking times. Of course, certain recipes remain time-consuming, such as Italian bolognese or beef bourguignon, but there is also a lighter and brighter side to one vessel cooking. One skillet dinners are probably my favorite, and absolutely my pick during the week. Light protein choices may be used for speedy after-work meals. My favorites are chicken (of course), fish and shrimp. Thin pork chops have countless possibilities. Designate a protein – beans are a fantastic vegetarian option for dinner – then the vegetables.

Once these decisions have been finalized, embrace a flavor direction. Options can become overwhelming when dinner planning, but these steps will ease the process to promote manageability. When grocery shopping, simply purchase what you enjoy in the produce and meat department. If you like it…it will get used. This method eliminates the pressure of following a strict set of menus for the week, but if set menus work for you, by all means, do not let me interfere.

I will use chicken and peppers for example. Tex-Mex fajitas, Thai curry, or Cajun creole are three delicious options derived from two basic ingredients. These examples show the benefits of having a reasonably stocked spice cabinet. Spices have the ability to take you anywhere on the globe for dinner, so take inventory of what you have and gradually expand. With long shelf lives and usage rotation this becomes not only a practical but also an economical way to have endless flavor profiles at the ready.

I am sharing two chicken recipes – one skillet and one pot. The skillet chicken is highly adaptable to the vegetables and herbs that are in season or satisfy your tastebuds. Small red potatoes halved could be added for a starch element. Chicken thighs are used because they’re quick cooking and ultra flavorful. The preparation is minimal, and cooking time is roughly 30 minutes.

One pot creole chicken is delicious anytime of the year. A bonus? It is almost effortless. Packed with the “holy trinity” of Cajun cooking: bell peppers (traditionally green), onions and celery, this is a sure way to get those veggies on plates. I often serve this with rice on the side (I know, I know another pot), but garlic bread is also delicious. The heat level is adaptable to your palate. I hope these two recipes inspire you to reach deep into your spice cabinet and create several new family favorite skillet and one-pot dinners.

Trial and error bring ease and success in the kitchen. There will be failures: I, too, have them. When I create a recipe, it undergoes trials. Occasionally, the entire idea flops, and it is scrapped. All is not lost, for with each flop, lessons are learned. Food can be healing, and so can the cooking process. Give yourself a little time to wind down from the day before you enter the kitchen; starting out peaceful makes all the difference. We know that cooking at home is healthier, but you should also know that it is also healthy for overall wellness. Not many tasks can be initiated and completed within an hour, but dinner is an exception.

Accomplishments breed positivity for the mind and soul. By simply cooking dinner, you have fed your body, mind and soul in a healthy manner. Kitchen time can have major payoffs, so take the job seriously. I wish for you peaceful kitchen days ahead.

Happy cooking. Peace.

Chicken and Veggie Skillet with Herbs and Parmesan

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. chicken boneless, skinless, thighs or breasts
  • 1 bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 hot pepper, sliced
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 2 ears of corn, kernels removed (or 1 cup frozen kernels)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup whole milk (or cream, or half and half)
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

Rub chicken with olive oil, seasoned salt, chipotle powder, black pepper (to taste), 1 tablespoon of the thyme and juice of half the lemon. Allow to marinate on the counter for 30 minutes.

In a deep skillet, melt butter with 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Sear chicken on each side 3-4 minute until golden. Remove and set aside (chicken does not have to be cooked through, it will go back in the skillet later).

Next add peppers, corn, tomatoes, lemon zest, garlic, and remaining thyme, salt and pepper to the browned butter. Sauté until just starting to get tender.

Add chicken back to skillet along with stock, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 15 minutes.

Now add milk and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Turn off heat, stir in Parmesan, basil, and the remaining half of lemon juice.

The final product is just as tasty as it is colorful! / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Creole Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. boneless breasts or thighs
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced
  • 1 jalapeño, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire
  • 1-2 teaspoons hot sauce, preferably Tabasco (or 1-2 teaspoons white vinegar for a milder taste)
  • 1-2+ teaspoons hot sauce, preferably Tabasco (this is necessary for the acid)
  • 28 oz crushed fire-roasted tomatoes (or plain)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons creole seasoning (or Cajun)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Generous amount of fresh cracked pepper
  • Salt to taste (be advised the creole seasoning will have salt)
  • For garnish: a lemon, green onions, parsley
  • Cooked rice for serving
Packed with the “holy trinity” of Cajun cooking: bell peppers (traditionally green), onions and celery, this Creole Chicken recipe is a sure way to get those veggies on plates. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Directions:

For the instant pot:

Place all ingredients in the instant pot, cook on pressure for 10 min, quick release. Remove chicken, dice, and return to pot. Sauté for 5 minutes to thicken sauce.

For the slow cooker:

Place all ingredients in the slow cooker. Cook on low 6 hours, or on high 4 hours. Remove chicken, dice and return to sauce.

For the stovetop:

Heat a large cast iron skillet (or whatever you prefer) with a tablespoon of oil.

Season chicken with salt and pepper, brown on each side. Remove chicken, it does not have to be cooked through; it will cook in the sauce.

Add veggies and seasoning to skillet, sauté until almost tender.

Add tomatoes, water, Worcestershire, Tabasco.

Return chicken to pot. Cover and simmer for 15-20 min, depending on the size of chicken you are using. Remove chicken and dice, return to pot for 2-3 minutes.

Garnish with any of the following; extra hot sauce, wedge and squeeze of lemon, green onions, coarse salt and parsley.

Sara Jeran is a culinary enthusiast, gardener, beekeeper and Buckhannon native. Follow her on Instagram at @sarajstirs.

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