When it comes to weeknight cooking, I love a great shortcut. The sheet pan is an underrated kitchen tool that can be used to cook everything from appetizers to dessert -- with minimal cleanup.

"[Sheet pans are] wonderful for their simple and relatively hands-off approach," says Molly Gilbert, author of Sheet Pan Suppers. "Just pop your sheet pan in a hot oven, rotate it once midway through cooking, and then dinner is served."

Gilbert shared three sheet pan recipes: Baked Brie & Strawberries,  Baked Apricot French Toast and Quick Chicken & Baby Broccoli with Spicy Peanut Sauce.

Jennifer Russell: I love the concept of this book. Will you explain it?

Molly Gilbert: The book is about cooking simple and flavorful meals using just a sheet pan. Roasting, baking and broiling are the three methods of cooking that help us get the job done. The concept is a bit of a riff on the one-pot meal idea, but sheet pans are much more versatile. From appetizers to main dishes and brunch dishes to dessert, a sheet pan can do it all.

JR: You refer to the sheet pan as a seriously underrated kitchen tool. Define a sheet pan: What can they do for us and how should we be using them?

MG: A sheet pan is an 18 x 13-inch baking sheet with a 1-inch lip around the edges.

Sheet pans are best for roasting, baking and broiling because the high surface area and shallow sides of a sheet pan allow the hot air inside your oven to really surround that chicken breast (or tomato, apricot or fish fillet) and draw out the moisture. That results in exceptionally juicy, flavorful food -- and a lot of great crispy bits too. 

They're also wonderful for their simple and relatively hands-off approach. Just pop your sheet pan in a hot oven, rotate it once midway through cooking, and then dinner is served. If you remembered to line the pan with parchment or aluminum foil, cleanup becomes an absolute breeze.

Quick Chicken & Baby Broccoli with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Gilbert's recipe: Quick Chicken & Baby Broccoli with Spicy Peanut Sauce

JR: This book is about bringing some ease to the kitchen. Weeknight cooking in particular can be stressful. Do you have a favorite, go-to sheet pan supper recipe for busy weeknights? 

MG: The Quick Chicken & Baby Broccoli with Spicy Peanut Sauce is a go-to in my house for busy weeknights. It comes together in a snap and cooks in under 12 minutes. The Fancy Tuna Melts are another weeknight staple. I can usually make those even when I've forgotten to grocery shop.

Baked Brie & Strawberries
Gilbert's recipe: Baked Brie & Strawberries

JR: What about party food and the sheet pan? If you’re having a party, how are you going to impress your guests without creating a giant amount of work for yourself?

MG: The nice thing about using a sheet pan or two for entertaining is that you don't have to stand over the stove stirring or cook anything in batches. You're free to pour some drinks and enjoy your guests.

Sheet pans make a lot of food; they're great for cooking for a crowd. My recipe for Baked Brie & Strawberries is as simple as they come, and a major crowd-pleaser.

Baked Apricot French Toast
Gilbert's recipe: Baked Apricot French Toast

JR: I love brunch. It never occurred to me to use a sheet pan to make breakfast or brunch dishes. There are a lot of options, aren’t there?

MG: Brunch is my favorite. As a rule, I don't trust anyone who doesn't enjoy a good brunch. There are a lot of options for sheet pan brunches, from gooey cinnamon rolls and baked eggs to a giant Dutch baby pancake. One of my favorites is the Baked Apricot French Toast. It's warm and delicious, and so easy to throw together. Plus, it feeds a lot of people.

Jennifer Russell

Jennifer Russell is a founding producer at The Splendid Table. Before coming to radio, she made historical and arts and cultural programming for public television. She claims to have come out of the womb a food lover -- when other girls played house, she played restaurateur. Follow her comings and goings on Twitter: @jenejentweets.