“It’s getting harder,” said Alyssa Brantley, a Seattle blogger at “Everyday Maven” and author of the new “‘I Don’t Want to Cook’ Book,” says with a laugh.
In addition to breakfast and dinner, Brantley also makes daily lunches during the school year, because her two children attend a school without a cafeteria. As summer flexibility gives way to fall routines, it’s always around the middle of September that she realizes that when it comes to meal planning and cooking, “This doesn’t really stop.”
Even if you don’t have kids, it seems impossible to put together an elaborate meal every night. We inevitably fall into patterns and routines and rely on the same handful of recipes to keep us fed with minimal effort. But what happens when those recipes start to get tired and we complain to ourselves and our loved ones along the lines of “I just don’t want to cook!”?
One answer is to go to Brantley’s book.
For the past eight years, she’s been thinking about how to set people up for success when they don’t feel like cooking, asking herself, “How can I still enjoy great food and what steps can I take?” She feels too many recipes have been overwritten, which makes her wonder, “Do I really need those extra scallions?” when looking at a recipe for dinner.
“We have to distance ourselves from that; we are all burned out,” she says.
There is a fine line for her. The book isn’t about opening a lot of canned goods or jars of sauce, but she does recognize that there is a time and place for that style of cooking and eating. Instead, it’s about how to focus on food that’s fresh but doesn’t take much time.
“I think there’s a default setting for convenience foods, but I say, you know what convenience foods are? Baby spinach. It cooks in 30 seconds. Grape tomatoes. You don’t have to do anything with them. I don’t think canned soup mixes are convenience foods. ,’ she says.
The book starts with a few time-saving tips and instructions before diving into 100 recipes that she calls “simple, but real.” There’s a focus on using crossover ingredients that are easy to find wherever you shop, such as baby spinach, grape tomatoes, and shredded cabbage.
There is also an emphasis on building flavor in simple yet effective ways. There is no 30-ingredient chili in this book; instead, most recipes have a dozen ingredients or less, and each ingredient does a specific job of fully flavoring the dish.
Things like lasagna soup, which has everything there is to love lasagna and cuts the massive prep time to 30 minutes without taking away the rich, cheap comfort of the dish.
Some of these recipes feel like no-brainers. There’s a fried egg sandwich and nachos with black bean leaf pan – both things that at first glance don’t seem to need any special recipes. But part of the charm of this book is how it helps your brain when it’s stuck — as is the case with the shrimp, pea, and pesto pasta recipe.
It all cooks in one pot – the shrimp and peas added during the last minute of the pasta cooking. After the water has been drained, the whole dish is poured over with pesto sauce. The end of the recipe offers substitutions or ideas for next time. Sub-grape tomatoes for peas, squeeze some lemon for more acidity, toss in a can of white beans for more protein. Once you start thinking about how things can cook together, your brain starts using ingredients and unlocking new ideas.
There are also recipes for breakfast, lunch, salads, soups, desserts and even side dishes, for almost any time you look in your cupboards and think, “No! Nothing edible here.”
I love the whipped feta dip that mixes the salty cheese with Greek yogurt, lemon, salt, oregano, and red pepper flakes, whirled in a food processor along with olive oil. It’s rich and spicy, a perfect dip for raw vegetables or crackers, or spread over shredded rotisserie chicken in a wrap.
Brantley says her goal for readers is to have “three to five more new weapons in their arsenal for dinner or a snack.” It’s a small goal, but sometimes that’s all we need.
Whipped Cream Feta Dip
Use your food processor to prepare a healthy and tasty vegetable dip in 5 minutes, from start to finish (including cleanup time!). This spicy feta cheese-based dip can be made ahead of time and served chilled. It’s a great companion for all fresh vegetables such as cucumber rounds, carrots, peppers, broccoli, celery, cauliflower, snow peas and more. For crunch, serve with pita bread.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
8 ounces Greek feta cheese, broken into pieces
3/4 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
Zest of 1 medium lemon
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1⁄4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1. Add feta, yogurt, lemon zest and salt to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “S” or cleaver.
2. Turn on and slowly drizzle in 2½ tablespoons of oil while the food processor is running.
3. Use a spatula to transfer the mixture to a serving platter and top with the remaining ½ tablespoon oil, oregano, and red pepper flakes.
Per portion: Calories: 140 | Fat: 12g | Sodium: 340mg | Carbohydrates: 2g | Fiber: 0g | Sugar: 2g | Protein: 6g
— Excerpt from “The Book ‘I Don’t Want To Cook'” by Alyssa Brantley. Copyright ©2022 by Simon & Schuster Inc. Photos by Kelly Smith. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Lasagna Soup with Italian Sausage, Fresh Basil and Grated Parmesan
Homemade lasagna is a true labor of love. With this easy lasagna soup, you get all the flavor and goodness of homemade lasagna, but without all the work. Make a batch about 30 minutes ahead of time and impress your family with a dinner they will absolutely love.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Active cooking time: 10 minutes
Cooking time without hands: 15 minutes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon Italian herbs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound bulk uncooked mild Italian sausage
1 (28-ounce) can unsalted crushed tomatoes, including juice
1 (14.5-ounce) can unsalted diced tomatoes, including juice
8 cups low-sodium chicken stock
pound uncooked lasagna noodles, broken into small pieces
16 ounces full-fat ricotta cheese
8 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
8 teaspoons thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1. Heat a large stockpot over medium heat. Once hot, add oil, onion, garlic and spices. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Add the sausage to the pan and continue cooking for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and loosening the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula, until most of the pink is gone.
3. Add crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes and stock. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil.
4. When it boils, add lasagna noodles. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Gently stir in the ricotta until well incorporated.
5. Serve with Parmesan cheese and basil.
Per portion: Calories: 532 | Fat: 3g | Sodium: 1,730 mg | Carbohydrates: 37g | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 6g | Protein: 24g
— Recipes taken from “The ‘I Don’t Want to Cook’ Book” by Alyssa Brantley. Copyright © 2022 by Simon & Schuster Inc. Photos by Kelly Smith. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.