Cooking a meal can be a relaxing, creative project. It can also become an onerous chore that has home cooks sliding into a boring rut or, worse, ordering expensive and less-than-nutritious takeout.
Alyssa Brantley comes to the rescue with “The ‘I Don’t Want to Cook’ Book,” a collection of 100 easy and tempting recipes that aim to make this essential task fast and relatively painless on those days when the kitchen does not feel like your happy place.
Brantley, creator of the blog Everydaymaven.com, relies on big flavors and what she calls “whole foods, half the time” to create dishes that will tempt the family without stressing the cook. She encourages home cooks to take advantage of healthy convenience foods like shredded cabbage, peeled garlic cloves and rotisserie chicken to eliminate prep time and streamline the dinner hour.
Brantley lives in Seattle but grew up in Philadelphia, and is also a fan of Louisiana food.
“My parents were really into trying food from all over the place,” she said in a phone interview. “My mom explored a lot of different cuisines and flavors.”
“I’ve been to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. I am familiar with the foods, and I really enjoy the flavor.”
One favorite ingredient: andouille sausage.
“Andouille has a lot of flavor, and it adds a lot of complexity to dishes,” she said.
“Something that I started making was seafood boils of different kinds for my family. I started doing a shortcut seafood boil with shrimp, andouille and corn. Seafood and corn on their own are mild and sweet,” she said, and the sausage adds that spicy, smoky taste.
In fact, the most useful chapter in the cookbook might be the one about the main meal. “Dinners That Don’t Take All Day” uses simple, fast-cooking ingredients like shrimp, chicken and fresh or frozen vegetables to compile complete suppers.
“This is how I cook,” said Brantley, the mother of two boys, 12 and 7.
And, she said, “I love flavor. Mediterranean food, East Asian food — those are some of the biggest flavor bombs.”
Ingredients are kept to a minimum. With a handful of spices and sauces that mix and match, cooks can have an arsenal of easy, diverse recipes to whip up on weeknights, she said.
But life is short, so don’t skip dessert. A Five-Minute Whipped Chocolate Mousse is Brantley’s favorite.
Shrimp and Avocado Salad with Sweet Corn
Save time and prep work by using frozen, uncooked, peeled, and deveined shrimp and frozen sweet corn kernels. Boil them together and toss with fresh avocado, red onion, basil and a simple lemon olive oil dressing for a showstopper salad that is practically effortless. This recipe comes together in under 15 minutes. Serves 3.
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound frozen, uncooked, peeled, deveined large shrimp
1 cup frozen yellow sweet corn kernels
½ medium red onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
1 ounce (about 1 cup packed) thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 large avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.
2. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add shrimp and corn. Continue boiling 3–4 minutes until shrimp are cooked through and pink.
3. Immediately drain shrimp and corn and add to bowl with oil mixture. Toss to coat.
4. Add onion, basil and avocado to shrimp mixture. Gently toss to combine and serve immediately.
Korean-Inspired Beef and Rice Bowls with Cucumbers and Kimchi
Combine a simple yet flavor-packed Korean-inspired sauce, ground beef, rice, sliced cucumber, store-bought kimchi, and scallions for a fast and tasty meal that everyone will think is better than takeout. Save time by reheating leftover or frozen rice. If you are feeling extra fancy, sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds on top of the ground beef right before serving. Five minutes prep time, 10 minutes cook time. Serves 4.
¼ cup tamari
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1. To make sauce: In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine all ingredients. Set aside.
1 tablespoon avocado oil
1½ pounds 80% lean ground beef
3 cups cooked white rice, reheated
1 cup store-bought kimchi
1 large English cucumber, cut into ⅛-inch half-moons
2 medium scallions, thinly sliced
2. To make beef: Heat a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add oil and ground beef. Sauté 5 minutes, stirring frequently and breaking up beef with a wooden spoon or spatula, until most of the pink is gone .
3. Pour sauce over beef and continue cooking 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and meat is through cooked.
4. Remove from stovetop. Divide rice, beef, kimchi, cucumber and scallions into four bowls and serve.
5-Minute Whipped Chocolate Mousse
Use your stand mixer or hand mixer to make decadent chocolate mousse in five minutes. Make sure to sift the cocoa powder and powdered sugar for the smoothest texture. If you prefer a dark chocolate flavor, increase cocoa powder to 4 tablespoons and reduce the powdered sugar to 1⁄4 cup. This can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Excellent served with whipped cream on top. Serves oven.
1 cup heavy whipping cream
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
⅓ cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1. Chill a large stainless steel bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer 15 minutes.
2. Once chilled, add cream and vanilla. Whip on medium speed 2 minutes.
3. Add cocoa powder and sugar, and whip 3 more minutes until fluffy and peaks start to form.
4. Cover and refrigerate up to 3 days until ready to serve.
Recipes excerpted from The “I Don’t Want to Cook” Book by Alyssa Brantley. Copyright © 2022 by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Photographs by Kelly Smith. Used by permission.