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Lessons for the Lazy and/or Recipe-Impaired Cook, plus 3 More Side Dishes

December 28, 2011 by Joan Nova in Holidays, Side Dishes, Techniques, Vegetables | 20 Comments

Um…yup, that would be me…lazy and recipe-averse.

For Christmas Day dinner I made an exception and purposefully selected 3 published recipes to ‘follow’. The word follow is accented because it never seems to turn out that way…

Most readers know that I don’t follow recipes. Not even my own. I did years ago, but I’ve been cooking for a long time…these days I really get my culinary kicks from the personal development of a dish. Yes, I look at published recipes. Every single day, in fact, when I visit my blogging colleagues. It’s become a ritual that gives me joy and feeds my soul, just as surely as food feeds my belly. I also occasionally do a recipe search because I already have an idea of what I want to do but perhaps am not sure of a technique or quantity, especially if it involves flour. :(

Christmas Day dinner was at my son’s house. They planned to make turkey and ham, among other things, so I offered to bring 3 vegetable sides.  Jim requested one of them be twice-cooked smashed potatoes…and then added that Julie really likes brussels sprouts. So, my direction was fairly clear — and because I like a balanced and color-coordinated plate, I quickly identified butternut squash as the third dish.

I found 3 recipes online that looked interesting — and I learned a few lessons.

I am a lazy cook.
I’m ye of little patience.
I am weak-handed,
and I’m not all that skilled with a peeler.

The personal traits I was already well-aware of. They’re nothing to brag about (for sure!) and not necessarily worthy of a post. But, there is a lesson to be learned here and perhaps the various work-arounds I made to the recipes might be interesting to readers.

Lesson 1: Before you start cooking, stock your kitchen with a little common sense, a dash of instinct, a measure of problem-solving, and a heap of flexibility. Kick fear and rigidity out the door!

Mashed Butternut Squash and Pears

This recipe is a keeper. It’s mild-flavored; yet, surprisingly, forward with the taste of roasted pears and vanilla.

However, it does not have to be as difficult as published. I altered it from the gitgo because:

(a) I could not halve the 3 large butternut squash I bought.
(b) I could not (would not try further to) peel the squash before they went in the oven*.
(c) I used about the same quantity of ingredients for the butter sauce for 3 butternut squash as was noted for 1 and did not find it wanting. Instead of 2-1, I used 5 pears.

Adaptation. I roasted the squash (skin on) for about 40 minutes or so until they could be easily halved. At that point I added the pears and picked up with the recipe, brushing with the butter, ginger, vanilla mix and returning it to the oven.

[Texturally and size-wise, it did not make sense to me to put the pears in at that same time the squash first went in the oven.]

When they were properly cooked, I removed them from the oven and scooped the flesh out of the-delicious-skins which were caramelized from the butter and sugar and crispy at the edges!

Lesson: *OMG, I would have missed this wonderful cook’s treat if I had peeled them. I glommed the skin nibble by nibble.

The flesh was mashed with the pears but instead of giving it the final dousing of butter sauce and serving immediately, I refrigerated it in a serving dish and warmed it up at the party with a generous sprinkle of fresh nutmeg, black pepper and a few dabs of butter as shown above.

Whether I’m carrying out or entertaining at home,
I never choose stove-to-table dishes.

I prefer to prepare in stages…and it’s generally doable and easy easier.
(The added bonus is all the pots and mess are cleaned and cleared before serving.)

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Topping

The idea to follow a very tasty recipe for brussels sprouts slaw from blogging faves White on Rice Couple ended relatively quickly.

Once I started coring and shaving the brussels sprouts, I realized that:

(a) they’re not that easy to shave and, more importantly,
(b) coring them would greatly diminish the yield.

Lesson: Be flexible. You have to be able to think standing on one foot, meaning ‘adapt to the circumstance’. I had brussels sprouts and all the ingredients, but I changed direction at the last minute.

Since I had already cored and shaved  a half-dozen, I put them to the side and then halved the rest which I roasted with crumbled bacon, sundried tomatoes, chopped almonds, olive oil (garlic-steeped) and dry herbs/seasonings. When they were cooked, I drizzled a little balsamic syrup and tossed them.

The slaw would have been a different side dish for our family, but I knew this would taste equally good. It did!

I fried the shredded brussels sprouts with seasoned panko crumbs, the zest of a whole lemon zest and then mixed in the bacon, almonds and sundried tomatoes that cooked with the sprouts and used it as a topping.

Lesson: Prepare in advance but keep separate. After brussels sprouts have been heated, add the topping.

Twice-Cooked Smashed Potatoes as Tostones

This recipe was pretty much foolproof. Easy instructions and easy to do in advance. Before the final baking at very high heat, I doused the smashed potatoes with a mojo sauce made of olive oil, mashed garlic, salt, lemon juice and herbs which gave them a little bit of a Latin flair.

(question) So how lazy a cook are you?
(Me) I’m so lazy that…

I’m returning a pasta machine I got for Christmas.

I’m tempted to keep it, you all know how much I love pasta but…
I hate the mess of anything associated with flour.
…almost as much as I hate the mess from hot oil deep frying.

[Say what you will. We all have our quirks.]

I hope everyone had a lovely holiday.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and delicious 2012! 

NOTE: Some recipes found on FOODalogue are offered without ingredient quantities. They're meant as a guide to food pairings and techniques to be experimented with … in your own kitchen … to your own spice and taste levels … to your preferred portion sizes … and to however many people you’re cooking for. A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!


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  1. Eleanor Hoh says:

    I’m right there with you on the ‘recipe-impaired’ cook, Joan! You hit it on the head on all points!!! Sorry with exclamation marks. The squash skin is so tough to peel, so cooking first helps but of course, eating it is even better. Your double smashed tatties look divine, must try that except we don’t really eat carbs. Next time you’re in Miami, gotta stop at Sakaya Kitchen for their famous honey, ginger brussel sprouts, toasty and yummy. Yours looked exceptional. You have your head on when it comes to ‘following’ recipes.

  2. Ivy says:

    Reading through your post, I found a lot of elements about yourself which reminded me of myself:) Love all your side dishes but I am in love with butternut squash. I broke my favourite knife the last time I attempted to cut one to roast. Now I have one more waiting to be roasted. I have some leftover apple sauce which your post inspired me to combine.
    Ivy recently posted..Vassilopita TsourekiMy Profile

  3. I’m with you there….I read a lot of recipes, and then I come out with my own…at least, if I’m disappointed, I’ll say: “my fault”
    Being a “girl from the Pampas” I find your squash and pears delicious !!
    All the blessings possible for you and your family in 2012!
    Cristina, from Buenos Aires to Paris recently posted..Rosé Champagne Sorbet, or When My Daughters Take Over…..( Yes, I’m a Proud Mother!)My Profile

  4. I most definitely prescribe to the “be flexible” idea. I don’t think I’ve ever created a great recipe from being flexible, but I’ve sure made my life easier in the meantime.
    Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen recently posted..There’s no place like home for the holidaysMy Profile

  5. That why we are friends, amiga…so much in common.
    Platanos, Mangoes & Me! recently posted..Christmas Dinner for Friends – Salmon en CrouteMy Profile

  6. I loved this post as it spoke right to my heart. Like most seasoned cooks, recipes inspire me to do my own thing and, unless baking, I never really use them–EXCEPT when I teach classes, then I have to have something in hand for my cooks to go by once they return home.

    Nice post. Nice recipes.

  7. Robin Sue says:

    Well you already know that I am a lazy cook too, always looking for shortcuts. This is why I love the way you cook, almost by instinct and emotion. If you were to make all of those dishes again I bet you would make them differently with all new twists! I would love to cook with you someday Joan! The best advice you ever gave, I think it was on an interview you had done, was saying a dish is never done because it is cooked- it could always use a splash of good olive oil or some zest. That final touch adds so much to a dish. I will treasure that advice forever! Have a very Happy New Year and I look forward to seeing more of your inspirations.
    Robin Sue recently posted..Crab PizzaMy Profile

  8. I’m with you, Joan on the make as much as possible ahead of time idea when entertaining etc…I can’t handle visiting and cooking anymore anyway – unless it is a cooking together session with no pressure!
    Great sides – again!
    :) Valerie
    A Canadian Foodie recently posted..Food Trends 2012 Part Four: Local (Edmonton) Food Bloggers and WritersMy Profile

  9. Jamie says:

    Ah, I have little patience when it comes to cooking and I could do these 3! Each side dish looks really, really delicious! Mmmm! Your holidays sound pretty wonderful! Happy New Year!

  10. Marie says:

    I love the way you cook Joan and I so can relate! The word “recipe” gives me the chills! I use to love your disclaimer you had on your blog, I need to do that. Those brussel sprouts look amazing as well as everything else you create. Have a fantastic 2012 Joan!

  11. If only people cooked more like this! Fantastic approach Joan…thank you for all the inspiration!

  12. Lori Lynn says:

    Terrific post Joan. You and I are lot alike on the recipe thing. Seems ironic when I have sooo many cookbooks, they all inspire me!
    But, just yesterday I decided to do a post a month from a recipe from each of the 5 new cookbooks I received for Hanukkah/Christmas. Stay tuned, we’ll see…
    Wishing you a wonderful New Year!
    Lori Lynn recently posted..Crispy-Skin Cod, Ginger Braised Bok ChoyMy Profile

  13. Joyti says:

    Haha…I’m not very skilled witht the peeler either.
    Those all sound delicious.

  14. Rosa says:

    What lovely recipes! Really mouthwatering. I also love developping my own recipes and improvizing in the kitchen.

    Happy New Year!



  15. Love the butternut squash dish and the brussel sprouts! love these simplified versions that still retain so much flavor and interest.
    tasteofbeirut recently posted..Pumpkin kibbeh balls (Kibbeh la’teen)My Profile

  16. All great lessons! It’s one of the things I love most about cooking – the way we have to adapt to different situations. The more seasoned you are the less this happens, but I love a good challenge ;-) Happy New Year to you!

  17. Mary says:

    Your side dishes sound wonderful to me. Particularly the sprouts. I hope you had a wonderful holiday and that 2012 brings only good things your way. Blessings…Mary

  18. giz says:

    I would be happy to serve any one of these dishes. I’m so lazy I completely stopped peeling squash and buy it at Costco already peeled and cubed.
    Remember that incredible brussel sprout and ponzo dish we had in San Fran two years ago?
    giz recently posted..Camarones Fritoes with Mexican Cocktail SauceMy Profile

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