I am not an instinctive or a particularly knowledgeable cook. Other than for a few pantry sauces I make by rote, I always follow a recipe, trusting the people who put it together to know what they’re doing as far as ratios of seasonings and such. They’re the experts, not me. Also, I am kind of lazy, so if someone else were to mix the seasonings for me, for instance, I would be ok with that.
These qualities became relevant a while back when my editor said, “We have a new line of seasoning mixes. Urban Accents made them for us and they’d be great for sides or, as vegetarians sometimes call them, entrées. Would someone like to make a few and write about them?” I said, “Sure,” feeling this the perfect match of guy, subject and materials.
(My almost-cultish adherence to recipes also presents a novel way to murder me in an insurance scam, or if one were a blog editor who’s tired of my inventing her dialogue and constantly flouting deadlines. Simply insert toxic substances into recipes you give me. It would never occur to me to think, “That seems like a lot of strychnine for a rack of lamb.”)
Initially, my plan was to make two or three sides, but then I drank twelve cups of coffee and, as I would be up late anyway, went a bit Eye of the Tiger. Here’s the sides menu that I ended up preparing:
- Asian Curry and Roasted Carrots
- Parmesan Mediterranean Acorn Squash
- Balsamic & Roasted Onion Brussels Sprouts (Remember when eating Brussels sprouts was a punishment? It’s not anymore.)
- Honey, Ginger and Vanilla Sweet Potatoes
- Herby Dill & Garlic Green Beans
- Manchego & Roasted Garlic Cauliflower (Manchego is a kind of cheese)
- Lime & Jalepeño Cranberry Sauce
Realizing sides are meaningless without mains to give them context, I checked if Urban Accents also makes mains-appropriate seasonings. And they do: Harvest Maple Turkey Glaze and Smoky Peppercorn & Herb Turkey Rub. For these I did not use turkeys. I used chickens, hoping no one would detect my subterfuge. (Wait a minute. I deviated from a recipe. That’s a first. Maybe this is that “breakthrough” my therapist keeps bugging me about.)
Seeing as I was on a roll, I finished by baking a pound of carmelized bacon.
Not much to report on the making of the sides. I prepped and cooked the food according to the concise instructions printed on each seasoning packet. (If you’re literate and can peel and chop vegetables and tell time, you have the necessary skills.)
I was hoping for some excitement from the cranberries, as the instructions include, “…simmer until cranberries burst…” This appealed to my morbid, Grand Guignol sensibilities and I was hoping for some real horrorshow effects. Instead, the cranberries burst lamely with little blorping noises. As chainsaw massacres went, it owed more to Rhode Island than to Texas. In all, a drama-free experience. (If you want some drama, may I recommend Bruce Beresford’s 1980 masterpiece Breaker Morant.)
When each dish finished cooking, I gave it the eye-test, comparing it to the photograph on its package. Everything passed.
Then, needing eaters, I went in search of people wearing buckles on their hats. Finding my neighborhood curiously devoid of Pilgrims, I hauled the food to work, and my co-worker dived into it. The following are some of their reactions.
“All of the food was so delicious. You could have fooled me that all of the dishes were made using store-bought seasonings, because there was so much flavor. I loved that none of them were too salty, which I find to be typical of pre-mixed seasonings. The cauliflower with the manchego and roasted garlic seasoning was perfection. The green beans with the herby dill seasoning and lemon was so refreshing. The sweet potatoes with the honey, ginger and vanilla seasoning was pretty much a dessert in a vegetable – super vanillay. Thank you for feeding me. Please don’t stop.”
“Carrots: My #1 fave. This seasoning tastes so good I was smearing my chicken into it. I want to try this on other veggies. I bought four packets. I may start mainlining it. Slightly sweet, definitely a curry, it has a great balance and worked so well with the carrots. LOVE!”
“The chickens were both very moist and flavorful, although I think the one with the glaze looked more appealing because its skin was a nice golden brown. The chicken with the herb rub didn’t seem smoky to me but it did have a pronounced herby flavor.”
“Green Beans: I like that this was the easiest of the mixes to prepare. It was fabulous! The dill was strong and the flavor was fresh and green. I’d make this all year round. I might try a short roasting after seasoning to get a little char on the beans. Wonder how that would turn out…”
“Sweet Potatoes: My #2 favorite. This is not your grandma’s marshmallow-topped goo. Much more sophisticated flavor with the perfect pop of vanilla. I could barely taste the ginger but the honey was wonderful. I bought two packets so I can make for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
“My favorite side dish was the Brussels sprouts, which were expertly cooked and the seasoning gave them a nice peppery bite. The carrots were tasty and I enjoyed them more than I was expecting, because I am not a big fan of curry. The roasted carrot seasoning has nicely balanced flavors and is not overpowering in either the curry or honey flavors.”
“Turkey Glaze: Um, YES! The flavor was sweet and savory and subtle and it gave the skin the best crunchy texture…the flavor was so good I bought a packet for myself.”
“I don’t like cauliflower but I LOVED this! I think we ate every bit. It made the cauliflower taste like seasoned roasted potatoes. Kind of. I bought two packets of this and will be bringing to Thanksgiving dinner and making for my boyfriend this weekend.”
“My favorites were the Turkey Glaze, Asian Curry & Honey Roasted Carrot and Manchego & Roasted Garlic Cauliflower. The glaze was sweet but not too sweet and kept the meat succulent and falling off the bone – I think I’ll try this on baked chicken wings. The curry I think I’ll try on any meat or veggie, not only carrots, because it had a really good and strong flavor. And the cauliflower wasn’t too cheesy and let the flavor of the cauliflower through.”
“The glazed chicken was so good I wanted to rip all the skin off of it and dip it in the leftover curry sauce from the plate of carrots. Don’t judge.”
“The carrots were roasted to the perfect tenderness – I almost thought they were sweet potato fries! The curry gives them a strong kick, while the honey adds sweetness to create a party on your tongue.”
“I have to say I have never had Brussels sprouts before; I haven’t had a very rough life. I was a little apprehensive, but it was love at first bite. The Brussels sprouts in balsamic and roasted onion seasoning were A-MAZ-ING! I’m happy to put this in writing because my mom will never believe those words came out of my mouth.”
So there you have it. Urban Accents delivered the goods and, if my co-workers’ reactions are any indication, your eaters will go through your sides and mains like Einstein through kindergarten. (But when we tell you to “Drive on in to Sur La Table and buy some today,” please don’t take us too literally.)
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