on November 17, 2013
I'm a bit of a cookbook maven, so have thought about what makes a great cookbook. Keepers gets an "A' on all five of my categories.
First, of course, it has to have well-written recipes for dishes that I would actually make. While Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook is beautiful and descriptive, realistically I'm not making too many recipes from it. Keepers on the other hand, has dozens of recipes that I will or have already made. The instructions are very clear, and the authors provide ideas for modifications. The range of recipes is impressive, and all are written with families in mind. Let me be clear though - these recipes have actual FLAVOR. My 11-year-old daughter actually licked the sauce off the saute pan that I cooked one of the fish recipes in.
Second, a great cookbook is fun to actually read. I don't just want a list of recipes - I can get that by searching epicurious.com. A great cookbook should be just like a novel - you look forward to finding the time to sit down and enjoy. Keepers is just that - it's written so well that you don't want to put it down. I "stole" three hours on a Saturday morning to read the book, and still wasn't finished. The style is casual and somehow "intimate" - like you're chatting with your best friend over coffee (or wine). Not your typical hotshot chef cookbook.
Third, a great cookbook teaches you something. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about cooking. I've had a subscription to Cook's Illustrated since its inception. But I learned a bunch of tricks from Keepers (e.g., "glueing" puff pastry to the pan sides for the gorgeous cover-photo dish - it worked!) and I really appreciated the "10 Kitchen Tools Worth the Space" section (how have I lived without a fish spatula all these years - brilliant!) and the list of Flavor-Boosting Staples (what took me so long to buy miso?)
Fourth, a great cookbook has to have a unique point of view. There's only so many Thai cookbooks one can have, and if I receive another braggadocio-filled celebrity tome, I may slit my throat with a 10-inch Wusthof. Keepers discusses real-life cooking; the pressure of having to get dinner on the table EVERY night, the boredom of the same old thing each week, the fear of messing up. The authors give great solutions for these problems and allow us the permission to be imperfect. Oh, and did I mention the recipes have actual FLAVOR?
Finally, a great cookbook has to be laid out well and look good. Of course the photos have to be tempting, but layout is really important when you're trying to find that chicken thigh or the substitution for creme fraiche. Keepers organizes the information the way "normal" people would look for it (e.g., you can look up recipes for those nights when you have to have staggered meals due to soccer and band practice). And for some reason, I just LOVE the feel of the cover - it's like a muted corduroy and it just makes me smile to pick it up (maybe it was chosen to provide "traction" for cooks with always messy fingers?? :-)
Keepers rates on all my "great cookbooks" requirements and I highly recommend it. You'll cook a little differently after reading it, and your family will thank you. I'm giving a bunch of copies for Christmas.
on October 8, 2013
Pasta..mac & cheese and baked fish...Thats all I dared to try and cook and then this book came along and I am making-
Deviled Panko crusted Chicken
Chicken pot pie
Fancy!!!! Yes - Chicken Pot pie can be fancy if you never ever ever baked anything except pre-made frozen meals.
I do consider myself reasonably good Indian cook but never ever got the courage to make anything other than basic pasta, mac and cheese.
I made Deviled Panko crusted chicken first - added more cayenne and black pepper - EVERYTHING cleaned out- I was shocked - If 2/3 kids and my husband likes a recipe - it is a success. I was numb when 4/4 said - "This is great!! when can you make it again" or "what else are you making?" or "chicken pot pie- please..."
I was super duper excited and shipped a book to my best friend-who cooks healthy, steamed, baked, simple recipes and is equally nervous about trying new ingredients and all.
We teamed up (always helps with motivation!!) - since we both had the same book, we decided to cook together. I went and stocked on the basic ingredients that the book uses - dried thyme/tarragon, vinegars, chicken stock etc.
My friend and I picked Chicken Pot pie for our first session - It was a hilarious cooking together. Figuring out, we have to take the dough out to thaw an hour before etc(oops!! mental note to read the recipe completely before we start to cook).
Now both are families are sold - mine cleaned out - i had to bake some fish as the kids cleaned out the potpie, leaving only a bit for dad to taste. I was told to make two pies!!! AWESOME!!
Friend and I got excited and decided on Chicken Milanese. Fennel and Shallots were new to us - We were nervous. The salad turned out really well!! Family is happy again. My little one was so curious peeking over from her little stool, while I was panfrying the chicken. "Wow!! I didn't know you can do that"..Well, neither did I - I said.
"Meatloaf", "Chilli". Seriously...now they think I can make anything and everything.
Too many cooks do not spoil the broth - it was so much fun - we thought we should put our cooking sessions on youtube-they would go viral instantly, as we struggle to figure out the new ingredients and our inefficiencies (or efficiencies) surface. We alternate houses - so we discover more tools/tips cooking together. Sticking with one book helps with the ingredient list/style and also trusting the recipes as you go along.
So...Thank you Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion - This book is a KEEPER!!
Not quite comfortable cooking? Stuck in a rut; always seem to be making the same dishes? Can't think what to make for dinner, again? Overwhelmed? Need help? Need a jump start? If so, and if these are questions you've been asking yourself, this is a cookbook you should consider.
If you are looking to add to your collection of real "keeper" recipes: Those recipes that have stood the test of time; those that are requested by family and friends over and over again; those that have been handed down through generations; those that have your name in the title; those that give you comfort just thinking about them: Well, this book may add a few "keepers" to your list, but overall, I think you'll be disappointed. These recipes are not those kinds of "keepers".
My actual rating of this cookbook is 3.5 stars. I know: I rounded it up to 4 stars--it is not a cookbook I'm going to buy, but it might be perfect for you, and I didn't want to dissuade you from taking a close look at it. My rating came with my realization that I require more from my "keepers" than these two authors who are past-editors of "Saveur" magazine. They just need their "keepers" to taste good and be quick and easy. I've been assembling my own list of "keepers" for a very long time, and I need my "keepers" to be over-the-top AND suitable for week-nights or the harried early day of a family-coming-for-holiday-dinner event. Some of these recipes fall into this category, but most are tweaks on recipes I've seen before in many other cookbooks and websites. So, I think the true value of this book depends on a mix of the experience level and the time schedule of the cook.
There are a lot of helpful tips and suggestions for the less experienced cook. Instructions and ingredient lists are concise and straightforward, easy to follow, and without errors. Page layout is easy on the eyes. The pictures are great and I've not experienced any problems with the recipes I've made. I think my friend--who has grade-schoolers and a job--would thoroughly enjoy this group of recipes, since she doesn't have a lot of cookbooks yet and she is always pressed for time.
AND IF YOU ARE PRESSED FOR TIME, THIS IS WHERE YOU SHOULD STOP READING. I continue with my review just to provide some extra info if you are interested:
If the mention of "Saveur" magazine threw up a red flag in your mind, (As it did for me: I dumped my subscription several years ago because I felt I could not trust a "Saveur" recipe enough to actually make it.), let me reassure you that the mistakes in recipes, in writing, and in general, that seem to cling to Saveur publications are NOT carried over to this book. Since "Saveur" really has nothing to do with this book, it's my opinion that the authors should have hidden the fact that they used to work there....
Take a look at the "Look Inside" feature of this book and be sure to check out the index: It is complete and you can see all the recipes there.
But the "Look Inside" feature won't show you many--if any--recipes, so here is my take one some of the better recipes in this book, and most of them I've seen before. (This is not exactly how the chapters are laid out; it just seemed easier to list my top picks this way)
FISH: Sautéed tilapia fillets that were briefly marinated in OJ, soy sauce and honey. Easy to put together, but the marinade kind of covered up the pure fish flavor: (Probably why they say kids love it...); and miso-glazed salmon--always good.
CHICKEN: Roasted cut-up chicken pieces that were marinated in mustard, paprika, lemon and thyme; boneless thighs dipped in mustard, herbs, cayenne, then panko breadcrumbs, then baked; and one-pot chicken with carrots, celery, leeks and potatoes bathed in apple cider vinegar, olive oil and herbs (you don't need to brown the chicken).
MEAT: Marinated London broil with chimichurri sauce or mustard butter (why choose top round when you can use a flatiron?); beef (tenderloin) stroganoff; stir-fried beef and snow peas; and pork chops braised in a sauce of brown sugar, broth, lemon and rosemary.
EGGS, CHEESE, PASTA, GRAINS: Huevos rancheros (Really? We need another recipe for this?); broccoli and cheddar crust-less quiche; tomato and cheese quesadillas, (definitely does not fall into my "keeper" category); a very simple (too simple) tomato sauce; a creamed tomato sauce with garlic, pepper flakes, heavy cream and parsley; farfalle (bow-tie pasta) with gorgonzola, ham and peas; cheese polenta; couscous, chickpeas, tomatoes and feta; a quinoa salad with lots of raw veggies; and four faro salads for each season of the year (I would have liked more grain recipes--they are so easy.).
SOUP & SALADS: (Another) Italian wedding soup (I was totally put-out by the lack of great soups in this book...); some basic salad ideas (how this fits into the "keeper" I don't know; and iceberg with ranch dressing (It is a nice ranch dressing recipe).
VEGGIES: The vegetable recipes are fairly basic and nothing new. There are detailed tips for roasting them: Simply cooked swiss chard; glazed carrots (butter and sugar); sugar snap peas with radishes and mint; a tomato and zucchini gratin (that is so similar to the ones found in several of my tomato cookbooks); pickled cukes; tomato-bread salad; simple roasted potatoes; and boiled potatoes with lemon, dill and coarse pepper.
So, there it is: It's a nice grouping of recipes for someone who wants a general cookbook; nothing really over-the-top. It kind of reminds me of the old, but tried and true--not tired "Food and Wine" magazine cook books. I used them a lot in my younger days and I can see the value of them.
**I received a temporary 2 month download of this cookbook from the publishers (through NetGalley) in exchange for a review.** So, I've been working with these recipes for a few months now, trying to get a feel for them. I've scrutinized the book, page by page, double-checking ingredient lists, reading instructions and cooking with it.
on January 13, 2014
I love cookbooks, but have a few too many and vowed not to buy any more. Nevertheless, while buying Christmas gift books for others on Amazon, I read the reviews and couldn't pass it up. I have made several of the recipes and all have been fabulous with no alterations. From the carrot-ginger dressing, fajitas with charred tomato salsa (most excellent salsa), green beans with sun-dried tomato pesto breadcrumbs, maple barbecue drumsticks, to tonight's dinner of the jucy lucy turkey burgers, all recipes have been true to their word -- "KEEPERS"! I will keep exploring this book for sure and am so glad I indulged.
on June 14, 2014
First of all let me say i am FAR from a beginning cook:) i have cooked for years, even professionally as a private chef and now i am caring for my 95 year old mother and Am a VERY BUSY COOK! lol
This book has the easiest, BEST fried rice recipe for example... AND the One Bowl Summer Spaghetti is SO simple and brilliant.. and FAST!
Also the fish taco recipe rocks, again for being SO FAST and DELICIOUS!
I am a Big fan of Ina Garten and i feel it's safe to say, if you like her food, you will like the recipes in this book.. but these come together MUCH faster ( AND with a LOT less BUTTA;)
Great book- I had to have it for my collection and HIGHLY recommend it.. ALSO there are some great hints in this book- i am 62 and have years of experience cooking, traveling etc. and there is ALWAYS something NEW to learn, and these two gals showed me a thing or three. It's very creative but uses easy to find ingredients.. i hope they do another one SOON!!
on March 22, 2014
This isn't just a cookbook with pretty pictures, but one that contains recipes I have actually added to my dinner routine, but for everyday weeknights and for entertaining. Some of the recipes are simple, for example pan cooked asparagus, but those are the ones that I've used the most! I recommend it for anyone looking for simple, tasty recipes you can actually make.
on May 13, 2014
So far I've made 4 recipes and they've all been hits with my family. The book is beautiful and the writing and tone are just right. But there are 2 basic elements missing from this book and I can't fathom why…
1. Preparation Time. As a book intended for busy home cooks, why not include the approximate preparation time for each recipe? This has become standard in most other cookbooks of this nature.
2. A Table of Contents that lists ALL the recipes - not just the chapter titles. As someone quickly looking for a good recipe before rushing out to the grocery store, a centralized list of ALL the recipes would be so helpful.
I'm hoping that future versions of this book will include the above items. But even without them, I'm glad I bought this book.
on August 20, 2013
I have somehow amassed quite a cookbook collection and what always shocks me is that so many recipes on cookbooks don't work. Or they call for ingredients that you can't find easily at a grocery store. Or you start making the recipe and halfway through you realize that you need another 12 hours of marinating time.
Keepers has none of that. It's recipes are simple, wholesome, delicious--and, best of all, you can pull most of them off in under 40 minutes. Many are easy takes on dishes people love that are a pain to make. Lasagne? You can pull it off in less than 45 minutes. Broccoli quiche? Just make it without a crust. Most also have fewer than 10 ingredients in the list, so you're not running around like a crazy person or chopping up weird amounts, like 1/2 tsp fresh basil. Hate that!
Best of all, these ladies also give you a million ideas, so you don't need to shop for your dinner, you just need to look in your fridge and see what you have. There salad section is brilliant, as is the section about flavor-boosting pantry staples. The food is modern enough for adults to enjoy, while still be simple enough to not freak out kids.
I wish there were more cookbooks for people like me: a working mom of two kids who loves to eat but doesn't have the hours (or energy) in a day to make a full-on meal happen after a long day. So happy to have this in my hands as the school year starts!
on June 17, 2014
I absolutely love this cookbook. I've never been a great cook, though I can follow a recipe and create a few signature things that people like. But I've never had much confidence or been able to 'whip something up' that tastes halfway decent. Well, I've learned so much from this book about seasoning (wow, a few quick tips and things have actual FLAVOR) and shopping and even some improvising that I feel MUCH more accomplished than before I got it. To the point that I sit down and take the first bite and say, "Ooh, this is really good," as if someone else had cooked it. Believe me, that never used to happen. Almost every single recipe I've tried has turned out absolutely perfect, and the one that didn't is, I suspect, because I did something wrong. These recipes truly are "keepers". None too complicated or obscure, all delicious and creative. I had this book in my 'cart' for months before buying it -- I'm so glad I finally did!
on October 30, 2015
I put off buying this cookbook for a long time, assuming that I was beyond basic cooking. I own quite a few cookbooks, and I really enjoy the process of cooking for family and friends. But let's face it--99% of the time I'm cooking a weeknight dinner, standing over the stove after work. So I purchased the kindle edition of the book, a little skeptical, but looking for some weeknight inspiration. These lades did not disappoint! They really deliver on their promise--weeknight 'keepers' : those dishes that they make over and over again.
I looked back and did a count. We've made over 35 dishes in the book and I can honestly say its the most used in my collection. Some of the 'keepers' we've made: Expat Fried Rice (my go-to now, no more gummy fried rice, Turkey Tacos (a weekly fave), Braised Pork Chops, Salmon in Foil.
Not everything turned out great for us. The Crustless Broccoli Quiche was not a hit (I should have known), and the Sausage and Bean Gratin wasn't loved either. But that doesn't matter. We will continue to work our way through this wonderful book and find new 'keepers'.