“Keepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen”
It used to be that people who were too busy to cook had to eat out or “take-in” or settle for frozen foods. But as the shipping and storage of foods became more efficient and the products demanded by consumers became more sophisticated, a wider variety of foods became available in supermarkets.
Recent years have seen the development of a new genre of cookbook that’s best described as “weeknight cooking.” Keepers, by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion, shows a nice understanding that the phrase means more than meals that can be cooked and served up in a hurry.
A handsome unjacketed volume with a wipe-clean cover, Keepers is full of practical advice on planning a five-day-week’s worth of meals. While portions of the book are geared to cooking for a family (with information on shopping with children in tow and which recipes are popular with kids), the recipes are simple but not dumbed-down. This is a book for anyone looking for simple, healthy meals that are easy to prepare at the end of a busy day.
No time estimates are given for any of the recipes, but in reality, the inevitable claims on our time – buzzing phone, pets needing to be fed, squabbling kids to be separated, the arrival of packages or visitors – can make “prep” guidelines of little use. What the authors have done is to simplify technique and use ingredients to get the most flavor from the least amount of work.
Salmon in Foil with Spinach and Cream is an extremely easy recipe that has a surprising amount of flavor. Baked using a French technique called “en papillotte” (meaning “in paper,” for the parchment paper traditionally used), each portion is cooked in an individual foil packet. In its creamy lightly herbed sauce, the salmon, which takes minutes to assemble and only about ten minutes to bake, is a dish you’d be happy to have ordered in a restaurant. Serving it in the foil packets as directed will likely enchant your children, but I removed the foil. On its bed of spinach, drizzled with its sauce, the salmon looked like a meal made for a special occasion.
Braised Pork Chops with Citrus Glaze was another success: browned chops surrounded by onions and garlic, topped with lemon slices and a rosemary sprig, then gently braised. The onions, which did not require browning, softened until meltingly tender. The lemon slices added a touch of piquancy and were so mellowed by cooking they could be eaten rind and all.
The authors are health-conscious without making a fuss. Kale carbonara, tomato soup with quinoa, and a salad made with raw corn, radishes, jalapeno and lime, are appealing and nutritious as well as easy to prepare.
I was skeptical about Smoky Turkey Chili because I’m not a fan of ground turkey. But chopped carrots, onion, and celery made the chili moist and sweet; chipotle chilies in adobo and cumin gave a mellow smokiness, and the addition of tomatoes and beans turned it into chili. With the traditional toppings – avocado, shredded cheese, scallions – it was hearty, healthy, and satisfying.
My only complaint about Keepers is an odd aspect of its design – cooking tips and other useful and interesting information printed in extremely small, fine type on deep green or blue backgrounds, making it very difficult to read. The notes introducing each recipe are in the same small type, but printed on a white page, they are more easily seen.
Fortunately, the recipes themselves are in larger print, easy to read and easy to follow.
You’ll want to spend time flipping through the book and planning meals. Numerous photographs illustrate finished dishes like Roasted Acorn Squash with Jalapeno-Lime Butter or Crustless Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche. Less appetizing is a photo of one of the authors shown cooking by the stove – a pan and bowls next to and behind her – with a dog in her arms, its tail hanging next to the dishtowel at her waist; through no fault of its own, surely the cleanest dog sheds hairs in the kitchen as elsewhere.
But the authors are not preaching cleanliness, they are telling their readers to relax in the kitchen. At the end of the day whether you’re home from the playground or classes or the office — this collection of family-tested recipes can help you do that, while at the same time making a substantial and satisfying meal for your family and yourself.
First published February 2014