What Makes Something a “Keeper?”

September 3rd, 2013 · 311 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef

Keeper. It’s one of the more beautiful words in the language of Dinner. (As in “Yes, dear, this pretzel chicken? It’s a keeper.”) But for anyone who’s cooking for a family,  it’s also one of the more elusive words. Because families are usually made up of kids, and kids are usually made up of really weird genetic coding that makes them say things like “I don’t like pasta” or “the chicken has too much crust” or “I’ve decided I like cows too much so no more beef for me.” And we love them for it. We just don’t love how complicated it makes things at 7:00 on a weeknight.

So how do we optimize our chances of amassing a rotation of Keepers? Well, for starters, we can look to two ex-Saveur editors for advice. Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion (of one of the best food blogs out there, Devil & Egg) have just published a book called — you got it — Keepers. I love that title, but I love the subtitle even more: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen. The book is filled with my favorite kind of recipe: simple and straightforward, with just a little twist that elevates a meal from everyday to special — Asian Pork Sliders with Magic Miso Mayo, Greek Style Fish with Yogurt and Lemon, Skillet Lasagna, Sauteed Tilapia with Citrus-Soy Marinade, Japanese Style Meat and Potatoes that’s made with soy sauce and brown sugar and that is first in line to be cooked when the weather turns a little colder. Kathy and Caroline were nice enough to share a little Keeper Wisdom with us today. Thanks guys — take it away!

The Five Hallmarks of a Keeper
by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion 

Here are the 5 things that we think make a weeknight dinner a KEEPER, and by weeknight dinner we mean that, not only is the dish itself is brag-worthy and tasty, but also all the effort and time that you put into it (including the shopping, prepping, cooking, plating) was minimal, fuss-free, and dare we say, enjoyable. So here goes:

Accessible You can find all of the ingredients at your local supermarket (no ordering a custom blend of za’tar from a rare spice catalog or sourcing white truffle oil). Simple things from your grocery aisle like toasted seeds, lemons, and maple syrup, can turn the ordinary into something extraordinary, without breaking the bank (or forcing you to spend your weekend preserving lemons).

Low Impact After you’re done cooking, your kitchen won’t look like it was hit by a typhoon. Meaning, you didn’t have to use every bowl, pot, and utensil you own to make it, and your family doesn’t silently loathe you when they have to spend an hour doing the dishes.

Flexible It’s fine, actually encouraged, to incorporate leftovers whenever possible: A carton of rice from last’s night’s Chinese take-out, half a rotisserie chicken from the market, odds-and-ends from the vegetable drawer, a stale loaf of bread…all of these things can be transformed into something Keeper-worthy with ingredients like oyster sauce, a tangy homemade chimichurri sauce or carrot-and-ginger dressing, and the toaster.

Make-Ahead There’s always a good chance a recipe will stay in regular rotation if there is some part of it that can be done ahead of time.  Take these Asian Sliders below. It’s a good example of how a few minutes at the start of your day can lead to an extra-tasty dish in the evening. Marinating the tenderloin in a pineapple juice and garlic mixture tenderizes it and imparts a savory-sweet flavor. And then come dinnertime, it’s simple enough to make on autopilot while drinking a glass of wine. That’s a pretty essential hallmark, too: Easy. (Come to think of it, so is the word “Sliders” in any recipe title.)

Homemade The dish is a crowd-pleaser, one that your family and friends ask for time and again. How does this happen? Because you’ve used good ingredients, seasoned it well, and put love into it.  Yes, we know that you can’t always please everyone. Chances are that there’s someone in your family who’s gluten-free, leaning towards vegan, will only eat food that’s beige, or a raging carnivore. But putting something in front of them that you made yourself is a good start.

Asian Pork Sliders with Magic Miso-Mayo
from Keepers
Serves 4

We coat the marinated meat with hoisin sauce, roast it, slice it, then put it on light, fluffy potato rolls with extra hoisin and sliced scallions. Some Magic Miso-Mayo and/or hot sauce are really good, too. You can also serve the pork and fixings in lettuce leaves or on bowls of steamed white or brown rice. If you can’t spare any time in the morning, marinate the pork for as long as you can before cooking (up to an hour at room temperature; any longer and it should be refrigerated). (more…)

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