What Makes Something a “Keeper?”

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).

2 cups pineapple juice
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 pork tenderloin (about 11/4 pounds)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup hoisin sauce, plus extra for serving
8 dinner-size potato rolls, split
4 scallions (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced on the diagonal
Magic Miso-Mayo (recipe below)
Sriracha or hot sauce of your choice

Put a gallon-size resealable plastic bag in a medium bowl to hold it steady. Add the pineapple juice, garlic, and pork. Seal the bag, pressing out any excess air, and turn it over a few times to coat the tenderloin. Marinate in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours (or at room temperature for up to 1 hour), turning the bag over once or twice, if possible.

Preheat the oven to 400°F, with a rack in the middle position. In a medium ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Remove the tenderloin from the marinade, pat dry, then season with salt and pepper. Add the tenderloin to the pan and cook until golden brown all over, about 6 minutes total.

Off the heat, brush the top half of the tenderloin with half the hoisin sauce. Put the pan in the oven and roast for 8 minutes. Turn the tenderloin over, brush the top half with the remaining hoisin sauce, and roast until almost cooked through, but still pink, about 6 minutes more. (See page 91 for information on pork cooking guidelines.) Transfer the tenderloin to a cutting board and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Cut the pork into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Serve with the rolls, extra hoisin sauce, scallions, Magic Miso-Mayo, and Sriracha, and let everyone assemble their own sliders.

Magic Mis0-Mayo (makes about 1/2 cup)
In a small bowl, stir together 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon white miso paste, and a squeeze of lime juice until smooth. Check the seasonings. The Magic Miso-Mayo will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks.

I’m giving away a copy of Keepers to a random commenter below. Deadline is Wednesday morning at 10:00 am. Winner must live in the 48 contiguous states. Good luck! Update: The winner (Joanna, #72) has been alerted! Thanks for playing everyone! 

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311 Comments

Amanda

I’m not kissing your tush when I say this, but your book is always going to be a ‘Keeper’ to me. That said, if this book (which sounds amazing) gets your vote of approval, then I definitely would LOVE a copy!

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Jesse

keepers are the only way to plan a week of meals. they keep my boys happy enough so i can try out things like cauliflower crust pizza with minimal snark.

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Lilly

have the book in my shopping cart so its coming home one way or another. and i love your blog!

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Liz R.

What a fantastic idea for a cookbook. I’m in the market for a few more “keepers” to add to the rotation.

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Lindsay Ann

I would love this book. I’m impressed that the sample recipe really is easy, made with readily available ingredients, and yet isn’t something I would think of on my own.

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nepoconnell

Miso makes anything magic, in my opinion. But will definitely try these yummy-sounding sliders!

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Liz

I love the cover of the book. Your website is a go to place for week night recipes, I’m sure this book is a great source too!

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Reynaul

Books looks awesome and so does the above recipe, just might be having this for dinner tonight! Thanks!

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Olivia

“Is it a keeper?” is heard weekly at my dinner table and how my family decides whether we’ll eat a dish again. Love!

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Jules

Looks like a great book! Who doesn’t like “keeper” recipes?! Thank you for the cookbook raffle!

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Kerry

I enjoy the 5 characteristics of Keepers, especially consideration for my wine drinking ability!

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Lynn-Holly

This book sounds marvelous! I am newly married and new to the kitchen. I love discovering new go-to recipes.
My husband and I just got married 3 weeks and 3 days ago, and neither of us knew how to cook much beyond scrambled eggs!

I check your blog every day for new recipes. (and because I like the way you write!) A book full of new, go-to recipes would be a fabulous addition to my husband’s and my tiny apartment.

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Ms. Morgan Leigh

I would love a copy of this cookbook. Thank you for offering the contest and sharing the book!

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M

Great post. I love tons and tons of your recipes, but there are 2 that have been such keepers for me that I don’t know how I did without them before. In cooler months it’s your chili (can be made ahead of time, great for a crowd or also just immediate family, freezes great, can go over potatoes or rice or fritos scoops or nothing at all, it’s healthy and amazingly delicious). In warmer months, it’s your yogurt grilled chicken,which has completely renewed grilled chicken for us.

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Kate

I love absolutely everything about the idea of this book! Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy! THANKS for the giveaway!!

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Candice

This book sounds so good I just put a hold on it in our local library. It would be nice not to worry about dripping delicious things on the pages if I won it… ;)

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Susan

Having just lost my fridge, and all that was in it, this recipe gives me hope for a delicious dinner in the midst of tragedy!
Thanks for sharing!

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Sarah

This book looks fantastic! And it’s $10 as a kindle – so if I don’t win, I can still add it to my collection without too much pain.
PS Pretzel chicken – a definite keeper.

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Tracy Boxeth

I love cooking dinner for my family even more with a little help:) Thanks for the chance to win this book!

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Kate @ Savour Fare

This has been on my Amazon wish list forever. Don’t forget the kid taste vicissitudes … One day, they’re happily scarfing down scrambled eggs/mac and cheese/turkey sandwiches/hummus and the next it’s anathema – I HATE scrambled eggs/mac and cheese/turkey sandwiches/hummus.

Drives me batty.

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Maria Tadic

I love keepers! Especially when it’s simple, uses only a few pots and I can make it ahead. Generally a keeper for me is when my husband is totally silent thru dinner and then says “this has to get into the weekly rotation!”

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Tiffany Boyd

I was literally just looking at this book on amazon! I was debating on whether or not to buy it! How funny! I actually have a spreadsheet of keepers on my google drive for quick reference when I am stuck on dinner ideas.

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Kristen

Your fish cakes are a keeper! We use that term lovingly- for all of our beloved, family friendly dishes. Book looks great.

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Elizabeth K.

Love the concept of this cookbook, and with 4 kids under 8, I COMPLETELY understand picky eaters and trying to please everyone. I ended up making a lot of deconstructed meals.

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Natalie Moffett

Love the title and have thoroughly enjoyed your website since discovering it a few months ago!

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illana

Oh, if I could have a repertoire of 10-12 keepers, how “4pm-6pm” might forever be different! And maybe my kids would eat a bit more fish. :-) thanks

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KateYB

I’ve been struggling to get dinner on the table since going back to work after having my first baby. These keeper tips are great! I’d love to get my hands on the full cookbook.

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Sharon Macklin

Love the reasons the recipes are a keeper! The tricky balance between flavor and keeping it simple.

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Janie

Yum! Those sliders look delicious! Will be trying them soon. Would love to win a copy of the book :-)

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Allison

I love the idea of this cookbook. I cannot figure out an easy way to keep up with the recipes that I find online that are ‘keepers.’ Really want to try your pretzel chicken!

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Heather

What a great book! It seems like most of my “Keepers” come straight from the DALS cookbook.

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Kim Newton

i have a binder of ‘Keepers’ that get pulled from magazines, printed from websites or torn from cookbooks. It’d be great to have an entirely new book of Keepers!

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michelle rosecrans

Sounds like a…wait for it… keeper! Just gave a copy of DALS to my daughter’s teacher as a wedding gift, so obviously we trust you guys implicitly!

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Abby

My boyfriend always complains I use too many dishes :)

For marinating I like to put the marinade in the ziplock bag the night before, then all I have to do in the morning is throw the meat in too. No measuring before the first cup of coffee hits!

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Lisa A

Now that school is back in session, I need to add to my Keeper dinner list. I’d love a copy!

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HeyBeckyJ

That recipe looks delicious! And since I’m always on the lookout for easy dinner ideas, I will definitely be checking this book out during my next trip to the bookstore.

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Katie Rose

I just ‘pinned’ Keepers to my pinterest this morning and then saw it on here! I grew up in a keepers-only family so I’m naturally drawn to this book. But it’s also why I love your site (and your book) – I can mix things up and find new keepers for my new family.

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Liz

DAL has been the source of so many keepers for my family already! This book would be such a welcome addition to our arsenal. Anything that helps us put good, healthful, and non-stressful home cooking on the table night after night is so appreciated!

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Jen W

Whenever someone at the dinner table utters, “This is a keeper”, I am overjoyed. To have an entire cookbooks of “keepers” would be a dream.

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Jen

I definitely need some of these keepers and, if I don’t win a copy of this book I just might *gasp* BUY a copy for myself! These pork sliders look really good and I can actually pull that off on a weeknight.

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Allison

I’m marinating this now!! Thanks for the dinner idea…I’m can’t wait to read more recipes.

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Heather

This is a great recipe to break me out of my current rut. Keepers are so hard to come by around here…

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Liz

Oh, how I’m waiting for one of my girls to grow into a braver eater! I am looking so forward to family dinners that don’t involve whining or the limited repertoire of a picky preschooler!

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Mary

My rotation of “keepers” still changes, as my kids go through phases of what they like and don’t like, so I would love additional inspiration. Love this!

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Jess

i was reading your description of the book and i thought, i might enjoy this cookbook just as much as i love DALS. hope i win! thank you!

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Stephanie

I couldn’t agree more that a “Keeper” is a recipe that is easy to make after work while drinking a glass of wine! The glass of wine is critical.

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Melissa SH

Just this morning I took a Trader Joe’s frozen port tenderloin out of the freezer to defrost- now I know what to do with it. Thanks!

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Carrie

Would love to see it. The other challenge is when the quirky tastes/requirements of the said kiddos change. frequently. Alas…we keep trying!

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Leslie

Book looks amazing! I’m in a dinner rut (these seem to happen frequently) and could use some inspiration.

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Amber

Always looking for new keepers. Until recently when you asked my son what he wanted for dinner it was always Taco’s. He recently made a huge leap and added Burrito Bowls to our keeper list.

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Danielle

We call them “family-favorites” at our house, and with 4 kids and two adults they are few and far between. I could use some more!

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Lisa de.

Sounds perfect for a mom of three teenage girls who is also a full time kindergarten teacher and after school tutor.

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Grace

If Jenny likes it, it goes on my list of cookbooks to check out! Struggling to get back into the swing of school, and Keepers would definitely provide some much needed inspiration! Thanks for the chance to win.

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pallavi

im all about the ease of ingredients – i don’t have time to locate sumac! give me a substitute!

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Tara

Ooh, with a 1yo who will eat almost anything and a 3yo that will eat almost nothing, these sound like the perfect recipes!

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Shannon

Ooh I’d love this book; with three kids age six and under we are always on the hunt for “keepers”!

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Sarah

Today is the first day of kindergarten for my 5 year old twin boys and first day at a new daycare for my 2 year old little girl… needless to say, this past weekend my husband and I have been frantically trying to get our family dinners in order for the coming week. This book would be a fantastic addition to our fairly boring set of keepers that we currently have that our kids will eat.

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Cindy

Trying to cook more meals from scratch, and DALS (book and blog) has been a huge help! This Keepers cookbook sounds right up my alley, too. Thanks for the giveaway.

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erinn johnson

Dishes like these are called make-again in our house. It must receive four smiling faces and two thumbs up from each of the kids.

Thanks for the giveaway!

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Mollie White

AHHH! I would totally love to win this… I need some… well… keepers. Some DALS keepers: Chicken pot pie, pork ragu, burritos, and that indonesian chicken salad! Actually the bean burritos are on the menu this week!

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Maria

I love that triumphant feeling when you have tested a new recipe and determined it to be a “keeper!”

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Jorena

If I don’t win, I’ll try to borrow a copy from the local library. Your mention of Japanese meat and potatoes piques my interest.

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Missfrizzly

I’d love to win this book – always looking for new, easy ideas to make for weeknight dinners!

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Stacie

Read this post out loud to my foodie kiddos at dinner. They’ve decided to take a more active role in meal planning this year and we’d love a copy of Keepers!

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Denise

I love keeper meals! They’re the tried and true family favorites that my grown-up kids request when they return home.

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Leigh

Love the cover of your book especially the font. Would love to win a copy of the book because could use some new ideas for weekday meals.

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Leigh

Love the cover of your book especially the font. Would love to win a copy of the book because I could use some new weeknight meal ideas.

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Leigh

Love the cover especially the font. Would love to win a copy of the book because could use some new weekday meal ideas.

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Leigh

Love the cover of the book especially the font. It would be great to win the book because I could use some new week day meal ideas.

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Caryn

Thanks for the intro to both Keepers and Devil & Egg. I know I can trust your recommendations and can’t wait to fix the sliders.

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Kim

Ooh! This book would be such a lovely help for starting off our school year. Thank you for the opportunity!

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Jennifer

After looking at the slider recipe, I immediately checked to see if my library has this book so I could put it on hold: They don’t! I requested that they purchase it.

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renej

OMG, my daughter and I were having a conversation about “keepers” over dinner tonight! I’ve been cooking for a million years and I have few keepers ’cause I can’t pass up a new recipe. Every week! Three new ones on a weekend! Makes me crazy :) I’d love this book!!
Thanks for the opportunity to win.

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Stacey

I just heard myself gasp at the idea of this book. My gosh, this is something I NEED on my shelf. Next to DALS and T4D, of course.

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M

I started this post and before I finished it I requested it from the library. It would be nice to own a copy.

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Ellie

Sounds like a great cookbook! I’ve been documenting my “keeper” recipes lately and I’d love to add some new ones.

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Natalie

Your meal plan last week saved our family during the back to school craze this week. I came to DALS today praying to find another weeks plan and was pleasantly surprised to find Keepers! And bookmark another great foodie site :)

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Ashley

I’d love to win this. I’m always on the lookout for “keepers” and totally agree with the list here. At my house a keeper is anything that can be made with little concentration as a toddler is clinging to my knees. Bonus points if it’s delicious. Extra bonus points if I can make it all in one pan/pot/skillet!

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Laura

I was just thinking about this topic the other day! I was giving my parents a hard time because they made the same handful of things over and over again for years and to my knowledge, none of the kids in my family liked any of it! (My parents made us eat it anyway.) There are just two of us in my little family now, but I’d love to develop a collection of “keepers” to use now and in the future.

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Meghan Adair

oh ho ho, would I love to win this book! As soon as I read the title I said to my husband, “I have got to get this book,” so either way we’re going to end up with it ;)

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Diane

It would be great to find more Keepers that my 6 and 8 year olds will like – thanks for the opportunity!

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Sarah

I’m super excited about the chance to win a copy of Keepers (which I recently heard about through my library friends!), but I’m even more excited about trying out that pretzel chicken recipe! I’ve never seen it here before and I’m ready to test it out!

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Elena

You know why I love to cook for my family (currently husband and a 3 year old…baby will be joining the table soon)? It’s when my 3 year old asks me what’s for dinner, then proclaims “yum, that’ll be delicious” and then asks to help with cooking. She’s mean on the whisk and a pro at dressings. Thanks for all your recipes and great writing.

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Kerry F

With 2 young, very picky eaters to feed every night, I would gladly welcome this book into my cookbook rotation. The best days for me are the ones where my boys ask me to make a dish for them a second time! I bet this book would help deliver more dayslike that! :)

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Elizabeth RC

I was just thinking about this! How am I going to get a few tried and true recipes in my bag of tricks to feed my four year olds. And here you are to the rescue!

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tonpia

Dear lord, I need this. I use DALS as my training manual for family cooking and have done pretty well with it; adding this to my current 2 cookbook repertoire would really round out my collection.

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Abbie

Sounds like a great book! It has the same characteristics of your recipes, which is why I keep coming back here.

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Melissa F

I can’t tell you how timely this post is! I am soon to “inherit” a family and need to figure out how to cook for more than just me!

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--anu

We have reached a period that most keepers are falling or already fell out of the rotation purely because they have been made too many times. I find that a keeper can stay in rotation max three years, then it is fazed out. Maybe this is my chance to build up a new repertoire. Also, my daughter is finally exiting the picky phase at age of 8. Exciting new horizons await!

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Britta

I would love this cookbook! I need some more keepers right now with a new house, a 2yr old, and a bay on the way

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tenely

My keepers are getting stale and getting kicked out of the rotation. This cookbook sounds great!

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Kelly

Oo0h- I hope I win! Lord knows I could use some more keepers around here! My 5 year old refused BUTTERMILK BLUEBERRY PANCAKES for dinner last night. What?

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Cay

I definitely need to add a few more keepers to our rotation. And although of course DALS (blog or book) is one of the first places I turn when meal planning, another resource is always great!

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Simone

My college student’s budget doesn’t leave much extra for new cookbooks, but this one looks like a keeper :)

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Emily

oh pick me! also, we made DALS bourbon marinated pork tenderloin with grilled peaches last week and my husband loved it! wouldn’t stop talking about that marinade- thanks!

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Tiffany

Oh me me me! Please pick me! In the last year I’ve struggled through anti-veggie, anti-dairy, anti-meat, and anti-anything-mommy-makes phases from my pickiest family ever. This mama needs some new inspiration STAT.

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kristin

would love to try this book! my husband is more high maintenance than a kid when it comes to meals

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Meredith

I told my husband I need this book before I realized you were giving it away!!! Thanks for the chance to win!

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Debbie

The challenge for our family, however, is that the keepers are a moving target–the kids change, their tastes change, and something tried and true for years begins to go uneaten… so frustrating!

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Susan

I love this title and am so excited to read the other recipes inside. I’m a single woman and I need keepers for myself- to make when I am exhuasted and just don’t want to think too hard but need a good hearty meal!

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Mary Brady

Stumbled upon this and couldn’t help but keep thinking of how delicious this would be tomorrow for date night at home! MMM..I am thinking that it’s no longer a question, but I’m gonna HAVE to make it now :P Nice post!

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Michelle

So the writer of DALS (which is basically the only cookbook I use anyomore) recommends this? I’m in!

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Diane L.

Hey, your Chicken and Artichoke stew is a keeper in my house, and I definitely could use some more. Looks wonderful.

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Claudia

Ah, hoisin sauce… We just moved to Kosovo and let me tell you, hoisin sauce is nothing that is easily (or at all?) found here. I’m having to revise all my go-to recipes because many ingredients are elusive or not available at all. Rye flour? Red beans? Maple syrup? My cooking is going to become really simple! But I can always look for inspiration, no?

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Bonnie Gibson

Oh man, I am making this recipe with pork loin in the freezer this week! And, I can’t wait to look through this book since I am currently building my family’s (2 1/2 year old and 6 month old) list of keepers!

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