We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.
Today: We pick the brains of Kathy Brennan & Caroline Campion, coauthors of the Keepers Cookbook, for their secrets on successful collaboration, the best make-ahead meals, and their current food obsession.
Originally editors at Saveur, Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion joined forces because of their mutual desire to create the cookbook they couldn’t find anywhere -- one filled with “keepers,” recipes that are as consistently tasty as they are appealing on a Wednesday night, when the last thing you want to do is stand, starry-eyed, in the middle of the produce aisle.
Their philosophy is simple: Cooking dinner during the week is doable; meals you can freeze, you should; and the best ingredient is a 4 letter word. No, not wine, but love.
It can be difficult to collaborate in the kitchen. How did you two tackle the challenge of writing a cookbook as a team?
With the exception of the time Caroline locked Kathy in the pantry, the collaboration went great! But in all honesty, although it can be challenging to meld two people’s visions into one book, the benefits of having a partner are innumerable. Writing a cookbook is a huge undertaking, and to have someone share all the work helped immensely, especially when you also have a young family to take care of.
Also, the spirit of the project has always been to give people a book that’s like having a friend in the kitchen who encourages and guides you, but never judges or makes you feel guilty. We were modeling the relationship we wanted people to have with the book on our own friendship: We’ve been helping one another survive weeknight meals ever since we worked together at Saveur, swapping tips and recipes and sharing our kitchen successes (and disasters). Having that trusted resource is invaluable.
What are some make-ahead meals you rely on for nights you don’t feel like cooking?
Keepers has a bunch of dishes that are great for making ahead -- the Smoky Turkey Chili and Shrimp Wonton Soup, for example -- but it also includes an entire category of recipes that are meant to help you with this: “Lifesavers.” These are really flavorful sauces, condiments, and dressings that you can whip up in advance and store in the fridge for days. We usually have a couple on hand and pull them out to elevate leftovers or make something ho-hum -- like a bowl of grains or plain vegetables -- taste special.
More: Make this salsa verde from Pati Jinich, then put it on everything.
What’s the best advice you’ve received in the kitchen?
Taste, taste, taste. And we share this in Keepers, too: Taste as you cook and definitely taste before you serve a dish. As you do, ask yourself: Does it need more salt to emphasize flavors that may have faded during cooking? Some acid to brighten it? Some pepper for kick? A pinch of sugar or honey to balance any tartness? Or a drizzle of olive oil to give it a little richness? Make the adjustments, then taste again, and again -- and again, if needed. A dish isn’t done when you’ve completed the recipe; it’s done when it tastes right.
Oh, and wear shoes when you cook.
What is one ingredient you can’t stop using right now?
Store-bought puff pastry. We use it for so many things: Tarts, Parmesan straws, vol au vents, chocolate “croissants” -- and it’s the secret behind our weeknight-friendly chicken pot pie. Those buttery, pillowy, crunchy layers taste so good and feel so indulgent, but are very versatile and require almost zero effort.
More: Pull out your puff pastry for this Balkan Lamb and Leek Pie.
You've written a cookbook full of quick, weeknight-friendly recipes. What is one special dish you like to cook that takes a little extra time?
For Caroline, it’s usually something Mexican: Diane Kennedy’s Ancho Chiles Stuffed with Potato and Chorizo are a true labor of love -- soaking the chiles, making the stuffing, making the batter, frying them -- but worth it. Add carnitas tacos -- pork shoulder braised with condensed milk and oranges -- and she’s in heaven.
For Kathy, Marcella Hazan’s eggplant Parmesan would be high on the list. There’s nothing particularly difficult about it, but there are a lot of steps and it involves a lot of cookware; plus she always doubles the recipe since it goes so fast, and that’s a lot of eggplant to salt and fry. But it’s such a satisfying dish, and classic Hazan.
Karen Gowen. Salsa and pie photos by James Ransom