We’re thrilled to welcome Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion, authors of two of our favorite family cookbooks, Keepers and their recent release, The Dinner Plan, who are sharing tips, ideas, and recipes to make life as the family cook easier. Also be sure to check out their idea for a new — and better — way to serve family dinner and how to turn salad into dinner.


Let’s face it: Sometimes even a super tasty, perfectly cooked roast chicken (whether homemade or store-bought) can be a little boring. Ditto for steak or eggs or roasted vegetables or a bowl of grains. But there’s a really easy way to transform a “meh” meal into one that will have your family gushing with praise: serve it with one of our Lifesavers.

In our new book, The Dinner Plan, Caroline and I created a Lifesavers section featuring sauces that can made ahead of time and last for at least several days — they are refrigerated gold. We’re talking things like a salty-sweet Teriyaki Sauce (recipe below) to dress up anything from beef to tofu to stir-fries, a tangy Citrus-Soy Dressing that will turn a simple green salad or soba noodles with edamame into something bright and special, and a creamy Yogurt Sauce that’s equally great on plain meatballs, grilled veggies, crudité, and warm pita.

Just going through the day knowing that you have a vibrant Italian-Style Salsa Verde at the ready to drizzle on some leftover chicken or grilled shrimp/fish, stir into cooked white beans, or top roasted/baked/boiled white or sweet potatoes can instantly drop your stress level a few notches. Having even just one lifesaver in the fridge at any given time is sometimes all the help or inspiration you need to figure out an easy and totally delicious dinner.

Related: A new — and better — way to serve family dinner.


Yogurt Sauce recipe from The Dinner Plan cookbook by Caroline Campion and Kathy Brennan | featured at Cool Mom Eats (Photos by Maura McEvoy)

Peanut Sauce recipe from The Dinner Plan cookbook by Caroline Campion and Kathy Brennan | featured at Cool Mom Eats (Photos by Maura McEvoy)

Plus, these homemade condiments are fresher and more healthful than commercial bottled versions, which generally contain preservatives and artificial ingredients, not to mention excess salt and sugar. Don’t worry: they are so easy to make that after the first few times, you may very well be able to do it from memory.  

We introduced the lifesaver concept in our first cookbook, Keepers, with eight recipes (including one for Ginger-Scallion Sauce that is reportedly “life-changing”), and it was so popular that we created six more lifesavers for The Dinner Plan. Here’s one of our favorites (which also has the longest shelf life) that has saved us on countless busy nights. I know it will save you too.

PRO TIP: Think twice before you throw out that mustard, jam, gherkin, or honey jar. Repurposed glass jars are a convenient, BPA-free, and cost-free storage solution for our lifesavers or pretty much any homemade condiments, salad dressing, or sauce. Their tops seal tightly so you don’t need to worry about leaks; they look good enough to function as serving vessels; it’s easy to make certain recipes right in them (just pour in the ingredients, screw on the lid, and shake to combine); and, of course, recycling is a good thing. We suggest labeling the jar and including the date (we use painter’s tape and a Sharpie) — it’s easy to forget what’s inside and when you made it.

Related: How to turn salad into a family-friendly dinner: 5 must-have tips.


Teriyaki Sauce recipe from The Dinner Plan cookbook by Caroline Campion and Kathy Brennan | featured at Cool Mom Eats (Photos by Maura McEvoy)

Teriyaki Sauce

From The Dinner Plan cookbook

Makes 2 cups

We’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t like this teriyaki sauce, which Kathy’s mom has been making for more than seventy years. It’s great on beef, chicken, fish, tofu, vegetables, and even plain rice. Sure, you can buy teriyaki sauce, but homemade takes barely any effort and tastes so much better. (Bottled versions generally contain preservatives and are high in sodium.) Be sure to use a quality soy sauce such as Kikkoman. If the first or second ingredient listed on the bottle is salt, not soy beans, get another brand. You can also use low-sodium soy sauce, if you prefer. For a touch of heat, add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to the saucepan with the garlic.

1 cup (240 ml) soy sauce
1 cup (240 ml) mirin or dry white wine
1 cup (200 g) sugar (if you’re using wine instead of mirin, add 3 tablespoons more sugar)
1 garlic clove

1. In a small saucepan, combine the soy sauce, mirin, and sugar and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat and simmer, skimming any foam, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 30 to 40 minutes. Drop in the garlic and let cool.

Make-Ahead/Staggered: Keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. (Actually, Kathy’s mom says it will keep “forever,” but we can only vouch for about 4 weeks since it’s always gone by then.) Regardless of how long you keep it, discard the garlic after 2 or 3 days.

How to Use:
— Baste grilled/broiled meats, fish/shrimp, or tofu.
— Thin with a little water and marinate the items above.
— Add to stir-fries.
— Mix with ground beef before forming hamburgers.


Read more from Kathy and Caroline at their site, KeepersCooks.com and be sure to pick up a copy of The Dinner Plan at your local indie bookstore or our Amazon affiliate to get the rest of the recipes mentioned here. You can also find Kathy and Caroline on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

All photos by Maura McEvoy from The Dinner Plan by Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion, published by ABRAMS c 2017