The Clever Cookbook: Get-Ahead Strategies and Timesaving Tips for Stress-Free Home Cooking

The Clever Cookbook: Get-Ahead Strategies and Timesaving Tips for Stress-Free Home Cooking

by Emilie Raffa
The Clever Cookbook: Get-Ahead Strategies and Timesaving Tips for Stress-Free Home Cooking

The Clever Cookbook: Get-Ahead Strategies and Timesaving Tips for Stress-Free Home Cooking

by Emilie Raffa



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Get in the Kitchen with Pro Tips, Tricks, Shortcuts&Amazing Recipes

The Clever Cookbook is your kitchen’s new best friend. Emilie Raffa’s debut cookbook is packed with all the timesaving shortcuts and flavor-boosting tips that she learned in culinary school and puts to use daily as a busy mom cooking easy and delicious meals for her family. When you cook with this book, it’s like Emilie is right there in your kitchen, telling stories and walking you through the steps to make amazing food with ease—and teaching you all her handy time-savers along the way! Her recipes focus on fresh, whole-food ingredients; this is comfort food you can feel good about.

As an example of what’s inside, Emilie’s version of classic risotto—which normally needs endless stirring on the stovetop—is much easier and just as delicious baked in the oven. Freeze meat in a marinade right when you get home from the store and you’re ready for amazingly flavorful dishes such as The New Mediterranean Baked Chicken or Sweet&Savory Soy Grilled Flank Steak&Zucchini all week long.

With these incredible recipes and tips, anyone can learn to prepare delicious homemade meals quickly and with ease.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781624142130
Publisher: Page Street Publishing
Publication date: 02/16/2016
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: eBook
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 414,124
File size: 96 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

About the Author

Emilie Raffa is a food writer, photographer and cook who was classically trained at the International Culinary Center. On her blog, The Clever Carrot (, she shares recipes for healthy comfort food. Emilie’s work has been featured online on The Huffington Post, Food 52, Saveur, Food&Wine, TODAY Food and in the pages of Artful Blogging magazine. She was a finalist for “best food photography” in the annual Saveur Blog Awards. She is also an editor for the digital cooking publication feedfeed. Emilie lives on Long Island with her husband and two little boys.

Read an Excerpt

The Clever Cookbook

Get-Ahead Strategies and Timesaving Tips for Stress-Free Home Cooking

By Emilie Raffa

Page Street Publishing Co.

Copyright © 2016 Emilie Raffa
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62414-213-0



Imagine this: You're about to run out the door, you're running late and you have just enough time to throw something in the slow cooker. Suddenly, you remember a container of veggies prepped earlier in the week ... into the pot it goes! Upon your return, a delicious, homemade dinner is ready and you barely lifted a finger ... not even to peel a carrot.

Sign. Me. Up.

When doing research for this book, I hung out at the grocery store, a lot. And it was not just to buy food. I would grab a coffee and a blueberry muffin and wander around the store peeking into everyone's cart. What were they shopping for?

Nowadays, you can buy all kinds of convenience items: stir-fry vegetables, peeled garlic, shredded coleslaw — the list goes on. The most popular item? Chopped vegetables. Regardless of freshness or price, containers of onions, carrots and celery flew off the shelves.

In this chapter, you'll learn how to prep and store your own chopped vegetables with delicious recipes to go along with them. This is one of the most useful get-ahead strategies in the book. Your time upfront significantly cuts down on future prep time and eliminates the temptation for overpriced, store-bought items. Trust me, I have two beautiful little boys who cling to my body like squid and this trick is brilliant for when you're short on time (or free hands).



Pronounced "mir-pwah," it's the classic French term for the combination of diced onions, carrots and celery. This powerhouse trio adds great flavor to soups, stews, stocks and braised dishes. If you think about it, most recipes will contain at least one of the three vegetables. Having a stash of mirepoix used together or separately works wonders for quick "prep-less" meals.


2 lbs (907 g) yellow onions
1 lb (454 g) bunch of carrots
1 lb (454 g) bunch of celery

NOTE: Due to their high water content, frozen vegetables tend to lose their shape when defrosted. They are best used in sauces, soups, stocks and slow cooker meals.

To create your own arsenal of mirepoix, you have two options:

» Chop your vegetables by hand.

» Get yourself one of those inexpensive handheld choppers for quick, precise dicing.

I highly recommend the latter. The chopper I use features a grid-shaped dicing blade and storage container underneath (see picture). Simply place your vegetables on top of the blade, close the lid and push down; in a matter of seconds you'll end up with perfectly diced vegetables. Even if you don't mind chopping a carrot here and there, this shortcut makes prep work faster, easier and less stressful — it's worth it for the onions alone! Usually, I'll distract the kids with an art activity and join them at the table with my vegetables. They color, while I chop. Plus, I might even get them to eat a vegetable or two....

Vary the quantities listed above based on what you use most. For example, I go through onions quickly during the week, so I prep extra to freeze. Celery? Not so much.

Start by washing, trimming and peeling all vegetables, as needed.


Cut into ½-inch (1.3-cm) dice.


Slice the onions in half and place on the dicing blade, one half at a time. Close the lid and press down to dice. Empty the storage container for the next vegetable. Quarter the carrots, and arrange comfortably to fit on the blade. Dice the carrots, and then empty the container. Repeat for the celery stalks.

For storage, place each vegetable in separate airtight containers, draping a damp paper towel over the top. This will preserve freshness. Label and date your veggies. Refrigerate up to 1 week. Alternatively, each vegetable can be frozen separately, 1-3 months.


1 medium onion = 1 cup (160 g) diced

1 medium carrot = ½ cup (65 g) diced

1 medium celery stalk = ½ cup (50 g) diced


Italian minestrone is the ultimate comfort food. This version is light and simple, inspired by the first baby greens of spring. My local Italian deli makes the most wonderful pillowy-soft tortellini and I like to combine them with Pre-Chopped Vegetables for quick soups and pasta dinners.


1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 tbsp (15 g) unsalted butter
½ cup (80 g) diced onions
½ cup (65 g) diced carrots
½ cup (50 g) diced celery
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove of garlic, grated
1 tbsp (16 g) tomato paste
1 (14-oz [397-g]) can of diced tomatoes
1 quart (1 L) of Triple-Duty Chicken Stock
1 (9-oz [255-g]) package cheese tortellini
1 cup (135 g) fresh or frozen peas
2–3 large handfuls of baby spinach, kale or other spring greens
¼ cup (6 g) fresh basil leaves
Wedge of Parmesan cheese, for grating

In a large, heavy-bottom pot, melt the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Sauté the onions, carrots and celery until soft and lightly golden, about 5–7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and tomato paste. Stir well until the tomato paste is fully dissolved and the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Pour in the diced tomatoes and chicken stock. Place the lid on top and bring the soup to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer (lid tilted) for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook until the vegetables are tender.

Right before serving, increase the heat and bring the soup back to a gentle boil to cook the pasta. Add the tortellini, peas and greens. Simmer, uncovered for just about 3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat; the tortellini will continue to cook without absorbing all of the broth.

Stack the basil leaves on top of each other, roll them up and cut across into ribbons.

Ladle your soup into bowls and dust with a generous grating of Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with the basil ribbons. Once the herbs touch down onto the hot soup, you will be hit with the most wonderful aroma....

VARIATION #1: SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE: Squeeze the meat from its casing (about 1 pound [454 g] should be good) and sauté with the vegetables. The fennel from the sausage adds great flavor to the broth.

VARIATION #2: VEGETARIAN: Add 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds instead, and substitute with vegetable stock.



When all else fails, and you think there's nothing to eat in your fridge, dig out whatever onions, carrots and celery you can find and make this easy vegetable soup. Having Pre-Chopped Vegetables will cut down on prep, but if you don't have any on hand, you can still whip this up in a reasonable amount of time (especially with one of those handheld choppers I raved about earlier!).

Curling up with a quick, homemade soup that's simple and good for you is a lifesaver during a busy week.


1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 tbsp (15 g) unsalted butter
1 cup (160 g) diced onions
1 cup (130 g) diced carrots
1 cup (100 g) diced celery
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups (450 g) diced Yukon Gold potatoes, skin on (about 2 medium potatoes)
4 cups (946 ml) Triple-Duty Chicken Stock, plus more as needed
2 tbsp (8 g) roughly chopped parsley

In a large, heavy-bottom pot, warm the olive oil and butter over medium-low heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery and sauté until soft, about 5–7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the potatoes. Pour the stock over the vegetables. Place the lid on top and bring the soup to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer (lid tilted) until the vegetables are tender, about 20-30 minutes.

Working in batches, carefully purée the soup to a chunky-smooth consistency. You can do this using a hand blender, food processor or regular blender. (Always use caution when blending hot liquids; wait until slightly cooled if necessary.) Add additional stock as needed to get the texture to your liking.

To the pot, sprinkle in the chopped parsley. Stir well. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

To serve, ladle the hot soup into bowls and enjoy.

TIP: If you're in the mood, try adding a generous dusting of curry spice, spicy chili flakes or coconut milk to diversify the flavors. Woodsy herbs such as thyme, sage and rosemary are nice too. Substitute with vegetable stock as needed.



This soup was originally destined for a block of sharp cheddar until I realized, at the last minute, that my husband had used the last bit of cheese to make a quesadilla ...for me! Go figure. On a whim, I used feta instead. Combined with onions and celery from my stash of Pre-Chopped Vegetables, this soup came together quickly, about 30 minutes or so, and was unexpectedly delicious. The feta adds a touch of subtle creaminess and does not overpower the natural sweetness of the broccoli.

PS: The secret to bright green soup is to briefly cook the broccoli and purée with a generous handful of parsley.


2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
1 cup (160 g) diced onions
½ cup (50 g) diced celery
2 garlic cloves, smashed
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large Yukon Gold potato, skin on, about 1½ cups (225 g) diced
4 cups (946 ml) Triple-Duty Chicken Stock, plus more as needed
6 cups (546 g) broccoli florets
1/3 cup (20 g) parsley leaves
1/3 cup (50 g) feta cheese


Extra feta crumbles
Handful of parsley leaves
Drizzle of olive oil

In a large, heavy-bottom pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions, celery and smashed garlic cloves until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the potatoes and give it a quick stir.

Pour in the stock. Place the lid on top and bring the soup to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer (lid tilted) for about 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.

Add the broccoli and cook briefly, about 3-4 minutes. Quick Tip: Be careful not to overcook the broccoli at this stage; the soup will turn yellowish-green (in terms of flavor it's not the end of the world; it just might look like swamp water).

Working in batches, carefully purée the soup with the parsley leaves and feta. You can do this using a hand blender, food processor or regular blender. I like this soup rustic style, somewhere in between smooth and chunky. But the texture is up to you. Add additional stock or water if necessary.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with extra feta crumbles, parsley leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.

TIP: Try adding a sprinkle of fresh dill (when available) for extra flavor. Substitute with vegetable stock or water as needed.


Traditionally, browning beef in a hot pan prior to braising is a classic cooking technique; it seals the meat and locks in flavor. But for time's sake, who needs rules? I've eliminated this step with surprisingly excellent results. Plus, I'm using a large 3-pound to 4-pound (1.4-1.8-kg) chuck roast, which can be cumbersome to sear in the first place. Combine the beef with Pre-Chopped Vegetables in your slow cooker, hit the button and you're done. After six to eight hours of hands-off cooking, the beef will become incredibly tender, flavorful and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.


3-4-lb (1.4-1.8-kg) whole beef chuck roast
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (160 g) diced onions
½ cup (65 g) diced carrots
½ cup (50 g) diced celery
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil (optional), plus more for drizzling
1 (28-oz [794-g]) can of whole plum tomatoes in thick purée
¼ cup (65 g) tomato paste
1 lb (454 g) pappardelle pasta
Wedge of Parmesan cheese, for grating

Pat the beef dry with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture. Season all sides with salt and pepper.

Add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic to a 6-quart (6-L) slow cooker. Quick Tip: If you have time, sauté the vegetables in 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of olive oil before adding to the slow cooker (otherwise, throw them in raw).

Place the beef on top of the vegetables. Pour in the canned tomatoes and tomato paste.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours, checking on the beef at the 6-hour mark. You'll know it's ready when the meat is fall-apart tender, and shreds easily with a fork. Transfer to a cutting board and tent with foil to rest, about 10 minutes.

Pour the tomato braising liquid from the slow cooker into a large, 12-inch (30-cm) skillet. This is your sauce for the pasta. Adjust the heat to low, and skim away any fat that rises to the top. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the pasta, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook according to the package instructions. Drain and set aside. Drizzle with olive oil to prevent sticking.

Using two forks (or your hands), shred the beef into bite-size pieces. Sample a few pieces as you go — it's so tender! Add the beef to the sauce and stir gently to combine.

To serve, ladle your delicious slow-cooked beef over the pasta and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

TIP: For best quality, purchase a whole cut of boneless beef chuck instead of cubed "stewing beef." Whole cuts have better marbling, which refers to the pattern of fat lines that run throughout the meat. You'll get more flavor and tenderness with quality marbling.


My French grandmother's classic coq au vin was to die for. She cooked it in an electric skillet, outside. You could smell the tantalizing aroma of red wine and garlic wafting throughout the entire neighborhood. My mom said this was why all the kids used to play at her house. Luckily, I inherited that electric skillet. But rather than babysitting (and sweating) over a hot pan, I've minimized the prep to make this recipe come together quickly: Simply sauté the bacon and chicken respectively, and then throw everything into the slow cooker with Pre-Chopped Vegetables. Serve with quick creamy polenta for the ultimate winter warmer.


½ cup (63 g) flour
6-8 chicken thighs, bone-in, skinless
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp olive oil, plus more as needed
4 slices of bacon, cut into ½-inch (1.3-cm) pieces
1 cup (160 g) diced onion
½ cup (65 g) diced carrot
½ cup (50 g) diced celery
2 garlic cloves, smashed
4-6 sprigs of thyme
1 (10-oz [283-g]) box of baby portobello mushrooms
1 cup (237 ml) dry red wine
1 cup (237 ml) Triple-Duty Chicken Stock
2 tbsp (8 g) roughly chopped parsley


4 cups (946 ml) milk
Coarse salt
1 cup (160 g) instant polenta
1 tbsp (15 g) unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper

To begin, add the flour to a large zip-top bag. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the bag and shake well to coat.

In a large, 12-inch (30-cm) skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat. Cook the bacon until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate and set aside. Keep the drippings in the pan.

Place the chicken (meaty side down) in the skillet, shaking off any excess flour as you go. Brown the meat, about 2-3 minutes per side. Add more olive oil as needed.

To a 6-quart (6-L) slow cooker, add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic and thyme (see tip below for alternate cooking method). Using your hands, tear up the mushrooms and drop them directly into the pot; this method is much faster than slicing and adds great texture to the dish. Pour in the wine and chicken stock. Cook on high for about 3-4 hours or on low for 6 hours. Your chicken is ready when the meat is falling off the bone. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper.

About 30 minutes prior to serving, start your polenta. In a medium-size saucepan, bring the milk and a pinch of salt to a boil. Cook according to the package instructions. Remove the pot from the heat and add the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Keep covered until ready to use.

Portion the polenta into shallow bowls and top with your braised chicken. Sprinkle with the reserved bacon and chopped parsley. Don't forget to take in the aroma before diving in — it will smell wonderful.

TIP: As an alternate cooking method, after browning chicken, add the ingredients to a large Dutch oven and braise at 350°F (177°C) for about 1½ hours or until tender.


It was winter. We had just returned home from a relaxing, tropical family vacation only to find no food in the house. What a nightmare! Two seconds away from a frantic low-blood-sugar meltdown, I unearthed the contents of the freezer. And there it was ... a bag of Pre-Chopped Vegetables. Knowing I could whip up a quick meat sauce without having to chop a single onion, carrot or celery took the edge off, considerably. Nothing like familiar comfort food, fast.


Excerpted from The Clever Cookbook by Emilie Raffa. Copyright © 2016 Emilie Raffa. Excerpted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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