The Clever Cookbook – A Book Review and Giveaway

Braised Chicken with Red Wine & Mushrooms Over Creamy Polenta

The Clever Cookbook

Mick Jagger said “Time is on my side.” But I sure never felt that way back when Bart and I were working. Arriving home at 6:00 after a busy day, the idea of spending 2 hours prepping, cooking and then cleaning up, propelled us into the world of take-out food and prepared frozen meals. The truth is what we really wanted was wholesome food, tasty and satisfying, made in our own kitchen. Even now we are not always up for cooking a big meal, but we still want satisfying food. Today there are lots of “dinner in 30 minutes” and “quick cook” blogs, cookbooks, and TV shows out there, but few of them deliver on the promise.

Emilie RaffaEmilie Raffa of the website, The Clever Carrot does deliver. Her food is fresh and unerringly satisfying, and best of all it is unfussy, easy to do, and utterly appealing. Plus, it is good for you. Lots of whole grains. Lots of veggies. Loads of healthy protein. This food satisfies body and soul, and does it quickly, much of it ahead, and with no hassle. Emilie’s first book, The Clever Cookbook, is packed with do-ahead tips, recipes, and techniques that will enable you to put meals together fast. That’s because Emilie knows how to cook smart. A graduate of The International Culinary Center, her tips, techniques, and recipes will keep you ahead of the game.

I’m happy to say Emilie has offered a copy of her book to give to one lucky winner. For a chance to win, please leave a comment telling me your favorite weeknight dinner. The contest will close at 11:59 pm on February 27, 2016. Entrants must have a United States shipping address and be over 18 years of age. Click here for full contest details. Buona fortuna!

We have a winner!

The winner is Denise M

Congratulazioni, Denise M, The Clever Cookbook from Emilie Raffa is on its way!

The contest is now closed.

Your comments are still welcome.

Look to her Back to Basics chapter for how to make Triple-Duty Chicken Stock. Once you’ve mastered that you are ready for Speedy Chicken Soup and best of all, Emilie’s No-Stir Risotto. Yes, the days of being chained to the stove stirring the risotto are over. Put the lid on the pot, slide it into the oven, and wonder of wonders, in 45 minutes you’ve got great risotto.

Emilie is all about time-saving ideas. Just look at the produce section in any supermarket. There are boxes and boxes of pre-cut vegetables. I know it’s tempting to buy them, but it’s just as easy, and much more economical to do it yourself, and you’ll find plenty of suggestions for how to use your stash. Pre-chopped onions and celery make 30-Minute Broccoli and Feta Soup a snap. Ditto for Emilie’s Spring Tortellini Minestrone and Easy Chunky Vegetable Soup. Add these to your repertoire and you are always ready for lunch or dinner.

Try the One-Pot Creamy Orzo with Asparagus for a unique take on the pasta that looks like rice. Cooked in a relatively small amount of Triple-Duty Chicken Stock, the orzo sheds its starch, creating a creamy liquid akin to a risotto. Pancetta and garlic flavor the dish, and asparagus adds a bit of bite and satisfying green veggie taste. Topped with Parmigiano and black pepper, and enriched with a knob of butter, this one will satisfy the entire family or the fussiest dinner guest. Guaranteed.

Garlic Butter

The chapter on Compound Butters introduces the reader to savory Garlic Butter and sweet Cinnamon Sugar Butter.

Compound Butter

With both on hand (they keep beautifully in the freezer) you are ready for almost anything.

Garlic Bread

Use the Garlic Butter for garlic bread or add it to roasted asparagus for a flavor boost. Toss it with pasta, basil and roasted tomatoes for a rapid weeknight dinner. Combine it with angel hair pasta along with anchovies, parsley, and red pepper flakes for a buttery take on an Italian classic. Use the Cinnamon Butter to make 5-Minute Skillet Granola or tasty Convenient Crumbles. The possibilities are endless.

Everyday Spice Blend, a combination of coarse salt, garlic powder, sweet smoked paprika, and ground coriander, flavors her Skillet Stuffed Chicken with Spinach and Ricotta, Sheet Pan Fish & Chips, Warm Sweet Potato Salad with Bacon & Goat Cheese, and many other dishes. Again, the do-ahead theory gets you ahead of the game, making it easy to put together fast, flavorful meals.

Salad Stuffed Sweet Potato

For scrumptious and quick vegetarian fare, try the Speedy Salad-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes. A microwaved sweet potato, split open and filled with cooked black beans, a mix of baby greens and tiny tomatoes tossed with olive oil, lime juice, and salt and pepper makes a deliciously satisfying dinner. With little prep and even less clean-up, this one’s a weeknight winner.

Grilled Flank Steak

Innovative freezer marinades – yes, they really work. Put the meat into a plastic bag, add the marinade, and freeze it all, removing the meat, as needed. During the freezing process, and again during the defrost periods, the marinade works its way into the meat, filling it with flavor. It’s simple to do, and it tastes great.

Grilled Flank Steak

The Sweet & Savory Soy Grilled Flank Steak uses this freezer marinade method, and it produces a remarkably succulent and flavorful flank steak, another weeknight favorite.

Rainbow Braised Carrots

If it’s vegetables you are after, there are plenty from which to choose. Try the Rainbow Braised Carrots. Vari-colored carrots are cooked in Triple Duty Chicken Stock, vermouth, and thyme and finished with a silky coat of honey and butter. Kids will love them.

Garlic Buttered Asparagus

Or use the Garlic Butter with 10-Minute Roasted Asparagus.

There’s a wide selection of protein here too. The New Mediterranean Baked Chicken, a mélange of lemon and herb marinated chicken, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, cannellini beans, mini-mozzarella, and herbs will satisfy everyone at the table. It’s all done on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and using Emilie’s’ do-ahead techniques, dinner will be on the table in about an hour.

Chicken Roasted Broccoli

Like stir-fry? Quick Chicken Stir-Fry with Roasted Broccoli is easy. Just toss the broccoli with oil, and roast it in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. The thinly sliced chicken cooks up quickly in a skillet. With a cloak of pre-made Master Stir Fry Sauce it gets a tasty and fast finish. Heat up some pre-cooked brown rice, and dinner is ready.

With Emilie’s do-ahead prep techniques – pre-cut vegetables, compound butters, and batch-cooked grains and beans, and her innovative freezer marinades, the busy weeknight cook is half done before she even sets foot in the kitchen. This book presents a new answer to “What’s for dinner?”

For a taste of The Clever Cookbook, try this slow cooker braised chicken dish.

Chicken with Red Wine

Braised Chicken with Red Wine & Mushrooms

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

Quick Creamy Polenta
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.

Photograph of Braised Chicken with Red Wine & Mushrooms by Emilie Raffa

Recipe reprinted with the permission of the author.

Visit The Clever Carrot website.

To purchase a copy of The Clever Cookbook, click here.

Emilie, a mother, wife, and classically trained cook, is also a food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Food 52, Saveur, Food & Wine, Today Food, and in Artful Blogging magazine. She is co-editor of feed feed and was a finalist in the Saveur Food Blog Awards. The Clever Cookbook has just been named one of this spring’s most exciting new cookbooks by Epicurious.

Note: You can click on any picture to see a slide show!

The gift book is provided by Emilie Raffa. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be of interest to my readers. I otherwise have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article. and The Clever Carrot are co-sponsors of this Giveaway.

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  1. Comment by Juliana:

    Awesome cookbook Adri…thank you so much for sharing it.
    The chicken with polenta looks absolutley delicious…what a lovely combination of flavors…
    I hope you are enjoying your week 🙂

  2. Comment by Lynne @ Cookandbemerry:

    It is so wonderful to find a cookbook that you just savor. I have a couple that I have cooked just about every recipe and I treasure them. I especially like the idea of compound butters that you can keep in the freezer and use as needed for creative saucing. This is a beautiful review.

  3. Comment by Mette Vaabengaard:

    It looks like a very nice cookbook. I can never get enough inspiration when it comes to cooking.


    I love anything with pesto.

  5. Comment by Karen (Back Road Journal):

    All the wonderful photos have made me hungry and its not even close to lunchtime. That braised chicken sounds great. When I’m short on time, my go to dinner involves pasta…which my husband says is natures perfect food. The book sounds like a really good one.

  6. Comment by Joan:

    Great review and this sounds like a book I’d put to good use. One of my favorite weeknight meals is breakfast for supper. Quick and easy.

  7. Comment by annie@ciaochowbambina:

    So happy for Emilie! I just recently got her book and like most cookbooks I adore, I’m reading it from cover to cover! She is mighty talented!! I love evrything you’ve highlighted here – of course my quick go-to is pasta, from time to time I’ll throw in a chicken cutlet or two!

  8. Comment by Irene:

    The post is fantastic! I love it so much:)
    Have a nice weekend!

  9. Comment by Manali @ CookWithManali:

    nice! who doesn\’t want to be clever while cooking? I certainly do! The recipe and the book..both sound great!

  10. Comment by Joy:

    My favorite weeknight meal is what I call my “mega salad.” It’s full of my favorites veggies and beans and nuts…so filling and so delicious.

  11. Comment by Kathy @ Beyond the Chicken Coop:

    Looks like a truly beautiful cookbook filled with delicious recipes!

  12. Comment by Ami@NaiveCookCooks:

    Omg so much good stuff in this book!! I am already in love with the book! My favorite weeknight dinner is roasted vegetables and grilled chicken!

  13. Comment by Jason:

    Judy really enjoys cookbooks. Maybe I’ll get this as a present for her birthday in June.

  14. Comment by Geraldine | Green Valley Kitchen:

    What a great review, Adri. You have totally sold this book for me – you listed a number of recipes I’d love to try – especially the no stir risotto and the one pot creamy orzo. My favorite weekend dinner is anything that can be made in under 30 minutes – usually pasta with sautéed veggies, lots of garlic and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese to finish it off (and a large glass of wine :)).

  15. Comment by David Levine:

    Amazing! appetizing! You’re making us hungry!
    Top choice for weekday dinner is rack of lamb, angel hair pasta with garlic & oil, and broccoli.
    Thanks for all of your hard work.

  16. Comment by Jessica Lance:

    You’ve done it again Adri! Beautiful presentation and such a thoughtful review! The flank steak and asparagus look absolutely mouth watering.
    My healthy dinner option is grilled chicken and a big salad. The not so healthy option – Coconut soup and fried rice.
    Keep up the great work – we enjoy what you do!

  17. Comment by 2 Sisters Recipes:

    We love to have another great cookbook! Our favorite meal for a weeknight is always a pasta dish that we can whip up in minutes. BUt we can’t leave out our all time favorite of grilled tenderloin with mashed potatoes, gravy and sauteed peas. Have a great weekend!
    xo Anna and Liz

  18. Comment by Krista:

    I love clever things like this. 🙂 Anything that makes healthy cooking easier is a bonus in my book.

  19. Comment by Bam's Kitchen:

    Adri, I am all about simple, healthy and easy meals. I am on my way to check out her site now. Love the herbed butter…

  20. Comment by Peachy @ The Peach Kitchen:

    That Braised Chicken had my stomach growling at 9pm!

  21. Comment by LA_Foodie:

    My fav week day dinner is easy… and this cookbook looks like just the guidance I need to achive that. I love the chicken on polenta. Actually, I love anything on polenta.

  22. Comment by Nidhi:

    This sounds like such a useful cookbook! I’m always looking for ways to be clever in my cooking so this is a dream!

  23. Comment by Pam Green:

    I love the idea of make-ahead speciality butters! I’m making garlic bread tonight and this is a great idea! What a beautiful job you’ve done of showing off this wonderful cookbook of Emilie’s!

  24. Comment by Amy @ Fearless Homemaker:

    Oh, this cookbook sounds fantastic, and SO up my alley. I love risottos and orzo and braised meats and soups – you literally didn’t describe a single recipe that didn’t sound amazing to me! And you know I love my slow-cooker, so I’ll definitely be trying this slow-braised chicken! I also need to look into freezer marinades and oven risotto – I’ve never heard of either and I am intrigued!

    • Comment by Amy @ Fearless Homemaker:

      Oh, and of course I didn’t answer your question, I was so wrapped up in my comment. =) My favorite weeknight dinner these days is what we had last night – panko + parmesan-crusted chicken with a simple pasta with pesto on the side. Easy, quick to make, and the whole family loves it. =)

  25. Comment by Liz:

    This sounds like a cookbook I need in my life!!! What gorgeous, delectable dishes!!! My favorite weeknight dinner is chicken piccata—I always have the ingredients on hand 🙂

  26. Comment by Anthony Fama:

    This cookbook looks amazing! My favorite week night dinner is Sunday’s leftover pasta

  27. Comment by Emilie @ The Clever Carrot:

    Adri, I am completely honored. You have gone above and beyond, and I cannot thank you enough. What a thoughtful, thorough, and sincere post. I felt every word- not because it happens to be about me, but because you are a natural. Everything flows. Just beautiful. Thank you, my friend. xo

    • Comment by Adri:


      The pleasure is entirely mine. Your book is beautiful, and full of wonderful food and good ideas. Writing the review was a joy. I wish you the greatest success!

  28. Comment by Cheyanne @ No Spoon Necessary:

    I’ve been reading stellar reviews of the clever carrot cookbook all over blogs, obviously I need to get on that book! Love this braised chicken! Red wine and mushrooms just put this cozy dish over the top! Cheers and thanks for sharing the YUM!

  29. Comment by Paula Barbarito Levitt:

    I was not familiar Emilie Raffa or The Clever Cookbook so a hearty thank you; it seems like the perfect gift for busy friends. My favorite go to recipe is oven roasted salmon with a pistachio & lemon topping, salad of choice on the side.

  30. Comment by Denise M:

    My fave weeknight dinner is usually taco/burrito bar. I make meat in the slow cooker all day and then put the toppings in bowls. 15 mins max

  31. Comment by Meghan | Fox and Briar:

    I have heard soooo many great things about this cookbook and I am beyond convinced that I need it now! I am all about simple, uncomplicated meals with tons of flavor. Also that braised chicken with red wine and mushrooms looks amazing. One of my favorite week night meals is a simple roasted shrimp and broccoli dish that takes about 20 minutes to make. It is awesome for busy nights but is still healthy and flavorful.

  32. Comment by sue|theviewfromgreatisland:

    What a fabulous giveaway — I’d slather that butter on everything! My favorite weeknight meal is scrambled eggs, so you see, I really need to win a copy of this book 🙂

  33. Comment by Adina:

    Sounds like a good cookbook, the coq au vin is certainly a winner with me.

  34. Comment by Alice @ Hip Foodie Mom:

    I LOVE Emilie’s book!!!! Wow, I have to try the braised chicken next! thank you for the visit!

  35. Comment by demeter | beaming baker:

    Oh, I completely know what you mean about time NOT being on our sides. Making a delicious and healthy meal that’s also time efficient can be quite the task. Emilie’s cookbook definitely looks like the solution! Nice, thorough post, Adri. 🙂

  36. Comment by Lisa:

    A definite go-to dinner in my house is chili. I make it in the AM and let it simmer on very low all day. It’s ready to eat after school, after religion class or after the after school sport of the season, or after wherever else our busy schedules take us! Thanks for contest!

  37. Comment by David @ Spiced:

    Oh, I am most definitely hungry now! Those photos are incredible. I agree with you, though. It seems like there are a ton of “easy” or “time-saving” recipes out there, but most of them just aren’t that good. This book sounds excellent! Does it come with a side of garlic bread? 🙂

  38. Comment by Marisa Franca @ All Our Way:

    The recipes look wonderful and we do love to eat well. We’d just as soon not eat as to have something mediocre. Our favorite weekday meal that is quick but full of flavor is Spicy marinated grilled shrimp with farro risotto. Both recipes are quick but tasty. We love polenta but save that for special occasions and we make our own pasta. Bolognese Antica sauce is our very favorite. I love cookbooks because I am always inspired by their recipes and photos — the fresh ideas and flavor combinations always make me want to run out to the store and get the supplies. Congratulations to Ms. Raffa for getting her book published. That is wonderful!!!

  39. Comment by John/Kitchen Riffs:

    LOVE polenta! Going to serve it this weekend for a dinner party. Good looking recipe here — love winey meaty things over polenta. Sounds like a fun cookbook, too — thanks for the heads up!

  40. Comment by Ivy Chan:

    Great looking cookbook

  41. Comment by Abbe @ This is How I Cook:

    As someone who just made coq au vin last week, this recipe is intriguing. And as for what I make for dinner. Often it is a varity of eggs! Sounds like a nice book!

  42. Comment by Julie at Hostess At Heart:

    Every single one of those recipes are drool worthy! The grilled flank or braised chicken looks amazing!

  43. Comment by Diane P.:

    Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas would be my favorite—with some type of bread (garlic bread) or rolls on the side.

  44. Comment by Hannah:

    I’m all about those veggie side dishes- The rainbow carrots are simply beautiful!

    My go-to weeknight dinner is curry. Anything in the fridge can get tossed in a pot with coconut milk and curry paste, simmered, and made ready to eat in minutes. 🙂

  45. Comment by Ciao Chow Linda:

    Oh my, but you make a great case for rushing out to buy that book. Each of your photos is more tempting that the last. That flank steak – I am drooling over. And why don’t I just make that compound butter for the freezer asap!! But I have to say that the way to grab my attention will always be the polenta, the polenta, the polenta.

  46. Comment by Luanne:

    Chicken Marbella, cooked all day in the oven on the slow cook setting. Brown rice and steamed broccoli are cooked after work. There’s time to go on the treadmill while the rice cooks in the rice cooker!

  47. Comment by Beth Beeman:

    I’m a huge fan of spicy Italian sausages with whatever veggies are in the fridge. Meatloaf is also a fave – same ingredients as meatballs but saving time with a loaf in the oven n

  48. Comment by Meghan:

    My fave dinner is chicken cutlets, green beans & mashed potatoes…homemade…lumps & all. LOL

  49. Comment by Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti:

    This sounds like an interesting and useful cookbook, Adri! The marinaded flank steak, braised chicken with red wine and mushrooms and the stir fried chicken and broccoli all had my mouth watering.

    I like to change up our weekly meals, but we always have a meatless meal at least once a week–usually consisting of a bean dish and veggies and we also usually have fish once a week–our favorites are either salmon or cod fish.

  50. Comment by Lori:

    Bread is my down fall so … garlic bread

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