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I really enjoy Alex Guarnaschelli when I see her on the Food Network, so I had high hopes for this book. There are some really great, comfort food-y recipes like for her meatballs, meatloaf, cakes, etc. There are also a lot of things that may comfort her, but they aren't exactly what most would consider 'comfort food.' Things like squid and Brussels sprouts make the list. Don't get me wrong, I love Brussels sprouts, I just wouldn't expect them to come marketed as comfort food. Regardless, most of the recipes in this book are great and detailed beautifully. The couple of things I've had time to make from it rocked. There are a few, I hope, misprints, though. The one that stood out for me most was for Purple Mustard. in the description it talks about how well certain, specific ingredients work together, and how you can taste them coming through in the final product. The only problem is, they aren't ingredients actually listed as being used in the recipe. They only show up in the narrative without being in the ingredient list or instructions.
When someone says "comfort food" your mind is automatically taken to thoughts of mostly southern type dishes like fried chicken, chicken fried steak, chicken and dumplings, mashed potatoes, peach cobbler, buttermilk biscuits, banana pudding, corn bread, macaroni and cheese, lemon meringue pie, bread pudding and so forth. Actually if you Google comfort food, many of those dishes and more will come up.
While I was thinking "who needs more comfort food recipes" I chose to purchase this book for a couple of reasons. 1. today the bulk of "comfort food" recipes are made with pre-packaged foods like cream of whatever soup, or potato chips (for the crunch factor). I personally find that disgusting. When I make meatloaf, it's going to be a loaf mostly made out of meat. Not equal parts of meat (or less even) mixed with oatmeal, rice crispy, corn flakes, or chips! Bread crumbs is tried and true for me, and takes a back seat to the main ingredient of meat. To enhance not over-power. So I mistakenly thought that this book would have tried and true old school (meaning no soup or other prepacked goods) above mentioned type of comfort foods made with actual real food ingredients that require real cooking. 2. The absolute main reason I bought this cookbook is that my 10 year old daughter wants to be a chef and from the first time she saw her on The Food Network, Alex Guarnaschelli has been her "role model".
Alex Guarnaschelli has a different view of comfort food. No doubt comfort to her reminding her of the foods her mother made. Most of us were not raised in Manhattan with a mother who made pate. Chef Guarnaschelli says she fell in love with food in her mothers kitchen, recalling watching her mother make a souffle (of which she doesn't include a souffle recipe in her book).
Chef Guarnaschelli's vision of comfort food includes recipes for:
pickled grapes with prosciutto roasted squash soup with popcorn crispy squid with garlic, red pepper flakes,and basil winter greens salad from the oven pasta with spicy lamb sausage and yellow tomato sauce fried duck hearts with golden raisins and serrano chiles angel hair pasta with caviar and lemon
I do not doubt Chef Guarnaschelli's skill, but like many high-end professional chefs they aren't in touch with the average American cook. They cook foods that they either make in their expensive restaurants or at home. The average home cook does not have the palate for many of these foods or they lack either accessibility to some of these foods or perhaps the finances to incorporate them onto the dinner table on a semi-regular basis (especially in this economy with one of the all time highest unemployment rates in the last hundred years).
What is disheartening is since becoming a two income home has become standard in this country, many people have either lost the skill or never learned how to cook. Today more than ever, I see people wanting to learn how to cook the way their mothers, grandmothers or great-grandmothers did. Home cooking is seeing a renaissance. People want to learn how to cook foods that don't come from a can, or a box, and that doesn't require a microwave. As a whole we are turning to the experts to teach and show us, but many of the experts seem to forget that we are not culinary students wanting an education from the C.I.A. or other prestigious schools. We are not searching to become a James Beard winner. We want to cook for the ones we love, our family and friends.
There are very few recipes in this book that I will bother to make. As for my daughter, I would be surprised if she would be willing to try a handful of the foods in the book. Her palate isn't as sophisticated as mine. She really doesn't like very many foods (which does't serve well for her desire to be a chef...we are steering her more towards becoming a pastry chef). It was my hope that Alex Guarnaschelli's cookbook would allow her discover the joy of making comfort foods she'd enjoy eating. Thankfully, she has a mother that is scouring the internet to find just the right "real meal" foods that she actually does like.
The bottom line is if you are looking for a book that gives you great recipes for pot pie or chicken and dumplings type comfort food, this isn't the book for you; however if you enjoy high end entertaining where you can easily acquire ingredients such as duck hearts or caviar (without giving the cost a second look) you just might enjoy this cookbook.
If you are looking for a comfort food cookbook for dishes you wouldn't expect to charge $50 per plate for, may I recommend: American Classics: More Than 300 Exhaustively Tested Recipes For America's Favorite Dishes