With Thanksgiving looming, we’ve all likely got food on the brain. Most especially, comfort food.
Let’s face it: with everything that 2020 has been, it has also most certainly been a year for indulging in comfort food.
I’ve been, like most folks these days, spending my time almost entirely at home. So over the course of these eight-plus months, I’ve picked up some new cookbooks so I could try to keep things fresh. Over the summer, I got really into sheet pan cooking, and that obsession isn’t about to abate any time soon.
The food is roasted, it’s easy to do because it’s one pan, and it comes out so delicious. To date, the absolute biggest hit has been a Cajun shrimp dinner that I prepared for my family. I can still smell the sazón.
As we prepare our scaled back Thanksgivings, there’s no need to scale back on flavor and good food. I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite cookbooks right now, and a list of some of the recipes that I have tried from them, and want to try.
Don’t read this if you’re hungry because you’re going to want to make all of them.
Some comforting cookbooks to bring home to your kitchen:
“Modern Comfort Food: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook,” by Ina Garten
This was the best possible book that could have come out this year. Released in September, “Modern Comfort Food” puts a fresh spin on the comforting classics we all know and love. I usually wait a little bit after a book comes out to get it, but I actually pre-ordered this one. I’m so far gone into my comfort food zone, I am listening to Garten’s Spotify playlist as I write this column. I might not ever come back to reality; it’s too cozy here. This book has 85 recipes to try, and, another thing that doesn’t happen often for me with a cookbook, I want to try every single one. Right now, I’ve got my eye on the creamy tomato bisque (and the accompanying chutney grilled cheese!), the truffled mac & cheese, and the Boston cream pie.
“The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: The All-purpose Baking Cookbook,” by King Arthur Flour and P.J. Hamel
Regular readers of this column will remember how much I love King Arthur Flour. These days, they’ve rebranded, and are now The King Arthur Baking Company. It makes sense, since they do a whole lot more than flour. You’re really getting the whole baking experience with them. I am going to miss my Christmas visit this year, but online ordering is available, so that’s kept me going and made me feel like I’m doing my own little part. I’ve had this book since my first visit years ago, and it’s become a great favorite. There are hundreds of recipes, from breads, to cookies, to cakes, pie, pastry, you name it. A 2020 staple for me has been the banana bread recipe (I use yogurt made in Vermont, to stay on theme). Their basic vegetable quiche also cannot be beat, and their favorite apple pie recipe is incredible. I like to use their chai spice mix when I make it, for extra warm flavor.
“Sheet Pan Suppers: 120 Recipes for Simple, Surprising, Hands-off Meals Straight from the Oven,” by Molly Gilbert
Earlier in the summer, in another cookbook that will be mentioned further on in this list, I got super into sheet pan suppers. So of course I had to get a bunch of books and recipes to try out. Not every recipe has been a total success, and I’m learning some things, but that’s the whole point of being in the kitchen. Learning what works and discovering new foods and tastes. This book has, like the title says, 120 recipes to try out. They’re mostly simple, and deliver big on flavors. My favorite so far has been the honey-orange shrimp with baby bok choy. I also want to try making a family dinner, with the recipe for classic roast chicken and mustardy potatoes. Just for me: I want to try the ratatouille with goat cheese. It looks like the ratatouille in the movie “Ratatouille” (a masterpiece), and I have been wanting to make it that way for years.
“The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook,” from America’s Test Kitchen
When I first began eating mostly plant-based foods, this book was both an introduction and a trusted guide. America’s Test Kitchen is famous for its no-nonsense, joyously scientific approach to cooking, and this book is no exception. They break even the most complicated dishes down into easy-to-follow steps and, with more than 700 recipes, this book has kept me trying new things for years now. It’s even led to me customizing my own dishes, thanks to the technical confidence it’s given me. And these recipes have fed so many of my friends and family. My very favorite is the vegetable paella. You can get that gorgeous crust on the bottom right at home in your own kitchen too, if you’ve got the right pot. Just rotate it on the burner at the end, and you’ve got hearty, crispy paella. The vegetable pot pie is also a perfect recipe for Thanksgiving, with rich sweet potato and bright rainbow chard adding both freshness and color. Up next for me is going to be the Philly-style broccoli rabe, portobello, and cheese sandwiches.
“Magnolia Table, Volume 2: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering,” by Joanna Gaines
Building on the success of the homestyle recipes from the first volume of “Magnolia Table” Gaines is back with another book of family-friendly, thoughtful recipes. Lots of them are served at her family’s eateries, and there are even more gathered from friends and family who wanted to share some good food. The food in this book features a lot of crowd-pleasers and classic recipes, like one for hearty, gooey French onion soup. I made the cacio e pepe for a friend, so, even though we can’t gather right now, we were still able to share that good meal. The honey garlic chicken with pineapple (a sheet pan dinner, served over rice) was a huge hit with my family. The pineapple chunks, all caramelized from being roasted, were some of the best pineapple I can remember having. And, the star of the show: that Cajun shrimp sheet pan dinner. I was unable to get Old Bay the first time I made it (Old Bay, another thing sold out in 2020!), so I made the flavors more Portuguese. I used sazón, almost like I was making a Mozambique sauce. It was the best shrimp I have ever made.
Whatever recipes call to you this week, I hope they are comforting and that your kitchens are full of good smells and good cheer.