You've all heard me praise my amazing friend Luisa Perkins over the years. Everything she touches is like gold to me. She is one of the most intelligent and talented people I know, and to be her friend is a treasured privilege. Luisa is one of those women who does everything wholeheartedly. With whatever she wishes to excel at, she is a diligent student, and as a result, her efforts are blessed with success. I look to her for wisdom as a writer, a parent, a gardener, and a chef, among other things, so you can imagine how my fingers itched to get a copy of her newly published cookbook, Comfortably Yum. A whole collection of Luisa's culinary masterpieces all in one binding? I had to have it!
As I made my menus for the last several weeks I scheduled in many of her tried-and-true recipes. I wanted to try some of everything before I wrote this review. I can't think of anything more enjoyable. Plus, I felt connected to my soul-friend who lives at the other side of the country from me.
When Comfortably Yum arrived in my mailbox from Amazon, the first thing I had to do (because I'm a nerd like that) was to read it cover to cover like a novel. Yes, I read cookbooks. And a good one will not let a reader down! This one was no exception. Even if you have a complete aversion to tasty food and being anywhere near a kitchen, you would find yourself thoroughly entertained by Luisa's narrations throughout the book. Several times I was laughing out loud, and there was more than one "Amen, sister" uttered vocally.
For instance, the first recipe we tried was "Cranberry Upside-Down Tart", which begins with this introduction:
"I got this recipe from a lovely German lady in our congregation (of course, I've monkeyed with it). Elga called it a dessert when she gave me the little handwritten index card, but I know she must have been kidding, because, um, see, Elga, it doesn't have any chocolate in it."
And thus "Cranberry Upside-Down Tart" goes in the breakfast category. And it is perfect there. My kids loved it. With a tall glass of cold milk, it was the most delicious start to our day.
Well, that is until we tried the "Scones", and the "Oat Breakfast Bars", and the "Baked Doughnuts", and the "Dewey Buns", and the "Biscuits and Gravy", and the "Mother of Invention Muffins". Luisa's scones were the topic of a blog post long before she published her cookbook, and I had been wanting to try them ever since. Only laziness in copying the recipe kept me from doing so, but now that I have, they have become a breakfast staple in our home. And, like many of her recipes, they are so versatile. You can change up what you add to them each time. We especially like dried cranberries and chocolate chips (together) over here.
Luisa and I share many food philosophies and kitchen practices, like bring on the (raw, if possible) dairy products, and take the time to make your own homemade stock. Less processing and more 'real' foods (butter versus margarine, for example) bring health and wholesome deliciousness. Her soup category is hard to beat. "Potato Cheese Soup" (which she introduces with "One of my basic cooking equations is this: potatoes + cheese = comfort. Feel free to check my math." Can I hear another 'Amen, sister'?), "Clam Chowder", and my personal favorite, "Quick Black Bean Soup" were very heartily accepted by everyone in the family. Seriously, she wasn't kidding when she calls her Black Bean Soup "Quick"--I think it was even heated through within 6 minutes--and easy? Nothing is easier. I ate it for several meals and every time I professed my love.
There are so many recipes to try! "Chicken Enchiladas", "Lasagna", "Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf" (hello? You know about my affair with bacon, right?), "Quiche" (just let me die now, please. I've now lived.), "Tuscan Chicken", and "Zucchini Casserole" were my favorites. I can't wait to try every other main dish.
Desserts? Please. Luisa knows desserts. I've been privileged to sit eagerly at her dining table with her brood of children anxiously awaiting her cookies from the oven. After she's doled them out to us, I have been guilty of coveting more than my fair share and, I'll admit, plotting to steal more. Try her "Chocolate Drop (Mostly) Dead Cookies", or her invention, "Brookies". "Sourtastic Lemon Squares" make my mouth water even as I type their name. "Chocolate Caramel Bars"--I would marry them I love them so much, and the "Vermont Apple Crisp" is just about as perfect an autumn dessert as you can get. I also heartily recommend "Chocolate Sour Cream Cake" and "True Love Cheesecake".
Oh, man, I'm hungry.
Comfortably Yum is a user-friendly cookbook. You don't need master kitchen skills or expensive equipment. You won't even have to hunt down hard-to-find ingredients. You will need butter, but that's a good thing, and you will find yourself excited to gather your family around the dinner table night after night as you nourish them with food prepared with love. The name really says it all.
And I love how Luisa summarizes her food philosophy in her Postlude:
"I don't hold with demonizing food, or feeling guilty about it, or talking about how unhealthy or sinful it is to indulge in it. Food is a blessing, a gift from God. I do not believe food makes us sick or fat; I believe that what is going on in our minds and spirits has far more to do with metabolism or the body's other functions than science can yet measure.
"All I am saying is give peace a chance: end your war with food. Don't worship it, but do savor it with thanks and praise to its Creator. Share it with as many people as you can; let's take the energy we used to spend on ambivalence over food and use it to find ways to feed the poor and hungry among us."
Amen, sister, amen.