One of the things I think about when I’m rating and reviewing cookbooks is: are they a good read? I am of course going to worry about the quality of the recipes, but if the writing is not good there is really no reason to pick up the book – these days the internet will generally be able to provide you with a variety of options for whatever it is you’re on the hunt for, but a well written cookbook will help you understand the whys and hows, not just give you an ingredient list and a method.
On that measure, Ina Garten’s Modern Comfort Food: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook passes well. Garten is used to speaking to an audience, to introducing them to food, and making sure they are informed and entertained (I know not everyone will enjoy the namedropping, but I find it fun). This is also a well timed book, when better to write about comfort food than during a global pandemic? This is a Barefoot Contessa book… which means there are fancier ingredients than are perhaps readily available to you or within your budget, but that shouldn’t prevent you from trying the recipes and doing them with what you have to hand. There are also recipes that I can’t imagine using – I’m not going to Ina Garten for enchiladas, for example. But maybe someone will finally get over their prejudices against enchiladas because Ina gave them a recipe with goat cheese… but I am not that person. I also already make some things virtually the same way they are described in this cookbook (sausage and peppers) so I won’t be revisiting them here.
But I’ve had this book out as long as the library will allow me. Honestly the fact that each recipe comes with a photograph is reason enough to keep it hanging around the kitchen. In the time that I’ve had it I’ve tried a variety of recipes. The Cheddar and Chutney Grilled Cheese sandwiches were very, very good and a handy quick change to really enhance a sandwich. I also had my first success with choux, because even though she doesn’t call it as such, that’s exactly what they Cacio e Pepe Cheese Puffs are and the friends I made them for thought they were delicious (and it’s a recipe that worked for lactose intolerant friends and vegetarian friends). I also treated myself to a Pomegranate Gimlet and it was delicious. The only one I’ve tried that I likely won’t revisit is the Giant Crinkled Chocolate Chip cookies, they just didn’t live up to the work that went into them. I’ve got plans to work through her version of Crispy Chicken and Lemon Orzo as well as making the Arrabbiata sauce. I also chuckled to myself when I came across it – but I am going to try her ice cream sandwich “recipe” of buying crisp chocolate chip cookies (Tates is suggested), coffee ice cream (she says Hagen Das, I say use whatever you have), and toffee bits because it speaks my language, flavor-wise.