Review: Cooking with Love: Comfort Food that Hugs You by Carla Hall

Disclaimer: I voted for Carla Hall for Fan Favorite on Top Chef.

I loved Carla’s attitude and I loved the look of her food when she was on Top Chef. I always prefer the low-drama, high-teamwork folks who are focused on the cooking. Because of that, I was really excited to check out Carla’s cookbook.

Now, I am always a little cautious of anything that talks about comfort food. I love comfort food, but for me, that means mac and cheese, meatloaf, fried chicken, and food covered in good gravy. And I shouldn’t be eating that! I am trying to eat healthy, and comfort food is seldom healthy.

Not everything in this cookbook is healthy, but there is plenty of good stuff in here to cook. Carla talks about “lightening up” dishes by boosting the flavors and using smart cooking techniques. Besides, you wouldn’t really want your comfort food to be too healthy. It would lose most of its comfort.

I’ve only made a few recipes so far (the creamed chicken with broccoli and mushrooms, the groundnut soup), but I’ve read through the book and I love her stories and the recipe introductions. One thing I am really looking forward to cooking is “Swamp Thing” – how could you resist something with a name like that? It’s braised pork shoulder in smoked pork-corn broth with sweet potatoes and collard greens. It sounds fabulous! This is the dish that she made on Top Chef for the Ancestors challenge and I am going to wrangle one of my good cooking-buddies and give this one a try.

What makes for a great cookbook? Great recipes, of course. And I separate “great recipes” into two categories: things I can cook, and things I wish I could cook. My French Laundry cookbook is full of things I wish I could cook, but Cooking with Love is full of things I could make for dinner tonight. I want good pictures, very important, since you want to know what the final dish is supposed to look like. Clear directions are vital — good explanations of the process and no metric measurements. Finally, a really great cookbook tells a story. Sometimes, it’s aspiration, like the French Laundry book, or my books of Indian and Asian cuisine. Sometimes, the story is utilitarian. This cookbook tells a love story. It’s full of Carla’s love of cooking and her love for her family. Her stories and descriptions are a pleasure to read.

My copy of Cooking with Love: Comfort Food that Hugs You is from my private library.

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