Recipes by Katie Lee
Photographs by Miki Duisterhof
Simon & Schuster -- 2009
Buy it on Amazon
"The Comfort Table: Recipes for Everyday Occasions" is Katie Lee's second cookbook, with an emphasis on holidays, seasonal celebrations and entertaining for crowds big and small. The book, broken down by occasion, includes a menu, complete with an appetizer, salad, main, side(s), drink, and dessert, along with a playlist and appropriate wine pairing.
Lee makes a point to demystify entertaining -- there's no need for a specific reason to celebrate or for un-needed stress. The "Party Tips" she shares in the book's introduction are simple tasks that should be included in every entertaining 101.
Southern comfort dishes like grits cakes, casseroles and biscuits are reinvented with flavorful ingredients like wild mushrooms, sage and Parmesan, while classics like fried chicken are presented as they should be -- untouched. Desserts like rustic apple pie, cheesecake, and chocolate-banana cream pie will have your sweet-tooth coming back for seconds (and maybe thirds). Don't have time to make the entire menu for dinner? Most side and main dishes can be made during the week to make this cookbook more versatile.
See what we tested and read our exclusive interview with Katie Lee after the jump to find out her favorite recipes and get the dish on the rumors of her own burger joint.
Takeaway tips: Each menu has handy tips, pointing out which dishes make great hostess gifts or party favors, substitutions and easy alternatives, what to do with leftovers and what dishes are just as great reheated. Along with each menu, a wine and playlist are paired, taking the guess work out of entertaining, especially on a whim. The wine selections also help the busy cook save time in the wine aisle.
Quality of pictures: No-fuss images of sides, mains, desserts and drinks carefully placed on bright-hued tablecloths catch the reader's eye. Photos of Katie Lee along with her family offer insight into the chef's private life. Tablescapes provide creative ideas on how to set the mood for any occasion, but the random pictures of furniture not accompanied with food are a little abstract. Verdict: We'd love to see more pictures of the recipes; they capture us.
We tested: Chicken with mushrooms and garlic, Dijon Brussels sprouts, porterhouse steaks and creamed spinach
This chicken falls off the bone after it's done simmering in garlic, mushrooms and white wine. The "gravy" that is left in the pot is rich and delicious, and begs to top fluffy mashed potatoes for the ultimate fall or winter meal. Don't let the long list of ingredients scare you. Simple items such as herbs, spices, butter and oil olive take up the majority of the list and can easily be found in your pantry or refrigerator. Note to readers: We found the amount of lemon juice was a little overwhelming (1 1/2 tablespoons), our second time around we used just 1 tablespoon and it came out ideal for our tastes.
The Dijon Brussels sprouts were a match made in heaven paired with the chicken. A rich main deserves an equally hearty and comforting side. Used to the method of roasting Brussels sprouts, sauteing them proved to be a time saver without skimping on flavor. Shallots, chicken broth, lemon juice and Dijon mustard coat the sprouts, but it was the topping of toasted bread crumbs that hooked us and made this recipe a keeper.
In the mood for a steakhouse meal without the enormous tab at the end? Lee's porterhouse steaks, simply seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper, and served with a hefty helping of creamed spinach will leave even the finest steakhouses in the dust. Cook the meat to your preferred temperature but remember to bring the meat to room temperature before placing on a grill pan or iron skillet. Not in the mood for a porterhouse? Use Katie Lee's tip and get to know your butcher -- he'll point you in the direction of other delicious cuts of meat. While not the healthiest side, in moderation this creamed spinach will have your kids eating spinach in no time. The greens -- seasoned with nutmeg, Parmesan cheese, shallots, butter and heavy cream -- double as leftovers the next morning in your omelet.
Worth the investment: It's on our bookshelves and it should be on yours, as well. Creative takes without all the frills makes this the ideal cookbook for any home-cook or entertainer, especially novices.
Slashfood's interview with Katie Lee:
What was the inspiration for this book?
The way that I live, I love to entertain and have friends over. My house is like a revolving door, it's the hangout house. When I started writing the book, I thought of doing a celebrations book. As the economy took a turn, I realized that you don't need a special event or reason to celebrate. I love to have a theme to my dinners -- like steakhouse night -- it's so much less expensive to do it at home.
So not only do you put an entire menu together for your readers, but you also include a playlist.
I think that music and food go hand-in-hand, I always listen while I'm in the kitchen. It's important to have songs that set the tone. I also included a wine suggestion for each menu because a lot of people get intimidated with all of the different choices available. I took the guess work out of everything so it's not so overwhelming.
What are some of your favorite recipes from the book?
Buffalo chicken quesadillas, chicken with mushrooms and garlic, fried chicken, chocolate peanut butter balls (they make a great gift), spiced pecans and the portobello mushroom burgers.
Who taught you how to love food?
Grandma and grandpa -- while my mom worked, she left me with my grandparents. My grandpa had an incredible garden and my grandma is an incredible cook, we always talked about what we were going to eat next. No one loved food more than my grandpa, I always wish he was around.
What tips can you give to our home cooks?
You don't have to spend a lot of money to have a good meal -- look for ways to cut corners. For example, buy cheaper cuts of meat -- use chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts.
If you're in the mood for a steak, skip the steakhouse and sear some porterhouses at home instead. If you want to save even more, go to your local butcher and ask for skirt, flank or hanger steaks, which can pack just as much flavor. In fact, I would rather have a skirt steak than a filet Mignon.
It's about planning ahead. Stay away from precut produce; on Sunday afternoon or whatever easy day of the week you have, chop everything up. Beans and lentils are great money savers, as well.
What is the one gadget in your kitchen that you can't live without?
Mini Cuisinart -- I use it all the time and everybody should have a pair of tongs, too.
What is the one thing you've mastered that you're extremely proud of?
Grandma's biscuits. It was our favorite thing to cook together when I was a kid and I've gotten mine about as good as hers.
What is your ultimate meal?
Fried chicken. I don't eat it that often, but when I do, I pig out -- at least 3 pieces. I would also include mashed potatoes, green beans, corn bread and chocolate banana cream pie. Yum.
You live in New York City, where do you like to eat?
Emilio Ballato's, it's a small Italian place, which is still under the radar and the food is fantastic. If I'm in the mood for a big plate of pasta, I go to Emilio's. I don't have to go anywhere fancy, but if I do want to get dressed up, Marea, Michael White's restaurant, is where I like go.
What are you doing now?
Currently I'm on my book tour. Other than that, I write a column for Cosmopolitan magazine. It's the first food column they've ever had and it challenges me to make easy recipes that don't require a lot of appliances (how to cook in smaller spaces). I'm also a regular contributor on the CBS Early Show.
There are a lot of rumors swirling around that you're opening a burger joint in New York City?
They are pretty much just rumors, however I would consider it down the road. I love burgers, especially the two new recipes from my book, lamb burgers and portobello burgers.
What are you watching right now on TV/ favorite TV Shows?
"Real Housewives of New Jersey," "Gossip Girl," "Ugly Betty" and "Mad Men." Love that Donald Draper!