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The Comfort Food Cookbook

by Joanna Burkhard

What food isn’t comforting – at least to someone? Montreal Gazette food columnist Johanna Burkhard ignores just this question in The Comfort Food Cookbook. Her introduction states: “We all have fond memories of cherished recipes that evoke the warmth of home and family. Call them our comfort foods.” That “we” and “our” are suspect: Burkhard never defines these people, yet, given the actual recipes, one can safely assume they don’t include, say, any Laotians, who enjoy eating Laab, a traditional dip made of eggplant pureed with raw cow’s spleen.

Truth is, this is middle-class, suburban Canadian food – and it’s darn good food, too. Burkhard may have a slippery grip on her premise, but she has a solid hold on the Frigidaire. Chicken Noodle Soup, Roast Turkey with Sage Stuffing, Waldorf Coleslaw, Broccoli and Cheese-Stuffed Potatoes, Pea Soup with Smoked Ham, Shepherd’s Pie, Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler; here is the return of actually making “homemade” food, rather than just opening packages. And even if the ingredient list for such cuisine is defined by supermarket availability, Burkhard still provides excellent, healthy recipes, written with thoughtful, clear instructions. She even includes – for household radicals, or perhaps, for radicalizing households – many dishes to comfort “any vegetarian – or for that matter, the entire family.” And there are enough kitchen tips for a separate volume – though not always new. Move over Martha Stewart! The Canadian Living crowd will devour this book.

Regardless of the fact that the term “comfort food” may be redundant, many Canadians of a certain demographic ilk will indeed find comfort here. Those outside that group, however, will consider this an adventure in ethnic cuisine. Perhaps Burkhard would have better titled her book: The Suburban Canadian Bourgeois Comfort Food Book. Then she would not have risked disappointing those who might rifle her pages looking for that cherished cow spleen recipe.