When it comes to comfort food, our favorite recipes are usually ones that we first enjoyed when we were children. When we eat those same dishes as adults, not only do they taste just as good, but they also remind us of a time when life was a little more effortless and innocent. It’s the food that makes us feel good, cared for, and satisfied. I can trace my fondest food memories back to my elementary school days. I loved watching my grandmothers cooking away in their kitchens, bringing their children and grandchildren together around the table. And my mom always managed to fix a mostly home-cooked dinner every night, even though she was busy working part-time and raising me and my two siblings. While “dinner” sometimes meant opening a box or combining a few packages of ingredients in a pan on the stove, I cooked with my mom frequently.
The first recipe I mastered was my grandmother’s shepherd’s pie, which my mom taught me how to make. Even though my Grandma Bonnie’s version included canned cream soup and fried onions, a tub of sour cream, and a pile of cheese, I re-created a slightly more authentic, real-foods version for my family to keep the tradition going (see page 250). In order to be helpful, my siblings and I were often on dinner duty, and that shepherd’s pie, as well as French dip sandwiches (see page 217), were my specialties. We used processed deli meat and a package of powdered au jus for those original sandwiches, but hey, at least it wasn’t takeout!
My husband, Ryan, has such delicious memories of his Grandmother Betty’s beef stew and mashed potatoes that I ended up creating a new version of it for this book (see page 175). Maybe you learned how to make a traditional Key lime pie from your dad, or have a favorite aunt who treated you to her famous pineapple upside-down cake whenever she visited. There’s definitely a whole generation of us who were comforted by creamy one-pot casseroles that bubbled as they came out of the oven on chilly nights.
Just as you don’t want to forget the people who introduced you to your favorite recipes, you also don’t want to forget what those foods tasted like, even if your diet doesn’t allow you to enjoy them today. Whether you’re a parent trying to get your kids to eat healthier or an adult who still wants to indulge in your childhood favorites while also focusing on your health, there’s one thing we all have in common: we want hearty, delicious food that warms the soul and reminds us of our youth.
I think that’s why I get so many requests for classic comfort food, such as Chicken ’n’ Dumplings Soup (page 173), Mini Corn Dogs (page 256), and creamy casseroles made from canned creamed soups, like Poppy Seed Chicken (page 247). I also get frequent requests for one-pot and slow cooker meals, make-ahead and freezer foods, packed lunches, and hearty soups and salads that are easy to throw together on busy weeknights, when feeding your tribe a healthy dinner can feel like a chore. As a busy mom to Asher, Easton, and Kezia, I rely on these types of meals frequently, so I get it!
While my last cookbook, Celebrations, included a lot of nostalgic dishes like cinnamon rolls, green bean casserole, birthday cakes, and Christmas fudge, I still had a mile-long list of recipes that I had promised to develop. I won’t stop publishing recipes until each and every one of you has grain-free renditions of your most beloved dishes that you can slide into your stained and tattered recipe journal in between your grandmother’s handwritten index cards.
As with my previous cookbooks, many of these recipes are inspired by recipes developed in
my family’s kitchens, including my mother’s, my grandmothers’, my great-grandmothers’, and even my husband’s grandmother’s. They may have spoiled us with sugary cereals and Pop-Tarts when we visited, but these ladies were also masters of homemade comfort food. Many of my Granny Sarella’s recipes may already be beloved in your kitchen. (If you haven’t yet, check out Granny Sarella’s meat sauce from my first cookbook, Against All Grain, or her biscotti and panettone recipes from Celebrations.) In the same way, I hope Betty’s Beef Stew (page 175), inspired by Nanny, Ryan’s grandmother, becomes a staple weeknight meal. I bet the Sausage-Spinach Skillet Lasagna (page 220) or Chicken Divan (page 256), fashioned after hot dishes my mom made on cold winter nights in Colorado, will be added to your regular dinner rotation. And I hope your old potluck dessert favorites, such as Banana Pudding (page 303) or Apple Crisp (page 289), can be reintroduced to your repertoire.
If the recipes you loved from childhood don’t fit into your lifestyle any longer because you have food allergies or have to follow a special diet, dinnertime can be especially frustrating. You may envision a life filled with bland chicken and steamed broccoli, and suddenly you’re a little short of breath. If you are newly diagnosed with celiac, a dairy allergy, gluten intolerance, or an autoimmune disease, or just want to eat healthier a few nights a week, you may feel confused and hopeless when it comes to food.
Can this really be a sustainable lifestyle for you or your family? The short answer is yes! Flip through this book and inhale deeply. You can still find comfort in the foods you eat, and enjoy them with your friends and family, despite your restrictions. The recipes in this book will show you that you can enjoy life, feel great, and relish in delicious and decadent food that leaves you feeling satisfied rather than deprived.