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The most frequently used letter in English? It’s “e.”

That’s why so many adjectives begin with an “e:” elegant, excellent, extraordinary, …

I was looking for an e-adjective that best describes John Whaite’s newest, and fourth, cookbook: Comfort, Food to Soothe the Soul. I thought for a while and came up with the perfect one‑adjective description. Comfort is an essential cookbook. No matter how little kitchen space you have for cookbooks, Comfort belongs there. No matter how many cookbooks you own, even thousands, you need Comfort close at hand.

It’s that good.

After winning the Great British Bakeoff in 2012, John expanded to multiple careers. By training, well, he’s becoming a barrister. By love, he’s a baker. By nature, he’s an author and TV personality. I first encountered John last year with his third book Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients. Oh, I thought one of those books: what can you do with five ingredients. It turned out: plenty and wonderful.

With Perfect Plates, I sensed that John was about to burst into Diana-Henry-style fame. With this book, Comfort, he has. This book is, beyond being essential, very clever. Just consider its organization. You know, multiple chapters: apps, drinks, sides, mains, desserts.

No. Not here. None of the “standard” stuff for John. The chapters are organized along comfort lines. What makes you happy when you eat. You’ll find something surely in chapters entitled:

  • Something Cheesy
  • Something Spicy
  • Something Crunchy
  • ‘Something Sticky
  • Something Pillowy
  • Something Tender
  • Something Sweet
  • Something on the Side

Pillowy? What kind of food is pillowy? Well, there are Vietnamese Beef Puddings. This is John’s double riff on British beef and pudding dishes plus the tidal wave of Asian influences that has transformed British cuisine. The pudding shell is shredded beef suet plus flour and water. But the filling, oh golly, the filling is 20 ingredients. Beefsteak is cooked until it falls apart in onion, potato, carrot, celery, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, bay, fish sauce, sugar, vinegar, and more. Typical John recipe. Some effort in the kitchen. The richest possible rewards at the table.

In scanning the book, I found these recipes most intriguing:

Balsamic Shortribs with Cornbread [the cornbread is just baked atop the ribs, finger food]

Caramelized Shallot, Honey and Roquefort Cornbread [we’ve made, we’ve eaten, I’ll post it]

Cinnamon Buns [the best Sweden has to offer]

Cumin, Fennel and Nigella Seed Onion Rings with Pomegranate Molasses Chutney

Damson, Guinness and Cocoa Jam

Fish Finger Tacos with Watermelon Salsa and Avocado Cream

Fish Pie Potato Skins [you have to read the recipe to understand!]

Guinness and Blackberry Beef Stew

Lamb Meatballs with Sherry and Currant

Miso and Rye Eggplants [picture at the end of this post]

Onion Soup with an Epoisses and Caraway Crust

Pear, Gorgonzola and Walnut Risotto

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam Lamb Chops with Roasted Potatoes and Beets

You literally cannot put the book down. And, there’s more. You read these recipes and realize you can improvise at will. There is an infinity of recipes here. For example, John has a One-Pot Tarragon Chicken with Mushrooms and Rice. We had chicken and rice, but no tarragon or mushrooms. Suzi improvised, as you will see next week. Different combination of ingredients but strictly John’s marvelous technique.

Comfort is just out in the stores. “e” is still the most frequently used letter in English. Comfort will be the frequently used book in your kitchen!

Here’s the eggplant picture. Glory. Oh, I’ve just received John’s first two cookbooks: John Whaite Bakes and John Whaite Bakes at Home. Total dessert books. No eggplant.  Reviews and recipes to come.