By Rachel Bowie
Katie Lee Joel knows a thing or two about comfort food — and according to her new book, it goes way beyond just pleasing the palette. Her first cookbook, The Comfort Table, explains that success in the kitchen is rooted in the dining experience, and, most impor- tantly, the company you keep at the table. The wife of musician and long-time Oyster Bay resident Billy Joel and a celebrated culinary expert, Katie knows exactly what she is talking about.
Growing up on a farm in West Virginia, she spent countless hours in the kitchen cooking with her grandmother, trying and tasting the 125 recipes that she recreates on the pages of her book. Thanks to her grandmother, Katie says that she came to appreciate the true value of a home-cooked meal and the many ingredients that make it a success. The aromas wafting from the kitchen, the sound of friends and family laughing — these are the details that Katie de- fines a meal with and ones that she says can easily transition from one kitchen to the next. Beyond what she learned with her grandmother, Katie’s recipes come from her culinary career and straight from her own kitch- ens — in Manhattan and on Long Island — where she and Billy spend lots of time cooking with their family. The former host of Bravo’s Top Chef and a recurring judge on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America, Katie’s goal in the kitchen is to make cooking acces- sible and unpretentious, regardless of the occasion. Her book fea- tures an assortment of soups and salads, entrees, desserts and more. Each recipe uses organic and healthy ingredients and includes en- tertaining tips and anecdotes, all designed to teach and inspire the modern-day foodie.
And what are Katie’s favorite comfort foods? Among her recipes, you’ll find fried green tomatoes, peach cobbler and, her husband’s favorite dish, meat loaf. Katie also introduces a contemporary spin on several classics such as tarragon-citrus mahi-mahi and Dijon and pistachio-crusted rack of lamb. “My taste in food is like my taste in fashion,” Katie said in a recent interview with the media. “[It is] comfortable and classic with a touch of couture. Many of the entrees are classic comfort food recipes re-collected from my family that have been updated and refined.”
Watermelon "Greek" Salad
I love the combination of salty and sweet flavors. It is very common in the South to sprinkle salt on your watermelon, so the idea of a salty watermelon salad is not that out of the ordinary for me. Substituting watermelon for the tomatoes in a traditional Greek salad is a great way to add a twist to a classic and surprise the taste buds of your dining partners.
For the salad
6 cups romaine lettuce, torn into pieces
(from about 2 hearts of romaine)
3 cups seedless watermelon, cubed
1 cup feta cheese (about 4 ounces)
½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted (about 2½ ounces)
½ medium red onion, very thinly sliced
For the dressing
¹⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Pinch of oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a large salad bowl, combine the romaine, watermelon, feta, olives and red onion. In a separate bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients until well blended. Toss the salad with thee dressing and serve immediately.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
When I was a little girl, my grandmother planted a strawberry patch with me. I would rush out every morning to "monitor" their progress, stealing a couple berries each time, with my ruby-stained fingers I fooled no one. Unlike the oversized strawberries with white, hard centers we buy at the supermarket, these homegrown berries were petite and juicy. My grandmother would make the most incredible strawberry shortcake. The cake is more like a giant sweet biscuit and she always doubled the recipe for the strawberries because she knew that I would take an extra serving.
For the strawberries
1 quart strawberries, stemmed and sliced in half
1 cup sugar
For the cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
¾ cup milk
½ cup buttermilk
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving
For the Strawberries
In a medium bowl, mix strawberries and sugar. Set aside, covered, for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours in order for the sugar and strawberries to make a sauce. The longer this mixture sits, the juicier the strawberries will become.
For the Cake
Preheat oven to 450 F. Grease a round 8-inch cake
pan. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until it makes a fine meal. Make a well in the center, and stir in milk and buttermilk until blended. It will have a biscuit dough-like consistency. Spoon into the cake pan. Use floured hands to pat the mixture into the pan. Bake until golden brown on top and a toothpick comes out clean, about 15 to 20 minutes. While the cake is still warm, split the cake in half horizontally so that it makes two thin layers. Remove the top layer and spoon the berries and their juices onto the bottom layer of the cake. Replace top layer and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 30 minutes to 3 hours to macerate the strawberries
Cook Time: 20
Text copyright © 2008 by Katie Lee Joel. Pubblished by Simon Spotlight Entertainment, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed with permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.