COOKBOOK REVIEW: Making meals that feel like a hug

“Simply Julia : 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food” by Julia Turshen (Harper Collins, $32.50)

Julia Turshen ends every episode of her podcast, “Keep Calm and Cook On,” by asking her guests to name their favorite thing to eat while growing up. It’s one of her favorite icebreakers for most any social situation.

“I love it because everyone kind of melts when I ask it and they always have a good story,” she explains in her latest book. Turshen’s skills as a self-taught cook and attentive listener led her to collaborate with Gwyneth Paltrow and various high-profile chefs on their cookbooks before authoring bestselling titles of her own. Her paean to leftovers, “Now and Again,” was named Amazon’s Best Cookbook of 2018. Its follow-up is just as practical, but more personal.

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Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food” (Harper Collins, $32.50) largely centers on the dishes she shares daily with her wife, Grace, at home in the Hudson Valley, and the ones they help prepare weekly as volunteers for a nonprofit that delivers meals to homebound residents.

Because Grace is diabetic, she goes easy on the butter and sugar, and heavy on whole grains and produce. But deprivation is never part of the equation. She believes meals should feed our emotional needs as well as physical ones: “Meals that don’t try to wow you, but hug you.”

She draws inspiration from personal memories — many from growing up in a food-loving New York Jewish family — as well as conversations she has with people from all walks of life about their cooking challenges. She considers helping them overcome those barriers her life’s mission.

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Woven through recipes that are both cozy and creative (Italian Sausage, Farro and Tomato Stew; Kale and Mushroom Pot Pie; her dad Doug’s Tex-Mex Turkey Meatballs made with crushed tortilla chips) are essays on body image and anxiety, advice on kitchen organization, and nuggets of wisdom to motivate us to get cooking, like these:

“If something didn’t turn out how you planned it, there’s no need to tell your guests what the original plan was. Just say ‘dinner’s ready!’ You made someone a meal! That is a gift.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at

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