The Hunger Games: Taste-Testing Carla Hall’s Comfort Food

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Photo by Greg PowersPhoto by Greg Powers

We had a blast the last time Top Chef competitor and The Chew co-host Carla Hall made an appearance in Nashville; so we couldn’t be more excited about her upcoming return to promote her new book, Carla’s Comfort Food: Favorite Dishes from Around the World. In the interest of customer service, we decided that rather than simply create a book display, a few of our staff would give the recipes a test run, and the rest of the gang would vote on whose dish turned out best. (We love a good competition.)

carla's comfort foodsWhat we made: 

  • Ann — Cucumber-Carrot Slaw with Crunchy Noodles
  • Niki — Chicken and Dumplings, Corn Pudding, Quince Cake
  • Stephanie — Chicken in Dijon Cream
  • Emi — Chocolate Chai Sandwich Cookies
  • Karen — Spanakopita

Once they had their recipe assignments, everyone went shopping, gathered their supplies and equipment, and generally got psyched up. Then the cooking began.

Ann reported that she was hard at work chopping veggies for the slaw. “I especially like the dressing,” she said. “I’d never thought to put prunes in the blender, but it’s a good idea.”

Niki got so excited about her chicken and dumplings that she decided to try a few more things, too. She said one of the easiest and tastiest recipes was the Quince Corn Cake. (FYI: Find quince paste on the international aisle.)

Stephanie, whose usual comfort zone is Tex-Mex, said the Dijon cream chicken recipe was really different territory for her, but came together pretty easily and looked beautiful.

A few spills and improvisations later, we put our masterpieces on platters and headed to the store for the tasting. Everyone crowded ’round the table in the staff room with their plates.

Opie at Cookoff
We’d like to provide more detailed photographs of the tasting process, but you just try getting in a hungry bookseller’s face with a camera at lunchtime. It’s a good way to get your arm bitten off. Instead, please enjoy this photo of Opie sidling up to the leftovers table… just a little closer… and a little closer…

Finally, after many rounds of seconds and thirds, our staff judges named their picks for the best bookseller-impersonating-a-chef entries:


dumplingsSavory Dish — Chicken & Dumplings, made by Niki

“I cheated in a couple of places – I used a rotisserie chicken I got at the store in the chicken and dumplings. I just added a few more spices and a spoonful of Better than Bullion to make up for my shortcut, and it turned out great. It saved me a ton of time, which given that it was a work night and I was making two other things, I needed!”




spanokSide Dish — Spanakopita, made by Karen

“I had never made spanakopita before, let alone worked with filo dough, and I learned you need to work fast, because the thin sheets of dough dry out quickly which makes it break apart easily. Luckily I bought more dough than I needed and was able to assemble a reasonably attractive batch. I’m really pleased with how it turned out. The lemon really did add a freshness to the flavor. This is a recipe I will happily make again.”

Click here to download the Spanakopita recipe!

cookiesDessert — Chocolate Chai Sandwich Cookies, made by Emi

“This cookie recipe is not normally something I would make, as shortbread dough can be fussy to work with. You have to keep the dough as chilled as possible in order to get attractive results. The recipe itself seemed straightforward enough, but after reading through I doubled the amount of ganache. I am glad I did — I had enough ganache to fill the two dozen cookies the recipe produced. The end results were indeed delicious, and both the shortbread and ganache recipes are good jumping off points for future cookie experiments!”


Chef Carla Hall will be at Parnassus Books on Saturday, April 19, at 2 p.m. for a discussion and signing of her latest book, Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World. The event is free and open to the public — no advance tickets required. Bring the whole family!

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If we can do it, you can do it. Give a new recipe a try:

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