Cooking in the Comfort Zone - The New Family Cook Book by Bill Aftoora
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Cooking in the Comfort Zone - Comfort Food Cookbook for the entire Family! Over 300 Comfort Food Recipes - Offered by GuRoux Brands Company and Bill Aftoora

Articles and Reviews

The Cleveland Plain Dealer
A lifelong fan of comfort foods blends Cleveland flavors in book

Cleveland Magazine's Elegant Wedding
Comfort Cooking

Brooklyn NY Home Reporter and Sunset News
Author/Chef Cooks Up Visit To Bookstore

The Review
Get cozy with Comfort Food

The Sun News Papers
Love of sloppy joes leads to book on comfort food

NAIBA News
On the NAIBA Top Shelf

Ohioana Quarterly
Volume XLVI Number 3 Fall 2003.


THE CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER
February 26, 2003
A lifelong fan of comfort foods blends Cleveland flavors in book

By PENNE DERETHIK
Special to The Plain Dealer

Do you believe in signs? Local cookbook author Bill Aftoora does.

A few years ago, Aftoora, a man with a passion for cooking, started talking about putting together a cookbook. He talked about it so much, in fact, that one of his friends finally said, "Bill, sometimes you just gotta take the plunge."

Not entirely convinced, Aftoora headed to the library to do a little research. Armed with a stack of reference books, he settled in. There, in black and white, on a randomly selected page in the first volume he picked up was his answer: "All You Need To Know About Taking The Plunge in Publishing." Aftoora got the message.

Four years and a considerable amount of sweat equity later, Aftoora came out with "Cooking in the Comfort Zone: The New Family Cookbook" (Astor Publishing, 2003; $27.95). it's a neat little how-to-cooking guide full of nifty tips, practical culinary information and several hundred homespun recipes that he's created, or collected, over a lifetime.

It was a worthy endeavor in itself, but Aftoora had much nobler intentions than just covering the basic mechanics of cooking.

"My goal was to create a cookbook that not only emphasizes timeless comfort-food recipes, but also focuses on the essential elements of love and family values - two key ingredients that are so often overlooked because of our hectic lifestyles," says Aftoora. "I mean, what better way for showing your love for family, friends and even the occasional stranger than by cooking up a meal that you've put your heart and soul into creating? Not only does it make them feel good, but it makes you feel good as well."

Admittedly, Aftoora patterned his cookbook after such classic themes as "Betty Crocker's Cookbook," "The Joy of Cooking" and "Good Housekeeping Cookbook."

The 54-year-old Parma native has understood the "feel good" power of food since he was a boy hanging around the kitchen, watching and helping his mother and aunts cook.

"It was such a happy time that I wanted to show others the importance of re-creating those same kind of feelings and memories in their own homes," he says.

Aftoora took a few detours before launching his career as cookbook author and publisher. After graduating from Parma High School and a short stint a Cuyahoga Community College, he pursued a 30-year career in the sign industry. Although he still dabbles in the business as a consultant, the primary focus of his energy has been on getting the cookbook off the ground.,

"It's been an uphill project from the start, but my sister, Faye Valijato, and her family have been my ballasts, offering their encouragement. I also know that my mother, Gert, who passed away while the book was in the making and was my inspiration, would want me to see this through," he says.

Besides offering recipes for "comfort" foods such as macaroni and cheese and meatloaf, the easy-to-follow, step-by-step approach Aftoora developed strives to make novice cooks feel comfortable tackling more complicated dishes such as chicken paprikash. "I wanted anyone to be able to pick up this book and say, 'Hey, I can do that,' and not only do it, but be satisfied with the results," Aftoora says.

Like most traditional cookbooks, "Comfort Zone" is divided into sections that span the gastronomical gamut, from appetizers to desserts. But its simple approach goes far beyond standard meat and potatoes.

"Cleveland has a rich cultural heritage. I wanted to make sure that every corner of its culinary diversity was reflected," says Aftoora.

For that reason you'll find sloppy joes and chicken soup right up there with kielbasa and sauerkraut, goulash and fatoosh, a Middle Eastern salad. But Aftoora cautions that his versions of ethnic recipes might not follow what some consider traditional preparations.

"I have a Hungarian friend who argued that the chicken paprikash recipe wasn't right because it calls for half-and-half as well as sour cream," he says. "Generally I try to maintain the essence of the dish but allow for adding a personal twist or two."

Aftoora also add a few personal technical twists to the mix. In the foreword that outlines the mechanics, he introduces "Neat Nick" and "Sue Chef". They are little graphic icons that appear throughout the book, offering quick tips on preparation (rub a little olive oil on your palms to make rolling meatballs easier), substitutions (canned beans can be used in place of dried beans in most recipes) and shortcuts (no, you won't be arrested by the food police for using an occasional can of condensed soup for sauce).

"Nick and Sue are there to tweak creativity, provide answers to often asked questions and help assure results that even the most inexperienced cook can be proud of," says Aftoora.

Other features of the book are its design (the three-ring binder format allows for the inclusion of updates Aftoora plans for the future) and an emphasis on vegetarian dishes.

"I wanted to make as many people as possible feel at home with this cookbook, so I made it a point of including a little something for everyone," he says.

Although "Cooking in the Comfort Zone" is just starting to take off, Aftoora is already exploring his next culinary adventure based on his "feel-good philosophy of cooking." And, as any of the "occasional strangers" invited to sample his dishes can attest, Aftoora's efforts do indeed deliver the desired warm and fuzzy effect.

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Cleveland Magazine's Elegant Wedding
Spring 2003
Comfort Cooking

The good news about your bridal shower is that you'll get lots of beautiful and useful things. The bad news is that you might feel some compulsion to use them. Which, for many of us, means learning to cook.

If that's the situation in which you find yourself, our best advise is to start simple; no flambes, souffles, or braises for you. Happily, we found a cookbook stocked with recipes so hearty and straight forward that one suspects they are the culmination of a summit that drew in every grandmother, great-aunt and godmother in Cleveland. City chicken, pot pies, glazed ham, and chicken paprikash - they're all there.

In reality, though, "Cooking in the Comfort Zone: The New Family Cook Book" was written by Bill Aftoora of Parma, a hobby chef who says, "These are all recipes that I've done my whole life." He finally compiled them in book form because people constantly asked him for his recipes.

The goal, says Aftoora, was to include the best of Cleveland's culinary heritage, from Italian (fettuccine Alfredo) to German (spaetzels), from Irish (cabbage-potato soup) to low country (black bean soup), from Lebanese (tabbouleh) to Eastern European (Hungarian goulash).

For stuffed cabbage alone, there are three recipes: Hungarian style, Polish style and Middle Eastern style. But the stuffing doesn't stop there. Aftoora's book features stuffed grape leaves - vegetarian style, Middle Eastern style, and Greek style. And, of course, he includes the Cleveland classic: stuffed peppers. "There's roots in this book," Aftoora explains. "This is how your grandmother would cook a meal."

Colleen Mytnick

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BROOKLYN NY HOME REPORTER AND SUNSET NEWS
May 9, 2003
Author/Chef Cooks Up Visit To Bookstore

By RICK BUTTACAVOLI

Something's cooking at the BookMark Shoppe. Chef-turned-author Bill Aftoora will be appearing at the Dyker Heights bookstore on Saturday, May 10 at 1:00 p.m. to sign copies of his new book, "Cooking In The Comfort Zone: The New Family Cookbook."

THE ATMOSPHERE will be festive, as Aftoora will prepare fresh appetizer for customers to sample while they wait for their autograph.

Audience members will be invited to sample a number of different appetizers in a special "Finger Food Frenzy" session.

Aftoora will also be participating in a fun-filled game called "Stump the Chef" that may let some members of the audience leave with a prize.

People who attend the event will be given a form on which to write a food/cooking question to try and "stump the chef." The questions will be placed into a hopper and Aftoora will select them at random and attempt to answer them.

If he stumbles, the person who thought of the question and filled out the form will win a prize.

The event will run from 1:00 to 3:00 P.M. The BookMark Shoppe is located at 6906 11th Avenue.

THE COOKBOOK refers to cooking as a "comfort zone", an activity that can be both enjoyable and productive.

"It addresses the home cook at every level who is interested in a dependable source for family-style home-cooked meals" says Aftoora. "People can relate to the recipes and they are the ones they desire to know how to make."

The book presents recipes in a simple step-by-step format designed to make even the least experienced cook feel comfortable in the kitchen.

Aftoora also included a cast of sidebar characters in his book to add to its overall appeal. Sue Chef is a reference to "sous chef," which means "second in command in the kitchen" in French. She offers different ways to spice up the recipes in the book.

Neat Nick, on the other hand, is a safety-minded character with experience in the kitchen. He answers common questions and gives advice about the dishes presented to readers.

Aftoora also included a Leaf Icon in the table of contents to alert readers to meatless recipes or dishes that can be converted to meatless. This clear indication is a breakthrough in how a cookbook relates to its user, says Aftoora.

BILL AFTOORA cites his mother, Gertrude, as his biggest inspiration in writing the book.

"She was a fabulous cook," he says. "Many of the recipes throughout the book are ones I learned while watching her cook."

Aftoora's father, Richard, also made an impact on his son's cooking style.

"He knew quality produce and meats and had a knack for picking out the best available. I was fortunate to learn from his expertise." says Aftoora.

Now, the author is preparing to update "Cooking In The Comfort Zone" and looks forward to beginning his second book, "What's Cookin', Good Lookin'?"

"It will be a cookbook and an entertaining guide for the hopeless romantic," says Aftoora.

For more information on Aftoora's visit to Dyker Heights, call the BookMark Shoppe at 1-718-680-3680.

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THE REVIEW
December 23, 2002
Get cozy with Comfort Food - Parma chef compiles regional favorites for his new cookbook

By TAMMY WALDEN

PARMA - It's starting to feel a lot like winter when thoughts of preparing sweet and sour meatballs, French onion soup, kielbasa and sauerkraut, and piping hot au gratin potatoes come to mind. That's only part of the inspiration behind "Cooking in the Comfort Zone", the new cookbook by Bill Aftoora of Parma.

Bill says his new cookbook "pays tribute to old-fashioned, down-home, stick-to-your-ribs, good-for-the-soul comfort foods. This book features a collection of timeless recipes reminiscent of traditional family-style; home-cooked meals that you and your family will enjoy for years to come."

But what really sets this cookbook apart, from the barrage of those filling bookstore shelves, is the ease of usage, the timeless tips he offers and the regional dishes he chose to include.

The nearly 200 laminated pages provide easy access to each section. Neatly organized, Aftoora's "Cooking in the Comfort Zone" includes recipes for appetizers, breads, salads, soups/stews, meats/seafood, pasta/sauces, side dishes and desserts. And its colorful three-ring binder allows the removal of pages for convenient placement near work areas.

Unlike many cookbooks, compiled of thousands of recipes, impossible to try in a lifetime, Aftoora's "Cooking in the Comfort Zone" has just the right amount of meal suggestions to invoke constant experimentation. And, most pages contain helpful cooking tips, food history and kitchen safety suggestions to increase preparation ease and shopping for the ingredients.

The recipes akin to northeast Ohio are a true treat. Expect to find such favorites as fried chicken, pot roast, stuffed cabbage rolls, beer battered fish, fettuccini, lasagna, chicken paprikash and more.

In tune with the holidays, Aftoora recently prepared a cozy Christmas meal complete with a  scallop stuffed mushroom appetizer, pumpkin raisin nut muffins, ham with pina colada glaze, scalloped potatoes au gratin, honey glazed carrots, tangy coleslaw and banana crème pie for dessert.

Aftoora says he uses only unsalted real butter when making his muffins to consistently achieve moistness. He suggests to thoroughly cream the butter before mixing with the remaining ingredients.

To make Aftoora's well-adhering pina colada glaze for ham, combine apple juice, brown sugar, crème de coconut, crushed pineapple, corn starch and coconut. Uniquely, he melts butter into the heated mixture at the end of cooking rather than initially as a roux, to enable the sauce to glaze and achieve a crispier crust.

Aftoora says there are specific mushrooms to purchase for stuffing. "If you wash them in water," says Aftoora, "they start breaking down fast and absorbing a lot of the water. If you intend to bread them you definitely don't want to wash them because it makes the breading fall off."

Like many cooks, Aftoora experimented with several techniques before perfecting scalloped potatoes. "When I started putting recipes together for the book," said Aftoora, "I wanted them to be right." His tried and tested foolproof method requires cooking potatoes in milk. "What happens," he says, "is that the water evaporates and the starch comes out to help thicken the water before adding seasonings. In another pot make a true with half the amount of milk. Then add cheese to create a cheese sauce. Next, drain the milk from the potatoes, after cooking for 10 or 12 minutes, into the cheese sauce and add your potatoes to the casserole."

"When I started putting recipes together for the book," said Aftoora, "I wanted them to be right."

"Cooking is a perception," he says. "You have a perception of how things should taste. Everyone has their own perceptions so that whatever your growing up with is the correct way of doing it."

Aftoora also has a unique way of preparing coleslaw by adding horseradish to the sauce. "Some foods have a monotone flavor to me, such as mayonnaise," he said. "So to bring that flavor around you add acidity like lemon juice or horseradish."

Before pursuing his second career as an author, Aftoora owned a sign-making and graphic design business.

"Cooking's always been sort of a pastime with me," he said. "A lot of my relatives are in the restaurant business. Some of them asked me to come to work for them but I said no. In time, I began to get real involved in cooking. Then friends would come to my house and I prepared these elaborate dinners just to have fun. That's the reason why I did it, just to have fun."

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THE SUN NEWS
November 21, 2002
Love of sloppy joes leads to book on comfort food

By DEBBIE PALMER
Staff Writer

Bill Aftoora can trace his passion for cooking straight back to sloppy joes. Specifically, the sloppy joes at St. Charles School.

"That's the first thing I remember about school, because they were so good," Aftoora said. "My mother would make sloppy joes, but they were never the same."

So he started to experiment with seasonings as his mother cooked, trying to capture the flavor that made Tuesday and Thursday lunches so special.

He's been doing it ever since. In fact Aftoora has spent so much of his life adding a pinch of this and a dash of that, he's written a cookbook of his favorite dishes.

"Cooking in the Comfort Zone" is a collection of recipes of traditional foods - things like stew, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti sauce and mashed potatoes - with Aftoora's own flair. He describes it as "down-home, stick-to-your-ribs, good-for-the-soul comfort food."

"I want too make food the way it's supposed to be," he said. "I try to take each thing and give it a lot of taste based on what I think it should be."

It doesn't pretend to be a low-fat or diet-conscious cookbook.

"People know how to adjust for low-fat or low-calorie," he said. "Besides, I really believe fat makes food taste better."

Aftoora is a chef who has never worked as one. He worked in the sign industry for years, and gets offers to cook in restaurants or cater vents, but he usually declines.

"I don't want to be married to this," he said. "Cooking has always been more of a passion for me."

Passion is an understatement. He's always whipping up meals for family and friends or throwing parties, like an annual extravaganzas of Lebanese food in his back yard.

"If you'd see me in the grocery store, you'd think I was cooking for a family of eight," he said.

He's also invented some cooking-related items. Patents are pending on a liquid that reduces acidity in foods like orange juice (www.acidzap.com), and a condensed roux, a thickening agent of flour and fat that restaurants chefs can whip up in seconds.

The idea for the cookbook came up more than a year ago, after he moved back to the Parma home he grew up in to care for his ailing mother.

Often awake in the middle of the night, he started creating recipes, then decided to make it a project. "I thought, I might as well write a book," he said.

The biggest problem was figuring out the amounts. "I was one of those people who never measured anything," Aftoora said.

So he went to the kitchen to test. With some recipes, it as a matter of taking a measure of what he usually added and writing it down; with the recipes he wrote on paper first - like Irish Cabbage and Potato Soup and Scalloped Potato Casserole Hungarian style - he tried them out for the first time.

"With the Low-Country Black Bean Soup, I imagined how it should taste, wrote it down and it turned out exactly how I thought it would," he said.

The book is divided into eight sections, including appetizers, brads, salads, soups/stews,. Meats/seafood, pastas/sauces, side dishes and desserts.

"Cooking in the Comfort Zone" is available at area B. Dalton and Barnes & Noble stores, or by calling (800) 247-6553, or logging onto CookingintheComforZone.com. Cost is $19.95, which includes shipping if ordered online or by phone.

Aftoora will appear at several book signings in the next few weeks, including 4-5p.m. Nov. 23 at Barnes & Noble at Great Lakes Mall, and from 9a.m.-1p.m. and 3-5p.m. Nov. 29 at Java Jo's in Parma.

He is also having soft-cover versions printed to distribute to libraries.

Aftoora dedicates the book to his late parents, Dick and Gert, and in particular his mother, who was a perfectionist in the kitchen and inspired his lifelong love of cooking.

"The amount of food she'd put out on a Sunday afternoon - it was just amazing," he said.

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NAIBA News
(New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association)
April/May 2003
On the NAIBA Top Shelf

Filled with recipes for the comfort foods our mothers and grandmothers made (plus some), this easy to follow cookbook offers up delicious fare for any meal. The ring-binder format makes it easy to pull out a recipe, and it is full of hints and reminders. This book offers delicious variations on standard fare such as meatloaf, which can be prepared Cajun or Middle-Eastern style. Speaking of meatloaf, my family just raved about it, and even my youngest non-eater enjoyed it.

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Ohioana Quarterly
Volume XLVI Number 3 Fall 2003.

Those of us tired of bok choy as a garnish, three unidentified weeds serving as a vegetable, and anything blackened or concocted with cilantro will feel like we're coming home with this book. Along with recipes that pay tribute "to old-fashioned, down-home, stick-to-your-ribs, good for the soul comfort foods." Aftoora, a Clevelander, also includes conversion charts, tips on food and kitchen safety, and a place for notes in the back. The book's pages are also coated, which will resist inevitable spills while cooking. A wonderful addition to anyone's collection.

Kate Templeton Fox

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