Deb Perelman has your back. She really does! Her newest book, Smitten Kitchen Every Day, is a true love letter to home cooking. Often times I get questions asking me where I find the time to cook. TBH I make the time because I truly love it. But I have a 3 year old daughter and I never thought trying to feed her would be such a roller coaster of emotions. When she first started eating she loved it! She would eat anything! Try anything and then something happened. She turned two and realized that she, was in fact, an autonomous being capable of deciding things for herself. Which meant that she unreservedly used her favourite word (“NO”) for anything we tried to feed her. I had to take a step back. My mom always told me: “Kristine. She won’t starve! If she’s hungry enough she’ll eat.” And it was the truth. Slowly but surely she started to join in during family meals and instead of offering her anything I just served everything family-style and let her serve herself. She started to discover food all over again. She loves to help me in the kitchen and now I think she’s gotten bored making all of the decisions. So dinnertime has become much less acrimonious (which is not to say it’s all perfect! My kid is the slllloooowest eater in creation. I swear that she’s just finishing up one meal while I’m getting started on making another).
How does this fit in with Smitten Kitchen Every Day?
What Deb Perelman has created is a cookbook which recognizes and respects the fact that time is a precious commodity (folks are busy!). The resulting recipes work to create joyful food experiences while being practical. That may sound like there’s a “but” or a compromise in there somewhere — there’s not. From all of the recipes I’ve tried (and the ones I’m — as she puts it in her introduction — “too curious not make”) each recipe has delivered and then some.
When I started making the Jam-Bellied Bran Scones I felt like the whole endeavor was way to good to be true. (Dear friends! Please don’t get upset with me but I always have had this perception of bran being the breakfast choice of those who had given up on breakfast.) In actuality, these scones are wholesome and moist yet so fun! They’re filled up with gorgeous jam — even better! My three-year-old loved them as did my husband. I was a bit lazy, so instead of cutting them out in rounds I just made “rustic” looking rectangles. This is OK because after reading the introduction I know the last thing she would want is for home cooks to be slaves to any recipe. No drudgery in home cooking, only joy.
The book is organized by meal type: Breakfast, Soups and Stews, Sandwiches, Tarts, and Flatbreads, Vegetable Mains, Meat Mains, Sweets, and finally, Apps, Snacks, and Party Food. There is even a section at the end after the index that is A Guide for Special Menus — which lists of foods suitable for those observing vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or dairy-free diets. This is so helpful especially when you might want to spend your time cooking rather than hunting down a recipe. All of the ingredients are easily sourced and fairly inexpensive to buy. When I was making the Pizza Bean recipe I did have a bit of trouble finding dry Giant White Beans so I ended up using dry Calico Lima Beans. (In case you’re wondering, yes, in fact, Pizza Beans are that good! Which goes to show that it can be all in the name sometimes — how could anything with the word “pizza” be bad? Pizza Party — awesome! Pizza Sub — devine! Pizza Beans — tasty as all get-out!)
She does such an amazing job of choosing her main ingredient and then creating a recipe to celebrate that ingredient — whether it be farro, sweet potato, beans, tofu, broccoli. On one hand, sweet potatoes are becoming that ubiquitous kid food but on the other her Dry-Rub Sweet Potato Steaks w/ Green Bean Slaw recipe works to transform the sweet potato into a dish that she calls (and I wholeheartedly agree with) “the least boring all-vegetable dinner ever cooked.” It’s the truth! Salty, spicy, sweet, with a hint of umami make this dish so delicious! Even my three-year-old enjoyed it but, tbh, hers wasn’t the one in the above photo. I served hers the Sally Albright way — sweet potato with the green bean slaw on the side. “On the side” is very big with both Sally and my kid.
What I find I look for in each cookbook that I try are recipes that either teach me a new technique or offer a dish that I’ve never tasted before. In this book I stumbled on to a recipe for Ricotta Blini w/ Honey, Orange, and Sea Salt and never having had blini before I couldn’t image where they’d been all of my life! She describes them in the book as “plush and unforgettable” and they are exactly that. Even my daughter fell in love — although she calls them “doughnut pancakes.”
On the day I made them I was, in fact, having a pretty crumby day. Tired of the bad news on TV and sad news from friends what I ended up finding in this recipe was a way to mend my broken heart. Which goes to show that even on days when celebration seems impossible an unexpected recipe can be the lining on that dark cloud of a day.
Even the desserts are really special — take this Wintry Apple Bake w/ Double Ginger Crumble — a dish that is both saucy and cookie-like while being properly spiced with ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. This is one dish that could have been very easily put into the breakfast section imho. After reading the Party Cake Builder section I’m counting down the days until the next cake-worthy opportunity occurs so that I can try a cake recipe that sounds like the last one I might ever need.
If you’re curious to see what I’ve been up to in Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen then check out my custom hashtag #eatworthyissmitten or my dedicated Facebook post. As I keep trying recipes I will keep updating those posts!
One thing I urge you to do when you pick up Smitten Kitchen Every Day is to just sit down and read it — the introduction and recipe head notes — because Deb Perelman has the most wonderful voice. Her felicity of expression is unique and so entertaining! (When she talked about “Hangry O’Clock” in the intro I was giggling.) I’m secretly hoping that her next book is more writing than recipe — maybe one of those memoir/recipe hybrid books.
It’s been really wonderful that my last book review of the year is this one. So many times this year I found myself immersed in a cookbook only to have to stop and move on to the next review. I think I’m going to linger for awhile here in the Smitten Kitchen — I’m really excited to try more recipes (rye bagels, danish rice pudding, sticky toffee waffles…..) and keep adding to my Repeat Forever Files.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.