On May 16, 2016 the library’s cookbook club met for dinner with Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Wisdom From an Obsessive Home Cook published in 2012 by Alfred A. Knopf.

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Deb Perelman is food blogger who never planned to write a cookbook, until she became a mother. “I needed to have a record of what I do that I could pass down to him,” she is quoted as saying in The New York Times (Dec. 12, 2012). She goes on to say that the ephemera of the digital medium bothered her and a cookbook could remedy that.

Deb, a former art therapist shares a story similar to other food bloggers. They had an idea and started a blog, which then turned into something else, and in time they were able to quit their day job and focus solely on writing and recipe testing. For Deb, her blog was to tell stories about her life in New York, and she called it Smitten.

And similar to food blog memoirist Mollie Wizenberg, Deb met her future husband Alex Perelman through the blog; he was the fourth person to comment. The blog soon changed to a recipe focus and nine years later she published The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

The book debuted at No. 2 on The New York Time’s bestseller list and stayed in the top 5 for months. Deb, who never trained as a chef or even worked in a restaurant shared the top spots in The New York Time’s bestseller list with star chefs like Ina Garten and Thomas Keller.

What makes Smitten Kitchen so special is a combination of solid, great tasting recipes with the directions told like Deb is standing right next to you in the kitchen. She’s also a perfectionist, or as she describes herself, “obsessive”.

She shares this in the introduction, “It’s not enough for me to go to a restaurant and have a chicken dish that was mostly good but possibly in need of more acid. I have to go home and read about chicken for an hour. I have to figure out where I am most likely to find the best chicken that afternoon and then I have to buy that chicken and go home and weigh all the ingredients and make note of what size the potatoes were and exactly how far into the cooking time I turned them and the texture of the salt and the brand of vermouth and tweak it and make it again and again until the chicken is just as I had hoped it would be on the day I first ordered it.” This obsessive quality is what makes Deb’s recipes stand apart from just another food blog.  Her recipe writing is very specific and as someone who’s cooked countless meals from her cookbook and blog, she has never let me down.

In fact, she often gets me in the mood to cook. If I’m struggling to find inspiration for weeknight dinners or work lunches or even if I wasn’t planning on baking, seeing a Smitten Kitchen Facebook post in my feed or browsing the recipe index on her site or leafing through her cookbook changes all of my indecision in an instant. This is something Deb hopes will happen to her readers. She is not shy is saying, “even if you weren’t planning to cook tonight, at least one single thing in these pages looks so tempting that not cooking is no longer an option. So, welcome. I hope you’re hungry,” (introduction, xii).

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is organized into chapters on:

  • Breakfast
  • Salads
  • Sandwiches, Tarts, and Pizza
  • The Main Dish: Vegetarian
  • The Main Dish: Seafood, Poultry, and Meat
  • Sweets
    • Cookies
    • Pies and Tarts
    • Cakes
    • Puddings and Candy
  • Party Snacks and Drinks

Every recipe has an introduction that might start off like this, “I have spent a good part of the last few years believing that the world would be a better place if we could all stop pretending that kale tastes good,” (p. 67 in the intro to Kale Salad with Cherries and Pecans).

There are sidebars with cooking notes and do ahead suggestions. A lovely introduction and concluding chapter on how to build your own Smitten Kitchen all share her wit and wisdom. In the acknowledgments she gives a nod to a former Cookbook Club reviewed author, David Lebovitz, “for that time you lugged a kilo of cocoa across the ocean for me.”

Club Rating: 4.5

Club Comments:

“Not an easy everyday cookbook–eclectic and a few steps, but I made several things and was impressed with the reliability of the recipes and I liked the tone and humor in her writing. Pictures were also very good and helpful.” -T.H.

“Really enjoyed this one. I loved the sound of these recipes as I read them and really loved the taste of the ones I made.” -H.M.

“Very good. Good info and directions. Easy read. Interesting.” -L.O.

“Dependably good.” -D.H.

“Practical, easy-to-make, liked the commentary.”

“Enjoyed the recipes, would make a lot of them.” -C.P.

“Very approachable and interesting; heavy on the fat and carbs overall though.” – A.C.

“Clear and easy to read. Loved the pictures.” -B.V.

14 out of 17 club members had never heard of Deb Perelman before. 2 club members follow her blog and 1 club member owned the cookbook but had never cooked from it and was happy to have this opportunity to give the book a chance. 16 out of 17 club members would recommend the cookbook to a friend and many said they will buy a copy for themselves.

Deb lives in New York City with her husband and young son.

Selected Recipes


 

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