Books for Cooks
Bury Me at Smitten Kitchen
I only have one food blog bookmarked on the entire world wide web: smittenkitchen.com.
I was lured in to Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen by a link to her salted brown butter crispy treats (as in Rice Krispies treats). Then I scrolled down past photos of apple cider doughnuts, chocolate stout cake, and lasagna bolognese all shot against Perelman’s speckled, black kitchen counter. Something was happening, something more than food lust … something almost religious, something that I wanted to shout from the rooftops—if I could get on my roof and the neighbors wouldn’t threaten to call the police because some crazy lady is yelling about butter cakes. Instead I clicked “bookmark this page” with a trembling hand.
I am not alone in my Smitten Kitchen ardor. More than five million people a month visit this New York City, East Village, stay-at-home mom’s web site. On the wings of such popularity, Perelman was able to publish The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook in October, a lush and decadent collection of her culinary triumphs. For those of you who have sworn off the purchase of any more cookbooks due to buckling shelves—bad move. This is a cookbook worth collapsing your shelves for. It has the visual appeal of a coffee table book (almost every recipe has a full-page picture), the literary appeal of a collection of snappy personal essays and the promise of culinary joy.
For those unfamiliar with the Smitten Kitchen world: Perelman’s aim is pleasure, simplicity and perfection without snobbery.
For those unfamiliar with the Smitten Kitchen world: Perelman’s aim is pleasure, simplicity and perfection without snobbery. She will not publish a merely good recipe. She will tinker and fiddle until she hits the sweet spot she’s envisioning. Nor does she bring that top-chef, Food Channel stuffiness that makes us feel inadequate. She cooks at home in her tiny kitchen and gives such extravagances as truffle oil and Himalayan pink salt the cold shoulder.
Perelman herself, with her colorful, witty and chummy voice, is wonderfully accessible. Each recipe includes a story, often about the somewhat comic origin of a dish or an investigation of food preference idiosyncrasies. A sense of camaraderie prevails.
This is not a cookbook for health nuts—though Perelman includes a host of flavorful veggie dishes as well. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to drastically decrease my sugar consumption. Then I was gifted this cookbook. I spent yesterday afternoon baking buttered popcorn cookies. The Smitten Kitchen universe, in Perelman’s words, involves “a lot of comfort foods stepped up a bit.” What we have on our hands is deep dish bistro food for the next generation: sour cream pancakes with a slice of peach caramelized and baked into the batter, or tomato glazed meatloaf with brown butter mashed potatoes. We also see a lot of Russian/Jewish influence with her penchant for pickled things, bagels, blintzes and latkas.
You can see why my New Year’s resolution was blown to hell. A hell that looks suspiciously like heaven. A heaven paved with chocolate hazelnut crepe cakes and Deb Perelman’s comforting voice.
by Deb Perelman
Knopf, hardcover, $35