Winner of the IACP First Book Award * Named one of Cooking Light magazine’s Top 100 Cookbooks of the Last 25 Years
The long-awaited cookbook by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen—home cook, photographer, and celebrated food blogger.
Deb Perelman loves to cook. She isn’t a chef or a restaurant owner—she’s never even waitressed. Cooking in her tiny Manhattan kitchen was, at least at first, for special occasions—and, too often, an unnecessarily daunting venture. Deb found herself overwhelmed by the number of recipes available to her. Have you ever searched for the perfect birthday cake on Google? You’ll get more than three million results. Where do you start? What if you pick a recipe that’s downright bad?
So Deb founded her award-winning blog, Smitten Kitchen, on the premise that cooking should be a pleasure, and that the results of your labor can—and should—be delicious . . . every time. Deb is a firm believer that there are no bad cooks, just bad recipes. She has dedicated herself to creating and finding the best of the best and adapting the recipes for the everyday cook.
And now, with the same warmth, candor, and can-do spirit her blog is known for, Deb presents her first cookbook: more than 100 recipes—almost entirely new, plus a few favorites from the site—all gorgeously illustrated with hundreds of her beautiful color photographs.
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is all about approachable, uncompromised home cooking. Here you’ll find better uses for your favorite vegetables: asparagus blanketing a pizza; ratatouille dressing up a sandwich; cauliflower masquerading as pesto. These are recipes you’ll bookmark and use so often they become your own, recipes you’ll slip to a friend who wants to impress her new in-laws, and recipes with simple ingredients that yield amazing results in a minimum amount of time. Deb tells you her favorite summer cocktail; how to lose your fear of cooking for a crowd; and the essential items you need for your own kitchen. From salads and slaws that make perfect side dishes (or a full meal) to savory tarts and galettes; from Mushroom Bourguignon to Chocolate Hazelnut Crepe Cake, Deb knows just the thing for a Tuesday night, or your most special occasion.
Tres Leches Rice Pudding
yield: serves 8
1 cup (180 grams) long-grain white rice
¾ teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
One 12-ounce can (1½ cups or 355 ml) evaporated milk
One 13.5-ounce can (17/8 cups or 415 ml) unsweetened coconut milk
One 14-ounce can (1¼ cups or 390 grams) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) heavy or whipping cream, chilled
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
Ground cinnamon, to finish
My list of rice pudding loves is long. There’s the Danish risalamande, with chopped almonds, whipped cream, and a sour cherry sauce, usually served at Christmas with a prize inside—one that I never win, not that I’ve been trying for thirteen years at my best friend’s house or anything. There’s kheer, with cardamom, cashews or pistachios, and saffron. There’s rice pudding the way our grandmothers made it, baked for what feels like an eternity, with milk, eggs, and sugar. And there’s arroz con leche, which is kind of like your Kozy Shack went down to Costa Rica for a lazy weekend and came back enviously tan, sultry, and smelling of sandy shores. As you can tell, I really like arroz con leche.
But this—a riff on one of the best variants of arroz con leche I’ve made, which, in its original incarnation on my site, I adapted from Ingrid Hoffmann’s wonderful recipe—is my favorite, for two reasons: First, it knows me. (That’s the funny thing about the recipes I create!) It knows how preposterously bad I am at keeping stuff in stock in my kitchen, like milk, but that I seem always to have an unmoved collection of canned items and grains. Second, it’s so creamy that it’s like a pudding stirred into another pudding.
The rice is cooked first in water. I prefer to start my rice pudding recipes like this, because I’m convinced that cooking the rice first in milk takes twice as long and doesn’t get the pudding half as creamy. Also, it gives me a use for those cartons of white rice left over from the Chinese take- out I only occasionally (cough) succumb to. Then
you basically cook another pudding on top of it, with one egg and three milks—coconut, evaporated, and sweetened condensed—and the end result will be the richest and most luxurious rice pudding imaginable. But why stop there? For the times when the word “Enough!” has escaped your vocabulary, I recommend topping it with a dollop of cinnamon- dusted whipped cream, for the icing on the proverbial cake.
Pancetta, White Bean, and Swiss Chard Pot Pies
Over the years, we’ve had a lot of dinner parties. I’ve made mussels and fries and red pepper soup; I’ve made meatballs and spaghetti repeatedly; brisket and noodles were on repeat until I got the kinks ironed out of the recipe in this chapter, and there was this one time when I decided to make nothing but delicate flatbreads for dinner. It was a terrible idea. Don’t do this unless you want to spend three days making doughs and mincing vegetables, only to have everyone leave hungry.
I’m pretty sure if you asked my friends what the very best thing I’ve ever served them was, they’d still go on about chicken pot pies I made from an Ina Garten recipe all those years ago. People, it turns out, go berserk for comfort food—especially comfort food with a flaky pastry lid—doubly so on a rainy night. I liked them too, but the chicken— which often ends up getting cooked twice—has always been my least favorite part. What I do like is the buttery velouté that forms the sauce, and it was from there that I decided to make a pot pie I’d choose over chicken, peas, and carrots any night of the week.
You really have to try this for a dinner party, especially if your guests were expecting something fancy. The crust and stews can be made up to 24 hours in advance, and need only to be baked to come to the table; this means that you could spend that time getting cute, or at least making pudding for dessert. And if people are expecting the same old same old beneath the lid, this will be a good surprise—the lid is so flaky, it’s closer to a croissant than a pie crust, and the pancetta, beans, and greens make a perfect stew, one you’d enjoy even without a bronzed crust. But, you know, it helps.
yield: serves 4
2 cups (250 grams) all- purpose flour
½ teaspoon table salt
13 tablespoons (185 grams or 1 stick plus 5 tablespoons) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons (90 grams) sour cream or whole Greek yogurt (i.e., a strained yogurt)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) white wine vinegar
¼ cup (60 ml) ice water
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
4 ounces (115 grams or ¾ to 1 cup)
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 large stalk celery, finely chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
Thinly sliced Swiss chard leaves from an 8-to-10-ounce ( 225-to-285-gram) bundle (4 cups); if leaves are very wide, you can halve them lengthwise
3½ tablespoons (50 grams) butter
3½ tablespoons (25 grams) all- purpose flour
3¼ cups (765 ml) sodium- free or low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups white beans, cooked and drained, or from one and a third 15.5-ounce (440-gram) cans
In a large, wide bowl (preferably one that you can get your hands into), combine the flour and salt. Add the butter and, using a pastry blender, cut them up and into the flour mixture until it resembles little pebbles. Keep breaking up the bits of butter until the texture is like uncooked couscous. In a small dish, whisk together the sour cream, vinegar, and water, and combine it with the butter-flour mixture. Using a flexible spatula, stir the wet and the dry together until a craggy dough forms. If needed, get your hands into the bowl to knead it a few times into one big ball. Pat it into a flattish ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill it in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 2 days.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, wide saucepan, and then add the pancetta. Brown the pancetta, turning it frequently, so that it colors and crisps on all sides; this takes about 10 minutes. Remove it with a slotted spoon, and drain it on paper towels before transferring to a medium bowl. Leave the heat on and the renderings in the pan. Add an additional tablespoon of olive oil if needed and heat it until it is shimmering. Add onions, carrot, celery, red pepper flakes, and a few pinches of salt, and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are softened and begin to take on color, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the greens and cook until wilted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with the additional salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Transfer all of the cooked vegetables to the bowl with the pancetta, and set aside.
Wipe out the large saucepan; don’t worry if any bits remain stuck to the bottom. Then melt the butter in the saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the fl our, and stir with a whisk until combined. Continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring the whole time, until it begins to take on a little color. Whisk in the broth, one ladleful at a time, mixing completely between additions. Once you’ve added one-third of the broth, you can begin to add the rest more quickly, two to three ladlefuls at a time; at this point you can scrape up any bits that were stuck to the bottom—they’ll add great flavor.
Once all of the broth is added, stirring the whole time, bring the mixture to a boil and reduce it to a simmer. Cook the sauce until it is thickened and gravylike, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the white beans and reserved vegetables into the sauce.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Assemble and Cook Pot Pies
Divide the filling between four ovenproof 2-cup bowls. (You’ll have about 1½ cups filling in each.) Set the bowls on a baking pan. Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll it out into rounds that will cover your bowls with an overhang, or about 1 inch wider in diameter than your bowls. Whisk the egg wash and brush it lightly around the top rim of your bowls (to keep the lid glued on; nobody likes losing their lid!) and drape the pastry over each, pressing gently to adhere it. Brush the lids with egg wash, then cut decorative vents in each to help steam escape. Bake until crust is lightly bronzed and filling is bubbling, about 30 to 35 minutes.
The dough, wrapped twice in plastic wrap and slipped into a freezer bag, will keep for up to 2 days in the fridge, and for a couple months in the freezer. The filling can be made up to a day in advance and stored in a covered container in the fridge.
For a vegetarian version, skip the pancetta and cook your vegetables in 2 tablespoons olive oil instead of 1.
Plum Poppy Seed Muffins
She hasn’t said so in so many words, but I have a hunch that my editor thinks I should explain why it took me no fewer than seven muffin recipes to stop fussing and find the perfect one to tell you about. Are muffin recipes that hard to come up with? No, not really. Do we perhaps just enjoy eating muffins so much that I looked for excuses to make more? Unfortunately, not that either. Am I really so terribly indecisive? Apparently, yes, but only in what I believed to be the quest for the greater muffin good. Okay, fine, and when I’m choosing earrings.
What finally led me here was, innocently enough, a basket of boring-looking lemon-poppy seed muffins at a bakery one morning;
they got me wondering when poppy seeds would come untethered from lemon’s grasp. Poppy seeds are delightful on their own— faintly nutty bordering on fruity—but they also play well with fruit that is richer in flavor and texture than lemon. Inspired, I went home and, a short while later, finally pulled a muffin out of the oven I’d change nothing about. Poppy seeds, plums, browned butter, brown sugar, and sour cream form a muffin that’s rich with flavor, dense with fruit, and yet restrained enough to still feel like breakfast food. Seven rounds and six months in, I bet somewhere my editor is breathing a sigh of relief.
yield: 12 standard muffins
6 tablespoons (3 ounces or 85 grams) unsalted butter, melted and browned and cooled, plus butter for muffin cups
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50 grams) packed dark or light brown sugar
¾ cup (180 grams) sour cream or a rich, full-fat plain yogurt
½ cup (60 grams) whole- wheat flour
1 cup (125 grams) all- purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon table salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons (20 grams) poppy seeds
2 cups pitted and diced plums, from about ¾ pound (340 grams) Italian prune plums (though any plum variety will do)
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Butter twelve muffin cups.
Whisk the egg with both sugars in the bottom of a large bowl. Stir in the melted butter, then the sour cream. In a separate bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and poppy seeds, and then stir them into the sour- cream mixture until it is just combined and still a bit lumpy. Fold in the plums.
Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Rest muffins in the pan on a cooling rack for 2 minutes, then remove them from the tin to cool them completely.
Generally, I think muffins are best on the first day, but these surprise me by being twice as moist, with even more developed flavors, on day two. They’re just a little less crisp on top after being in an airtight container overnight.
You don’t create seven muffin recipes in a year without learning a few things. I found that you could dial back the sugar in most recipes quite a bit and not miss much (though, if you find that you do, a dusting of powdered sugar or a powdered-sugar-lemon- juice glaze works well here); that a little whole-wheat flour went a long way to keep muffins squarely in the breakfast department; that you can almost always replace sour cream with buttermilk or yogurt, but I like sour cream best. Thick batters—batters almost like cookie dough—keep fruit from sinking, and the best muffins have more fruit inside than seems, well, seemly. And, finally, in almost any muffin recipe, olive oil can replace butter, but people like you more when you use butter— and if you brown that butter first, you might have trouble getting them to leave.
Excerpted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. Copyright © 2012 by Deb Perelman. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Q: How did Smitten Kitchen come about?
A: I've always been a somewhat obsessive collector of what I considered perfect recipes, ones that exceeded expectations every time. I started the site as a place to share them, be it the ne plus ultra banana bread or yellow layer cake or best tomato sauce you could make from really average tomatoes. I expected the site to last six months; at the time, that seemed the half-life of most weblogs and I saw no reason that a food blog from a non-chef with no particularly clear cooking philosophy (eh, besides "okay sure why not I'll make some pasta today") would resonate with people. I was surprised, and remain surprised, that there are so many people out there that are looking for what I am -- recipes that work using accessible, unfancy ingredients that quickly become your new favorite things to cook.
Q: Where did you learn how to cook and what is your background?
A: I'm not a trained chef; I've never been to cooking school. I've never even waited tables but that's probably for the best because I'm a huge klutz and I bet diners don't like that. It may not make for an exciting tell-all one day, but I just really like to cook and I've learned through trial and error, figuring out what I like and what was a total waste of my time. That said, I think I got my good attitude about cooking from my mom; my mother didn't start cooking until she got married but she was fearless in the face of yeast breads, elaborate cakes, croissants and stocks. So, I never had any reason to believe you couldn't pull them off at home.
Q: What inspires you to make a certain recipe?
A: Cravings? Not all recipes come from warm and glowing places, to be honest. Sometimes I'll be out at a restaurant and I'll be so excited about a dish on the menu because I have such a clear idea of all the ways it could be awesome and it is totally different. I then become insistent upon making it at home the way I'd hoped it would be. Other times I'll be very much in the mood for something -- for example, I've been fiending for a matzo ball soup this week with loads of vegetables -- but nobody makes it the way I like it. This, too, is a font of inspiration.
Q: You talk about your small city kitchen—42 square feet to be exact. What are your strategies for cooking in a small kitchen?
A: Above all else, I feel it is essential that you never look at designer kitchen photos on Pinterest or in magazines. It's bad for morale. Mostly, however, you have to want what you're about to cook badly enough that you're willing to put up with the maddening size of your kitchen. If you're walking into the kitchen and thinking, "Ugh, I am not in the mood to make chicken again," I think you're definitely in need of a new recipe for chicken. May I recommend one with olives and grapes?
Q: How have the nearly 151,000+ comments you’ve received over the site’s 6 years helped shape the cook you are today?
A: I am convinced that my comment sections have made me a better cook. Everyday, people show up, they read the post, read the recipe and then they ask questions. Sometimes they're simple -- "How do I separate an egg?" or "Does this reheat well?" -- but a lot of times, they're things I just hadn't thought of before then. "Table salt or kosher salt?" "Sifted, then measured or measured and then sifted?" "Can I skip this step?" "Do I have to use the good olive oil for this?" "You do realize that raspberries cost a fortune in ___, don't you?" I spend about an hour each workday reading and responding to comments and I make a point to answer just about every question I can, which of course, has forced me to get answers, and quickly.
These questions are in my head with me as I cook and write recipes. I know if I'm going to suggest that someone use milk chocolate, they're going to ask if they can use bittersweet chocolate instead so if I'm confident it will work, I'll write in that option from the beginning and maybe even the pros and cons of it. I think a good recipe is intuitive; it will anticipate your question before you even ask it. I wouldn't be writing even remotely intuitive recipes without my commenters.
Q: What do you most look forward to about having your name and food in print?
A: I am really, really excited to head out and meet people on the book tour. Smitten Kitchen is over 6 years old and I've barely had any chances; I rarely get to conferences or events, and the one time (over four years ago) that I thought it would be fun to maybe have a SK Happy Hour/Get Together, more than 350 people responded and I realized that no bar in NYC would be very happy to see us. So, this is it. Of course, now everyone is going to find out what a dork I am in person, a fact I've only kept moderately hidden online. I suppose this was inevitable!
Q: Do you have an all time favorite Smitten Kitchen main course? Vegetarian dish? Dessert?
A: That would be like choosing a favorite child! Actually, choosing a favorite child is spectacularly easy when you only have one, and he's as splendid as my little dude. But from 800 recipes? In reality, my favorite dish changes all the time; either it is the last thing I've made or it's a beloved dish that I always make at that time of the year. Because it's fall, I'm suddenly craving soup and sandwiches again, things I don't much think about in the summer. The Roasted Tomato Soup with Broiled Cheddar on my site perfectly fits the soup-and-sandwich bill, and is a hearty vegetarian meal. We've been making the Flat Roasted Chicken with Tiny Potatoes from the cookbook again too; it feels very September-October to me. And in the same vein, the Apple Cider Caramels might be one of my favorite sweet things in the book. They taste like everything amazing about a Northeast fall cooked down into one intense square. It is my dream that everyone gets to try at least one this fall.
Q: If we are what we eat, what are you made of?
A: This depends on the month. After December, butter. January, green vegetables and the inevitable failed piety. I’m actually not the most interesting eater most days. Cooking for me is very much an excursion; it’s a study, a curiosity. I like to eat homemade food that’s made well – I’m kind of picky. But if it’s just a Monday morning, I’ll probably make myself an egg on an English muffin. I want it to taste awesome but I usually prefer to save my cooking energies for my latest recipe obsession.