When Deb Perelman’s writing a recipe for her massively popular cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen, she envisions talking a friend through it on the telephone — not just any phone, but the sunny yellow ‘70s-era one her mom used to have in their kitchen growing up.
“The kind with the long cord… maybe I’m showing my age,” Perelman jokes in a recent conversation with Cityline.ca. “I have this image of somebody being on the phone cooking dinner talking to their friend cooking dinner, and I imagine that the way they’d communicate about how to cook is very different from what you see in most recipes.”
That coaching, supportive voice is part of the reason Perelman’s six-year-old blog is so beloved, garnering 8 million views a month and inspiring the newly-released The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. She doesn’t just give you a recipe for braised beef short ribs or roasted pear and chocolate chunk scones – she tells you exactly what to do and when to ensure the end result is just as tasty for you as it was for her.
“I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been in the kitchen with a recipe and wished that it would warn me or reassure me that it’s supposed to be [a certain way at a certain stage],” she says. “Not just to tell me what’s up, but why. I don’t know why that’s not in recipes, but I knew I wanted it in mine.”
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook contains more than 100 gorgeously-photographed recipes, most of them new plus a few favourites from the blog, as well as notes on measuring – Perelman recommends buying a kitchen scale and ditching those measuring cups — and how to build your own ‘smitten kitchen.’
A skim through the Breakfast chapter will tempt the reader with recipes for Gingerbread Spice Dutch Baby; Plum Poppy Seed Muffins; and Greens, Eggs and Hollandaise; while the Main Dish section offers up Pancetta, White Bean, and Swiss Chard Pot Pies; Harvest Roast Chicken with Grapes, Olives and Rosemary; and Pistachio Masala Lamb Chops with Cucumber Mint Raita. There’s also a section devoted to meatless mains, another that’s all about sweets, and a chapter on party fare, including a fruity, Dr. Seuss-inspired cocktail, Muddle Puddle Battle.
Without asking Perelman to name a favourite recipe in the cookbook, Cityline.ca was curious as to whether there was one she was particularly surprised by, in terms of how well it turned out. She cites the Apple Cider Caramels.
“They were definitely something where I was like, ‘Wow, these are even better than I thought they could be.’ It sounds obnoxious, but I was really doubtful about it, and it actually worked on the first try,” she says. “I’ve never had something so intensely apple-y, but also a candy. I was so excited. They look like regular caramels, but they’re like a tart caramel apple pie.”
Perelman says recipe ideas come from any number of places – a restaurant dish, a whim, a cookbook recipe she wants to approach differently – and involve a huge amount of research before she even opens up her kitchen cupboards.
“I read everything I can about the dish, I read every recipe I can get my hands on. I’m really a crazy researcher. Then I close everything and start writing what I think my version is going to be. I print it out and stick it to my fridge with a magnet, and then take notes as I cook,” she describes.
The comments and questions that come through on the blog help to make her a better cook and recipe-writer as well, she explains.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have conversations with readers over the years via commenting on the site. I get to hear what they want, and their questions,” she says. “So having those questions already in my head is helpful, because I can write recipes that answer them.”
The blog and its success was actually one of the reasons Perelman was hesitant about doing a cookbook, and being on tour for the book the past few weeks has been challenging because it’s kept her from posting as regularly as she’s accustomed to.
“I take this work that I do online very seriously. I feel like my best friend called me three weeks ago and I haven’t had a minute to call her back. It’s the worst feeling,” she explains. “So I’m very cautious about anything that would keep me away from what I consider my baseline. I didn’t want to be kept away from it. I wouldn’t be writing this book if it weren’t for the site – to forget about the people who are cheering for you would be terrible.”
Helping to sway her decision was becoming pregnant with her now-toddler-aged son, Jacob, who the book is dedicated to.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if my son knew what his mom did?’” she muses. “You can’t hold a website, but a book is like, ‘This is what Mom used to cook for us.’”
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is now available in stores and online.