Since Deb Perelman started her popular blog smittenkitchen.com in 2006, she's learned a lot about how Americans cook and what we want from a recipe. And what we want, most of the time, is for a recipe to work. Perelman has been able to answer reader questions, provide oft-requested dishes, and crank out hundreds of recipes for cooks like herself, who are short on time and kitchen space, and don't want to mess with fussy ingredients. In the The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, Perelman gives readers more recipes, about 100 of them, of approachable food, that is as comforting as it is creative. There are pork chops and pancakes, but also gnocchi, buttered popcorn cookies, and a crepe cake.
In the book's introduction Perelman shares how she started her blog and her cooking philosophy. There are notes and advice, which offer a couple dozen valuable tips, such as how to substitute a mixture of baking soda, cream of tartar and cornstarch to make your own baking powder, how to make your own brown sugar in a pinch (mix granulated sugar and molasses), and how to fluff up flour to accurately measure it. In the appendix, Perelman introduces readers to the kitchen scale and her other essential kitchen tools, such as a bench scraper, an immersion blender and tongs.
There are chapters on breakfast, sandwiches, tarts and pizzas, vegetarian mains, meaty main dishes (seafood, meat and poultry), sweets, and snacks and drinks. In each recipe, headnotes are long introductions to how or when Perelman first tried a dish or what inspired her to create it. This is where I appreciate a blog-to-book cookbook. Perelman writes familiarly and approachably. It's easy to relate to her, because she's a home cook like you and me (OK, maybe not ALL of you). You read about the first time she attempted the crepe cake and pulled it off. Later, she has the confidence to riff on the dish and adapt it to fulfill her husband's wish for a Nutella crepe cake.
Breakfast dishes include a "breakfast crisp" and "breakfast" latkes, plus an overnight French toast casserole. There are vegetarian main dishes such as linguine with a cauliflower "pesto," a puree of cauliflower, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, almonds, pepper flakes, parsley, and cheese. There's a variation of a pot pie, filled with pancetta, white beans and Swiss chard, and there's an all-butter, flaky pie crust recipe used for peach dumplings, deep dish apple pie, and an almond and cherry galette.
Each recipe includes ingredient measurements in volume, but also metric and imperial weights. Most ingredients can be found in any well-stocked supermarket. Perelman generally makes everything from scratch, with about the only exception being store-bought stock. Her food is strongly rooted in French and Mediterranean influences, with almost no Asian ingredients or dishes, save for one miso dressing. So, you won't need soy sauce or mirin, but you will need sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, and plenty of butter. There are sidebars in most recipes with make-ahead tips and ingredient substitutions when possible.
And there are several recipes dedicated to pizza, wherein Perelman demystifies the cult of pizza and the belief that you need a pizza peel, pizza stone, pizza oven, and a stand mixer to make good pizza at home. Is her method the best pizza ever? Probably not. But does it satisfy that craving for pizza and feed your family? Absolutely.