Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Recipes from a New York Kitchen
by Deb Perelman

Just as I sat down to write this review I noticed The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook had emerged as the runner-up in Food52's 'Tournament of Cookbooks' for the coveted Piglet trophy.  As the tournament winner is a hot, young, New York based, chef I think Deb Perelman can feel pretty pleased with herself.  She's not a chef but a self-taught home cook and photographer, with a typically small New York kitchen, who "just likes to cook". The vast number of followers who have posted over 150,000 comments to her award-winning blog clearly like the way she does it. 

Of course, just liking to cook isn't all there is to Perelman.  She has an obsession to get things right.  The recipes in this book come out of much tweaking and testing and putting herself in the place of her readers.  This is something that professional chefs can't always achieve.  The Smitten Kitchen blog is archived seasonally but, disappointingly, seasonality is something which doesn't come across in the book.  What does shine out is the warm personality of the cook and her gratitude to her blog readers.  She is in no doubt that their constant questions made her a better cook and led to this book.    

Not everything about the The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook appealed to me.  Some of the recipe methods felt overlong in the attempt to make everything clear.  It would be easy to get superior about the odd listing of powdered garlic and onion, which was like a slap in the face to someone who grows their own.  But the author does express a desire to provide recipes which call for easy to find or "unfussy" ingredients.  There's no preaching about how to shop and what to buy, apart from telling us she buys good meat and shops at farmers markets where possible.  Deb knows from experience the pressures on time and budget most of us face and is good on suggesting substitutions.

Pancetta, white bean and swiss chard pie
cooked from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Recipes which caught my eye ranged from a healthy Roasted baby root vegetables with sherry-shallot vinaigrette to a far less so Chocolate hazelnut crêpe cake.  So, what did I try?  First off, a pie. Pancetta, white bean and swiss chard in a creamy velouté topped with a very good flaky pie crust worked a treat.  Being encouraged to prepare the stew and crust ahead influenced my choice.  By the time I needed to serve up it was quick, impressive and satisfying. Definitely one to cook again.

Grapefruit olive oil pound cake
cooked from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Perelman's enthusiasm for the idea of using grapefruit in an olive oil pound cake was infectious.  The recipe worked perfectly and produced an impressive cake, though the texture was a little drier than I was expecting.  I felt the grapefruit flavour pretty much disappeared and personally I missed the expected zesty freshness, so next time I will try it with lemon.

The book is structured simply, starting with 'Breakfast' and ending in 'Party Snacks and Drinks' - the perfect day for a food lover.   The photography is pretty and untricksy. Perelman's writing style is natural and confident and you will feel in safe hands cooking from this book.  It's a very good book for anyone who needs a bit of hand-holding but not patronising.

Book courtesy of Square Peg (a Random House Group Company)