Book Club Tuesday: Smitten Kitchen Keepers

The success of Smitten Kitchen should be a surprise to no one. Since 2006, when Deb Perelman started her blog, her inviting tone and delicious recipes have engendered confidence and trust in her readers. From the beginning, Perelman began writing about her experiences as a home cook and, it’s from this place that she connects with people. She understands her audience – people who are looking to cook something that is simple, something they already have the ingredients to make and, above all else, something that is delicious. We all have our SK favourites – for me and my family it’s the Crispy Tofu and Broccoli with Sesame-Peanut Pesto from her last cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Every Day (review here). With her latest book, Smitten Kitchen Keepers, Perelman is looking to arm home cooks with all the best recipes – as she tells us about why Smitten Kitchen came to be in the introduction: “It was to create a place where I could collect all the recipes worth repeating. I wanted my own forever files.” (xi) Recognizing the crushing amount of choice on the internet where recipes are concerned, Perelman also strives to set up home cooks with a positive experience. This is why there are no “duds” – as she calls them – in the Smitten Kitchen universe. She rejoices in a good recipe made well and she generously shares her finds with the rest of us. In her mealtime successes, we can find our own.

My husband loves to tease me – when the doorbell rings and packages are delivered, he yells out from his home office: “Norm!” – referring to that place “where everybody knows your name” – joking that the delivery people must know mine from all the packages that get delivered. Joking aside, it was a cool, late-November morning when a box arrived, containing Smitten Kitchen Keepers. I had already done my grocery shopping and, often when new cookbooks arrive on my kitchen counter, I must look at recipes and plan. In the case of Perelman’s new book, I immediately got to cooking and, within less than a week, I had made close to a dozen recipes! There is such comfort to be found when you open a cookbook and there’s no fuss – cookable recipes made from fridge/pantry staples. Being a vegetarian, I also appreciate the fact that Perelman doesn’t scrimp on her veg-focused content. Instead of presenting a perfunctory chapter on “Meatless Monday” fare, she gives us satisfying meals that show her deep understanding of what makes a recipe delicious (whether it’s meaty or not). If it’s not good enough to serve to her family, it doesn’t make the cut.

Smitten Kitchen Keepers is organized into 7 main chapters: 1) Breakfast Anytime, 2) Salad, 3) Soups and Stews, 4) Vegetables (small vegetables/ medium vegetables/ big vegetables), 5) Meat and One Perfect Plate of Shrimp, 6) Sweets (cookies/ bars/ tarts, crisps, and a well-deserved crème brûlée/ cakes), and 7) Sips and Snacks. As I mentioned before, these recipes come from the things you likely have in your fridge or pantry and won’t require any out-of-the-way ingredient sourcing. In this way, Perelman follows a sort of recipe developer golden rule – treat the home cooks as she would want to be treated. This is why Smitten Kitchen recipes aren’t fussy or complicated.

Blueberry Pancake Cobbler, p. 41

While you might think that, as a vegetarian, I would begin with the veg chapters, my love of breakfast trumps all! So, why wouldn’t we all want to start with the luscious and comforting Blueberry Pancake Cobbler? Seeing the similarities between a classic cobbler and a stack of gorgeous pancakes topped with a lovely berry compote, Perelman took the pancakes and compote and turned it – literally – on its head. With her pancake/cobbler, the thick and jammy compote is baked under a pancake-like batter. Could this get any better, you ask? Yes! The entire dish comes from the oven with, what Perelman describes as a “hot sugar crust.” The batter is topped with sugar and hot water which forms a crispy, sugary crust as it bakes – which is likened to the “crisp lid” of a crème brûlée. This recipe is a breakfast that has the shine of dessert – a complete win in every sense.

Breakfast Potato Chips and Sheet Pan Eggs, p. 20

Another winner from the breakfast chapter is the Breakfast Potato Chips and Sheet Pan Eggs. Anything that can be made entirely on a sheet pan will always get my vote and, here, thinly sliced potatoes are roasted until crisp and chip-like. Then, they are nudged aside in order to form “nests” where the cracked eggs can sit. After a handful of minutes spent back in the oven, the tray emerges complete with jammy, cooked eggs with chips to dunk. Such a great combination of flavours and textures!

Soy-Glazed Tofu w/ Crisped Rice, p, 129

Since we’re such fans of Perelman’s tofu recipe from her last book, I decided to make her Soy-Glazed Tofu w/ Crisped Rice for supper. Here, the tofu is pan-fried until crisp, then it’s glazed with a mouth-watering sauce containing garlic, ginger, rice vinegar, black vinegar, and sugar. Served with crispy rice (which is achieved by browning pre-cooked rice in a skillet until crispy) and a crunchy slaw (here I used a combination of match sticked carrots and red bell peppers). I love when she ends her recipe head notes by asking us: “Matchstick vegetables tossed with a light, toasty dressing, glossy tofu, and crispy rice are so good together, I think we should make this once a week forever, don’t you?” (129)

Whole Lemon Poppyseed Cake, p.261

Perelman is another author whose recipe head notes give me much joy. It’s like having a friend giving you all the best advice and anecdotes – take the notes for her Whole Lemon Poppyseed Cake. She opens with: “A simple lemon tea cake is the happiest thing.” Already, the home cook is primed for baking up something cheerful. While this cake can be made using either a food processor or a high-speed blender, I decided to use my Vitamix because it does such an excellent job of pulverizing whole produce. After de-seeding a whole lemon, it gets blended to smithereens along with some sugar. Then sour cream, eggs, and the dry ingredients are mixed into the batter. Baked in an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, this cake is just the “sunny pick-me-up” Perelman describes. It doesn’t hurt that the cake is also given a glassy lemon glaze that completes the whole lemon experience. I served slices with fresh fruit for breakfast.

While I agree with almost everything Deb Perelman says in her latest cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Keepers, I can’t help but disagree with her on a fundamental point – in the introduction, she begins by telling us that, “I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but I think this book is the book I was always meant to write.” (xi), but what I think that she misses is that, while this book of recipes is her ode to “the keepers,” I feel safe in pointing out that since the outset, Smitten Kitchen has been built on the keeper recipes – I for one have many of her recipes in my own “forever files.” What I appreciate most about Perelman’s work is her consistency and heart – which are just a couple reasons why her work is so beloved! So, whether you have a thick file folder full of her recipes or you’re new to the Smitten Kitchen universe, by picking up a copy of Smitten Kitchen Keepers, you’ll find plenty of delicious meals to fall in love with.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. Any links provided are intended purely for informational purposes. 

Green Angel Hair w/ Garlic Butter, p. 126

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