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The Telegram
  • Book Notes: Smitten Kitchen cookbook

  • Smitten Kitchen food blogger Deb Perelman’s first cookbook, “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Wisdom from an Obsessive Home Cook,” is finally here. I say “finally” because those of us who follow her blog have been reading about this book in her blog for some time, now. It’s just...
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  • “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Wisdom from an Obsessive Home Cook,” by Deb Perelman. Borzoi Books/Knopf, New York, 2012. $35. 321 pages.
    Smitten Kitchen food blogger Deb Perelman’s first cookbook, “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Wisdom from an Obsessive Home Cook,” is finally here. I say “finally” because those of us who follow her blog have been reading about this book in her blog for some time, now. It’s just in time for the holidays. Her masses of ardent followers (5 million a month) are surely as pleased as I am.
    The Smitten Kitchen blog is a wonder. A few times a month an edition arrives in my inbox. It’s a winning mix of spirited jabber, mouthwatering photos and a recipe most readers want to try immediately. I forgive her sweet tooth because her remarkable archives always turn up just what I’m craving. Comments to the blog are almost as readable as Perelman’s posts. They are entirely positive and just as enthusiastic as Perelman, mostly submitted by home cooks like Perelman who already know something about fresh ingredients and good food, and who are willing to put a little effort into a special fall feast.
    The cookbook is like the blog only more. There are the trademark introductory stories, the signature Perelman “food porn” photographs, the careful instructions that provide all the caveats and warnings and suggestions one needs to ensure success. She says her readers mainly want to know: “Will this recipe be really, truly worth it?” Her obsessive research, experimentation and repeated tries are as reliable as the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
    The “more” is, in part, the package itself. It’s immersive. Start with the photos of Perelman’s tiny Manhattan apartment. She has 2x3 feet of counter space, a two-thirds-size oven and two cabinets. No problem. “Clear the decks,” she says. “Get to work. …” She’s from “pesky stock” and you get that immediately upon opening the book. She’s got a husband and a baby her readers adore, Jacob — “the best thing I ever baked.” I guess you could say you’re right there with her, or at least on the kitchen’s threshold. There are only a few square feet of kitchen floor upon which to practice her art.
    The “more” is also reflected in the ramped-up recipes. They are a bit more elegant and labor intensive than the blog offerings. You won’t be able to cook all 100 recipes right now; there are seasonal ingredients like fresh peaches, asparagus and Concord grapes. Sometimes she suggests alternatives. Perelman is enticed by what she finds at the greenmarkets in her neighborhood. And many offerings in the book are more like ensemble acts. Consider the balsamic and beer-braised short ribs with parsnip puree or the flat roasted check with tiny potatoes.
    Page 2 of 2 - Perelman pitched the book while she was pregnant. It took three years to produce. Jacob is now a toddler and readers know he has a refined palate already. From his pictures, you see that he is well fed and happy. While working on the book, Perelman managed to carry on with her blog. The blog was not compromised by the effort. And, she did all the photography herself.
    Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer and columnist, also cooks in a small and limited NYC kitchen, and shares the same inventiveness and enthusiasm for good, fresh food. Forced resourcefulness apparently fires up a willing cook’s creativity.
    Recipes range from breakfast to party snacks and drinks to salads to sandwiches, tarts and pizzas to main dishes to sweets (lots of them). Impressive is Jacob’s s’more layer cake that requires the use of a small kitchen blowtorch to finish off the meringue frosting so that it resembles roasted marshmallows. The mushroom bourguignon is gorgeous as are the leek fritters with garlic and lemon. Ideas for holiday dishes abound.
    The only thing wrong with this book is the lack of an interactive comment section. How do we write and ask the usual questions about substitutions and ingredients? Perelman has us trained to query and check back later for her answers. She’s now on a book tour, with some venues sold out. Another “more” about this book is the way it extends the relationship she’s developed with her readers. Many fans welcome this opportunity to chat with her in real time.
    Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in bookstores. Write her at rae.francoeur@verizon.net. Or read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or follow her @RaeAF.
     

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