The Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman:
The first thing I did when I picked up The Smitten Kitchen at the library was to read it from cover to cover, something I rarely do with cookbooks. Usually I flip through them, stopping at interesting recipes or photos or stories, but not this one. I read it first as a book, and then as a cookbook.
Who knew a cookbook could be such pleasurable reading? Before giving us each recipe, Perelman writes a little story about it. These little stories are what makes this book so special. The author is not just giving us a collection of recipes, but recipes with a personal history. Perelman's writing is full of witty observations, sweet stories about her toddler, and musings about food. The stories read like blog postings, which makes sense, considering Perelman is the force behind the popular blog smitten kitchen.
In addition to her amusing stories and anecdotes, there are some really great recipes in the book (probably another reason why her blog is so popular). The peach and sour cream pancakes are really yummy, and an interesting take on pancakes. They are almost like a pancake-upside down cake hybrid. I had to use canned peaches since I made them in the middle of winter, but I can't wait to try them again when peaches are in season. Also from the breakfast chapter, I made greens, eggs & hollandaise, which was good, but a little lemony. I love the idea of a creamy sauce with eggs, so I'm going to give it another try with less lemon juice. Also on my list: the cheddar swirl breakfast buns. They look like cinnamon rolls, but are savory, with cheddar and dill. I must try these!
Taking something that is traditionally savory & making it sweet (or vice versa) is a theme that comes up a lot in the book. There's the aforementioned cheddar buns, as well as a butternut squash galette (I think of galettes as typically sweet); buttered popcorn cookies, red wine velvet cake and the shortcakes that use tomatoes and whipped goat cheese instead of strawberries and whipped cream (featured on the cover). I love this topsy-turvy way of looking at food!
In addition to the pancakes and greens, eggs & hollandaise, I also made the leek fritters with garlic and lemon. They were a little bland the first try, so on my second attempt, I added gruyere cheese to the mix and they were perfect. The wild rice gratin with kale, caramelized onions & baby swiss was also excellent, but I was the only one in our house eating it, not sure why. The recipe calls for 5 cups of cooked wild rice, but I assumed that meant 5 cups of wild rice mixed with regular rice, so that's what I did. I also used baby swiss and gruyere instead of the Emmantaler cheese, which was pretty pricy at our local store. I figured you can't go wrong with any kind of cheese and rice!
All of the desserts look great, but I've only tried one: the apple cider caramels. I made a batch to take to Thanksgiving, but ended up not taking them because DH and I both thought the apple flavor was a little weird with caramel. However, the strange apple-ness of them did not stop us (ok, mostly me) from eating all of them. I really should have taken them with me to Thanksgiving and put up a tiny sign that said apple caramels - very tart. It would have spared me a great many carbs.
Normally I'm a dessert kind of girl, but my favorite chapter by far is the salads chapter (I've failed to mention that all the chapters are organized by course - breakfast, salads, main dish - vegetarian, main dish - seafood, poultry & meat, etc. You've probably already gathered that, though!). Two salads in the book have become my old standbys, favorites that I'll probably be making for years. First, we have kale salad with cherries and pecans. Oh, this salad is so delicious! I've started making it with my food processor to speed things along: the toasted pecans go in, followed by the dried cherries, then the kale. It makes the salad prep go a lot faster and DH and I don't care how our salad looks, because we inhale it anyway. It's so good. To quote the author: "we not only ate this salad, we had seconds. Seconds! Of raw kale! Who are we?" Yep, that's how it is!
The second salad recipe that we've come to know and love is the broccoli slaw. It's healthy, it got wonderful flavors, and it would be perfect to take to a family get-together. I often just add florets to it and ignore the part about chopping up the stalk, although the food processor might come in handy here as well. I've never been a big fan of raw broccoli, but I've changed my tune with this salad.
There are so many great recipes from the book that I've tried, and many more on the to-try list, that I have a feeling I'll be referring to this cookbook (for not only the recipes, but also the charming stories) for a long time to come.