Smitten Kitchen Conversation | 'LJ' Talks with Deb Perelman About Cooking, Cookbooks, and Her Favorite Pandemic Food Finds

Deb Perelman is the creator of the Smitten Kitchen cooking blog, the author of three “Smitten Kitchen” cookbooks and an IACP Julia Child Award winner. She talks with LJ about writing cookbooks, reading cookbooks, getting meals on the table, and her favorite pandemic food finds.

You have said that your newest cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Keepers, is a collection of recipes “written with making them forever in mind.” What is it about certain dishes that supports your life in this way?

I wanted this third cookbook to re-focus on the central energy that drove me to create Smitten Kitchen in the first place in 2006. I wanted a collection of airtight recipes that were the last I’d ever want to use, like a perfect blueberry muffin you’d look forward to making every summer and cannot imagine why you’d try another. My hope is that this book will have the same repertoire-earning potential with newer favorites like a perfect pound cake, egg salad, vegetable enchiladas, and slow-roasted chicken.

The Smitten Kitchen, your first cookbook, has that almost ineffable quality of the very best cookbooks, the kind that you want to hug, read, cook from, and just be happy you own. LJ readers well know the pleasures of reading cookbooks; for you, what are the particular joys of writing them?

Thank you, but I honestly spend most of my time writing my cookbooks in a state of panic and dread. “Everyone is going to hate this!” “This is not good at all!” Is it healthy? Probably not. But it pushes me to not settle until I write the headnote that feels like the last puzzle piece snapping into place. It takes some time to feel any joy from this process, but there is usually a point where the final edits are in that I realize I’ve written a few things I really like, or even better, have been able to articulate a thought that had previously been stuck. You asked for “joy” and I’ve, at best, described “the resolution of a central anxiety.” Close enough?

You are known for your carefully constructed and long-tested recipes, but also for your straightforward food. What aid can you offer home cooks who struggle to make what they cook taste “right”?

Don’t stop until you’re happy. There are enough good-enough recipes out there. There will never be enough perfect ones, free of extra steps, headaches, and with all outcomes accounted for. When I’m in the weeds with a recipe, I try to remember all any of us home cooks want is to not have squandered our limited time and energy on a mediocre dish. So don’t settle until it’s everything you wanted for it. I often sit on recipes for years and years until they reliably come out the way I want them to. I’ve made the strawberry layer cake in Smitten Kitchen Keepers almost every June for my birthday for many years—it was “supposed” to be in my second cookbook, but it wasn’t ready—taking copious notes and tweaking it, and now I hope you’ll love it as much as I do.

What do you cook when you don’t want to do anything more effortful than opening a bag of popcorn?

Wait, I love having popcorn for lunch. While I don’t have a single go-to for dinner ruts, I think when you’re low on cooking energy and ideas, you should be absolutely honest with yourself about whatever you’re craving, no matter how ridiculous, and find a way to fold it into real life. What I mean is, I’m about to heat up some frozen pigs in blankets for dinner. I’m going to make some sort of roasted cauliflower with buffalo sauce, because I am also craving it. And I think we are having sliced cucumbers on the side, because they’re cold, crunchy, and delicious and also sitting neglected in the produce drawer. Is it dinner? Is it just weird? Doesn’t matter; it’s happening.

What are some of your favorite cookbooks?

Among newer books, I am thoroughly enjoying Andy Baraghani’s The Cook You Want To Be, Rick Martínez’s Mi Cocina, Lukas Volger’s Snacks for Dinner, and Eric Kim’s Korean American. Among books that have been on my shelf longer but that I still sigh wistfully when I see them, it’s a bit more random and personalized because my associations with the time and place of these books may not be someone else’s: Polpo by Russell Norman, Samuel and Samantha Clark’s “Moro” cookbooks, Meredith Erickson’s Alpine Cooking, David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen, Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book, and Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques.

Do you read novels or nonfiction? If so, what are the books you have most enjoyed recently?

Mostly novels, with the occasional exception of juicy parental tomes like Parenting Teens with Love and Logic. When I’m in the thick of writing my own cookbooks, I never have the time or focus to do the leisurely reading that would actually be so good to unwind to. But now that my book is at the printer, I’m catching up on novels everyone else read one to three years ago: Beautiful World, Where Are You (Sally Rooney), A Ghost in the Throat (Doireann Ní Ghríofa), The Great Offshore Grounds (Vanessa Veselka), and Olive, Again (Elizabeth Strout) are stacked on my nightstand. Oh, and I’m rereading The Outsiders (S. E. Hinton), just because.

Do you have a pandemic online food find?

I am probably the last person to have gotten into Burlap & Barrel’s spices, but I did so over the last couple years and I don’t think I can cook anymore without the Royal Cinnamon, Silk Chili, or Turkish Oregano Buds in a grinder.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing