When cooking goes from being a pleasure to becoming a chore, it can get you down. When food blogger Deb Perelman started writing Smitten Kitchen in 2006, she was young free and single.
With no one to consider beyond her own appetite, she blogged as a hobby, sharing her life and whatever she fancied eating that day or week. She took all her own photographs in her tiny kitchen — as she still does.
The blog became so popular, with millions of visits from hungry followers, that in 2008 she quit her day job (as a reporter) and decided to make a living blogging full-time, posting recipes like oat and maple syrup scones, blood orange olive oil cake and baked potato soup.
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, was published in 2012 and sat on the New York Times’ best-seller list for months. She and husband Alex Perelman had a son, Jacob, who at two years old, was eating the same food as them: “Mostly I cooked the food I was excited to eat, and little about having a kid changed how I went about it.”Five years later the family has become four, joined by daughter, Helen, who is now two. Helen does not find food a pleasure.
“I now have the child who doesn’t eat anything” shares Perelman, explaining how her second child brought a huge change to the family’s eating habits. “It was an adjustment more in how I cook. When we had one kid, we just made dinner and a chopped-up plate for him. Going from one to two children was shocking. All of a sudden, it wasn’t just us plus an extra half-portion with some couscous on the side to bait a suspicious toddler to the table. I felt like I was cooking all the time. I began to understand why not everyone jumps for joy when it’s time to make dinner.”
She says she didn’t want to write a book about children’s food, nor about the realities and practicalities of cooking, so worked on recipes that were not too complicated to fit into her life, but good enough to make her happy.
“Most of the recipes in this book came out of trying to find the things that worked for us at dinner time that weren’t the usual things [people feed their children]. Anyone can cook a chicken cutlet and serve it with a sauce, but you don’t need a recipe for that.”
She wanted to tempt those feeling ground down by feeding a family to want to cook again for pleasure. Recipes in Smitten Kitchen Every Day – triumphant and unfussy new favourites reflect her new reality.
Included in the 100 plus recipes in the book, are soups like roasted tomato soup with grilled cheddar and mini-matzo ball soup with horseradish and herbs (there is also a traditional grandma-style chicken soup). There are also breakfast dishes like sticky toffee waffles, salads, including her sushi takeout cobb, sandwiches, mains and bakes, including her banana bread roll. These are the dishes that gave Perelman back her cooking mojo.
There’s also a brilliant “party cake builder” making light(er) work of planning any celebration cake, which, she accurately points out, are baked by many of us at the last minute and late into the night .
The chicken and matzo ball soups and chopped liver topped with caramelised onions are the most hamishe dishes in the non-kosher book. “We’re not very religious but my son does go to Hebrew school.” She celebrated Chanukah with latkes and a batch of brownie cookie that she wrote about in her first book: “My mother always made them for Chanukah.”
It’s reassuring to know that even she doesn’t cook dinner for her family every night. “I cook three or four nights a week, and on the other nights we may pick something up like thin crust pizza and I’ll make a salad to go with it.” She refuses to cook separately for Helen — “There are three people at the table who will eat the food so we’re not going to budge for her. I may grab some cucumber or cherry tomatoes for her from the fridge.”
This book, says Perelman, includes “a bit of resistance — against the idea that cooking must be an obstacle to overcome or that the food we most want to eat cannot also be practical. This book is all of my new favourite things to cook.”
Smitten Kitchen Every Day, Square Peg £25
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