Book Review: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

 Image courtesy of  the Merry Gourmet .

Image courtesy of the Merry Gourmet.

For Christmas last year, my grandma gave me money to buy a cookbook, and I chose The Smitten Kitchen cookbook. Note: “Christmas last year” means December 2012. Many of my posts are long overdue but this is my favorite cookbook on my shelf (of about 15 books so far) and I’m still making things from it with excitement and enthusiasm a year later, so I need to share it with you.

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The first recipe I tried was the granola, and it was amazing. Since then, I have tried many more of the recipes in the book, which are split up into sections:

  • Breakfast

  • Salads

  • Sandwiches, tarts and pizzas

  • The main dish: vegetarian

  • The main dish: seafood, poultry and meat

  • Sweets

  • Party snacks and drinks

The above-mentioned “big cluster maple granola” is made with coconut, dried fruit and walnuts. Other recipes I’ve made from the book include:

  • Peach and sour cream pancakes (above)

  • Gingerbread spice dutch baby

  • Big breakfast latkes

  • Fig, olive oil and sea salt challah

  • Vinegar slaw with cucumbers and dill

  • Pizza Dough

Some recipes I haven’t tried yet but that I’m dying to make next are:

  • New York breakfast casserole

  • Cheddar swirl breakfast buns

  • Zucchini ribbons with almond pesto

  • Sugar snap salad with miso dressing

I can safely say that I have made more recipes from this cookbook than from any other, ever, and it just so happens to be the one I turn to most often.

Pizza from Smitten Kitchen

These recipes are great because they use ingredients that are easy to find but also not necessarily ones you would use everyday, or in the same way, which makes the dishes fun and special. They are all fairly simple yet totally transform the ingredients into a homey, comforting and delicious final product. I would characterize Deb’s recipes as dishes most people know and are easy to make, but she perfects them and then incorporates an element of surprise.

Pancakes

For instance, everyone knows how to make pancakes (or at the very least knows what they are) but the peach sour cream pancakes were absolutely delicious and I would never have thought to add sour cream. This simple trick made them ridiculously fluffy and the slight tang contrasted perfectly with the sweet peach.

Another great example is her gingerbread dutch baby, which uses common pantry ingredients and takes about two seconds to combine in a blender, then you just cook it in the oven for 20 minutes and voilà, you have something that is unique, simple and delicious. However, I would have never thought to make a dutch baby, which is like a hybrid crêpe / pancake.

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I haven’t made these muffins yet, but I was only given three recipes to choose from to share with you by the Smitten Kitchen PR people, and this one exemplified the book the best because it’s delicious and homey, and is more complex than something I might normally whip up, yet it’s not complicated.

Plum Poppy Seed Muffins

yield: 12 standard muffins

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces or 85 grams) unsalted butter, melted and browned and cooled, plus butter for muffin cups

  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

  • ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar

  • ¼ cup (50 grams) packed dark or light brown sugar

  • ¾ cup (180 grams) sour cream or a rich, full-fat plain yogurt

  • ½ cup (60 grams) whole- wheat flour

  • 1 cup (125 grams) all- purpose flour

  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder

  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda

  • ¼ teaspoon table salt

  • Pinch of ground cinnamon

  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

  • 2 tablespoons (20 grams) poppy seeds

  • 2 cups pitted and diced plums, from about ¾ pound (340 grams) Italian prune plums (though any plum variety will do)

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Butter twelve muffin cups.

  2. Whisk the egg with both sugars in the bottom of a large bowl. Stir in the melted butter, then the sour cream. In a separate bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and poppy seeds, and then stir them into the sour- cream mixture until it is just combined and still a bit lumpy. Fold in the plums.

  3. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Rest muffins in the pan on a cooling rack for 2 minutes, then remove them from the tin to cool them completely.

Cooking Note

You don’t create seven muffin recipes in a year without learning a few things. I found that you could dial back the sugar in most recipes quite a bit and not miss much (though, if you find that you do, a dusting of powdered sugar or a powdered-sugar-lemon- juice glaze works well here); that a little whole-wheat flour went a long way to keep muffins squarely in the breakfast department; that you can almost always replace sour cream with buttermilk or yogurt, but I like sour cream best. Thick batters—batters almost like cookie dough—keep fruit from sinking, and the best muffins have more fruit inside than seems, well, seemly. And, finally, in almost any muffin recipe, olive oil can replace butter, but people like you more when you use butter— and if you brown that butter first, you might have trouble getting them to leave.

Excerpted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman. Copyright © 2012 by Deb Perelman. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.