Deb Perelman didn’t set out to become a famous cook, a professional photographer or the author of an award-winning blog, but she is all of these things now. She’s the author of SmittenKitchen.com, a website with recipes for seasonal, easy-to-prepare food that includes how-to photographs and casual commentary on cooking and life. In her newly published cookbook, she brings the Smitten Kitchen website to the hard copy world. Please join us for a conversation with Deb Perelman on the joys of cooking at home.

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  • Deb Perelman creator of SmittenKitchen.com

Video: Smitten Kitchen Writer Deb Perelman’s Advice For Bloggers

Deb Perelman, creator of food blog Smitten Kitchen, shared wisdom for new bloggers. “I always think that you should get rid of the parts that feel like a chore because this should be a wonderful hobby that you enjoy,” she said. “And I think that, you know, the only thing is that you need to enjoy it. I think that’s the main thing.” Perelman also discussed the story behind a recipe for grilled cheese in her new book, “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.”

Recipes From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Excerpted from THE SMITTEN KITCHEN COOKBOOK by Deb Perelman. Copyright © 2012 by Deb Perelman. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Vinegar Slaw With Cucumbers And Dill

If, thus far, you’ve only known slaw to be limp and mayo-sogged, and you’ve understandably avoided it, well, consider this the anti- slaw, or everything that the white stuff isn’t: bright, crunchy, and lightly pickled instead of slick with dressing. It’s also a little bit habit- forming. I made it before a Fourth of July rooftop barbecue on a broiling summer day—the kind of weather mayo jars warn you about— and by the next morning no fewer than two friends had texted me for the recipe. (Of course, because my fat little Eastern European fingers were never designed with texting in mind, I wrote back something like “1 media head green carnage” and they all yelled at me to join the modern age. I digress.)

Nevertheless, there’s no reason to limit this salad to the summer’s burger and hot dog toppings. We eat it with pork chops and beside pressed sandwiches, and I regularly have it for lunch in January when I’m trying to offset holiday excess. That said, it’s equally delicious with additional fried excesses, from everything Milanese and schnitzel to fried chicken. The ingredients list is short and its fridge life is long, or as long as it takes for other family members to get hooked on it.

yield: serves 12

Ingredients
1 medium head green cabbage (about 2 pounds or 900 grams), cored and thinly sliced or shredded
1 large seedless or English cucumber (about 1 pound or 455 grams), sliced in round discs as thinly as possible (you can double this if you cannot get enough of cucumber)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
½ cup (120 ml) white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
4 teaspoons sugar
½ cup (120 ml) cold water

Toss the cabbage, cucumber, and dill together in a large bowl. Don’t be freaked out by how big the salad looks; it settles as it marinates. Whisk the vinegar, salt, and sugar together in a small bowl until the salt and sugar dissolve. Stir in the water. Pour the liquid over the salad, and let it marinate, tossing the cabbage occasionally. After 1 hour, it should be a bit wilted and crunchy; at 2 hours, the flavor is even better.
Do ahead
Generally, I think muffins are best on the first day, but these surprise me by being twice as moist, with even more developed flavors, on day two. They’re just a little less crisp on top after being in an airtight container overnight.

Cooking note
I use Diamond brand kosher salt. If you’re using another brand, use less as it will be
more densely salty.

Do Ahead
The salad keeps, covered, in the fridge for a week.

Pancetta, White Bean And Swiss Chard Pot Pies

Over the years, we’ve had a lot of dinner parties. I’ve made mussels and fries and red pepper soup; I’ve made meatballs and spaghetti repeatedly; brisket and noodles were on repeat until I got the kinks ironed out of the recipe in this chapter, and there was this
one time when I decided to make nothing but delicate flatbreads for dinner. It was a terrible idea. Don’t do this unless you want to spend three days making doughs and mincing vegetables, only to have everyone leave hungry.

I’m pretty sure if you asked my friends what the very best thing I’ve ever served them was, they’d still go on about chicken pot pies I made from an Ina Garten recipe all those years ago. People, it turns out, go berserk for comfort food— especially comfort food with a flaky pastry lid—doubly so on a rainy night. I liked them too, but the chicken— which often ends up getting cooked twice— has always been my least favorite part. What I do like is the buttery velouté that forms the sauce, and it was from there that I decided to make a pot pie I’d choose over chicken, peas, and carrots any night of the week.

You really have to try this for a dinner party, especially if your guests were expecting something fancy. The crust and stews can be made up to 24 hours in advance, and need only to be baked to come to the table; this means that you could spend that time getting cute, or at least making pudding for dessert. And if people are expecting the same old same old beneath the lid, this will be a good surprise— the lid is so flaky, it’s closer to a croissant than a pie crust, and the pancetta, beans, and greens make a perfect stew, one you’d enjoy even without a bronzed crust. But, you know, it helps.

yield: serves 4

Lid Ingredients
2 cups (250 grams) all- purpose flour
½ teaspoon table salt
13 tablespoons (185 grams or 1 stick plus 5 tablespoons) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons (90 grams) sour cream or whole Greek yogurt (i.e., a strained
yogurt)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) white wine vinegar
¼ cup (60 ml) ice water
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Filling Ingredients
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
4 ounces (115 grams or ¾ to 1 cup)
¼- inch- diced pancetta
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 large stalk celery, finely chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
Thinly sliced Swiss chard leaves from an 8- to- 10- ounce ( 225- to- 285-gram)
bundle (4 cups); if leaves are very wide, you can halve them lengthwise
3½ tablespoons (50 grams) butter
3½ tablespoons (25 grams) all- purpose flour
3¼ cups (765 ml) sodium- free or low- sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups white beans, cooked and drained, or from one and a third 15.5- ounce
(440-gram) cans

Make lids
In a large, wide bowl (preferably one that you can get your hands into), combine the fl our and salt. Add the butter and, using a pastry blender, cut them up and into the fl our mixture until it resembles little pebbles. Keep breaking up the bits of butter until the texture is like uncooked couscous. In a small dish, whisk together the sour cream, vinegar, and water, and combine it with the butter- fl our mixture. Using a flexible
spatula, stir the wet and the dry together until a craggy dough forms. If needed, get your hands into the bowl to knead it a few times into one big ball. Pat it into a flattish ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill it in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Make filling
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium- high heat in a large, wide saucepan, and then add the pancetta. Brown the pancetta, turning it frequently, so that it colors and crisps on all sides; this takes about 10 minutes. Remove it with a slotted spoon, and drain it on paper towels before transferring to a medium bowl. Leave the heat on and the renderings in the pan. Add an additional tablespoon of olive oil if needed and heat it until it is shimmering. Add onions, carrot, celery, red pepper
flakes, and a few pinches of salt, and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are softened and begin to take on color, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the greens and cook until wilted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with the additional salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Transfer all of the cooked vegetables to the bowl with the pancetta, and set aside.

Make sauce
Wipe out the large saucepan; don’t worry if any bits remain stuck to the bottom. Then melt the butter in the saucepan over medium- low heat. Add the fl our, and stir with a whisk until combined. Continue cooking for 2 minutes, stirring the whole time, until it begins to take on a little color. Whisk in the broth, one ladleful at a time, mixing completely between additions. Once you’ve added one- third of the broth, you can begin to add the rest more quickly, two to three ladlefuls at a time; at this point you can scrape up any bits that were stuck to the bottom— they’ll add great flavor.
Once all of the broth is added, stirring the whole time, bring the mixture to a boil and reduce it to a simmer. Cook the sauce until it is thickened and gravylike, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the white beans and reserved vegetables into the sauce.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Assemble and cook pot pies
Divide the filling between four ovenproof 2- cup bowls. (You’ll have about 1½ cups filling in each.) Set the bowls on a baking pan. Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll it out into rounds that will cover your bowls with an overhang, or about 1 inch wider in diameter than your bowls. Whisk the egg wash and brush it lightly around the top rim of your bowls (to keep the lid glued on; nobody likes losing their lid!) and drape the pastry over each, pressing gently to adhere it. Brush the
lids with egg wash, then cut decorative vents in each to help steam escape. Bake until crust is lightly bronzed and filling is bubbling, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Do ahead
The dough, wrapped twice in plastic wrap and slipped into a freezer bag, will keep for up to 2 days in the fridge, and for a couple months in the freezer. The filling can be made up to a day in advance and stored in a covered container in the fridge.

Cooking note
For a vegetarian version, skip the pancetta and cook your vegetables in 2 tablespoons
olive oil instead of 1.

Tres Leches Rice Pudding

My list of rice pudding loves is long. There’s the Danish risalamande, with chopped almonds, whipped cream, and a sour cherry sauce, usually served at Christmas with a prize inside— one that I never win, not that I’ve been trying for thirteen years at my best friend’s house or anything. There’s kheer, with cardamom, cashews or pistachios, and saffron. There’s rice pudding the way our grandmothers made it, baked for what feels like an eternity, with milk, eggs, and sugar. And there’s arroz con leche, which is kind of like your Kozy Shack went down to Costa Rica for a lazy weekend and came back enviously tan, sultry, and smelling of sandy shores. As you can tell, I really like arroz con leche.

But this — a riff on one of the best variants of arroz con leche I’ve made, which, in its original incarnation on my site, I adapted from Ingrid Hoffmann’s wonderful recipe— is my favorite, for two reasons: First, it knows me. (That’s the funny thing about the recipes I create!) It knows how preposterously bad I am at keeping stuff in stock in my kitchen, like milk, but that I seem always to have an unmoved collection of canned items and grains. Second, it’s so creamy that it’s like a pudding stirred into another pudding.

The rice is cooked first in water. I prefer to start my rice pudding recipes like this, because I’m convinced that cooking the rice first in milk takes twice as long and doesn’t get the pudding half as creamy. Also, it gives me a use for those cartons of white rice left over from the Chinese take- out I only occasionally (cough) succumb to.
Then you basically cook another pudding on top of it, with one egg and three milks— coconut, evaporated, and sweetened condensed— and the end result will be the richest and most luxurious rice pudding imaginable. But why stop there? For the times when the word “Enough!” has escaped your vocabulary, I recommend topping it with a dollop of cinnamon- dusted whipped cream, for the icing on the proverbial cake.

yield: serves 8

Ingredients
1 cup (180 grams) long- grain white rice
¾ teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
One 12- ounce can (1½ cups or 355 ml) evaporated milk
One 13.5- ounce can (1π cups or 415 ml) unsweetened coconut milk
One 14- ounce can (1¼ cups or 390 grams) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) heavy or whipping cream, chilled
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
Ground cinnamon, to finish

Cook the rice
Put the rice, 2 cups of water, and the salt in a medium saucepan with a tight- fitting lid. Bring to a boil— you should hear the pot going all a flutter under the lid and puffing steam out the seam. Reduce to a low simmer, and let the rice cook for 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Remove the rice pot from the heat.

Once the rice is cooked, whisk the egg in a medium bowl, and then whisk in the evaporated milk. Stir the coconut and sweetened condensed milks into the rice, then add the egg mixture. Return the saucepan to heat and cook the mixture over medium- low heat until it looks mostly, or about 90 percent, absorbed (the pudding will thicken a lot as it cools), about 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract, then divide the pudding among serving dishes. Keep the puddings in the fridge until fully chilled, about 1 to 2 hours.

To serve
Whip the heavy cream with the confectioners’ sugar until soft peaks form. Dollop a spoonful of whipped cream on top of each bowl of rice pudding, dust with ground cinnamon, then enjoy.

Cooking note
If you have 2 cups of leftover white rice, you can skip the first step, and jump in with the egg and three milks.

Plum Poppy Seed Muffins

She hasn’t said so in so many words, but I have a hunch that my editor thinks I should explain why it took me no fewer than seven muffin recipes to stop fussing and find the perfect one to tell you about. Are muffin recipes that hard to come up with? No, not really. Do we perhaps just enjoy eating muffins so much that I looked for excuses to make more? Unfortunately, not that either. Am I really so terribly indecisive? Apparently, yes, but only in what I believed to be the quest for the greater muffin good. Okay, fine, and when I’m choosing earrings.

What finally led me here was, innocently enough, a basket of boring- looking lemon– poppy seed muffins at a bakery one morning; they got me wondering when poppy seeds would come untethered from lemon’s grasp. Poppy seeds are delightful on their own— faintly nutty bordering on fruity— but they also play well with fruit that is richer in flavor and texture than lemon. Inspired, I went home and, a short while later, finally pulled a muffin out of the oven I’d change nothing about. Poppy seeds, plums, browned butter, brown sugar, and sour cream form a muffin that’s rich with flavor, dense with fruit, and yet restrained enough to still feel like breakfast food. Seven rounds and six months in, I bet somewhere my editor is breathing a sigh of relief.

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)

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

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.

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.

Do ahead
Generally, I think muffins are best on the first day, but these surprise me by being twice as moist, with even more developed flavors, on day two. They’re just a little less crisp on top after being in an airtight container overnight.

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 fl our 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.

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