Deb Perelman, named the top food blogger of 2011 by Saveur magazine and praised by Martha Stewart, doesn’t work out of a swanky, gleaming high-tech kitchen.
Instead, Perelman, whose blog "Smitten Kitchen" gets 8 million page views a month, cooks in a 42-foot galley style kitchen in a small apartment in Manhattan. Luxuries for her aren't 60-inch side by side refrigerators or 8-burner gas cooktops. It’s having an elevator instead of a walk-up and at last getting dishwasher in her kitchen — both of which were not included in her previous apartment.
But for the last six years, since registering the domain www.smittenkitchen.com, Perelman has culled recipes from numerous sources and selected and adapted the best. Believing in her mantra that there are no bad cooks, just bad recipes, she captured the results in her luscious, mouth-watering photographs.
With the numerous photographs and her commentary on cooking, notes for substitutions and life that are posted on her blog along with the recipes, it’s like being in the cramped kitchen with her – one reason her blog is so popular.
"I expected the site to last six months; at the time, that seemed the half-life of most weblogs," Perelman said. "I saw no reason that a food blog from a non-chef with no particularly clear cooking philosophy would resonate with people. I was surprised, and remain surprised, that there are so many people out there that are looking for what I am — recipes that work using accessible, unfancy ingredients that quickly become your new favorite things to cook.”
Probably the most important reason is that Perelman’s recipes work. And that was the major driving force in creating her blog. Describing herself as an obsessive collector of what she considers to be the perfect recipes, she wanted a place to share them.
“They were the recipes that exceeded expectations every time I made them,” said Perelman, who is quick to state that she has no formal training and no restaurant expertise, but is instead simply someone who loves to cook and wants to know an inordinate amount about the foods she cooks.
“I started the site as a place to share these recipes, be it the ne plus ultra banana bread or yellow layer cake or best tomato sauce you could make from really average tomatoes," she said.
Now Perelman has taken the next obvious step — "The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook" (Knopf 2012; $35). With 105 recipes (85 which have never appeared on her blog), 300 photos which she took herself and, because she’s a home cook and knows what’s important, the type of binding that opens flat so you can place the book on the counter and not lose your place.
The recipes are diverse and photos show not only the finished product but also different steps in their creation. Add to that her dry humor, featured on such as recipes as Deepest Dish Apple Pie, Tiny But Intense Chocolate Cake and Whole Lemon Bars which Perelman describes as her generational take on the classic lemon bar, this time using the whole lemon — zest, skin and flesh. Then there are interesting takes on classics: Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats are a gourmet reincarnation of Rice Krispies treats, and S’More Layer Cake.
Perelman finds inspiration for her recipes in many ways.
“Sometimes I'll be out at a restaurant and I'll be so excited about a dish on the menu because I have such a clear idea of all the ways it could be awesome and it is totally different,” she says.
“I then become insistent upon making it at home the way I'd hoped it would be. Other times I'll be very much in the mood for something — for example, I've been fiending for a matzo ball soup this week with loads of vegetables — but nobody makes it the way I like it. This, too, is a font of inspiration.”
She also offers advice for people who, like her, don’t have dream kitchens.
“Be very strict with what you buy for your kitchen and get only things that will earn their keep,” she says. “Don't pre-stock your kitchen. Buy pots and baking pans as you know you’ll need them and are certain that you can't use anything else.”
A big kitchen no-no is keeping things like coffee makers, canisters and spoon holders on the counter.
“You're sacrificing what limited space you have,” continues Perelman. “I have shelves installed wherever possible, a wall-mounted pot rack over the window and vertical racks that store baking pans and cutting boards above the cabinets. Appliances are on the fridge, taken down as needed.”
Perelman pauses before adding her last piece of sage advice about having the not-so-perfect kitchen.
“Above all else,” she adds, “it’s essential that you never look at designer kitchen photos on Pinterest or in magazines. It's bad for morale.”