Sunday, August 04, 2013

Smitten Kitchen: Earnest Summation

As you may recall, a few months ago I spent some time cooking through The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I always get around to the cookbook summaries eventually, if not in the timely fashion I originally intended.

There's a disconnect between Deb Perelman's tastes and mine. I was looking through the book this morning trying to put my finger on it, but there is no single "it."

I'll start with the first difference that jumps out: There are people who love brunch and there are people who don't and Perelman clearly falls into the former category. The breakfast chapter is one of the longest in her book and it is full of eggy, starchy dishes that serve a sociable crowd, i.e. brunch foods.

I am not a brunch person. It is 6:42 a.m. on August 4 as I type these words and I am fully dressed, drinking coffee, crossing items off my to-do list (including this post) like the insufferably peppy morning person I have always been. I can not imagine anything less appealing than waiting until 11 to drink mimosas and eat a slab of New York breakfast casserole. This isn't a value judgment, it's a difference in biorhythms.

But I also can't imagine anything less appealing than New York breakfast casserole at any time of day and that isn't a difference in biorhythms, it's a difference in taste. New York breakfast casserole is a savory pudding of bagel chunks, cream cheese, eggs, and half-and-half and nothing about that makes my mouth water. I'm not saying my taste is superior. Flummery? Just different. A lot of Perelman's dishes are, for want of a better word, dense. Chocolate chip brioche pretzels. Fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah. Cheddar swirl breakfast buns. These do not tempt me at all.

It sounds like I'm panning the cookbook. I'm not. Because where our tastes overlapped, I was consistently delighted. The dishes I loved from this book, I really, really loved. Broccoli salad. Red wine chocolate cake. Avocado tartine. Gnocchi in tomato broth. Eggplant and three cheese calzone. Grapefruit olive oil cake. Now that it's summer, I want to dip back into the book and try the peach dumplings with bourbon hard sauce. They look fabulous and I'm sure they are. I don't, however, want to try the tomato shortcakes with whipped goat cheese or the corn risotto-stuffed poblanos and that's the taste issue again. I can happily overlook it. Four dishes that are worth the price of the book? That's a shelf essential.

I cooked 31 dishes from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and here's how I'd rate them:

worth the price of the book: 4
great: 6
good: 12
so-so: 8
flat-out bad -1

The one dish that I deemed "flat-out bad" was possibly "bad" due to an error on my part. I doubt the gooey cinnamon squares are really flat-out bad because Perelman doesn't publish bad recipes. But my rule has always been that if can't figure out what I did wrong, I go with the results. I could not figure out what I did wrong and these were too sweet for anyone in this house and some of us like shoofly pie.


  1. I'm with you on this one all the way. I borrowed this book out from the library because I suspected it would not be something I wanted to buy. There were a couple of recipes that I would call pretty good. I didn't make 31, so there might be more. But I felt that in some recipes, there were unnecessary calories, calories that did not contribute to taste or texture. So, I appreciate your description of a disconnect being present for you. It's a great descriptive phrase for my relationship with this book as well.

  2. I totally agree. There are too many too-sweet variations on classics; as in, Why bother? Yet it's somehow socially incorrect to say you don't like this book because Perelman's writing voice is so appealing.

  3. I'm not a fan of brunch either, but when we do go out for brunch on occasion (or have friends over for it) I *always* have breakfast first. That's completely non-negotiable.

    Also, if you're fully dressed at 6:42am, may I ask what time you go to bed? I have a young child waking me up around 6am now and I'm finding it hard to adjust to his biorhythm. :)

    1. I go to bed early. Average 9 - 9:30. You're born the way you're born! I don't think it's easy to become an early bird if you're a night owl or vice versa.

  4. I am not necessarily such an early riser. But I am hungry when I awake! The thought of waking at 7am and then waiting for brunch until 11; 30am or so is hard for me to take. I eat all the same but it really throws off my appetite. Eat breakfast twice? How many eggs should a person have in one day? This is not to mention that here in NYC if you do want brunch there's inevitably a wait of some time. A real drag. If I were hungry and waiting; look out! No, I never ever suggest brunch.

  5. You wrote a great review and had a really hard choice! Love the Smitten Kitchen but covet Bouchon Bakery. I have tried the leek fritters which were grata. To see more info please visit

  6. Made her buttered popcorn cookies last night and was not pleased. The popcorn (which appears to be light and airy in the cookbook) cooked up chewy and dense. Maybe my dough was too room temperature or I folded the ingredients together too long. Dunno.