Book Review: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

“Well, it’s official,” my husband told me. “You’ll never make it as a Jewish mother.”
This after I burned a brisket and served a challah that was black on the bottom and doughy on the inside.
smitten-kitchen-cookbookIt would be easy to blame the cookbook I used, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman, but I can’t. I blame the overachiever in me, who thought she could rush home from work Friday afternoon and throw together Shabbat dinner without the care and preparation such a meal deserves.
I can’t blame Perelman’s book because, of the countless recipes I’ve made from her successful blog, Smitten Kitchen, none has failed me. Her recipes earned me my spot at my in-laws’ High Holiday table (Moist and Majestic Honey Cake) and Passover seder (chocolate souffle cupcakes with mint cream); and her quick bacon corn hash (we use turkey bacon) has saved me on the many occasions when my husband was teetering on the verge of hangry (hungry + angry) and we needed to eat, pronto.
Six years ago, Perelman, who stresses that she has no cooking expertise other than just enjoying cooking, channeled her love of food into a blog, using the three square feet of counter space available in her New York City apartment. Hundreds of recipes later, she released her first book, featuring mostly new recipes. And this past Tuesday, she was in Minneapolis for a book signing. I, however, didn’t make it to the signing because snow still scares me and I didn’t want to be That Person that drove 15 miles mph on 35W. Oh well.
But I still got to enjoy some of her recipes. I first tried Maya’s Sweet and Sour Brisket [book only] and Challah with Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt. Perelman begins each recipe with a gorgeous photo and thoughtful and witty anecdote, which encouraged me to sit back and get lost in her thoughts, taking a relaxed approach to cooking.

my misshapen attempt at Smitten Kitchen's Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah

my misshapen attempt at Smitten Kitchen’s Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah

The problem was, I didn’t have that kind of time. (Please refer to the above mention of my hangry husband.) In my haste, I allowed myself the smallest amount of time possible for each step — i.e. I was instructed to let the challah dough sit for one hour or until doubled in size. When an hour passed and my dough wasn’t doubled, I moved on to the next step anyway — resulting in a doughy challah.
Here’s the thing: that doughy challah, filled with a homemade fig paste, and sprinkled with sea salt, was still irresistible. I can only imagine what it would have tasted like if it had been allowed rise to its true potential. And even though my husband was skeptical of a twist on the classic challah — he could go on and on about the horror that is flavored ketchup — even he couldn’t wait until the bread was cooled to stuff his face. As Perelman says,

“…My people haven’t been sitting down to Friday night and High Holiday dinners with a braided loaf of egg bread for thousands of years with the nagging suspicion in the back of their minds that it really could use an update — perhaps with some imported sea salt? Because of this, I always try to tread carefully when making old-school dishes, yet usually I fail because my curiosity gets the better of me. This time, I wasn’t sorry at all.”

I’m not giving up on this cookbook — how could I, without having tried Sesame Spiced Turkey Meatballs with Chickpea Salad, or Chocolate Brioche Pretzels, or Sweet Potato Blintzes? The next time I have an entirely free day to cook, I’m thinking I want to spend it with Deb Perelman — and I’m thinking it will be delicious.
*The FTC made me do it: Disclosure of Material Connection: TC Jewfolk received a free copy of  “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook” in the hope that we would mention it on TC Jewfolk. But getting the book for free doesn’t mean that we were obligated to give a positive review. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”