World Chefs: Perelman offers pointers for great recipe hunting

NEW YORK Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:55am GMT

Deb Perelman, 36, author of ''The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook'' is shown in an undated file handout provided by Elizabeth Bick. REUTERS/Elizabeth Bick/Handout

Deb Perelman, 36, author of ''The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook'' is shown in an undated file handout provided by Elizabeth Bick.

Credit: Reuters/Elizabeth Bick/Handout

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Deb Perelman, author of "The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook," believes there are no bad cooks, only bad recipes.

"I think a really great recipe should be able to lead someone who has never cooked before through a dish so they could make it as perfectly as that recipe's writer the first time," said Perelman, a proudly self-taught home cook, tireless recipe hunter and successful food blogger.

The 100 recipes collected in Perelman's first book are mostly new, except a few favorites from her celebrated Smitten Kitchen website.

Perelman, 36, spoke to Reuters about her pursuit of great recipes, her blog-to-book deal, and why her tiny New York City kitchen is "smitten."

Q: Were you expecting a book deal when you started your Smitten Kitchen blog?

A: "I wasn't' really looking for a book deal. Mostly I just wanted to do the website."

Q: Why?

A: "I wanted to have a place that I could share recipes that I thought were perfect: Go-to recipes that were easy, with accessible ingredients that I thought exceeded expectations."

Q: What makes a recipe good?

A: "First, the recipe should work. Many recipes don't. Beyond that it should be great. Most of us work and we don't have a lot of time to cook so it's really nice that when we come home we can cook something that's great. Third, I think a lot of recipes leave out detail. There's a presumption that you might know these steps or directions already. I think there's no harm to putting in a little extra detail ... Finally I think that a recipe should have accessible ingredients. You shouldn't have to run out to specialty stores to cook great food."

Q: You say you're not a trained chef and you've never been to cooking school. Where did you learn to cook?

A: "People in my family cook. My grandmother cooked. My mother taught herself to cook by cooking her way through Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French cooking." But the obsessiveness in chasing down what I consider recipes that are worth it , I think, is more my personality."

Q: What jobs have you held?

A: "I've been everything from a barista to an art therapist. I was an IT reporter for a little while. I had a lot of jobs. I wasn't particularly good at any of them."

Q: Why did your call your blog "Smitten Kitchen?"

A: "I was always tickled by the word. I liked the duality of it ... Prior to having Smitten Kitchen as a website I had one just called Smitten, a blog with stories that spun off into the cooking site."

Q: Do you have a tip for the aspiring home cook?

A: "I think that if you are somebody who doesn't' cook but would like to, it really helps to start with a thing that nobody else makes well. Because the truth is if you are really craving a certain kind of tomato soup or casserole and you can't find it, this is the thing that you need to get in the kitchen and make for yourself."

Q: What are your future plans?

A: "I have zero plans. I don't plan that far ahead. My nature is more conservative. I'm really not interested in saying, ‘Well, I have a best seller now and it will change my life.' I kind of just want to keep doing what I'm doing. And I've always enjoyed doing the website. So I look forward to having a little more time to update it now."

Plum poppy seed muffins - yield: 12 standard muffins (excerpted from "The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook")

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and browned and cooled, plus butter for muffin cups

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar

1/4 cup (50 grams) packed dark or light brown sugar

3/4 cup (180 grams) sour cream or a rich, full- fat plain yogurt

1/2 cup (60 grams) whole-wheat flour

1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 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 3/4 pound (340 grams) Italian prune plums (though any plum variety will do)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Butter 12 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.

Perelman said the muffins surprised her by being twice as moist, with more developed flavors, on the second day.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Paul Simao)

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