In my few other cookbook reviews I’ve mentioned that I read cookbooks like I would a normal book–before I even think about making something from a new book I’ll read every recipe and all the stories that go along with them. Cooking and baking has always been a very personal thing for me, since spending time in the kitchen is my other stress relief when I’m not reading. In the past few weeks I’ve baked an orange gingerbread cake with cream cheese frosting, a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, zucchini bread, and tried four new weeknight dinner recipes using new-to-me vegetables (I don’t hate turnips and rutabagas, who knew?). And one book I keep coming back to for inspiration is The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman, whom I was thrilled to see speak in Portland last year.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

I started reading the Smitten Kitchen blog three or so years ago, and was instantly hooked. She cooked the kind of food I wanted but didn’t know how to make, featuring lots of vegetables and a focus on seasonal items. She’s not vegetarian by any means (and neither am I) but so many of her recipes have introduced me to new vegetables I never ate growing up, including my current obsession with leeks. Many of her recipes had a story about the family member of friend who shared it, the restaurant meal she was trying to recreate, or a frantic need to get dinner on the table that night with a random collection of things in the pantry; when her book came out, I hoped that the same tone Deb created on her blog would carry over into print. And I’m happy to say it has.

My absolute favorite recipe that I’ve made so far is the Mustard Milanese with Arugula Fennel Salad, page 169, although I served mine with lemon garlic roasted Brussels sprouts instead because I don’t like arugula. I will admit I doubled the amount of Dijon mustard used to coat the chicken, because my husband is crazy like that. There are also many recipes I still haven’t tried including Chocolate Chip Brioche Pretzels (page 17), Slow-Cooker Black Bean Ragout (page 137), Panchetta, White Bean, and Swiss Chard Pot Pies (page 163), and Gooey Cinnamon Squares (page 207). If anyone has tried one of these, or any of the recipes from this book, I’d love to hear what you thought!

And while the food is great, it really is her sense of story and family behind each recipe that keeps me coming back to this book. Despite being nervous, Deb was a great speaker when I saw her in Portland. She answered tons of questions, was patient with the large line of people waiting for autographs, and even gave me a hug in congrats when she heard I was getting married in a few weeks! When I cook from her recipes, I remember a woman who was so passionate about food that she turned a crazy little blog into a career and best-selling cookbook and hope that I can get some of that same passion in my own food. I cook to relax, and with the recipes from Deb in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook I know I’ll have food worth washing the dishes.