This Impressive New Cookbook Offers Easy, Delish Recipes (And The Greatest Chewy Oat Bars)

Our food director tries the recipes in Smitten Kitchen Every Day, the new cookbook from beloved food blogger Deb Perelman.

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Smitten Kitchen cookbook: Every DayThe Book: Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant & Unfussy New Favourites, $40

The Promise

Welcome to the second cookbook from beloved recipe blogger Deb Perelman, the mastermind behind Smitten Kitchen. Perelman is known as much for her doable and delicious recipes — all developed and photographed in her tiny New York kitchen — as she is for her wry, self-deprecating sense of humour and BFF-next-door persona. In Smitten Kitchen Every Day, Perelman promises dozens of recipes for your “forever files,” dishes that will make you approach cooking as “an escape from drudgery” (great flavour, great ingredients and happy discoveries that you want to share). I expect chapters and chapters of new favourites and to begin approaching weeknight dinner with a spring in my step instead of viewing it as the first in a list of  evening chores (just before laundry and paying bills).

Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Every Day cookbook cover
I used up a stack of Post-its excitedly bookmarking recipes in Smitten Kitchen Every Day. Photo, Sue Riedl.

First Impression

Even with my favourite cookbooks, I usually only find five or six dishes I’m really pumped to make. Grabbing a Post-it pad to mark recipes that appealed to me, I started flipping through the book and sticking and sticking and sticking — I could not stop bookmarking pages (15 on my first pass). The pictures are mouthwatering but also make the recipes seem approachable — natural light and dishes (with crumbs!) that aren’t overly styled. I also got sucked in by the recipe titles: Roasted Tomato Picnic Sandwich, anyone? And of course Perelman’s writing: “Let’s for a minute pretend we live in a world where we all have picnics, like all the time.” Yes, let’s!

Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Jam-Bellied Bran Scones
My Jam-Bellied Bran Scones came out a little flatter than Perelman’s but still tasted delicious. (Three is one serving, right?) Photo, Sue Riedl.

Sample Recipes

In the end, I picked recipes based on my cravings, though I also aimed for a variety of dishes across various skill levels. Here’s what I tried:

Jam-Bellied Bran Scones, page 8
Mini-Matzo Ball Soup with Horseradish and Herbs, page 77
Tomato-Braised Gigante Bean Gratin, aka Pizza Beans, page 143
Bake Sale Winningest Gooey Oat Bars, page 235

Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Jam-bellied Bran Scones in process
Here is the jam-filling stage of the Bran Scones. Yeah, these are a bit more of a pain than a regular muffin, but I felt like they stepped up my weekday breakfast game. Photo, Sue Riedl.

Do The Recipes Actually Work?

I started by diving into the Jam-Bellied Bran Scones — any food with a secret jam pocket belongs in my repertoire. They’re soft, a little sweet and allow for some self-righteous “this is a (kinda) healthy breakfast” pats on the back. Perfect road trip snacks. The final product looked a bit more like a muffin than a scone and they were definitely more time-consuming to make than both due to the jam filling (and they’re not a one-bowl deal). It was a relaxing project for a Sunday, the instructions were clear and the whole batch disappeared in under two days, but I may not be as willing to whip out the cookie cutters and egg wash on a weeknight.

Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Mini Matzoball Soup
This soup presents beautifully, and my version came out pretty darn similar to the book! It would make a great course for entertaining. Photo, Sue Riedl.

Next I moved onto the Mini-Matzo Ball Soup with Horseradish and Herbs, a fave dish of mine that I’ve never made at home. This recipe requires that you make your own veggie stock, which Perelman cushions in the intro with a, “Wait, come back! It doesn’t take half a day.” And this grumpy weeknight stock-maker will admit it was fairly simple (you don’t even need to peel any of the veggies; onions go right in, skin on, so it’s mostly rough chopping of the ingredients).

I was dreading making the mini matzo balls a little bit more as they seemed like they could be delicate and time-consuming. Luckily, once the matzo meal came together (really just mixing), scooping them into small balls with a tablespoon was actually super quick, and even a bit fun. I made this later in the evening and the aroma of the finished dish, with its zingy horseradish matzo balls, was so enticing that both my husband and I had a bowl before bed. Even my somewhat picky nice-year old allowed me to pack it for his lunch. A keeper.

Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Pizza Beans recipe
My Pizza Beans and the ones in Smitten Kitchen Every Day. As suggested, I finished the dish under the broiler. (Perelman’s go-to garlic bread recipe is included in the book, though I haven’t tried it yet.) Photo, Sue Riedl.

Next dish: Pizza Beans. More formally known as Tomato-Braised Gigante Bean GratinPizza Beans is the name Perelman dreamed up to sell the dish to her kindergarten-age son. It’s a casserole of tomato sauce, cheese, kale and giant white beans.

The beans are a bit of a hurdle. You have to cook them first (remember the always read the whole recipe rule? I didn’t do that). I realized while grocery shopping that the beans required soaking for 12 to 24 hours and a slow cooker or pressure cooker to finish. Giant white beans are also not so easily found in an average grocery store, so I switched them out for regular canned white beans (drained and rinsed). And it worked.

I also added some chorizo sausage I had in the fridge (the recipe mentions to do this) and created a perfect Friday night casserole: creamy, savoury and gooey. And the house smelled delicious. Leftovers rocked.

Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Bake Sale Gooey Oat Bars
If you take anything from this review, it’s to memorize the recipe for these bars. Photo, Sue Riedl.

My last recipe, and possibly my most victorious achievement, was the Bake Sale Winning-est Gooey Oat Bars. Yes, this is a basic, layered oat bar (with a shortbread base, unsweetened coconut and chocolate chips) but it also has a gooey, butter-tart like middle layer.  Perelman says they “reliably make people swoon,” and they did, adults and kids alike. You should have no shame bringing these anywhere — proudly plonk them right next to any delicate, froufrou macarons and just see where the crowd heads.

They also came together easily. I used a smaller casserole dish than the recipe asked for (the Pizza Beans were in my 9″ by 13″ dish), and I had to bake both the shortbread crust and oat topping for longer. Next time I’m sticking with her instructions (plus, you end up with more bars).

The Verdict

The Instant Pot Cookbook Our Food Editor LovesThe Instant Pot Cookbook Our Food Editor LovesSo was I triumphant? Yes. The food was not only successful it was really, really tasty. And was it fuss-free? If you’ve been cooking from the Smitten Kitchen blog (or just cook on a regular basis), you won’t have trouble. If you’re starting out in the kitchen, I still think this is a great book to own, but give yourself time to get comfortable with the recipes the first time around. I will absolutely go back and make all those other bookmarked recipes with pleasure.

Mainly, I love that these dishes really do feel like food you’d serve to friends and family when you entertain — the people you want to make the most delicious feast for, the same people who wouldn’t want you killing yourself to deliver it.

Ease Of Use

Effort: Medium  Skill Level: Medium

Who To Buy It For

• Anyone who loves Smitten Kitchen

• Your friends who love to cook but also have kids (this is book nicely balances foodie and family)

• The perfect housewarming gift for a food lover, or anyone looking to shake up their usual meal-planning

Where It Will Live

If yours has as many bookmarks as mine did, by your side in the kitchen to become very well-splattered.

Watch: How to make Nachos Supreme for an easy, weeknight fix