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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

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Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perelman on Meat, Champagne, and the Secrets of QVC

Deb Perelman of the delightful food blog Smitten Kitchen has a new book out today, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, which she's currently touring the country to sell on QVC, and which is available at many other outlets. (On Smitten Kitchen, Deb chronicles the gorgeous meals she makes in her tiny East Village apartment, anecdotes and photographs included.) The two of us actually met in the '00s while working at a tech publishing company, and because in addition to being a fantastic cook, Deb's a fun, smart, warm person who hates promoting herself, I thought I'd help.

Okay, let's start with the easy stuff. When did you start blogging and why? 

I officially started blogging in a non-food capacity in 2003. I had no idea what I was doing; I was going on a lot of bad dates and thought it would be fun to write about them. (I sort of roll my eyes at myself when I tell this story.) Anyway, writing about dating didn't really pan out, because I met my husband, who was reading and commenting on this blog of mine with four other readers, just a couple weeks after starting it. But I kept nattering on about life and being in a relationship, and that about brought me to 2006, when I was growing a little tired of only telling stories about my life and wanted to focus more on cooking. And Smitten Kitchen was born!

How did you manage to keep writing about this stuff in a fun way without being overly confessional?

I mean, there are definitely things that I have talked about that make me cringe, but I think for the most part, I've always understood what I was okay talking about and what I wasn't. And it's not like the things I wouldn't share are so dark, I'm just more prone these days to speak about bigger things in hindsight rather than right when I'm in the middle of them. I really want the site to be about things that are authentic to my life and kitchen; I would find it exhausting to put on any other kind of charade. But I don't think that means I need to empty the contents of my psyche every day to tell stories that are true and real. It would unravel me. 

When I first met you, you were a vegetarian and, if I remember correctly, in the process of slowly widening your palate. What was the one type of food you did a 180 on?

Actually, when you met me, I was already doomed to a life of bacon and brisket, but it was a recent thing. For years, I would eat meat, but had no great craving for it. I think it shifted a bit when I was pregnant (for the first time in my life, I wanted a hamburger) and again when I worked on the cookbook, and there were a few meat dishes that I really wanted to get right, once and for all. The thing is, once I did, I wanted them, and those are definitely part of the repertoire now. But, I still think of meat as something you eat once or twice a week. It's always more of a side dish to me. The nice thing about only eating it once or so a week is that you can make it a treat, and get a good steak or chicken from a clean, fresh source.

You were a writer in the tech industry before you went full time with SK. What's up with the intersection of tech nerds and foodies, such as Mary Jo Foley?

Everyone has to eat, although I suppose it could be argued that people fascinated by one type of inner workings — technology, information systems — might be curious about another, such as how to construct the ideal banana bread.

Is there anything you miss about the tech industry?

I miss being more in the know about tech and tech companies. I still read Between the Lines first when I want a good take on some tech news because Larry's still the best at breaking it down succinctly. As for the writing itself, I think that reporting skills — and mine were limited, because I only did it for a couple years — are excellent to have. Even if you choose not to, know how to write without editorializing, being able to clearly separate fact versus ideas, is important. It can keep your writing sharp.

How much can you reveal about the secrets of being on QVC?

Yes, and here it is: QVC IS AWESOME. Like most people who are not in their core demographic, I really didn't "get" this idea of buying (what I imagined to be only) embroidered cat pillows because you saw them on TV. And I spent quite a bit of time there; they require you to "train" at home and take an exam and then do a full day of training onsite before you can even be approved to go on a show. But it totally worked its voodoo me; I am now in awe of the place. Consider this: This company made $8.3 billion in revenue in 2011 selling things to people who could not taste, smell, touch or audition them before they took them home. And usually in single 5-minute segments. I mean, even if, as an author you were like "Ew, yuck, why would I want to sell thousands of copies my book in five minutes?" (that's what most authors are like, right?), you could still be in awe of what they manage to do.

How many times have you met Martha Stewart? Does she know you by name?

Three times, and no, I am not certain that she knows who I am. But I'm still in awe of her. This thing she's built; it's incredible.

Do you have any food secrets, like you eat Cheese Whiz from the nozzle or something?

I really like Pringles. I don't make a habit of them but the few times a year that life calls for potato chips, they are what I'm hoping for. Oh, and natural peanut butter, the kind that separates, makes me fly into a rage. It never mixes. Ever! Gaaaaah. Skippy. Skippy, always.

Do you have a special snack or recipe that you could share with the audience?

I feel strongly that My Favorite Brownies can cure anything that ails you. You are basically 40 minutes from eating them right now.

[Note: This interview was conducted via email just as Hurricane Sandy was touching down, so yeah, brownies are needed!]

Do you ever amend your recipes to cook for friends who are vegan or have similar diet restrictions?

Not a whole lot, not because I am mean but because I only like to talk about recipes I've tested in my kitchen, and I'm neither vegan or gluten-free or really anything besides a glutton. So, I might give suggestions of things I think will work, but I can't vouch for a change unless I've auditioned it.

Did you bribe yourself with anything special to get through the book? Are you planning some sort of getaway when this is all over?

I'm hardly an ascetic, I did buy myself some fancy shoes (after so much hemming and hawing) last week, but I don't think I'm very good at the whole self-indulgence thing. Or, maybe fancy shoes aren't something I'd be crushed enough without/motivated to work harder for. What I'd really love is to rent an apartment for a month in a foreign city; I need to live outside my comfort zone to refill the proverbial well, but it's not something we've been able to pull off yet. Maybe next year?

Do you ever get recognized? I feel like the cross-section of your readers is really interesting and random.

It happens. And they're always the NICEST PEOPLE. Like, far nicer than the average New Yorker. I wonder where NYC hides these people the rest of the time.

What's your ultimate "Treat yourself!" meal? 

A glass of champagne. Oh, did you say meal? Then, well, still champagne. I made the mistake of finding out what it was all about. I had to ask all of these pesky questions like, "Can I taste the difference between champagne and prosecco? Will cava do?" I wish I hadn't. I think I was a better person before I knew the answers.

'The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook' is out today; more info can be found here.

Jenni Miller is a pop culture writer in New York City. She's on Twitter @MsJenniMiiller.

60 Comments / Post A Comment

The Lady of Shalott

Those brownies, Smitten Kitchen's favourite brownies? They are VERY SIMILAR to this Jolie's amazing and perfect Crack Brownies (http://www.theawl.com/2011/09/crack-brownies) and are thus almost exactly similar to my own beloved perfect brownie recipe.

I'm going to a BBQ this weekend and now I know what I'm bringing! Brownies! YESSSSS YAY FOR BROWNIES (even if I make them with cheap crappy ingredients from the bulk store because I am too po' for really fancy ingredients of any kind).

Steph

LOVE
I've only recently started to teach my 28 year old self to cook and discovered it's actually really fun! Smitten Kitchen is one of my favorites. Already bought two copies of the book, one for me one for my BFF.

PatatasBravas

BROWNIES, THEY ARE A-HAPPENIN THIS WEEKEND. Exactly what I need.

all the bacon and eggs

My copy of her cookbook should be waiting for me when I get home from work today and I CAN'T WAIT!

A Dolly

@all the bacon and eggs I preordered too! In May or March or whenever she announced it. But amazon emailed me today to say I probably wouldn't get it for a few more days. SANDYYYYYYYYY.

allofthewine

YES! So excited to see this interview. Smitten Kitchen is one of my all time favorite cooking blogs.I just made her SOFT PRETZELS (http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2007/02/knotted-and-stacked-disappearing-acts/) this weekend and they were So so good. The cookbook is an easy buy.

phipsi

@allofthewine Very similar to Alton Brown's pretzels, which is my go-to recipe. I love a soft pretzel, hoooodamn. (But now I can never enjoy a Mall Pretzel with gusto because mine are SO MUCH BETTER!)

frigwiggin

Oh, QVC. A mention cannot be made without a reference to Mike Rowe and his stint there.

frigwiggin

@frigwiggin Oh yeah, also, cookbook = great, my best friend loooooves Smitten Kitchen and I probably repin her recipes all the time. COOKING. I cooked chicken pot pie and yellow seafood curry over the weekend! No cooking tonight, though, because every dish in the house is dirty so I'm going to send my boyfriend for a pizza while I do all the dishes in the world by hand because we have no dishwasher. Sob.

up cubed

@frigwiggin "We don't really have audio for this do we? That is too bad. You would be hearing this cat making sounds of unbridled pleasure"... this is the best thing to happen to me all week.

par_parenthese

@frigwiggin Why is Mike Rowe the best ever?

Hot Doom

@frigwiggin Holy cats, thanks for THAT rabbit hole of video.

phipsi

LOVE HER.

LOVE HER.

She is the gemmiest of gems. Wish she was touring closer to my city, I would love to give her a hug. Mwah!

SarahDances

My favorite blog talks about my favorite cooking blog! Happy early birthday to me!

dtowngirl

I am so happy that I pre-ordered the cookbook. I honestly use the recipes from her blog more than any other recipes, and they always turn out well. Thanks for making me a better cook!

mishaps

I have only ever made one thing from her blog that was not the best thing ever, and for that I partially blame my own mistakes. I pre-ordered the cookbook too - can't wait.

Tooch

I love Smitten Kitchen and am so excited for the cookbook (I pre-ordered it on Amazon, why isn't it here yet)!

Whenever I am looking for a good recipe for something I don't already have a go-to recipe for, I google "Smitten Kitchen + [whatever I'm hunting for]" and I'm rarely disappointed.

I enjoy and totally relate to Deb's "nerdy" tendencies to seek out complete information about the stuff she's interested in. I also appreciate the self-awareness in her food writing.

Summary: she's great, her food is great, this interview was great!

fuck fuck fuck

love it when my favorite things colliiiiiide

Mingus_Thurber

Smitten Kitchen's Best Yellow Cake is my go-to for yellow (or white; if you don't like egg yolks, fuck you) cake or cupcakes. I am not bragging when I say that people ask for my cakes for birthdays and special occasions, and that I am asked to bring only one thing to every work potluck.

Chocolate: the Hershey's box recipe, with Br. Peter Reinhardt's chocolate frosting

Carrot: Tassajara Bread Book's recipe

Yellow/White: Smitten Kitchen's recipe

I have now given away all my secrets. I hope I'm out of a job.

Teeth and Claws

She is my very favorite. I made a batch of her best cocoa brownies last night in fact, and my husband swears that her mustard-roasted potatoes are basically crack. Basically everything I make that comes from a Smitten Kitchen recipe gets sighed over wistfully the next day. "Wasn't that good? That was SO good."

DullHypothesis

@Teeth and Claws

Those are my favorite brownies. They are also good to put weed in. I feel dirty saying that, but for some reason using SK brownie recipes for that purpose just seems right.

Amphora

Last year for Thanksgiving I made three different sides from SK and they all turned out great. This blog has singlehandedly introduced me to the idea that salad can be good enough to eat every day (you can put grains in it!). So happy the book is out! My mom is for sure getting it for Christmas.

par_parenthese

OMG Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeb!

If SK were a religion, I would be one of those people who stands on a box with a megaphone shouting things at passers-by about it. AND I SAY UNTO THEE, THOU SHALT MAKE SMITTEN KITCHEN'S RUSSIAN BLACK BREAD; YEA, THOUGH IT HATH A METRIC SHIT-TON OF INGREDIENTS AND LOOKETH FIDDLY AS ALL HELL. THOU SHALT MAKE IT, AND WEEP, AND DESPAIR OF THY LOW-CARB DIETING PLANS. AND THEN THOU SHALT SAY, "WHAT THE HELL," AND MAKE HER BROWNIE RECIPES, ALL AND SUNDRY OF THEM, AND NOT EVEN BOTHER TO PRETEND THEY ARE FOR A TASTE-TEST. REPENT OF THINE OTHER FOOD BLOG DALLIANCES AND RETURN YE UNTO THE HARBOR OF DELECTATION.

Teeth and Claws

@par_parenthese I could be down with any religion that has a Harbor of Delectation.

Cat named Virtute

@par_parenthese Sign me up as a disciple, and, lo, I shall spread the good word alongside you!

par_parenthese

@Cat named Virtute "Lo" is totes going to be my new term of agreement. "Man, this cake is DELICIOUS." "LO."

DullHypothesis

OH MY GOD SMITTEN KITCHEN IS THE BEST THING EVER AND NOT ONLY BECAUSE SHE POSTS WEIGHTS WITH ALL HER RECIPES, BUT ALSO BECAUSE SHE IS AMAZING AND HAS CUTE KIDS. BUT SERIOUSLY GET A KITCHEN SCALE.

ETA: OK I READ IT NOW AND I OFFICIALLY LOVE HER.

Srsly. Deb, everything is amazeballs on your site. I make your celebration cakes for friend's birthdays and now I am known for being a cake lady. Because of you me and all my friends are fat and happy from the things I cook from your site.

anachronistique

@DullHypothesis I love the hunt for the link to the picture of her adorable son in every post. CHUBBY TODDLER CHEEKS.

VolcanoMouse

Smitten Kitchen + Hairpin = MIND BLOWN WITH AWESOME. Not a week goes by without me cooking one of Deb's recipes. I am not a luster-over-cookbooks, but this one, I neeed.

hellomynameis

that's what skippy natural is for!!! no funky ingredients but it doesn't separate. it's magic!!

mishaps

@hellomynameis oh! Also, I meant to mention earlier, the Koeze Cream-Nut peanut butter, which you can find in your local goormey shops (or I can), is natural, made by a family-owned company in Michigan, all that good stuff, but stays mixed once you mix it.

Decca

Lately I've been cooking all the Indian food recipes on SK and they are so tasty and so easy.

Ragged But Right

@Decca The Chana Masala. Dang.

Decca

@Ragged But Right The Chana Masala is just...nghggg. There's like 3 ingredients (apart from the spices) and it is the tastiest thing ever.

planforamiracle

@Decca YES! I refer back to "recipes from a cumin junkie" all the time.. love the roasted cauliflower.

sheistolerable

AHH I LOVE HER
ETA: I just realized that literally AS I wrote the above, I was/am eating a delicious soup that I made by combining Deb's chicken noodle and matzo ball soup recipes. And it's making me so happy. <3!!!!!

JanieS

... I wish I could make brownies and not worry about being gluten-free. :pout:

miss olsen

@JanieS have you tried Cup4Cup? It's a GF substitute blend that's supposed to work ...cup for cup, for flour. I've had success with it! Can't vouch for this brownie recipe, but worth a try.

miss olsen

In case there are any doubters who'd be convinced by a thirtieth repetition of this, SK is the best, Deb is awesome, her recipes are fail-safe and delicious and will make you and yours very, very happy.

Probs

Her tomato soup with the broiled grilled cheese on top pretty much made my girlfriend's and my life.

EpWs

I have never made a SK recipe that was not amazing, and that is not something I can say about anything else in my life. I will be demanding her book for Christmas (if I can wait that long) and buying it for my cooking-type friends.

EpWs

Also, her blondies are (a) perfect, (b) stupid fast, and (c) you can pretty much memorize the recipe instantly. Throw in whatever you've got in the pantry and boom, instant dessert.

mustelid

@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher I made her blondies while we were hunkering down for the hurricane. I used the last egg we had in the house, and it was 100% worth it.

Cat named Virtute

Ha, I made these brownies today! For the third time. They really are SO amazing. Love Deb, love SK. It's definitely my go-to cooking blog.

meatcute

I love me some Smitten Kitchen. I used her "Project Wedding Cake" tutorials to make my own wedding cake, which is probably the most ambitious culinary undertaking I've ever attempted. And it was amazing. Even more amazing was the fact that, when I emailed Deb for the hell of it to thank her, show off a picture of the cake, and lavish praises upon the recipes I've been devouring for years, she emailed right back! She seems every bit as delightful as her blog would suggest. I'm anxiously awaiting my copy of the cookbook, which I preordered an embarrassingly long time ago on Amazon.

kimberussell

Another fan of SK checking in. My favorites on her site are the applesauce cake (hello, autumn) and the strawberry summer cake (I'm a cake person.) My sister-in-law is getting me the cookbook as a late birthday present and I'm so excited. I think I'll try that tomato soup next.

anachronistique

@ladygypsy I brought the applesauce cake to work once and one of my older coworkers offered to adopt me.

HMSBeagle

Her apple gingerbread upside down cake is perfect.

Ragged But Right

Just adding my voice to the chorus here: Smitten Kitchen is my North, my South, my East, my West. The shortcrust pastry! But guys, the World Peace Cookies! Have you made them? Truly, truly make them.

AnnaRosemund

I would like to recommend http://whatkatieate.blogspot.com.es/

Blushingflwr

Hairpin/Smitten Kitchen is the crossover of my dreams.

oh! valencia

She taught me how to make pie crust!

Clare

Unpopular opinion: Smitten Kitchen is not my favorite food blog.

But Deb is absolutely right about the magic of QVC. I contracted there earlier this year and aside from a few weird red-tapey quirks, I call my time there "working in professional Shangri-La." I miss it so much :(

mustelid

I LOVE YOU DEB

jon
jon

Hi really nice posting i realy enjoy it Handphone Oppo

jon
jon

Thank foryour infromation and share. Handphone Oppo

jon
jon

Great Post thanks for make it Hp Oppo

jon
jon

Nice post for me Oppo

jon
jon

Hi really nice posting i realy enjoy it disini

383740544@twitter

She taught me how to make pie crust! sbothai

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