Smitten Kitchen is my desert island blog. From a woman who at last count had well over 200 subscriptions in her Google Reader, that’s a fairly strong statement I guess, but there it is.
Deb is one of a handful of legends in the food blogging world and justly so. Her tagline is “your new favourite things to cook” and it’s so true. She manages to be uncannily accurate in capturing the food zeitgeist and by that I don’t mean she is a food faddist, far from it – she’s completely unpretentious. However judging by the number of commenters who exclaim “I’ve been looking for something like this!” I’m not the only one who didn’t know that what Deb’s cooking is exactly what I want to cook too, until she said so.
While her voice carries enough weight to be reassuring even when describing fairly complex procedures it never wanders into the realm of dictatorial – because she’s also funny. The sort of funny that seems effortless too – like when you watch a dancer or a very skilled chef and think “oh, that doesn’t look too hard” and then you try it and do yourself irreparable damage.
Also, Deb has performed several superhuman feats – always amusing to watch from the sidelines. These include making an entire wedding cake in a kitchen the size of a postage stamp and bearing the most adorable child known to mankind, Jacob. There are only two or three children in the entire world that I could be easily convinced to babysit and he is one of them. Happily, there’s always a link to a Jacob photo in every Smitten post and he seems to improve with age.
Deb is a veteran of the media industry and is articulate and charming on camera and behind a microphone; she’s a frequent guest on radio shows such as Let’s Eat In on the Heritage Radio Network, and has appeared on video podcasts including Goodbite as well as on television several times – on The Martha Stewart Show among others.
Her first cookbook which comes out sometime in 2012 is sure to be an instant bestseller – legions of us are waiting with bated breath. It can’t fail to be the cookbook with the highest ratio of want-to-cook recipes ever (no pressure or anything!)
Here’s another thing about Deb, she has this knack of waxing lyrical without seeming to do so – I mean there are many ways to praise an artichoke but many of them aren’t pleasant (super-yummy or delish, anyone?). Somehow, it’s difficult to be convincingly enthusiastic about food while maintaining your dignity but Deb does. If you haven’t already experienced life at Smitten Kitchen – unlikely – go now, you can thank me later.
Sweet, salty, sour or bitter or a combination, and if so which?
Sour. It might just be because it’s citrus season here, but getting reacquainted with awesome lemons, limes and grapefruit reminds me how much the sour/acidic element is missing from so much food.
Did you grow up in a food-centric household or did your interest in food develop independently of your upbringing? If the latter, do you remember why?
My mom always cooked. She always encouraged curiosity; we made bread, we made meringues. But most of the cooking I do now is hatched from a combination of my own whims and, clearly, too much time on my hands.
What’s your earliest food memory?
Artichokes. It may not be the earliest, but its one of the clearer ones. My mom introduced me to them when I was pretty young and I loved them so she’d get them for us whenever she could.
The knife you use most often; brand and type?
I have a Global chef’s knife. I like it but I’m not religious about brands or spending a lot of money on knives. But at this point, it’s what I’m used to and when I pick up another knife it just feels awkward.
Are you a cook or baker? Why?
Both. I’ve never understood the division.
Do you get hangry (dangerously irritable and irrational when hungry)?
Constantly. You wouldn’t believe how bad I am at feeding myself at regular intervals balanced meals and all of a sudden I’ll realize it’s 4 p.m. and I haven’t eaten since I had oatmeal with the baby at 7 a.m. and, ugh, I’m not fun to be around. Then I eat something and ruin my dinner appetite. I am no role model!
Any tips you follow to avoid the dreaded hangrrr or try and stave it off in others?
Don’t do what I just described above! I’ve been reading a bit about routine-izing one to two meals a day and I think there’s something to it. I know among people who cook it sounds really depressing to eat, say, oatmeal every morning and a turkey sandwich every day for lunch, but I think that if you find a few things that you like, that are healthy and you can put together even if you’re short on time, you’ll never end up too hungry and eating the wrong things. Amusingly, I’m realizing this is the way I prepare meals for the kid, for whom getting so caught up in his “work” (reading board books, destroying the apartment) that he forgets to eat doesn’t exist. If something more interesting is cooking that day, we’ll eat it, but in the absence of that, well, we still need an insurance plan against a mass, multi-generational hangry meltdown
Whew, that was a long answer!
Where was your favourite country food-wise to travel to?
It’s always been Paris for me but that’s because we’ve been there the most. Give me a couple weeks in Rome or Vienna or Argentina (please!) and I guarantee I will declare the very food in front of me my favorite.
How many kitchens have you called your own and what was your favourite one like?
Wow, I just counted 9 and I don’t think I have a favorite. Well, my parents have a lovely kitchen but I’ve never gotten too used to cooking there. I have good memories associated with all of them, but I can’t say any of them have been great working conditions. They’re all tiny and awkwardly designed and my current one has only three cabinets and a steam heat pipe runs behind one of them. A heat pipe! I learned the very depressing way that I have to store chocolate in the living room. There were unforgivable crimes against bricks of Valrhona.
Bedside table – cookbooks, novels or something else?
Food memoirs and the only two parenting books I’ve ever read, apparently: Judith Jones memoir; As Always, Julia; Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and NurtureShock. And I’m reading Nicole Krauss’ Great House right now on my phone but struggling to get into it. The cookbooks are all stacked in the living room, and the stack is epic.
What is one of the best things that has happened to you because of blogging?
I met my husband. Also, this one time, a girl sent me a package of cooking goodies like flavored sugars and sprinkles!
Have you had any scary stalker moments?
Not that I’m aware of.
What was the biggest learning curve for you as you developed as a blogger (ie: using the software, photography, styling, writing etc.)?
I think the hardest thing can be to put yourself out there, exactly as you imperfectly are, and not using a medium in which people might know any better to paint a picture of yourself as you’d like to be. Everyone wants to hear a geniuine voice. I try to write as I would speak to you, but I still read things I wrote years ago and cringe because it feels like I was reaching a little; trying on a voice to see if it fit. I suppose this is a natural progression.
How do you handle people saying “oh, I’m scared to cook for you because you must have such high standards”? Do you have high standards or are you just happy someone wants to cook for you?
The only cooking I’m judgmental about is my own, so this always makes me feel terrible. To go to a restaurant or dinner party and dissect the food would be to ruin a really great time. It would be my loss.
What’s one food/kitchen product/utensil you love but can’t get where you are?
The croissants are just not the same in New York City. But it also might be that I’m not on vacation when I’m eating them, so they’re not tinged with leisure time either.
When you blog, do you think of yourself primarily as a cook/baker, writer, photographer, stylist, a combination or something else?
Cook first, writer second, photographer third and never a stylist. I don’t have the patience to style food nor the desire to make it unnaturally pretty. I imagine if what I present is overly touched up and what you get from the same recipe doesn’t look as pretty, you’d be less excited about what you made, which is the opposite effect I’d like one of my recipes to have on you.
Post squirrel, storing up posts for weeks (months!) to come or living on the edge and banging ‘em out as you go?
As I go. I really want the site to reflect what I’m doing in the kitchen and what we’re eating at home right then. Ever so often, I miss my window to share a recipe and it gets pushed back but it always feels awkward to weave it back in.
Thanks so much Deb! When I grow up I wanna be just like you (oh, except, we’re the same age. Damn).
From Cook’s Illustrated via Smitten Kitchen and messed with slightly by me
For the Dough
30 grams (2 tablespoons) softened butter
30 grams (2 tablespoons) melted butter
250 ml (1 cup) blood-warm milk (should feel neither hot nor cold when you dip finger in)
85ml (1/3 cup) blood-warm water
60 grams (1/4 cup) caster sugar
5 grams (2 1/2 teaspoons) instant yeast
400 grams (3 1/4 cups) plain flour, plus extra for work surface
1 teaspoon table salt
Thoroughly butter a bundt pan with the softened butter.
To make the dough, mix the milk, water, melted butter, sugar and yeast in a measuring jug.
Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well. Pour in the milk mixture and mix until the dough becomes shaggy.
Knead on a well-floured surface for 10 minutes (7 or 8 in a mixer) or until satiny and smooth.
Wash out the bowl and coat with plain oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn over so the top is also oiled.
Cover with cling-film and leave to rise for an hour in a warm place or until doubled in size.
For the Brown Sugar Coating
250 grams (1 and 1/4 cup) light brown sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
115 grams (8 tablespoons, 1 stick or 4 ounces) butter
Meanwhile, mix the cinnamon and brown sugar in a medium bowl and melt the butter in a small and deep pot.
When the dough is ready, flour the bench and dump dough out, shaping it into a roughly 20 cm (8 inch) square. Cut the dough into 64 pieces (I got more like 50) and roll each into a ball as you cut them off.
Dip first into the butter and then in cinnamon-sugar mix in small batches (Deb suggested using a fork to dip them in the butter, this worked well for me – don’t worry if the balls get a bit squashed).
Place the balls in the bundt pan as if you are building a brick wall; a ball on the second layer should sit between two on the first layer.
Cover the pan with cling-film and allow to rise again in a warm place for an hour or until the top of the cake is 4 or 5 cm (1 or 2 inches) from the top rim.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 180 celsius (350 fahrenheit).
Remove the plastic and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is deep brown.
Cool on a rack for 5 minutes and then tip out of the pan.
For the Cream Cheese Glaze
90 grams (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons icing sugar
2 tablespoons milk
Beat the cream cheese with the icing sugar until smooth and light and thin with the milk. Deb says she added more milk and sugar but I didn’t find I needed it.
Pour over the warm bread and serve warm.