Molly Dunn really needs to stop writing about cookbooks, because I'm going broke and gaining weight. That goes for you, too, Patrise Shuttlesworth!
I was browsing the shelves at Brazos Bookstore less than two weeks ago, and mentioned to manager Jeremy Ellis how much I had enjoyed the cookbook Plenty, which I picked up after Patrise recommended it here on EOW.
"Have you seen The Smitten Kitchen?" Jeremy asked, leading me over to a display. As I flipped through the pages, Jeremy mentioned that one thing that really sets The Smitten Kitchen apart is what a great read it is -- SOLD.
Since purchasing the book 13 days ago, I have been reading it
during between conference calls. I brought it to the gym. I baked a cake on a Monday, and then baked the same cake all over again the next Friday, after we had finished the first one.
To say that I am obsessed is an understatement.
I am not a confident cook, although I am leaps and bounds ahead of where I was just a few years ago. Part of the problem is that I started cooking so late in life, and part of the problem is my type-A personality, which causes me to panic and hyperventilate at the thought of not following a recipe exactly. Kitchen improvisation is not my strong suit.
The Smitten Kitchen is a cookbook written by home cook/blogger Deb Perelman, who developed all of her recipes in a teeny-tiny New York City kitchen. Her writing is warm and inviting, lightly self-deprecating, and full of stories about her own recipe substitution hits and misses. Perelman's stories have given me (or at least encouraged) a certain level of confidence in myself I didn't possess before. It doesn't hurt that so many of her recipes include ingredients we regularly keep on hand, and that she includes common substitutions in the footnotes.
The chapters include: Breakfast, Salads, Sandwiches/Tarts/Pizzas, Main Dish (Vegetarian & Meat Eaters), Sweets (cookies, pies, etc.), and Party Snacks & Drinks. Her recipes are set up in paragraph form rather than bullet points, which some Amazon reviewers didn't like but I didn't mind at all. What I really love about the book, though, are the chapters on measurements (including a conversion guide, HOLLA!), her tips, and her assessment on stocking a kitchen with gear and gadgets. She works in a small space, so her choices and reasoning are interesting -- even if you have room for a zillion appliances, it's still very informative. Of course there are minor annoyances: the need to turn pages with messy hands, as not all recipes and instructions are on the same or facing pages; the presence of goat cheese (I hate goat cheese and I want everyone to hate it so I don't feel like such a loser). The contents of the book far outweigh these minor issues, and cooking has taken on a new joy for me these last few weeks.
The food I have cooked so far has been fantastic -- dare I say spectacular?! To give you an example, I'll share a cake that is sure to become a go-to recipe for you, the cake I mentioned in the beginning and have now made three times in two weeks. Olive Oil Ricotta Cake with Concord Grape Coulis (I used strawberries for the coulis) is simple, fast and totally amazing the next morning with your coffee, assuming you have any left over.
Olive Oil Ricotta Cake with [Fruit of Your Choice] Coulis Serves 8-12
1 cup ricotta 1/3 cup olive oil 1 cup granulated sugar 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest 2 large eggs 1 1/2 cup AP flour 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon table salt Confectioners' sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line nine-inch springform pan with parchment paper; coat paper and sides of pan with butter, oil or non-stick spray. (Author's note: I skipped the parchment paper with my non-stick springform and it turned out just fine.)
In large mixing bowl whisk ricotta, olive oil, granulated sugar and lemon zest. Add eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together into wet ingredients; mix with spoon until just combined.
Pour batter into prepared cake pan, bake for 30 minutes, until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer pan to cooling rack for ten minutes. Run a knife around the outside of the pan to loosen the cake, unclasp the sides of the pan and flip cake onto cooling rack.
Once the cake is in the oven, make the coulis and set in the refrigerator to chill completely.
2/3 cup water 3 tablespoons granulated sugar 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice pinch salt 2 cups Concord grapes (Author's note: I used strawberries, since I had them on hand. Any fruit will do, or Perelman recommends splitting the cooled cake, "frosting" with jam or marmalade, reassembling the cake and then dusting with confectioners' sugar.)
Bring all coulis ingredients to a simmer. Cook for three minutes, crushing fruit with a spoon or potato masher; stir occasionally. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer to remove seeds (or skins), and cool completely. Drizzle on cake before serving. (Perelman also notes that the coulis is great over pancakes or yogurt.)
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.