November 21, 2012

A Canuck in Kantuck: Smitten in the kitchen

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Especially when the weather gets frosty like this, being in the kitchen is my most favorite place to be. And that means making soup. Lots of it and all kinds: broth, minestrone, butternut squash, potato, sweet potato, beet borscht, carrot and cumin, roasted red pepper. Of them all, though, I’d have to say my favorite is tomato, in large part because my childhood was filled with the stuff that, yes, slid from the Campbell’s soup can and turn into magic. My mom would heat it up with milk and then I’d add saltine cracker after saltine cracker, never crumbling them, always adding them whole so I could cut them at will with the side of my spoon.

These days, I try to stay away from things that slide out of a can with a suck and a slither, so I thought I’d try to make my own version of Campbell’s tomato soup. Luckily, my sister-in-law Jennie was right there to help me out, as she’d already found the ultimate recipe. It lives on the food blog, which Jennie also introduced me to, and truly is one of the best soups you’ll ever make. It’s creamy, tangy, perfectly smooth and made with whole, canned tomatoes that you roast first so they get extra sweet.

Well, last week, I was craving some of this deliciousness so jumped on the website to review the recipe. How thrilled was I when I saw the writer of The Smitten Kitchen, Deb Perelman, was releasing her first cookbook that day.

I’ve written about this blog before, so won’t go into extreme detail, but suffice it to say that Perelman has some amazing recipes, most of which she adapts from other food magazines and cookbooks. A fierce home cook, her haven is a “puny 42-square-foot, circa-1935 sort of half-galley kitchen” that rests in an apartment building in New York City. All of her recipes are accompanied with pretty narratives about the recipe itself, the story behind it, the kind of day Perelman had, or what her goal was for that particular dish. Her writing is something you can sink into like a bubbly bath and, though I generally don’t like a lot of words on my recipe page, Perelman’s are an exception.

Now, she had taken the plunge and released her first cookbook with her own recipes. Needless to say, I jumped on Amazon and quickly gobbled up three copies — one for me, one for Jennie and a third for another of my foodie friends. Later last week, it arrived and, readers, I can say with certainty, it’s a solid investment. I’ve already made harvest roast chicken with grapes, olives and rosemary (shockingly, the grapes are actually wonderful roasted); sesame-spiced turkey meatballs and smashed chickpea salad; and, last night, seared halibut and gazpacho salsa with tomato vinaigrette.

All of the dishes truly sang from the plate and got the thumbs up not only from my husband William, who, bless his heart, eats anything I put on his plate, but also from my stepdaughter Gabrielle, who, at 12, has an adventurous palate but one that still belongs to a 12-year-old.

Next up for dinner this week is pancetta, white bean and Swiss chard pot pies; pork chops with cider, horseradish and dill; and sweet and sour holiday brisket, a good recipe for which I’ve been searching for a long time. And my holiday baking will also get an overhaul this year with brownie roll-out cookies, chocolate peanut butter cookies and coffee toffee.

Anyway, I don’t want you to feel like I’m conducting a sales pitch or anything, but I do want to convey my enthusiasm. A good cookbook and good recipes are hard to come by and when you find a new one, it’s a fine day in the kitchen. So, as for me, I’m going to head to it and start dinner.


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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

A. No major plans. We will probably hang out around Laurel County.
B. Going to the beach!
C. Kentucky has a lot of wonderful state parks, and we plan to visit a few and enjoy quality family time.
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