Raleigh, N.C. — Quail Ridge Books and Music was packed Friday night with people anxious to hear the New York City-based blogger behind Smitten Kitchen discuss her first cookbook.
Perelman, who describes herself as an "obsessive home cook," sat down with me before her book signing to talk about recipes, blogging, why every pantry should have canned tomatoes in stock and why she isn't whipping up pizza bites and chicken nuggets for her 3-year-old son.
Here are some the highlights:
On inventing in the kitchen:
"I didn’t invent sautéing. I didn’t invent the roux or the béchamel. So I think sometimes people have too concrete of an idea of inventing. I think what’s important is when I’m like, 'Oh, I’ve always wanted to make rye bread English muffins,' because I love rye toast in the morning. It’s one of my weird ideas I’ve been kicking around. I have not actually seen this. I did not invent rye bread or English muffins, but I might take two of my favorite recipes for each and try to mash them up into something."
On using simple ingredients:
"I don’t think, in most cases, you need really fancy ingredients to cook. You shouldn’t need to go to a specialty store. I think that good recipes should transcend their ingredients, and they should work whether you have supermarket carrots or ones that have been lovingly massaged in the soil by an organic farmer. They might taste a degree better, but a good recipe should work for both."
On marriage giving her the will to cook:
"I got much more into cooking after I met my husband. Like most young people living in the city, I was single, I had a walk-up apartment, ingredients are expensive, there’s very little true reason to cook. When people are like, 'I’m single and I never like to cook.' I’m like, 'It’s fine. It’s normal.'
Why would you want to? You end up with these recipes – half the time they’re mediocre, half the time they make so much that you’re eating it for two weeks. That’s really fun. 'I can’t go out tonight because I have leftovers to work through from last week.' So, I totally understand.
But once I was living with my husband and I had this in-house audience and he’d help with the groceries and the dish washing and all that, I started being able to finally get involved in cooking more. It was something I’d always wanted to do."
On keeping up a successful blog:
"I stuck with it by making it fun for myself. I think when people are like, 'I don’t want to do this anymore,' it's because some part of it has become like poison, and it’s probably something that you thought you had to do. Maybe you just weren’t that interested in the topic that you chose or you felt like you needed to stick to some voice that wasn’t yours, which makes it really tiring.
My only rule is it has to be enjoyable, and so, if I don’t feel like doing X, Y or Z, I just don’t do it."
"I think you have to make it fun for yourself. I think if you’re not enjoying it, you should take a break. You shouldn’t update just because it’s Monday and it’s a good day to update. You should update because you have something good to say."
On meeting her fans:
"I’m behind the computer. I’m doing this from my living room, my home, so I knew that the numbers were big and I saw the site meter getting higher and higher, and I’m like, 'Wow, that’s kind of a lot of people.' But can you really conceptualize what 2 million or 3 million is? No, you have no idea. They’re just clicks on a screen.
So, it wasn’t until I started doing book events that people were showing up and I was like, 'Oh, you’re real human beings and you’re all adorable and young, and you cook a lot. This is so cool, where have you been my whole life?'"
On the beauty of canned tomatoes:
"There’s a little Italian shop right on the corner near my apartment, and they just sell all these weird brands that you’ve never heard of, and I always try different ones. They’re, like, kind of ugly labels and they’re all like $2. They’re cheap because nobody cares about them. They’re not organic. But they’re amazing, they’re all imported and it really does taste different.
A good, peak-season canned tomato really can make a whole sauce and the better the canned tomatoes, the less you have to do with them. I have three friends who are Italian, living in Italy, and when they make tomato sauce, they just heat up some oil, sauté a garlic clove for like 30 seconds or a minute, add a can of tomatoes and cook it for 45 minutes. That is it.
When you’re using tomatoes like they can get in their corner store, it’s pretty amazing."
On making grown-up meals more kid-friendly:
"There is no rule that you have to make kid food. They don’t eat kid food if you don’t make kid food. I’m not saying that you have to have some sort of thing where you never indulge the things they want. My son would happily eat plain buttered noodles three times a day. You don’t have to make that. You have to be strong enough to know that they’re going to eat when they’re hungry, and so you’re allowed to make the food that you think they should eat."
"If we want to eat something for dinner, we’re going to eat it and we’re not going to be like, ‘Oh, but Jacob can’t eat it, so let’s go make him pizza bites.’ No judgment if you want to make your life easy once in a while. What I’ll do is, say, I’m really craving chana masala and I want to make it spicy. It may not be his favorite thing to eat the first time, so let’s make lots of white rice and some naan bread and have some nice, mild cucumber salad and maybe hold back on the spice in it. So, work with them, but you can still put grown-up food out.
Also, people seem to think that because he’s my kid, he must be a good eater. He’s terrible. He’s 3. He wants to eat pasta and bread and cake and cookies."
You can read the entire interview here.