Everyday Food Blog

Q&A with Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen

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Photo credit: Johnny Miller

This month, Smitten Kitchen, one of our favorite cooking blogs, turns five years old. We are big fans of Deb Perelman—the founder, cook, writer, and photographer behind the whole operation—and her gorgeous food photos, simple recipes, and charming voice. So, to celebrate Smitten Kitchen's "birthday," we featured Deb and her recipe for Roasted Eggplant with Tomato and Mint in our September issue. To get the recipe, check out page 33 our September issue, on newsstands now. Read on for an exclusive Q&A with Deb, including her tips for cooking in a small kitchen and her advice for budding bloggers.

Where did you learn how to cook?

Mostly, I taught myself. I watched my mom cook growing up, and she certainly instilled in me a sense that there's no need to be afraid of, say, kneading bread or beating egg whites or anything else that a recipe puts before you. But most of what I've learned has been by doing it myself—trying recipes, seeing what works and what never sorts out the way I think it will.

You have a 2-year-old son. What’s your strategy when it comes to cooking for kids?

I usually dodge the question—did you see that lightning?! When you cook a lot, people assume that your kid must be some sainted toddler that eagerly consumes all sorts of unfamiliar food and never, ever spits out a mouthful of what was his favorite meal just a week earlier. Alas, my kid is still a toddler. But I try not to push him about food. Ninety-nine percent of the time that he has tried and enjoyed something new and unfamiliar, it wasn't because I'd offered it to him, but because he'd seen me cooking something I'd assumed he would hate and he insisted—nay, demanded—with foot stomping and everything, that I give him some.

You talk about your small city kitchen—exactly how big is it?

My kitchen is 6 foot by 7 foot, but less than half of that is space you can actually stand in. The fridge, which isn't big by any standards, doesn't really fit in the kitchen, so you have to squeeze around it to get to the stove. It's as awkward as it sounds.

What are your strategies for cooking in a small kitchen?

If you have a small kitchen, my advice is to not look at photos in magazines or real estate sections of sprawling farmhouse kitchens. It's bad for morale. Beyond that, you have to be really strict with your kitchen purchase—only things that will earn their keep. Don't pre-stock your kitchen: Buy pots and baking pans as you know you need them and know for certain that you can't use anything else. And you've got to do everything you can with your space. Finally, you have to keep stuff off your counter; if it's cluttered with coffee makers, canisters, and spoon rests, you're sacrificing what limited space you have. I have shelves installed wherever possible, a wall-mounted pot rack over the window and vertical racks that store baking pans and cutting boards above the cabinets. Appliances are on the fridge, taken down as needed.

What’s your must-have piece of kitchen equipment?

After a good sharp knife, I'm pretty in love with my food processor. I use it more than anything else. It turns nuts to powder, heads of cabbage to slaw. After that, the dishwasher. I lived without one for many, many years and don't for a second miss the hours of cleanup some dishes required.

What inspires you to make a certain recipe?

It's a mix of, "That sounds so good I must eat it now." And, "Wow, I've never seen zucchini done quite like that before." As much as I love classics and comfort foods, I figure by now, most people have a favorite roast chicken recipe. So, unless I feel I can add one to the mix that's exceptional because of a surprising ingredient or easier in general, I might pause before sharing one.

What do you eat regularly that readers don’t see on your blog?

Peanut butter and jelly. Spaghetti with butter and Parmesan. Moo shu vegetables.

How many recipes in your recipe index?

There are a little more than 700 recipes in the archives, which blows my mind. I never looked it up before answering this.

Why did you start the blog?

I thought it might be fun to share the recipes I was trying and collecting. I've always figured that there's no shortage of recipes on the web. Google "buttermilk pancakes" and you'll get nearly a million results. But what's good? What really, actually works? What have you tried and liked better with your own adjustments? I hoped I could convey that if you have only one hour to spend cooking, and if you spend it on this pancake and not that one, it will be an hour well spent.

Your photos are beautiful. How do you get the food to look so great?

Thank you. I honestly believe that good food is naturally beautiful and the only thing left for a photographer to do is to capture that clearly. So, I try to minimize distractions—plain dishes, minimal garnishes—use only natural light, and try to take the sharpest photo I can so the food can be the focus.

How do you decide which dishes to create and post about in any given week?

I have a long list that I've been adding to and taking away from for the better part of a decade of things I'd like to make and things we'd like to eat. Because I like to cook seasonally, it's sorted by months so if I don't get to something this September, I'll circle back to it next year. For me, accumulating ideas is the easy and fun part. Finding time to work them out in the kitchen is trickier.

Does having this blog feel like keeping the ultimate scrapbook?

It does. These are the recipes I hope to be cooking for a long, long time. I launched the site when I'd been married for a year, a kid was still a far-off idea, and the posts mention things like having a hangover and not getting out of bed until 1 p.m. I read that now and think, "How luxurious!"  And now I have this big-eyed, curly haired sidekick dragging his wooden alligator ("all-gay-er") on a string through the kitchen while I work, and I think it would have absolutely blown my mind five years ago to see the way life was about to unfold.

Any tips for budding bloggers?

Don't worry about what everyone else is doing; don't worry if it takes people a long time to find you. Just go be your bad, dorky self and they'll get there, sooner than later.

Comments (16)

  • avatar

    Very much enjoyed this, in particular the wise words regarding living within the kitchen you have. Our kitchen is decent sized, but rather short on counter space so it's heartening to see others do so well with less. Also, I'm curious about these over-the-cabinet racks she mentions--haven't seen those. Definitely could make use of them in my kitchen.

  • avatar

    Deb has been an inspiration to me since I started food blogging in 2008. She never changes....always the same sweet tone in her writing and always the same simply wonderful photography. Consistency. We love that, as readers. Keep up the good work!!!

  • avatar

    Love smittenkitchen! And I will take that advice about small kitchen morale.

  • avatar

    I love hearing stories from my favorite food bloggers. Thanks for posting.
    I have definitely picked up some great tips!

  • avatar

    I also have a tiny NYC kitchen, like Deb (love Smitten Kitchen!)and I've made multi-tiered wedding cakes in mine. I agree with all her tips and would add that you have to really analyze the steps of a recipe beforehand and plan it out even more than in a larger kitchen--think about where will I put this while I'm doing that? when will I run out of bowls and can the mixture sit while I quickly wash a few things? You really learn to use every space--I've had cookie sheets cooling on bookcases, TV stands, anywhere (well, anywhere above dog reach level). It can be a challenge, but you get used to it.

  • avatar

    What a great interview - I absolutely adore Deb. I especially love her closing quote - sometimes I get frustrated with blogging and the way people go about trying to get people to follow their site (hello! random, thoughtless comments) - but reading, "Don't worry about what everyone else is doing; don't worry if it takes people a long time to find you," made me smile from eat to ear.

  • avatar

    Yay! SO great to hear more about Deb! I think I found her blog fairly soon after I started blogging in the olden days way back in 2006. Someday I'll take pictures half as pretty as hers!
    Mary, fellow food lover and momma to 10

  • avatar

    Deb is truly fantastic. I've made dozens of smitten kitchen recipes at this point, and have yet to have one not only look almost exactly how it does in her pictures, but also taste even better than I expected. On the first try. Cheers to Deb.

  • avatar

    I love how laid back and fun Deb's attitude always seems to be. She doesn't take herself too seriously, and it leads to great writing (and great food, too!).

  • avatar

    I LOVE Smitten Kitchen! I'm always looking forward to reading a new post!!! Keep it up, you're amazing, Deb!

  • avatar

    i love this article, deb. i just moved to colorado from nyc, and am all too familiar with the cupboards that they try to call kitchens in nyc. i love your blog & photography - congrats on sk's 5th birthday!! xox

  • avatar

    This interview make me feel so inspired :-) . i have recently started blogging and have a tinier kitchen than Deb's. Amazing work! I stop by your blog at least once a week.

  • avatar

    I love everything about Deb's blog. I have made so many of her recipes multiple times, and she inspired me to create my own blog. Her photos, silly comments, random thoughts about everything, and her reasons for choosing certain dishes to prepare are simultaneously inspiring and down-to-earth. Yay, Smitten Kitchen.

  • avatar

    I also LOVE smittenkitchen!!! I first found out searching for inspiration to cook. I have a love/hate relationship with cooking. I LOVE food, and love cooking...but sometimes just can't find the inspiration to get started. Once I start, I love it! And smittenkitchen works every time! I always get inspired to cook...not necessarily to follow the exact recipe, but get ideas to create my own. This also inspired me to start my own food blog! Thanks Deb :)

  • avatar

    I Love Deb! Started reading her when she was just the smitten before she got married but this blog is so where she should be. Lots of great recipes and such a down-to-earth voice.

  • avatar

    What an encouraging read! I agree with the part about being yourself and you'll get there. You can get to know certain aspects of a food blogger if you follow them long enough. It's easy to pick up things that are unnatural, so it's always best to be yourself. I believe that viewers respect transparency.

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