Half A Bag Of Skittles and a Warm Diet Coke Are Not Dinner (Well, Not Always)

Let's all sit down and have a civilized meal for a change, shall we?
Publish date:
August 29, 2011
cooking, food, smitten kitchen

Some of you aren't eating. And if you are eating, you are eating a handful of KooKoo Puffs (Yeah, I know they are called Cocoa Puffs, I'll call them what I want) straight out of the box, a slice of frozen pizzaor vodka. And if you aren't doing that, if you are actually planning to cook tonight, then c'mere and give me a hug. Good for you.

Now, there is nothing wrong with getting a takeaway or eating junk or skipping a meal on occasion, but you should know how to make something. I knew how to make things, things that I had learned from my mom or picked up from a random cookbook over the year or read about in Donna Hay magazine, but it wasn't until I found Smitten Kitchen that I really started to COOK.

For those of you who are fans of the terribly wonderful Deb Perelman, you can sit down next to me and we can fawn over how lovely she is. For those unfamiliar, she is lovely. Like, super lovely.

She cooks out of a 42-square foot kitchen in NYC with a toddler underfoot and she makes it seems easy. She is constantly named one of the best food websites by places like Time Magazine, In style and Martha Stewart.

From the Smitten Kitchen website:

What you’ll see here is: A lot of comfort foods stepped up a bit, things like bread and birthday cakes made entirely from scratch and tutorials on everything from how to poach an egg to how to make tart doughs that don’t shrink up on you, but also a favorite side dish (zucchini and almonds) that takes less than five minutes to make.

What I’m wary of is: Excessively fussy foods and/or pretentious ingredients. I don’t do truffle oil, Himalayan pink salt at $10 per quarter-ounce or single-origin chocolate that can only be found through Posh Nosh-approved purveyors. I think food should be accessible, and am certain that you don’t need any of these things to cook fantastically.

The Deb magic is that she writes recipes and explains techniques in such a way that they just make sense. She has made me brave in the kitchen, and because of her I have made things I never would have thought I was capable of making before.

Her website is full of amazing food porn and pictures of her adorable son and anecdotes about her life and food and dining out and, she could charge money for the website and I would pay it. She is coming out with a cookbook in 2012 and I can't wait. In the meantime, here is what I want you to do, dear reader.

I want you to make this pasta.

This is Deb's tomato sauce with onion and butter adapted from Marcela Hazan's "Essentials of Italian Cooking."

I'm telling you to make this pasta because if you are a cooking novice, it is a three-ingredient sauce that will blow you away with how good something only using three ingredients can taste. If you are a seasoned chef, I'm telling you to make this sauce because sometimes you need to be reminded that something with only three ingredients can taste amazing, without fresh basil, crushed red pepper, rosemary and olive oil.

I make this sauce a lot now. I always have the ingredients on hand, and it is what it is. Fresh-tasting, simple, delicious and easy.

I hounded Deb via email and made her answer a bunch of questions that I wanted to know. Fan-girl-ing follows.

Anyone who reads SK is familiar with your heartbreakingly adorable son, Jacob. Is he starting to take an interest in what you are doing in the kitchen?

Not quite yet, although we did get him a play kitchen (which, let's be honest, is almost as big and better outfitted than mine) that sits right outside the grown-up kitchen and he likes to tinker around there so perhaps something made an impression.

I look forward to him taking more of an interest; right now, he mostly plays with his alphabet magnets and demands samples, so I guess he's got the important parts down.

You will have a cookbook coming out in 2012. What has been your favorite part of writing it?

I like making a list of recipes I've been kicking around in my head for years come to life. It's one thing to say, "Wow, it would be fun to make bourbon caramel glazed peaches" one day, it's another thing to buy a bag of peaches (we already have bourbon, of course) and figure out how to write a recipe that might make it happen -- it's both goosebumpy and also, really hard.

What is your favorite music to cook to?

My son has taken a keen interest in Buddy Holly and I've taken a keen interest in watching his curious "beat up the beat" (he punches his pudgy fists in the air as he walks around when he likes a song) style of what I guess might be dancing on Planet Toddler, so there's been lots of raving on lately.

One of the very first things I ever made of yours was your spiced caramel corn and I had just started watching Breaking Bad on DVD and I kept drawing all these parallels between cooking sugar and cooking meth. Do you ever find yourself basing what you cook on a movie or TV show you get into?

I posed this question to my husband and he said "Barefoot Contessa" and I said "Picking a cooking show is kind of boring" and he said "Remember after we watched The Wire how I thought it would be funny if you labeled all of your flour jars cocaine and heroin?" and I said, "I don't think that's what she meant" and then I stopped asking him for help.

But one of my favorite movie food scenes is that ridiculous meal they cook near the end of "Big Night," replete with this insane timpano and this woman sobs "My mother was a terrible cook!" and this other huge woman is decked out on the table smoking a long post-meal cigarette and pretty much, I don't think you can hope for anything more from a dinner party.

Are there any name brand products you swear by as far as groceries are concerned?

Not really. I mean, I like what I like but I try to to keep myself adaptable because I know it's important that I'm not just testing recipes with a single brand of butter or flour each time. But, if we're being honest, I really love unfancy peanut butter.

Separated peanut and nut butters fill me with an inexplicable rage -- they never mix back evenly unless you're going to bust out the stand mixer and make a project of it and what? That's madness.

So the mouthfeel is always oily or gritty from the parts drained of oil. In short: Team Skippy!

What is a food trend you are sick of?

I think we need to stop putting bacon in everything. Bacon is delicious, chocolate is delicious; I have never eaten a piece of chocolate and though it would benefit from a nugget of sweetened, greasy bacon inside.

Up until a month or two ago, I would have said I think it's time we stopped pretending that kale tastes good. But I've made a couple things lately that have turned the corner on it for me. A little. Really, with a good enough preparation, I could probably make my Old Navy flip-flops taste passable. Hm, it definitely sounds like kale and I are still working out our differences.

And for those who don't, how do you start to cook?

Pick the one thing thing that annoys you every time when someone else makes it because they're doing it wrong. That's where you start; that's where you'll be driven and it will never feel like a chore to make something you like as awesomely as it can possibly be made.

Thank you to Deb for taking the time to talk to me. Now you, yeah you, go grab your ingredients, open a bottle of wine and make this sauce.

Heck, make anything from Smitten Kitchen. You deserve better than an almost-expired yogurt for your dinner.