I think it’s time we talked about something. If you have been reading through to the recipes on this blog, you may have noticed that a lot of my recipes are inspired by Deb at Smitten Kitchen. I’ve noticed this too, and for a while, I thought about reigning it in.
I think before I go on I should let you in on the way I plan recipes. It’s sort of like this: I see something shiny at the farmers market or in the grocery store and load up on it. I buy it in strange volumes, sometimes one or two jewel-like plums, or eight ears of corn, or two pints of blueberries, or one Chinese eggplant--however the particular ingredient strikes my fancy. That’s probably why I have too many flours to even fit in the pantry right now.
In the store, I’m not really thinking about a recipe, at least not clearly. There are dancing visions in the back of my head of umami flavors, the olive oil that will pour, the queso blanco or jar of oven-dried tomatoes that’s also in my fridge--but I’m not really planning the recipe. It’s just a hint of an idea that I don’t really formalize--it’s like it’s too delicate back there, just buzzing and turning over, thinking about becoming the next legendary what have you.
Then I get home and try to figure out what to do with the bounty. I come up with a plan, and then see if other people have done it before. I used to hit the internet first, but that can be kind of a rabbit hole. (This is completely not related, but “rabbit” made me think of it. I read this restaurant review that called a new café “warren-like.” I think that is so annoying. How is a restaurant warren-like, unless it is truly a Hobbit hole or something? It wasn’t.) Back to the Internet--a lot of people post useless recipes that I’m convinced they haven’t even tried, and then you end up clicking between your stickier and stickier phone as the recipe goes on and you battle the sleep timer of a darkening, oil-slicked screen.
Instead of that spiral, I go to the books. I’m lucky enough to have a growing collection of foundational cookbooks--The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Ratio by Michael Ruhlman, a veritable library of the old (before they got lame) Cuisine magazines, Cooks’ Illustrated magazines, America’s Test Kitchen special editions, and even the ol’ Better Homes & Gardens. I usually read several versions of similar recipes, then I decide on a plan of action that draws from all of them.
This is where smitten kitchen comes in. I lean over the counter, four or five volumes open in front of me. I compare and compare, thinking, there must be a simpler way. I can’t possibly need 16 ingredients for this? You want me to use how many bowls? Or, shortening--really? Out of the corner of my eye, I see it. Deb’s recent cookbook. So simple, so practical, and so tested. Deb does what America’s Test Kitchen achieves in 100 trials, testing over and over again (and I can trust her to be as picky as me), and THEN she breaks it down into its simplest version, saving time, space, and fluffery. That’s the reason I eventually turn to her, and I’ve decided to just let it be. I’ve made it through so much of her book that by now, I could have themed this blog on the process. Like Julie and Julia, I could have cooked my way through Smitten Kitchen. The only problem is that it would have been simple and foolproof--which doesn’t always make for the most intriguing reading.
From now on, though, I’ll let my flag fly. With millions of viewers, an international book tour, and praise from every corner of the food world, Deb still keeps that approachable, you-can-ask-me-anything kind of persona. For me and many other bloggers and cooks of the times, Smitten Kitchen is our mothership; Deb is our fearless leader, the alpha blogger to which we all turn for guidance. Passing through Smitten Kitchen is a rite...um, maybe that's taking it a bit far.
On that extremely long-winded note, here’s yet another recipe via Deb, with my own touches--Deep Dish Pear Spice Pie with Crumble Topping. Using her basic structure, I tried out a whole wheat and spelt pastry dough that was surprisingly crispy and light, swapped her apples out for more of those fruits of our backyard (les pears), and changed up the crumble topping to use some of my recent grain purchases. I can’t vouch for the pears you end up finding in the store, but I can tell you that this pie was euphoric in a weird, American, home of the free sort of way. As I was eating it, I entered another realm and the phrase, “This is all I ever wanted,” was on repeat in my mind. When the dog came near me to beg for scraps, I actually blurted out in a Sheldon-esque voice, “This faarrrr!! No faarrrrthahh!!”
Randle is a food writer, photographer, restaurant owner, dog lover and general basket case in Central Texas. Check out her food and recipes at CrandleCakes.com.
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