Deb Perelman has always been the kind of cook I aspire to be. Her recipes on Smitten Kitchen check all the boxes for what I want to make on any given weeknight — comforting, approachable, delicious, and just a little bit special. She has great candor in her writing, but she doesn't overdo it like many food bloggers. When I first started following her site when I was in college, a totally novice cook, she made me believe that I could make the most delicious cookies on the planet, or that, yes, soup with 44 cloves of garlic was something within my grasp.
Perelman was one of the original food bloggers. She started in 2003, and has published two cookbooks since then, including the most recent Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites, which I've slowly been making my way through. And just like she was approachable to me as a young cook, her new recipes keep me inspired in the kitchen.
We recently had the opportunity to visit Perelman in her East Village kitchen and talk to her about the recipes she makes on an average busy weeknight for her family. You're going to want to make every single one she mentions.
What's Your Dinner Strategy?
At my house, dinner is served promptly at 6 p.m. every night. I smile bringing nutritionally balanced, CSA-foraged courses to the table, knowing that my kids (aged 2 and 8) will cheer when they see that I've tried something new because children at the end of a long day of being children are nothing if not resilient and open-minded to new things. Just like it always looks on Instagram.
Yes, I'm kidding, although, to be fair, my 8-year-old is a pretty good eater. Being eight, he'd likely prefer to have pizza or pasta or a hot dog most nights of the week, but with a little convincing (cough: begging/bribing), he usually tries and warms to new foods. My husband, too, not only likes most things, but is also smart enough to know that all foods someone else cooks for you should be met with a thank you. I feel like this 75 percent "in" makes it really easy for me to do the cooking I love — experimenting with new dishes and rarely making the same dish twice in a year.
Oh, I'm sorry, did I forget to mention someone? A certain 2-year-old? Look, every family has a kid that doesn't eat and, lo, food bloggers are not immune. What's a parent to do? Plead? Negotiate? Threaten? Cave and make a separate meal? Put in earplugs and carry on with your meal as if no very vocal opposition has been raised? Let others tell you what to do or castigate you for doing it wrong (they will)? My way is to focus on that 75 percent.
If we're mostly eating most of the things I make, and the toddler is being exposed to a range of foods that she sometimes even smells or thinks about nibbling before outright rejecting, we're doing okay, right? I think we're doing okay. I also focus on this: She's often really into salad! And thus, we have salad with every meal. And sometimes a jar of raisins or package of blueberries, too, for the sake of mealtime harmony.
A Week of Dinners from Deb Perelman
Here are the five dinners Deb makes for her family on an average, busy weeknight.
Fluorescent coloring-free, this chicken tikka is my ode to sheet pan dinners, this one on a bed of cauliflower and potatoes, served right in the pan. We love these flavors so much, every time I make this, half the vegetables don't make it to the dinner table because my husband and I pluck away at them.
For years, I was convinced that my kids weren't going to be into strong Indian spices and it turns out that I was wrong (in the 8-year-old's case) and it's basically no more appreciated or rejected than anything else (in the 2-year-old's case) and I'd like those relatively spice-free years back as a do-over, because dishes like this deserve to be on repeat.
2. Pizza Beans
I like to think of this as a vegetable-rich (but not overwhelming, should you be trying to entice the hesitant) baked ziti where the ziti is replaced by giant beans and there's a salad of greens inside, too. While it's good solo, we often serve this with garlic bread for extra luxury/kid appeal.
A bonus: It reheats really well from the fridge or freezer.
This galette with roasted squash, caramelized onions, cheese, and sage, all in the flakiest yogurt-enriched crust is a pleasant surprise on a weeknight (or as a stepped-up appetizer for a holiday meal). It's a bit indulgent, so we always make sure to have a big green salad with it. The kids love it (yes, miraculously, both of them) and it's basically not fall until I've made it once.
This mushroom farro (which you can seamlessly swap with the more traditional barley) is one of the soups we make most often at home. It has an intensity and depth of flavor that seems impossible from a heap of vegetables and whole grains, and it's done in an hour. Sometimes, mostly for the kids, but we hardly mind, we pick up a loaf of Gruyère bread from a bakery when we make this (just a thin slice each), and we always serve it with a salad beforehand.
My go-to meatballs are one-bowl, one-pot, frying-free, and have so much flavor that they work as a standalone dish with a side of salad. If we're not making them with spaghetti, we might do it with a Parmesan polenta or, yes, sometimes that garlic bread comes into play here too.
Thanks so much for sharing your week of dinners with us, Deb! Want to start meal planning for your family? Here's our handy guide.