Editor’s note: Every Friday, HLN brings you the "My First Time" series. It explores the first time your favorite celebrities did something significant or memorable (so get your mind out of the gutter!).
In this installment, blogger and author Deb Perelman -- who turned her award-winning blog into “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Recipes and Wisdom From an Obsessive Home Cook” -- opens up about her biggest kitchen screw-ups.
HLN: Do you remember your first big mistake in the kitchen?
Deb Perelman: I really cannot remember -- maybe I was 12 and forgot to put flour in the brownies? When people ask my mom, “Did you know your daughter would be cooking?” she says, “She always forgot the flour.” More recently, I remember shortly after I moved to New York, I hosted New Year’s Day brunch and made French toast -- worst idea ever. You’re just standing there, dipping and frying for hours while people are enjoying their morning. You can never catch up and people are having a good time without you.
HLN: So no big screw-ups, but how often do things not go according to plan for you?
DP: I would say it happens a lot, actually. I don’t have colossal messes now, because as you go along, you get better at anticipating results and reading the recipes and realizing there’s no way this would work. As I’m cooking, though, I often think, “Wow, this is too dry or too sweet or too complicated.” Usually, those are the flags that come up for me, and those are the places where I can streamline things.
HLN: What’s your advice for fixing a meal mid-cooking for someone who doesn’t have as trained of an eye as you do?
DP: When I’m looking for recipes online, I tend to gravitate to the ones with reviews. It gives me the framework of what I’m looking for, and it’s nice to have outside verification of what this might turn out like. You don’t always have the time to go eight rounds at something -- you want to nail it the first time. And I love the comments -- “I changed this,” “I added that,” “I skipped the blanching and here’s how it turned out.” Yeah, there’s a lot of noise in the comments, but you can also learn about new techniques and ingredients.
HLN: What’s your favorite easy thing to cook for a family with little ones?
DP: I’m a huge fan of homemade pizza. One of the coolest things is figuring out how to make your own dough. There are so many easy ways to make it, and I have a recipe that takes less than an hour. You can pre-make it and throw it in the fridge overnight. So if it’s Thursday and your kid wants pizza, grab the homemade dough and add any veggies. Have only two mushrooms and Brussels sprouts in the fridge? That works!
HLN: What’s your favorite thing to make for a big dinner party?
DP: I gravitate to big stews and braises, like brisket or short ribs. I like them because you can throw it in the slow cooker, and it tastes really good on day two or three. All you have to do is reheat the dish and with a fatty meat, it actually tastes better. For a vegetarian option, I like a mushroom Bourgogne, or you can’t go wrong with a big lasagna. You can bake it the day before and reheat it gratin style. I’m all about things that give you some lead time, so no individual portion cooking -- no searing steaks, for example.
HLN: What about an easy weeknight meal?
DP: One of my favorite cheap, easy dishes is mussels and oven fries. It’s easy and not terribly expensive -- just wash, add wine and butter. You can serve it with a green salad and wine, and it feels kind of glamorous. I did this for friends who I haven’t seen in a long time -- picked up some mussels, chopped up some potatoes -- and they couldn’t believe how good it was.
HLN: What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your food?
DP: That it totally tastes like restaurant cooking. But I also really like writing recipes for people, and the best compliment for that is “I didn’t know I could make this at home or that it could be this easy.” I’m interested in simplifying things for people, but not compromising. I don’t mind that it takes 40 minutes to prepare a meal, as long as it’s worth it.