I arrived in my office Monday morning and was given the task of baking cookies. (Yes, I have an awesome job.) These weren’t just any cookies though; these were Deb Perelman’s “Buttered Popcorn Cookies” from her new masterpiece,  The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I have to admit I was skeptical about this recipe: Popcorn in a cookie? My cookie anxiety went from zero to sixty in a matter of nanoseconds. Will the popcorn burn? Will it immediately crumble when I try to mix it into the dough? Will the popcorn go stale? Oh the drama! Alas, I embraced my task, tied on my apron, and hit the kitchen with fierce, albeit nervous, determination.

With the cookie base made and the popcorn popped, buttered and salted, it was the moment of truth – popcorn in the batter and then in the oven. The blending was a bit messy and as Perelman mentions in the recipe, there did seem to be an excess of popcorn. However,  once the cookies are assembled – and I would recommend using your hands for this – the dough comes together. Ten minutes in the oven and the cookies were a beautiful golden brown, the popcorn wasn’t even slightly burnt, and the smell was intoxicating. The cookie was deliciously buttery and sweet with a hint of salt. Best of all, the extra crunch of the popcorn took the cookie to a whole new level. A success! My skepticism behind me, all I could think of was the possibility for further popcorn-cookie collaborations…caramel popcorn and chocolate chips, chili popcorn in a cocoa cookie. Oh Deb Perelman, you’ve created a monster in me!

The success of the cookies had me instantly flipping through the pages of the The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and the recipes had my mouth watering

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and my restless hands itching to get back in the kitchen. The book covers every meal genre you could conceive, including my favorite meal: Pudding and Candy, and even a bonus Party Snacks and Drinks section for the host/hostess in all of us. The recipes are simple without being bland and ordinary and the ingredients consist of things that you could easily already have on hand. And if you don’t? Not to worry, the recipes are versatile enough that you could use what you’ve got while still relying on the cookbook to help you make something spectacular. Perelman takes old classics and gives them innovative new flavor and style; think “Mushroom Bourguignon,” “ Wild Rice Gratin,” and “Pistachio Masala Lamb Chops with Cucumber Mint Raita.”

Each recipe is accompanied by a short explanation, many with personal anecdotes sprinkled in that give the food an intimate quality. The accompanying text soothes the reader, reassuring him or her that this isn’t just food but a part of life. Perelman gives the sense that the food actually exists off of the pages of the cookbook – in her kitchen and on her dining table – reinforcing the subtitle of the book: “Recipes and Wisdom from an Obsessive Home Cook.” I love that this cookbook is a great combination of familiar recipes my mom cooks for me when I’m home, and innovative recipes that inspire me to get into my own kitchen and cook for my nearest and dearest. Needless to say, I’m smitten with The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Buttered Popcorn Cookies
Makes 2 dozen

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup popcorn kernels
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup packed light brown sugar
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda

Directions:
To make the popcorn: Pour the oil over the bottom of a large saucepan that has a lid, and add the popcorn kernels, shimmying the pan around so the kernels land in one layer. Cover the pot, heat it over medium-high heat, and, once the kernels begin to pop, keep the saucepan moving until all the kernels have popped, about 5 to 7 minutes total. Toss the table salt and then the melted butter over the popcorn, then transfer it to a bowl so that you can fish out any unpopped kernels. You should have about 4 to 4 ½ cups popcorn. Let cool.

Dough: Preheat your oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, cream together the softened butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, egg, and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour and baking soda together. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture. Fold in the cooled popcorn so that it is evenly distributed through the batter, which will seem like a ridiculous instruction because there is so much popcorn and so little cookie batter, but it works. Don’t worry if the popcorn breaks up a bit. The mixed-size pieces are part of the cookie’s charm.

Bake: Scoop heaping-tablespoon-sized mounds 2 inches apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges are light brown. Let them sit on the hot baking sheet for a few minutes to firm up before transferring them to a rack to cool.

-Mallory


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