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Just a few days before Thanksgiving, a time when we express thanks for many blessings, including that B.J. Leiderman writes our theme music, would you like to come up with a dish that might make your guests smitten? Nobody better to ask than Deb Perelman, creator of the fabulously popular "Smitten Kitchen" cookbooks and website. NPR's Melissa Block met up with her in New York for a vegetable-centric cooking adventure.
MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: And first, we shop.
DEB PERELMAN: All right.
BLOCK: We've come to the Union Square Greenmarket on a brisk, sunny morning. And Deb Perelman - she's winging it.
PERELMAN: Did I make a grocery list? No. I'm going on vibes - going on vibes.
BLOCK: Here's our mission. We've asked Deb for some dishes that can feed a crowd and that are budget-conscious, since food prices are high this Thanksgiving.
PERELMAN: And they've got all this squash. I'm going to take a look at what they have.
BLOCK: She picks out some heavy, squat kabocha squash.
PERELMAN: It's a dark orange, and it really roasts up nicely.
BLOCK: This farmers market is a fall vegetable utopia - a kaleidoscope of lush greens, vibrant crimsons and purples.
PERELMAN: Should we get those cranberry beans? Do we want a bean salad?
BLOCK: Sounds great to me.
PERELMAN: All right, I'm going to get the...
BLOCK: Deb makes a beeline for baskets of those cranberry beans. They have beautiful speckled pods - magenta and a pale, creamy green. She adds a bag of arugula. And then more inspiration - she spies some purple cauliflower.
PERELMAN: This one is so cute, small and, like, low commitment.
BLOCK: Bag filled, back we go...
(SOUNDBITE OF KEYS IN DOOR)
BLOCK: ...To the East Village apartment where she lives with her husband and two children.
We are in the smitten kitchen.
PERELMAN: In the smitten kitchen - all of it.
BLOCK: All 70 or so square feet of it, that is. There's minimal counter space, no fancy appliances. Despite her best-selling cookbooks and her website with its scads of fanatic Deb Perelman disciples, it's not much of an upgrade from the humble kitchen she had when she started blogging about food in 2006 before things took off, improbably, for this self-taught cook.
(SOUNDBITE OF PANS CLANKING)
PERELMAN: Everything's a little crowded in the smitten kitchen. You've got to move one thing to move another.
(SOUNDBITE OF KNIFE BEING SHARPENED)
BLOCK: On to prep - one of the dishes Deb is making today comes from her new cookbook, "Smitten Kitchen Keepers," subtitle "New Classics For Your Forever Files."
PERELMAN: I worked in a nursing home a couple careers ago - a different story for another time. But if I would bring my boyfriend and they liked him - he's a keeper. They would always say it. And I always had that word in my head as it being like, it's better than best. It's something you want to keep around.
BLOCK: Today's keeper recipe from the new book is wedges of braised winter squash. She calls this a fork-and-knife vegetable dish.
PERELMAN: When you're doing Thanksgiving, so many things are like stuffings and gratins and shredded with cream and cheese. Sometimes just, like, a recognizable vegetable is like an oasis on a plate.
BLOCK: Along with the braised kabocha squash, Deb has decided to improvise a warm salad with that cute purple cauliflower.
PERELMAN: Oh, gorgeous. I'm talking to my vegetables again.
BLOCK: It'll get roasted and then tossed in a Dijon vinaigrette with the boiled cranberry beans and some emerald green arugula.
PERELMAN: You know, I mean, we eat with our eyes. Why shouldn't our food look beautiful?
BLOCK: No need to take notes - we're posting both recipes on npr.org. It's time to roast.
PERELMAN: I always check for toys in the oven because it's happened. It's definitely happened before with kids.
BLOCK: Today, no toys - all clear. So the kabocha squash, sliced into wedges, goes onto a hot sheet pan sizzling with butter and oil.
(SOUNDBITE OF SQUASH SIZZLING)
PERELMAN: Ooh - and into the oven. Bye. See you in 15 minutes.
(SOUNDBITE OF TIMER BEEPING)
BLOCK: Later, when the squash has a dark, crispy glaze, it'll get a bath of broth and cider vinegar along with garlic and herbs.
PERELMAN: So do not skimp. Get the color you want. I love also the way it looks like flames almost.
BLOCK: Ideally, Deb says, cooking should make you feel triumphant, like you want to do a victory lap.
PERELMAN: You know when you cook something and it's, like, really good, and you're like, I did that, I did that, I did that. I think you should feel that way about cooking.
BLOCK: OK. The two dishes are ready. Deb has tossed the warm cauliflower and bean salad, and she's arranged the fiery deep orange squash wedges on top of a layer of tangy plain yogurt scattered with arugula.
PERELMAN: I like the way it came out - creamy. It's roasted squash, but to me, it's much more interesting. It's more salty, it's more earthy. There's a bit of the vinegar. I just had a pop of the garlic clove. I'm trying the cauliflower thing now, which I just made up. We'll see if we like it. Oh, yeah.
BLOCK: It's so good.
PERELMAN: Thank you.
BLOCK: And I love that we bought this two hours ago.
Well, Deb Perelman, happy Thanksgiving. Thanks for letting me into your smitten kitchen.
PERELMAN: Thanks for coming over.
BLOCK: Deb Perelman's new cookbook is "Smitten Kitchen Keepers." Melissa Block, NPR News, New York.
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