I started going to smittenkitchen.com about two years ago because I needed a cake recipe. I found the chocolate peanut butter cake recipe (the softest, deepest chocolate cake combined with a sweet, cream cheese peanut butter frosting and topped with a semi-sweet (or dark chocolate) ganache) and I was hesitant to attempt this cake because it looked difficult. However, Perelman makes even the most difficult things wildly simple. She never leaves out important details nor does she neglect to tell you how to make the process simpler (for example, she tells the reader to freeze the cakes before attempting to assemble them because the crumb will be too soft otherwise).
This book is just as beautiful as Perelman's website is. Her recipes are certainly one of the reasons I wanted this book, but I also wanted it because of her lovely photography and her storytelling ability. For me, and I think for most cooks, food is a story within itself and Perelman's book (and website) is a pleasure to read because she provides small snippets of how food has been a major part of her life. This cookbook is more than just a simple cookbook. Yes, there are the recipes and yes, there are gorgeous photos, but this book isn't all business, and I like that (of course, for some people, this could actually be annoying). Food, like good books, should be shared and celebrated with friends, and it is refreshing to see Perelman combine these two things so flawlessly.
The recipes are really fantastic. Anybody can cook following one of Perelman's recipes. I'm not a chef. I don't even know how to properly slice a tomato without either completely destroying the poor fruit or completely destroying my own fingers. But following Perelman's recipes makes me feel like an expert in the kitchen. I would highly recommend this book to chefs and laypersons alike. Even if you don't cook, this book is still a pleasure to thumb through if not for the stories than for the beautiful photography. The book itself is also of a good size and weight so that, if needed, you can hold it open in one hand. Aside from the recipes (the contents has each section as: breakfast, salads, sandwiches/tarts/pizzas, vegetarian main dishes, seafood/poultry/meat main dishes, sweets, and party snacks and drinks), she also includes a section on measurements and a section called, "Build Your Own Smitten Kitchen." This section is indispensable for the beginner (and maybe even the expert) chef because it offers a list of the things one will certainly need in the kitchen. It isn't just a list -- Perelman offers an explanation as to why each thing is indispensable. Perelman also understands cost and so she never insists that you have to buy the very best, very top-of-the-line item in order to make good food.
One of the other beauties of this book is that you can go to smittenkitchen.com and check out her recipes, her stories, and her photos before you decide whether or not you want to purchase this book. Perelman also has a section on her site in which she instructs folks on how to maximize space if they're working in a tiny kitchen (which is what she works in). The last thing I will say about this book is that Perelman is NOT a chef. She's a wife and a mother who happens to know a lot about cooking. In her writing, she comes off as honest and sweet and, on her website, you'll find a list of "recipes" that turned out to be disasters for her (because everyone messes up in the kitchen). She doesn't talk down to her readers nor does she pretend to know more than she actually does. Perelman is a great writer, a great cook, and so adorably kind that it's rather difficult to not be smitten with her, her book, or her kitchen.