I've been on a bit of a recipe book kick recently, so I was curious to read what the fuss was over the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It's based on the author's blog. While many of the specific recipes in here aren't online, you can often find similar ones online. So why buy this book? Well, it has a few things going for it.
First, the recipes are interesting and well executed. Each comes with its own back story (often involving her mother) and each generally comes with multiple pictures depicting the recipe at different stages. That's a great idea that I wish more books did. Yes, it's important to know what the final product should look like, but it's also helpful to know what it should look like halfway through the recipe. It's true that many of these intermediate pictures are on the smaller side, but something is better than nothing. The recipes themselves are generally intermediate in difficulty and don't use too many exotic ingredients, so they should be accessible to most home cooks.
There are a lot of breakfast recipes (17), a lot of lunch recipes (24), a reasonable number of main dishes (25, half of which are vegetarian), and a LOT of dessert recipes (40 cake, cookie, pie, snacks, and drink recipes). Perelman's northern European Jewish heritage shines through in many classic traditional Jewish recipes such as challah bread or potato latkes (one of my favorite recipes in the book). She adds a dash of international flavors, heavy on the Mediterranean ones, to round out her recipes. So it's a good mix of comfort foods and more modern cuisine. She rounds out the book with some basic tips that are generally quite helpful (measuring, equipping your kitchen, and common names or substitutions for some ingredients).
For me, the only negatives are that I don't need so many vegetarian recipes (although many can be adapted as side dishes) and I always like having nutritional values with recipes. The maple bacon biscuits or the runny-egg topped latkes are both really appealing, but I'm betting neither sets a new health standard for breakfasts. Still, common sense can give you an idea of which recipes are healthier (usually the Mediterranean-inspired ones), so it's not enough to keep me from giving this book 5-stars. More than just a collection of recipes, you get a lot of stories and some very valuable cooking tips along the way.
If you're not sure about her style of cooking you could always try out some of the free recipes on her blog and then get the book if you like what you taste. Personally, I do like her style of cooking and I'm quite pleased at reading yet another great recipe book this fall. More and more, with books like this one (as well as some others I've recently enjoyed), it's becoming easier and more fun to be a competent home cook! Which is a great thing if you love to cook good food, and an even better thing if you like to eat it!