Category Archives: Food


By the Numbers: Determining the Prices Behind Budget Meals Touted in Magazines

eating-well.jpgGiven the struggling economy in recent years, chances are you’ve been watching your wallet more closely, possibly preparing more meals at home and eating out less. Most food magazines have at least a section devoted to budget cooking, where the featured dishes include the cost per serving.

But if you’re wondering how these prices are derived, you’ll find some magazines are more forthcoming in their methods than others. I scoured Better Homes and Gardens and Taste of Home for any insight into their pricing, but my search came up empty.

Every Day With Rachael Ray proved a little more helpful. The convenient grocery list that’s part of the pull-out “Menu Planner” section gives an estimated total for all the ingredients to make a week’s worth of meals. But are these average prices? Actual prices? What supermarket? Where?

Another Every Day With Rachael Ray feature, “Dinners for 10 Bucks (or Less)” assigns prices to each meal’s ingredients, but again, how does the magazine arrive at them? The only methodology shared is that staples, such as salt, pepper and olive oil, are considered freebies and aren’t factored into the per-serving price.

cookinglight_july2010.jpgCooking Light and Eating Well are two magazines that most clearly state the methods behind the mathematics of their cost-conscious meals. Cooking Light bases its pricing on midsized-city supermarkets and accounts for the amounts of staples and other ingredients used–except for specialty ingredients and fresh herbs–where the total cost is factored into the per serving price. Like Every Day With Rachael Ray, items such as salt, pepper and cooking spray are written off as freebies.

Eating Well magazine‘s approach is even more thorough, and it is clearly stated in its Recipe Index in every issue. For starters, ingredients are priced through grocers and, and are estimates as of winter 2010. The cost of every ingredient is factored into the per-serving price–including staples–but only the required amount of each. Prices do not include garnishes or optional ingredients.

I haven’t put these published prices to the test to see how they compare at the checkout, but understanding the fundamentals behind them gives me some idea of what to expect when I do. Stay tuned for the results in a future post!


Cookbook Digest Magazine Offers Valuable Survey of Cookbooks and Their Recipes

cookbookdigest_may-june2010.jpgShort of buying that cookbook you think you might want, sometimes it’s hard to decide simply by flipping through its pages or skimming the table of contents while standing in the aisle of your favorite bookstore.

If you’re the kind of consumer who wants to taste test a cookbook before you splurge, then the aptly named Cookbook Digest magazine is the right choice for you.

For more than 25 years, this bimonthly publication has reviewed cookbooks of all genres and reprinted recipes from each one that is featured, making it a handy shopping guide or wish list for adding to your personal collection or getting some gift ideas for a foodie friend.

Despite its newsprint pages, typically thin issues and lack of flashy photography, Cookbook Digest magazine packs a lot of flavor in a small, simple package. The May/June 2010 issue, for example, covered 14 cookbooks and provided more than 50 recipes in only 40 pages.

Arranged by course, the recipes in the May/June issue tended to be sweet, with lots of desserts, party ideas and kid-friendly snacks–all appropriate for entertaining at birthday parties and getting through the summer with the youngsters at home.

Ranging from simple to advanced, sample recipes cover everything from Olive-Rosemary Bread; Salmon Ceviche With Watermelon and Mint; Cremini Mushroom Skewers With Pistachio Curry Rice, Tamarind Chutney and Saffron Radish “Rice”; Loaded Baked Potato Casserole; Corn Fritters; Red Velvet Cake With Velvet Frosting; Chocolate Chip Cupcakes With Chocolate Chip Frosting; and Buttermilk Panna Cotta With Wild Strawberries.

The diversity of cookbooks reviewed was just as impressive, including regional flavors from New York, the Carolinas and Charleston, as well as a 300-calorie cookbook, an allergen-free handbook and a gluten-free cookbook. Details on each featured cookbook are collected in one page with author, publisher, page count and–perhaps most importantly–price.

Cookbook Digest magazine contains only a few photos of recipes featured alongside the review of each book, which could be a downside for chefs who value visuals. Still, the undeniable redeeming quality of Cookbook Digest is that it gives cooks the ability to essentially check out several cookbooks at once and taste-test a sampling of recipes so they can make educated decisions when they make a purchase.


Red, White and Blurred: Magazines’ Fourth of July Food Ideas Range From Gourmet to Generic

bonappetit_july2010.jpgPerhaps because the subject of grilling had been charred to a crisp in most June food and cooking magazine issues, Independence Day ideas were scarce in July editions. But those that did wax patriotic ranged from surprising to traditional to nondescript. Here’s how they stacked up.

By far, Food Network Magazine‘s Southern barbecue feature from Tyler Florence received the most in-depth holiday attention, though the ideas bordered on the expected. Red, white and blue cocktails (glasses rimmed with blue Pop Rocks candy) added a little whimsy and color to the menu of spiced up traditional tastes of Smoked Ribs with Dry Rub; Savoy, Lime and Cilantro Coleslaw; Spicy Black-Eyed-Pea Relish; Heirloom Tomato Chow-Chow; and Bourbon Peach Cobbler. A separate spread focused only on star-spangled desserts like the Fruit-Tart Flag–mini tarts filled with mascarpone cream, topped with blueberries and strawberries, and arranged to look like a flag.

Bon Appetit magazine gives you the inside scoop on one group’s annual Fourth of July party in New York–no surprise given the publication’s focus on food entertainment and enjoyment. The menu of Montauk Fizz, Mini Lobster Rolls, Heirloom Tomato and Grilled-Corn Salad With Basil Vinaigrette, Garlic-Parmesan Bread, and Mixed-Berry Shortcakes With Vanilla Whipped Cream is more dressed up than traditional.

Where Food Network Magazine and Bon Appetit’s coverage seemed to stay true to their usual tone, Every Day With Rachael Ray magazine was more surprising for its risk. Rather than the expected fare (no burgers or ribs here) the spread included Blackberry-Ginger Sour Highballs, Stacked BLT Salad, Double-Decker Stuffed Portobello Sandwiches, and Grilled Strawberry Cheesecake Towers, along with ample decorating suggestions.

tasteofhome_june-july2010.jpgTaste of the South magazine was more traditional with some surprises on its menu, like its Lemonade Mint Tea, Lemon-Lime-Basil Grilled Chicken, Bacon-and-Herb Potato Salad, and Grilled Peach Salsa With Tortilla Chips.

By far, Taste of Home magazine‘s menu of Southern Fried Chicken Strips, Horseradish Coleslaw and Tangy Potato Salad was the most traditional. Though by comparison, there are few similarities in any of the menus.

Martha Stewart Living and its sister publication Everyday Food magazine stuck strictly to the sweet stuff. Martha Stewart Living magazine went traditional with several pie recipes, but the execution of the pie crusts got all Martha with the use of cookie cutters to create stars and stripes and festive firework patterns.

Most food and cooking magazines–perhaps to extend the longevity of the recipes–took the Everyday Food approach by including more nondescript suggestions, like its firecracker ice pops. They’re fitting for the party without limiting them to Fourth of July celebrations.

But perhaps this is the ultimate independence celebration, at least for your holiday menu plans, as there are plenty of red, white and blue suggestions–and plenty of others that could be adapted to your own tastes, whether they are as American as apple pie or not.


Better Homes and Gardens, Cooking With Paula Deen Each Tackle the Challenging Art of Chocolate Meringue

betterhomes_jun.jpgEven with all its tips and step-by-step illustrations, making a dessert as temperamental as a meringue is challenging. How well the delicate mixture peaks relies on the right tools, their cleanliness, the temperature, the weather, the ingredients and a litany of other do’s and don’ts.

But Better Homes and Gardens and Cooking With Paula Deen magazines faced off in their most recent issues to tackle the finicky–and sometimes elusive–perfect chocolate meringue pie.

May’s “American Classics” installment in Better Homes and Gardens magazine focused solely on the chocolate meringue, while Cooking With Paula Deen magazine‘s May/June issue covered lemon, pineapple, vanilla, peanut butter and butterscotch, along with chocolate.

In terms of ingredients, Better Homes and Gardens and Cooking With Paula Deen’s chocolate pie fillings are quite similar, though Paula Deen’s is not surprisingly heavier on the eggs and sugar. Still, the difference is very slight.

Better Homes and Garden’s version calls for more milk, chocolate (both cocoa powder and chopped), butter and vanilla. The differences in milk and butter are relatively minimal, but based on the amounts of chocolate and vanilla, this version will be richer in taste–and calories.

Speaking of calories, only Better Homes and Gardens includes nutritional information with its recipe. Its 9-inch pie yields eight servings, and each contains 539 calories, 26 fat grams, 140 milligrams of cholesterol, 444 milligrams of sodium, 68 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, and 11 grams of protein. No comparable information is given for Cooking With Paula Deen’s version.

pauladeen_may-june.jpgAfter putting both Better Homes and Gardens and Cooking With Paula Deen’s meringues side by side, it’s obvious that Paula Deen’s recipe should be heavier, with nearly double the sugar, plus five egg whites–an ingredient absent in Better Homes and Garden’s version.

Neither magazine gives an estimated prep time, but the one obvious shortcut for both would be using a prepared pie crust. Better Homes and Gardens points readers to its website for a pie pastry recipe.

Both magazines are strong when it comes to depicting the difficult task of perfecting a meringue: Better Homes and Gardens followed the entire pie-making process from the beginning, and Cooking With Paula Deen illustrated how to make only the meringue in nine step-by-step photos.

Cooking With Paula Deen magazine’s coverage garners high praise for its informative meringue do’s and don’ts, in-depth illustration and variety of recipes, but is disappointing in its lack of nutritional information.

Better Homes and Gardens’ chocolate meringue pie feature shines because it is forthcoming in calorie count, and it, too, earns marks for illustration.

Ultimately, Cooking With Paula Deen offers a richer, deeper understanding of the meringue-making process than Better Homes and Gardens. But of the two versions of a very decadent chocolate meringue pie, Better Homes and Gardens would be the ever so slightly lighter choice.


Martha Stewart Living Magazine’s Star-Spangled Issue Is the Bomb (Bursting in Air)

marthastewartliving_july2010.jpgThe Fourth of July was on the minds of some magazine editors with their “50 best” lists this month: Food Network Magazine hailed the best breakfasts in every state, while Every Day With Rachael Ray named the best eats from sea to shining sea. But leave it to Martha Stewart Living to make the biggest issue of America’s independence.

Martha Stewart Living magazine‘s 200th issue highlighted “Amazing America,” along with its “Local Inspiration,” “Regional Specialties” and “National Treasures.” Every state was celebrated for its culinary gems, horticultural contributions or patriotic craft ideas.

This latest theme issue that the Martha Stewart Living editors pulled off just may be the most impressive. April was the “best of” issue, May was color. Both were well executed, but neither as timely as July 2010′s star-spangled celebration.

Keeping in mind that the issue sings praises to more than great food, here’s a sampling of what Martha Stewart Living thinks is so great about America.

  • Am I Blue? You might be, if you had a pile of Maryland Chesapeake Bay blue crabs in front of you and you didn’t know how to eat them properly. Follow the three simple steps included, and you’ll be able to enjoy what are considered the best crabs in the world.
  • Tastes of Home: You won’t find these regional delicacies at your local grocery, but the natives are restless for Wisconsin’s Kopp’s Frozen Custard, Utah’s Beehive Cheese’s Barely Buzzed Cheese (an espresso-rubbed cheddar), and St. Louis, Missouri’s Gooey Louie Butter Cake.
  • Happy as a Clam: Enjoy the flavors of New England away from the sandy shores with the scoop on how to prepare a stove-top clambake–a casual feast of mussels, shrimp, clams, corn, lobster, potatoes and chorizo. It reminds me of crawfish boils on the Gulf Coast or Low-Country boils on the Georgia coast.
  • Just Peachy: Take a peek into a Central Valley, California peach farm, tended with the care of three generations–and another armed with organic farming knowledge waiting in the wings. These heirloom peaches are grown to be the best, though I’d suspect the Peach State might have something to say about that.
  • Corn Fed: Corn on the cob seasoned with butter, salt and pepper is good enough, but nine featured states have some other ideas. Think creamed corn from Iowa, corn muffins from Massachusetts, shrimp and grits from South Carolina, caramel corn from Illinois or corn dogs from Texas.
  • Plenty of Fish in the Sea: Signature Louisiana dishes like oyster po’boys, shrimp remoulade, and chicken-and-andouille gumbo get fit to eat using strategies like ingredient moderation, substituting yogurt for mayo, and baking instead of frying to cut calories and reduce fat.

Chocolate Chips Give Banana Bread a Sweet Kiss for Breakfast or Snack Time

choc_chip_banana_muffins.JPGFood & Wine magazine isn’t all about wine. Nor is it a collection of fancy recipes comprised of inaccessible ingredients. To prove that point, I thought I’d share one of my new favorite breakfast treats that I found in its May issue.

I love banana bread, and I love chocolate, but combining the two of them together was a bit of a stretch in my mind, being someone who’s trying to kick a few food issues (i.e. things can’t touch, veggies can’t be ingredients in veggie dishes and desserts). But I had some overripe bananas that I had to put to use, and like I said, I’m recovering.

So when I saw a recipe in Food & Wine magazine for Chocolate Chip and Banana Muffins, I threw my quirky conditions to the wind and put it to the test. But not only that, I added another twist based on my own preferences.

To boost the chocolate-y goodness, I added a couple of tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder. Don’t worry banana lovers, it didn’t mask the banana taste. In fact, each bite sort of oscillated between the two flavors, with neither one being obnoxiously overwhelming.

Food & Wine’s Test Kitchen also suggested adding chopped toasted pecans to re-create banana bread texture. I’ll have to file that one away to use in the next batch, along with another tip from Cook’s Illustrated magazine: Its May/June issue shared the results of a chocolate cupcake experiment and its ultimate pursuit of an extra-moist, cocoa-packed treat. To achieve a moister cake, it said, substitute a neutral-flavored vegetable oil in place of melted butter. Since it contains about 16 percent water, butter can evaporate in the oven, making for a dry cake.

Despite not following this last tip, the muffins were still delicious. Served warm, they needed nothing that neither I nor my taste testers could tell. But, now that I’ve advanced beyond my chocolate-meets-banana fears, maybe I’ll be a little more adventurous the next time around.

Do you love the tastes of chocolate and banana? What might you suggest or test as a spread or drizzle to dress up these muffins?