Category Archives: Food


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?


Overcooked or Well Done? Every Day With Rachael Ray Publishes First-Ever Grilling Issue

everydayrachaelray_june2010.jpgThe onset of summer has fanned the flames of grilling popularity, and most food and cooking magazines gave the subject no less than premium placement as their cover stories. Every Day With Rachael Ray magazine not only followed suit, but also took the sentiment further by making its June/July edition its first-ever “Grilling Issue.”

But in a sea of June and July covers proclaiming “Easy grilling,” “Summer starts here!,” “Best grilling recipes ever” and “Summer grilling guide,” was Every Day With Rachael Ray’s nearly 200-page double issue–100 percent of which is dedicated to the subject–overcooked or well done?

Since more than 80 percent of North American households own a grill or smoker and more than 50 percent fire them up year ’round, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, I’d say this Every Day With Rachael Ray issue would appeal to a large audience with an apparent appetite for grilling.

Many other food and cooking magazines have something to offer these
grill masters too, but mostly in the way of recipes. For the spatula-and-tong proficient and marinade fluent, summer issues from Better Homes
and Gardens, Cooking Light, and Food & Wine magazines may be enough to satisfy.

for the curious chef or the novice eager to learn, Every Day With
Rachael Ray’s grilling issue goes well beyond recipes, covering
everything from getting started with the right equipment to managing
your time at your cookout. Here’s a preview of what’s inside:

Lots of Recipes:
Nearly 500 recipes, tips and tricks cover
everything from burgers, pizza, chicken, steak and ribs to veggie
burgers and desserts like Grilled Bananas Foster, Grilled Blueberry
Turnovers and Grilled Nectarine-Bourbon Ice Cream.

The Great
Grill Debate:
Which method should you use, charcoal or gas grilling?
These pros and cons don’t declare a winner, but rather offer some
pointers that will help you get the most out of your grill, whichever
your preference.

Tools of the Trade: From grills and grill pans
to best natural woods for smoking meat and getting the right cuts at the
market, recommendations are offered on everything you’ll need to pull off your next

Soak It In: Marinades, that is. In
addition to sauce recipes, there’s a four-page spread with tried and
true reader suggestions on marinades among other grilling tips.

Back and Relax:
Just because you’re hosting the cookout doesn’t mean
you have to miss it, at least not with these low stress strategies for
decorating, grilling and serving the meal, giving you time to enjoy the
party with your guests.

Time for Tailgating: If you don’t want
grilling season to end with Labor Day, simply follow the magazine’s steps to keep
the grill fires (or the gas power) burning–no matter that the weather
outside might be frightful.


Cook’s Illustrated Takes Relentless, Educational Approach to Solving Cooking Conundrums

cooksillustrated_may-june2010.jpgA mere 34 pages and only 10 color photos would seemingly pale in comparison to many of today’s glossy, 100-plus-page food and cooking magazines. But after getting beyond the initial shock of the black-and-white graphics and lengthier articles, I found Cook’s Illustrated magazine to be an educational read that would especially appeal to cooks who aren’t afraid to experiment in the kitchen.

Nearly every dish is presented alongside a cooking conundrum that is followed by various options tested to derive the perfect combination of ingredients to yield the best results. In online reviews, some readers took issue with having to wade through all the wrong ways to prepare a dish instead of just getting straight to the right one.

While the approach might not be for everyone, curious cooks will appreciate that Cook’s Illustrated magazine breaks down the science of ingredient interactions in the preparation process. This allows cooks to glean knowledge from each article that could be adapted to other culinary situations.

The May/June 2010 issue, for example, shared tips on grilling the perfect tuna steak, concluding that a simple vinaigrette of oil, vinegar, mustard and honey was the key to an ideal smoky exterior char enclosing a cool rare center. The article further explained how each ingredient worked together to maintain the meat’s moisture, neutralize odor and boost the browning factor so the steak wouldn’t overcook.

Another example was an article detailing how to pack the most chocolate flavor into a cupcake without making it too dry or crumbly. This quest began with adapting a chocolate cake recipe by substituting
ingredients–such as vegetable oil instead of melted butter–that would
ultimately produce an extra-moist batch. Other more unexpected elements,
such as wood-smoked flour and beer, were used to help boost the cocoa
flavor but were deemed a bust.

Just to give you an idea of the lengths that Cook’s Illustrated
magazine will go to when testing a recipe, more than two months and 800
cupcakes were dedicated to perfecting the directions to prepare the
Ultimate Chocolate Cupcake With Ganache Filling topped with creamy
chocolate frosting.

While Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t contain as many recipes as other
cooking magazines, its staff does take its time in solving culinary
questions like building a better buttermilk waffle, grilling asparagus,
braising chicken or understanding all the uses of garlic. If you’re
curious about who makes the best waffle iron, the best plastic food
storage containers or the best vanilla ice cream, for example, you’ll be
pleased to know that Cook’s Illustrated editors have the answers about
these and other kitchen mysteries.

Sure, these suggestions and recipes aren’t wrapped in the flashiest
or most colorful package, but it speaks to the magazine’s more
cerebral–yet still accessible–approach. Cook’s Illustrated goes beyond
its contemporaries by deconstructing the chemistry of cooking rather
than getting straight to the point, making it a thoughtful and welcome
source of answers for the culinarily curious.


My Take: A Food Magazine’s Place in the World

foodnetwork_june.jpgOK, so I admit it. I eschewed magazines of all kinds for the longest time, preferring my hardcover books to their “flimsier” monthly and bimonthly counterparts.

But after the cooking bug bit me, I tested the waters with a Food Network Magazine deal of a subscription, and I have been surprised and pleasantly overwhelmed by the variety and amount of recipes and instruction it has afforded me.

I suppose you could say I also went the “online” route, with my virtual recipe boxes and email folders to organize the cute dessert ideas and the effortless brunch dishes that I just had to try later.

As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind, and there are many recipes awaiting my attempt. That’s not to say that I whip up everything I see in a magazine, but after having subscribed to several, I can see the value in them over their “longer-lasting” cookbook counterparts.

I like to think of a food magazine as ever changing, bringing a new tip,
new idea, new dish, new something each issue. Sure, my accompanying
cookbook could do the same, but its finite recipe list seems at once
safe because of its “completeness,” yet also in danger of being outdated
because of its one and only publication date.

I can count on my monthly food magazines to shower me with ideas for
upcoming holidays, seasonal veggies, nutritional tips and more. What can
my cookbook tell me? Some don’t even include nutritional information,
nor do they tell me how to select the best produce, what fruits are in
season or any time-saving shortcuts. Don’t even get me started on their
sometimes lack of photography.

How do I wade through customer reviews in online recipes? How do I know
whose version might be best? Is my laptop fully charged and powered up?
Is Wi-Fi available here?

Not to get all Andy Rooney on the virtues of traditional, timely and
technological recipe-sharing methods out there, but I’m thinking food
magazines might really combine the best across these multiple worlds.

For one, they contain fewer recipes than larger cookbooks, perhaps
making them seem less overwhelming. You ask, “But aren’t online
resources more quickly update-able than food magazines?” Yes, but I’d
like to think that magazine editors skimmed this information
superhighway and are giving me the best of the best available knowledge.

Better still, there is something so invitingly comforting about an
information source in today’s electronic world that you can turn to
whether it’s plugged in or not. And until an “app” can re-create that
experience, my glossy food and cooking magazines are here to stay.