Category Archives: Food

cooksillustrated_may-june2010

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.

foodnetwork_june

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.

pauladeen

Paula Deen Magazine’s Lack of Nutritional Stats Foils Slice-by-Slice Comparisons

pauladeen.jpgOn the surface, it may seem unfair to compare one of Paula Deen’s infamously rich recipes to nutrition buff Cooking Light magazine’s.

The truth is, it’s hard to know how the two recent cover dishes even stack up, given the lack of nutritional information in the scant, barely three-page spread in Cooking With Paula Deen‘s March/April 2010 issue. The magazine’s website was of no further help, and even searching Food Network’s online archives yielded only serving information.

But in light of readers’ criticism that the once-healthy focus of Cooking Light magazine is shifting toward a diet of occasional indulgences, comparing its pizza recipes to Cooking With Paula Deen’s still has some validity.

The cheesy veggie pizza on Cooking With Paula Deen’s cover wasn’t one of her typical butter-and-cream laden dishes. Instead, several fresh veggies, seasonings and spices give it its flavor.

Cooking Light magazine’s May 2010 cover story and 14-page spread encompassed everything from tips on Neapolitan-style, California thin-crust, grilled and Chicago deep-dish pizza preparation to healthy toppings, store-bought shortcuts, tips and necessary tools.

Cooking With Paula Deen magazine offered only one pizza recipe, and compared to her online magazine recipe archives this cheesy veggie pizza is only a slight variation on similar pizza recipes she’s shared over the years. Despite the lack of nutritional information, her recipe looks to compare closely with Cooking Light’s veggie grilled pizza, which calls for several fresh veggies, herbs and spices.

cooking-light.jpgCooking Light magazine provides caloric, fat, protein, carbohydrate, fiber, cholesterol, iron, sodium and calcium content on each recipe. Looking at just the basics, Cooking Light’s veggie pizza recipe contains 454 calories, 19.7 fat grams and 55.7 grams of carbohydrates. It would be surprising if Paula Deen’s recipe came in under any of these numbers, so it’s probably safe to say her version is at least closest to this one in the Cooking Light spread.

A study recently conducted by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in Washington state found that 59 percent of restaurant patrons (who ordered a total of 16,000 entrees over the course of the experiment) factored nutritional information into their choices, but only 20 percent chose a lower calorie dish because of it. Under new U.S. health care legislation, restaurants with more than 20 locations will have to post nutritional information. Though magazines fall outside this, it could potentially start a trend.

If Paula Deen’s dish stats are close to or only slightly richer than Cooking Light’s–or even if they’re not–Cooking With Paula Deen could boost its appeal to health-conscious readers if it did include the nutritional information. The aforementioned study indicates even higher calorie readings wouldn’t necessarily be a deal breaker for most people. Still, readers would like to be able to make an informed decision.

cleaneating

Clean Eating Magazine Offers Readers Another Impressive Healthy Choice

cleaneating.jpgI’ll be honest. Before I got past the cover of Clean Eating magazine, I had my doubts. Published bimonthly, Clean Eating bills itself foremost as a nutritional magazine with an underlying mission of encouraging confident, healthy choices from the inside out.

I asked myself, “How many publications do we need to urge us to make healthier choices? Is one more a sign of a marketplace diluted with this information?” But then I turned the page and was impressed from cover to cover.

Aesthetically speaking, Clean Eating is, well, clean. Large colorful photos, easy-to-read type and crisp layouts make for an engaging simplicity. I was a little surprised to see very few ads, and those can easily be identified. No slick advertorial or content marketing here, meaning Clean Eating is chock-full of recipes and nutritional editorial.

And that editorial is more than just directions and lists of ingredients. Dietary information, shortcuts, storing tips and more give each dish an appealing, healthy depth. Additional editorial focuses on wellness topics, like strategies to get better sleep and recommended workout techniques.

But the overwhelming message of Clean Eating magazine is one of a healthy and eco-friendly approach to food and its preparation. And it spells out these principles near the front of every issue in a section titled “How to Eat and Live Clean.”

Despite the general similarities to other magazines that promote a more healthful lifestyle, I was especially drawn in by these easy-to-consume Clean Eating features:

Bits ‘n’ Bites: Food and nutritional news covering tips on making better choices

Cooking With…: Get to know a celebrity chef and get in on a recipe exclusive to the magazine

Complements: A guide to understanding which foods hold the most nutritional value or the best natural sources for vitamins

Classics Only Cleaner: Your favorite comfort foods or indulgent snacks get a healthy makeover

Kitchen Confidential: Tips on how to choose, store, slice, prep and cook veggies, fruits and other fresh ingredients

Five Fast Dinners: A week’s worth of quick and healthy meals for $50 or less; shopping list with prices included!

14-Day Meal Plan: Two weeks’ worth of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks, shopping lists and a few recipes

Superfoods: Recommendations on ingredients packed with nutrients and disease-fighting power

foodnetwork_june

No Respect: Dads Get Rodney Dangerfield Treatment From Most Food and Cooking Magazines

foodnetwork_june.jpgNearly every May issue gave us brunch ideas, table settings, flower arrangements and desserts to make Mother’s Day all about Mom. But with Father’s Day just a few days away, I’m wondering if food and cooking magazine editors have filed away all their Dad-related ideas for next year.

Maybe quiches and flowers aren’t Dad’s thing, but doesn’t he deserve something more than grilling tools for his special day? Most food and cooking magazines apparently don’t think so. A disappointingly few publications gave Dad his due, and some of those required grilling–presumably requiring him to put that tong and spatula to good use, even on Father’s Day. Give the guy a break!

Glancing at several June 2010 covers, I suppose I could see how a menu for dear old Dad could get lost in the mix; “Easy, light summer eating,” “The summer life,” and “Best grilling recipes ever,” they declare. All have a plethora of meals perfect for Father’s Day entertaining even in the absence of acknowledging it.

But, like Mom, shouldn’t Dad get a little culinary pampering? Bon Appétit magazine and Food Network Magazine are among the precious few that think so. In its June issue that begins and ends with grilling–50 burger variations’ worth–Food Network’s special treat for Dad was… (drum roll, please) a cookout.

Its menu of Glazed Double-Cut Pork Chops, Smoky Corn on the Cob and refreshing pale ales was more low-key weekend grilling fare than a special occasion meal, unless of course your guy is a little more laid back or low maintenance.

For the more refined paternal palate, Bon Appétit magazine combined an appetizer, a cocktail, an entrée with two veggies, wine and dessert, but missed the mark–at least just a little. Where Food Network Magazine at least devoted a two-page spread titled “Father’s Day Cookout,” Bon Appétit pieced together a list from its June issue and titled it “Father’s Day” in its Menu Guide.

Its combination of dishes–Grilled Bruschetta with Teleme, Honey and Figs; Harissa-Marinated Top Sirloin Tips; Roasted Fingerling Potato Salad; and Strawberry Shortcakes with Balsamic and Black Pepper Syrup–is most impressive, even if it is buried in the back.

If your Father’s Day plans fall somewhere in between these two options, don’t give up. Like I said, a range of menus to satisfy a variety of tastes can be found in this month’s food and cooking magazines. But a little respect, please: Just don’t give Dad a set of grilling tools, then expect him to prepare his own special meal.

foodnetwork_june

The Thin Ad Line: Pros and Cons for Food Magazine Advertorial and Content Marketing

foodnetwork_june.jpgAs an admitted cookbook junkie, I tend to err on the side of the more the merrier when it comes to the number of recipes included in my favorite food magazines. But I can’t decide where to draw the line when it comes to advertorials, or what is called content marketing–ads that engage a reader with recipes or coupons with the aim of furthering the reader’s experience through the purchase of a product.

Pro: Quantity, quantity, quantity. Like I said, I love recipes. No matter that I don’t have the time, the need or the waistline for 50 different cookie, pancake or burger variations, I still want the option–and the directions–to make them all.

Con: Obviously, readers turn to food magazines for recipes, and if they’re like me, they prefer getting lost in Food Network Magazine’s creative ideas or Every Day With Rachael Ray’s cooking tips and tricks. But the maze of advertorial and content marketing makes it hard to navigate and determine which recipes are the magazine’s and which are the advertisers’.

What I would consider a hazy or at least muddled advertising-editorial boundary is attributed in part to Food Network Magazine‘s sizzling success with the strategy. I can’t say that I disagree with the effectiveness of the approach, but objectively, the journalist in me has to wonder how far this trend will go. Is this just the apex of a slippery slope for magazine editorial?

bonappetit_june2010.jpgJust recently, Bon Appetit magazine pushed its advertising boundaries a little further by selling the space where it prints its page numbers–what traditionally was considered as editorial space. Blame it on the bad economy, but Kraft was able to purchase ten corner ads in the June 2010 issue. Each features a different dish with the page number in a much larger font size.

Pro: To be honest, I didn’t think the corner ads were that intrusive or confusing–at least not as much as deciphering between recipes in ads and recipes in editorial in some magazines.

Con: In this instance, I can’t shake the seeming abandonment of editorial principles here. This says that editorial space, once sacred ground defended by objectivity, is for sale to the highest and most creative bidder. I realize that ads and advertorials are necessary to fund publishing ventures. But maybe it’s time to reaffirm or reorganize the attitudes toward advertising and editorial, which may be easier said than done in a recession.

Readers already complain about having to sift through too many ads to unearth magazine editorial. Blurring the lines may confuse some into acceptance, while driving others away. What do you think might happen?