Category Archives: Food


Top 10 Recipe Indexes for Success in Popular Food Magazines

eating-well.jpgSince about 1600 B.C., recipes detailing food preparation have been a part of culinary culture. Since that time, those recipes crudely carved on clay tablets have evolved into sophisticated displays of glossy photos, crisp presentations and even paperless archives.

With the sheer number of recipes in print, especially in food and cooking magazines, an index to navigate the courses becomes as necessary as it is helpful. Analyzing and ranking the recipe indexes of 12 of today’s most popular titles is difficult because some are more specialized than others and all have some benefit.

But here is an attempt at some debatable order:

10. Cooking with Paula Deen, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur
Disappointingly (especially you, Martha Stewart), all three are organized only by category. Helpful, yes. Room for improvement? Definitely. Located in back.

9. Food Network Magazine
The double-page spread of delectable dishes, each with its own photo and arranged by category, is delicious to look at, but offers little more than visual information. Located up front.

8. Weight Watchers
Part of the Table of Contents, this listing ranks recipes Basic, Intermediate or Advanced in terms of preparation difficulty.

7. Southern Living
With the hostess in mind, this categorized list’s key denotes dishes that are Quick Prep, Good for You, Make-Ahead and Party Perfect. Last page of Food section.

6. Every Day With Rachael Ray
Her youthful, cost-conscious approach comes through in this guide to identify Fast, $10 Spot, Menu Planner, Good for You and Veg Out dishes. Located in back.

5. Cooking Light
Planning a healthy menu for everyone is easy with this course listing that tags dishes as Quick and Easy, Make Ahead, Freezable and Kid-Friendly. Located up front.

4. Food & Wine
Double the indexes means more complete information on both. Categorized dishes are flagged Fast (45 minutes or less), Healthy (less than 5 grams fat and includes nutritious ingredients), Make Ahead (minimal last-minute prep), Vegetarian (no meat, poultry or seafood) or Staff Favorite. 

The Wine Index is divided by type (red, white, rosé and dessert) then by taste (light-, medium- and full-bodied). Along with general pairing suggestions, wines are identified as Great Bargain (under $15), Hard to Find (smaller production but worth it) and Staff Favorite. Both located up front.

3. Vegetarian Times
This niche interest nabs high marks for furthering its appeal to those who embrace its practicality. Courses are identified as Vegan, Dairy-Free, Gluten Free, Low-Calorie, Low Saturated Fat and 30 Minutes or Fewer. Located in back.

2. Bon Appétit
More than just a feast for the eyes, dishes are labeled Low Calorie, Low Cholesterol, Low Fat, High Fiber, Low Saturated Fat and Vegetarian. Located in back.

1. Eating Well
By far, the most impressive. Categorized dishes include caloric, fat, carbohydrate, fiber and sodium content. A key further describes recipes as Healthy Weight (reduced calories, limited saturated fat), High Fiber, Healthy Heart (limited saturated fat), Budget (less than $3 per serving) and Quick (45 minutes or less). Located up front.


Everyday Food Magazine a “Good Thing” in a Small Package

everydayfood_jun.jpgHaving been a subscriber to Martha Stewart Living magazine for several months, I expected more of the same when I signed up for its sister publication, Everyday Food magazine. In other words, a solid smattering of topics ranging from cooking to gardening to home. But when I received my first issue, I was pleasantly surprised.

Most noticeably, Everyday Food is not the slightly oversized and artistically colorful experience that is Martha Stewart Living. Nor does it proffer advice on gardening, decorating and crafts with a nod to food.

Instead, Everyday Food magazine packs only recipes and cooking tips between its small digest-sized covers. In a survey of online reviews, readers say they can’t get enough. Gone are the hard-to-find ingredients, the time-consuming prep and the increasingly difficult dishes for which some readers have criticized Martha Stewart Living.

Making meals that are fast and healthy is an obvious focus of Everyday Food. Recipes require few ingredients not readily available in your average kitchen, and most dishes even take fewer steps to prepare. As in Martha Stewart Living, each recipe contains active time and total time. But unlike the bigger publication, Everyday Food includes the amount of calories, fat, protein, carbs and fiber per serving.

Among readers, size is a popular feature of Everyday Food magazine, making it easy to store or take along while grocery shopping. Its range of recipes is another heralded plus, and online, readers say the variety will appeal to novice and experienced chefs alike. Note: While the occasional meat-free and gluten-free meals are included, vegetarians will likely be left with an unsatisfied appetite.

Some of my favorite features and columns in Everyday Food are:

Dinner 1-2-3: Preparing a meal in three easy steps is possible, and this section shares how.

In Season: Focusing on one fruit or veggie, this section covers selecting, storing and cooking what’s in season, followed by a variety of recipes.

Bites: Tips from the magazine’s test kitchen on subjects like how to best cut vegetables, how to pair wines with meals and must-have tool recommendations.

Cooking for One: Nutritious (and delicious) meals with ingredients cut down to solo size make take-out and frozen dinners a cop-out.

At Your Convenience: Cut corners with store-bought ingredients vs. fresh or from scratch using these recommendations and quick-fix dishes.

How To: An in-depth and illustrated look at perfecting a technique, along with recipes designed to test out the new trick.

Grocery Bag: This feature outlines a week of meals and provides a convenient tear-out grocery list. That’s followed, of course, by directions for making each dish.

On the Side: Have an entrée that needs a little company? This section provides ideas for simple sides to round out any meal.

Everyday Food magazine combines a simple and healthy, yet impressively flavorful approach to cooking that might be surprising given Martha Stewart’s do-it-all reputation. Everyday Food proves that she can make even the simple taste amazing.


Better Homes and Gardens, Cooking Light Magazine Offer Two Cracks on Coconut Cake

betterhomes.jpgWhen Better Homes and Gardens magazine made a fresh coconut cake the centerpiece of its April 2010 cover, it was in some ways to be expected. Not only because of the Easter season, but perhaps even more so due to its perception of being traditional and more conservative than its food publication peers.

When Cooking Light magazine prominently featured a fresh coconut cake on its April 2010 cover, some of its readers were likely surprised. With the cover headline “Yes! This is healthy” and an arrow pointing to the popular spring dessert, the health-conscious magazine seemed to expect the reaction.

This and other decadent dishes have made Cooking Light readers question the general editorial direction of their nutritional playbook, along with the articles that seem to justify why it’s OK to indulge.

That debate aside, how different are the two recipes? Is one significantly healthier or better for you than the other?

In comparison, the ingredients are evenly matched, though the
amounts used may vary slightly. But Cooking Light magazine’s version
makes a couple of noticeable substitutions. Butter instead of
shortening, Italian meringue instead of heavy cream, and coconut
shavings pressed into the frosting instead of icing filled with the
shredded fruit.

Featured in its “Recipe Makeover” section, Cooking Light compares
its “new” coconut cake to an “old” version described only in terms of
calories, total fat grams, saturated fat grams and the aforementioned
heavier ingredients that were substituted.

While Cooking Light magazine’s rendition of fresh coconut cake has
significantly reduced calories, total fat grams and saturated fat
grams, it would be worth an apples to apples comparison of the “old
way” recipe to Better Homes and Gardens’.

Despite the two coconut cake’s similarities, Better Homes and
Gardens doesn’t call for shortening or heavy cream–two ingredients
where Cooking Light magazine opted for lighter substitutions.

In the end, one slice of Cooking Light magazine’s coconut cake has
fewer calories (332 vs. 482) and carbohydrates (55.8 grams vs. 74
grams), and less fat (10.8 grams vs. 19 grams) and cholesterol (20
milligrams vs. 98 milligrams) than a serving of Better Homes and
Gardens’ version.

But the old version of the coconut cake that Cooking Light made over
had 622 calories per slice and 38.5 total fat grams. And though the
magazine’s new version is impressive for its reduction of calories and
fat, does it have more of a wow factor because it was put up against an
obviously very rich fresh coconut cake recipe? Would cutting the fat
grams in half seem as impressive as cutting them by three-fourths?

While that’s another debate, each magazine presented its recipe
differently while keeping with the magazine’s general tone. Cooking
Light gave very straightforward directions and a basic how-to on
cracking coconuts with minimal photos. In its very practical approach,
Better Homes and Gardens wove hints and tips in its directions, along
with step-by-step photos from start to finish.


Summertime, and the Cooking Is Easy, Thoughtful and Creative

pauladeen_may-june.jpgAs the weather warms up, so too it seems do social calendars, with sleepovers for the kids, graduations, college send-offs, weddings, baby showers and barbecues. The one common ingredient? You guessed it: good food!

And what better place to find simple, delicious recipes that are equal parts thoughtful and creative than some of today’s most popular food and cooking magazines? These are some of the more unique recipe/event ideas from May and June issues that I think are worth sharing.

Cooking With Paula Deen magazine, May/June 2010

School’s out for the summer but the education doesn’t have to end. Get kids in the kitchen making easy sleepover snacks, like Parmesan Popcorn Mix with pretzels, popcorn and mini cheese crackers.

Summer is the season for weddings and anniversaries. Recognize those newlyweds or that special marriage with a thoughtful gift basket filled with a homemade cheddar-almond cheese spread and store-bought goodies like chocolate truffles and a gift card.

What else precedes those weddings but bridal showers, and these menu ideas are both Southern and easy. A chilled corn soup with avocado relish served in small jars with lids make for easy transport and a pound cake dessert bar with fresh fruit, chocolate sauce and other toppings are sure to please any taste.

No wedding or shower would be complete without those yummy little butter mints, and now you can make your own with a cream cheese mint recipe that calls for cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, shortening and peppermint oil.

Better Homes and Gardens magazine, May 2010

betterhomes_jun.jpgTake three holidays and special occasions and combine them with one basic menu, and you get three different experiences suitable for Mother’s Day, graduation and Memorial Day.

The herb-garlic beef tenderloin pizza, layered red potato salad and green beans and pasta graduation menu becomes herb-garlic beef tenderloin sliders, chopped red potato salad and pickled green beans and spring veggies for Memorial Day.

But don’t forget dessert. Cupcakes adorned with a chocolate-covered cherry and topped with a mortarboard–a tiny cracker dipped in chocolate–honor the grad, while the waffle cone cupcakes for Memorial Day make it easier to hold in one hand while still participating in outdoor games.

Every Day With Rachael Ray magazine, May 2010

It’s all about celebrating four of life’s unique magic moments, including a couple’s first night in after tying the knot with a special menu of steak frites.

Appetizers like Sweet Cucumber Salad with Chiles and Peanuts, Crab Salad on Rice Crackers, Juicy Chicken Potstickers and a toast of a Pomegranate-Lemongrass Fizz help your BFF say goodbye to being single with an Asian-themed bachelorette party.

Close out your teen’s days as a high schooler with grown-up dishes like Herbed Crouton Salad, Tomato-Braised Lamb Shanks with Orange and Mint, and Pistachio Crème Brûlée as part of a delicious college send-off.

Or welcome a new baby with a special brunch featuring Lemonade-Mint Spritzers; Ricotta-and-Radish Crostini; and Shrimp, Arugula and Frisée Salad with Pesto Dressing. Top it off with a Coconut Angel Food Cake with Fresh Berries.


Food Network Magazine Delivers More Than Television Personalities

foodnetwork.jpgSince its first serving in fall of 2008, Food Network magazine has soared in popularity. Initially publisher Hearst Corporation printed 300,000 copies, but less than two years later, nearly 1.2 million copies are picked up at newsstands and sold through subscriptions, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

It’s an astounding success, particularly since growing numbers of working women and today’s modern conveniences have made the act of cooking another chore that someone or something else can do. In fact, the average American spends only 27 minutes per day on food preparation, plus an additional four for clean-up, according to writer and University of California, Berkeley journalism professor Michael Pollan. Understanding that we only have so much time, Food Network magazine touts 100-plus recipes prominently on its cover, along with other buzzwords with busy appeal like “fast,” “easy” and “fun.”

Tough economic times have taken a toll on dining out–a 3 percent drop in 2009, based on market research from NPD Group–and families looking to save a little by eating in will appreciate this publication’s attention to using inexpensive and readily available ingredients.

Though criticized by more advanced chefs for its casual approach and lack of in-depth coverage, Food Network magazine likely sizzles because of the changing face of cooking programs, posits Pollan. Viewers tuned in to Julia Child to learn the act of cooking, he writes, whereas fans of Food Network glean as much or more entertainment as instruction. That amusement presented in 30-minute segments and hour-long competitions no doubt buoys the popularity of its printed product.

And Food Network magazine capitalizes on it. Each issue’s “Star Search” guide features photos of the network’s celebrity chefs branded with the name of their show plus the page on which to find that star’s recipe or advice.

Shaped by seasons and holidays, the magazine’s ideas for Easter, Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day barbecues are some of the obvious fare. This can give each issue a repetitive feel, according to some online reviews. That’s possible, but the ideas retain an overall speedy allure while also being creative or adventurous enough to keep things interesting. Think cinnamon sugar stick “fries” served with strawberry jam for an April Fool’s treat, a potato chip challenge, Kentucky Derby inspired muffin flavors, jalapeño margaritas for Cinco de Mayo, and a cupcake topiary for Mom.

Like Pollan said, it’s part quick cuisine and part entertainment, and this title makes successful use of the combination. But its short order use of multiple celebrity brands and their draw notwithstanding, Food Network magazine feeds off content that is timely and easy–what has broadly become today’s most fundamental qualities for cooking inspiration.


Strawberry Cover Stories Bring Back Berry Good Memories

pauladeen_may-june.jpgFor as long as I can remember, strawberries have been one of my most favorite fruits. They usually hit their peak in the summer, meaning they were plentiful in the market for only a few months, so you’d better enjoy them while they lasted.

But recent spring covers of Southern Living, Cooking With Paula Deen and Taste of the South brought an even more precious memory to mind. My late maternal grandfather had a strawberry patch in his backyard garden of various fruits and vegetables that he tended most of his life. Though small in comparison to acres-long fields, the little plants and their promising blooms brought great joy to a little girl who loved strawberries, and left her awestruck that her grandfather knew how to grow them.

With so much attention directed at the strawberry, ’tis certainly the season for picking and preparing the luscious fruit. And if you like strawberries as much as I do, here’s a preview of the recipes you’ll find in the magazines that dressed the red delights up as their cover dessert.

Southern Living magazine, April 2010

Though the bulk of the issue’s focus is on Easter meals, one page was dedicated to the two featured strawberry desserts: Strawberry-Orange Shortcake Tart and Vanilla-Stuffed Strawberry Cupcakes.

Both recipes are fairly time consuming, since the tart shell and the vanilla bean custard for the cupcake (recipe included) are made from scratch. But the hands-on time for both dishes and the custard–which Southern Living assures is well worth the effort, helped along by an angel food cake mix shortcut for the cupcakes–is 30 minutes or less.

Cooking With Paula Deen magazine, May/June 2010

With Easter behind us, this issue showed a little more love to the strawberry, including a page on measuring berries, choosing and storing them, and providing a little history. For example, according to the magazine, American Indians made strawberry bread by crushing the berries into cornmeal, making a forerunner to a Southern favorite, the strawberry shortcake.

But the extra attention didn’t stop there. Nearly full-page photos accompanied two recipes, Strawberry Pie and Strawberry Cobbler. An absence of prep times means time-conscious cooks will have to settle for a few time savers. The pie recipe, for example, starts with refrigerated pie crust dough and subs JELL-O for strawberry gelatin. The cobbler directions call for baking it in small, serve-straight-from-the-oven ramekins.

Taste of the South magazine, May/June 2010

Aside from the cover recipe, strawberries were an ingredient–though not the sole berry–in only one other dish. The Meringue Torte with Custard and Berries called for blueberries and red and golden raspberries, in addition to strawberries.

Considering the meringue for the torte and the cake for the featured Toasted Almond-Strawberry Napoleons are made from scratch, these recipes are time consuming–especially without any recommended shortcuts.