Category Archives: Food


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.


Food & Wine Magazine: a Full-Bodied Read Short on Pretension

foodwine_may.jpgA growing number of consumers are at least interested in drinking wine, as its consumption has gradually risen in the U.S. since the early ’90s, according to the Wine Institute, a lobbying group for California vintners.

For the savvier, more inquisitive shopper looking to uncork both value and quality, Food & Wine magazine is a satisfying, authoritative resource for news and trends, travel, suggestions and pairings, and entertaining–all related to wine. Of course, wine enthusiasts will obviously find Food & Wine a more savory sip than readers who have no interest in the fermented beverage. They will find recipes that don’t require wine, though the unmistakable focus–and appeal–is the marriage of food and wine.

Memorable tastes from the April 2010 issue include a how-to for hosting a zodiac party accompanied by an interesting guide on tasting style, favorite foods and favorite wines by sign. Other features included ”20 Wine Pairings to Try Before You Die,” as well as helpful recommendations on glassware, necessities for hosting a wine tasting, and wine-infused sweets, such as red wine caramel.

Dismissed by some online reviewers as “pretentious,” Food and Wine magazine came across to me as especially refreshing because of one article in particular.

In the April issue’s “Journal” section, writer Rebecca Barry shares with engaging honesty her resistance to “winespeak.” The article, titled “How I Learned to Love Winespeak,” shares a message that sums up both Food & Wine magazine’s approach to wine as an intricate subject, as well as its attitude toward readers whose curiosity extends beyond merely having a drink.

Drinking wine is easy, and California wine sales, which tumbled 3 percent in 2009 because consumers purchased lower-priced bottles–often in U.S. food stores as a result of the recession, according to the Wine Institute–proves it.

But appreciating wine for its taste and texture is a process that was once intimidating to even the most learned critics. Packed with tips, quizzes, lists, guides and recommended wines for any budget, Food & Wine magazine makes acquiring knowledge bit by bit accessible and easy.

Though its content largely focuses on wine and its relationship to food, readers will find recipes accompanying most of the articles. Of particular interest is the selection of “fast” recipes. While the dishes do require 60 minutes, that includes info on how to juggle preparation of a meat dish and two vegetable sides.

Praised by some for the variety of its timely content and dismissed by others for the upscale lifestyle it portrays, Food & Wine magazine will not suit everyone’s taste. But those who uncork it shouldn’t be intimidated.


What’s the Difference Between Cooking Light and Eating Well Magazine?

eating-well.jpgAs part of a dietary regimen, cooking light would certainly lend itself to eating well, or healthily. But in terms of comparing Cooking Light and Eating Well magazines, the two have the same fundamental approach but marked differences otherwise.

Launched in 1990, Eating Well magazine seems to take the more connotative, strict approach to diet and nutrition. Like Cooking Light, its editorial is influenced by a panel of nutritionists and recipe developers.

One of the biggest differences for Cooking Light magazine, a mere three years older than Eating Well, is the backing it had from the largest, most popular regional magazine, Southern Living. Interest in Southern Living’s monthly “Cooking Light” column grew into cookbooks of recipes for the lighter way of life, which sold out two and three times over. Finally, only a monthly magazine satiated the growing desire to eat better.

Today, Cooking Light magazine counts a healthy 1.75 million subscribers in its
circulation, whereas Eating Well’s numbers are 350,000.

Overwhelmingly, online reviews praise Eating Well for its range of recipes that are simple enough for novices, yet still challenging for seasoned chefs. Among its highlights, readers say, are its useful recipe index, which provides caloric, fat, carbohydrate, fiber and sodium content for each dish.

While some appreciate the use of ingredients that aren’t overprocessed, others find it difficult to locate them in smaller cities and towns. Inexperienced cooks have felt they weren’t knowledgeable enough to make substitutions, though experienced cooks say they’ve made changes employing what was on hand or items even less expensive than those initially called for in a recipe.

cooking-light.jpgRecurring complaints are that Eating Well magazine includes a lot of recipes using meat, or that its content is leaning toward becoming redundant and preachy regarding sustainability issues. However, as other readers pointed out, Eating Well does not bill itself as a vegetarian publication.

On the other hand, Cooking Light magazine’s use of simple ingredients is applauded by readers, but some aren’t comfortable with what seems to be its “new” approach to what is healthy. For example, its May 2010 issue features a spread on pizzas, most of which hover near 20 grams of fat per serving. Other such content that drew a similar response was the article titled “10 Nutrition Myths that shouldn’t keep you from the foods you love!” That feature seemingly OK’d added sugar and fried foods in a “healthy” diet.

This new direction was introduced with editor-in-chief Scott Mowbray, who has been in place at Cooking Light since the December 2009 issue. The slightly relaxed attitude, he says in an April Washington Post article, is meant to spark discussion with the dietary caveat that one flavorful ingredient or item in moderation does not destroy an overall healthy lifestyle.

This approach may well draw more readers to Cooking Light magazine. And for those it might drive away, Eating Well magazine may just be the all-around “healthier” alternative they want.

Vegetarian Times Dishes on Subjects of Interest to All Eaters

vegetarian-times.jpgAs our collective diet takes a healthy turn toward “flexitarian,” Vegetarian Times magazine seems positioned to gain ground and readers.

Even with more publications
incorporating veggie-only dishes and vegetarian-focused content–for example, numerous food and fitness magazines, including Weight Watchers, tout a
meatless three-day plan for its health benefits–there
is still a place for Vegetarian Times magazine with its target audience
and beyond.

Recipes, such as the Spanish tapas and Spanish wines or the coffeehouse desserts and java featured in the March 2010 issue, hold allure for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Though actual pairings of wine with each dish or coffee with each sweet would have been appreciated, the draw of the culinary content is strong.

Based on online reviews, a surprising number of Vegetarian Times readers are not vegetarian or vegan. In fact, many say they get creative with the recipes, experimenting with various flavors or adding meat to their taste. Still others find the featured vegan desserts to be the answer to reducing the sweet quotient for various health reasons.

Non-vegetarian readers gave negative marks for recipes that featured ingredients not commonplace in their own pantries. However, with the included shopping tips and a trip to a natural food store, the most often-used ingredients could quickly be found.

Vegetarian Times magazine has been dedicated to the dietary lifestyle pursued for reasons ranging from religion to health since 1974, and as such it is much more than a collection of recipes. Key to its broad appeal, according to various online reviews, are its educational articles. In addition to tips from chefs on selecting frozen veggies, March 2010 featured an impressively informative piece on community-supported agriculture (CSA), an increasingly popular way for consumers to buy seasonal foods directly from local farms.

At least one other food magazine gave a passing glance to CSA’s that month but the information and perspective provided by Vegetarian Times was at once personal, engaging and thought-provoking.

Another popular section is the “Carrot and Stick,” which gives kudos in vegetable form to companies for their eco-friendly practices. This allows consumers to support businesses whose values match their own. Conversely, the stick takes to task companies who have yet to walk the green walk. Each month’s standard features also include the uses and benefits of natural remedies and herbs as well as recommended beauty products and kitchen gadgets.

Truly educational, Vegetarian Times magazine’s information is presented with authority but without passing judgment or even being subtly persuasive toward non-vegetarians. Even better, the number of healthy veggie dishes using the most natural ingredients makes it a worthwhile read, though several online reviewers give the publication low marks for its thin page count.

All in all, Vegetarian Times magazine receives high praise both from vegetarians for serving their interests and from non-vegetarians who are simply trying to incorporate more healthy choices into their diets.