Since 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.