I‘m sitting here with about 600 pages of foodie fare. That’s a good thing.
Unfortunately, darn near half of it is advertising, which is annoying. Still, I’d highly recommend a subscription to one or more of these magazines, as easy last-minute gifts for food lovers and cooks on your list. Compared to cookbooks, they’re a bargain, and the two thicker of these magazines usually carry as many recipes as an average book. Plus, you get to look forward to them on a regular basis.
I’m looking at four stalwarts in the field – the December issues of Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Saveur and Cook’s Illustrated. Gourmet weighs in at 260 pages, with 127 pages of ads (by my unofficial count); Bon Appetit, 204 pages, 100 of ads; Saveur, 41 advertising, to 112 total; and Cooks Illustrated, a lean, ad-free 32 pages.
Since they each have their virtues and vices, I thought the easiest way to rate them might be to just list several criteria, and thumb through. Here’s my highly subjective report.
Design: Bon Appetit and Gourmet are busy and cluttered, with long advertising supplements that make you wonder when you’ll ever reach a feature. I’d give a slight nod to Gourmet for more eye-catching fonts. Saveur has its share of ads but the overall design is clean and elegant, with terrific placement and layout. Cooks Illustrated looks like a Pilgrim designed it, utilitarian and nothing more. It works but there’s zero eye-appeal.
Pretty people: I just hate all the staged photos of telegenic yuppies, with homes and décor that you’ll never come close to, eating a feast you’ll never conceive of making, with nary a drop of sweat on their Botoxed brows. Cooks Illustrated spares you, but everyone else gives you a half dozen or so to sneer at. (My apologies if you’re actually one of these people.)
Content and writing: Ruth Reichl, Gourmet’s editor, might be the best food writer working today, so her introductions always sparkle. This month she’s analyzing her staff by their cookie choice: “He’s a neat, precise person who is pleased by their clean lines and sharp edges. These little cookies…are just the thing for someone who always colors inside the lines.” That’s terrific. The rest of the writing is serviceable, which is also how I’d rate Bon Appetit’s. Both magazines give you tons of good recipes, though.
Editor Christopher Kimball’s too-long essays in Cooks Illustrated are just the thing if you have insomnia; reading him is akin to watching paint dry. However, the rest of the magazine is first rate, if professorial, and its high subscription price is more than offset by their extensively tested recipes. Get this introduction to a meat loaf: “We went through 260 pounds of beef to find the best way to lighten the loaf.”
I consider Saveur, which won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 2000, the best magazine of its kind, period. I read it cover-to-cover, and if you’re looking for terrific writing to go with great recipe selections, this is your baby. Departments like “In the Kitchen,” with technique tips, and “Pantry,” a guide to finding ingredients for listed recipes, are just two of its exceptional offerings.
I’d planned to select a magazine recipe to go with my review, certainly an easy task, but I just came up with this one of my own. While we were looking for Dungeness crab (no luck), we spotted nice-sized (about 30-count) cleaned shrimp on sale instead.
We scarfed them with messy fingers, while watching the “Survivor” finale. Hey, I’m still hooked.
Quick Spicy Wok Shrimp
1 pound medium cleaned shrimp, shells and tails on
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon crushed hot chili peppers in oil, or to taste
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon tamari
2 generous pinches salt, preferably sea salt (or kosher)
Several grinds black pepper, to taste
Wash and pat dry the shrimp and place in a shallow bowl. Stir in the other ingredients, thoroughly coating the shrimp. Let marinate, refrigerated, for at least an hour.
Heat a wok to high and spoon in the shrimp and marinade. Sauté on high for a minute, then add a quarter cup of water. Continue cooking on high, stirring constantly, until red and cooked through and most of the liquid is cooked off, another couple of minutes or so. Serve hot or at room temperature with lots of napkins.
Yield: 2 main-course servings, or 4 to 6 appetizer servings
Approximate nutrition per serving (based on 4): 211 calories, 9 grams fat (1.6 grams saturated, 41 percent fat calories), 28 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrate, 207 milligrams cholesterol, less than 1 gram dietary fiber, 637 milligrams sodium.
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