Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Parlor and The Kitchen- Cooking Magazines

Welcome to our new regular Tuesday feature, The Parlor and the Kitchen, posts devoted to all things cooking and entertaining. (Even if the only person you are cooking for and entertaining is yourself.

This is my opportunity to share my ideas for parties large and small, my favorite cooking tools and techniques, as well as lovely and functional items for home and table. Anything that makes my life easier, more pleasurable, or more filled with beauty.

Some things to be aware of with this and all future postings:

1. I am not paid for endorsing the items I write about. This is mostly because I am not famous enough to be worth any money for saying I like stuff.

2. I am totally open to being paid for endorsing items, so if any of you know people in the industry, feel free to recommend me as a spokesperson, I come very cheap.

3. When writing about gadgets or equipment or specialty ingredients, I do often accept samples or review copies to play with from the companies that produce them. I do not guarantee good press or favorable posts in exchange. I accept them happily since I am a freelance writer of meager means, which doesn’t mean I don’t want to tell you about cool stuff you might want to have! Besides, as things go along there will be fun contests with prizes, which will be sponsored by these companies, meaning you all get a shot at some cool free stuff. But it is important that you know that this is a full disclosure site. It is also important to know that if I write it, I mean it. No different than if you mom bought you a bag you love as a present and you tell all your friends how great it is. Just because I get to test stuff out for free, doesn’t mean I’m sweetening the post. Frankly, there are plenty of people who love to snark about stuff, and I certainly have my moments. These posts are only for the positive…I’m only interested in stuff that is worth having, and don’t want to waste writing time on stuff that doesn’t work.

4. I am very open to suggestions and input, so feel free to tell me about your own favorite things or things you have been thinking about and aren’t sure if they will work for you. Ditto recipe requests. I love to share recipes.

So, having said all of that, today I want to talk about one of my top ten cooking tools. It isn’t a special knife or a perfect pot or a genius gadget. It is cooking magazines.

I am a cooking magazine addict. I subscribe to: Bon Appetit, Saveur, Food and Wine, Cooks Illustrated, Fine Cooking (in which one of my “tips” was published not only in the mag but in their book!), and I miss Gourmet like a constant ache. I have, over the years, succumbed to Cooking Light, Pastry Chef, and others, but these were short flings, and didn’t stick in my permanent roster.

Now, chickens, you might well say “Who in their right mind needs to subscribe to five or six different cooking magazines?” And my answer is, YOU!

Well, you if you love to cook and entertain. If you don’t then obviously it won’t be much fun, but if you do, then these things can be your best friends. A terrific source for interesting ideas about food, foodie travel recommendations, hot new ingredients and easy to follow recipes. Plus pretty pictures! I find them deeply enjoyable, much more than other types of magazines. I get wonderfully inspired, and usually within a week of their arrival, have tried something new in my kitchen. Even if it is just buying a vegetable I usually ignore or trying a technique I’ve never tried, the magazines make everything seem new and shiny.

Without my years of cooking magazine reading I would not know about grains of paradise, my go-to-instead-of-black-pepper seasoning. I wouldn’t be a convert to using my slow cooker for more than just keeping things hot on a buffet. I would never have tasted Korean black garlic, mugolio sweet pine syrup, or Sicilian red grapefruit marmalade. I would not have learned about one of my favorite ways to cook new potatoes --boil till done, smash with the bottom of a glass till they look like splayed out carcasses, put on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper (grains of paradise) and roast at 400 degrees until crispy…YUM!

My shelves are filled with useful cookbooks I bought because I loved the review in a magazine. There are tips and tricks I use all the time that I picked up in their glossy pages. I have cooked and adapted their recipes. They have led me to great tools, and kept me away from lousy ones. It is one of my grand ambitions to have my writing someday grace their pages.

In the meantime, let me recommend without reservations, the following:

Saveur- this is food porn of the highest order, and which is best, every recipe I have ever tried works like a charm. Gorgeous photography, well-written intelligent articles, and really useful info. If you can only subscribe to one glossy, this is it!

Cooks Illustrated Magazine- homey and rustic, one step up from a newsletter, but with serious research behind the articles. Best for useful tips and tricks, and for the “best of” recipes…basics made perfect by trial and error. Bonus, their website is amazing and totally worth the additional subscription cost.

Bon Appetit- with Gourmet’s demise, this becomes the new Grande Dame. It has gone through a makeover recently that I don’t adore, but the content remains solid. They are best for their less exotic recipes, if something sounds a little odd when you read it, don’t bother. But if it looks delish, it probably will be. A great mag for a newer cook who is ready to start branching out in the kitchen.

Fine Cooking- A lovely thin little waif of a mag, but with serious recipe punch. And a good source for interesting new ingredients.

Food and Wine- As my Charming Suitor is a pretty serious wine guy, this has recently become a much more interesting mag for me….I used to skip over a lot of the wine articles, but now I read them and find them much more interesting and useful than I previously assumed. But I always loved the food articles and recipes!

If you aren’t sure if one of these is for you, head out to the newsstand and pick them all up and try them out.

Or do what I do, and pick them all!

Yours in good taste,
The Polymath


  1. So going to try the new potatoes recipe. Sound divine. One question - peeled or unpeeled? OK two questions - have you used any other kind of potato, say a small Yukon Gold? Thanks.

  2. Unpeeled potatoes, the peel helps keep them together when you smash them, and I have used baby reds and baby yukon golds with equal success. Let us know how they turn out!

  3. I love, love Saveur. I wish it were a monthly magazine. I almost don't want to start reading it because I'm a little sad when I'm done that I have to wait so long for another. I haven't read Bon Appetit in years because it's one of the magazines with recipes that contain expensive, exotic ingredients I can't find and don't have the money to spend on even if I could. Cooking Light used to be good until they started devoting 1/3 of the magazine to exercise and health tips so it's more of a lifestyle mag instead of a cooking one. Plus, they've started sneaking in high fat, high calorie ingredients on the stupid assumption that just a little bit greatly improves flavor.

  4. OK, made the potatoes last night. I had to sacrifice a few until I got the hang of flattening them without reducing them to pulp. My family, who are not big potato eaters unless the potatoes are in the form of french fries, LOVED them! I will definitely make them again, particularly if Nathan Fillon ever comes to dinner ;)