Magazine Review: “Bon Appetit” and Shaved Brussels Sprouts

brussels-final This is the fourth installment of my series of Thanksgiving magazine reviews.  You can see my evaluative criteria here.  I have been holding off on looking at one of the most popular food magazines of all, BON APPETIT, until now.  Although I have already confessed that Fine Cooking is my favorite subscription, Bon Appetit is my longest running.  Besides my own collection, dating back to my first cooking experiences in 1998, I also have access to my mother’s Bon Appetits – the oldest of which is from 1980 or so.  Confession time: when I was in middle school, I would sneak into the closet where mom kept her magazines filed by title and date, and would cut out all of the Absolut Vodka ads.  She only noticed this, and punished me, when she caught me in the act one day – because, like me, her collection kept growing and the motivation to go back to “the archives” was low.

I digress.  My point is that I have a long relationship with Bon Appetit, and although I absolutely despise the redesign they recently introduced, the magazine has treated me well for many years – especially on Thanksgiving.  You may already have sensed that my family holidays are pretty traditional, and the menu fairly fixed.  However, each year I bring my Bon Appetit Thanksgiving issue up to the family house and make one supplementary fancy dish – once it was cheddar and sage mashed potatoes and one year we even mixed it up with a special turkey.  Below, I decide whether 2008 matches up.

  • 194 pages total : 98 pages of ads (51%) !!
  • 65 Recipes (though this would be much higher if I included the many recipes that were offered on advertising pages, such as “Land o Lakes TM Blue Ribbon Sugar Cookies” or “Ghirardelli TM Ultimate Double Chocolate Cookies”)
  • News-stand price: $4.99
  • Price per recipe: $0.08
  • # of ads pretending to be articles: 14.  What I found even more disturbing, however, was the ubiquity of especially long, multi-page advertisement spreads – like 4 pages each for Dacor appliances and Circulon pans.
  • Recipe Index? One index at the end of the magazine lists the recipes by specific types (Potatoes, Sauces, Breakfast Dishes, etc) and within those sometimes breaks the list down further (under Main Courses: fish/seafood, poultry, meats, vegetarian).  Recipes are also labeled with nutritional advice (Low Calorie, Low fat, High fiber).  Somewhat hard to follow due to small and dense text.
(c) Bon Appetit, photo by Tim Morris
(c) Bon Appetit, Photo by Tim Morris
Photos: Generally, I find BA to have great food photography.  That being said, I alternated between annoyance and amusement when flipping through the shots in the Thanksgiving section of this issue.  There were way too many full-page location shots of the sides of barns and insides of Shaker classrooms (there is a Heritage theme here – and we are not to forget it!!), taking up space where we should be looking at the food.  Also – and I don’t know if I’m crazy or if anyone else was wigged out by this – there were pictures of platters set on the very edge of tables, seconds away from tipping over (see above), and other shots of pies sitting on the floor or on a side table parked directly in front of a chest of drawers obviously meant for a bedroom.  The artificiality of these set-ups made me laugh out loud.  I did like the fact that in the “Purely Pumpkin” section, they provided pictures of both the whole finished desserts and the individual portions, and the article on make-ahead side dishes was also well-illustrated.

Best Sections:
• R.S.V.P. – this section features readers’ requests for the recipes of their favorite restaurant dishes.  Aside from the fact that I have thrice submitted a request and never been answered, I love this section.
• Fast, Easy, Fresh – pretty self-explanatory here: quick recipes for the weeknight.  This section was so popular that many past entries have been compiled into a cookbook.
• Cooking Life – Molly Wizenberg, of Orangette fame, has her own section written in that same great voice from her blog (obviously) and features her own fun and beautiful photography.
• At the Market – Each month a different seasonal ingredient is highlighted, and several different ways to use it are provided.  This month – Pomegranate!

Best Features:
• Recipes with obscure ingredients provide a suggestion for where to buy them.
• All of the Thanksgiving recipes are grouped together at the end of the magazine where, like Gourmet, the pictures are kept separate from the Recipe section.  Photos are labeled so you can immediately go to the page for the recipe of the dish that caught your eye.

Thanksgiving at the Bon Appetit house:
The Thanksgiving section here is divided into five different “stories,” but all maintain the singular theme of a Heritage holiday, meaning authentic ingredients native (or at least traditional) to America.  The first is called “Menu” and as far as I can tell it is meant to be the basic traditional meal while the following sections are optional swap-ins.  It includes such recipes as Dungeness Crab and Heirloom Bean Brandade; Wild Rice with butternut, squash, leeks and corn; and Garnet Yams with Blis Maple Syrup and Maple-Sugar Streusel.  Next up is “The Turkey” providing an alternative to the previous article’s turkey (Roast Heritage Turkey with Bacon-Herb Butter and Cider Gravy) and suggesting three variations of Salted Roast Turkey.  Following the Turkeys is “One Recipe Four Ways” which outlines four flavors of stuffing and gives four separate recipes (rather than one master recipe which can be modified: slightly disappointing).  After stuffing comes the other side dishes in “Make Ahead Makes it Easy” with do-ahead recipes like “Cranberry Relish with Grapefruit and Mint”, “Creamy Corn and Chestnut Pudding” and “Green Beans with Pickled-Onion Relish.”  Finally, an exclusively pumpkin finale called “Purely Pumpkin” including “Pumpkin Butterscotch Pie”, “Pumpkin Praline Trifle” and “Pumpkin Ice Cream with Toffee Sauce.”  Ruling? I’m confused.

Particularly Unappetizing:
• Cumin-Scented Eggplant with Pomegranate and Cilantro

I’m looking forward to cooking:
• Buttermilk Biscuits with Green Onions, Black Pepper, and Sea Salt
• Chaussons aux Pommes
• Bacon, Apple, and Fennel Stuffing
• *Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Currants and Chestnuts
• Scalloped Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin with Fresh Herbs

I would like to explain why I am so confused.  The setup of the Thanksgiving section is heavy-handed, what with the puritain garb on the models, the Shaker furniture, and the old-fashioned barns and schoolroom blackboard.  This might be actually very interesting and beautiful if they had stuck with the “heritage” theme of authentic local New England foods the pilgrims might have served if they had been equipped with convection ovens and 6-burner stovetops.  However, mixed in with the corn-, cider- and maple-based dishes are recipes that stick out like so many sore Shaker thumbs: Green Goddess Dip (“created in the 1920s at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel”); Cranberry Relish with Grapefruit and Mint; Salted Roast Turkey with Chipotle Glaze; and Potato, Zucchini, and Tomato Gratin (“Thanksgiving goes Provencal”).  Why put all the recipes together and try to tie them all to a theme which simply cannot cover all of them?   Nevertheless, it says a lot that I couldn’t find more than one recipe of the whole bunch that I thought was unappetizing, and I must admit that my recipe file has grown since acquiring this issue.  ((Sigh)) I guess I can’t fault a magazine which has been reinventing itself and the recipes within for over 50 years.  If you are a cook with the same goal (reinvention, that is), this magazine is for you.  An interesting review of the The Bon Appetit Cookbook
(which I do own, by the way) gives a rundown of the advantages and fallbacks of BA’s philosophy.

*Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Currants and Chestnutsbrussels-mise

1/2 c. apple cider
1/2 c. dried currants
1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 7- to 8-oz. jar whole peeled chestnuts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
5 Tbs. butter
1 1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

Bring cider to boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add currants; let soak 30 minutes. Using processor fitted with slicing disk, push brussels sprouts through feed tube and slice. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill currant mixture. Wrap brussels sprouts in paper towels, then enclose in resealable plastic bag and chill.

brussels-fruitHeat oil in large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add chestnuts; sauté 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to bowl. Add brussels sprouts to skillet; sauté until beginning to wilt, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and butter; sauté until most of liquid evaporates and brussels sprouts are tender but still bright green, adding more water by tablespoonfuls if mixture is dry, about 7 minutes. Stir in chestnuts, currant mixture, and vinegar; sauté until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

brussels-cookingResults:  This was very good.  The problems I had with the dish were of my own making: Instead of using the slicing disk of the food processor, I used the shredding disk, resulting in a not-too-pleasant flakey texture to about half of my sprouts (before I realized my mistake and swapped the disk out).  Second, I used dried cranberries and cherries rather than dried currants (which I couldn’t find in any of my three grocery stores), making the dish a bit too sweet for my taste.  All in all, however, the flavor was very good – especially the chestnuts which had a very subtle and earthy savor to them.  I reheated leftovers the second night, and while the color was nowhere near as vibrant, the taste was the same if not better.  Prepared properly, this would be a great addition to the holiday table.


  1. Jesse says:

    Wow, I’ve never thought of serving brussel sprouts that way, but it looks delicious!

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