I have taken on a new mission – you know, to keep things interesting here at “From My Table.” Since I am a confessed food magazine addict and self-proclaimed connoisseur, I have decided to begin a series of reviews of popular cooking magazines. To make it as fair a contest as possible, I will be comparing Thanksgiving issues – the one issue of the year where every food mag worth its weight in gravy will pull out all the stops. In theory, the November issue of an epicurean publication (the issue with the highest sales for the year) will feature the best recipes, photos, and informational articles while showcasing any editorial biases in clear relief against rival periodicals. When the basic building blocks are the same – turkey, cranberries, pumpkin, squash, and stuffing – one cannot help but notice if a particular magazine adheres to strict traditional techniques or, at the other extreme, commits blasphemy by defiling our American heritage (vanilla-cranberry foam? Bread-less stuffing? Come on, people!)
Here are my objective criteria:
• Ratio of the # of magazine pages (not including covers) to the # of full-page advertisements
• # of Recipes
• News-stand Price
• Price per Recipe
• # of “advertorials” – those ads that pose as articles or recipe sections to get you to buy their product. Sometimes it is very difficult to tell they are not part of the magazine.
• Is a recipe index supplied? How are the recipes sorted?
And here are my subjective criteria:
• How good is the photography? How plentiful, mouthwatering, and informative is it?
• What are some of the unique or particularly good sections or features this magazine provides every issue?
• What is the take on the Thanksgiving classics: modern? drastic? traditional? boring?
• What recipes from this issue do I most look forward to trying? What recipes look particularly unappetizing?
*I will also be making one recipe from my “Can’t wait to try” list exactly as directed, and will report on my results. I hope this gets everybody into the November spirit – can you hear the Jingle Bells?
The first to contend is FINE COOKING – one of my favorite magazines of all time (no bias on the part of this judge):
• 98 pages total : 23 pages of ads (23%)
• 35 Recipes
• News-stand price: $6.95
• Price per recipe: $0.20
• # of ads pretending to be articles: 0
• Recipe Index? Yes, sorted by type (i.e. side dish, dessert, poultry, fish/seafood, etc.) and labeled by special interest (i.e. quick, make-ahead, mostly make-ahead, and vegetarian). Also includes a nutritional index in the back of the magazine, which is a great addition…if you like reading that sort of information…
Photos: absolutely excellent, often giving multiple viewpoints (cut pie/uncut pie; preparation/finished product) and most certainly mouthwatering! Every recipe is photographed at least once, which is a huge bonus.
• Cooking Without Recipes (one master recipe is featured each month and several pages explain the different steps of the method – in this issue, how to make a potato gratin – as well as the many ways it can be adapted to your taste – e.g. bacon, leek and Gruyere or artichoke and Comte)
• Quick and Delicious (self-explanatory, no?)
• Food Science (this section explains the “Whys” behind cooking results – how to fix a pie crust that isn’t flaky or that is too crumbly, for example)
• Menus – the editors mix and match the recipes from the issue into different menus, such as “Sunday Supper” or “Casual Dinner Party”
• Recipe Variations are provided with many of the sections, such as “try replacing red wine vinegar with balsamic for a sweeter flavor” or “try leftovers from this recipe cold in a pasta salad with green beans and feta”
• No advertisements are placed in the central recipe section of the magazine.
Thanksgiving at the Fine Cooking house:
• “Seven of the country’s best chefs share seven new takes on holiday classics” – Roasted Turkey with Juniper-Ginger Butter and Pan Gravy; Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots; Maple-Tangerine Cranberry Sauce; Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Cream. Ruling? Classic with a twist.
• Orange Crème Caramel
• Rosemary’s Pink Diamond Fizz
• Vietnamese Tilapia with Turmeric & Dill
I’m looking forward to cooking:
• Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Pie with Brandied Ginger Cream
• *Delicata Squash with Caramelized Shallots and Sherry
• Cauliflower with Brown Butter, Pears, Sage, and Hazelnuts
• Steak au Poivre with Cognac Sauce
*Delicata Squash with Caramelized Shallots and Sherry
Serves four. You can assemble this dish up to 2 hours before baking.
1 1/4 lb. delicata squash
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/4 c. dry sherry (such as fino)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 c. thinly sliced shallots (2 to 3 large)
4 tsp. finely chopped fresh sage
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Peel the squash, leaving the skin in the crevices (it’s tender enough to eat). Trim the ends. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Slice the halves crosswise 1/2 inch thick.
Heat 1 Tbs. of the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the squash in a single layer and cook without moving until the slices begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until the second side begins to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a 9×13 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with 2 Tbs. of the sherry, 1/2 tsp salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
Heat the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil and the butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots turn deep golden brown on the edges, 3-5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and immediately add the sage and the remaining 2 Tbs. sherry, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of pan. Scatter the shallots over the squash.
Cover the pan with foil and bake until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork, 25-30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
The squash tasted excellent – the caramelized shallots were sweet, and the sherry gave a contrasting nutty flavor. As you can see, it looked very beautiful and interesting too! Though I said I would follow the instructions meticulously, I did use Amontillado sherry rather than the suggested Fino – I’m not sure what difference this made, but fino is lighter in both color and flavor. I should have put the squash in the oven a bit longer – closer to 30 minutes than 25 – so that it melted a bit more in my mouth; with that change I would definitely make this again. Delicata squash has a slightly less sweet and slightly more vegetal flavor than butternut – very close to yellow-fleshed acorn squash. I bet that this recipe would work well with either of those two types as well.