Saturday, November 15, 2008

Holiday Culinary Gift Guide: Food Magazines

This post is the first in a series of holiday gift guide reviews and suggestions for all things culinary.

I'm beginning with a review of several popular food magazines (Saveur, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, and Cook's Illustrated).

Buy for: the adventurous home cook or avid reader of culinary/travel writing
The first thing to know about this magazine is that it does not come out every month. There are only 9 issues per year. An annual subscription currently costs about $20.

I have received Saveur for many years now, and in my opinion it differs greatly in terms of content from other food magazines. First of all, the recipes in this magazine seem to be much more authentic than those in other mags. For example, in an issue on the cuisine of India you are likely to find recipes that call for items like goat meat and gold foil. These recipes aren't adapted for the typical American kitchen. Often such ingredients are difficult to find and so I tend to make fewer recipes from Saveur than from other food mags. Another reason for this is that there often seem to *be* fewer recipes in the magazine than in others (and in general, the magazine is the shortest of the bunch). So, I would sum up by saying that the recipes might be more exotic and challenging than the average home cook would want to attempt and that they are not as abundant as you might find elsewhere. That being said, Saveur is great reading. The articles are typically really interesting and often look in-depth at non-Western cuisine. I'm always excited when it arrives in the mail.

Gourmet Magazine
Buy for: a home cook aspiring to become more serious about food
Gourmet offers 12 issues a year and a gift subscription is $20.

I actually canceled my subscription to Gourmet about two years ago. This wasn't because it isn't a good magazine but because I was receiving too many food mags and this one stood out the least in the crowd. I found that its recipes tended to be somewhere in between an easy adaptation for the casual home cook and a gourmet sensibility and that, as a result, they were often not home runs. The magazine does have a nice mix of articles and recipes (and plenty of the latter). Its visually very pretty, too.

Bon Appetit
Buy For: a casual home cook who is looking for inspiration
Bon Appetit comes out 12 times per year and a gift subscription guessed it, $20.

This food magazine has a special place in my heart. I think its the most populist of the fancy food mags and would probably appeal to the widest range of aspiring home cooks. I can never make it through this magazine without folding down at least 10 pages worth of recipes I'm ready to try, the photography is lovely, and they have a nice mix of everyday, easier recipes and special occasion dishes. As with any food magazine, not everything I've made from here has turned out well (and not always due to my cooking techniques...some of the recipes are simply not good). But many things do shine. The articles are the weak point of this magazine, in my opinion. They are rarely in-depth or particularly interesting. Go to Bon Appetit for the recipes. A final pet peeve: too many ads! Seriously, there are TONS of them.

Food & Wine
Buy For: the home cook/foodie who loves to impress guests and family with great food
Like Bon Appetit and Gourmet, this mag comes out 12 times a year and costs $20 for an annual subscription.

This is my favorite magazine of the bunch. First off, its got lots of great information about wine, as well as food. You get suggestions for pairings and plenty of interesting (and accessible) articles about different wine varietals. I feel like I've learned a lot about wine from reading this magazine. The recipes are also the most consistently good of any of the food magazines I've cooked from. If a recipe sounds interesting and you follow the directions, its likely to be great and impress your family or guests. The articles are also good; much more interesting/intriguing and better researched and presented than those in Bon Appetit (though probably not rivaling Saveur).

Cook's Illustrated
Buy For: the serious foodie who wants to improve their technique
This is the pricey one of the bunch - $24 for 6 issues (only 6 issues per year).

Cook's Illustrated is different from other food magazines. It is focused on technique. What is the best way to brine chicken? Which kitchen knives work best for which tasks? Who makes the best butter and which butter is best for which purpose? These are the kinds of questions addressed in this magazine. There are lots of kitchen tests reproduced in the magazine, lots of descriptions of the science of cooking, and so forth. I know my technique as a cook would improve if I subscribed to this magazine, but I think at heart I'm a lazy hedonist. I'd rather learn by trial and error and ogle food-porn pictures and recipes in other magazines. If you want to improve your understanding of how cooking alters different foods and what tools and techniques will help you achieve the best results, this is a great addition to the mailbox.

A cooking magazine is a great gift for a food lover or cook. It keeps on giving all year long and exposes the recipient to new ideas (and the giver to good meals...). Best of all, you can buy all of these subscriptions online, so its very easy too!

Happy Shopping!

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