March Mag Roundup

If I held onto every food magazine that arrived through my mail slot every month, the house would probably begin to look like Miss Havisham's and you might have to come and dig me out from the epi-literary rubble. This exercise of assessing the state of monthly food glossies is just as much for your benefit as it is for mine -- the fine combing forces me to weed out the tossers from the keepers and helps me from becoming a pack rat! (well, sort of.)

So instead of asking whether a magazine is worth the newsstand price (a moot point when you're a reduced-rate subscriber), I'll focus more on its "keeper" value, whether it deserves to take up a few more inches of space on your already crowded shelves, a relevant question for both committed subscribers and one-time newsstand flirts.

Below, in alphabetical order, this month's lineup of glossy eats.

Bon Appetit
What's on the Cover: A luscious-looking grilled corned beef and fontina on rye, as a scrumptious teaser to its how-to feature on brining your own corned beef. I am officially inspired to embark on this adventure, which takes a total of eight days; stay tuned for those dispatches in stage-by-stage fashion, just in time for St. Patrick's Day!

Perfect Timing: An at-market guide to buying and preparing cabbage, which is appropriate produce fare while March winds blow; the "old-fashioned southern Easter" menu designed by Atlanta chef Scott Peacock, who shares eight recipes.

Additional How-To: the illustrated guide on skinning fish, cleaning those mysterious morels (thank you!) and some useful tips on keeping a crème anglaise from curdling.

Miscellany Worth Chewing on: A big high-five to Mark Kurlansky ("Cod," "Salt") for his essay on getting kids to eat their vegetables; his advice: don't hide vegetables, a la Jessica Seinfeld in her "Deceptively Delicious," but celebrate them "for their place in nature."

I'm loving the recent redesign. The photography is popping off the page. The typeface and layout are clean and easy to read, and it's quickly becoming one of my new monthly faves.

Keeper? You betcha.

Cooking Light
What's on the Cover: "Fabulous, Fudgy Mint Brownies," the subject of this month's recipe makeover, but they do nothing for me.

Perfect Timing: The primer on Vermont maple syrup (tapping season is underway until April), with 10 recipes (a mix of sweet and savory); the Easter buffet menu (nine recipes, including tips on dying and decorating hard-boiled eggs); and the useful backgrounder on the cold-weather leek (I learned that March 1 is St. David's Day in Wales, where the leek is prepared as a culinary homage to its patron saint.)

How-To: The useful pictorial on the difference between boiling and simmering by cookbook author James Peterson. I'm thrilled about the inclusion of a pot au feu recipe -- I've been looking for one for ages.

Miscellany Worth Chewing on: The travel piece on cooking school vacations. The intriguing piece by chef Michael Ruhlman on creating flavor balance in your food with eight recipes to practice achieving the balance of sweet, sour, bitter and salty. This might be one of the most useful food magazine pieces I've seen in a long time. The "Inspired Vegetarian" feature by cookbook author Corinne Trang, who shares seven Malaysian recipes, including one for tempeh rending -- I want to try them all.

Keeper? Yes, please.

What's on the Cover: A plate of profiteroles, as a tease to its Gallic focus, which includes spring in Provence (gorgeous photos), a travel piece on Jura, the baguettes of Normandy and Paris bistro fare (recipe alert!: another pot au feu recipe)

How-To: Useful bread-kneading pictorial, with tips from master baker Richard Bertinet.

Miscellany Worth Chewing on: The list of cooking tips smartly placed by the recipe index is a good tear-out, put-on-the-fridge cheat sheet of basics, from to how to toast whole spices to zesting citrus. Francophiles, this issue is for you.

Keeper? I may tear out a few pages, then offer up as a hand-me-down.

Food & Wine
What's on the Cover: Meyer lemon gnocchi with a bottle of wine, but it's the "Special Kitchen Issue." Maybe that's why there's an oven in the background?

Miscellany Worth Chewing on: The Cambodian feature with six recipes from New York chef Ratha Chau, but I'd like to see a glossary of ingredients or some background on the Cambodian pantry. This is a missed opportunity for a cuisine that rarely gets attention. The tea primer covers the basics on black, green, oolong and white, with brewing temps and times. My favorite part of the kitchen coverage is the piece on new ovens, describing them by function. Well done.

Local Tidbit: Chef Cathal Armstrong (Restaurant Eve, Eamonn's A Dublin Chipper and the Majestic) is featured in a travel piece about Donegal, the northwestern corner of Ireland where Armstrong spent his summers as a kid.

Keeper? Probably not this month.

What's on the Cover: Butterscotch sauce drizzled atop vanilla ice cream for its special all-butter issue. An entire issue devoted to butter? I was skeptical, too. Boy did they prove me wrong. This is terrific reporting and topic-specific assemblage. Molly O'Neill, James Villas, Madhur Jaffrey, Darra Goldstein, Paula Wolfert -- this is a who's who of food writers in one issue.

How-To: A terrific pictorial on making your own butter and the nuts and bolts of rolling and shaping Saint Joseph's Bread, something I am keen to try in time for Saint Joseph's Day (March 19), which is celebrated among Sicilians here and abroad.

But back to the butter. This issue reminds me of the master course I did in Piedmont, Italy, eight years ago. Every day, we'd learn Italian cuisine by ingredient; one day, the lesson might be fat, the next day, vinegar. We looked at its properties, the way it's produced AND then we'd get into technique. This issue takes the reader around the world using butter as the magic carpet. Editor James Oseland deserves a big buttery red ribbon for this one.

Miscellany Worth Chewing on
: the intriguing essay on articulating the taste of fish; the profile of one Afghan family and how the recipes have kept them together through decades of conflict.

Keeper?Like buttah.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 3, 2008; 7:35 AM ET Food Mag Roundup
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Not food related - but with regard to St Joseph's day, it is celebrated widely in Italy. It corresponds to father's day (after Mary and Joseph).

Posted by: Arlington, VA S | March 3, 2008 10:31 AM

I've tried brining my own corned beef. It turned out pretty well. Unless you use Morton's Tender Quick (sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite), you end up with a greyish-brownish corned beef. It doesn't elicit oohs and aahs, but rather, "what's that?! Yuck!" But it tasted pretty good.

Posted by: Dave | March 3, 2008 11:57 AM

In response to Cooking Light's recipes this month to appeal to multiple tastes (sweet, bitter, salty, etc.), I tried their recipe for the blackened shrimp with tropical pico de gallo salad Saturday night. While it included a lot of chopping, the work was well worth it. My husband and I LOVED the dish and will probably try it again. I think it would work well with chicken, pork, or white fish in lieu of shrimp. Here is a copy of the recipe for any who may be interested:

Posted by: meredithneale | March 3, 2008 12:11 PM

Kim - Re. Gourmet - do they teach you how to make the Normandy baguettes? Or do you have to, like, go there to eat them?

Posted by: Reine de Saba | March 3, 2008 2:17 PM

SO great you get to go on vacation so much to the Caribbean. Wow.

Posted by: Arlington | March 3, 2008 3:32 PM

You should check out Cuisine at Home! My sister just finished her 4 month internship there (as a student of CIA) and their magazines are gorgeous and very teach-y (and have no ads!)

A proud sister,

Posted by: orchidgirl | March 3, 2008 4:30 PM

"Not food related - but with regard to St Joseph's day, it is celebrated widely in Italy. It corresponds to father's day (after Mary and Joseph)."

This is how it is in Spain, too. I wonder if all heavily-Catholic countries do the same?

Posted by: va | March 4, 2008 10:51 PM

I was fortunate enough to have Darra Goldstein as a professor (for several classes!) in college, including her "Feasting and Fasting in Russian History" course. She's amazing.

Posted by: Jen | March 18, 2008 5:54 PM

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