I have to confess – I am a recipe-following fool. If I have a particular talent in the kitchen it’s probably my fearlessness. Years ago, I worked in restaurants, and I dated several cooks and chefs. One of them said to me “I don’t give a damn what you cook – make hot dogs, for all I care. As long as I don’t have to cook it, I’ll love it.” Another one gave me the freedom I truly needed in the kitchen: “Cook anything,” he said. “If it sucks, we’ll order a pizza.”
This has remained my rule. The night the sushi rice fell on the floor, we had pizza. The time I burned the chicken thighs to a crisp on the grill? Pizza. Seriously. Sure, I’ve wanted to cry over my failures (I did cry over the rice) but failure teaches you what NOT to do, and that’s a good lesson. I’m not really one of those people who can whip together a gourmet dinner without planning or thinking – I’m a recipe girl. I like guidelines. Once I’ve made a dish a couple of times I may tinker with it, but generally I like rules and detailed instructions.
That being the case, I read cookbooks like novels. I’ve subscribed to a number of cooking magazines over the years, and cooked out of every one of them. Here are some of my favorites from the magazine rack:
- Cook’s Illustrated – this magazine is amazing – the test kitchen cooks things a zillion different ways and gives you the science of cooking. It’s not intimidating at all, and is great at helping you understand the basics behind cooking. I eventually stopped subscribing because I got tired of their East Coast focus – it didn’t match my lifestyle that much, but it can’t be beat if you’re learning to cook. I’ve used their brined turkey recipe for the past 5 Thanksgivings with amazing success.
- Cooking Light – For a long time this was my monthly Bible – I’d plan all of our meals out of Cooking Light. It helped us learn about new foods, gave us alternatives to our boring choices, provided shopping lists… and has lifestyle tips, as well. Some recipes may be more complicated than the average home cook desires, but there are plenty of 20 minute recipes and special sections on crock pots or vegetarian cooking – overall, this is a great magazine for a beginner or a pro.
- Martha Stewart Living – We all know Martha is the demi-goddess of the home, and back when I was baking a lot, this magazine was great. After a while I tuned out, but I still make sugar cookies from Martha’s recipe.
- Food & Wine – I love this magazine. It’s a guilty pleasure for me. I occasionally cook dishes from this one, but for guidance on types of wine, or new restaurants to try when traveling, or great ideas for parties, this is a great read. Plus it’s pure food porn. The photos will have you licking the pages.
- Bon Appetit – I don’t have a subscription to this one, but I almost always pick up a copy (along with People and Us) when I’m in the airport for a trip. The coast-to-coast and international reviews are great, the recipes always seem do-able and – yes – it’s food porn.
I have less time to read lately, but I do continue to get Food & Wine and Cooking Light, and when I get a free half hour I’ll plunk down on the porch with a glass of wine and lose myself in food. Do yourself a favor – check these babies out and whip up a little something different for dinner tonight. Or maybe just lick the pages…