I thought, best case scenario, I would laugh at ridiculously complicated recipes filled with impossible-to-find ingredients. Worst case scenario, I would be bored to tears and find nothing positive to say, which could make for a pretty painful review.
Thankfully, the magazine's contents proved me wrong. It's sophisticated without being condescending. The recipes are out of the ordinary, but not out of reach even for beginners. The articles are delightfully written and you don't need a culinary degree to appreciate them.
One element of the magazine I can't praise enough is the photography. It is simply mouth-wateringly divine. One reader's letter mentioned how she had been trying to brush crumbs off the page and I found myself doing the same thing. The letters page was full of comments about the redesign the magazine went through as of the Feb./March 2009 issue. There were pros and cons, and my own opinion is, thumbs up. It definitely has a contemporary, uncluttered feel now.
I mistakenly thought the magazine would consist mostly of recipes and photos -- which can get boring. Not so: There is a very informative article about Riesling wine, including a plug for a Michigan wine. Thanks for that, Doug Frost. When I try to tell people outside my state how great the wineries are, they usually look at me like I've lost my mind. But the grapes in northern Michigan are really amazing and his recommendation validates that.
A story about butter (who doesn't love butter?) had me giggling at the pun-laden headline and subhead: "For Butter or Worse. Clarifying how to make butter a more versatile player in the kitchen." The article explains why you can't fry at a high temperature with butter (lower smoke point) and how clarified butter came about (less milk solids, so higher smoking point but not as tasty.)
This issue is a keeper for two articles with great step-by-step directions: How to make the best-ever roast chicken (I need a roasting pan with a rack; the heavy glass baking dish I use isn't getting the job done) and how to carve a chicken. The piece on how to crack a coconut is also a fun read and brought back memories of the coconuts I would beg my dad to buy at the grocery store when I was a kid. (Most kids ask for candy. I had stranger tastes.) Turns out my dad's technique for getting the milk out and breaking the flesh was pretty close to what the magazine suggests.
The back page "Food For Thought" article offers a witty Q&A with Adam Smith, a San Francisco newsstand owner and chocolate fiend. He offers 225 different high-end chocolate bars, along with magazines and newspapers. I can't imagine a better combination.
Also in the back are menus, putting together the recipes in the magazine along with some you have to go to the Web site to find. There's also a recipe index grouped by category with helpful icons that differentiate those that are vegetarian, make-ahead or quick to make.
The recipes were easy to follow and left nothing to the imagination. I loved how the ingredient guidelines for a recipe I tried noted that a "pinch" of saffron should be about 15 threads. Mind you, I'm not so compulsive that I actually counted. But it was nice to have a specific amount to aim for. (I probably pinched generously because I love saffron and don't find many recipes that call for the dear stuff. My grandmother used to put it in her homemade chicken soup and I've always been fond of it, price aside.) The recipe for chicken breasts stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes and green olives was a keeper.
The article it came from offers a brilliant concept: Take an unusual ingredient like sun-dried tomatoes and offer several different ways to use them, so readers aren't stuck with three-quarters of a jar after just one recipe. I've run into that problem so many times before, although with sun-dried tomatoes it hardly seems like an issue, since they can be eaten straight from the jar -- unlike the blackstrap molasses languishing in my fridge, left over from some cake or cookies I made several years ago. We tried them on pancakes -- I don't recommend.
There are many more recipes I want to try, especially the smoked salmon, goat cheese and artichoke quiche. I still have to track down some hot-smoked salmon. You can substitute cold-smoked, but I like a challenge.
Published by: Taunton Press
Editor's Note: The April 23review of Esquire never meant to imply that the American Society of Magazine Editors officially disciplined the publication for guideline violations. The ASME guidelines committee looked into Esquire's February 2009 cover treatment after some ASME members expressed concern, and the committee determined that there was no violation of its guidelines.