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31 May, 2011

Inspiration, at a (tiny?) price

Posted in : Tools & Resources, Yay, Deals! on by : Lauri Tags: ,

With the plethora of excellent recipe websites available, it might seem unnecessary to buy a cooking magazine.  But there is nothing like flipping through the glossy pages of a well-constructed culinary mag.  Some call it “food porn”.  Others see it as irrelevant to their everyday lives.  But gourmet magazines like Saveur, Food & Wine, and Eating Well can provide considerable inspiration and ideas for future kitchen experiments.  Consider buying a few individual copies to get out of a rut, expand your pantry (within reason), and pick up a new skill or two.  I’ve divided some of the popular mags into three rather arbitrary categories for your convenience.  Pick up something new and see where it takes you:

The Hybrids

They may seem snooty, but they pack a a big punch of functionality.  Don’t be put off by dishes that look complicated: these publications offer well-written instructions and great ideas for fresh meals at home.

Bon Appetit:  This magazine always reminds me of my aunt Sally, who was a fabulous cook and who left her kitchen far too early.  It’s also the inspiration behind this post, as Groupon currently has an extraordinary deal on a year’s subscription, available for the next few days: for the price of about a mag & a half, you can get a full year.  Since Condé Nast axed Gourmet magazine (which I viewed as the top of the heap) in November 2010, they’re putting their culinary energy into this longstanding favorite.  It’s not as refined as it once was, as the editors seem to be taking it further into Everymanland.  But Bon Appetit has a lot to offer:  more accessible than some of the über-luxurious mags below, but its horizons are still sufficiently broad to carry adventure in every issu, and their recipes are still close enough to home that you’ll find things you can relate to.  It’s a nice hybrid that provides plenty of fodder for wing-spreading at home.

Other hybrids:

Everyday wonders

In the face of today’s big TV personalities and corporate-drenched marketing strategies, classics such as Good Housekeeping and the Ladies’ Home Journal seem tepid and old-fashioned.  With the advent of Martha Stewart in the 1980s, food photography changed the landscape, and visual impact made home publishing much more powerful business enterprise with a bigger audience and deeper pockets.  With exceptions like the ever-evolving Cooking Light, the big sellers nowadays are Rachael Ray’s magazine (she’s much better in print) and Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, which are both good examples of modern housekeeping.  I’m a particular fan of Real Simple, which covers more ground (organization, personal finance) and packs appeal beyond ethnic, socioeconomic and even gender boundaries.  Any of these will offer familiar themes and a multitude of ways to elaborate on recipes that are far from scary.  They’re a great place to start, and you might actually find one you love.

Luxe and Luscious

Gorgeous images, high-end styling and the most decadent food you’ll find. We’ve mentioned a couple already, but they’re worth repeating, from the sublime:

  • Saveur
  • Food & Wine
  • Food Arts:  Designed for the hotel and restaurant industries, non-industry folks can get a subscription for $40/year if they want to splurge a bit on an over-the-top treat.  (You’ll learn a whole lot about what other people do to make you dinner!

to the ridiculous:

  • Affluent Magazine:  Catering to the richest readers (or those aiming for that bracket), there is little in this magazine that pertains to most people’s lives.  But it’s a fascinating (and sometimes laughable) read.  My favorite part is the appliances and gadgets: wonders of technology that can solve problems you didn’t know you had…for a mere bundle.

Don’t forget the ‘local luxe’ magazines:  in my neck o’ the woods, that means Los Angeles, Angeleno, Orange Coast, Santa Barbara, etc.  They’ll point you to restaurants and boutiques you probably can’t afford, but you’ll also be surprised at how many things you can re-create in your own kitchen, once your skills start building.  Think of it as a personal challenge: find something you love, and do it both cheaper and a whole lot better.  Once in a while, it really is fun!

Can’t decide?

Starting at just $4.95 a month, you can try out different magazines from a wide variety of categories through MagHound.com, an almost miraculous service that allows you surprising flexibility for a flat rate.  Get mags by mail, change your combo between shipments, and test-drive new titles until you find your faves.  Great selection, and a great idea!

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