In the interest of "research," The Accidental Locavore was looking at some postings on Food 52 and one that caught my eye was a discussion about food magazines. It's a hot topic and not without controversy. So let me chime in about what I read and why. Feel free to comment, you know you want to!
My current favorite is Food & Wine and it has been for quite a while. It's not as esoteric as Saveur or the late, lamented Gourmet, however it does manage to straddle the divide between too basic/boring and too laborious. The recipes are well written with times given, are easy to follow and cover a diverse range of foods and cultures. They usually offer-up wine pairings, although I have no idea how appropriate they are as I never refer to them (and would you pair a Provençal rosé with a tofu sandwich, really?). What also works is that the recipes are printed on the same page with the pictures, something I prefer for two reasons. First, you have the photo and recipe together and, secondly, because I tear out and file the pages in a binder, I don't have a strange mélange of recipes filed under "fish." My one long-standing complaint about F&W is that the index is somewhere in the front, not at the end, where almost everyone else puts it.
Next up: Bon Appétit. When Gourmet folded, Condé Nast switched everyone over to BA, then they changed the format completely, trying to appeal to a younger demographic. It was ugly, unreadable and unappetizing. Luckily, over time, one of us has mellowed. While the layouts still tend towards the cutesy-trendy, the photography is slicker than Food & Wine. The recipes are inconsistent, some of them having times, others not. Same thing for the layouts; most have recipes under photos while with others, recipes follow photo spreads or are continued in the back. And the index is easily found in the back of the book. However, when it comes to actually wanting to make the food (and let's face it, this is important), it's now a tie between BA and F&W.
Fine Cooking used to be a no-brainer for me. Although the photos were never the juiciest, the recipes were always comprehensive and were packaged with interesting articles on the science of cooking, helpful reader tips and reviews of cooking gear. If you were a hesitant cook, this would have been the magazine I would have referred you to, because they were always good at explaining techniques without dumbing it down for more advanced cooks. About a year ago, they, too, changed formats and while the photos are more appetizing, the recipes have been a big yawn. And even when they try to be advanced, it seems to fall flat, or maybe I've just fallen out of love.
You're probably wondering why Saveur or Cook's Illustrated aren't on my top three. The Locavore used to be a huge Saveur fan. Beautiful photos, exotic locales explored in-depth -- I had the first 100 issues and gave them all away. Why? With the exception of three recipes, I never cooked from it and that's what I read cooking magazines for. Their recipes are often complicated (which is ok), calling for a lot of hard-to-find ingredients (which isn't), so spur of the moment kitchen inspiration goes by the wayside.
Cook's Illustrated is another matter entirely. This may sound crazy, but you lose me at "illustrated." I love gorgeous food photos... gastroporn, as my friend Will calls it. On top of that there's a sanctimonious tone that you need to be a fan of and I'm not. Am I missing something? What are your top food mags?