Good magazines possess a distinct character, even within niche markets. Subscribing to them is like being a member of a club joined by shared desire. Gourmet was a smart food publication without ever being too haughty. Under editor in chief Ruth Reichl's 10-year vision, it became a peripatetic boho traveler marked by a healthy appetite, bountiful curiosity, deep pockets, and a penchant for harissa.
On Oct. 5, Condé Nast Publications, in a scorched-earth budget-cutting move, drove a cold stainless-steel knife through Gourmet's seemingly robust, 70-year-old heart.
The monthly was sacrificed along with Cookie, Modern Bride, and Elegant Bride, though none of those other periodicals enjoyed such an extended cozy relationship with almost one million readers. November will be the final feast, the Thanksgiving issue, traditionally with a cover of a sumptuous, chestnut-skinned turkey, as fetching as any starlet, and crammed with ingenious gravies, stuffings, and sides. Adobo turkey with red-chile gravy, who knew?
That issue is a keeper. But so were many others. My kitchen bookcase became a Babel of dog-eared, sauce-splattered issues, containing favorites like the dark gingerbread pear cake or the penne with sun-dried tomatoes and arugula. Then, I took to epicurious.com, Condé Nast's indispensable Web site that blends recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appétit, the larger, more sensible, yet less sensuous magazine spared from the chopping block.
It was the fact that Gourmet lived in the kitchen, as opposed to lying forgotten on some bedside table, that made the publication so vital, an actively embraced participant in daily life.
When you signed up with Gourmet, it was often for life. You don't outgrow food magazines, particularly ones distinguished for their sophistication and utility, the way you might with fashion or home periodicals. Your taste grows along with the editorial mandate. "This magazine invented the epicurean category in the U.S.," Reichl said last week. "You read the magazine and you get a picture of America through its food."
Unlike fashion magazines - I maintain a long, complex, often emotionally unrewarding relationship with Vogue - smart food writing and recipes don't come with exacting expiration dates. Certainly, that's been true since cooking moved away from the stale gastronomy of casseroles and dips. Yet, Gourmet celebrated the Mad Men era, reprising recipes from the archives. And did it ever embrace experimental libations, rarely resisting an herb, spice, or exotic fruit that couldn't be stewed in some hooch.
Gourmet embraced high and low. It was the vast, unremarkable middle - exigency over character and seasonal freshness at all costs embraced by Food Network Triscuits Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee - that the magazine eschewed. The current restaurant issue includes a roundup of America's best hot dogs, plus critic suggestions for masticating your way through $1,000 in select cities, both fancy and take-out. In recent issues, Gourmet celebrated such Philadelphia gustatory gifts as Marc Vetri, Jose Garces, Michael Solomonov - and the roast pork Italian with broccoli rabe at Paesano's in Fishtown and Tony Luke's on Oregon Avenue.
The magazine's large, inclusive appetite long made a move away from all things fussy, French or Italian over all else, encouraging culinary wanderlust, exposing readers to Scandinavia, Central America, and northern Africa. Hence the harissa.
Under Reichl, Gourmet locked into a distinct visual look, haute-hippie international polyglot photo shoots featuring dining alfresco in all seasons or at a second country home distressed just so. Readers lusted to dine at handsome, thoughtful, yet seemingly casual gatherings. It was Wellies with Wellington. Once or twice I remember being at just such a perfect evening, gasping, "This is so gorgeous, we ought to be in Gourmet." It was the highest accolade you could pay a savvy host.
Planned almost a year in advance, the magazine could be overthought and removed from food's sensual pleasures. This September's ABC primer issue, with corresponding tips and recipes, was a bust. Condé Nast has long encouraged its top editors to become imperious stars, and Reichl, a former Los Angeles and New York Times critic, took to the position with mixed results. She grabbed most credit in the enormous, useful (though unfortunate yellow) 2004 Gourmet cookbook, and in some rueful, indulgent Web site videos.
Reichl is a best-selling memoirist (Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples) with a gift for confession. "Privacy is overrated," she told me. A day after losing her job and magazine, Reichl, 61, reported that she was contemplating yet another memoir - a fifth! - this one about her Condé Nast years.
Ironically for all her voice, Reichl was less successful at cultivating a gallery of new, distinct writers, unlike the late Art Cooper at GQ or über-Condé editor Anna Wintour of Vogue, who cultivated the witty Jeffrey Steingarten, then a lawyer with an exceptional appetite. Gourmet could be witty and clever, but rarely funny. After all these years, there must be other masters of road food besides the ubiquitous Jane and Michael Stern. The magazine looked better than it read, and will be remembered more for its recipes, intelligence, and bold roads traveled than for the succulence and ingenuity of the prose, David Foster Wallace's 2004 "Consider the Lobster" a rare exception.
Still, for many of us who love the magazine, and remain dependent upon it for inspiration, this is bitter fruit, a lot less to bring to the table. Just like American cooking, though, we'll have to adapt.
Ginger Garlic Green Beans
Makes 4 servings
1 pound green beans, trimmed
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated peeled ginger
2 teaspoons rice vinegar, not seasoned
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted (see Note)
1. Cook beans in a 6-quart pot of boiling, well-salted water, uncovered, until just tender, 6 to 7 minutes. Drain in a colander, then plunge into an ice bath to stop cooking.
2. Drain beans and pat dry.
3. While beans cook, mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt, then stir together with soy sauce, ginger, vinegar, and oils in a large bowl.
4. Add beans and toss. Serve sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.
Note: Toast sesame seeds in a shallow baking pan in a 350-degree oven until golden, 5 to 15 minutes.
Per serving: 84 calories, 3 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 5 grams fat, no cholesterol, 250 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber EndText
Mustard-Crusted Pork With Carrots and Lentils
Makes 4 servings
1 pound precut fresh carrot sticks
5 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
1 (1 1/4 pound) pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, divided
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 15-ounce cans lentils, rinsed and drained
2/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees with rack in the middle.
2. Toss carrots with 2 tablespoons oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a shallow baking pan and roast while preparing pork.
3. Pat pork dry and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium high heat until it shimmers, then brown pork all over, about three minutes total.
4. Put pork on a work surface and brush with 1 tablespoon mustard. Stir together breadcrumbs and 1/2 tablespoon oil, then press onto mustard on pork to form a crust.
5. Transfer pork to pan with carrots and roast until carrots are browned and tender and an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of meat registers 140 to 145 degrees, 15 to 22 minutes; keep carrots warm, covered (or continue roasting if needed).
6. While pork roasts, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil with garlic and thyme in a small saucepan until fragrant, about 1 minute.
6. Stir in lentils, broth, and remaining tablespoon mustard, and cook until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and discard thyme. Serve pork with carrots.
Dark Gingerbread Pear Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake, 8 servings
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses (not robust or blackstrap)
3 large eggs
1/4 cup grated peeled ginger
1 Bosc pear
Whipped cream (for optional topping)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle.
2. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan, knocking out excess.
3. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt.
4. Melt the butter with the water.
5. Beat together brown sugar and molasses with an electric mixer until combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well. Beat in flour mixture at low speed until just combined.
6. Add butter mixture and ginger, beating just until smooth. Pour into cake pan.
7. Peel pear and cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Scatter over batter. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
8. Cool slightly. Serve with whipped cream if desired.
Per serving (without whipped cream): 346 calories, 5 grams protein, 50 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams sugar, 14 grams fat, 112 milligrams cholesterol, 272 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiberEndText