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Reviewed by: Christine Oka, Research & Instruction, Northeastern University Libraries, Boston, MA
Thoughts of food dominate the holiday season-- from the making of traditional family favorites to creating new eating experiences. The fall 2016 charter issue of Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Magazine: the New Home Cooking combines the old and the new by exploring food and techniques from around the world. As Kimball states in the Editor’s Notes,, “There is no ‘ethnic cooking.’ It’s a myth. It’s just dinner or lunch served somewhere else in the world.” The magazine is part of his Milk Street venture which also includes a cooking school and “TV and radio enterprise that has a more global focus than America’s Test Kitchen.”
Comparisons with America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) are unavoidable as Christopher Kimball is founder of ATK and Cook’s Magazine (which later became Cook’s Illustrated) as well as Milk Street. Both magazines average about 30 pages per issue and six issues per year and go beyond pretty pictures of food and the recipes; readers learn about cooking techniques as well as the science behind it. Neither magazine carries advertising to avoid any perception of conflict of interest with product reviews. Coincidentally, the charter issue of Milk Street and January/February 2017 of Cook’s Illustrated had recipes featuring carrots; Milk Street presented grated carrot salad and Cook’s Illustrated covered the advantages of boiling carrots.
The difference is described on the Milk Street Magazine website which promises “recipes full of culinary secrets that produce fresher, smarter, and bolder foods with bigger flavors. The principles of cooking so you can improvise at the stove. A new repertoire of techniques . . . the best ways to use cookware, tools and gadgets.” The charter issue delivers on the international scope with Caramel Oranges-- updating an Italian classic, and showcasing baking techniques from London’s Violet Bakery. The bakery article contains Milk Street Basics on working with the proteins in egg whites to produce soft-whipped whites, along with a detailed recipe for Chocolate, Prune and Rum Cake. For savory, there’s an article with the question, “Most cultures don’t bother searing meat for stew. What do they know that we don’t?” Kimball explains the Maillard reaction which was based on abundance of meat and fuel; cooking “in Northern Europe was, in large part, heat applied to meat.” But where meat and fuel are less available in other parts of the world, flavor is developed not by searing, but with spices. The recipe here is based on a classic Yemeni dish, fahsa, composed of “aromatic vegetables with lamb or beef, warm spices and plenty of herbs.” Other spice notes for the No-Sear Lamb or Beef and Chickpea Stew recipe include “Chopping garlic produces harsh flavors. We prefer to use whole cloves, which lend a subtler flavor.” Another note-- in bold text-- Don’t use old spices-- reminds readers that spices should not be more than a year old. I need to clear out my spice rack.
Milk Street finishes up with reviews on books and tools written by Kimball. Both columns reflect Kimball’s personality. The book reviews include The Food & Wine of France, with an unexpected review of fiction; Sweetbitter is a semi-autobiographical novel about “Tess, who comes to New York to make her way in the world of restaurants.” This is also true with the reviews on Tools, which cuts to the chase with the name of the product, price information and a brief review. Here’s his take on the Lékué Cooking Mesh- $15. “This is absolutely not the type of kitchen tool I would be likely to use, but I have found it indispensable.”
The magazine is filled with Kimball’s no-nonsense and practical approach to what he calls “the new home cooking.”