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Undercooking Light

The Queen and I subscribed to Cooking Light magazine last year. Great recipes, as long as you're aware of the algorithm they use to encrypt them and can translate them back into Actual Cuisine. For those not in the know, here's the secret: before you begin, run your finger down the list of ingredients and quintuple the amount of any foodstuff that you look forward to ingesting:

Cooking Light amountActual Cuisine amount
2 tsp. butter3 ½ tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 endive, washed and torn1 endive, washed and torn
1 egg white3 eggs
¼ cup sugar1 ¼ cups sugar
½ tsp. capers½ tsp. capers
4 cups chopped chicken2 chickens

I stumbled across the secret one evening while making a recipe that called for "1/8 cup cheddar cheese," a quantity as wildly improbable as "17 ounces of black pepper." "One cup" is the fundamental, atomic unit of shredded cheese -- did the editors of Cooking Light think we would not know this?

Another thing you need to increase by an order of magnitude is the recipies' cooking time for anything that involves meat. Maybe the guys who write Cooking Light are all vegans and have to guestimate on matters of carnivory or something, but the directions are always, like

Add ginger, minced lemongrass, garlic to pan and saute until browned. Add soy sauce mixture, cook for 3 minutes on medium-high heat. Add raw chicken, cook for an additional 30 seconds stirring frequently, serve over rice.
I know that you are supposed to increase cooking times at high altitudes, so I can only assume that these recipes were field-tested by a race of svelte merfolk dwelling on the floor of the Pacific.

I will say that I have lost a considerable amount of weight using Cooking Light's recipes. Eating undercooked pork three days a week will do that to a guy.

Posted on April 03, 2006 to Observations


Thanks for the heads up. My sister-in-law just got me a subscription to Cooking Light for my birthday. Though I'm a little dismayed at how much of the magazine is dedicated to entirely random, non-cooking, topics, the recipes look pretty good at first blush. But I'm always a little leery of people who don't think cheese can qualify as a main ingredient.

Posted by: Heather on April 4, 2006 3:39 PM

Glad to have you back. Please note: the other important part of the code is to ignore all pleas for the addition of sun dried tomatoes.

Posted by: Lulufadoo on April 4, 2006 4:25 PM

we had a subscription to cooking light and let it lapse. that magazine never failed in turning me off from cooking.

now we suscribe to eating well, and i swear there are at least a half-dozen recipes in every issue which make me salivate.

Posted by: ikes on April 4, 2006 4:31 PM

I used to read cooking light. Now I read La Cucina Italia. When I was in Italy, I noticed all the people there were pretty thin and ate some of the best darned food on the planet. The lesson there seemed to be if you're going to eat a lot, then do it over a couple of hours with a lotta wine and espresso.

And the pizze. Uwagghh.

Posted by: dunsany on April 4, 2006 5:01 PM

My sentiments exactly. Sprinkle the 2 oz of cheese over the two large pizzas and voila, there's your soggy crust that looks like a pizza where someone forgot the cheese. And a serving is one slice. Show me someone who eats one slice of pizza and I will show you Lindsay Lohan.

And non-fat cream cheese, whipped topping and butter-flavored cooking spray? You might as well just kill me for how much I enjoy that stuff. I would rather - well, almost - be dead.

Posted by: Sue on April 4, 2006 5:23 PM

Is it just me or is there a preponderance of advertisments regarding depression and cats in Cooking Light?

Posted by: MrChucho on April 4, 2006 5:33 PM

I. Could. Not. Agree. More.

I supscribe to CL, and while I love it - I really do - I consider its recipes to be more guidelines than anything. An 'ooh, this combination of ingredients looks lovely!' then I do it my way.

And to me, 1/2 tsp capers actually means 4 T capers. I like capers. One can never have too many capers. And who the hell uses 1/8 cup of cheese? Have you ever seen 1/8 cup? It's like a tablespoon of cheese. I couldn't taste 1/8 cup of cheese if I poured it directly into my mouth and chewed. Christ.

Posted by: jonniker on April 4, 2006 5:38 PM

And, um, I subscribe. Not supscribe. Maybe that second beer wasn't such a good idea.

And why doesn't it remember my info? WHY? *shakes fist*

Posted by: jonniker on April 4, 2006 5:39 PM

I think you are the first person in the history of both writing and speaking to ever construct the phrase "svelte merfolk". Just thought I'd put that out there, because it was also hilarious.

Posted by: chris r on April 4, 2006 6:30 PM

Yeah; I used to read Cooking Light and then do Cooking RIGHT by actually adding Real Quantities to the recipes. I busted out laughing at Mr. Chucho's astute observation of ads featuring a plethora of depression and cats! Well - yeah! If you're a faithful follower of Cooking Light, you'd be too damn weak to walk a dog, and pretty depressed about having to own a cat, instead!

I met Jane Fonda at some charity function. I was sitting a few people away from her, and noticed that she just pushed food around on her plate, and actually ate 1/3 of a banana. Or maybe not even that much. Svelte MerFolk, indeed. Starving MerFolk, more like it. No wonder the Slink and Pose Famous Celebrities are such raving lunatics - Splurge and eat a goddam chicken leg, already!

Posted by: Vickee on April 4, 2006 6:45 PM

Ah, yes, the fastest way to the hospital is through the door marked "undercooked pork".

Glad you're back. I was starting to experience withdrawals.

Posted by: Shannon on April 4, 2006 7:57 PM

I don't read Cooking Light--I don't even cook--but I laughed myself into a coughing fit reading this post. And the comments are pretty hilarious too. Thanks.

Posted by: Hey Paul on April 4, 2006 10:23 PM

I beg to differ on the atomic fundamentality of the cup. In Mexican cooking the unit has for years been the HF, short for handful, a term which is both singular and plural. A typical instruction for nachos might be, "Sauce and cover with two HF jellow cheese." You had me in stitches about cooking times, but the truth is that only one cooking time really exists: cook until done.

Posted by: Evan Jones on April 4, 2006 10:58 PM

Welcome back, you were missed.

Slash I find healthy cooking a waste. Just eat a krispy kreme and enjoy it. Forget calories. You'll die anyways. Maybe sooner than later with all the krispy kremes, but at least you will die happy.

Posted by: John on April 4, 2006 11:32 PM

You might like Cook's Illustrated better. The recipes are PERFECT the first time around, no changes needed. It wlso comes with very nice illustrations (hence the name) showing you how to handle the hard stuff, and reviews that I've found to be spot-on. Basically think of it as the Consumer Reports for the kitchen. My only problem with it is that it only comes out every other month. The editor's introduction does seem like he's showing off his New England upper class life a little, but the recipes and reviews are awesome.


Posted by: Brendan on April 5, 2006 12:11 AM

I think they use the same algorithm on the serving sizes. Seriously. A half cup of pasta is a serving? That's obscene.

Posted by: ap on April 5, 2006 6:52 AM

I'll second the recommendation for Cook's Illustrated. They not only tell you what to do, they tell you what not to do and why.

Plus if a recipe needs a pound of butter, it calls for a pound of butter. No translation needed.


Posted by: jconde on April 5, 2006 7:08 AM

I was wondering where that formula was! I picked up a CL last week in hopes of having something tasty to eat that would counterbalance the obscene amount of French food that gets cooked in this house. I got to page ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE before I found any food-related content. After filleting the magazine, I was left with about twenty pages of recipes (including many pages with full page ads on one side).

I made something from it the other night, and did a double-take as I was reaching for the butter -- did they really ask for a teaspoon of butter? Honestly, I didn't know butter came in such small denominations.

Posted by: Miriam on April 5, 2006 7:14 AM

I love Cooking Light. I'd say we're batting about .700 on good/no good, even on some of the crazier recipies (Caramel Apple Pork, anyone?). Plus, each issue has roughly 90 gajillion recipes, as opposed to most cooking mags that might have ten or so.

Posted by: Eamon on April 5, 2006 8:59 AM

Hear, hear for Cook's Illustrated. They love butter and flavor and make no bones about it. They do, at times, go a bit overboard.

Posted by: csibona on April 5, 2006 9:13 AM

The antidote to Cooking Light

Posted by: Jake Brake on April 5, 2006 9:57 AM

My mom used to pass down her old issues of CL to me, with the caveat, "But YOU have to double everything." (I was, at the time, on the too-thin side; and there's no Cooking Heavy magazine out there, unfortunately.)

On the subject of CL's plethora of ads: another plus for the Cook's Illustrated reader is that there are no ads. None. Which means every ish is packed with goodness, and the reviews can be looked at with confidence that there's no bias.

Posted by: Khate on April 5, 2006 11:34 AM

I too thoroughly enjoyed "svelt merfolk." It's a good reminder to keep "shaking stars from an orange tree," vocabulary-wise.

...see? see what I did there? trying to increase my coolness factor by making a reference to a comment thread on a DY post from 2 months ago??...

Posted by: CarrieD on April 5, 2006 12:02 PM

Well, as long as were recommending... Fine Cooking (by Taunton) is totally the magazine to have. It's the only cooking magazine I've seen that actually FEATURES the recipes, as opposed to just tucking them off to the side in a block of text.

I like Cook's Illustrated, but I find that their R&D is a bit too stringent -- you end up feeling like you'll ruin the recipe if you substitute jack cheese instead of cheddar, because they TRIED jack and it was just NOT as good.

Posted by: Eileen on April 5, 2006 1:01 PM

Been using recipes from CL for years, and have noticed exactly the same thing. And I'll be damned if I'm going to use fat free cottage cheese and fat free... well... anything. We usually double them up to get at least a few leftovers. We've been pretty happy with the acutal meals, but we pick and choose.

We've recently become addicted to Rachel Ray's new magazine - definitely not "lite" recipes, but we've yet to find one we didn't like. And then there is the recipe book my grandmother gave us from her church: "add 2 pints heavy whipping cream, a stick of butter, and a small wheelbarrow of lard..." Mmmm. Lard.

Posted by: north on April 5, 2006 1:49 PM

Cook's Illustrated, eh? But the important question is: do they have a swimsuit issue? ;)

Posted by: Heather on April 5, 2006 4:02 PM

I love Cook's Illustrated, and to a slightly lesser degree, its new sister mag, Cook's Country. CI does have a bias, though, and that's to the Northeast. You don't see it alot (except for Christopher Kimball's editor's note) but they're all a bunch of dang yankees when it comes to some traditional american dishes, where that tradition varies from place to place. At the very least, you get the sense that there's some east-coaster tampering with some of the dishes. I'm from Virginia, not the deep south or anything, but some things just sound a little off for those of us who've never been sugaring or owned a lobster pot.

But it's true-- their recipes are mind-bogglingly foolproof if you do what they say, and use what they say, and even if it doesn't look perfect, the taste is always good. Their book collections are also good. (By god, don't give them your email address-- you'll get a ton of great offers on their books-- too many.) I swear by Baking Illustrated.

Another recipe book I recommend is called "Everything Tastes Better with Bacon," which has about 40 recipes for everything from breakfast to dessert. You really should try some bacon brittle.

Posted by: LAN3 on April 5, 2006 4:12 PM

I have the exact opposite problem with "Cooking Fat" magazine.

Posted by: Neil on April 5, 2006 6:34 PM

Trying. So hard. Not to laugh out loud. At work.

Posted by: Pat J on April 6, 2006 11:15 AM

So funny. I'm sending this to my sister, who loves Cooking Light but is also aware of their add-one-third-cup-of-chocolate-chips-ness. I, myself, like Cook's Illustrated-- especially how they start off their articles by COMPLETELY ripping a dish apart and then slowly, throught their careful work, are able to construct a version (finally!) that is palatable. They also really like vanilla.

Posted by: Jennifer on April 6, 2006 7:24 PM

I've also found that sources like Cooking Light will add 1/4 chicken broth instead of, say, one or two tablespoons of olive oil or butter. Like the reader above (Jennifer), I'm a Cook's Illustrated follower.

Posted by: mroberts on April 13, 2006 2:31 PM

OK, now I see that almost half the commenters have stood up for Cook's Illustrated - tells you something, huh? Dig up their double chocolate pudding recipe, trust me.

Posted by: mroberts on April 13, 2006 2:36 PM