When I first started writing this column Cooking Light magazine was a mere 5 years old and was, like a precocious child, still trying to understand what it was all about. Flash forward to 2012 and Cooking Light, now a mature 25, continues plugging along and just released its weightiest (more than 4 pounds) cookbook, "The New Way to Cook Light" (Oxmoor, $34.95).
There's a lot to like in this sleek, encyclopedic hardcover, such as a boatload of fresh recipes (400-plus) and more than 200 color pictures. Those recipes cut a wide cultural swath and include tempting titles like Korean Binimpop, Phyllo Samosas with Mint Chutney, Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Dressing, Spinach and Smoked Gouda Quiche, Roasted Moroccan-Spiced Chicken with Grapes and very American takes on Triple-Chocolate Cake and Creamy Light Macaroni and Cheese.
Recipe instructions are clear and precise and remind me more of Fine Cooking's ultra-detailed recipes than recipes from Cooking Light's earlier days.
The editors should be commended for their frequent use of high-flavor, real ingredients, such as extra-sharp cheddar cheese, in reduced amounts to guarantee palate-satisfying flavors and textures. No more hard-to-use, flat-tasting products like fat-free cheese.
Some recipe pages include useful technique tips and tidbits about nutrition, global flavors and sustainability and beverage pairings.
What's not so good is its uneven use of healthier ingredients such as organics. For example, the ingredient list for split pea soup lists organic vegetable broth, but in the recipe for tofu fried rice, organic tofu isn't even suggested, even though some 90 percent of all soybeans (from which tofu's made) are genetically engineered.
And while there's a growing concern with sugars in our food, the nutritional analysis ignores sugar content. We get the usual suspects -- calories, fat (including saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), protein, carbohydrate, fiber, cholesterol, sodium -- plus calcium and iron. Why is iron content included and not sugars?
I expect to find a few harder-to-find ingredients in a gourmet-level cookbook, I was surprised to see that Cooking Light requires toasted hazelnut oil for its Green Salad with Hazelnut Vinaigrette. Toasted hazelnut oil tastes good and adds unique flavor notes, but few of us have it in our pantries or could find it at the local grocery store.
I'm also not impressed with the book's typeface. I want a cookbook's print to be clean, clear and easily readable -- generally black ink on white pages. This book uses medium-gray ink for recipe instructions making it hard to read in anything less than bright kitchen light.
Bottom line: even though it has some flaws, this new Cooking Light cookbook will inspire you to head into the your kitchen and will show you exactly how to cook up something lighter and healthy.
Try this recipe: Here's a tasty sample of what you'll find in "The New Way to Cook Light." Try it now or put it on your Thanksgiving menu.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.