In recent years, Get Martha Stewart has become one of our nation’s favorite pastimes. From the feds to hamstrung kitchenistas, all have lined up for a piece of this nouveau icon and is it really a surprise? The backlash had been building for some time—weary were the legions of housewives and gay men unable to keep pace with the exacting standards set forth on her morning show, and the seeming mountains of magazines and how-to books. When the queen of household perfection went to jail, a collective sigh echoed throughout the land.
All the bad publicity obscured the fact that in 2003 her company launched a new publication called Everyday Food. Difficult to recognize as a stepchild of Martha Stewart Living—on early issues, her name appears in the magazine world’s version of fine print—it literally snuck onto newsstands with barely a whimper. It’s a shame because this slip of a magazine is the antithesis of the glossy tome that filled many a reader with apoplexy. Everyday Food accomplishes something I never thought I’d see: a recipe book that’s actually useful, presenting delicious dishes that for the most part, are do-able no matter how late you get home from the office. Rarely do they require an excess of time, or ingredients that have to be shipped from in Timbuktu.
The layout is gloriously simple. A glance at the table of contents reveals five sections: pasta, more main dishes, sides and dessert. The variable fifth part might include suggestions on light meals, using the seasons as a guide—for instance, soups and stews get showcased in winter, while in summer attention turns to salads and seasonal vegetables.
For time challenged people who love to cook, the biggest revelation is the minimum prep. While no one can rival Martha for organization—yes, most of your chopping can be done while you wait for the water to boil—some of these dishes actually come in under time, like the creamy polenta. Watching those calories? I discovered dishes requiring olive oil or butter could be made with the recommended portions of fat reduced, like the shrimp with garlic and lemon. Unlike a lot of recipes, these don’t suffer terribly if you’re missing an ingredient or two. Sautéed Broccoli Rabe is nice with the toasted pine nuts, but if they’re not readily available, the other ingredients (lemon zest, salt and pepper) provide plenty of potent flavors.
Culinary techniques and housekeeping get their due (the cult of Martha isn’t entirely dead). Sprinkled throughout the booklets are informative pages on ingredients and equipment care (the section’s title phrase, “What is it?” has become a buzzword in our household) that will benefit even the seasoned cook. If you think couscous is a clever name for someone’s poodle, a page covering the grades and methods of preparation will put you in the know, while a primer on vinaigrettes got me out of my salad dressing rut, inspiring me to incorporate unconventional ingredients (cinnamon works great as a pepper substitute). I was grateful for the tips on wrought iron skillet care (coarse salt as a cleaning agent–who knew?), and you’ll swear that your mother wrote the section on how to achieve perfect egg whites.
Everyday Food isn’t perfect – included are time-eating wrestling matches with phyllo dough, and a recipe for chicken enchiladas made with corn tortillas that is a mini opera (could someone tell me how to keep the tortillas from breaking when you roll them?). The Martha of old also lives in the baking sections; Brownie Hearts and Brownie Bites are classic examples of an idea overworked – this type of food engineering telegraphs that we’re un-chic philistines to settle for a simple tray of brownies cut in squares. Thankfully most of Everyday Food is free of such excess. Humbled by her recent experiences, maybe Martha is finally thinking about the little people. And that’s a good thing.