Mixed in with the Christmas cards, catalogs and other holiday mail was some sad news recently. The December issue of Cooking Light magazine arrived with a somber cover that proclaimed it “The Farewell Issue.”
After 31 years of steering readers toward healthier food choices, the magazine is throwing in the kitchen towel this month.
For many of those 31 years, I was a subscriber. My first subscription was a gift (and not-too-subtle hint) from my mother in law, but the recipes proved to be so useful that I kept renewing. More than any other publication or online site, Cooking Light was a source of healthy recipes that had wide appeal.
Those Cooking Light recipes were the ones that, time after time, went to potluck dinners and birthday parties. Several of the casseroles became such family favorites that they were later mainstays of care packages to my daughter in college. Even with shelves full of cookbooks, that one magazine provided the majority of the dishes that showed up when a friend was sick, had a new baby or a birthday.
One reason that those Cooking Light dishes were so widely shared was they were “clean” recipes that emphasized real food, passing muster with people who were avoiding additives and synthetic ingredients. Pork tenderloin with olives and fresh herbs was a particular favorite (and it didn’t hurt that pork tenderloins are usually sold in packages of two, so there was one for dinner and one to share.)
Those dishes also made the rounds because they were dependably good. Even with a considerable amount of the fat removed, a King Ranch-style chicken casserole retained all the flavor of the original and without using a single can of cream-of-anything soup.
Most of all, though, the recipes were cooked and shared because they were easy for a working mom to make. If time is short, the Mexican chicken casserole can get a head start by shredding a rotisserie chicken rather than poaching chicken breasts. It also lends itself to using leftover chicken or turkey, and takes post-holiday leftovers in a spicier direction.
Like the pork tenderloins, the Cooking Light Mexican chicken casserole made enough for two family meals, so by assembling it in two 8” by 8” pans, there is one ready for dinner and another for a friend or the freezer. To make it more freezable or portable, line the baking dish with heavy aluminum foil, assemble the casserole and then refrigerate it until it is firm enough to remove from the pan. It can be baked in the foil for easy clean-up.
Cooking Light’s version of Texas Sheet Cake became my go-to dessert because it is delicious, portable and the fastest cake that it’s possible to bake. Not only does it cook in just 22 minutes, there’s no cooling time because the icing is poured on while the cake is still hot. Even better, the icing can be made in the same pot used for the wet ingredients of the cake, without washing it in between.
I’ll miss Cooking Light and its dependably good recipes. Here are three are my all-time favorites; between the three, I’ve made them more than a hundred times for friends and family.