The small food magazine is a species on the rise. A number have arrived in recent years, like Lucky Peach, with its smarts and swagger, and Kinfolk, an ethereal and arty vision of food as lifestyle.
Short Stack is a simpler production, and a more unusual one: a food publication that is honest-to-goodness about cooking. There are no photo shoots set at picnics, no impeccably bohemian homes whose occupants make fabulous jam. There are no wild travelogues or quirky interviews or ruminations on the magic of gathering friends around the table. There are only recipes, and good ones at that.
Short Stack is a year-old series of small, boldly designed booklets that fall somewhere between magazines and cookbooks. (In that way, it may be most like Canal House Cooking, the thrice-yearly cookbook-magazine hybrid with a cult following.)
Nick Fauchald, the Short Stack publisher and a co-founder, said the booklets were inspired by the recipe pamphlets that food brands and appliance companies put out in the 1940s and ‘50s. Ten booklets, called editions, have been released so far. Each is written by a different author who creates a collection of recipes that feature a specific ingredient: eggs, strawberries and buttermilk, to name a few.
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Authors, not chefs
Most of those authors are not chefs, but cookbook writers or recipe developers for magazines — professionals like Susan Spungen, the noted cookbook author and food stylist — who are constantly creating recipes with the home cook in mind. (Generally speaking, restaurant chefs are not known for their ability to distill their recipes for home cooks; Tyler Kord, of No. 7 restaurant, is the only one represented in the series so far.)
With recipe developers at the helm, it should be no surprise that the Short Stack recipes are consistently clear and precise, the descriptions vivid. That’s especially helpful considering there are no photos of the finished dishes; whimsical illustrations, which are often less than useful, dot the pages instead.
But solid recipes alone do not make great cookbooks (though they can make reliable ones). Recipes must entice cooks to get into the kitchen in the first place, and deliver satisfying results once they do. Short Stack largely succeeds here, too.
Creamy risotto studded with tender corn kernels may sound too heavy for summer heat. But the version from the writer Jessica Battilana’s corn edition was pleasingly light for risotto, a result of folding whipped cream into the mixture just before serving (a trick she attributes to the chef Barbara Lynch). Making corn stock to use in the dish adds about 45 minutes of cooking time, most of it unattended, but it amplifies the corn flavor to great effect.
The cookbook author and food editor Martha Holmberg offers a dish of chicken thighs roasted with plums and red onion that is succulent and tart, not to mention gorgeously hued. In that same edition, on plums, she also gives a recipe for ricotta with plum compote, in which the cheese is strained and folded into fresh whipped cream, then topped with the juicy compote. It’s sophisticated in its simplicity.
Not all gems
Not every edition is packed with gems: When so many different authors are in play, there is bound to be some unevenness from book to book. Some authors push their chosen ingredients to places that are intriguing, but can also seem odd or unnecessarily fussy. Others lean too heavily on the familiar, recipes that don’t feel inspired enough to have risen to the level of inclusion.
Likewise, different readers may respond to different authors; the home cook who embraces the tomato edition may not find anything to make in Kord’s treatise on broccoli. If you are a beet-loathing subscriber, you would be out of luck if that edition were ever to arrive in the mail. (Avoid that problem by doing what most readers have done: buy single issues, for $14 each, or three for $38, in stores and on the Short Stack website.)
Short Stack is a small project, each booklet modest in scope and size. But the editions are well designed and plucky, and flush with ideas — a little gift to home cooks who get their hands on them.
For the corn stock (optional; you may use chicken stock):
2 corn cobs (kernels removed and reserved for risotto)
1 onion, cut into quarters
1 carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 celery rib, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
Dark green leaves from 1 leek (reserve white and light green parts for risotto)
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
For the risotto:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 leek, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
6 cups hot corn stock or chicken stock
1½ cups raw corn kernels (from about 2 ears corn)
1 cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons minced chives (optional)
1. Make the stock: Combine all ingredients with 6 cups water in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat so liquid is simmering; cover pot and let simmer for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Add enough water to bring liquid up to 6 cups.
2. Make the risotto: Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a wide, high-sided saute pan over medium-low heat. Add leek and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about six minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add rice and cook, stirring, until grains look slightly translucent.
3. Pour in wine and cook, stirring, until it has all been absorbed, about two minutes.
4. Add a ladleful of hot corn stock to the rice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until rice has absorbed all of the stock. Continue cooking, adding ladlefuls of stock whenever rice mixture looks dry and stirring continuously. When half the stock has been added, stir in corn. Continue cooking until all of the stock is incorporated, corn is tender and rice is creamy and tender, about 30 to 40 minutes total.
5. Remove risotto from heat and stir in Parmesan and remaining tablespoon of butter. Cover and let stand for five minutes.
6. In an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat cream at high speed until it holds stiff peaks. Uncover risotto, stir vigorously and season to taste with salt and pepper. Immediately before serving, stir in the chives, if using, then gently fold in cream.
— Adapted from Jessica Battilana, Short Stack Editions