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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Keys to Good Cooking

Keys to Good Cooking harold mcgee
Keys to Good Cooking
A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes
by Harold McGee

Does pan size influence the cooking process? How to keep wooden (or plastic) cutting boards clean? Different starches have different thickening power, which ones to use for what? Why is it that beans give people gas, how to minimize it? Does covering raw foods with oil allow botulism bacteria to grow?

Most cooks pick up a lot of information regarding food safety, cooking methods, useful tools and apparatus, in addition to recipes, good ingredients and basic methodology. This book collects a wide array of facts and tips and explanation that even an experienced cook might want to refer to on and off.

The seminal volume by the author, On food and Cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen, is a fantastic reference for the avid cook who is not all about recipes. While On food and Cooking might come across as sterile and scientific, Keys to Good Cooking distills scientific findings and presents it in an easy-to-digest form, practical and to-the-point.

I fell in love with this book as it focuses on providing an understanding of cooking, the whole cooking field. Being an intuitive cook with a chronic inability to follow recipes to the T, I look for general methodology and combination of ingredients and flavors rather than exact measures and step-by-step instructions for cooking a dish.

In that sense, the chemistry lessons from high school came in handy when I first started making dishes that use raising agents - use acid (like citric acid or lemon juice or even buttermilk) + alkali (baking soda) to release CO2 gas for that extra fluff. When to use baking powder versus baking soda and why... cast-iron skillet versus stainless steel pan for cooking - flow of heat energy... hot-soak the beans before cooking, (add bay leaves) - bio-chemistry... I am digressing.

A recent Xmas present, this book is much-loved already and will be well-used, possibly not dog-eared as I can't stand it, but, certainly treasured over the years.

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