Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cookbook review: Cooking for Geeks

Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter is my new favorite cookbook.

And it has nothing to do with the fact that I'm a nerd.

(OK, a little.)

It sounds cliched, but this really is a great book for beginners and advanced cooks alike. It breaks down the science behind cooking, in a very readable and interesting and non-initimidating way. Think a cross between Alton Brown's "Good Eats" and "Mythbusters." It's similar in scope to On Food and Cooking, but On Food and Cooking is like the Encyclopedia Brittanica on the subject. It's not something you want to sit down and read cover to cover, you just keep it around for general reference purposes.

But Cooking for Geeks presents the same sort of stuff in a much more accessible way. It moves seamlessly between denatured proteins (what makes bad calamari rubbery, among other things), the difference between baking soda and baking powder, and the best way to hardboil an egg. (If you drop the egg into rapidly boiling water, it will be easier to peel. If you put the egg in the pan of cold water at the beginning, it will taste better. I always used the cold method, but I had no idea why. Now I do.) Gluten, error tolerances in measurements, wet- vs. dry-aged steaks, how your sense of smell affects how you taste--even (insert angelic chorus here) recipes for no-knead pizza dough and fat-washing alcohols.

Fat-washed alcohol = bacon-infused bourbon.

Oh yes.

As you may know, I have a long and mixed history with bacon-infused bourbon. While I'm completely enamored of the concept, my efforts to produce it have so far not yielded anything worth drinking. However, now--NOW!--I have a recipe that breaks it down, so I know exactly what I did wrong before and how to correct that. Stay tuned.

Typically when I get a new cookbook, I just skim it. I look through all the recipes and mark all the ones that look interesting. If I mark more than, say, 5 recipes, it's a keeper. Less than that, I'll just Xerox the interesting ones and keep those rather than the entire book. (Keeping in mind that I usually audition cookbooks by checking them out of the library first.) But this one demanded a full cover-to-cover analysis over the weekend.

It totally shot down all the other reading I was going to do.

THAT is an awesome cookbook.

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