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The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore

Overview

When Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking was published in 1984, it proved to be one of the sleepers of the year, eventually going through eight hardcover printings. It was hailed as a "minor masterpiece" (Time magazine), and reviewers around the world praised McGee for writing the first book for the home cook that translated into plain English what scientists had discovered about our foods (like why chefs beat egg whites in copper bowls and why onions make us cry). After finishing that encyclopedic overview, McGee...
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Overview

When Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking was published in 1984, it proved to be one of the sleepers of the year, eventually going through eight hardcover printings. It was hailed as a "minor masterpiece" (Time magazine), and reviewers around the world praised McGee for writing the first book for the home cook that translated into plain English what scientists had discovered about our foods (like why chefs beat egg whites in copper bowls and why onions make us cry). After finishing that encyclopedic overview, McGee set out to further investigate the science of everyday cooking and pursue some particularly alluring leads. The result is The Curious Cook-certain to become a kitchen classic as well as an armchair favorite. In this lighthearted yet eminently informative book, McGee applies a scrupulous scientific method to his activities with pots and pans, examining many traditional practices and the biochemical nature of common foods. He offers a feast of chapters that answer questions such as: Why do lettuces, avocados, and basil leaves turn brown, and how can you retain the green in salads, guacamole, and pesto? How do you keep tender meats from becoming tough by the end of the braise? Is it preferable to clean mushrooms with a moist cloth instead of rinsing them? Does hot water freeze faster than cool water? How do you take the wind out of Jerusalem artichokes? What's the secret to beurre blanc? What's the difference between granita, water ice, and fruit ice, and how do you make and serve each of them? And if the hazards of salmonella in raw eggs have left you wondering what to do about mayonnaise, hollandaise, and other sauces, McGee has an answer for that, too. He describes a simple way to eliminate the bacteria from yolks so that homemade sauces can be salmonella- and worry-free. McGee muses on the fact that although many of us are eating better and more variously than ever before, we're also more anxious that our eating habits will do us in. Taking heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's in turn, hegets at the facts underlying the current dietary controversies. His findings put to rest many time-honored myths and help us develop a balanced outlook on diet and health. McGee is a rarity-a food writer with a knack for science and a scientist with a penchant for grace and style. Who better to shed light on the daily wonders in our kitchens? Filled with literary and historical anecdotes, packed with fascinating scientific lore, The Curious Cook demonstrates that science can enrich our experiences of cooking, eating-and living.

In this follow-up to the award-winning On Food and Cooking, McGee continues to put into plain English for home cooks what scientists have discovered about food. He lays to rest countless time-honored culinary myths and answers questions about salmonella, keeping meats tender, and much more. 25 line drawings.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Not a recipe collection but a series of investigations into culinary problems and dogma, this combines McGee's ( On Food and Cooking ) appreciation of the good life with his background in biochemistry and dedication to experimental procedure. In the first section the author reconsiders received truths, such as ``sear the meat to seal in the juices,'' and proceeds to demonstrate, in this case, that it just isn't so. He evolves a means for the home cook to sterilize egg yolks without ruining them for hollandaise or mayonnaise, and discusses the function of sugar in sherbet texture. Explaining the relevant chemistry in accessible terms, McGee appeals to those who savor nuances of method in problem-solving, but in spite of some witty touches and a tone much lightened by etymological and historical asides, his very perseverance can become wearisome. The second section addresses health problems associated with eating habits, including a lengthy and informative, though scarcely comforting, treatment of cholesterol's impact on the circulatory system. In the final, highly readable section, McGee offers a more subjective view of gastronomy in essays paying tribute to Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and the continuing quest for a science of taste. (Oct.)
George Lang
The Curious Cook is as explosive as a le Carr yarn, as simple as good bread, as complex as a classic sauce, and as enlightening as only Harold McGee can be.
—George Lang, owner of the Caf des Artistes restaurant in New York City
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780020098010
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/15/1992
  • Edition description: 1st Collier Books ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments.
Introduction.
PART ONE: Playing with Food: Experiments.
1. The Searing Truth: Cooking always squeezes out meat juices.
2. Oil Drops Keep Falling on My Toque: The fate of spatter from the frying pan.
3. Simmering Down: Cooking tender meats well below the boil.
4. The Green and the Brown: How to keep the green color of salads and sauces.
5. Taking the Wind Out of the Sunroot: Making the Jerusalem artichoke more digestible.
6. Beurre Blanc: Butter's Undoing: A sauce made by transforming butter back into cream.
7. Simplifying Hollandaise and Béarnaise: Properly understood, these sauces almost make themselves.
8. Mayonnaise: Doing More with Lecithin: Mayonnaise can be made with little or no egg yolk.
9. Persimmons Unpuckered: Updating ancient Chinese methods of artificial ripening.
10. Fruit Ices, Cold and Calculated: Three dozen fruits, five styles.
11. The Pleasures of Merely Measuring: Prowling the kitchen with thermometer and stopwatch.
PART TWO: Making the Good Life Better.
12. Fat and the Heart: Coping with quirky biology.
13. Food and Cancer: Learning how to improve our odds.
14. Minding the Pots and Pans: The Case of Aluminum: No metal surface is inert.
PART THREE: Reflections.
15. The Physiologist of Taste: Science in Brillat-Savarin's classic.
16. The Saga of Osmazome: The early chemistry of gastronomical pleasure.
17. From Raw to Cooked: The Transformation of Flavor: Why does the human animal like cooked foods?
Appendix.
Bibliography.
Index.
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