What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained

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Overview

"Wolke is Martha Stewart with a PhD."—'American Scientist'
"Wolke, longtime professor of chemistry and author of the 'Washington Post' column Food 101, turns his hand to a Cecil Adams style compendium of questions and answers on food chemistry. Is there really a difference between supermarket and sea salt How is sugar made? Should cooks avoid aluminum pans? Interspersed throughout Wolke's accessible and humorous answers to these and other mysteries are recipes demonstrating scientific principles. There is ...

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Overview

"Wolke is Martha Stewart with a PhD."—'American Scientist'
"Wolke, longtime professor of chemistry and author of the 'Washington Post' column Food 101, turns his hand to a Cecil Adams style compendium of questions and answers on food chemistry. Is there really a difference between supermarket and sea salt How is sugar made? Should cooks avoid aluminum pans? Interspersed throughout Wolke's accessible and humorous answers to these and other mysteries are recipes demonstrating scientific principles. There is gravy that avoids lumps and grease; Portuguese Poached Meringue that demonstrates cream of tartar at work; and juicy Salt-Seared Burgers.... With its zest for the truth, this book will help cooks learn how to make more intelligent choices."—'Publishers Weekly'

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Does it ever really get hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk? What's the best way of preventing soda from going flat? Does belching contribute to global warming? You've got questions; Robert Wolke has answers.

Wolke, a chemistry professor emeritus and winner of several food journalism awards, dishes out funny and scientific answers to common questions in this collection of his best "Food 101" columns in The Washington Post. Who says food science can't be fun?

Here's a sample of Wolke's approach:

  • Do microwaves change the molecular structure of foods? Answer: "Yes, of course they do. The process is called cooking."
  • If corn is a low-fat food, how do they get all that corn oil out of it? Answer: "They use a lot of corn."
  • Why do recipes tell us to marinate dishes overnight? Answer: "I'm with you. Why overnight? Are we to believe that daylight somehow interferes with the marinating process? Generally, 'overnight' is intended to mean eight to ten hours."
Wolke tackles many common food mysteries -- why brown sugar hardens (and what to do about it), what's the best way to cook a lobster, and how to boil water the quickest way. He does a great job of debunking common kitchen myths and proves conclusively that you can and should wash mushrooms before cooking them. There's an entire chapter devoted to providing scientific facts about microwaves and other appliances like pressure cookers and induction-heating cooktops. (Ginger Curwen)
BusinessWeek
“Wolke... is one of the great demystifiers of science information.... wonderful at answering those vexing food questions you always wondered about but never got around to investigating yourself.”
Chicago Tribune
“The author... breathes fun and fact into his work, making this book a good choice for any cook.”
Christopher Kimball
“Bob Wolke is that rare mix of lab-coat scientist and raconteur, as if Albert Einstein's mother had married Rodney Dangerfield's father. He's informed, amusing, and delivers clear answers as well as good, in-depth science.”
Mark Bittman
“I have enjoyed Bob Wolke's column in the 'Post' for years, and his book is as good a read on the science of cooking as there is. Bob is not only well educated, he is a wit and a wonderful, gifted writer who can make anyone understand what's behind the 'magic' that happens in the kitchen. His sound, clever recipes are a welcome bonus.”
SauteWednesday.com
“Robert Wolke's book is so full of useful information that you'll find yourself referring to it again and again.... Not only does he have the penetrating mind of a chemistry professor, but Robert Wolke also has a tremendous sense of humor. Besides being packed with all kinds of interesting food science tidbits, this book is just plain funny.”
Paula Wolfert
“Robert Wolke's terrific book will be invaluable and accessible to every cook. The style is clear, the text is honest, and perhaps best of all the book is fun to read, filled with the 'why's and 'how's of the kitchen.”
Elliot Ketley - Restaurant [UK]
“The occasional recipe adds diversity but facts are the book's strong point 'What Einstein Told His Cook' is a scientifically accurate but witty and entertaining study of the chemistry of food and cooking.”
Publishers Weekly
Wolke, longtime professor of chemistry and author of the Washington Post column Food 101, turns his hand to a Cecil Adams style compendium of questions and answers on food chemistry. Is there really a difference between supermarket and sea salt? How is sugar made? Should cooks avoid aluminum pans? Interspersed throughout Wolke's accessible and humorous answers to these and other mysteries are recipes demonstrating scientific principles. There is gravy that avoids lumps and grease; Portuguese Poached Meringue that demonstrates cream of tartar at work; and juicy Salt-Seared Burgers. Wolke is good at demystifying advertisers' half-truths, showing, for example, that sea salt is not necessarily better than regular salt for those watching sodium intake. While the book isn't encyclopedic, Wolke's topics run the gamut: one chapter tackles Those Mysterious Microwaves; elsewhere readers learn about the burning of alcohol and are privy to a rant on the U.S. measuring system. Sometimes the tone is hokey (The green color [in potatoes] is Mother Nature's Mr. Yuk sticker, warning us of poison) and parenthetical Techspeak explanations may seem condescending to those who remember high school science. However, Wolke tells it like it is. What does clarifying butter do, chemically? Answer: gets rid of everything but that delicious, artery-clogging, highly saturated butterfat. With its zest for the truth, this book will help cooks learn how to make more intelligent choices. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"With its zest for the truth, this book will help cooks learn how to make more intelligent choices." —-Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393329421
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/19/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 213,557
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.16 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert L. Wolke, a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, received his doctorate in chemistry from Cornell University. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his wife, noted food writer Marlene Parrish.

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Table of Contents

Introduction xiii
Acknowledgments xvii
Chapter 1 Sweet Talk 3
What is raw sugar?
Is refined white sugar unhealthful?
How can you soften hardened brown sugar?
What are treacle, sorghum, and sulphured molasses?
What's the difference between cane sugar and beet sugar?
How do you dissolve two cups of sugar in one cup of water?
What does "caramelize" mean?
How are starches and sugars related?
How do they get corn syrup from corn?
What is Dutch process cocoa?
Why does chocolate melt in the mouth?
How do they make white chocolate? ... and more
Chapter 2 The Salt of the Earth 39
What are all those special salts and tenderizers in the supermarket?
What are salt substitutes?
Why do we add salt to the water for boiling pasta?
What's so special about sea salt?
Kosher salt?
Freshly ground salt?
Can a potato remove the excess salt from over-salted soup?
Why do recipes tell you to use unsalted butter and then add salt? ... and more
Chapter 3 The Fat of the Land 65
What's the difference between a fat and a fatty acid?
Why are oils only partially hydrogenated?
Why do we clarify butter?
How do they make corn oil?
How do the various cooking oils compare?
What can you do with used cooking oil?
How do nonstick cooking sprays work?
What noodles contain fat?
Is heavy cream really lighter than light cream? ... and more
Chapter 4 Chemicals in the Kitchen 93
What do home water filters do?
What's the difference between baking powder and baking soda?
Is aluminum dangerous?
What is baking ammonia?
Sour salt?
Cream of tartar?
Artificial vanilla?
MSG?
Why is there "no calcium" in cream cheese?
Why does lasagne dissolve metal?
How is vinegar made?
Are green potatoes poisonous?
How is lye used in our foods? ... and more
Chapter 5 Turf and Surf 124
Is a rare steak bloody?
What makes ground beef brown?
Is prime rib prime beef?
Why is the meat near the bone "sweetest?"
What do bones contribute to a stock?
What's the best way to skim fat from a stock?
How do they make all those different hams?
How does brining work?
How long is "overnight"?
What makes gravy lumpy and greasy?
Why does fish cook so quickly?
Why does fish smell fishy?
What is surimi?
Are oysters on the half-shell alive?
Should lobsters be boiled or steamed? ... and more
Chapter 6 Fire and Ice 177
What is a calorie?
How is cooking different at high altitudes?
Why does water boil?
Why does it take so long to reduce a stock?
What do the Btu ratings of ranges mean?
Does the alcohol boil off when you cook with wine?
Can you really fry an egg on the sidewalk?
Is charcoal or gas better for grilling?
What's the best way to defrost foods?
Why do bakers roll out their dough on marble?
Can hot water freeze faster than cold water?
Can eggs be frozen?
What is freezer burn?
Why does blowing on hot food cool it? ... and more
Chapter 7 Liquid Refreshment 215
Is coffee acid?
Does espresso contain more caffeine than American coffee?
How is coffee decaffeinated?
What's the difference between a tea and a tisane?
What makes soft drinks so acidic?
Does belching contribute to global warming?
Can soda go flat in an unopened bottle?
How can you open a bottle of Champagne with aplomb?
Why do some wines have plastic "corks"?
What do you do with the wine cork when the waiter gives it to you?
How much alcohol is there in various beverages? ... and more
Chapter 8 Those Mysterious Microwaves 250
How do microwaves make heat?
Why does microwaved food have to stand for a while?
Why do microwave ovens cook so much faster than conventional ovens?
Why mustn't one put metal in a microwave oven?
Can the microwaves leak out of the box and cook the cook?
What makes a container "microwave safe"?
Why do some "microwave safe" containers still get hot in the oven?
Is it dangerous to heat water in a microwave oven?
Do microwaves change the molecular structure of food?
Do microwaves destroy the nutrients in food?
Why does microwave-cooked food cool off faster than food cooked in a conventional oven? ... and more
Chapter 9 Tools and Technology 269
Why doesn't anything stick to nonstick cookware?
What's the "best" kind of frying pan?
Does a magnetic rack affect the sharpness of your knives?
What's the difference between a pastry brush and a basting brush?
How can you get the most juice out of a lemon or lime?
What's wrong with washing mushrooms?
Does tarnish affect the properties of a copper frying pan?
What's the easiest way to clean silverware?
Why are there separate measuring cups for liquids and solids?
How do "instant-read" thermometers work?
How do pressure cookers work?
How do induction-heated ranges and light ovens work?
Why do crackers have those little holes in them?
What are the pros and cons of food irradiation?
What are all those special compartments in your refrigerator? ... and more
Further Reading 321
Glossary 325
Index 331
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 16 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2002

    Informal but excellent

    Robert L. Wolke's book, "What Einstein Told His Cook", is much better that those previous views listed on this site let on. I am a medical doctor with an extended education in biology, chemistry and physics, who is by no means insulted by Wolke's casual writing style. His book is not intended as a boring postgraduate text book. It is a fun to read book directed to everyday people with common understanding of the basics of science. I also have read Alton Brown's books. They also are to be recommended, but the topics covered are different-apples vs oranges in fact. Look again at "What Einstein Told His Cook" it was a pleasure to read and covered many interesting questions most people do not know the answer to; including arrogant professional cooks and medical doctors.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2011

    Cooking Chuckles

    I asked my culinary-interested teenager what he thought of this book and whether or not he would like to have it in his library. His reply was, "Sure, the information is interesting, and the recipes are great too." The book really is an entertaining read. One of the most humorous sections is the "primer on crackerpuncture", i.e., - Why crackers have holes in them. Professor Wolke's book should be viewed more as a scientific "appe-teaser" that stimulates a thirst for more knowledge, but also satisfying to the hungry who diet on smaller portions.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2003

    Questions answered and explained

    OK, so I'm not a professional chef, nor an arrogant biochemist, but I think Robert Wolke's style of writing in this book adds some fun to what could be a real boring read. He doesn't just answer the questions, he explains why it is so. I don't want to become an expert in the field - I just want to know quick answers, so I think this book is terrific!!!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2002

    Interesting, but pedestrian and unprofessional

    This book is a great idea poorly executed. If you have a college education and a sense of humor that transcends pop culture, I suggest you look elsewhere for good reading. The book is written in the all-too-common short-section format, popular with the attention-span impaired, and the ideas are wedged between Wolke's loquacious commentary (which, by the way, teaches you nothing). However, there are some interesting tidbits, if you are willing to mine a ton of ore to get the ounce of gold. Furthermore, although the author is clearly not condescending, he is informal to a fault, leaving the reader with rhetorical questions where there should be answers-raising the question: was this book even edited? Take more than a cursory look in the bookstore before paying the exorbitant price for this pedestrian work, and, if you have curiosities about science and food, look to Alton Brown of 'Good Eats' fame-he gets it right where Wolke just gets clueless.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2002

    A little too precious; a little short on information

    This is one of those aggravating tomes that uses a lot of pages to say very little. The writing is way too precious a lot of the time. I was interested in the subject matter going in, but I found the author's cutesy style to be extremely distracting. The author has some expertise, but he lets his smug prose ruin what could have been a very engaging, informative book. What a waste of time. Buy Alton Brown's book instead--he treats his reader with respect.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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