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:
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.
- 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, 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.
“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.”
“The author…breathes fun and fact into his work, making this book a good choice for any cook.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
From the Publisher
"With its zest for the truth, this book will help cooks learn how to make more intelligent choices." Publishers Weekly