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You might recall a few teaser tips on food and cooking posted here way back in August. Those tips were from Harold McGee's newest book Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes. I have been of fan of McGee's for years, starting with his book On Food and Cooking. He is one of my go-to guys when I want to know the how and why behind a technique, tool, process, or any other kitchen question I might have.
Keys to Good Cooking is just what I expected from McGee: a well-researched, well-written reference. The book is divided into twenty-four chapters, each one focusing on a category of ingredients (fruits, meats, dairy), on tools (small and large), or on techniques. One major topic in Keys to Good Cooking is food safety, including proper handling, cooking, storing, and buying.
I'll take you quickly through the breads chapter, just to give you an idea of what the book is all about. McGee introduces us to bread safety, how to shop for bread and for baking ingredients, and how to store bread. Next we learn about different types of flours and how they they are used. There are sections on salt, yeasts, sour dough starters, and other typical bread ingredients.
The heart of the breads chapter are the sections on technique: proper ingredient ratios for different kinds of breads, how to mix and knead, how to let bread rise, how to form loaves (and other shapes), and how to bake. There is also information about rolls, bagels, pizzas, quick breads, and doughnuts.
In the breads chapter, I loved this tip:
Staling is easily reversed by reheating the bread to at least 160F/70C and redisturbing the starch. Because reheating also drives moisture out of bread, it leaves the bread somewhat drier afterward.I usually just make bread crumbs or croutons from stale bread, but it's great to know there is an easy way to make it soft again.
To restore a partial or whole loaf of stale bread, moisten its crust to prevent scorching, and bake in a medium oven for 15 minutes or until hot and soft inside.
Each chapter is arranged in a similar manner: safety, shopping, storage, methods of cooking, and then specific information for each food item in that category. There are buying and cooking tips for fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat products, grains, and beans. There is advice on buying appliances, cookware, and other kitchen tools. There are sections on cooking methods and ingredient substitutions. This is truly a great resource, you'll turn to again and again.
Note that there are no illustrations and no recipes per se. You will find directions for making yogurt, basic steps for stir-frying, tips for making nut butters, and instructions for making a meat stock, for example, but this is not a conventional cookbook.
The Keys to Good Cooking will appeal to new cooks and experienced cooks. I think it would be especially helpful for cooks who want to increase their confidence and free themselves in the kitchen.
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Published by Penguin Press, October 2010
Source: Review (see review policy)
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