16 October 2010

Weekend Cooking: Review: Keys to Good Cooking by Harold McGee

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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.

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.
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.

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.

Published by Penguin Press, October 2010
ISBN-13: 9781594202681
YTD: 90
Rating: A
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


caite 10/16/10, 6:59 AM  

that is an interesting observation about the bread. I recently received a loaf of bread from a mail order source and they had a slip in there saying the same thing. It is in the freezer now, but when I take it out shortly, we will see how that works.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 10/16/10, 7:52 AM  

I cut the stale bread (we don't often have it) into large croutons for soup.

KEYS TO GOOD COOKING could help me! I didn't post a pic of the finished recipe in my Weekend Cooking post today because, this second time I made it, I got distracted when broiling for 20 seconds to finish it - there were flames!

Margaret 10/16/10, 8:50 AM  

That looks an extremely useful and detailed book.

Julie P. 10/16/10, 9:17 AM  

Helpful hint for bread. I'll be back tomorrow with a link!

Peaceful Reader 10/16/10, 9:40 AM  

This seems like a very helpful cookbook. I make bread and we also generally have a good loaf of toasting bread and sandwich bread around so this is a great tip!

Lynne Perednia 10/16/10, 12:14 PM  

Really like the idea of this book -- it's going on the "look for" list thanks to you.

Beth 10/16/10, 12:46 PM  

technique is such an important part of good cooking, so I think a book like this could be really useful!

Erin 10/16/10, 2:53 PM  

It sounds like this book is a happy medium between a cookbook with minimal technique/tip information and a more technical explanation, like Shirley Corriher's books. I kind of like that it doesn't include recipes; sometimes instructional cookbooks that include too many recipes get a little confusing. I will have to check Keys to Good Cooking out!

fiction-books 10/16/10, 5:17 PM  

This is my first post on the Weekend Cookery blog. I think it is a great idea and one I shall be visiting often.
I thought I would stick to your theme of bread for my first post and managed to find a great book, that takes bread making right back to basics, with some great colour plates and clear instructions.

Rose City Reader 10/16/10, 5:47 PM  

I like that hint, once I figured out what "staling" was. I don't think I've ever seen that variation of the word.

Heather 10/16/10, 5:50 PM  

This book sounds very helpful. Seems it would make a good bridal gift, or even an anniversary gift.

Mary 10/16/10, 6:57 PM  

Sounds like a great resource for new and not-so-new cooks alike!
It's my first time participating in Weekend Cooks :)

Margot 10/16/10, 7:08 PM  

I'm amazed at the thoroughness of this book. It's a great resource to have on hand. It's going on my list.

Rivki Locker 10/16/10, 10:54 PM  

Interesting technique. Thanks for sharing!

Alice Teh 10/17/10, 2:00 AM  

I am certainly interested in this kind of books. I can't cook! But I need all the tips and techniques in order to understand what I'm doing, so this is perfect. I can't run away from cooking forever...

Leslie @ Under My Apple Tree 10/17/10, 2:52 AM  

I give the stale bread to the squirrels to get them away from the bird feeders. They will certainly be annoyed if I start reviving the bread!

This book sounds like an excellent resource. Even though I've been cooking for years I still have lots to learn.

Peppermint Ph.D. 10/17/10, 4:59 PM  

We very seldom have stale bread at our house ;) who says girls don't each much??? This does look like a book to browse for sure! Does it have pictures? I'm a sucker for a cookbook/directions book with process pictures. This is my first post for weekend cooking as well. I'm using you ladies to help me get my weekly meals organized again. We've been eating out wayyyyyyy too much lately.

Romance Books Online 10/17/10, 7:38 PM  

Can't wait to check out all of Harold McGee's books. I love to cook, but am not always successful. Sounds like this book might help solve my cooking problems! Thanks for the post!

Jenners 10/17/10, 7:48 PM  

Sounds like there is lots of good information in there. I'll keep that in mind about the stale bread (even though bread doesn't last very long in our house).

Kris 10/19/10, 4:35 PM  

Sounds like a great educational book. As a non-cook, I bet I could learn a lot from it.

Heather J. @ TLC Books 10/20/10, 5:13 PM  

I've heard something similar about putting potato chips in the microwave to "un-stale" them - it sounds like this is based on the same principle as the stale bread solution.

I'm glad you're finding the book helpful!

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