10 February 2012

Personally, I Think Anyone Who Can Follow Directions Can Cook

Trade paperback, 412 pages
Published 2010
Acquired December 2010
Read February 2012
Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food
by Jeff Potter

My wife and I received this as a Christmas present from her brother not long after we got married.  Though it's got recipes in it, it's not just a cookbook; indeed, there are more pages without recipes, than with.  Basically, it approaches cooking skill as not a series of recipes, but a series of principles that you can master, aimed at an audience of the "geeky" sort, who is interested in strange facts, background theories, and doing things differently.

It's a nice idea, and the book is filled with the kind of factoids that you'll irritate your wife by reading aloud to her, about how flavors work, and what the difference between baking soda and powder is, and what are the six different kinds of cooks, and so on.  I didn't always know who the book was aimed at, though. The first chapter treats the reader as someone scared of the very concept of cooking, with a lot of moments I found kinda condescending ("no, scared geek, you really can use a cooking implement that's not a microwave!").  But the later chapters get increasingly complicated; the sort of person who might find the first chapter useful is going to be intimidated by the last chapter's extolling of the virtues of sous vide cooking.  And sometimes parts of it were boring (I learned more about baking than I ever would have cared to), but that's probably down to individual taste.

As for the recipes, I've only made one so far, the white bean and garlic soup (p. 133).  It was good, but I found that Potter's technique of including the ingredients in the middle of the recipe caused me to overlook important facts about them on first readthrough.  It came out way thicker than I would have liked, but that may have been my own fault and was alleviated by adding more veggie broth in any case.  I did really like how the recipe has you toast some French bread in oil and then blend it in; the soup had a really interesting flavor.  There's also a recipe for making your own ginger lemon soda (p. 229), which my wife and I are planning on trying this week.

The best part of the book were the interviews with other cooking geeks that Potter conducted: famous chefs, Twitter recipe writers, a man who cooked a pizza in his oven on cleaning mode, the coiner of "molecular gastronomy" and more.  Each one was fascinating; Potter asked good questions and got great answers.

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