Friday, 10 January 2014

Cookbook Review: Cooking for Geeks

I am a cooking geek

When it comes to cooking, yes, I admit it. I am definitely a geek. I like knowing why you need to add salt to bread dough (keeps the yeast from acting too long), what the process of browning foods off is called (it's a Maillard reaction apparently), and at what temperature chocolate starts to melt (37c).

You can image my delight then when I was asked to read Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter. A book filled with the science behind cooking, a lot of good tips (hacks), and some rather nice recipes.

Using language any modern technological geek can understand, Jeff Potter sets out to explain the world of

Cooking for Geeks manages to do what is nearly impossible with most cookbooks. It is accessible to anyone, from the complete novice to the fully adept in the kitchen, providing step-by-step instructions which are easy to follow. For those who want further explanations as to why and what and how, notes provide details not only on what you should do, but the reasons behind why you should do it, and what should happen as well.
Maillard reaction

Hello Kitchen

Each chapter explores a different aspect of cooking, from the basic kitchen tools and how to use them to chemical reactions of different key ingredients. Feel free to read the book from cover to cover, dip in and out where you like, or just flip to the list of recipes in the index to find something delicious to prepare.

The author has done something in Cooking for Geeks that almost appears to be anathema in most cookery books. He encourages you to explore the recipes for yourself. Explore, make mistakes, and if all else fails, throw the whole lot in the bin and order a pizza. Because what the TV chefs and the food stylists and so called food pornographers who pose those perfect dishes in other cookbooks, magazines, and on the TV neglect to tell you is that all cooks have disasters in the kitchen. Anyone who claims otherwise either hasn't been cooking for very long, or is a liar.

The appeal of Cooking for Geeks becomes clear in the very first chapter. Geeks want to know not just what to do, but why it is done that way.That is what this book does.

Cooking for Geeks

Once you are able to let do of the fear of failing in the kitchen (you will, but you can learn from it) a whole culinary world is opened up to you. This first chapter takes you back to the very beginning. It introduces you to you kitchen and teaches you how to read a whole new language - the recipe. 
A Cooking Recipe = Culinary Code
Always read through the entire code (recipe), top to bottom, before starting to cook.
Cooking for Geeks does a very good job in teaching you the unwritten rules of cooking. Jeff Potter has taken those things the experienced cook does almost instinctively and broken those processes down step-by-step for the novice.

What Type of Cook are You?

Knowing what type cook you are can help in knowing how you approach a recipe. Go ahead and take this brief quiz which was taken from Cooking for Geeks.

When I prepare a meal, I typically:
  1. Rely on classic dishes my family has always enjoyed.
    Butterflied chicken under the grill
  2. Substitute more healthful ingredients
  3. Follow a recipe step-by-step
  4. Rarely use recipes and like to experiment

Some of my favourite ingredients are:
  1. Lots of bread, starches, and red meat
  2. Fish and vegetables
  3. Beef and chicken
  4. Vegetables, spices, and unusual ingredients
  5. A trendy ingredient I saw on the Food Network

In my free time I like to:
  1. Visit with friends and family
  2. Exercise or take a fitness class
  3. Organise the house
  4. Take part in creative or artistic pursuits
  5. Be spontaneous and seek adventure

My favourite things to cook are:
  1. Home-baked goodies
  2. Foods with fresh ingredients and herbs
  3. Casseroles
  4. Ethnic foods and wok dishes
  5. Anything that lets me fire up the grill

Other people describe me as :
  1. Really friendly
  2. Health-conscious
  3. Diligent and methodical
  4. Curious
  5. Intense

There may be some overlap in the answers you give, but is there one letter that you picked out most often?

Here's what your answers say about your cooking style:

Mostly A: Giving - Friendly, well-liked, and enthusiastic, giving cooks seldom experiment, they love baking, and like to serve tried-and-true family favourites, although that sometimes means serving less healthful foods.

Mostly B : Healthy - Optimistic, book-loving, nature enthusiasts, healthy cooks experiment with fish, fresh produce, and herbs. Health comes first, even if it means sometimes sacrificing taste.

Mostly C: Methodical - Talented cooks who rely heavily on recipes. The methodical cook has refined tastes and manners. Their creations always look exactly like the picture in the cookbook.

Mostly D: Innovative - Creative and trend-setting, innovative cooks seldom use recipes and like to experiment with ingredients, cuisine styles, and cooking methods.

Mostly E: Competitive - The "Iron Chef" of the neighbourhood, competitive cooks have dominant personalities and are intense perfectionists who love to impress their guests.

Copied from Cooking for Geeks, used by permission of Brian Wansick, author of Mindless Eating.

According to the above quiz, I am an innovative cook. The description certainly holds true for me. I hardly ever follow a recipe exactly, and when I do my mind immediately thinks of ways I could add different flavours.

Tips for Newbie Cooks

1. Have fun. Learning is about curiosity, not work.
2. Know your cooking type.
3. Read the whole recipe.
4. Take the time to taste things.
5. Don't be afraid to burn dinner.

Taken from Cooking for Geeks

I think beyond these important tips for new cooks it is very important that you know what different ingredients taste and smell like, both raw and cooked. This will help when determining how to combine flavours. I also suggest when you first begin to experiment with flavours that you don't add more than 3 herbs or spices. Otherwise you lose control of the flavour interactions.

I was asked to review Cooking for Geeks and received a free copy of the book in exchange.