Jeff Potter: Cooking for Geeks

Read The New York Times this week and you’ll learn how much kids want to read text on tablets rather then from old fashion paper books. Kids are turning to their phones, computers, gaming machines and other electronic devices rather then playing and learning in more traditional ways.

How does that impact the kitchen and learning to cook?

Part of the answer may be the importance of books like Jeff Potter‘s Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food (O’Reilly 2010). The approach here is to explain what and why things happen in the kitchen, while also covering recipes that work and produce good food. There are also plenty of interviews with scientists, researchers and chefs about food.

The first chapter is an introduction to the kitchen aptly entitled Hello, Kitchen!

Learning to cook is not as much about rote memorization or experience, as it is about curiosity, and that is something us geeks have may more of than your average “random.” With the right mindset and a few “Hello, World!” examples, you can crack the culinary code and be well on your way to having a good time in the kitchen. (p. 2)

This is a pep talk kind of chapter, including an interview with Brian Wansink of Cornell University, plus a few easy recipes for Hot Chocolate (p. 17), and Eigen Pancakes: The Hello, World! Of Recipes (p. 24-25) which comes with a chart of egg sizes in the US and the EU. Kids will like the interview of Adam Savage, host of MythBusters on Discover Channel.

Perhaps the most interesting chapter is Playing with Chemicals. The chapter covers different food additives from salt, sugar, and alcohol to gels, starches, carrageen, agar and sodium alginate and plenty more, and how they change food. He covers dry brining (in other words salting) in Salmon Gravalax (p. 275) and wet brining in Pork Chops Stuffed with Cheddar Cheese and Poblano Peppers (p. 278) and Preserved Lemons (p. 280). There is an interesting interview of Herve This on Molecular Gastronomy (p. 283) and he even has a section on buying food additives. If you want to make gel “noodles” and dots or hot marshmallows and powdered butter, you’ll find the recipes – or rather the techniques described here.

In the following chapter called Fun with Hardware, Jeff will show you how to make your own sous vide set up and what the difference is between sous vide and slow cookers. There is a diagram showing Melting points of the polymorphs of cocoa fat for those into temperature.

This is as geeky as it gets. Fun for students who are looking for more out of the kitchen then food, or parents hoping to turn dinner into an experiment – that is edible. Cooking for Geeks is full of fun and fun information for any cook.

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