Tuesday, December 15, 2009

book list

This reference entry will be maintained as a list of cooking, roasting, brewing, and general gastronomy books that I've either read or use as references. This initial partial post is so I can get it linked for future updating.


On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee is the cook's indispensable reference for food science. This is the 2004 update to the original 1984 edition. It describes the history and nature of all types of foods, as well as the transformation of those raw materials into finished products ranging from cheeses to breads to sauces to fermented drinks. It contains a chemistry primer.

I have not yet read it completely. It's a good random access book and every page delivers fascinating reading.

The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore by Harold McGee...

The Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen offers BBQ techniques and recipes from around the world. It's not the only BBQ book you might want, but if you were limited to one this might be it. It is well organized and has the excellent feature of calling out in obvious fashion the prep time. I often find that I draw ideas from various regional recipes and end up with a fusion of some kind.

I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking by Alton Brown was my introduction to cooking as a science. As anyone who has seen Good Eats knows, Alton is entertaining and the book is loaded with techniques, food science, and some decent recipes. It's pretty poorly edited, though. Certainly a gateway to the works of McGee, whose works are much more technical but still quite accessible.

The New Best Recipe Cookbook from Cooks Illustrated magazine is an immense collection of recipes developed in the Cooks Illustrated test kitchens. It also includes much of the explanatory content that is found in the magazine.

Last Thanksgiving I got excellent results with the large turkey roasting technique (but used an Alton Brown brine rather than a Butterball). The discussion of how to make a good stuffing was also useful, and I liked the apple, onion, and bacon variation (though I overcooked mine).

The Gourmet Cookbook edited by Ruth Reichl is a huge collection of recipes from the late great Gourmet magazine. I've had good results. I do have a major usability complaint in that all of the titles are in a low-contrast shade of yellow that is very difficult to see.

French Cooking in Ten Minutes: Adapting to the Rhythm of Modern Life by Edouard de Pomiane is a fantastic little book. I've written a bit more about it here.

The Short-Cut Cook by Jacques Pepin has many elegant recipes that can be prepared quite quickly. The cold cucumber yogurt soup is one of my favorites. I've never been disappointed by a recipe in this book. (The Amazon link goes to a newer edition than mine.)


Home Coffee Roasting by Kenneth Davids is a good introduction to roasting. It covers roast styles, bean varieties, equipment, methods, and the like. It provides a sufficiently detailed look at the alternatives for home roasting that one can readily decide which to pursue. However, one then quickly discovers that there is much more to learn about that particular method than was exposed in the text, and that the author's experiences with a particular method may not be representative.


How To Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Beer Right the First Time by John J Palmer was my first brewing book. I purchased it after reading online the writings that eventually grew to become this text. I think it is very good. It has a friendly organization that gets you started brewing right away, then in subsequent chapters delves into quite a bit of science and technique. I turn to it frequently as a reference. I have not tried any of the recipes.

general gastronomy

The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten is one of the most entertaining books I've ever read. Steingarten is so funny, clever, and tenacious that when he turns his attention to a gastronomical pursuit the results are both hilarious and tremendously educational. It's worth rereading any time.

The introduction, in which he describes his personal program for overcoming a large number of food aversions, is fascinating.

It Must Have Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten is essentially a second volume of The Man Who Ate Everything. Brilliant.

Are You Really Going to Eat That?: Reflections of a Culinary Thrill Seeker by Robb Walsh is a selection of essays on food and culture from around the world. It is part travelogue, part natural history, and part cookbook. Fascinating stuff.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan is a slightly uneven look at foods derived from industrial corn, pastoral grass, and the forest. It drags in places, but the basic idea is interesting and Pollan is a good writer. I find his thinking and the depth of his fact checking suspect in a couple of places, but I appreciate his willingness to express uncertainty as well.

The role of industrial corn in the American (and, increasingly, global) diet is probably the most politically and scientifically charged section. The degree to which human and livestock food should be engineered is a question laden with ecological, societal, and nutritional controversy. Even without contemplating those issues, the picture Pollan paints of our huge food industry being built almost entirely on commodity corn is startling (and a little long).

The section on grass farming is really interesting. It's largely about a farmer in Virginia who operates on the principle that if you manage your pastures and other natural resources properly you can produce impressive yields of beef, chicken, pork, rabbit, eggs, and just about anything else organically and without the use of factory farming methods. It also explores "big organic" and the reality that most organic produce is now being produced using industrial-scale methods that may not violate some set of organic standards but definitely violate the ill-defined notions most people have about how their organic produce, milk, meat, and eggs were made and delivered.

Hunting, gathering, and the ethics of eating meat are addressed in the final section. This part of the book covers some interesting material but aside from the ethical questions doesn't offer as deep or relevant an exploration of food as the earlier pages.

Overall, definitely worth reading.

The Pedant in the Kitchen by Julian Barnes is a brief and amusing biography of "a late-onset cook" who in the kitchen is "an anxious pedant" rather than an inspired free spirit. "I adhere," he says, "to gas marks and cooking times. I trust instruments rather than myself. I doubt I shall ever test whether a chunk of meat is done by prodding it with my forefinger. The only liberty I take with a recipe is to increase the quantity of an ingredient of which I particularly approve. That this is not an infallible precept was confirmed by an epically filthy dish I once made involving mackerel, Martini and breadcrumbs: the guests were more drunk than sated."

It is very funny stuff, and an intriguing look into the mind of someone with whom I may share some pedantic tendencies, thought generally not in the kitchen. Still, in the case of Nigel Slater's recipes I could appreciate some of the author's frustration. His discussion of various cookbook authors and what he finds objectionable or sublime is wonderful, and introduced me to Edouard de Pomiane (see above).

His rants are drily comical. "Being a great cook is one thing; being a decent cookery writer is quite another, ... 'Artists should have their tongues cut out,' Matisse once said, and the same - if even more metaphorically - applies to many chefs."

The Unprejudiced Palate: Classic Thoughts on Food and the Good Life by Angelo Pellegrini describes the author's childhood in Italy, his emigration to the United States, and his thoughts on growing, preparing, and eating food. Pellegrini settled in Seattle and was an English professor at the University of Washington. As he died in 1991 the majority of his time in this country was during what I suppose was the low ebb of American culinary culture. The love and respect for wholesome and simple food that was his heritage and avocation was desperately out of place in space and time. His writing is a reminder of how fortunate I am to have had my values develop in the context of home-grown and healthy food as a child, the abundant resources of the Pacific Northwest, and this period of culinary reawakening.

The Amazon link is to a newer edition. Mine has a great afterword by M.F.K. Fisher.

Gastronaut: Adventures in Food for the Romantic, the Foolhardy, and the Brave by Stefan Gates...

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