Review: Cooking for Geeks
Mr GFB has lost patience with me a bit already over presents this Christmas.
Everything I’ve asked for is practical: perfume, gin (well given the blog, it is more practical than not), make up. And no cries to family of ‘just buy me a bottle of gin, it’ll be fine’ seem to be working. I’m afraid I come from a long line of practical present requesters. One year my nan insisted I buy her a broom. That was it, a sweeping brush – being a good granddaughter, I of course complied (it was the best broom ever, of course, the Porsche of brushes).
Maybe I’ve turned into that ‘difficult to buy for’ person. We all have one, don’t we? That one person who causes your mind to go blank, for nothing to feel quite right, who 90% of the time ends up with vouchers because you just can’t even.
If they happen to be a bit geeky, a bit foodie, or a bit of both, this might just work for you. I must admit, if I hadn’t been given a copy to review, this would be on my wish list (sorry love, I’m not helping am I?), because it ticks all the boxes.
Do I learn something? Yes.
Do I get to experiment? Yes.
Do I get to eat the experiments? Yes.
Cooking for Geeks merges a bit of science, some interesting interviews and a slew of recipes/experiments all into one book. From examining temperature, taste and smell, to chemical reactions. This reminds us that though cooking may be part dark art, it’s also chemistry, biology and physics, and a little knowledge of each can actually make you a better cook.
Inside it perfectly divides up the section so, you can read cover to cover like a text book, dip into the recipes, or just read the interviews section, which is fascinating in itself, including chats to Adam Savage and Harold McGee (whose books are also going on my wish list).
I’ve found some of the sections tell me stuff I already knew, perhaps instinctively, having cooked for a long time, and some allowed me to examine more closely why I do things as I do. It’s a timely reminder that for the most part, cooking is chemistry and, especially when baking, measuring is very important.
My only grumble, and it’s down to personal preference, is that it’s American. Now, I can cope with all the ‘z’s appearing in words and the dropping of letters, but the measurements are frustrating, and gas as a method of cooking doesn’t even get a mention. So there’s a little conversion needed on my part to work out what is what.
Oh, and not everyone will know what a snickerdoodle is.
Of course, I had to try some of the experiments, er, recipes out for myself. So I chose one that leaned more on biology, using steak, and one that leaned more on chemistry, cookie baking.
First up, the steak.
Without going into too much detail and either boring you to tears, or spoiling the book too much, meat can be tenderised using a variety of methods. One, is to utilise the enzymes and acidity of buttermilk. It helps break down tough connective tissues, which is why it can be used on cheaper pieces of meat. To put this to the test, we bought cheap meat that under normal circumstances would be tough and chewy and some buttermilk.
The two went into a bag and into the fridge for 24 hours.
After 24 hours they were rinsed and patted dry with some paper towels, before I treated them as I would a ‘good’ steak – searing hot pan, cooked til medium, rested and served.
Et voila. I must admit, not the prettiest steak in the world, but actually the buttermilk did the trick – the tough connective tissue on the outside and running through it were much softer and whilst not as tender and not as flavourful as a well hung, sirloin steak from my butchers, actually not bad at all.
Experiment number two, involved butter cookies. A lot of butter cookies.
This experiment looked at time and temperature. Starting with a base recipe and cooking time I then adjusted both to affect the cooking process. Starting by decreasing temperature, and then increasing time, it allowed me to work out what is the ‘perfect’ butter cookie cooking temperature and time using my oven.
I know, I even did a spread sheet. I may have then played about with charts. Ahem.
The result? Both myself and Mr GFB preferred the cookies baked at Gas Mark 4 for 15 minutes. They had the right balance of crisp outer and soft inner, and had a good hint of caramelisation on the top.
And of course the cookies didn’t go to waste.
If you’re looking for something a bit different, or just something for yourself, this is a fascinating exploration of cooking and why we do what we do in the kitchen.
Now, let’s look at what happens if….
With thanks to Plume PR for the opportunity to review this book. It might as well have had my name on it. I can’t wait for the Christmas break so I can experiment some more!