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Explore Your Inner Geek... By Cooking!

by Bruno Van de Casteele

February 15, 2015

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Donate When I listened to this week’s Skeptoid Podcast by Craig Good on Cooking Myths, I had to think about a book I read a couple of years ago. Sure enough, I located it in my library (I confess, I never throw away a book). It’s called “Cooking For Geeks,”by Jeff Potter and is published by O’Reilly.

It’s a hefty book, more than 400 pages. It’s not just a cookbook; it’s also a science manual and full of tips on how to prepare your food and getting the best gadgets tools for your kitchen. Mixed in between are interviews, food safety tips, and really interesting tidbits on how to cook better and on common myths.

Craig touched on a couple of these myths, like the one about cooking off alcohol or thatcopper bowls for are ideal for whisking egg yolks (I couldn't believe that one either). I remember a long time ago, when I still had time to cook (hey, I have three kids now and two blogs to write for!), serving a wine sauce to friends visiting them. One of them didn’t like the fact that there was alcohol in it because she didn’t want their kids having alcohol. I countered that by saying that its boiling point was lower so it was gone anyway. Well, wrong on that one! Check the episode for the details, but in short the alcohol binds to other substances so you need to cook it for several hours to get it all away.

The book was also the inspiration for several anniversary gifts. For instance, I got a decent thermometer to check on the temperature as before I used the “pushing” technique denounced by Craig. But the best part was really digging into tastes and flavor combinations (oh man, you can really surprise your guests!), and of course being able to offhandedly remark on the Maillard reaction.

There is also a very interesting remark on industrial chemicals. No, he’s not against it, and it’s very interesting to diversify using modern scientific results. He's simultaneouslycritical about organic foods and anti-GMO sentiments. Based on science, not on some emotional reaction.

Lastly (and I’m just scratching the surface of the enormous amount of material in this book) he describessome really advanced stuff. I won't go into all the details ofusing your dishwasher as a slow-cooker, or "hacking" your oven to get the high heat necessary for pizzas (he must have voided a lot of warranties doing that). The most visual, and delicious, example is how he makes ice cream in 30 seconds by using liquid nitrogen. Really amazing, but also a bit dangerous, so be careful.

There is one final remark that is a very nice takeaway from this book. As with any science, Potter encourages you to try, and try again. He gives a lot of pointers on things you can try and how to play around with recipes. (Another busted myth: recipes in cookbooks aren’t necessarily correct.) And when it fails, as can any science effort, you can still order pizza and have a delicious dinner!

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by Bruno Van de Casteele

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