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3.4 out of 5 stars17
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 25 December 2010
I found this book a disappointment, and after Dr McGee's previous seminal contributions, had expected much more. It consists of a series of 'hints' ranging from the quite useful to the banal "cold butter is too hard to spread" followed by the helpful suggestion that it should be warmed first. Similarly in a section on "Coffee and tea safety" (!)the reader is advised to "take first sips cautiously to make sure you don't take a mouthful of burning hot liquid".
I have huge respect for Dr McGee' previous books, which are truly outstanding, but this offering is not terribly useful, and was not particularly cheap. I felt as though I had had my pocket picked by a trusted and favourite uncle.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2015
For once, I literally don't understand the negative reviews. It's as if they have read McGee's earlier works, wanted more of the same, and stopped reading once they found themselves thwarted. All their complaints are anticipated and answered by the author himself at the outset. This is not another exposition on the science of food - and quite honestly who needs one? - but a very practical and comprehensive guide on how to get the most out of recipes by applying relevant scientific knowledge. Even good recipes by your favourite food writer contain errors in thinking about food. This book aims to make you aware of the howlers repeated by even the best food writers, such as the oft-repeated claim that roasting meat over a liquid makes it more juicy - it does, but only on the surface. There is ample space for you to annotate the book as you apply the advice, making adjustments for your equipment and preferences. For, as the author implies, cooking from a recipe is not the same for each person doing it. Cookers and pans vary, as do interpretations of when a dish is "cooked", and what goes with what. Even more important, knowledge is incomplete and no writer has perfect command of even this incomplete knowlege. I rate this book as one of the most useful in my collection and will use it again and again. Potential buyers should be aware that the information aims to help the beginning cook as well as the more experienced. I find a few reminders useful and it is very easy to skip information not new to you. A couple of reviewers made dismissive comments about some of the health advice in this book. For example, to kill all the bacteria in a fresh sausage, it is recommended to poach the sausage to 60 C, hold it at that temperature for 30 minutes, and then quickly caramelise the skin. I freely confess that I think this is overkill and will probably ruin a good sausage. However, anyone who has ever been made violently ill by a macho idiot - the sort that thinks cooking on the barbie is a job for real men, no matter how incompetent - will understand McGee's concerns. I would certainly advocate some sort of pre-cooking of sausages before barbecuing them. So, the health concerns are valid and should at least be considered.

The book begins with a few basics on equipment, food safety, and so on before presenting 18 chapters based on ingredients, or families of ingredients. The contents of these vary by subject, but I include a breakdown of the chapter on Vegetables and Fresh Herbs as an example. The subtopics are: Vegetable and Herb Safety, Shopping for Vegetables and Herbs, Storing Fresh Vegetables and Herbs, Sprouts and Microgreens, Raw Salads, The Essentials of Cooking Vegetables and Herbs, Boiling Vegetables, Steaming Vegetables, Microwave Cooking Vegetables, Pressure-cooking Vegetables, Braising and Stewing Vegetables, Mashing and Pureeing Vegetables, Frying, Sauteing, Sweating, Glazing, and Wilting Vegetables, Deep and Shallow-Frying Vegetables and Herbs, Baking or Oven Roasting Vegetables, Grilling and Broiling Vegetables, Canning Vegetables, Quick-Pickling Vegetables, Fermenting Vegetables. These are followed by specific recommendations for getting the best out of 47 common vegetables - arranged alphabetically. I told you it was comprehensive! The only reason I haven't given this five stars is that as one reviewer noted, at times the author gets a bit wordy. But this should not be a deal-breaker for anyone - the book is simply too useful!
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 24 November 2010
Harold McGee is famous for writing the legendary book "On Food and Cooking", one of the best books on the subject ever written. This volume is completely different. It is not a book to settle down and enjoy reading, but is a collection of handy hints to delve into as you work in the kitchen. The layout is deliberately sparse so that you may write your own comments on the page, and the tips are pithy to the point of brevity. You might expect this book to distil the arcane practical wisdom of one of the masters, but most of the tips are really prosaic and quite obvious to anyone that has spent some time cooking. Most people will be able to find something rewarding in it though - for me the best advice was how to cook the perfect fried egg, which works a treat.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 2 December 2010
I pre ordered this as I loved my treasured "McGee on food and cooking" but I am afraid that this was no match. With the greatest respect, he teaches you how to suck eggs, not cook them.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The jury remains out on this book. If one had not read other examples of this author's work there might not be such a dilemma.

In many ways this is a really good book that has pulled a lot of useful information, hints, tips, suggestions, wrinkles and the like into one place. It is after all billed as a concise and authoritative guide designed to help home cooks navigate the ever-expanding universe of ingredients, recipes, food safety and appliances, arriving at the promised land of a satisfying dish. Yet if it was not written by Harold McGee then things would have been so much simpler. Why...?

McGee is a known, respected expert on the science of cooking and is held in the highest esteem by top-rate chefs and (without being disparaging) culinary madcaps such as Heston Blumenthal who try to push the envelope and migrate good food, innovative dishes and the science that sits behind them. So if you have thought that this is a distillation of much of McGee's knowledge you are in part wrong as you are getting his extensive take on "common sense" matters but not the more esoteric things that can make you go wow and huh? at the same time. Confused yet?

This book is, to be fair, written more for the average home cook, enthusiastic hobby chef and maybe newbie in the business. A comprehensive memory bank of things that you can possibly find elsewhere curated by a master. You are not getting the master's innermost secrets but neither are you getting the scrapings from his writing dustbin.

Within the book which is set out in a workman-like, clean style is a plethora of information set into several chapters - getting to know foods; basic kitchen resources, water, the pantry and the refrigerator; kitchen tools; heat and heating appliances; cooking methods; cooking safely; fruits; vegetables and fresh herbs; milk and dairy products; eggs; meats; fish and shellfish; sauces, stocks and soups; dry grains, pastas, noodles and puddings; seed legumes, beans, peas, lentils and soy products; nuts and oil seeds; breads; pastries and pies; cakes, muffins and cookies; griddle cakes, crepes, popovers and frying batters; ice creams, ice, mousses and jellies; chocolate and cocoa; sugars, syrups and candies; coffee and tea... pause for breath ... where to find more keys to good cooking and then the customary acknowledgements and a comprehensive index.

All of this is packaged into a fairly small (!) 553 pages. Make no mistake this is not a "how to" cook and neither is it a recipe book. It could be described as an "Encyclopaedia Britannica" style book in the pre-Internet age. You want to know about a certain term or topic and why does it possibly do so-and-so. Consult McGee could be the reply!

McGee has written already some seminal works - On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen and The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore but it is not doing these an injustice by saying that they may be out of reach of the typical yet inquisitive reader.

Here in many ways this book sets to redress the balance whilst still providing a "quick, did I really forget X" look-up for those who really should know better but are, like us all, prone to forget certain things. Even top chefs like Heston Blumenthal or Gordon Ramsay might have learned in the dim and distant past things that they have "temporally misfiled" in their brain such as covering raw foods with oil can allow the growth of botulism bacteria, but a quick check on the section "flavoured oils" might drag up that forgotten factoid. Yet for the ordinary cook this could be an entirely new discovery... and there are many who do add various flavoured oils to their raw meats as a means of marinading. One is never too old to learn and adapt accordingly.

So, the prospective reader really should look at a copy of this book and understand what it is, and then think why they don't need it (not the other way around). McGee has covered virtually all bar the proverbial kitchen sink in this book and you need time to understand the different ways in which you will attack the book to get the knowledge out.

Some readers have been disappointed in this book as they have not considered what it really is. It is not a follow on to the more technical previous works by the author yet in some ways it does build on it. It is a different beast, for a predominantly different market. That is not a bad thing but some reviews have been slightly scathing through this misunderstanding.

This reviewer sees dozens of food and cookery books daily yet most of them, even those yielding high acclaim, never get to transfer to the "YUM reference shelf" for err, future consultation and use by fellow YUMmers. This one will sit there, but it might need a long chain attached to it so it doesn't develop a pair of legs and wander off.

So in short: A great book that hits many marks. Just make sure it is what you think it is before buying it. It is worth spending time on this book prior to a purchase decision if you are unsure about it as, if you do buy it, you know that you will be spending a lot of time with it afterwards. Even the most expert of experts need to refresh their memories from time to time, even if they don't always like admitting it.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 22 December 2010
Whats clear in all the bad reviews listed is the EXPECTATION of this book to be something it is not. Whats exciting about this book is that it IS different to Food and Cooking. It is more suited to the average cook at home. The vast information the first book provided, although great, is also somewhat overwhelming and intense to read. This new book is written in an easier style, giving more simple, helpful tips on how to get the best we can from our food without having to get all Heston Blumenthal on it. ENJOY it!!!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2011
The concept, allowing access to McGee's encyclopedic knowledge on food and cooking in the form of practical instructions related to basic recipes, is great. The execution, however, is lousy. Not only in terms of content, if you look up Sabayon, you find the same one and a half page in two locations, letter for letter identical, the repetition adding nothing. How many of us in 2011 still struggle with off flavour butter - I counted soooo many warnings to remove the darker , badly smelling exterior of a stick...Also irritating is the lousy print quality, as if this book was printed on a matrix printer with a poor ribbon (if you are old enough to remember those). There is NOT A SINGLE illustration. It is just like a poorly executed 'best off' collection of a marginal pop artist - there is no way you can use this cheap looking book as a gift article, despite the fact that the contents offer nice refreshers, in a practical form, of the brilliant lessons McGee has been teaching us.
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on 22 October 2014
I am a retired professional chef/restaurant manage, and I found some interesting and useful information. My daughter who is studying GCSE Food Tech found it very useful.
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on 25 September 2013
Professional or home cooks alike should read this book. A great starting point that answers lots of the questions people might have in the kitchen
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2010
i was expecting to read the kitchen secrets on how to make food taste as good as those rare restaurants that know how to do it, what with harold mcgee being the number one authority when it comes to cooking. dissapointingly the book reads more like a food hygiene manual. not what i wanted.
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