What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained

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9780393011838: What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained
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Einstein's cook was lucky. But you, too, can have a scientist in your kitchen: Robert L. Wolke.

Do you wish you understood the science of foods, but don't want to plow through dry technical books? What Einstein Told His Cook is like having a scientist at your side to answer your questions in plain, nontechnical terms. Chemistry professor and syndicated Washington Post food columnist Robert L. Wolke provides over 100 reliable and witty explanations, while debunking misconceptions and helping you to see through confusing advertising and labeling. In "Sweet Talk" you will learn that your taste buds don't behave the way you thought they did, that starch is made of sugar, and that raw sugar isn't raw. Did you know that roads have been paved with molasses? Why do cooked foods turn brown? What do we owe to Christopher Columbus's mother-in-law? In "The Salt of the Earth" you will learn about the strange salts in your supermarket. Does sea salt really come from the sea? (Don't bet on it.) Why do we salt the water for boiling pasta? And how can you remove excess salt from oversalted soup? (You may be surprised.) In "The Fat of the Land" you will learn the difference between a fat and a fatty acid, what makes them saturated or unsaturated, and that nonfat cooking sprays are mostly fat. Why don't the amounts of fats on food labels add up? Why does European butter taste better than ours? In "Chemicals in the Kitchen" you will learn what's in your tap water, how baking powder and baking soda differ, and what MSG does to food. What Japanese taste sensation is sweeping this country? Is your balsamic vinegar fake? Why do potato chips have green edges? In "Turf and Surf" you will learn why red meat is red, why ground beef may look as if it came from the Old Gray Mare, and how bones contribute to flavor. Want a juicy turkey with smooth gravy? How does one deal with a live clam, oyster, crab, or lobster? In "Fire and Ice" you will learn how to buy a range and the difference between charcoal and gas for grilling. Did you know that all the alcohol does not boil off when you cook with wine? How about a surprising way to defrost frozen foods? And yes, hot water can freeze before cold water. In "Liquid Refreshment" you will learn about the acids and caffeine in coffee, and why "herb teas" are not teas. Does drinking soda contribute to global warming? Why does champagne foam up? Should you sniff the wine cork? How can you find out how much alcohol there is in your drink? In "Those Mysterious Microwaves" you will learn what microwaves do―and don't do―to your food. What makes a container "microwave safe"? Why mustn't you put metal in a microwave oven? How can you keep microwave-heated water from blowing up in your face? In "Tools and Technology" you will learn why nothing sticks to nonstick cookware, and what the pressure-cooker manufacturers don't tell you. What's the latest research on juicing limes? Why are "instant read" thermometers so slow? Can you cook with magnetism and light? What does irradiation do to our foods?

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Review:

Why do recipes call for unsalted butter--and salt? What is a microwave, actually? Are smoked foods raw or cooked? Robert L. Wolke's enlightening and entertaining What Einstein Told His Cook offers answers to these and 127 other questions about everyday kitchen phenomena. Using humor (dubious puns included), Wolke, a bona fide chemistry professor and syndicated Washington Post columnist, has found a way to make his explanations clear and accessible to all: in short, fun. For example, to a query about why cookbooks advise against inserting meat thermometers so that they touch a bone, Wolke says, "I hate warnings without explanations, don't you? Whenever I see an 'open other end' warning on a box, I open the wrong end just to see what will happen. I'm still alive." But he always finally gets down to brass tacks: as most heat transfer in meat is due to its water content, areas around bone remain relatively cool and thus unreliable for gauging overall meat temperature.

Organized into basic categories like "Sweet Talk" (questions involving sugar), "Fire and Ice" (we learn why water boils and freezers burn, among other things), and "Tools and Technology" (the best kind of frying pan, for example), the book also provides illustrative recipes like Black Raspberry Coffee Cake (to demonstrate how metrics work in recipes) and Bob's Mahogany Game Hens (showing what brining can do). With technical illustrations, tips, and more, the book offers abundant evidence that learning the whys and hows of cooking can help us enjoy the culinary process almost as much as its results. --Arthur Boehm

About the Author:

Robert L. Wolke, a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, received his doctorate in chemistry from Cornell University. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his wife, noted food writer Marlene Parrish.

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