It takes a special event to extract me from the comfort of my couch on a cold Monday night in late November. This week, I was lured out of the house as a guest of the Globe Recognition program at Good Cooking for All. I mean, you don’t turn down an evening with Harold McGee and Lucy Waverman, do you?
McGee was in town to promote his new book, Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes (buy on Amazon Canada or Amazon US) and this event combined an informal Q&A led by Lucy Waverman with four interactive cooking stations where some keys to good cooking were revealed to lucky participants!
Keys to Good Cooking, McGee emphatically states, is not a cookbook, rather a companion to cookbooks that belongs in the kitchen – a book that can easily be referred to during the active process of cooking. It’s kind of like having Harold hovering over your shoulder as you cook, at the ready should any questions arise.
McGee is probably best known for the 1984 classic On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen and he is also the author of the occasional New York Times column, The Curious Cook. He fell into food writing by way of an early interest in astronomy (but he found he preferred the ideas to the actual practice) followed by a PhD in literature. When he couldn’t find a job with his degree, he moved into the area of food science – the science of the everyday, played out in the arena of the kitchen, where we take matter from nature and transform it with heat and our hands.
McGee had a hand in inventing the term “molecular gastronomy”, though he claims it is an ugly term, preferring to call it “experimental cooking”, suggesting that avant garde cooks are not working with molecules, rather, they are exploring possibilities with ingredients and heat, possibilities that have not been explored before. McGee does not believe that this type of experimental cooking will replace good Italian, French, or even English cooking, but is an alternative.
So what pearls of wisdom did McGee share with us?
* High or low heat for roasting meat? Both! McGee recommends starting a piece of meat at as high as 500F to get the outside really brown and crispy and then lowering the heat to as low as 200F until the meat is cooked, giving a perfectly roasted outside and a juicy interior.
* How do you dispense a small amount of water into flour when making pastry? Use a spray bottle! Calibrate it so you know how many sprays equals a tablespoon for example. (why didn’t I think of this??)
* Best Before dates are always very conservative. Food generally won’t go bad or make us sick, it just won’t taste as good. Similarly, regarding freezer burn, safety of food is not an issue, it’s more the taste. But you can eat food with freezer burn. You might not like it but it won’t hurt you.
* To minimize air space in liquids when freezing, cover them with a layer of oil. When you are ready to defrost, simply scrape the oil off the top. No freezer burn there!
* Plastic or wooden chopping board? McGee says the the 10-20 year battle between the two camps proves that there really is not much difference between the two in terms of which is “better, easier to clean or safer.”
* McGee’s picks for the most important pieces of equipment in his kitchen? A good thermometer and a good scale.
* Gas or electric stove? In terms of efficiency, McGee says electric all the way, since the gas flames are often heating more than the pot on top of them, whereas electrical hotplates or coils are heating only the pot touching them.
After an entertaining half-hour chatting with Lucy and answering her questions, McGee observed the interactive cooking demos at the four stations: Vegetables and Herbs, Comfort Food, Meat and Steam, in the gorgeous Market Kitchen by Miele in the St Lawrence Market.
Each station featured a tip from Keys to Good Cooking and “small plate” dishes prepared on the spot, using techniques from the book. Crostini with portabella mushrooms and brie, sliders, steamed dumplings and a corn soup made for an eclectic meal with a quick cooking lesson thrown in as a bonus – my idea of a perfect night!
I slipped away between stations to get my book signed… Harold was charmingly approachable and easy to talk to. We chatted a bit about the electric vs. gas debate and of course I asked him to sign my book. Hey, after getting up the courage to give James Oseland my card at IFBC this past summer, I have no qualms (well, maybe some) about chatting to famous people… Harold strikes me as the type of person who would be very fun to cook with, full of fun facts and figures, but totally down to earth at the same time.
Thanks to the kind folks at Random House, I now have two copies of Keys to Good Cooking which can only be a good thing for you…
Yes, I am giving away a copy of Keys to Good Cooking to one lucky reader!
I am opening this up to anyone, anywhere, though as I will be paying the postage myself, I reserve the right to send it the most economical way possible (it’s quite heavy!). But I would love for one of you to enjoy this book for the holidays!
To enter, simple leave a comment telling me what your two favourite kitchen gadgets/tools are (I wonder if you share McGees choices of a thermometer and a scale).
For a bonus entry, tweet this message:
I entered to win a copy of Harold McGee’s new book @eatlivtravwrite ! You can too http://bit.ly/f2kQ5h
and come back to leave me a comment letting me know you did.
You have until Wednesday December 8th at 6pm EST to enter and I will announce the winner on Thursday, December 9th. Thanks for entering, contest is now closed.
Did you see my entry for Project Food Blog Challenge 8 – Pumpkin, eight ways? I am one of only 24 bloggers left from an original pool of 600! I would so appreciate your vote to advance to Challenge 9 where we have to review a restaurant. Voting runs from 6AM Pacific Time, Monday November 29th through 6PM Pacific Time on Thursday, December 2nd. Simply click here to vote. Thanks in advance for your continued support.