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On Food and Cooking
The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
By Harold McGee
ISBN: 0684800012
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: November 2004
Format: Hardcover
List price: $40 (Canada, UK)
Type: Reference, Textbook
Sample recipe: Asparagus in Fragrant Sauce
intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler comprehensive Biblical stature coffee-table
competition: outclassed also-ran midrange strong challenger leads the pack
# of recipes: <50 <100 <200 <300 >300
practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% >80%
# of ingredients: <3 <6 <9 <12 >12
ingredient hunt: 7-11 pantry supermarket online airfare required
recipe complexity: baby steps simple medium intense professional
instructions: inadequate bare bones full figured educational verbose
time conscious: outright lies speed of light fairly quick takes time takes all day
photos/drawings: skimpy adequate decorative instructive glorious
recipe results: dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
flavor quotient: disappointing fair good delicious exceptional
layout: ick cluttered clean kind to cooks work of art
legibility: microscopic challenging adequate clear brilliant
production quality: cheesy questionable years of service gift-quality stunning
value: ouch! a little pricey on the money excellent worth splurging
Ease of Use
page numbers: invisible hard to find spotty adequate obvious
table of contents: missing frustrating passable useful helpful
index quality: none tragic adequate good excellent
page flipping: infuriating tedious acceptable rare never
writer: hack cook turned writer writer turned cook comedian auteur
cook: self-taught non-restaurant chef teacher celebrity
overall rating: fair good above average excellent Ochef Top 100
Comments: Excellent, stunning, superb, informative, fascinating, etc., etc. Not a cookbook at all, of course, but an exhaustive reference, answering nearly every question on food and cooking that you could dream up. The few recipes in the book are of historical interest.

The one point to remember as the food world continues to gush over Dr. McGee's book is that it really is a textbook. This is not a book one is going to read casually in a few weekends. It's well written and interesting, but reading and digesting the material takes a lot of work.