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Keys to Good Cooking - A Guide to Making The Best of Foods and Recipes
(Doubleday Canada) ISBN 978-0385666459 0385666454

Home cooks learn about food preparation, cooking tips, kitchen tools and food safety in this reference book. Harold McGee uses food science to provide cooking advice on culinary arts.

Once you understand the food science, you can use the culinary information in Keys to Good Cooking to solve cooking problems.

Kitchen thermometers

More a reference book than a cookbook, Keys to Good Cooking features cooking advice and cooking tools, like kitchen thermometers. Harold McGee describes the differences between instant-read thermometers, digital-probe thermometers, infrared, noncontact point-and-shoot thermometers and frying, chocolate and candy thermometers.

He also explains how to use kitchen tools for good cooking. For example, you can prevent gluey mashed potatoes by pressing very soft cooked potatoes through a ricer, then whisking them. Using machines with blades, like food processors, tears apart starch granules.

The 553-page book also talks about ingredients, with cooking tips (e.g., add sesame and nut oils at the end of cooking so heat does not change their flavors).

How to solve cooking problems

When discussing ingredients, organized by category, Harold McGee includes cooking advice (e.g., use corn cobs to flavor soups and stocks). He also provides culinary information to resolve problems: How do you re-inflate a cooked souffle? Place it in a moderate oven until heated through.

The reference book also includes cooking methods. For example, if you want to know how to roast a chicken, or duck, with crisp skin, Harold McGee recommends you start with air-chilled poultry or pre-dry the skin, rub it with oil and cook it in a hot oven, without basting.

The one thing that Harold McGee does not

Keys to Good Cooking has no photos or illustrations.

Volume and weight conversion charts

The inside front cover of Keys to Good Cooking features a volume conversions chart (teaspoons, cups, pints, quarts and gallons into milliliters) and a weight conversions chart (ounces, pounds to grams).

A volume to weight conversions chart helps you to convert liquids (milk, oil etc.) and solids (sugar, flour and dry ingredients) from teaspoons, tablespoons and cups into grams.

The inside back cover provides ingredient substitutions (e.g., honey or maple syrup for sugar), cooking temperatures and other culinary help. For example, how much gelatin do you need to gel two cups of liquid? Answer: two and one quarter teaspoons, seven grams or one packet.

How to make baking powder

Harold McGee describes how to make nut milk in a blender with hot water and roasted, skinned nuts. He also includes a recipe for baking powder (one tablespoon baking soda, two tablespoons cream of tartar and one and a half tablespoons corn starch).

Keys to Good Cooking describes candy ingredients, such as invert sugar, and explains how to make it (boil table sugar with a little water and lemon juice for a half hour to convert the sucrose into a mixture of glucose and fructose).

Temperatures for candy making

Harold McGee provides a chart of candy syrup temperatures, from thread and soft ball stages to hard crack and caramel.

Culinary tips are based on food science. He recommends using pickling or kosher salt to prevent cloudy pickles and sauerkraut, because anti-caking powders in table salt do not dissolve.

How to foam milk for cappuccino

Other culinary information involves shortcuts. To make easy foamed milk for cappuccino, without a steaming wand, put fresh, cold milk in a jar with extra space, cover and shake until the milk doubles in volume. Remove the lid and heat in a microwave until the foam rises to the top.

Keys to Good Cooking


  1. Getting to Know Foods
  2. Basic Kitchen Resources: Water, the Pantry and the Refrigerator
  3. Kitchen Tools
  4. Heat and Heating Appliances
  5. Cooking Methods
  6. Cooking Safety
  7. Fruits
  8. Vegetables and Fresh Herbs
  9. Milk and Dairy Products
  10. Eggs
  11. Meats
  12. Fish and Shellfish
  13. Sauces, Stocks and Soups
  14. Dry Grains, Pastas, Noodles and Puddings
  15. Seed Legumes: Beans, Peas, Lentils and Soy Products
  16. Nuts and Oil Seeds
  17. Breads
  18. Pastries and Pies
  19. Cakes, Muffins and Cookies
  20. Griddle Cakes, Crepes, Popovers and Frying Batters
  21. Ice Creams, Ices, Mousses and Jellies
  22. Chocolate and Cocoa
  23. Sugars, Syrups and Candies
  24. Coffee and Tea
Where to Find More Keys to Good Cooking


Harold McGee writes about culinary arts and food science. He is the author of On Food and Cooking.

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