The Very Best Books About Cooking and Food Science And A Defense Of "Food Porn"

Like 1960s Playboys or your favorite dirty VHS, cookbooks have a certain tangibility that online recipes cannot replace.

Jan 18, 2013 at 4:00pm | Leave a comment

Hey, everybody! This is awkward, but I’m sorry that I’m not sorry that I’m going to use the phrase “food porn.”

I know a lot of people hate this phrase, but I adooooore it, dahling. Because really, isn’t it an apt description for shows such as "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" or ANYTHING Nigella Lawson does? Food is a major source of pleasure (at least for me) and looking at pictures of delicious food makes me want to eat as much as looking at pictures of sexy people makes me want to bone, if not more so.  

In this regard, cookbooks are my smut.

Like all smut, my cookbooks made of trees have been mostly replaced by websites. Much like YouPorn and PornTube, websites such as Allrecipes and foodnetwork.com and amazing cooking blogs like Smitten Kitchen have taken food porn off of the page and into the cloud (that is where we keep stuff now, right?), and cookbooks are starting to seem unnecessary. 

But, like 1960s Playboys or your favorite dirty VHS, cookbooks have a certain tangibility that online recipes cannot replace. Allow me to share with you not only my favorite cookbooks, but my favorite books about food science as well.

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Smut Round Up

We will start with cookbooks.

1. Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook, 1961 edition.

Like something out of Betty Draper’s kitchen (I WILL NEVER REFER TO HER BY HER NEW NAME), this cookbook provides you with recipes like Tomato Soufflé Ring and Breaded Brains, served with a side of sexism.

But even if you don’t want to know the difference between English and Russian table service, this cookbook is actually wildly helpful. In addition to weird recipes (like tongue) this tome of housewifery also provides basic recipes like Eggs Benedict and Stuffed Flank Steak that are easy to follow and execute.

It also shows you how to cut vegetables properly and has a helpful chart elucidating which cuts of meat should be roasted, pan fried, braised, etc. So even if you don’t like cookbooks telling you to have a beverage ready for your weary husband, it’s nice to have a resource that helps you make your own cooked mayonnaise (because salmonella, guys). Also, the pictures are awesome.

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Segmented Livestock!

Note: I realize this particular cookbook may be difficult to purchase, but I recommend hitting up your local used bookstore to find a vaguely sexist cookbook from the 60s. They are a treasure trove of weird recipes and helpful hints only your grandmother would know.

Favorite Recipe: Whipped Cream Cake, because it is whimsical.

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I did not kill that deer.

2. How to Be a Domestic Goddess, Nigella Lawson 

Nigella makes eating fried pork fat look sexy. She also calls them “lardons” which sounds so much more sophisticated than “fried pork fat,” but this is why she is she and I am me. She is the Queen of Food Porn and what I aspire to be.

This particular culinary volume of hers focuses mainly on the baked (both sweet and savory) and is the book that made me realize that I could buy affection with cake. I really think that people like me more because of these recipes. Nigella also has a charming little paragraph at the beginning of each recipe that soothes any fears you may have about a particular pastry. Reading these makes me feel like she’s flirting with me and maybe even caressing my cheek with a wooden spoon. 

Favorite Recipe: Molten Chocolate Baby Cakes, because people will be impressed.

3. Pie, by Ken Haedrich

So obviously, I like baking. I started baking pies in undergrad in an effort to quit stress vomiting in the shower every morning and it’s been a source of therapy ever since. My roommate bought me this book to encourage the habit. He obviously liked eating pie and hated my stress vomiting. Everyone won that day.

There is not a lot to say about this book except that it is the only pie-themed cookbook you will ever need. With over 600 pages of recipes and tips, this resource contains everything you need to make any pie you want, whether it be apple or love apple (tomato).

Favorite Recipe: Snickers Cream Pie, because YOU KNOW WHY.

“BUT HOW DOES IT ALL WORK?” you (did not) ask.

Here is where we come to the food science leg of this journey. Let’s begin:

1. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of The Kitchen, Harold McGee 

If you only buy one food-related book, make it this one. I know this sounds as boring as that time I talked about ovens, but guys, Harold McGee is a gentleman AND a scholar. Literally. By explaining why we cook things the way we do, Harold gives us the tools to not only master recipes, but to create our own.

Maybe this still sounds really boring to you, but it gets me excited. I used this book to help me perfect my iced-coffee recipe, and that makes me want to kiss Harold McGee on the mouth.

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Just reading.

Geek Level: Accessible to most, like "Star Wars."

2. Cooking for Geeks, Jeff Potter

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 Hey, boy!

I would like to start out by saying that Jeff Potter looks adorable in his little bio pic. I really dig his eyebrows. His book isn’t bad either. I really appreciate that he lists both the volume and the mass of ingredients in his recipes, as mass is much more accurate.

I also really appreciate the super-dorky math/science/programming jokes scattered throughout. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in food science or molecular gastronomy, as you can use it as a workbook. You start out making ginger simple syrup, and end up making brown butter powder and an anti-griddle made of dry ice.

Use this to impress Alton Brown or some other sexy bespectacled foodie. Just don’t have sex on the anti-griddle. Your skin will stick to it and you will hate your life.

Favorite Recipe: Watermelon and Feta Salad

Geek Level: Suitable for those who enjoy "Firefly" and "XKCD"

3. Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor, Hervé This

This is a little bit drier, but if you really love science and you really love food, you will most likely really love this book. Each chapter is only a couple pages, but within them Scotch flavors are analyzed using statistics, lumps in your cooking are demystified, and tannins are explained!

Maybe you don’t want to know the science behind mashed potatoes, and I can appreciate that. Mashed potatoes are magic, and maybe it’s better to preserve the illusion. BUT DID YOU KNOW IF YOU PUT AN EGG IN VINEGAR THE SHELL WILL DESOLVE BUT THE EGG WILL RETAIN ITS SHAPE DUE TO COAGULATION OF THE EXTERNAL LAYERS IN THE VINEGAR? I find this fascinating and this book is riddled with scientific factoids like that.

There is also an entire section devoted to mastication, if you’re into that kinda thing.

Geek Level: "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"

“BUT WHAT’S ON YOUR WISH-LIST?” You (may/may not) want to know.

So glad I asked!

1. Carnivore, Michael Symon

Full disclosure: I want to lick Michael Symon’s head. 

I really love meat, so I really want this cookbook. I was just flipping through it at B&N and I came upon a recipe for a NUTELLA, BANANA, AND BACON GRILLED SANDWICH.

This doesn’t help my head-licking impulse.

2. Edible Selby, Todd Selby 

Straight. Up. Food. Porn.

This is just gorgeous photos and watercolors of food, kitchens, and chefs, with handwritten questionnaires and a recipe from each. Who doesn’t want that?

3. Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking 

Let’s be clear: I do not need this. This is probably mostly over my head. But I want it. Real bad. This four-volume set contains recipes that require centrifuges, and I am all about that. It is both food and science porn, and I want it in my life.

Do you guys like/own any of these? Would you like to? What are your favorite cookbooks? Are you guys tired of my shtick yet? 

Are you tired of Angie yet?

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 I mean c’mon.