The Essential Good Food Guide by Margaret M. Wittenberg

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If you’ve ever picked up an odd-looking vegetable at the farmers market or a new grain from the bulk bin and then wondered what to do with it back in your kitchen, this is the book for you. The Essential Food Guide walks us through all the ingredients both common and uncommon that find their way into our kitchen, delving into such gritty details as how to read labels, judging cooking times, cooking seasonally, and all the other bits of knowledge that can confound even the most intrepid home cook. In short: this is a resource that all of us need in the kitchen.

Quick Facts

Who wrote it: Margaret M. Wittenberg

Who published it: Ten Speed Press

Highlights: Think of this book as your encyclopedia for good eating. It is both a buying guide and a cooking guide, covering both raw ingredients like fruits and flours as well as prepared ingredients like pasta, cheese, and soy sauce. Foods are listed with a brief description of what the food is, what it tastes like, its texture, how it can be used, and what to look for when buying it. While these descriptions certainly don’t cover everything there is to know about every ingredient, they do give us enough of an understanding that we have something to go on when shopping and cooking.

Wittenberg spends a great deal of the book (nearly a third of it!) on grains and flours, diving deep into descriptions of flavor and texture, details on cooking methods, and discussions on gluten-free flours. The other sections cover fruits and vegetables, beans, pastas, nuts and seeds, dairy products, oils, seasonings, and sweeteners, and focus mostly on foods and ingredients that may not be as familiar. The sections on meat and seafood are the most brief, primarily discussing the definitions of various industry terms and labels — this was disappointing to me as I think shopping for good-quality meat and seafood is becoming increasingly confusing and I would have appreciated a more in-depth guide and discussion here.

The most useful aspect of this book, in my opinion, are the boxes and charts. These are our quick reference guides for everything from picking gluten-free flours to the best oils to dress our salads. I have flagged almost every one of them in the book and am sorely tempted to photocopy a few to tape to my cupboards!

Who would enjoy this book? Cooks who are trying to shop more conscientiously and find themselves encountering many unfamiliar ingredients, cooks who would like more guidance when shopping at local markets

Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: The Essential Good Food Guide by Margaret M. Wittenberg

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