often, when I cook, I do so without following any recipe, I prefer to just use whatever ingredients I like and try to make the best out of it. For example, yesterday, I had some lamb stock laying around, as well as onions, garlic and various other vegetables. So I decided I wanted to make a simple soup out of it. I have the book "Culinary Artistry", which is a great source of ideas for flavour pairings (e.g. what vegetables taste well together with lamb?). However, what I don't have is a book that tells me how to prepare the various ingredients, and, maybe most importantly, why.
For example, when I use onions, I usually chop them and soften them in a pan in oil or butter over low heat (without browning them) for 10 minutes. This usually works very well, but why? Likewise, what about garlic? Should it be treated the same way? Why, or why not? And carrots? Celery? And so on.
Other similar questions I might have (just some examples):
At what temperature are various cuts of different animals considered rare, medium and well done?
At how long can/should various cuts of meat be kept at these temperatures? (e.g. chuck roast can be kept for hours or days at 60 C, while tenderloin will become mushy after a few hours)
At what temperatures do the various proteins in eggs coagulate?
What is the pH values of various fruits and vegetables?
Etc etc etc
So basically, what I'm looking for is a kind of encyclopedia of ingredients, with entries telling me about chemical properties (nutritional information, amount of substances like starch, pectin, etc), and how different ingredients react to things like heat, acids (or alkalinity), different kinds of cooking techniques etc. Does anyone have any suggestions for such a reference book?