Does your loved one stand over a pot of boiling water with a thermometer? Wonder why salt makes steak juicy? Muse out loud about why russets make fluffier mashed potatoes than red bliss? Give these cookbooks as gifts:
• The Science of Good Cooking (America’s Test Kitchen, $40) by the folks behind Cook’s Illustrated magazine doesn’t just offer “400 recipes engineered for perfection,” it also covers 50 basic concepts explaining why the recipes work. Useful sidebars showcase tips and techniques — use a skillet, not a wok to stir-fry — and charts that check your measurements (a cup of all-purpose flour should weigh 5 ounces) make it a handy reference guide.
• Modernist Cuisine at Home (The Cooking Lab, $140) is even sexier. The laboratory that last year produced Modernist Cuisine, a six-volume encyclopedia of molecular gastronomy by Nathan Myhrvold, has turned its blow torches and sous vide machines on home cooking. It’s a monstrously fun and shockingly practical cookbook that truly lets you get your geek on. Who knew that a touch of citric acid makes the ultimate grilled cheese? Or that scrambled eggs can be dispensed from a whipping canister, and that baking soda helps caramelize vegetables?
— Michele Kayal