I received this book last summer as a gift and I really enjoy the premise. Written by Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times' food editor, the science behind food preparation is explained in a lively narrative.
Okay, I know that sounds really boring but it isn't. Let me give you an example.
When you cut an onion, you cut through the onion's vacuoles and their contents combine to form sulfonic acids (as in sulfur). This is what makes you cry when you're chopping an onion. Sweet onions like the Vidalia onions contain the same amount of vacuoles as regular onions but much less of the sulfuric compounds. You can make onions further sweeter by soaking them in water or rinsing them in vinegar (as they do in Mexico) to get rid of even more sulfuric compounds. And that's just two paragraphs of this book.
Other topics tackled include (of course) frying (using a little "old" oil gives food that golden look), gluten (the differing factor in many bread products), ripening (that fruit you bought is definitely still alive long after it's picked), and marinades (oily marinades and water-filled meat do not mix).
Clearly you can't sit down and read to this whole book without your brain exploding but reading parts of it will no doubt improve your food preparation techniques. A college professor of mine always said that chemists were the best cooks, organic chemists in particular. I think there is certainly something to be said for that.
But this book isn't just for the nerdy people who want to know what's happening to their food on a microscopic level. At the end of each chapter is a bulleted list of things to keep in mind when preparing certain kinds of food. (The book is divided into chapters by food type and/or preparation technique.) One step further than the helpful hints are the recipes at the end of each chapter. The recipes reflect the ideas of combining certain foods/flavors and certain preparation techniques to showcase the best aspects of the food, which most people don't know about, myself included.
So whether you enjoy a good narrative, some science and history knowledge, practical techniques to use in your kitchen, or good recipe, you will get something out of this book. I've been reading bits of it while standing by the kitchen counter, preparing dinner. (Apparently there's a lot of standing around waiting in my kitchen!) I think this book would make a great gift, for the holidays or even just a "thanks for cooking me Thanksgiving dinner" hostess gift.
Image: If this book fits in my kitchen, It can fit anywhere!