Christmas Gift Idea For Cooks: Harold McGee's Keys to Good Cooking

Did you know that reheating fish accentuates its fishiness? That eating too many sun chokes gives you gas? That cooking octopus with wine corks has no effect on the sea creature? That sautéing garlic in butter gives it a milder aroma than if you sauté it in vegetable oil? That sneezing on food is a no-no?

We're sure you knew about that last one at least, but Harold McGee still makes sure to point out this food safety rule in his newest book, Keys to Good Cooking.

McGee's book won't impress for its glossy pages and colorful photos -- it's all text and written like a reference book -- but for its usefulness. It's meant to help the home cook read between the lines of everyday recipes and get comfortable with cooking processes and ingredients.

"Even good recipes are no guarantee of success," McGee writes. "At best they're an incomplete description of a procedure that has worked for the recipe writer. Whenever we cook from a recipe, we have to interpret and adapt it for our kitchen, our ingredients and our experience. And the process of interpretation and adaptation is just as important to the success as the recipe itself. A good recipe can be badly made."

The first six chapters of the book describe basic cooking methods, tools and pantry ingredients, heat and food safety. The second half focuses on ingredients and preparations.

It's unlikely that cooks will read this book front to back but they'll certainly consult its pages. Even if some of the points elicit a "duh" (like the no sneezing on food), the book covers a lot of ground that will have you thinking "good to know."

Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes
The Penguin Press
October 28, 2010
$35 ($19. 23 on Amazon)

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