Gifts for food geeks

Three foodie books to feed body and soul

Robot Brownie Pops from Rosanna Pansino’s <i>The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook</i>.

Robot Brownie Pops from Rosanna Pansino’s The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook.

Home chefs can be hard to shop for. They have everything, gadgets and gizmos galore. So this holiday season, don’t get them another thingamabob—they have 20. Find something they can really sink their teeth into: a good book. Here are three foodie selections for the last-minute shopper.

The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook: Sweet Treats for the Geek in All of Us, by Rosanna Pansino

YouTube star Rosanna Pansino transitions her popular cooking show to a “dead” media form with the release of her first cookbook. With all the geeky goodness and impressive creations of her online show, Pansino’s emphasis is presentation—the working volcano cake and hard candy geodes will wow a birthday party for any age. The opening pages detail decorating techniques and basic recipes—the easy marshmallow fondant may become a kitchen staple—all invaluable preparation for the advanced recipes that fill this book. Not all are challenging—Petri Dish Jellies and 20-Sided Dice Cookies are simple but creatively impressive—but many require a little more skill, patience and equipment than your standard chocolate chip cookie recipe. Pansino’s instructions and step-by-step photos make the precise piping seem approachable and fun; though one may still find practice makes perfect. The pop culture and STEM themes will delight the geekier chefs, and no foodie will deny the creativity of Pansino’s Zombie Brain Cake, Robot Brownie Pops, or her the impressive Earth Cake—which, when cut into, reveals the layers of our planet.

Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Matrix: More Than 700 Simple Recipes and Techniques to Mix and Match for Endless Possibilities, by Mark Bittman

For a more impromptu style of cooking, New York Times Magazine columnist Mark Bittman believes the best meals are prepared with an understanding of the ingredient or dish’s core. While there are some traditionally formatted recipes, Kitchen Matrix focuses on branching out from a single item and arriving at diverse dishes. From hard-boiled eggs, Bittman branches out to pickled, deviled and simmered in tomato sauce, and then offers three flavor profiles for each—all on one page with brief, casual instructions. The layout allows the reader to draw similarities between the dishes and these similarities build familiarity with the core concept. It’s the difference between leading and teaching a man to oil-poach fish, and Bittman clearly champions the latter. Few cookbooks are as invaluable to midnight snacking and casual weeknight dinners as they are to cocktail parties and holiday meals, but in the simplicity and reliance on an ingredient’s profile, Kitchen Matrix will feed you from morning to night.

The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, by Dan Jurafsky

Still reeling from one too many holiday feasts? Feed your mind, not your belly, with an examination of what and how we eat from a linguist’s perspective. Stanford University professor Dan Jurafsky combines the study of linguistics with an extensive online database of restaurant menus and reviews dating back more than 100 years to uncover the surprising history and origins of popular dishes and kitchen vernacular. Recently released in paperback, each chapter in The Language of Food is a mini history lesson that travels the globe, presenting more “did you know?” tidbits than could ever be shared at a lifetime of dinner parties. While autopsying words and practices such as “entrée,” “toasting” and “macaroni,” Jurafsky paints the bigger picture—a story of economics, ruling empires and advertisements—that shape our plate. It’s a fascinating, eye-opening view of the evolution and adoption of culinary ingredients and practices. For example, did you know that in the English-speaking world the “pig” in the field turns to “pork” on the plate thanks to a thousand-year-old Norman invasion? Chew on that.