Building Your Cookbook Collection  

Let's face it, people aren't born cooks. Most of us eventually learn how - well sort of - out of necessity. When you think about it, it's actually pretty remarkable that despite all those years of hanging around Mom, very few kitchen skills rub off.

Oh, it's not that she didn't try. There are just more important things for a twelve - or - fourteen-year-old to do. After all, at twelve you don't even like stew; why would you want to make it, ever? 

Eventually, one day you realize you should have paid more attention. Or maybe, Mom was a miserable cook, so there was nothing to pass on. Don't be embarrassed or disheartened. Both situations are easily correctable.

Perhaps now you have your first apartment, or think it's time to widen your repertoire and put that frozen stuff behind you. It doesn't matter why you want to cook. You can even be curious. It's easy - really!

I've put together a list of basic, easy to follow books that will help you put a great meal on the table. And you'll be able to do so, even if your kitchen is a candidate for a Food 911 make-over.

The New Basics Cookbook, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

More than just a cookbook. Rosso and Lukins, who started the New York City restaurant and catering business The Silver Palate, present several hundred fool-proof recipes, share their inspiration for modern ingredients, wisdom about wine and much more. 

They give us charts and boxes full of useful information. Need tips on pairing wine and pasta? Want to find out what fish you can substitute for pompano? Or, learn how to successfully beat egg whites. It's all here. If you're only going to own one cookbook, it should be this one.

Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Julia Child and Jacques Pépin

It's like having two old friends in the kitchen to guide you. They gently banter back and forth while giving you two ways to make everything. And yes, I mean everything: two ways to make scrambled eggs, two ways to cook a hamburger, two ways to prepare a chicken. They show you why cooking is really personal, with many ways to achieve great results.

Caprial's Bistro Style Cuisine, Caprial Pence

An excellent book for someone who wants to make quick, interesting meals on a more consistent basis. In her introduction, Portland's Chef Pence says her goal is "to help home cooks build a repertoire of quick-to-make, sophisticated, down-to-earth dishes..." As a working mother of two, she knows what it's like to have to find time to cook dinner.

The Way to Cook, Julia Child

First published in 1989, this book stays with you as your cooking skills grow. Uniquely organized by techniques, Ms. Child emphasizes methods. 

Her wisdom is simply illustrated, for instance: steaming is steaming. She illustrates the technique for steaming beans is the same technique as steaming squash. "...when you realize that a stew is a stew, and a roast is a roast whether it be beef, lamb, pork, or chicken, cooking begins to make sense." 

And, it really does. Just follow Julia and soon you, too, will be comfortable cooking. You'll even start making your own substitutions and spawning new ideas.

Entertaining, Martha Stewart

Almost two decades ago, Martha Stewart revolutionized home cooking and entertaining with this book. She shows you that the results can be wonderful without being a kitchen slave. All it takes is a little planning, and a little organization, that she makes simple.

The days when "having a party" meant a sit-down dinner for eight, served at eight, beginning with martinis, are history. Your creative juices will start to flow when you read about brunch parties and luaus. Even holiday meals for the entire family become do-able.

And, did I mention there are plenty of recipes and advice for assembling and presenting dishes elegantly? 

Ok, so now you don't know which one to pick. Don't worry. The odds are very good all can be found in your local public library. Stop by the Dewey Decimal Code 641 shelves. Take them home. Try them out. And select the one you like most. 

You can't go wrong with any of these, and I promise, you'll have no regrets.