7 Great Books for New Cooks

Resolved to learn how to cook (or just cook more) in 2012? Here are a few great books to get you (or a loved one) started and inspired. When choosing books for a new cook, I find that it's best to start out by thinking of the kinds of books she or he typically reads--memoirs? romance? practical books with lots of technique? There are food books that touch on all of those themes, and it's just a matter of finding the right one. Pair these books off with a pair of tickets to one of my upcoming NYC cooking classes, and you'll be on the right path to your new life as a home cooking superstar!

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School 
I find this book and story particularly exciting, because so much of it is similar to what I do with my own culinary services and cooking classes. In this book, the writer, Chef Kathleen Flinn, tells the story of how she went into the kitchens of cooking novices and worked with them to both understand how it is they feel about food and cooking, and then to actually teach them how to make cooking a realistic part of their life (all the while explaining WHY it's so important to do so). Part memoir and part cookbook, it's an incredible story that will both teach and inspire. If you only pick up one of the books on this list, definitely get this one.

Think Like a Chef
Originally written long before Tom Colicchio became the star he is today (though new editions of the book do reference Top Chef), this is a solid book by a talented chef and good teacher that focuses on the technique and mindset of cooking. It is a book that is clearly written for a reader who wants to truly learn. It goes beyond recipes to walk the reader through basic techniques, key ingredients, and recipes that are laid out in a very specific order to teach you not just to follow a recipe, but to understand the formula so you can create and adjust it for yourself. All throughout, interesting anecdotes and stories keep the book interesting and an actual pleasure to read.

How to Repair Food 
This is a brilliant and handy little reference book to own, and one which I recommend to both new and seasoned cooks alike. With remedies for nearly every single kitchen mishap imaginable, as well as a fabulous list of pantry ingredients to keep on hand for kitchen emergencies. Covering everything from sunken cakes to salty soup to burned meat, it's a great little volume to keep in the kitchen for those times when things go wrong (because they will!). I think of it as my kitchen "First Aid" kit.

Cooking for Mr. Latte
There are a LOT of "memoirs with recipes" out there, but this is by far my favorite. Written by Amanda Hesser who was, at the time, the food editor of the New York Times Magazine, and currently the co-founder and editor of Food52, the book tells the story of her courtship with her now husband, and the way that food played into that relationship. Unlike most food memoirs, which tend to be a little bit--er...syrupy--this one is funny, witty, but still romantic and sweet. The recipes that are interspersed throughout the book are elegant, but simple enough for novice chefs, who will most likely be so inspired by the actual stories, that they'll eagerly head to the kitchen to try them out.

How to Cook Everything
The title really does say it all here! This book contains 2000 simple recipes for just about everything. It's the book to pull out if you find yourself with an ingredient you want to cook, or just need a quick basic recipe for a classic dish. The book also defines cooking terms, and includes menus for different occasions. It's not a gorgeous picture book full of incredibly impressive recipes, but it's easy to follow, accessible, and definitely the kind of book you'll find yourself referencing regularly.

The School of Essential Ingredients
This breezy novel by Erica Bauermeister might not seem like an obvious choice for those learning how to cook, but the sweet story about how one cooking class transformed the lives of all who took it is definitely very inspiring. The book is interspersed with lessons on cooking techniques, so you'll actually find that you learn a few practical cooking tips while enjoying the story. It's a fun and entertaining read that will get you into the mindset for making home cooking a real part of your life.

In the Small Kitchen
If you have a teen or a twenty-something in your life who is just starting to develop an interest in cooking, this is definitely the book to give him or her. Written by a pair of friends, the book features recipes and lessons specifically for new cooks living in dorms and small apartments. Covering everything from pantry staples to basic techniques, the book provides recipes broken down by specific occasions (date food, brunch, entertaining, etc.). The book is interspersed with personal anecdotes that make the book just as fun to read as it is to cook from.

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