Posted 10 November 2006 - 05:10 PM
There are sooooooooooooo many great cookbooks available (so many not so great ones, too, I know) that it's hard to come up with titles for a good starter library for a new couple, but here are a few ideas for categories and some books within them:
A general how-to cookbook: I learned to cook from The New York Times Cookbook, but I don't think I'd recommend it to someone starting out today. I think there should be one weighty cookbook on the shelf that you can turn to to find out how to cut up a chicken, steam asparagus or zest an orange. Books that fall into this category are, among others, Joy of Cooking (I haven't seen the latest edition, but I'm sure the basic information is still very good) and The Good Housekeeping Cookbook. For a more pro look, there's the Cook's Book, in which the basics are covered by chefs with lots of how-to photos (I've looked through this book -- I've got it on my shelf -- but never cooked from it).
Maybe a food science book: If you choose one, I'd opt for Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, or Shirley Corriher's CookWise.
A soup-to-nuts cookbook: If you're not going to invest in many cookbooks covering all parts of the meal, a really good general cookbook might be an important addition to a kitchen library. Yes, Joy and Good Housekeeping are general cookbooks, but if you want something with recipes that are a bit more stylish, you might turn to the new Bon Appetit Cookbook, The Gourmet Cookbook, a book by Pam Anderson, maybe The Perfect Recipe, or the very modern Tasty, by Roy Finamore.
An Italian cookbook: The classic is still Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian Cooking or you could go for the newer Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I haven't looked at the new Silver Spoon cookbook, but many people I know are using it happily. And, I love the two books by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, The Splendid Table, which covers the cooking of Emilia Romagna, and The Italian Country Table, a very homey book.
A French book: This is a hard category. For learning traditional French cooking, there's still no one like Julia Child and her chef d'oeuvre, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes I and II. For a different look at the classics and for classics with twists and modern updates, there's Jim Peterson's Glorious French Food. And for simpler French food with few explanations of techniques but with very good and reliable recipes, there's Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells.
A baking book: Of course, I love my new book because it's really about home baking and just as much for newbies as old hands, but mine is hardly the only good starter book out there -- good books for beginners are Nick Malgieri's How to Bake and absolutely any book by Maida Heatter.
After our new couple has worked their way through these, there are lots more waiting to be explored -- all those special single subject books, like Barbara Kafka's Vegetable Love, Nina Simond's Asian cookbooks, Lorna Sass's new book, Whole Grains, and all those chocolate books.
You're right -- it's hard to choose.