Some people learned to cook from their mothers or, if Mom was at the office, from their grandmothers. Some learned from books: I still have the stained and spine-sprung copy of James Beard's Fireside Cookbook that inspired my first success in the kitchen.
These days, many think they're learning by watching TV. But it doesn't really work. TV chefs have crews of little elves offstage peeling the garlic and chopping the parsley. That's nice for the chef, but it gives an unrealistically short — and tidy — picture of what really goes on in a kitchen. If you want to learn to feed yourself, you're better off with a book. Take a breath, wash your hands, and open one of these all-purpose guides to the world of home cooking (from basic to more complex, with a wonderful baking book thrown in for good measure).
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