Q: After 59 years of enjoying her wonderful cooking, my wife is no longer able to cook for me. I can't keep making sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I look at recipes and don't understand some of the lingo and most have too many ingredients. Is there help for me out there? The prepackaged dinners have too much salt and calories. Most of them are too expensive and tasteless.
—Don Moloney, Northfield
A: There are many books out there teaching basic cooking skills to people of every age, from college seniors about to start out on their own to folks like you who set up housekeeping decades ago and are now forced by changing circumstances to learn how to cook.
I am not a huge fan of those encyclopedic cook books that most people give as "starter" guides because most have hundreds of recipes but offer little "hand holding" for the newbie in terms of providing context, teaching techniques or help in sourcing ingredients. So, I turned to Mari Malcolm, a senior books editor for Amazon.
"There seems to be a couple of common themes,'' she said of your letter in a telephone interview from Seattle. "Simplicity, things that are healthy and recipes with clear instructions."
A number of books came immediately to her mind:
"The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook: A New, Healthier Way to Cook Everything from America's Most Trusted Test Kitchen" (America's Test Kitchen, $34.95). This comprehensive book has 1,200 "tried and true recipes" for "classic American comfort food,'' Malcolm said. Recipes are given step-by-step and keys to success noted, she said. The book is spiral-bound for easy handling, has plenty of photographs, and Malcolm said it is being praised as a "must go-to" by Amazon readers.
"How to Cook Everything: The Basics; All You Need to Make Great Food" by Mark Bittman (Wiley, $35). "This is his book on how to cook," Malcolm said. "It has 185 recipes but 1,000 full-color photos." The focus is on techniques taught via "essential recipes everyone needs to know,'' she said. Beginners and those looking to refine their cooking technique will find this book a useful confidence-builder, Malcolm added.
"Eat More of What You Love: Over 200 Brand-New Recipes Low in Sugar, Fat, and Calories" by Marlene Koch (Running Press, $27). This book, one of Malcolm's picks as best cookbook for April, features 200 recipes that are healthier variations on "the kind of comfort food we all crave,'' she said. Amazon readers like the fact the ingredients called for aren't "super expensive" and there are tips for handling any leftovers.
Do you have a question about food or drink? E-mail Bill Daley at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Snail mail inquiries should be sent to: Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago 60611. Twitter @billdaley.