I am often asked (especially around gift-giving time) the name of my favorite cookbook. To the surprise of most, instead of the latest New Chinese tome or current Southwest-Thai-Andalusian hipster "how-to," I usually point to Irma Rombauer's classic Joy of Cooking. Sometimes you need to be reminded how to boil water.
Now I have a new favorite: the eminently readable, back-to-basics -- with a twist -- How to Cook, by Delia Smith (Dorling Kindersley Publishing, $40). Smith is a food guru in the UK, and while you will find Shepherd's pie on the menu, simple and terrific dishes like beef curry and shrimp risotto share space with the proper way to poach fish, what to stock in your kitchen and how to really cook potatoes. If you've wondered about how to sharpen a knife or what braising means, this book will not only tell you, but also show you what to do once you know.