Whether you're a total novice or a more seasoned cook, Notes on Cooking: A Short Guide to an Essential Craft is a great basic book on the ins and outs of cooking - just basic cooking. Not French cooking, or Indian Cooking, or sushi-making - just the basic rules of the kitchen. For instance - did you know that you can test the freshness of an egg by cracking it on a plate and observing whether or not it spreads? If the white and the yolk spread, the egg is not fresh - it should be thrown out. If the white and yolk maintain their typical dome-like appearance, go ahead and use the egg. If you're wondering whether or not to use a piece of meat or fish because you fear it might not be fresh, have you ever heard the axiom "When in doubt throw it out?" (My mom told me that one, but it's in here, too.)
Notes on Cooking is broken down into sections, like "Understanding the Recipe" and "The Cook's Role" and separate sections for different kinds of food. There's even a section on mise en place, which, if you're a fan of the Food Network or the reality show Top Chef, you've probably heard a lot but never really understood. And it's not a girthy book, mired in explanations and definitions. It's short and to the point - with numbered entries that are essentially short paragraphs. There is a lot in this book that I already knew (thanks, mom) - but just as much that I didn't. So whatever your level of interest in cooking is, check out Notes on Cooking and to see what you might not know! It's a great basic resource, and it will save you a lot of long-distance phone calls to your mom.