LIBRARY LOWDOWN — I have a confession to make … 10 years ago I didn’t know the difference between escargot and escarole. I’d never eaten a baby kale salad, savored a stinky wedge of Stilton or feasted on foraged mushrooms. I couldn’t make a b√©chamel, caramelize an onion or really even chop an onion without causing myself grievous bodily harm. But now, thanks to my obsession with cooking shows and the proliferation of high-end grocery stores, fancy foodstuffs and organic produce, I’m a full-fledged gourmand! Well, maybe not quite, but at the very least I’m a fledgling foodie, and I’m definitely not alone.

Just about everyone in Santa Monica is food crazy these days, and whether you’re a bumbling novice in the kitchen or a serious chef, the library has what you need to help achieve your culinary dreams. We’ve got over 2,000 cookbooks at the Main Library alone with more arriving every week, books for all skill levels, ages, tastes and occasions.

For kitchen newbies still learning the basics, Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” should be required reading. Bruce Weinstein’s “Cooking Know-How” and Food Network Magazine’s “1,000 Easy Recipes” also provide clear, easy to follow instructions. When you’re ready to conquer more advanced culinary techniques classics like Larousse Gastronomique, Irma Rambauer’s timeless “Joy of Cooking” and Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” are indispensable.

To broaden your horizons and incorporate foods and flavors from around the world into your cooking repertoire check out Charles Phan’s “The Slanted Door” for a modern take on Vietnamese food, Rawia Bishara’s “Olives, Lemons & Za’atar” for down to earth Middle Eastern homestyle cooking or Martin Morales’s mouthwatering “Ceviche” for seafoodcentric Peruvian dishes.

If you’re a Food Network junkie like me and want to know what your favorite celebrity chefs are cooking, we’ve got the latest from the food world’s biggest stars: Ina Garten’s elegant “Barefoot Contessa Foolproof,” Mario Batali’s beautiful and educational “America — Farm to Table” and Jamie Oliver’s crowd pleasing “Comfort Food.” If it’s local flavor you’re craving we’re serving that up that up too, with books from hometown heroes like “LA Son” by Roy Choi (Kogi BBQ Taco Truck, A Frame), “Street Food” by Susan Feniger (Border Grill, Mud Hen Tavern) and “Huckleberry” from Santa Monica’s own Zoe Nathan.

Need a taste of inspiration for your Holiday cooking? For a contemporary twist on traditional Turkey Day fixin’s, try Diane Morgan’s “The New Thanksgiving Table.” Got a family full of vegans to feed for Christmas? Lindsay Nixon has your back with “Happy Herbivore Holidays & Gatherings.” We’ve even got gluten-free, kosher Hanukkah treats courtesy of Lisa Sander-Horel’s “Nosh on This.”

In my house no holiday meal would be complete without an adult beverage (or three) and lucky for you we’ve been juicing up our cocktail collection with cutting edge bartending guides. To dazzle your friends with mixological wizardry check out David Kaplan’s “Death & Co,” Dave Arnold’s “Liquid Intelligence” and Jimmy Dymott’s “Modern Cocktails.” For those who prefer beer and wine to the heavy stuff I recommend Kristofor Barnes’ “Beer Lover’s Southern California” and Michael Steinberger’s “Wine Savant.” If you’re an adventurous DIY type head to the home brewing section for Joe Fisher’s “Brewing Made Easy” and Michael Agnew’s “Craft Beer for the Home Brewer.”

I’m still stuck on paper, but for those of you who like your books digital our eBook collection features popular cookbooks like Deb Perlman’s gorgeously photographed “Smitten Kitchen,” Emeril Lagasse’s “Farm to Fork” and Mollie Katzen’s vegetarian masterpiece “Heart of the Plate.” Go toebook.smpl.orgto check out the full collection.

If the thousands of books in our collection aren’t enough to satisfy your appetite we have subscriptions to cooking magazines like Bon Appetit, Cooks Illustrated, Food Network and Saveur and DVDs of cooking shows like the “Two Fat Ladies (RIP)” and “Dare to Cook.”

The library also collaborates with the Santa Monica Farmers Market on a series of food-centric panel discussions featuring local farmers, chefs, restaurateurs and food writers. At the end of each program attendees get to nosh on bite-sized samples from the chef in attendance. Past programs have dealt with sustainable gardening, urban homesteading and DIY holiday gifts with notable panelists like Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s Good Food, Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill and Pulitzer Prize-winning food journalist Jonathan Gold.

While the Farmers Market Panel series is on hiatus until February 2015 folks interested in learning about the benefits of a vegetarian diet should head to the Pico branch at noon on Saturday, Dec. 6 for ‘A Plant-Powered Diet For Optimal Health’ with Nutritionist Sharon Palmer. She’ll explain how everyone could benefit from munching on more plants and conclude with a mouthwatering vegetarian cooking demo.

Piqued your appetite? Then stop by and see what’s cookin’ at the library or check us out atsmpl.org. Happy Holidays and Bon Appetit from Santa Monica Public Library!

Jeff Kaplan is a Reference & Instruction Librarian at Santa Monica Public Library

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