Edan Lepucki is extremely well-read, but she also has a not-so-secret passion for cookbooks. Thankfully she has decided to share the wealth with this guide to the year’s best.Over the past two years, my hobby for cooking food, (and then, eating it), has become a somewhat overwhelming passion. Now that I’m knee-deep in a MFA program, I often find myself fantasizing about quitting the life of a writer (so difficult! so lonely!) to become a chef. I dream about jetting off to some famed culinary institute, where I learn the right way to chop and braise and whisk in a room with a 5:1 male-to-female ratio. In the meantime, I’ve discovered some fantastic cookbooks to fuel the fire. I’ve voted these 3 the best of 2004.Italian Easy: Recipes from the London River Cafe by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers – The London River Cafe is where Jamie Oliver, the famed Naked Chef, got his start. I’m not normally a fan of Italian food–all those pastas and creamy sauces–but this book’s fare is light and surprisingly diverse. Try the porkchops in lemon, or the mozarella salad with roasted bell peppers, or the sausages in wine, or the chicken in nutmeg–you won’t be disappointed. All of the recipes are lo-fi and easy to follow, and the pictures will have you drooling.A Beautiful Bowl of Soup: The Best Vegetarian Recipes by Paulette Mitchell – Who knew that soup was easy to make? This is a little paperback cookbook that still manages to include a ton of recipes and beautiful, full-color photographs. I’m not a vegetarian, but I’ve nevertheless been impressed by what Mitchell has to offer: curried carrot with apple; Mediterranean stew; roasted butternut squash. This week I’m going to try to make sweet potato ancho bisque!Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten – I’ve attempted to convert every cook I know into a follower of Ina Garten, who’s funneled her success from her specialty food store, Barefoot Contessa, into the cookbook writing business. Garten’s recipes almost always call for kosher salt and olive oil, but somehow, with just a few more ingredients, each dish has its own unique, mouth-watering flavor. This time, we go with Ina to Paris, where we learn how to make string beans the French way; how to prepare a goat cheese tart; and how, sweet lord, to cook mussels in a white wine sauce. I only got this book a week or so ago, and already I’ve ripped through more than a handful of recipes. Barefoot in Paris also tops the 2004 list in terms of visual prowess. Photographer Quentin Bacon deserves a medal for his picture of Herb-Baked Eggs.