There is more to life than deli foods and microwave meals. But what do you do - if all you can do - is boil water?

"Cooking for yourself, by yourself, perhaps for the very first time, and making a success of it, is quite an adjustment - and no mean accomplishment," says cookbook author Helen Gustafson.However, if you didn't learn to cook at your mother's knee, don't despair. Help has arrived. Several new "beginner" cookbooks can take you from boiling water to making delicious home-cooked dishes.

Gustafson's "The Reluctant Cook" (Celestial Arts, Berkeley, Calif.; $8.95) brings home-cooking down to bare-bones basics with recipes for Marinated Flank Steak, No Stress Rice, Apple Crisp and more - about 50 recipes in all.

The cookbook is designed for anyone who doesn't know how to cook or who needs to cook but hates to do it. It can also be useful to those who don't want to spend hours in the kitchen with complicated recipes and long lists of ingredients.

In general, the recipes make one or two servings and require only a handful of ingredients. Plain Baked Chicken, for example, calls for two ingredients: a 3 1/2- to 4-pound chicken and salt. One egg, some milk and a package of commercial cornbread mix are the only ingredients for Gustafson's recipe for Spoonbread.

"The Reluctant Cook" is divided into Soups and Light Meals; Quick Fish, Hot and Cold; Hearty Suppers and Old Favorites; Tea and Desserts. The 93-page cookbook also includesa list of catalog sources for individuals with special needs.

"If you can read, you can cook," says Irena Chalmers in her new cookbook, "Irena Chalmers' All-Time Favorites: A Lifetime of Recipes for the First-Time Cook" (Prentice Hall Press, $19.95).

"I am convinced that if you want to cook well, you will do so," she says. "And the more you cook, the more you will enjoy it, for it is a never-ending hobby that will bring as much pleasure to you as it will to those who share your table."

The cookbook is a collection of classic recipes, menus, tips and techniques. Chalmers explains how to fry chicken, melt chocolate, poach fish, toss a salad - and more. She offers more than 300 recipes, including Pepper Steak, Chili, Lasagna, Corn Muffins and Peaches in Port Wine.

Chalmers is the author of more than 100 cookbooks, including "The Working Family's Cookbook," "The Food Professional's Guide: The James Beard Foundation Directory of People, Products and Services" and "Award-Winning Recipes," a collection of recipes that have won awards in competitions all over the United States.