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Improvising a meal in the kitchen is a bit like playing jazz: You need a bass line and rhythm, high notes, and some spice and pizzazz. Some cooks, like some musicians, are stymied when they venture forth without a recipe or musical notation. Others excel.

Ever stare into your full fridge — and not know what to make for dinner? Former New York Times Magazine “Eat” columnist Mark Bittman understands. He’s also the best-selling author of How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

But whereas those cookbooks were encyclopedic in providing detailed recipes, his new Kitchen Matrix is unique.

To empower us all, Bittman notes, “If you can cook 10 recipes, you can cook 10,000,” and Kitchen Matrix gives you the key to unlocking the secrets of improvising.

The subtitle explains it well: “More than 700 simple recipes and techniques to mix and match for endless possibilities.” The book includes illustrated tables, simple formulas, and smart advice to help you become a truly confident cook.

Turn to the section of asparagus and Bittman offers 12 ideas for you to extemporize from. He breaks the recipes down into steamed, roasted, stir-fried, and grilled options; then further branches out into variations on those themes.

This is also an ideal cookbook for those who learn visually. It’s packed with tasty-looking photos and many two-page spreads that break down recipes into their visual elements. For instance, the section on eggs includes a “Recipe Generator” that serves as a kind of flow chart that you can select from to create your own dishes. Brilliant.

Now if playing music was only so easy.

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