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BY RUSS PARSONS
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Here's the deal: You know a lot about food. You've seen all the shows; you've read all the books. But when it comes to cooking, well, there's a little problem.
It's not that you can't cook; it's just that what you create in your own kitchen doesn't really match up to your aspirations.
Trying to learn to cook by trolling through recipe collections is frustrating.
Even after you've mastered a dish, all you've really learned is how to make that one thing. At that rate, you'll probably be retired before you feel like you've actually mastered the art.
What you need is a book that teaches the basics and hopefully provides some pretty good food while you're learning. Fortunately, there are two new books that aim to do just that.
They are intended for different audiences, but each book accomplishes what it sets out to do--make you a better cook.
The first, aimed at beginners, comes from The Food Network's "How to Boil Water" series, and it delivers a lot of solid culinary advice along with recipes with broad appeal.
On the other hand, for cooks who have mastered the basics and have set their sights on more ambitious terrain, there's Michael Ruhlman's "Ruhlman's Twenty." Its subtitle says it all: "20 Techniques; 100 Recipes; A Cook's Manifesto."
"How to Boil Water" is aimed at the college or immediately post-college crowd. It's got all the flashy colors, funny fonts and well-scrubbed prepster models you might expect.
But there's a lot more to the book than just shiny surfaces. The breakout boxes contain sound information on how to shop for food and store it, and how to set up your first kitchen.
The recipes are a lot better than you would expect from a book aimed at those who have only a limited acquaintance with the kitchen.
The Tuscan chicken with Parmesan, for example, was completely satisfying.
"Ruhlman's Twenty" is aimed at the kind of hard-core cook who might sneer at "How to Boil Water."
And when the author calls this collection a "manifesto," he's not kidding.
TUSCAN CHICKEN STEW
Total time: About 1 hour