The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander ****
This distinctive book – its size and multi-coloured stripes will ensure that you won’t mislay it in your kitchen – is a veritable tome but it is surprisingly readable. It sat on my coffee table for a month, chapters to be digested along with meals, and it has so many post-its hanging out of it to denote the ideas that interest me or recipes that I would like to try that it runs the risk of most of the 1075 pages (not including the index) being marked.
The book is an A-Z, by ingredient, and each chapter starts with a treatise by Stephanie Alexander on that particular ingredient plus information on varieties and season, selection, storage and preparation. A handful of well chosen recipes follow, accompanied by margin notes which point out complimentary ingredients and give ideas for other dishes.
Although I thought The Cook’s Companion, being an Australian cookery book, would only have limited interest for me, its practical A-Z of ingredients and techniques looks fair set to surpass my reliance on Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course.
There is a real personality to this book with surprisingly funny comments from Alexander and, although her habit of using unnecessary parenthesis can sometimes irritate, maybe that wouldn’t be quite as noticeable if you were dipping in and out of The Cook’s Companion rather than swallowing it whole.
There are plenty of unusual – to Northern Hemispheric eyes – ingredients including kangaroo, wallaby and albone but the amount and quality of information on more readily available things like lemons, coconuts, spinach and rice make this book worth turning to on a regular basis. And, if I even need to cook a yabby, I’ll know exactly where to find all the information. Worth investing in.
This has got to be the most used cookbook in our household – and I don’t think I use it particularly for “Australian” type ingredients – I’ll have an extra cabbage and think “what would Stephanie say”? When I’ve finished looking through the new edition, I intend to post a review on my site. Gorgeous though, isn’t it? I don’t know how I managed to resist as long as I did.
I only had my copy on loan from the library so had to read the whole thing in a month but you’re right – there’s always the “what would Stephanie suggest?” about different ingredients. I’ve taken down lots of her recipes and ideas for combinations but I keep finding myself remembering random bits of the book – just not well enough to do anything with them! Maybe I’ll have to invest although NZ$150 approx is still fairly pricey!