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My Favourite Cookbooks - Number One

Sabine Schneider
Sabine Schneider

Faithful companion for years to come
This is the second edition of Australia's food bible. Expanded and re-written to include 12 new chapters, this book is a weighty affair with more than 1100 pages. Well-known author, restaurant owner and chef, Stephanie Alexander, learnt cooking from her mother, to whose memory the book is dedicated.

Alexander introduces her book with thoughts on the future of food. That sounds grand and rather too general to be of any use. The author, however, manages to touch difficult issues with confidence and ease. She laments the anxiety that surrounds food these days and carefully explains why - in general - she prefers food that is produced using environmentally sustainable methods. But she is not dogmatic and never looses sight of practicability. It's a different story when it comes to gene technology: Although Alexander lists pros and cons of this controversial issue, she leaves no doubt that she'd prefer gene technology to be used for medicinal purposes only. Food, she believes, should be fresh, local, seasonal and as little tampered with as possible.

The Cook's Companion portrays hundreds of ingredients, 122 of which have their own chapter. They range from ingredients everybody knows, such as apricots and tomatoes to the exotic, such as pomegranates and witlof. But she doesn't forget old-fashioned fare from tripe and trotters to turnips and swedes to quinces and rhubarb.

I haven't' been able to think of a lot of commonly used ingredients not covered by this excellent reference book, which doesn't just explain what's what, but also how to use it. Thus it contains close to 1000 manageable and uncomplicated recipes. I even found some I'd all but forgotten, such as beef bourguignon or braised and glazed turnips.

If I could only own one cookbook, The Cook's Companion would be a hot contender, because it is so close to what I'd call a comprehensive guide to cooking. Surely there can't be many cookbooks in the same league.
Speaking of which - The Joy of Cooking is perhaps the American equivalent, but appears hopelessly antiquated compared to this fresh and modern edition of The Cook's Companion. It's not just the content that makes the book a pleasure to own - it also has an appealing shell: The smooth cover is colourful and wipeable and the two ribbon bookmarks make it easy to find pages you often use. I try not to scratch book’s silver edges that make it look a million dollars, um, at least well worth the price.

IFortunately the author has decided not to bore readers with nutritional information and patronising speeches about what's good for us. Rather, her pages ooze a passion for the pleasures of food and its preparation.
A conversion table, a glossary, an extensive bibliography and a comprehensive index seem to be a matter of course to bring this treasure trove closer to becoming the only cookbook you’ll ever need.
Alexander considered the first edition of The Cook's Companion a success. I have no doubt this one will exceed her expectation. It certainly exceeded mine.

The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander, published by Penguin, app $145

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