Customer Review

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5.0 out of 5 stars The title says it all - but modestly omits "essential"!, 12 Jun. 2013
This review is from: The Cook's Companion: The Complete Book of Ingredients and Recipes for the Australian Kitchen (Hardcover)
Although this book is written for Australians, it would be a mistake to think it has seriously diminished value for cooks from other countries. As an expat Brit who has lived in Australia for nearly five years, I can assure you that you would never regret buying it or let a day in the kitchen go by without dipping into it. Not for nothing is Stephanie Alexander's monumental work one of British food writer Nigel Slater's five most essential cookbooks. It is structured a bit like an encyclopedia, as the entries are ingredients in alphabetical order. There's about 130 of them, but some are general - Asian Greens or Tropical Fruit, for example - these contain lots of sub-entries. Each main ingredient has sections on Varieties and Season, Selection and Storage, Preparation and Cooking - followed by several recipes. The recipe sections contain margin notes detailing yet more ways of cooking with the ingredient. At the beginning of each entry is a margin note with a comprehensive list of what the ingredient works best with.

Obviously, some of the varieties of things like fish, for instance, have no real equivalent in European waters, so the descriptive text will have no value and, conversely, there will be no discussion of some fish you are familiar with that have no equivalent in Australian waters. But, I was surprised how little this mattered - partly because there is an amazing amount of common availability of food between hemispheres these days - and partly because such anomalies are vastly outweighed by the general usefulness of this book to anyone - anywhere.

I will close this review by talking briefly about the little things that lesser books leave out, or do badly. Want to find an ingredient quickly? the alphabetic table of contents has alternate ink colours for different letters - very easy to find things. Want to cross-reference ingredients and/or recipes whilst preparing a meal? there are two place marker ribbons. Want to find a recipe featuring a couple of ingredients you may have? the cross-referenced index is one of the most comprehensive I have seen in a cookbook, with main recipes having an initial capital and margin recipes in italics. The main ingredient entries in the index are in bold, with sub-entries to them indented to avoid confusion. Similarly, index entries that are not main ingredients also have indented sub-entries. For example, amaretti biscuits, clearly not a main ingredient - so not in bold - has six sub-entries in the index to recipes featuring the biscuits. Want a good read? This book is not just a fantastic work of reference, but also has just the right mix of anecdote and history to sustain your interest for hours. So what's wrong with it? Well, with five stars, not a lot. My main caveat, oddly enough, is the price to UK purchasers. I bought this for less in Aussie dollars than the UK price in pounds. That's almost half the price Amazon are listing to you!
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