The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander

This huge volume, with 1126 pages, is a complete resource for all Australian cooks. It was first published in 1996, revised in 2004, and contains a wealth of information about ingredients and the way they can be used in recipes. It is ideal for someone starting out in the kitchen for the first time.

Alexander has been cooking for a long time and is dedicated to her craft. In the introduction to her book she outlines her views on food, including the production of food by economically sustainable methods, using fresh food, genetically modified food and the concept of producing and sharing food as a family.

At the start of the book there a list of utensils with a definition and a brief explanation of how each is used. It contains much useful advice for purchasing each item, for example it is recommended that saucepans should not be bought in a set as rarely are all sizes required and goes on to suggest which ones could be purchased as a starter set. This sort of information is invaluable for someone setting out on the adventure of cooking on a budget.

There follows a rather long section entitled “basics” in which are definitions of some of the less familiar ingredients and terms which is found in the book as well as frequently used preparations such as stock, pastry and batter. After this a very useful section related to measurements, quantities and conversions which has been included because Alexander understands that there are occasions that some recipes, such as bread, biscuits, cakes and pastries, require greater accuracy and new cooks need guidance to feel more comfortable when cooking. At the same time she encourages cooks to be adventurous and to test by tasting.

The rest of the book is devoted to chapters, organised alphabetically, each one based on an ingredient beginning with abalone and concluding with zucchini and squash. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction usually including a personal comment about the writer’s experience with that particular ingredient, followed by a general account of where the product fits into the Australian situation. We find out about varieties and season, selection and storage, preparation and cooking and then are given a selection of recipes in which the ingredient is featured. On the side of each page is provided more useful incidental information such as how recipes can be modified by the addition of other ingredients. At the end of each chapter is a list of recipes where the ingredient used in other chapters. For example in the chapter on “eggs” there is a reference to “potato frittata” in the chapter on “Potatoes.”

Alexander considers that this book will be worthwhile if it encourages young people to start cooking and experienced cooks to enjoy cooking more. It is certainly a very comprehensive volume which reflects her enthusiasm for food and cooking and on which, any cook, old or new, can depend and find inspiration.