The Cook's Apprentice
Following on from her definitive The Cook’s Companion, Stephanie Alexander has released a younger sibling, The Cook’s Apprentice. This is designed for those just beginning their culinary journey but could well benefit anyone who wants to add to their cooking knowledge.
Alexander describes it as “the essential teaching cookbook” and it’s certainly that. It contains a fount of knowledge covering tips, techniques and recipes. Like The Cook’s Companion it’s arranged alphabetically for quick and easy referencing. Every recipe is given a “pantry to plate “ time, from the time you gather the ingredients to the time you present the finished dish, and rated from one to three spoons in terms of their degree of difficulty.
There’s a section of kitchen tools, measurements, techniques and a fabulous Ingredient ID. Whenever a less familiar ingredient is included in a recipe, a note in the margin directs you to the ID section to find out more about it, where to source it and what to do with it.
There are also handy pronunciation guides to unfamiliar terms throughout the book, that will save new cooks the confusion of asking for “kwinoha” (quinoa) instead of “keenwah”.
Stephanie Alexander has an enviable reputation, not just as a master chef but also as food educator. The book’s dedication is, in itself, a wonderful recommendation. “The Cook’s Apprentice is dedicated to the thousands of Kitchen Garden students in schools across Australia who constantly demonstrate that life-changing skills can be learned with regular, friendly and encouraging guidance.”
The Cook’s Apprentice should be on the Christmas giving list for anyone who knows a young adult moving out of home for the first time, anyone who wants to broaden their culinary nous, or anyone who just wants a definitive, approachable reference to delve further into the joys of cooking. Highly recommended.
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A Gentleman In Moscow
On June 21st, 1922, Count Alexander Rostov – recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt – is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square and through the elegant revolving doors of the Hotel Metropol.
Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely. But instead of his usual suite, he must now live in an attic room while Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval.
This is an introduction for me to an amazing writer of fiction.
Towles weaves a story of love, humour, history and intrigue in such a fashion that every page held me in awe of his use of language.
His characters are varied and interesting as the Count spends his days with staff members and guests of his ‘abode’ who have become his family.
The head chef, Emile, the head waiter, Andrey and the Count have formed a strong friendship, along with Marina, the tailoress. He also has a more intimate friendship with Anna, an Opera singer, who he had known personally before his arrest. Anna is a regular guest at the hotel.
With the Count’s knowledge of fine dining he is offered a job as waiter in the Boyarsky restaurant, one of two restaurants in the Metropol and the finest in Moscow.
A little girl, Sofia, enters the story when she is left at the hotel by her mother, Nina, (who the Count had met years before when she was a guest). Nina begs the Count to take care of her daughter while she is attending to ‘business’ in the north of the country. One can only assume that Nina’s ‘business’ is of a dangerous political nature.
The Count has had very little experience with children but nervously agrees to Nina’s request. Nina never returns and Sofia regards the Count as her father and remains with him until well into her teen years.
The story covers a period from 1922 to 1954 and Count Rostov has lived an extremely interesting life during that period given that he has only seen the inside of the Metropol.
He has met with guests from many backgrounds including visiting American journalists, visiting members of ‘the party’ and, following the death of Stalin, was instrumental in the planning of a dinner for 28 members of the Communist Party where comrade Khrushchev was in attendance.
Count Rostov has never forgotten his past and his close relationship with his sister Helena. His strong desire to return to his ancestral home in Nizhny Novgorod Province becomes even stronger once Sofia has departed and a plan is put in place to do just that. How that plan unfolds is intriguing and thrilling.
This is everything a novel should be – witty, poetic, charming – an absolute delight!