The Tante Marie's Cooking School Cookbook: More Than 250 Recipes for the Passionate Home Cook

by Mary S Risley
ISBN: 0743214919

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A Review of: The Tante Marie∆s Cooking School Cookbook
by Sarah Sheard

This is the first cookbook produced by Mary Risley, founder of Tante Marie's Cooking School. The 250 recipes included do not cover all the culinary waterfronts but offer a firm foundation from which any adventurous cook may sally forth. Each recipe provides easily grasped instructions on everything from how to trim artichokes to wrapping salmon in parchment bundles with beurre blanc. A number of basic French cookbooks also do this of course, but Risley-and this is rarer-encourages improvisation. In each section, she includes a how to cook this without a recipe' entry. If it isn't a salmon looking up from the reader's cutting board but a haddock instead, Risley will have provided enough core information to allow for the adjustment.
She also includes a the big problem' entry at the start of each section which safely guides home cooks through whatever tricky bits lurk behind kneading tender pastry, testing doneness in meat or getting the risotto to the table in synch with the diners.
The recipes themselves span a solid range, from simple starters like mushrooms filled with garlic butter to more scary-ambitious desserts like almond Genoise with fresh fruit and raspberry sauce. Each recipe is followed by precise, brief postscripts, printed in red, flagging what to look for when buying the ingredients; how to store; what to substitute, what is meant by folding' etc.
Despite naming her school after a French mentor, Risley does not offer particularly French-dominant recipes. Yes, she calls them hors d'oeuvres rather than starters but goes on to include a pasta and risotto section, a number of Middle Eastern dishes, chilies here and there and a decidedly hippie whole-grain breakfast bread.
I instantly warmed to her voice. It conveyed an effortlessly conversational tone yet wasted not a word and exuded steady respect for the kitchen wisdom even a novice foodie has or will soon acquire working through this book. The instructions were without exception models of clarity-a bit like having her there at my elbow. I also appreciated that she was not a control freak about quantifying everything down to the last gram. A bunch of this, a handful of that, liberates the creator inside each reader.
Mary Risley's got a huge home advantage, having run a cooking school in San Francisco's affluent Fisherman's Wharf area for thirty years. She's seen it all by this time and knows exactly where the amateur cook tends to blow it as well as where the advanced might like to venture next. Her three decades of teaching coincide with the evolution of the home cook-likely your mom or mine-who started out married life thickening casseroles with Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, growing more adventurous with ingredients as a little prosperity arrived and the world swapped foodstuffs, graduating, by the new millennium, to heady improvisations of lemon grass, fresh coriander and wasabi, much to the delight or dismay of hubby and the now-adult kids.
A cookbook ought to be a sensual pleasure to read and hold and should not fight back when opened on a counter. This one has none of the arty full colour photos we've come to expect in cookbooks but does offer occasional, modestly decorative line drawings of hands slicing vegetables and so on. The book lies open obediently and the text is in easy-to-read columns, with passages alternating in red and black on creamy pages. Most pretty to look at, although the red type was a little hard to read. The overall presentation this book made was one of confidence-building, unfazable recipes of appeal to both novice and experienced home cooks. Risley's intuitive coaching effortlessly conveyed the essentials and is likely the next best thing to attending her cooking school in person.

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