Annabel Langbein is the star of the new TV ONE series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook (7pm Saturday from 28 August). The TV show and an accompanying cookbook by the same name share the secrets of Annabel's free range cooking style.
Filmed at her cabin on the shores of Lake Wanaka, the 13-part TV series shows how making sensational home cooked food is easy when you have the best seasonal ingredients. "It's about getting people into the kitchen with fun, easy-to-prepare recipes that won’t stress them out,” says Annabel. “Gathering friends and family around your table to catch up over simple, stylish food is such a satisfying thing to do. It doesn't have to be time-consuming, complicated or expensive and, most importantly, it should be fun."
Here Annabel shares some of her cooking secrets...
Three ingredients you couldn't live without?
Lemons for their bright acidity and the fresh, clean lift they bring to a dish. Plus the oily zest gives a subtle, fragrant citric flavour to almost any ingredient sweet or savoury.
Fresh ginger is such a terrific aromatic that never overpowers, but enhances, flavours and gives a real freshness. You don’t need much, just 2 or 3 tablespoons of grated fresh ginger.
Eggs are the ultimate fast food that always starts my day. Or, if I am home alone, I often make my favourite supper of boiled eggs and soldiers or poached eggs on Vogel’s toast with Vegemite
(yes, it’s yummy!). A simple omelette made with some fresh herbs or spinach from the garden is such a good light supper. With a glass of pinot gris it is real comfort food.
It's a busy mid-week night and you have guests coming for dinner. What are you cooking?
I really like meals that you can just pop into the oven and leave to cook, so you can relax a bit and enjoy a bath or a glass of wine and get freshened up before people arrive. There's a recipe I make on The Free Range Cook which is one of those really great ideas to have up your sleeve when time is tight and you want something yummy really fast.
Simply mix Thai sweet chilli sauce with lime juice, lime zest and a little fish sauce. If you want, you can add other aromatic flavours such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves or ginger. Slather this over chicken (breasts or pieces) and fire it into a hot oven for 25-30 minutes to bake. While it cooks, you can cook some nice jasmine rice and stir fry some fresh green vegetables. It’s so simple but looks and tastes like you have gone to quite a bit of trouble.
Another favourite is to roast an organic chicken along with a big tray of vegetables - beets, yams, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and red onions. Drizzle them with a little maple syrup and olive oil and give them a good season. The chicken will take a good hour to cook and the vegetables about 50 minutes. Serve with a salsa verde, or a mayonnaise flavoured with pesto, or some other nice tasty sauce and a fresh green salad. It’s so simple, but everyone goes 'YUM'.
I also always like to serve dessert when people come over - it makes them feel a bit spoilt. On the show I make this great crumble base which I keep in the fridge for easy anytime use. I can bake it on top of apples, berry fruits or rhubarb or cook it on a tray until crispy and serve it with yoghurt and berry fruits in parfait glasses. Or I will make a nice berry sauce to serve over ice cream and with a little brandysnap wafer. Or slap a sheet of pastry over some stewed fruit for a nice pie.
The dish that always earns you compliments?
It's easy to get compliments if you start with really fresh, quality ingredients. You don’t need to go to much effort to produce great tastes. I tend to cook around the seasons and in tune with the vagaries of the weather.
Coming into spring I am over soups and heavy stews. My current favourite meal is something I make on the show, which is a bit of a treat - lamb racks with salsa verde served with a broad bean mash and slow roasted onions. It's just so good and so easy, as you can make the mash and the salsa verde ahead and the onions cook away slowly in the oven and make this lovely jus-like sauce. Then, about 15-20 minutes before you plan to serve, you just roast off the racks in a hot oven.
Who or what has had the biggest influence on your cooking?
My mother was a terrific cook and such an inspiration. When I was a teenager she introduced me to Julia Child's cooking and cookbooks – I think she knew I was gong to be a cook before I even did! Julia approached food fearlessly and with such confidence. I really responded to the way she went about it.
When I was living in Brazil in my early 20s, the people I was staying with asked if I could make croissants. My mother copied the line drawings from Julia's book Mastering the Art of French Cookery, which show how to make croissants, and sent them to me. Before very long I found myself running my own little business making croissants in the little seaside resort of Buzios just north of Rio. Some years later I wrote to Julia to ask her advice about what I should do in the world of food - knowing I didn't want to be a chef. She was nice enough to write back, suggesting I join an American foodie organisation known by the name of the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals). I met some really interesting people there and learnt a bunch of new things. So between my mother and Julia Child, my course was set in the world of food.
Favourite family meal in your household?
Roast lamb racks (they are the sweetest, most tender meat ... such a treat), served up with a big tray of roast vegies and a nice stock-based gravy. Very trad!
Do you have any dining rituals?
We always light the candles each night and set the table for dinner, even if we are having the simplest meal. Creating a little ritual around dinner gives a lovely rhythm to everyday life.
I'm happiest ....
Around the table with some good friends, eating something simple, fresh and delicious with a glass of nice wine and some good conversation. With any luck I will have just picked some of the ingredients for our meal fresh from the garden.
Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook TV series launches on TV ONE, 7pm Saturday 28 August, 2010.
Watch all Annabel Langbein's recipe videos and see the Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook television preview here!
See the cookbook Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook for all the recipes from the TV show.