I’m so excited to launch a new interview series here on Delicious Everyday called This Is How I Cook. Each month you’ll meet a cookbook, author, chef or food personality that has inspired me.
Throughout this series, we’ll learn a little about what makes each of these fabulously inspiring people tick, learn some of their kitchen tips and discover the type of food they like to eat best. I hope you find reading these people and interviews as inspiring as I do.
To kick off this series I can’t think of a more wonderful or inspiring person than the lovely Annabel Langbein. Annabel is the author of 21 cookbooks, and star of the fabulous TV series The Free Range Cook filmed at Annabel’s gorgeous lakeside cabin in the South Island of New Zealand.
At a young age Annabel realised she wanted to build her future in food, and followed the advice of Julia Child, who replied to a letter from Annabel seeking advice, that lead her to New York to study culinary anthropology and nutrition. But it was a horse riding accident that became a life changing moment. With a badly crushed spine, and only given a 5% chance of ever walking again, she spent time reflecting on what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
She began writing a fortnightly food column in a national magazine, before deciding to turn some of her columns into a book. 21 books and 3 tv seasons later, Annabel is still sharing her passion for food. And it’s Annabel’s no fuss approach to food that I find particularly inspiring, especially in an age of perfectly curated Instagram perfection. According to Annabel “Home cooking isn’t about performance food and fancy tricks, it’s about nourishment, resourcefulness and care”. With an amazing garden full of produce at her gorgeous lakeside cabin I’m guessing it’s difficult to not be inspired!
So, please welcome Annabel!
What food can’t you live without? Why?
Fresh vegetables are the foundation of my cooking – I know what the season is according to what’s ready to pick and eat in my garden. Eating with the landscape makes me feel connected and resourceful and makes my body happy and my mind calm.
What inspires your cooking?
I get inspired by lots of things, but nature is number one. Everything nature provides starts as a seed or a spore and takes weeks, months and sometimes years before it’s ready to harvest. So there’s a sense of honouring nature when you cook – even if you’re making something super simple. I also get inspired by the idea of food as culture and the way home cooks around the globe use the same often humble ingredient in such different ways. Sometimes I get inspired by an uber delicious dish I have eaten in a smart restaurant and I think, how could I deconstruct that, take it home and make it simple?
Describe your kitchen setup
For me the kitchen is the heart of the home – it’s where everyone congregates and hangs out, where the fun times happen. My kitchens always have an island bench with gas hobs so I can be part of the action and the conversation when I’m cooking, rather than with my back to everyone or cloistered away in some closed off room.
What kitchen appliance/utensil couldn’t you live without? Why?
I am mad about my zester. I use it not just for lemon rind (which I use alongside lemon juice as a seasoning in my cooking – salt, pepper and acid balance is the start point to get a dish tasting good) but also for frozen chillies and garlic and ginger if I want them pastry, and of course parmesan cheese.
Describe your cooking routine? Do you plan your meals in advance or improvise?
Most of the time, I’m a wing it kind of cook. The garden is my starting point. I see what’s ready to pick and then I head to the kitchen and think about the flavours, ethnic styles and cooking method I want to use. My cooking style is all about taking something fresh and then finding a few complementary flavours from the pantry or fridge to work up into a simple meal that will taste really good.
Do you listen to music or watch TV while you cook?
Yes, I pop Pandora on and find a style that suits my mood – sometimes it’s upbeat and pacy if I have a lot to do, but mostly pretty cruisy.
What is in your fridge?
There are the usual suspects. Lots of jars on the top shelf – you know, the half bottles of chutney, jam, oyster sauce, mustard and capers that I think everyone has. I always have a big cheese stack in the door (I have a major weakness for good cheese), my signature Fridge Fixings, fresh veg that needs to be kept cold (not tomatoes or unripe avocados), often a shelf of food that we have been recipe testing which makes great leftover lunches, and usually a few bottles of wine. Suffice to say I never open the fridge and think “there’s nothing to eat”. It’s usually OMG there’s too much in here and what was that science project? I am a terrible hoarder!
What is your best time-saving kitchen trick?
I am the queen of time saving. My miracle mayo is my current fave. Instead of whisking in the oil painstakingly drip by drip and holding your tongue out the side so the mayo won’t split you just put all the ingredients in a jar and blitz them with a stick blender – the speed emulsifies everything in about 10 seconds. It’s sheer magic. And risotto does not need the stock added ladle by slow ladle – just bung in the whole lot at the start – it cooks up just as creamy.
What vegetarian dish do you make better than anyone else?
We eat a lot of vegetarian fare and I am always experimenting. I think one of my signatures is big vegetarian platters with lentils or quinoa or millet as a base, tossed through with roasted vegetables or raw salad vegetables, loads of herbs and almonds or cashews and a simple lemony dressing. It looks impressive and tastes so good.
What is your favourite cookbook and food magazine? Why?
I do love the books that I make myself. It sounds egotistical, but they are kind of like children – each and every one of the 21 that I have written and published. The whole process of putting a book together is very organic – you start with an idea and it evolves and develops. It requires so much work and focus, and by the end it gets bigger and bigger and harder and harder and you want it out – just like childbirth! For each book I can remember my life around the time it was in production – sort of like a diary – what the kids were doing, where we were living, so also in a way through my books I have recall of all these wonderful moments and dinners and adventures.
I do love Saveur magazine for the journeys it takes and the culinary cultures it explores. And it feels real – it’s not food porn and not at all snooty. This said there are more and more wonderful inspiring food magazines coming out these days, and we have entered the fray with one of our own. It’s called A Free Range Life and we are now working on our third edition, so it’s still very much a baby, but it’s wonderful.
Annabel’s latest book Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Through the Seasons (HarperCollins, $49.99) is available in Australia via the ABC online shop. For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see annabel-langbein.com