Annabel Langbein looks excitedly at the produce around her and lets out an excited "Yaay!" It's the first of many in the morning at the Fox Studious EQ markets and one in which she stops at stand after stand to buy produce for our upcoming lunch. Annabel Langbein is also known as the Free Range Cook in her native New Zealand and around the world. She has written twenty one cookbooks ("It's a bit of an obsession" she says), has self published and art directed each one of them and she produces and hosts an internationally syndicated cooking show. With that list of achievements, I must admit that I wasn't sure what she'd be like in real life. Would she be cool and offhand? Would she have a healthy ego? It turns out that in real life she is modest and affable insisting that she should have brushed her hair and she greets reader Wendy and I with a warm hug and a sincere greeting.
Her life has entailed stints overseas running a croissant business in Brazil where "I baked croissants and drank cocktails" and as a result weighed 90 kilos. She also spent time sharing a Brooklyn apartment with Danièle Delpeuch, the subject of her own film Haute Cuisine. The two flatted together in the then unsavoury borough of Brooklyn New York where she quickly learnt that she couldn't even get a taxi to take her there unless she waved a $20 note at the driver. She and Danièle both had jobs in food but often very little in the fridge to eat. She recalls with fondness Danièle's extraodinary cooking skills. "She could buy a leek and make a fabulous meal with it." It was Danièle that shaped Annabel's cooking philosophy.
"I think she helped shape the cook I am today. A chef is about showing off but a cook is about a lot more things including resourcefulness." Annabel's home in Wanaka on the South Island of New Zealand is a regular feature in her books. Nowadays with the success of her show, she finds that she is in Australia more often. She stays at a friend's home in Vaucluse which is her home away from home and it is there that we are headed for lunch after our little shopping sojourn.
Before we do, Annabel tries some grape must covered goat's cheese at the Formaggi Occello stand and points at the pretty offerings at Patisse's stand. It's her first time here and she is excited about what is on offer. Alas the mushroom vendor isn't there today so she readjusts her list of things to make for our lunch purchasing the cheese, some new season globe artichokes, eggplant and beetroot. When Wendy says that she hasn't cooked with celeriac before Annabel buys one to cook with to show her. Spotting some small orange New Zealand yams she explains how to choose and cook them. Grabbing one last bunch of poppies to replace the ones at home, we set off for Vaucluse.
We head towards Vaucluse to her home away from home. Her children are in Sydney for the school holidays - Sean is 21 years old and is studying science and Rose is 19 years old who is studying philosophy in Melbourne. The Vaucluse home is a stunning, sprawling three level house with a stunning entertaining area that is soaked in sunshine.
The room she finds herself most in is the kitchen and it is here that she sets up all of her ingredients saying "I like to cook the landscape" but not without an offer of a pot of tea and some home made goodies. Her date and ginger slice and apricot and coconut slice both come generously buttered. With the very best intentions, I end up eating three pieces of the date slice.
She switches on the oven and tells us "I like roasting. I love cooking but I don't want to cook all day" and likes roasting because it concentrates the flavour. Assessing her purchases she reels off a list of things that she is going to make before burning off the stems of the poppies and replacing the ones in the vase, telling us "I studied horticulture, I never studied cooking."
During the next one and a half hours, she creates dishes with our assistance all the while dispensing tips on booking and showing us some pointers on preparation and we learn some great tips on shaving beetroot and placing it on ice cubes so that it gets a pretty curl much like a rose petal. She shows us how to trim a globe artichoke and mixes a simple but perfect dressing for the artichokes which she opens so that they resemble flowers.
I love seeing what I can create from what was in my fridge and Annabel is the same. I take a peek into her fridge and everything is labeled and organised and on the top right is the cheese compartment with about half a dozen foil wrapped cheeses. She finds a box of cookie dough in the fridge and asks "Who wants to make cookies" and being a little bit greedy I volunteer. She loves making oils like basil oil-her tip is to remove all of the stem completely as this turns the oil brown. You then blanch the leaves under boiling water in a sieve and then squeeze the water out and blend it with half a cup of oil and salt to make a beautiful green hued oil. This can keep for a week or two and also works with parsley, coriander and mint.
I ask her if there is any food that she doesn't love? She confesses that she isn't fond of snails and insects but loves offal. Over lunch she also tells us of her life as a teenager. After a stint living with hippies and going bush she went onto a lucrative career as a deer jumper. She had run off with a possum trapper and stumbled into this career that earned her enough to buy her first house at age 20. In New Zealand wild deer used to get darted and brought to a farm and it was the job of a "jumper" to net the deer. "It was what turned my dad's hair grey" she laughs.
Annabel's final advice on entertaining "Get dressed, set the table, light some candles, put on some nice music, fresh flowers and towels in bathroom. It's all about setting the scene."
So tell me Dear Reader, if you could have lunch at anyone's house, who would it be? And who else would you invite to come along as guests?
Artichokes with Vinaigrette
6 medium-large artichokes
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp very finely chopped shallot or spring onion white
¼ cup boutique extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
salt and ground black pepper
Trim the stem from each artichoke and remove the tough outer layer of petals at the base. If not cooking at once, place trimmed artichokes in a bowl of water mixed with 2 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar. This will help to prevent browning. When ready to cook, place artichokes in a large pot, cover with water and add salt. Boil until they are very tender and the petals can easily be pulled off (about 15-20 minutes, depending on their size). Lift out with a slotted spoon, drain thoroughly and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
To make Shallot Vinaigrette, shake all the ingredients together in a small jar.
Place artichokes on a serving platter or individual plates and gently press down on top to open out the petals into a flower shape. Drizzle with half the dressing and place the rest in a small bowl for dipping. To eat, pull off petals and scrape the soft part from the base of the petals with your teeth. As you get towards the heart, cut or scrape out the prickly choke in the centre and eat the tender heart.
From the upcoming Bookazine
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 20 minutes
2 medium eggplants cut in 3-4 cm chunks
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
2 large red peppers
salt and ground black pepper, to taste
2 large tomatoes cored, cut into chunks
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
250g fresh buffalo mozzarella, torn into chunks
to serve fresh basil or rocket leaves
1 cup packed basil leaves, no stems
½ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper
Step 1 - Cut eggplant into chunks about 3-4cm. toss with oil and honey and season with salt and pepper. Spread out in a single layer on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake at 220 c until golden and tender, 30 minutes. Place peppers in the oven to roast at the same time as the eggplant Remove peppers and eggplant, cover with tinfoil and tea towel and leave to cool.
Step 2 - Peel and deseed peppers and tear into strips .
Step 3 - Place eggplant, peppers and tomatoes in a serving bowl and season with salt and pepper. Tear mozzarella into chunks and add to salad., top with basil or rocket leaves.
Step 4 - To make the dressing, place basil leaves in a sieve and pour over boiling water to wilt. Cool at once under running water. Puree with oil, garlic and salt and pepper until smooth. Drizzle dressing over salad just before serving.
Step 5 - Take a loaf of ciabatta and tear into chunky pieces. Drizzle with ½ cup olive oil and spread out on a baking tray, season with salt. Bake at 180 C until golden and crisp, about 20 minutes. Serve these croutes on the side with the salad. They will keep fresh in a sealed container for several days, refresh in a hot oven for 10 minutes if they get soften.
Beetroot, Fennel and Goat Cheese Salad
The trick with raw beetroot is to slice or grate it finely so it doesnt taste too earthy.
Prep time 10 mins
Serves 6 as a starter
3 medium beetroot, peeled
1 fennel bulb, trimmed
¼ cup walnuts
100g goat cheese
2-3 tbsp boutique extra virgin olive oil
6 tbsp balsamic glaze or pomegranate molasses pus extra 1 tbsp for roasting beets
Step 1 - Cut 2 of the beetroot into small chunks. Spread out in a roasting dish lined with baking paper and drizzle with a little olive oil, balsamic glaze or pomegranate molasses and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 200 C until softened and starting to caramelise, 30 minutes. Using a mandolin or vegetable peeler shave the remaining beetroot into the thinnest possible slices and place in a bowl of iced water. Shave or finely slice fennel and place in a separate bowl of iced lightly acidulated water to crisp.
Step 2 - To serve, divide roasted beets, raw beets and raw fennel between 6 serving plates. Sprinkle each plate with a few walnuts and a little crumbled goat cheese, then drizzle a little olive oil and a little balsamic glaze or pomegranate molasses around each plate. Season to taste with salt and ground black pepper and serve immediately.
Celeriac with Salmon Tartare
Prep 15 minutes
300g chunk celeriac, peeled and shredded
4 tbsp good quality mayonnaise
1 tbsp tarragon leaves
1 heaped tbsp Dijon mustard>
salt and pepper
200g freshest salmon, very finely diced
2 tbsp chopped dill
finely zested rind of ½ lemon
1 tbsp oil
½ lemon very finely sliced
Step 1 - Mix shredded celeriac with mayonnaise, Dijon and tarragon and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Step 2 - In a separate bowl combine finely diced salmon with dill, lemon zest, oil and season salt and pepper.
Step 3 - Divide celeriac mixture between 4 plates and top each with salmon tartate. Garnish with super thin slices of lemon
Caramelised Onion and Feta Tart
From "Simple Pleasures"
Prep time 20 mins + 10 mins chilling
Cook time 50-55 mins
2 cups high-grade flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
220g frozen butter, grated
¼ cup iced water
3 cups Caramelised Onions (see recipe below)
150g sheep feta or other feta, grated or crumbled
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried thyme
Step 1 - Start by making the pastry. Combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Mix in the grated butter and work a little with your fingertips until the mixture resembles rough crumbs. Then add the water, mixing just until a soft dough is formed.
Step 2 - Place a large sheet of baking paper on the bench and tip the dough onto this, pressing it together with your hands. Place another sheet of baking paper over the dough and roll the pastry out with a rolling pin into a circle approx 35cm in diameter.
Step 3 - Transfer to a baking tray and chill for at least 10 minutes or until ready to assemble. Chilling pastry prevents shrinking during cooking.
Step 4 - Preheat oven to 200?C. Take your pastry base from the fridge and remove the top layer of baking paper. Spread the Caramelised Onions over the top of the pastry, leaving a 4cm border around the edge. Crumble the feta over the top and sprinkle with thyme. Fold the pastry edges in towards the centre to partially enclose the filling, then pleat in little folds to make a pastry border. Bake for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 180?C for a further 35-40 minutes until golden and crisp. Serve hot accompanied by green salad.
These are useful for all manner of things, so worth making in large quantities. You can use brown or red onions, but red onions are sweeter. They happily keep covered in the fridge for up to a week and give a wonderful flavour boost to grilled sausages and steak.
Prep time 5 mins
Cook time 45 minutes
Makes 3½ cups
6 red onions, peeled and cut into thin wedges
1½ cups water
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt and few grinds black pepper
Step 1 - Place all the ingredients into a large pot and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring now and then, for about 40-45 minutes until the liquid has all but evaporated and the onions are very soft. Remove from the heat and cool before storing in the fridge in a covered container. Serve at room temperature or reheat in a small pan.
Annabels Impromptu Strawberry and Choc Tarts with Orange Caramel
This is more of an idea than a recipe
4 cooked 8 cm shallow sweet tart cases using my melt in the mouth pastry (see recipe below)
16 thinly sliced strawberries tossed with 1 tbsp icing sugar and 1 tbsp orange juice
¼ cup crème fraiche mixed with 1/2 tsp orange zest and 1 tbsp icing sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp melted chocolate or chocolate ganache
½ cup sugar heated with the shredded zest of 1 orange and 2 tbsp water
Step 1 - Cook the pastry discs according to recipe instructions. While they cook, mix crème fraiche with orange zest, icing sugar and vanilla. In a separate bowl slice the strawberries and macerate with icing sugar and orange juice.
Step 2 - Assemble the tarts by filling with a tablespoon of the flavoured crème fraiche . Place each on a serving plate and surround with berries and their juices. Drizzle over chocolate.
Step 3 - To garnish heat together sugar, shredded orange rind and water until mixture forms a pale caramel, about 3-4 minutes.Drizzle caramel over assembled desserts and
Serve at once.
From left to right: Annabel, Wendy and Annabel's PR Rachel
The perfect pastry for any sweet tart, this has a fine, buttery texture that is simply sublime. The recipe comes from a collaborative book I made with The City Cake Company called Sweet Indulgence
Prep time: 10 minutes plus 10 minutes chilling
Cook time: 20-35 minutes Makes: 1kg dough, enough for 3 x 29cm tart cases or 24 x 7cm tart cases
360g butter, softened
185g / 1 cup less 2 tbsp sugar
440g / 3 1/3 cups flour
pinch of salt
Step 1 - Beat butter and sugar together until creamy and fluffy. Beat in egg. Add flour and salt and mix until just combined. Mixture will be soft. Using lightly floured hands, pat dough into 3 or more portions (pat between plastic wrap if desired). Use immediately or seal in plastic wrap and chill or freeze until required.
To use: Roll dough on a lightly floured bench, or between two sheets of heavy duty plastic wrap or teflon paper, to 3mm thickness. Transfer carefully to tin, removing plastic wrap, and line the base and sides. Repair any cracks or holes with extra pastry so you have a perfect shell. Chill for at least 10 minutes before baking.
To bake blind (ie to produce a cooked, unfilled pastry case): Preheat oven to 160°C fan bake. Cover the pastry with a piece of baking paper or a double layer of tinfoil that has been lightly sprayed with oil. Make sure it is pressed into the corners. Fill with dried beans, chickpeas, uncooked rice or special baking weights.
Large pastry cases: Bake for 15 minutes, remove paper and beans then bake a further 15-20 minutes until shell is cooked through and a pale golden colour.
Bake small pastry cases for 10 minutes, remove paper and beans then bake a further 10-15 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the pastry or it will be too dark when cooked for the second time.
Cool the cases completely before filling.
Baked pastry cases can be stored in an airtight container for a couple of days before filling, or frozen in a sealed container.
To create straight-sided individual tarts: Use 6-8cm metal rings such as those used for poaching eggs. Place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
Roll out pastry to 3mm thickness and cut 10cm rounds. Place pastry rounds in rings so they cover the bottom and come 2-3cm up the sides. Cover each one with a piece of baking paper or a paper muffin case, fill with beans and bake blind as above.