With her winning smile and no-nonsense approach to home cooking, Annabel Langbein is New Zealand’s answer to Nigella Lawson, only less smug and unlikely to be found rooting in the fridge after midnight. She has already self-published 17 books but her latest title, The Free Range Cook, is the first to make a splash in the UK. It’s a welcome antidote to all the rather serious Heston-inspired cookery books released recently, and it’s packed full of fabulous food snaps and photos of Annabel’s lakeside cabin in picturesque Wanaka. She explains, ‘My book is not about impressing people with gastronomic acrobatics. It’s about having fun and celebrating what nature has so graciously provided for us’. The focus is on relaxed, home-style cooking and making the most of fresh, seasonal ingredients.
The book is divided into chapters like ‘From the Oven’, which includes recipes for basic breads and indulgent tarts and pies, and ‘From the Garden’, where salads, salsa and meat-free meals take centre stage. From ‘Lake and Sea’, we loved the simple but effective recipes for barbecued whole fish with chilli lime salt and a fragrant seafood bowl. The meaty chapter plays it safe with recipes for homely Shepherd’s Pie and easy chicken skewers but the desserts we tried were spot-on. Try the delicate honey vanilla panna cotta made with buttermilk instead of cream or the coconut pavlovas topped with pineapple and kiwi, you won't be disappointed.
The Free Range Cook’s recipes are comforting and undemanding, with no need for hours in the kitchen or hard-to-find ingredients. There are dishes the kids can help with and the focus on fresh seasonal ingredients makes even the more indulgent recipes feel virtuous. (There's not a great deal of butter or cream at work, and even the puds are fruit-focused.) While it might not challenge aspiring Masterchefs, it’s ideal for family kitchens and the basic recipes for things like harissa paste, caramelised onions and chilli jam are useful for beginners. Order it on Amazon for just £10 and watch out for repeats of the accompanying TV series on the Good Food channel.