Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Free Range Cook

A good cook book should be more than just a collection of recipes. A good cook book should inspire you to put on your apron if you wear one, reach for your mixing bowl and make a conscious decision to spend time in the kitchen trying out new recipes. If it is a really good cook book you should be able to follow the instructions and reproduce a dish that looks not too different from the photograph of the cook's original. And for my family it needs to pass a few more tests - provide sufficient quantities in order for each person to have a generous portion and the obvious one - the food needs to taste delicious and keep them coming back for more. The all important 'make it again mum' criteria!

'The Free Range Cook' by Annabel Langbein is a really good cook book. It accompanies the international television series of the same name currently being aired in both New Zealand and Australia. What is so different about this show that sets it apart from other cooking shows? For me, it is the location and the down to earth non-commercial style. The location is New Zealand's South Island where Annabel cooks for her family and friends at her lakeside wood cabin - no chef's kitchen with sleek shiny appliances here, rather a two burner gas stove top and an outdoor wood-fired oven. Bottles of homemade preserves line the shelves of her small rustic kitchen. There is no big chain supermarket sponsored display of food in a studio kitchen. No major appliance brands are actively promoted. No fiddly recipes that require a degree in engineering construction. The produce is nearby though, just a short stroll - fresh being the operative word as much of the produce comes from Annabel's own abundant vegetable garden.

My own garden is in a beautiful forest setting but not so picturesque - it needs to be protected from the creatures that also want to share in our harvests. I've resorted to growing salad vegetables in an old bath tub covered by a wire cage. The dream of the potager and sprawling open vegetable garden had to die - in order to grow vegetables to maturity!

The style of the food is as the title suggests 'free range'. This is not just referring to the eggs used in the recipes but rather the process of gathering the produce as a whole which may be fresh from the garden, purchased at Farmers' markets or sourced directly from local growers and producers. After just a few shows I was inspired to visit our local produce markets, get my spring seedlings planted and my husband even watched the show and declared we would be possum proofing our vegetable gardens the following weekend!

It is official - my veggie garden now resembles a prison exercise yard! All visitors are welcome except for wallabies, possums, bandicoots and bower birds!

Annabel takes her fresh produce and shows you how to turn it into beautiful food. The recipes are simple, the processes uncomplicated and having made a few of the recipes from the show after frantically scribbling down the ingredients onto scraps of paper I decided I would buy the recipe book! Now that is something I don't do very often - I have a basket full of recipe books but to be honest there are only a few books that I use and refer to often. Ones with few or no pictures don't inspire me but I've also looked through many a celebrity chef recipe collection packed with photos supposedly for the non-professional and sighed, don't they realize I'm running a home kitchen not a restaurant? I need books that offer simple wholesome food and versatile family recipes that can be served to young children, hungry teenagers and husbands brought up on traditional fare. I also want stylish food that I could serve at dinner parties to my friends who have on occasion dined at the award winning restaurants in my little town. This book offers simplicity and marries it with style. Food that can cater for both families and foodies!

The Free Range Cook book is a hardback volume and contains over 150 recipes. There are recipes for every course and all occasions. The chapters are divided up into sections referring to the source. 'From the Oven' features breads, tarts and pies. 'From the Garden' - obvious really but a great selection of healthy salads, easy dressings that transform the most basic of foods, vegetarian dishes and my favourite recipe so far - the salsa Verde is sensational.

The recipes are not mean!

Which is a good thing in this family home!

Turn to the front index and you will see the contents for 'From the Farm' and ' From Lake and Sea' have been inter-changed (overlooked by the editing which thankfully is not repeated on the pages that really matter!) A very minor mistake but one I noticed. There are enough recipes in these chapters to satisfy both meat and fish lovers, though 'whitebait fritters' will have to remain a distant but pleasant memory of my days living in New Zealand's South Island! Most of the other ingredients are not so exotic or unique to NZ and this book is definitely one for the home cook, even better if you have a garden and grow your own produce or have access to Farmers markets where you can purchase direct from the grower - it is the 'seasonal' and 'fresh' aspects of Annabel's free range style which will translate into delicious outcomes. I made the 'silver beet, feta and pine nut roll' using fresh organic silver beet and it was the most enthusiastic reaction I have received from my children for a pie, even on finding out that silver beet was the main ingredient! They pronounced it delicious - good, I just planted more silver beet! The other section especially relevant for the region where Annabel's cabin is located is 'From the Orchard' so the inclusion of fresh peach and plum recipes comes as no surprise.

The other chapter I have not mentioned yet is 'From the Larder' - dairy is covered in this section and includes a recipe for creme fraiche. So expensive to buy and sometimes hard to find. I once tried to locate it for for a Jamie Oliver recipe and gave up after walking the dairy aisles of three supermarkets! This section adds to the comprehensive coverage of recipes from all the food groups, most of which have short ingredient lists, clear instructions and handy tips. The recipes are very versatile - one crumble mix resulted in a slice the children raved about, a rhubarb crumble cake the husband approved/consumed (he loves rhubarb!) and there was enough left over to make two individual rhubarb crumbles for the parents - rhubarb was harvested fresh from the garden and I now know how to stop the cooked fruit spilling over the sides of the dish onto my oven - oh so simple! Thanks Annabel!

I could show you the beautiful photographs of the food and the shots of New Zealand's stunning scenery but my camera work would not do it justice. I love the outdoor table pictures to which Annabel adds some decorative natural touches which compliment the type of food she is serving. A grape vine is loosely arranged down the centre of one table, apples picked fresh from the tree, their foliage still attached are set out on another table - no accessories or flower arranging skills required! Gorgeous pictures, gorgeous food - if you want to see some pages from the book for yourself and find some sample recipes and helpful tips on items to stock your pantry with you can do so at the free range cook website here or go and take a peek for yourself in a book shop. I offer up this warning. A friend who called in at my home only got to the third page, glanced at a couple of recipes before she said she was going to be in town the next day and would be calling in at the bookshop. She bought the book - can't wait to compare notes with her! It was her suggestion to have an 'Annabel' evening soon! Don't forget to wear your pearl bracelet Sue and I'll give you instructions on how to pronounce Fresh!

However, I can show you some of my efforts after a rainy weekend ensured, as the book promises, that my home would become my new favourite restaurant!

Crumble is transformed into the best muesli style slice ever!

The first recipe is always a good indication of what is to come. I used freshly milled wheat flour for the sticky buns and made my own version by adding orange peel and chopped pecans to the mix.

'The Free Range Cook' has rejuvenated my cooking and it has only been in my possession for just over a week. It will not be shoved into the basket with the other cook books under the kitchen island but will sit on the bench on the cook book stand for some time I suspect. Hopefully, the stand will help to keep it protected from batter spills - why did I not buy one years ago?! So many more recipes to try. I am looking forward to trying Annabel's versions of drinks and preserves I already make.

Such as elderflower cordial. It is blooming in profusion at eight acres of eden! For those of you who watch the show - notice the pearl bracelet. Can't cook without my pearl bracelet now! Why not!

She also brought me a flower - so sweet!

And this summer, I'm looking forward to packing up the picnic basket with home cooked food and taking more trips with the family to the beach and nearby rivers. And at home, eating outside more - setting out a table under our trees perhaps. Enjoying free range chicken or fresh fish baked with preserved lemon - the pleasure of which I have already discovered but it is time to make some more for the fridge. There is a recipe in the book for this amazing ingredient and it is so simple to make.

Encouraging the husband to take the boys fishing, not holding my breath - this is not New Zealand. The only fish we have sampled lately, is ......

Chocolate fish - another 'kiwi' delicacy. As 'kiwi as' the wrapper says!

Looks like we might have to wait until our New Zealand trip in February to taste real freshly caught fish again. The in- laws keep the neighbours in their seaside town supplied with fish but not this summer - we are going over and it will be fresh fish for dinner every evening - oh what a delicious thought to finish a food related post on!

Hope you have enjoyed this review and if you have the opportunity, check out the 'Free Range Cook' (ABC Saturdays 6pm - persuade the husband to watch the news on ABC on this night!) It was the highest rating television show in New Zealand the other week. The return to the kitchen and home cooking is happening people! We are tired of plastic wrapped food and meals on the run. We want fresh produce - we want to know where it comes from, how it was grown. We want to know how to turn it into meals that are simple to prepare that will nourish our families or like myself you may just need some beautiful visual images on the pages of a book to inspire you again, to try something different, to resist the temptation to reach for the jar of pasta sauce, even if it is organic and to grow more of your own food at home. If this is your desire and you are taking the steps towards achieving that aim, the Free Range Cook would be a worthwhile investment. It is a book that you will cook from!

Signing off with some pictures and words of inspiration that reflect my own philosophy on food.

'Cooking at home connects us with friends and family, nature and our own creativity'
- Annabel Langbein

With Love and Joy,

Foot note : I must let you know that the opinions expressed in this post are my own. I have not been asked to review the book by any person or publisher and have received no compensation from any party. Simply a mum who loves to cook sharing her enthusiasm for a subject close to her heart!


A Bite of Country Cupcakes said...

I have most enjoyed watching annabel each week since you brought to my attention the show!!
My Hubby even loves it and I made her quiche recipe....Or egg and bacon pie where she layered sliced spuds in the bottom...Mmmmmmm!

SF said...

Such wonderful post Ann! I hadn't heard of this one - I'll definitely be tuning in on Saturday nights! I LOVE cooking shows and cookbooks and this one sounds fabulous. :) Gorgeous photos too!

As an aside Ann, I wanted to thank you for your encouraging comment on my 'homeschool - school' post. Your words meant so much to me, as a mother and homeschooler and friend. :) Thank you for your support and understanding; it hasn't been an easy decision despite the peace we feel about it, and I appreciate all the support my friends have shown me. :) xx

Anonymous said...

Hi Ann,Yes we follow Annabel's cooking show and I could not help but buy her recipe book.I am looking forward to trying out her recipes.With some recipe books I have,I would only make some of the recipes but with the Free Range Cook they all look great and the photos are fantastic.You certainly inspire me Ann with what you do in the kitchen.

a joyful journey said...

I am waiting (patiently?) when darling husband will bring me a copy of The Free Range Cook, i have suggested that if he ever felt that he should like to buy me a present that i would appreciate this book!
Your enthusiasm for Annabel's stlye is leaping out of the computer!
PS I love whitebait fritter also!

Camille said...

You do such lovely endorsements of the products you enjoy Ann...sounds like a lovely cookbook! :)

LOL...the garden behind bars is too funny! I enjoy reading about your variety of wildlife that differ from ours. BUT...we had similar problems with bandits in the garden patch wanting to get at the produce before we did! I like the idea of a sprawling garden too, but it is not going to happen in our back yard...too much competition for the goods! :)

The photos of all your yummy food are wonderful and the children are lovely.

Blessings to you!

Erin said...


I am soo inspired, we are currently changing our diet to fresh food only, and for at least 30 days we are cutting out grains and dairy, so some of the recipes will have to wait.
Very inspiring post:) I'm going to watch the show now and buy the book:)

Fruitful Harvest said...

What a fun post!
Here in the US we are getting the harvest put up for the long winters here.
{Storing,stock pileing,canning and freezing!}

Its like a breath of spring coming over to your blog!

Peace and Love,

Anonymous said...

Hi Ann, I discovered her cook book on the weekend,it was her beautiful smile on the cover.Then I opened it, what fantastic recipes.Because of the search for more Annabel I have now found your beautiful blog.
Regards Lucy.

Ina said...

Hi Ann, I too found your lovely blog in searching for more info on The Free Range Cook. So far, we are not able to get the book in Canada, but I will keep searching. We too eat fresh, local and organic. Your home and property looks absolutely gorgeous, I write this as the rain is pouring down! Oh, to have fresh lemons! Thank you for a great post, Ina

Renata said...

We also enjoy this show - since you mentioned it previously on your blog! The cookbook sounds wonderful. Unlike you, the main cookbooks I use actually don't have pictures, but I know if Dave ever cooks (occasionally) he always has to see a picture first!
I've missed the last few weeks of the free range cook because of our holiday, but am hoping it's still running - I have it up on my fridge to watch!
Enjoy your creating & the Annabel night sounds like fun!

Beth (jamandcream) said...

Thank-you for visiting my blog! Great review of the book


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