The Free Range Cook by Annabel Langbein
published in hardback 6th June 2011 (Mitchell Beazley, £20.00)
New Zealander Annabel Langbein radiates health, energy and optimism. She’s the perfect personification of her food – clean, wholesome and beautifully presented. I admit that I winced when I opened her latest book and read that ‘when we started planning for the television series that accompanies this book, my husband Ted and I decided to plant a big garden on a terrace in the windswept paddock that overlooks the lake at our Wanaka hideaway’. I can’t think of anyone I know who vowed to grow vegetables to accessorise a TV tie-in. But once I started to read the book properly I was swiftly won round to some great, often delightfully simple and exceptionally delicious recipes.
Annabel Langbein is clearly a formidable force. She has already self-published 17 cookbooks and sold close to 1 million of them throughout Europe, Australia and North America. The Free Range Cook is a cleverly constructed book that’s ideal to get children interested in cooking. So many of the recipes like Sticky Buns, Apricot and Custard Tricorns, Vegetable Calzone, Busy People’s Bread and Prawn and Mint Rolls are perfect to make and eat together.
The book is divided into categories such as From the Garden, From Lake and Sea and From the Orchard and includes some inspiring and clever combinations of flavours. There are scores of pictures of idyllic lakeside barbecues, which look nothing like the smokey, slightly tense and rather tiring outdoor grilling I’ve ever tried. Even Annabel’s tea-smoked salmon looks both immaculate and delicious, a million miles from the version I attempted so disastrously last summer
The Free Range Cook is the perfect coercive weapon for the New Zealand Tourist Board, crammed as it is with pictures of perfect landscapes, wonderful produce and happily smiling people. Annabel describes glorious childhood days of fishing with her grandfather in the magnificent fiords of New Zealand’s southwestern coast, only reaching the remote waters via helicopter over the mountains. Her husband Ted apparently used to ride to school on a pony. Beat that for bucolic perfection.
I’m suffering serious envy over Annabel Langbein’s lakeside cabin in Wanaka, New Zealand and I can’t tell you how much I crave her wood-fired outdoor bread oven. I will of course have to make do with her book since both the cabin and the outdoor oven are out of my league. But as replacement therapy goes, this entertaining and highly enjoyable book is fine by me.
The Frugal Cook by Fiona Beckett
new edition published in paperback May 2011 (Absolute Press, £9.99)
There’s an innately reassuring quality about Fiona Beckett’s food. She always has something nourishing and sustaining to suggest for dinner, while calmly and politely nudging me away from my wilder and more extravagant tendencies. She’s the wonderfully comforting and persuasive Nanny McPhee to my dafter Willy Wonka-esque tendencies.
Absolute Press have been smart in publishing this new edition of The Frugal Cook with its striking, no-nonsense cover and glossy photographs. The book is full of practical advice on how to save money and spin food out so that it’s still delicious but goes further and costs less. Some of Fiona’s more draconian tips, like roping off an out-of-bounds leftovers section in the fridge, are a little too stern for me. But suggestions such as buying food loose, exercising portion control and grating food to make it look more substantial are both wise and practical. The recipes are often fun, like Beer-Can Chicken, or tasty like Newspaper-Wrapped Trout with Lemon Butter and I could eat her Summer Sausages with Peppers and Butterbean Mash right now.
Fiona Beckett is impressively prolific. She has written 22 books in all and there are enough recipes in this newly republished book to last you a year. But if you run out, try turning to Fiona’s hugely popular blog The Frugal Cook. The recipes there will last you a lifetime, keeping both you and your bank balance happy.