Review: The Free Range Cook by Annabel Langbein

Eggs On The Roof Reviews

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.