Meet Annabel Langbein

One of New Zealand’s best known faces, Annabel Langbein is that country’s leading celebrity cook, food writer and publisher, the star of her own international TV series, a passionate advocate for using seasonal ingredients as a means to cooking and eating well and a member of the Sustainability Council of New Zealand.

Popularly known as The Free Range Cook, Annabel’s latest book, “Simple Pleasures”(Harper Collins Australia) invites her readers to take time out from their busy schedules to savour the honest tastes of fresh, quality, produce simply prepared.  This latest book features menu suggestions drawn from her latest TV series which will screen here in Australia later this year, but also takes a leap into the world of digital interaction with QR codes on many of the recipes linking the reader to a video on Annabel’s site of her making the recipe.

While Annabel’s face and food are familiar to many Australian cooks and food lovers, I suspect that parts of her background are not.  I was fascinated to hear about her early days embracing an alternative lifestyle and hunting for her own food.  Annabel was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me so that we could all get to know her a little better so, my lovely readers – meet Annabel Langbein!

Annabel, many of us were ignorant of your early lifestyle and career in live-deer recovery.  We’d love to know a little more about that.

When I was in my late teens I had a boyfriend who was very alternative – we were at the late end of the hippy movement really. We eschewed all the trappings of modern life and went to work as volunteers in a remote community up the Whanganui River – I describe quite a lot of this in a little essay on page 108 of my new book Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures.
I bought my first house with money I had made from trapping possums and jumping out of helicopters to recover live deer. But all the time right through I was cooking. I would come out of the bush with my leg of venison or brace of squab and get cooking. My mother had given me Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking when I was 14 – she knew I was a cook well before I did. And I cooked with this while I was living this wild outdoorsy life – quite a juxtaposition of a rough outdoor way of living and gourmet-style food!

When I came out of the bush (I had wrecked my knees and it was too hard a life) I went to work in a vineyard and managed that for a year and kept a big vege garden before I decided to study horticulture. I never thought to study food, as it was more of a trade – you had to go into the army or a trade school.

You’ve now published 19 cookbooks – a remarkable achievement by any measure. How did you go about that in the early days of your career?

In the 1990s I made a lot of money as a consultant to big food companies and at the same time I was writing a recipe column for a national magazine. One day I thought, “Why not make a cookbook of all my columns?” It didn’t enter my head to go to a publisher – I just always liked doing my own thing. And once I had done the first one I was hooked on the whole jigsaw puzzle of it, making it feel layered and whole. Since then I’ve made 18 more books, so my new book Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures is actually my 19th.

Really, though, it has been my television show Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook that has taken book sales to a whole new level. TV just exposes you to so many more people.

Your formatting and design is gorgeous – do you work on this yourself?

I am a control freak actually. I work with a designer and an editor to bring to life an idea I have in my head. An idea can be slowly evolving for about a year before it comes to life on the page.

Your recipes are always so very reliable – this is clearly important to you.

I realised very early that ensuring a recipe works and is failsafe is the single most important thing when you’re writing a recipe book. When readers cook a recipe and it doesn’t work they don’t think, “What a lousy cookbook”, they think they have failed and they lose confidence. For me, writing a recipe is a bit like making a map – you have to make sure that the list of ingredients is easily transformed into a yummy meal that looks like the photo, without getting lost on the journey.

You’ve been passionate about sustainability in food for a long time. Do you feel there is a generally growing interest in this?

There’s definitely a strong movement in New Zealand towards understanding where your food comes from and eating seasonally and locally. Farmers markets are popping up all over the place and lots of schools are developing their own gardening and cooking programmes. I think it’s a long-term trend not just in New Zealand and Australia but around the world, as more and more people discover the pleasures of growing and cooking food. In our increasingly industrialised society I think lots of us are looking for a way to feel connected to the earth and the world around us and our own communities – and cooking and sharing simple but delicious food is a great way to do that.

With so many accomplishments under your belt, how do you maintain your passion, inspiration and enthusiasm for food and cooking?

I just love what I do. I feel so lucky to be doing what I do and at the same time inspiring other people to come on the journey too. In a way food is a conduit – a thread that flows through all my work – but at the same time I have been learning about publishing and making television and new media and all these other skills. It’s a wonderful journey.

Amanda McInerney blogs at Lambs’ Ears and Honey

New Release: The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures by Annabel Langbein

‘Step inside the refreshingly simple world of Annabel Langbein in her home and learn how to cook delicious food from scratch’
Australian Home Beautiful

Following the success of her 2010 cookbook Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook, which was recently named Best TV Cookbook at the 2012 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, Annabel returns to her idyllic lakeside cabin to cook up an exciting new batch of recipes using seasonal ingredients fresh from her kitchen garden.

True to her philosophy that quality produce needs little in the way of fussy preparation, her new book is entitled Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures.

Inside, luscious photos of Annabel’s home-cooked food are interspersed with equally inspiring images of her verdant vegetable garden and orchard, and the gorgeous natural landscapes of New Zealand’s scenic South Island.

As well as more than 150 delicious recipes, all easily achievable by the home cook, the book features menu suggestions drawn from the accompanying TV series (which is likely to screen in Australia later this year), plus Annabel’s musings on living well in today’s fast-paced world.

It is interactive with Annabel’s website, with QR codes on many recipes linking the reader to a video of Annabel making that recipe or sharing her tips for simplifying tricky techniques.

With 19 cookbooks under her belt, Annabel has earned a passionate following for her uncomplicated recipes that transform inexpensive, everyday ingredients into meals with the wow factor. She draws on a global palette of flavours and her trademark Fridge Fixings to create dishes that are big on flavour while, with a few indulgent exceptions, light on fat and sugar.

With this exciting new book from Annabel Langbein, readers are invited to take time out from their busy schedules to savour life’s simple pleasures.

Buy the book here…

About Annabel Langbein
Annabel Langbein is New Zealand’s leading celebrity cook, food writer and publisher, and the star of her own international TV series, Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook.

Annabel’s books have won numerous international awards, been translated into multiple languages and sold close to two million copies worldwide.

The first season of her TV series sold into 83 territories around the world. A second season, Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures, has just finished filming and will have its international debut in spring 2012.

The book that accompanied the first season, Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook, became a publishing phenomenon when it sold close to 150,000 copies in New Zealand alone in the eight months following its release in September 2010. In Australia it was one of the bestselling cookbooks in the lead up to Christmas 2010.

Annabel grows much of her family’s fresh produce in extensive organic vegetable gardens at her Auckland home and the rustic cabin on the shores of scenic Lake Wanaka where Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook is filmed. She is a member of the Sustainability Council of New Zealand and is a passionate advocate for using seasonal ingredients as a means to cooking and eating well.

For more information see:

REVIEW: Free Range in the City by Annabel Langbein

I’m buggered if I know where November has gone to, but it’s just about over and I can feel the beginnings of a rising panic whenever my thoughts stray to Christmas.  It will have a bit of an extra frisson to it for me this year as my mother will be celebrating a ‘significant’ birthday on 22 December, necessitating extra frivolities and the influx of family from the far-flung regions of Queensland and New Zealand.  Nagging thoughts of Christmas menu planning and shopping are now knocking at the back door of my brain so this seems a great time to share one of the more recent cookbooks to pass across my desk.

When it comes to fresh, regional/local seasonal food, New Zealander Annabel Langbein has one of the most impressive pedigrees around.  She has a degree in Horticulture, is the self-published author of numerous cookbooks, has a successful cooking television show in New Zealand which focuses on the seasonal produce of her own vegetable garden and she also has a past history of hunting her own food – so, no flash in the pan here.  Her latest book, “Free Range in the City” aims to show the urban dweller that it is still not only possible, but immensely satisfying to offer simple, sustainable food from your kitchen.  There are over 200 recipes in this book, most gloriously photographed and all of them using fresh, accessible ingredients to turn out meals that any cook – however experienced – would be proud to offer either family or friends.

The recipes are indexed in several different ways to make the book as versatile as possible.  There is the alphabetic index at the back, the contents in the front are divided into events – coffee break, barbecues, dinner in minutes, party plates, etc – and further in the book all the recipes are listed again under the categories of “Impromptu”, “Make Ahead”, “Portable”, “Freezable”, “Vegetarian” & “Gluten Free”.  This is enormously practical depending upon your requirements at any given time.  Each dish comes with snippets of extra information, the book is dotted with shopping, cooking and serving tips and hints and – joy of joys – it always stays open on the page you are working from.

My recently-released domestic goddess cooked up several dishes from the book last week and was utterly thrilled to find that they all made up a very respectable amount of food and all worked out exactly as stated – not a situation that always occurs with new cookbooks, much to her chagrin.  The one I’ll share with you is Annabel’s chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I know, I’m just so very predictable, but I was quite pleased with the way my photo turned out for this one and just had to show it to you all.

Like her other recipes, this makes a big batch of cookies so I rolled half of the dough up into a log, wrapped it firmly in plastic wrap and foil and popped it it the freezer for later.  I used a combination of Lindt 50% and 70% because I’m fussy about my chocolate, but if all you have on hand are choc chips they’ll be fine.  A word of warning – don’t do what I did and leave the dough in the fridge overnight.  It sets like a rock and is then very difficult to work with for quite some time. Annabel’s recommendation for 15 minutes in the fridge to chill would be more than adequate.

Annabel Langbein’s Chocolate Chip Cookies


500 gms soft butter (NOT magarine)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup condensed milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

4 1/2 cups plain flour

4 tsp baking powder

500gm dark chocolate, chopped into chunks


Preheat oven to 160C (I used 170C) & line baking trays.

Beat butter & sugar until creamy.

Beat in condensed milk and vanilla.

Stir in flour, baking powder and chocolate until just blended.

Chill dough in fridge for 15 minutes until firm.

Roll into walnut sized balls and place on tray, leaving space between each.

Flatten firmly with your hand and then flatten again with a fork to make thin.

Bake 15 minutes, until golden.

Cool on trays.

Amanda McInerney