Q&A on seasonal recipes with broadcaster and author Annabel Langbein
Annabel Langbein joined us in May 2011 to answer your questions about seasonal recipes and cooking with seasonal ingredients - everything from how to use fruit you've grown yourself and buffet feasts which can be cooked ahead, to summer picnic suggestions and toddler-friendly recipes.
Annabel is the biggest-selling food author in her native New Zealand and her latest book is The Free Range Cook Book, which has an accompanying TV series on the Good Food Channel. She is committed to seasonal cooking and her book is full of recipes that are 'no-stress' and use fresh seasonal ingredients.
Q. Cattleprod: My son and I are growing a variety of fruit and vegetables in the garden. I think the radishes will be ready first. Apart from just chopping them up and using them in salads, what can we do with them? Preferably something easy we can make together - he's only three.
A. Annabel Langbein: Whilst radishes grow really fast, which is fun for kids, they are often a vegetable that kids don't like as they are too hot and spicy. The French serve them with butter to offset that spiciness but that's not such a healthy option to introduce to your son, so maybe you could slice them super-thin and either sandwich a smear of low-fat cream cheese between two slices of radish or put the radish slices themselves between bread spread with cream cheese.
Making patterns and shapes like faces with different foods is also something fun that can get children interested in eating veggies they may not otherwise try. Once your carrots are ready, your son is sure to be a fan. They are less watery than radishes and you can grate them to add into cakes and muffins as well as mince mixtures. Just eaten fresh they are so sweet and crunchy that kids love them! It's such a fun thing to grow and cook with your kids - I'm so glad to hear you are enjoying it!
Q. Crumblemum: OK, I know it's not seasonal at the moment, but I'm a big fan of celeriac. But after doing a dauphinoise non-stop for three winters in a row, even I could do with a change. Any ideas?
A. Annabel Langbein: Mmmm, I love celeriac too - it's fantastic mashed with a little potato to serve with fish. I made a fabulous fresh salad the other day, just very finely shredded raw celeriac with very finely shredded cauliflower, fennel and pears, plus a light vinaigrette to toss through just before serving.
I also love the classic celeriac remoulade - chop or grate raw celeriac then stir through mayonnaise, lemon juice and mustard and season to taste. Creamy and crunchy at the same time!
Q. TaffetaWed: I'd love some ideas for using sorrell, please.
A. Annabel Langbein: Sorrel is much sourer in taste than spinach and tends to go rather an unattractive grey green when cooked. However, it does make a nice soup and a good sauce, and it goes particularly well with fish. Try wrapping the leaves around a whole fish before baking.
To make a fresh green sauce, puree sorrel with garlic, a pinch of salt and a little olive oil. Thin it out with yoghurt if desired.
Or try finely chopping a few young, tender leaves into a green salad, such as the pear, walnut and haloumi Salad, the roasted beet and rocket salad, or the egg and olive salad with aioli in The Free Range Cook.
Q. Cantdothisagain: I get a veggie box and end up stumped by Jerusalem artichokes as nobody but me will eat them as they seem to cause wind. Do you have any suggestions on non-wind-inducing recipes with Jerusalem artichokes, preferably toddler-friendly?
A. Annabel Langbein: Jerusalem artichokes are delicious in a mild, creamy gratin or soup, both of which will appeal to a toddler. You'll find both recipes in my book Eat Fresh. Also you can thinly slice them raw and dress them with a little vinaigrette made with olive oil, white wine vinegar, a little mustard and salt and pepper.
The trick to helping prevent wind is to add a dash of a resin called asafoetida (hing) -it's a common ingredient in Indian food so it's widely available at Indian food stores.
Q. DazR: This year I have planted vegetables for the first time. On reflection, I think I have planted too many sweetcorn! Have you any ideas on how I can utilise this vegetable in a variety of interesting ways when harvested later in the year. I think your book would prove very useful for those of us who are taking to 'growing our own'.
A. Annabel Langbein: Thanks for your nice comments. It's so rewarding to grow your own food. Lucky you to have too much sweetcorn - I never seem to plant enough. When it's really fresh, sweetcorn needs nothing more than three minutes boiling in salted water, then serve with butter, or with a drizzle of olive oil, chilli, coriander and garlic. Once you are sick of eating it like this then you are ready to experiment.
You can also grill the boiled corn cobs - brush with oil and grill for 5-6 minutes until lightly caramelised. The corn takes on a wonderful sweet smoky flavour.
I like to cut corn off the cob when it is cooked and use it in salads - it goes well with black beans, red peppers, spring onions, chillies and coriander, or with tomatoes, red onion, avocado and basil leaves (just mix a little oil with pesto for a dressing). You'll find a recipe for corn and avocado salad in The Free Range Cook.
You can make a wonderful soup by pureeing the cooked corn kernels until smooth and heating with a little chicken stock, goat cheese and chives. And corn fritters are always a favourite. There's a recipe in The Free Range Cook - flavour them with feta or blue cheese with mint or basil to suit your taste.
And finally, if you simply can't face another cob, corn freezes very well. Just throw the cobs into the freezer without husking - you'll appreciate them much more in the depths of winter.
Q. teapartyfan: I'm going to be swimming in redcurrants and whitecurrants and blackcurrants, which are all going for it this year in our fruitcage. Apart from jam, I'd love some ideas about what to do with (vast quantities) of them.
A. Annabel Langbein: Lucky you! I sometimes make a filo currant tart, layering six buttered sheets of filo into a baking dish with a little sugar between the layers, then baking till crisp at 170C for about 25-30 minutes. Fill with mixed currants and rain with icing sugar.
All types of currants freeze well and make a terrific addition to muffins and cakes. Try making the vanilla plum cake from my new book with currants instead of plums. They also make a fantastic cordial - there's a recipe for that in The Free Range Cook as well. Hope this gives you a few ideas: keep up that great cooking and gardening.
Q. brookeslay: Apart from your delicious sounding bacon and egg pie, what else do you suggest I make for a summer picnic? Any tips for packing storing said items too, please.
A. Annabel Langbein: I love picnics and if I am really pressed for time and haven't had a chance to make anything, rather than miss out on the day I will put together an impromptu picnic with a couple of loaves of really fresh good French bread or a fresh sliced loaf and the fixings to make sandwiches - cold meats, canned tuna, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, mayo, pesto etc. For your summer picnic, what about a nice couscous salad to go with bacon and egg pie? There are two great recipes in my new book, either couscous with roasted veg or couscous with grapes and cranberries.
Greek-style salad is also good portable fare -combine chunks of tomato, cucumber, very thinly sliced red onion and feta cheese, plus some black olives and/or mint leaves if you like.
Take along a little jar of vinaigrette to dress the salad just before serving or the cucumber will go soggy. The recipe for corn fritters in The Free Range Cook is also nice to pack for a picnic, as are the crusty olive, tomato and caper flat bread, and the lamb, rosemary and apple sausage rolls.
And for something sweet at the end, you can't go past my vanilla plum cake - take it out of the oven and off to the picnic still in its tray. My caramel crumble slice also transports well, and a chilled bottle of raspberry cordial will hit the spot on a hot day.
In terms of storage, you want to keep things like salads and anything with meat or chicken or cheese nice and cool, so I tend to transport them in a chilly bin and pack with a few frozen ice pads. Sometimes I will freeze water or juice in a bottle and use that as the cooling device and then it will thaw and be a nice cold drink for the picnic.
Don't forget a big rug, some sunscreen, insect repellent, paper towels or napkins and a bag to take home all the rubbish.
Q. Mellowfruitfulness: Any suggestions for meals that I can cook ahead for 15 vegetarians and meat eaters, plus someone with coeliac disease, plus toddlers, that will keep for a day or two in English summer conditions out of the fridge and will bear being transported in the car for seven hours?
We're all going on holiday together and I'd like to do as much of the cooking as possible beforehand. My solution at the moment is to make lots of different dishes so there's something for everyone, but I'm bored with the stuff I keep churning out (quiches, pasta, salads etc).
A. Annabel Langbein: I am a great believer in fridge fixings, and I have got lots of recipes for these in my new book, including pestos, caramelised onions, salsa verde, home-made dressings and mayonnaises, which can transform a simply cooked piece of meat or chicken or a bowl of rice or couscous into something much more interesting.
That way you are not making different meals for everyone - the littlies tend to like really simple food so you can give them plain cooked chicken or meat etc, but for the adults you can make great salad-type meals by tossing cooked chicken, smoked chicken, smoked fish or salami with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, sliced spring onions, red peppers, salad greens and some caramelised onions and salsa verde.
Or mix a drained can of beans or chick peas with salsa verde and crumbled feta and tomatoes. I find it makes the meal prep so simple when I am on holiday, as I can just assemble meals by combining ingredients with one or more of my fridge fixings.
I have just come off a boat sailing in southern Turkey for 10 days with a very limited kitchen and I have to say that with the summer tomatoes you get in Europe (and into the UK from the sunny south), tomato-based meals are so easy. Try sliced tomatoes with basil, feta, olives and a nice vinaigrette dressing - just serve with bread, rice or pasta and everyone is happy as a clam! Happy holidays!
Q. MmeLindor: I don't grow anything, aside from some berries, but would like to start. What would you suggest for a beginner (and somewhat haphazard) gardener? We live near Geneva, so it will have to be something that is fine with heat and not too much rain.
A. Annabel Langbein: Gardening is such a rewarding activity and you can get some great results in next to no time. I suggest you start with planter pots or small raised beds - ideally with a self-watering device if you can get them. Even though you may not have much water, this is what vegetables need and you won't be successful if you don't give them water regularly.
Growing salad greens like rocket or mesclun is a great way to start - sprinkle a whole packet of seeds densely over about a square metre (or less) of seed-raising mix. When they reach about 10cm high, cut them about 2cm above the ground and they will come back again - you can do this two or three times so you get several crops, and if you stagger plantings every couple of weeks you will get a regular succession of harvests through the season.
I'd also recommend growing fresh herbs, including parsley, dill, mint, basil, tarragon and coriander, as well as the woody Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, thyme and oregano. These add so much zing to your meals - the difference you can make with a handful of herbs is just huge.
Q. aristocat: Do your children share your passion for cooking?
A. Annabel Langbein: Both of my kids are very good cooks - ever since they were very little I have encouraged them in the kitchen, and never minded if they made a mess, as long as they helped clean up. They both started out with baking, which is how I started, waiting around for the beater to lick and then before you know it, you are in there mixing and rolling and everyone just loves you for your efforts. It's very gratifying to make a batch of biscuits or a cake - a real sense of reward for very little effort.
Sean, who is 19, likes playing around with complicated cheffy recipes and has a very good palate for analysing flavour. His uni friends love him as he is always cooking for them. Rose, who is now 17, still loves to bake and will often come home from school and make some biscuits or a cake. She also enjoys inviting her friends over on Friday nights and they all cook together and then sit down and have a nice meal - I just love that.
Q. ZacharyQuack: Kia Ora Annabelle, how exciting to have a Kiwi on for a webchat.
No questions, just a recommendation for both the TV show and the book, they are both lovely with lots of delicious recipes. Best of luck for sales in the UK.
A. Annabel Langbein: Thank you!
Last updated: 12 months ago