Taking it slow in Wanaka in winter

Annabel Langbein in Wanaka. Photo: Supplied
Annabel Langbein in Wanaka. Photo: Supplied
Annabel Langbein is spending more time at her home on the shores of Lake Wanaka. She tells Rebecca Fox about coping with winter in the alpine region.

One of the great things about living in Wanaka is its seasons,  celebrity chef Annabel Langbein says.

"You really do get this sense of winter, the real crispness where you can rug up and get out and blow away the cobwebs."

The great thing about getting out in the crisp outdoors is coming home to the fire, a glass of pinot and a slow-cooked meal, she says.

"Whether it's been cooking for nine hours on 120 or 3 hours on 180, it's so welcoming, heart-warming and incredibly easy."

Casseroles are such great winter fare as they can be made earlier than needed and were often better a couple days later. They could also  be made in bulk and then frozen.

While slow cooking deals with tough cuts of meat − it helps break down the collagen and make the meat tender −  those cuts can also be fatty.

"So it's really good if you can make it a day or two ahead and then the fat rises as it chills and you can skim all that off and you have something that is surprisingly light."

This method of cooking also allows people to explore different flavours.

And the key to slow cooking is having a wet medium as it's the moisture that helps break down the collagen.

"Is that going to be a can of tomatoes and some wine or is it going to be stock or is it tea if you haven't got wine.

"How are you going to flavour it? Are you going to do Moroccan spices or French with bacon and rosemary or do you want to go more Spanish with smoked paprika and olives?

You understand the method so you can just riff from that.

"I try to give the best recipe I can. But I'm very much about trying to empower people to use whatever they've got in their cupboards and pantries and cook what they like."

Soups are another hearty winter staple that never go amiss and they can be a hearty meal in themselves.

"I made a version of minestrone and you think am I making vegetarian or am I going to put some chorizo in or some bacon and build the flavour base up."

A lot of cooking starts off with slowly cooking onion, celery and carrot in butter or olive oil − they are famously aromatic.

"It's a wonderful way to start flavouring a dish," she says.

She adds a note of caution on tomato paste: "I always add it then and cook it out as sometimes it can add a metallic taste. This way you get a nice caramel flavour to it."

These heart-warming, slow-cooked  meals are also easy to double, so are great options when wanting to help out a friend or family, she says.

Langbein admits to having more of a savoury palate than a sweet one.

She is addicted to lavosh, crisp breads which are great with cheese, but "I try not to make a habit of eating between meals."

Sweet foods are a treat, not a habit, and she advocates a balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, grains, a little bit of meat and the "occasional yummy treat".

"You don't want a sense of deprivation. Life is hard enough without feeling like you are missing out."

Her winter garden also helps. This year it was doing particularly well with brassicas, beetroot, celeriac, silverbeet and Asian greens having survived an early winter cold snap.

Baking is another great activity for a cold winter's day and giving it away is such a feel-good thing, she says.

"Those aromas make a house feel like a home and are so welcoming."

Like many others, Langbein got her start in the kitchen watching her mother bake.

"You start out loitering in the kitchen waiting to lick the beater and before you know it you are helping mix and roll.

"You get this fantastic sense of success and achievement for very little."

Langbein says she is the "queen" of scones and can make her favourite recipe almost with her eyes shut. The trick? Using buttermilk or yoghurt for the acidity which makes them tender, and mixing with a knife to avoid overmixing.

She is also famous for her sticky buns: "Rolling them up really thinly with butter, cinnamon and sugar, they are so good.''

She also loves one-pot cakes and slices, such as  her Aunty Freda's fruity chews.

"You can create so much pleasure with these very simple ingredients − butter, flour, sugar and eggs − then adding, nuts, spices or cocoa.

"But really at its essence with those handful of ingredients you can create so much pleasure for people."

Getting people together for morning tea or a meal is very nourishing and a way to connect in this fast-paced world, she says.

"It's a two-way street. You do something that makes people feel nice, you feel nice."

This was highlighted by her recent visit with members of Wanaka group Food for Love, which helps people in ill health.

"It's part of why I love living in Wanaka. There is such a real sense of community. It's a very special place."

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