ANNABEL LANGBEIN

Learn­ing curves

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

It’s hard to be­lieve that eight years have passed since my first Free Range Cook tele­vi­sion se­ries went to air on TVNZ. Cre­at­ing, pre­sent­ing and co-pro­duc­ing that first se­ries was a chal­lenge like no other.

No one told me be­fore we started shoot­ing that you needed mul­ti­ple takes, to get dif­fer­ent an­gles. When the di­rec­tor asked me to do the same thing over and over, I thought it was be­cause I was do­ing some­thing wrong. Or that if the light changes in the mid­dle of a shot, you have to start all over again. Or that a sky­diver might de­cide to take a plane to whine its way high up into the sky right above where you are film­ing.

Cre­at­ing a TV se­ries felt a bit like climb­ing a re­ally big moun­tain. You head off full of en­ergy and ex­cite­ment, armed with ev­ery­thing you think you might need. About half way up, when things are start­ing to hurt and there’s been a bliz­zard, your socks are wet; you think maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Three-quar­ters of the way up you think you might ac­tu­ally die. You swear you will never, ever do this again. Fi­nally, al­most im­pos­si­bly, you ar­rive at the top and there is an in­cred­i­ble sense of achieve­ment and ex­hil­a­ra­tion and joy.

Af­ter all that hard work we were re­warded with the se­ries go­ing on to sell into 93 ter­ri­to­ries. We be­came the num­ber two prop­erty for our dis­trib­u­tors, Fre­mantleMe­dia, af­ter Jamie Oliver.

Even though we had the guar­an­tee of a prime­time view­ing slot in New Zealand, pre-sales for the ac­com­pa­ny­ing cook­book, The Free Range Cook, were low. We didn’t get the buy-in that we thought we would. The book hit the shelves as the TV se­ries went to air and for the first cou­ple of weeks the sales looked quite good. Then the curve started to rise and rise. Ev­ery 10 days or so I had to call the printer in China to print more books.

The Free Range Cook went on to sell a stag­ger­ing 170,000 copies in a year in New Zealand alone, break­ing ev­ery pub­lish­ing record in New Zealand his­tory. I toured and met so many won­der­ful peo­ple who shared their sto­ries as if I was a sister. It was such a priv­i­lege.

The book is out of print now, but peo­ple fre­quently tell me how much they still love it and use it, so I’m guess­ing lots of you still have it on your book­shelf. I’m re­ally proud it has been named by New Zealand Book­sell­ers as one of the top 20 books of the decade.

Here is one of my favourite sweet treats from The Free Range Cook.

CO­CONUT PAVLOVAS

Ready in 1½ hours + cool­ing Makes 6-8 in­di­vid­ual pavlovas 6 eggs, at room tem­per­a­ture A pinch of salt 1½ cups caster sugar

2 tsp corn­flour 1 tsp white vine­gar

1 cup coarse-thread co­conut

1 tsp vanilla ex­tract 300ml chilled cream, whipped to soft peaks, to serve

Trop­i­cal fruit salad

½ pineap­ple, cut into small ba­tons 3 ki­wifruit, finely diced 4 Tbsp pas­sion­fruit pulp Pre­heat oven to 160C (don’t use the fan­bake set­ting). Line a bak­ing tray with bak­ing pa­per. Make sure the bowl and beater of your food pro­ces­sor or elec­tric mixer are clean and dry, with­out a sker­rick of fat. Sep­a­rate the eggs and place the egg whites in the pro­ces­sor or mixer. Add the salt and sugar and beat for about 10 min­utes un­til shiny, glossy and very thick. Beat in the corn­flour and vine­gar for a few sec­onds, then quickly and lightly fold in the co­conut and vanilla (do not beat as the oils in the co­conut may de­flate and soften the mix­ture). Drop big spoon­fuls of the mix­ture on to the pre­pared tray, mak­ing 6 to 8 in­di­vid­ual pavlovas. The thicker you make them the more marsh­mal­lowy they will be in the mid­dle. If you make them thin­ner they will be more chewy. Swirl the top into a spi­ral pat­tern with a fork or spat­ula. Bake for 10 min­utes then turn the oven down to 130C and bake for a fur­ther 1 hour, un­til the shell is crisp to the touch. Turn off the oven and leave the pavlovas to cool in the oven for at least 2 hours. If you’re not serv­ing them the same day you can store them in an air­tight con­tainer for up to a week. They can also be frozen for later use. To make the trop­i­cal fruit salad, com­bine all in­gre­di­ents in a bowl. Whip the cream un­til it forms soft peaks when the whisk is lifted from the bowl. Place spoon­fuls of whipped cream on top of the pavlovas and spoon the fruit salad over the top.

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