Mutiny at the dinner table is one of life's greatest humiliations. Trust me - I've been there! The failed eggplant frittata (truly disgusting), the baby poo apple and pumpkin soup (sickly sweet and claggy), the microwave carrot cake fiasco (no one could eat it - I had invented a new building material)... When people don't like the food we make, the sense of failure is crushing.
Awful, disgusting and inedible - these are not the words we're looking for when people eat our food. We want plates scraped clean with pleasure, gushing compliments and positive affirmation.
Which is why, a lot of the time, we cook the same old dishes on rotation. Life is hectic and, even if you enjoy cooking, reading cookbooks and blogs and watching cooking shows on TV, there often isn't enough headspace or energy left after working, running households, ferrying children, helping with homework and shopping to introduce new excitement to the dinner table.
At the end of the day you just want to go into autopilot. When you're exhausted you need a quick, foolproof dinner that you don't have to think about - something you know will get the thumbs-up from your hungry audience. Happiness all around, ideally with enough time left in the evening for you to settle in for a binge on the latest season of Game of Thrones.
It's well known that our flavour preferences are learned and embedded over time, which is why familiar foods tend to taste best. And there is something comforting about a weekly routine - the Friday homemade pizza, the Wednesday chicken pie. Dishing up familiarity and consistency can be reassuring in this fast-changing world.
But at the same time, if you have only a handful of dishes that you roll out week after week, it can easily feel like a rut. And it's boring - both for the cook as well as for the eaters.
The approach that lots of restaurants run to, changing out their menus seasonally, offers a useful tactic for the home cook. It's about creating a menu of dishes at the start of each season to make the most of the produce that's going to be available and affordable in the months ahead, and to suit your palate as it craves comfort foods in colder weather and lighter tastes as the temperature rises.
You don't need to make something new every night of the week - aim for a mix of old favourites and some new dishes that you like the sound of.
The first time you prepare a recipe, you'll need to concentrate and learn the road map. The next time it's easier, and soon you know the rhythm - what needs to happen when, what the ingredients are, how you can change it out or take a shortcut. Before long it becomes your recipe.
Following this approach, here are a few of my new favourite go-to recipes for summer 2016/2017. They're from my new summer annual, which I'm launching at the BePure Live Well Festival this weekend, just in time to feed your spring appetite. It's the fifth seasonal annual I've put together to share the flavours and discoveries that I'm enjoying right now.
To encourage as many people as possible into the kitchen I keep the recipes quick and easy, using affordable seasonal ingredients that are readily available at supermarkets and farmers' markets.
When I was writing the recipes for Celebrate Summer, I tried to think of all the occasions that tend to arise over a Kiwi summer - potluck barbecues, drinks and nibbles with friends, impromptu picnics, Christmas dinner with the extended family, the kids' last-minute shared class lunch or school bake sale... Then I came up with all the recipes you need to take the stress out of those occasions.
These brand new recipes will take you through the silly season, and into the hazy lazy days of summer in style. I'm sure they'll quickly be added to your lexicon of family favourites and become part of your summer repertoire for years to come.
BePure Live Well
It's not too late to grab a ticket to the BePure Live Well festival this weekend! Come along to The Cloud on Auckland's waterfront at 2.45pm today (October 15) to see me demonstrating fresh spring recipes, or pop in tomorrow morning, when I'll be signing books and launching my summer annual. BePure Live Well is New Zealand's largest wellbeing event, offering everything you need to know about wellbeing in one venue.
Immerse yourself in the latest health trends, products, food and experiences. For more information visit livewellfestival.co.nz or to buy tickets, go to iticket.co.nz.
Ready in 15 mins. Makes 24 pinwheels
1 cup cheese or carrot, grated
125g spreadable cream cheese or ½ cup good-quality mayonnaise
200g finely chopped cooked or smoked chicken or thinly sliced ham
2 square mountain breads or wraps
2 asparagus spears, blanched
4 green beans, blanched, or 4 slices red pepper
Stir together cheese or carrot with cream cheese or mayonnaise. Stir in chicken, if using. Divide between 2 mountain breads or wraps and spread out to cover in a thin layer. If using ham, layer it over the top, leaving a 2cm border at the top to allow the roll to stick together. Lay an asparagus spear, 2 beans or 2 slices of red pepper along the bottom edge of each, then roll up to encase the filling. If not using at once, cover with a damp paper towel and chill, join side downwards, for up to 8 hours until needed. When ready to serve, cut each roll into about 12 slices and arrange on a serving platter.
Annabel says: Keep a stash of mountain bread or wraps in the freezer to whip up these tasty pinwheels, great for an end-of-term kids' party or last-minute shared lunch or sports day. Use whatever combo of flavours you like - just think of it as a sandwich that you roll up. They're great for lunchboxes and picnics too.
Crispy Fish Po' Boys
Ready in 25 mins. Serves 4
½ cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp thyme leaves
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp cayenne pepper
150ml cold beer (drink the rest)
Neutral oil, to cook
4 small white fish fillets, such as tarakihi or gurnard
½ cup good-quality mayonnaise
Zest of ½ lime, finely grated
2 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp chopped chives
1 tsp pickled jalapenos, finely chopped
A pinch of salt
1 baguette, quartered, or 2 ficelles, halved
1 cup finely shredded cabbage
Sliced pickled jalapenos, to taste
A handful of coriander leaves
To make the Jalapeno Mayonnaise, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside.
To make the Crispy Fish, combine flour, salt, paprika, thyme, garlic powder and cayenne pepper in a mixing bowl. Add the beer and whisk quickly - you should have a mixture the consistency of a pancake batter. Heat 6cm of oil to 180C in a medium pot. Insert the handle of a wooden spoon. When bubbles start to form around it, the oil is the right temperature. Dunk fish into the batter to coat, shaking off excess, and drop pieces one by one into the oil. Don't overcrowd the pot. Cook for about 1½ minutes each side until golden and crispy. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Cut each piece of bread in half horizontally. Spread liberally with Jalapeno Mayonnaise then top the 4 bases with cabbage and a piece of fish. Top with a little more mayonnaise, garnish with jalapenos and coriander and top with the 4 remaining pieces of bread.
Annabel says: If you're looking for fresh inspiration for a summer picnic lunch or casual dinner it doesn't get much better than this New Orleans classic - crispy fish piled into a fresh baguette with the kick of mayo, the crunch of shredded cabbage and the extra zing of some pickled jalapenos.
Jerk Chicken with Caribbean Salsa
Ready in 1 hour + marinating. Serves 6-8
12-16 skin-on boneless chicken thighs, halved
24-36 baby gem or cos lettuce leaves, separated
A squeeze of lemon or lime juice, to finish
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 long red chilli, finely chopped
Juice and finely grated zest of 2 limes
2 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp neutral oil
1 Tbsp mustard powder
1 Tbsp dried thyme
5 tsp allspice
2 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 juicy lime
½-1 long red chilli, or more to taste, very finely chopped
½ pineapple or 2-3 peaches or nectarines, finely chopped
¼ cup shredded coriander or basil leaves
½ tsp salt ground black pepper, to taste
To make the Jerk Marinade, combine all the ingredients in a large roasting dish or clean plastic bag. Add chicken to the dish or bag and turn to coat evenly. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 12 hours. To make the Caribbean Salsa, mix everything together gently. It can be prepared in advance without the coriander or basil and chilled for up to 6 hours until needed. Stir in the coriander or basil just before serving. When ready to cook, preheat barbecue grill to a medium heat. Lift chicken pieces from marinade and grill, turning frequently, until fully cooked through (about 20 minutes). To serve, arrange lettuce leaf cups on a large serving platter. Slice chicken pieces into three and arrange on top then add salsa, finishing with a drizzle of lime or lemon juice.
Annabel says: This piquant marinade will transform your barbecues this summer - it's equally good with chicken or with pork. I prefer to use chicken thighs rather than breasts on the barbecue, as they don't dry out. Here they are served in lettuce cups with fruity summer salsa for a vibrant fresh, barbecue vibe. I like to continue the theme with chargrilled corn on the cob and pumpkin wedges.
Ready in 15 mins + chilling. Makes 1 bar
500g white chocolate, coarsely chopped
Food colouring of your choice
A handful of edible flowers
2 tsp sugar
Food colouring of your choice
Line a 30cm x 24cm swiss roll tin with baking paper. Melt the white chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally, or in 20-second bursts in a microwave, stirring in between. While the chocolate is melting, make the Rainbow Sugar. Divide the sugar between two small sealable bags and add a tiny drop of food colouring to each. Shake up the sugar in the bag vigorously to distribute the colour evenly.
When the white chocolate is melted, divide between two bowls. Stir a few drops of food colouring into each to achieve desired shades. Pour the coloured chocolate on to the prepared tray and spread out - you can have half one colour and half the other or marble the colours together. Scatter with the Rainbow Sugar and edible flowers and chill for two hours or overnight.
Annabel says: This pretty bar makes such a fabulous Christmas gift or after-dinner treat. Allow it to set then break it into shards and package in little cellophane bags with pretty ribbons. You can make it any combination of colours that you like. Be sure to check the flowers you choose are edible - there's a list of varieties that are safe to use on my website, annabel-langbein.com