annabel crabb in the kitchen

Friends since their toddler days, Annabel Crabb and Wendy Sharpe grew up on the Adelaide Plains, in a small town called Two Wells. They shared a love of cooking, especially baking cakes that could be suitable for gala days or trading tables in country South Australia. The two mates that loved having adventures together have grown up to work on the ABC’s Kitchen Cabinet and have now written a cookbook together. childmags asked Annabel about her fave recipes, what’s on for Christmas lunch, and how to cook with kids.

You think of food as a language, what’s your advice for teaching people who can understand the language (happy to gobble) but not speak it (burn everything)?
Well, not everybody has to be a great cook. For every great cook, there needs to be an enthusiastic team of customers! If you’re like me, then half the pleasure of cooking is feeding people. If you take food to people who love it and are appreciative, then your day is made. So my advice to the people you mention is: smile! Ask for seconds!

Which of your own recipes is on high rotation right now?
At this time of year I make kilos and kilos of my mother’s Spicy Nuts, because they are brilliant as presents in a jar, or to crank out when people drop in unexpectedly. I must have made the Pomegranate Cloud Cake about thirty times so far this year, because it’s easy and so impressive, and can wear different hats. Plus it can be made gluten free, which is convenient for some recipients!

Which recipe is your kids’ favourite?
Spaghetti Lentillaise is an absolute fixture of Wendy’s kitchen, and despite the fact that it contains lentils and mushrooms and all other manner of veggies, my children eat it by the bucketload. It’s that delicious. They’re also real suckers for chocolate cake in every form. The chocolate beetroot cake is my son’s favourite.

Do you ever cook with your kids? Can you give us some tips you’ve learnt on how to make cooking with them fun?
I cook with my children all the time. It takes some adjusting, because I’m a bit of a control freak in the kitchen. My tip is just: let it happen. They have to learn by doing stuff, so my innate instinct to wrestle the biscuit cutters out of their tiny hands when they go to cut a gingerbread shape right out of the middle of the dough rather than from the edge (show me one child who doesn’t do this and I’ll personally arrange to have you knighted) is something I’ve learned to resist.

Kitchen Cabinet brings the audience inside politicians’ homes in a friendly and accessible way. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind the show. What can we expect from the next season?
I came up with the idea for the show because I felt there was a real gap between what people think politicians are like and what they’re really like. Finding out more about a political leader’s life and motivations is, I think, highly useful. This season is particularly good for that – we have Scott Morrison talking about his childhood, we have a poke around in Greens leader Richard di Natale’s solar-powered farm, and we have a hilarious dumpling-making session with Christopher Pyne and Anthony Albanese, where they talk about what goes on behind the scenes in Parliament. Plus drag racing with Ricky Muir and an incredibly beautiful visit to Nova Peris on her family’s traditional lands in Kakadu.

What’s something surprising about cooking with politicians that people may not know?
They almost always put an extraordinary amount of effort into it. It’s so lovely – like going round to a friend’s place where they’ve pulled out all the stops, scrambled their best dish and got out Granny’s china. I love it when people make an effort. That’s what the show’s actually about, really – people being kind to each other. The book too.

What will you be eating for lunch this Christmas?
We will be heading for SA, so I will be eating as much fresh seafood and great produce from the Adelaide Central Markets as I can possibly handle.

Top 3 tips for the novice cook using your new book?

  1. The book has an events index. So, if you’re after food to take to to a sick relative, or to a barbie, or to a new parent, or to a cocktail party, all the recipes are listed by occasion. This is a particularly brilliant idea of Wendy’s.
  2. Another tip: Think about your transport solution. Does it need to be airtight? Does it need to be chilled? Does it need to be held gingerly on the lap rather than tossed in the boot?
  3. And finally: be generous with everything.

Annabel Crabb and Wendy Sharpe’s new cookbook, Special Delivery, is published by Murdoch Books RRP $29.99 and available now.

See Annabel’s rhubarb and rose cordial recipe.

Interview: Bron Bates / Photograph: Murdoch Books