When your family hates what you cook (+ recipes)
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.
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. Get the recipe
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. Get the recipe
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. Get the recipe
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. Get the recipe
For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see her new winter annual Annabel Langbein A Free Range Life: Share the Love (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95) or visit annabel-langbein.com.