When Annabel Crabb drops by to cook food with you, she comes armed with ready wit and she really loves a big, tidy kitchen.
Luckily our colleague and fellow editor Karen Hardy has the biggest, nicest and tidiest kitchen in the Canberra Good Food office and she's hosting us in her spacious house. Crabb is going to do a video shoot making a couple of party recipes from her book Special Delivery. The recipes are all designed to go - they can be packed into a cake tin, fitted into a picnic basket, or be carried through airport security to take to a far flung friend's home. It's a tradition that started early for Crabb.
"My mother is a real compulsive food taker. It's part of country hospitality - you call around to see somebody, you take them scones, you take them some eggs," she explains. "There's a real code of courtesy to taking food and I've always been attracted to it. On a practical level, I've always been attracted to taking food to people's houses because it means I don't have to tidy up my house - I love cooking for people but I also run a very messy house."
Today we're making some nibbles and a summery cocktail. Crabb is tiny, beautifully made up, and is wearing the same red floral dress that features heavily in the cookbook. She's also pretty down to earth - she grabs the mic and mics herself up, asks what we want to achieve with the video and is off and running. We make Christobel's spicy nuts, a recipe stolen, like a flattering jacket with just enough vintage cred, from Crabb's mum collection. "She brought them to a family gathering and I said, God, these are so good. And then I ate the whole bowl." The secret is whisked egg white, which binds the raw nuts to the moreish spice mix. And then they're roasted in the oven to keep them light and crunchy, Crabb poking them at regular intervals with a spatula.
Crabb's best known for her political journalism but has lately also become a bit of a domestic goddess with the Kitchen Cabinet TV series, in which she visits politicians at home and cooks with them in a more personal, setting. She's thoughtful and patient as she deals (again) with the minor controversy stirred by New Matilda's accusations that the show is "junk food journalism" - a claim that conveniently ignores both the panoply of serious journalism already out there and Crabb's heavyweight status as political columnist.
Which pollie has impressed her the most with their recipes? "I still make, really regularly, a couple of things that Tanya Plibersek showed me," she says. "This recipe is really great, really simple for entertaining, they're hot cheese olives. You make cheese straw pastry, you roll that into a sausage, put it in the fridge, then cut off rounds of pastry, take an olive and you wrap the olive in the pastry like a little cheesy football and then bake it." The beauty of this recipe ("without sounding like a complete lunatic or being Martha Stewart") is that you can freeze a batch and then bake them when friends drop in.
During the festive season she tries to make a big Christmas cake and take it home to her mum and dad's in Adelaide. But she also likes to make a lot of (Eton) mess for parties. "If you're going to take a dessert it's the easiest one to make because you just buy the meringue and then put it all together... get a big bowl and pre-whip your cream," she says. For picnics or children's parties, Crabb suggests pea and mint tarts, made by pressing pre-made pastry into tartlet cases, then adding creme fraiche, mint, some crumbled fetta and frozen peas. Sprinkle with parmesan and pop into the oven.
Her cocktail mix might not be quite as portable as the pea and mint tarts but it's easy enough to make - you just need a passionfruit, some sugar syrup and a whole bottle of prosecco. It's just as easy to drink, especially with a batch of cheesy filo triangles that Karen Hardy has very thoughtfully whipped up in advance (give that woman a show of her own). Crabb settles onto the sofa, grabs a drink, and has a chat about the pitfalls of housesitters, about kids, about her then-upcoming dinner at the ANU. It's a lovely little afternoon gathering - when it comes to parties, Crabb certainly delivers.