Inside Ita Buttrose's kitchen

Ita Buttrose at her home in Redfern.
Ita Buttrose at her home in Redfern. Photo: James Brickwood

Journalist, editor, businesswoman, bestselling author, volunteer, mother of two children and grandmother to five - a more accurate title for Ita Buttrose might be living legend. Her remarkable media career inspired the two-part telemovie Paper Giants in 2011, and last year she was named Australian of the Year. Dividing her time between her NSW Highlands home and her Redfern apartment, which she shares with cat Bella and dog Cleo, Buttrose is busy hosting a morning talk show on Network 10. She's also a passionate voice in the fight against Alzheimer's disease and macular degeneration, a debilitating, hereditary eye disease affecting one in seven Australians over the age of 50. It also runs in her family. ''I've been in the media all my life. I love it,'' she says. ''It was always what I wanted to do and, although you could say I've done a lot of things in my career, I've always stayed in the area that I think suits me best - communications.''

I'm drinking

I love champagne and rose, but I mainly drink Italian wines, like pinot grigio, because they're less alcoholic. I live in an area that has the most amazing wine shop. It has wines you've never heard of, so it's like going on a voyage of discovery in there. They have a wonderful Lacryma Christi, an Italian wine, and it's just a really beautiful drop. And I don't mind a good martini, but I haven't had one for a while. In summer, I'll have a gin and tonic.

Most unforgettable meal

A lunch I had once at Tetsuya's. The husband of one of my very close friends decided he would take us there for a celebration, maybe my birthday. It was a degustation menu and it was just beautiful. Just when you thought you couldn't possibly eat another mouthful, something else would come along and you would think, ''Oh, I've just got to''. It was divine.

Favourite

My Watts Cooking Master Pot. It's a new toy and it's just arrived, but it does everything. You can grill on it, steam on it, slow-cook. You can deep-fry on it. When you live by yourself, you don't always want to use the oven. This is much easier to clean and so I thought I would just like to try it.

Food discovery

I like using hoisin sauce. I find if I add that to various things, it gives a really beautiful flavour. It goes really well with mushrooms, or I might throw it into a stew. I find it goes with all sorts of things.

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Recipe stalwart

A really rare piece of beef that has been roasted in the oven with garlic. Then I make a sauce out of three kinds of mushrooms, onions and herbs. I tell you what - it never fails to excite. They love it.

My toolkit

I make a mean broccoli soup and a good cauliflower one (an old Robert Carrier recipe), which you've got to blend, so I love my blender. I have a number of good frying pans. I think they're important. I'm a great believer in knives, too. You've got to have a sharp set, and I've got about three - they just keep growing, like chopsticks. And chopping boards are essential. I've got five of them here.

My inspiration

I get hungry. I've never been a great takeaway person. I prefer to cook. Even when the kids were little, I used to find that coming home after work and going to the kitchen and cooking was a good way to relax. I use cookbooks, but I am a throw-together cook. I'm never religiously glued to the recipe.

Secret vice

Ice-cream. In summer I sometimes get a whole pile of different fruits and perhaps some coconut ice-cream and gelato. It's beautiful on a hot, humid night, but later, if I find leftover ice-cream in the freezer, I'll just polish it off, so now I just don't buy it.

Last night's dinner

I did a chicken and noodle dish (I'm using up the freezer, because I'm going to get a new fridge). I boiled a chook, chopped it up and then did a stir-fry with tomato, mushrooms, onions and organic soba noodles, which I love.

The staples

My pantry

I don't have a lot in this pantry, but I have Japanese noodles, rice and tinned things like tuna and salmon, asparagus and beans. I usually have some Campbell's chicken stock in case I need it, some black peppercorns, tomato paste and lots of tea. I like English breakfast, but I also drink a lot of peppermint, which is good for clearing the brain. I have some Patak's chicken tikka masala paste and some fig chutney, and I've got Green's cupcakes just in case the grandchildren come over.

My fridge

I always have some bread and hummus - I usually have something on toast for breakfast - and I often have some smoked salmon, which I quite like for lunch, wrapped in rye mountain bread and perhaps mixed with some coleslaw that I've bought. You'll find Rose's Lime Marmalade, which I like with a croissant at the weekend, and spinach, which I blanch quickly and might serve with some grilled salmon on top. Spinach is fantastic for your macula, and I've got some jelly beans here for the grandchildren. I also keep Ribena, Cruskits, Vegemite and muesli there. My kids make fun of me, but I think they keep better.

Ita Buttrose's co-authored Eating for Eye Health cookbook is out now, coinciding with Macular Degeneration Awareness Week, May 25-31. For details, phone 1800 111 709 or see mdfoundation.com.au.