Who needs to go out when there's a chef in the kitchen and an espresso machine on the bench. Anna Gare makes a mean macchiato, second only to her banana toffee tart. Make that a double shot, topped up.
TV has made her one of Australia's most popular cooks, but Gare is always happiest whipping up a meal in her own kitchen because love, after all, is food happily shared. Smoked trout omelette for two, beef burritos for four, or paella for 15, she's a natural and her new book - Eat In: The Best Food is Made at Home - brings together her favourite meals so we can all dine well.
"Every recipe in this book has been triple tested, eaten and loved," she said. "I write down everything I cook at home on scraps of paper. If it's a hit, I file it and cook it again and again for family and friends. There's everything from Ukrainian to Middle Eastern and Indian; that's the wonderful thing about living here."
From breakfasts to "lovely lunches", family feasts, salads, dinners and sweet things, Gare has it covered. There's her famous upside-down potato salad made on a TV Christmas special that people still ask about to this day, chicken pan pie and her mum's staples - meat loaf and lamb stew - in a whole new guise. The meat loaf is wrapped in vine leaves, dolmades- style, with Mediterranean flavours. The lamb stew, baked with fresh herbs and a splash of red wine. For Gare, it's "as comforting as your doona on a winter's morning". Mum, take a bow.
"I have always loved cooking thanks to my mum who never took a great interest in the kitchen and handed it over to me," she said.
"She was a basic cook, but we ate well; never anything out of a packet but usually chops, peas and mash; chicken, peas and mash, spag bol, tuna mornay, meat loaf and rolled roast. We always joked that we grew up on brown food, apart from the rolled roast which was grey. Mum blamed the oven - we'd have to hold it shut with a cricket bat or chair and broom because the seal didn't work - so we bought her a new one with self-ignition and she used it all the time . . . as a cigarette lighter." That was then.
Gare dedicates the book - her second - to her mum and dad, who used to make her Vegemite and mint sandwiches for school. Lunches, one of Gare's favourite meals, get star billing. "I love them because you always feel like you're stealing from the day, especially when you go out with your girlfriend," she said. "A short lunch can turn into a whole afternoon; it can go on forever. When Luc (Longley) and I got married we had an eight-course long-table lunch. The ones in the book are light and healthy and won't stop you in your tracks. For the dinners, I sat down with the kids and we looked at what should go in."
It's midweek and she's taking time out in her Fremantle warehouse - "I hate walls" - with indoor and outdoor kitchens sans cupboard doors so she can see everything at a glance and a pizza oven in the backyard. She's planning to write more books - a third is in the pipeline - and is doing a Women's Weekly Christmas shoot. The other week it was a seafood cook-up using Jim Mendolia's sardines at Clancy's in Fremantle with food critic Matthew Evans for a new food series, due to screen on SBS. On Sunday, she'll showcase a sustainable seafood feast with Incontro chef Peter Manifis at the Blessing of the Fleet.
Life is good with basketball legend husband Longley, assistant coach to the Boomers, and their blended brood - Anna's son and daughter, Jackson and Elsie, and Longley's daughters, Clare and Lily. Junior MasterChef has made her a household name worldwide - "I've had people run up to me in the street in France" - and she's hoping to do another series of the Great Australian Bake-Off next year.
The plan is to move to the family property in Denmark and live off the land in the next few years.
"That's my dream," Gare said. "I want to grow my own food because I don't like the way the world's heading with all the toxic sprays, numbers and additives. We've already built a food amphitheatre and tiered it with limestone to plant up because it's quite windy where we are. I've grown garlic, no problem, but we've had a bit of trouble with other stuff, so we're experimenting with new soils and getting everything ready.
"The kids are growing up, which means we'll probably be going down ourselves, but they'll visit, of course. Work-wise, it doesn't matter where you are these days. Luc can still do his basketball commitments and I can still come up to the city, or get on a plane and go over east.
"The idea is to be self-sufficient, but I'm sure we'll end up producing much more than we can use, so I'll end up doing something down there and it will revolve around food."