First tastes of Spring

That taste of the first asparagus of the season – is that Spring? Or is it lamb? And that delicious contradiction of enjoying the bouncing of baby sheep in the fields around us and equally enjoying the taste of them served up with fresh mint.
Your first spring mouthful can set the standard for the tastes of the season to come. Get inspired and shout your tastebuds a treat with our Spring Feast @ Smiths on Friday 23 September. Book your place at info@operakitchen.co.nz.
Asparagus, Lamb, Whitebait, New Vintage Wines, Picnic Puddings, Shared Multicourse Dinner. $55pp

Art Deco picnic in style

Art Deco Weekend is on this weekend in Napier. It’s our annual excuse to dress up and eat with the nice china.  And we all know nothing goes nicer with Art Deco than a picnic hamper full of goodies.  The Great Gatsby Picnic is a highlight of the Weekend so do it in style!  It’s Sunday 21 Feb from 1-5! This year, add a contemporary twist to your annual Art Deco outing with a box of yummies from The Picnic.  It’s up to you what to include but here’s what sounds good to us (for two): 2 tomato and mozzarella galettes, 2 ham and cheese croissants, 2 verrines, 2 small salad boxes, some chocolates and a bag of bite-sized cookies, all packed inside a pretty picnic box ready to go!  Come in to The Picnic or call us on 06 651 0194.

Bareknuckle BBQ Friday Night Pop-Ups

Auckland escapee Jimmy Macken is ‘popping up’ at Smiths on Fridays, starting 18 Dec and cruising on through the summer. Jimmy is Mister BBQ, Texas style. He’s a master of the art with a big-rig ‘pit’ he uses to authentically ‘bbq’ ribs, brisket and pulled pork. It’s a style of cooking Kiwis flirt with but it takes time to get right, not just cooking time but years of practice, time to tweak technique and perfect secret recipes.

Smiths is stoked to have Jimmy in the house, he’s big on energy, with big flavours to match. Come down and try ‘em: Friday 18 Dec, then 3rd, 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th January. It’s a Friday night cook-out with craft beer, picnic treats, ice creams on sticks, brownie with dairy whip, caramel corn.

Book a big table and round up a posse!

Cray-cray for kale

It seems like everyone’s gone a little kale crazy. Kale smoothies, kale chips. But keeping it simple is the way to go, for two standout reasons. If you fiddle around with the best ingredients you run the risk of resenting them, they are sucking time from you! Second, the best ingredients need nothing much to deliver up their health properties and their tastiness. Respect that.

Kale is a hardy cabbage really, like the kind of cabbage you can imagine living wild. It is part of the brassica family so has relations who are cauliflowers and broccoli, but we eat the leaves and no real head forms in the middle. it’s an intense green, and has similarities to spinach and silver beet.

Here’s a way to serve it that’s respectful and simple:

Braised Kale

1 bunch kale, washed and roughly chopped

3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, finely sliced

2 anchovy fillets

Pinch of chilli flakes

Salt and pepper

Grilled country style bread

Perhaps a poached egg on top?

 

Blanch the chopped kale until just tender, then drain and set aside.

Sauté garlic and chilli gently in olive oil.

Add the anchovy fillets and kale and season with a little salt and pepper.

Cook covered very gently until the kale is soft.

Serve on grilled sourdough, with a splash of extra oil.

 

Where food comes from

I’ve been thinking a lot about supply chains. Where things come from is as important as what we do with them. If you have enough kitchens to justify it you can begin to take control of a lot of the supply side of food too. Marlow and Sons has a bakery, first established to supply their own kitchens but now with a retail side. Closer to home, Hip Group in Auckland has a number of excellent eateries but also provides a lot of its own produce including bread but also cheese, honey, fruit and herbs, as well as doing its own butchery. It injects an added dimension into their food; what’s in season, what’s on their own trees, what they are personally passionate about, it all shows up in their kitchens and on their menus in a fluid and honest way.

Hip Group is worth seeking out if you’re up that way. There’s Kohi Beach Cafe, Rosie in Parnell, there’s The Store, The Diner, The Butchery, there’s four Hip Group offerings just at Britomart – you can’t book, you can’t even call because there’s no phone. Drop in, check the wait, mooch nearby, come back when there’s space (they’ll give you a gizmo to let you know).

Traceability is more and more a buzz word in food production. From a kitchen’s point of view it is vital we know where something comes from, but we don’t need to bore customers with it. If it’s part of what we do, then we can relax into trusting it’s the best, and we can get on with treating it well, respecting it and respecting you by serving it up as good eating.

Comfort food on a rainy Monday

This is what I want to eat right now, for lunch. I’m sharing the goodness with you. We’re hunkered down feeling the tail of Cyclone Pam whip around us.

WAXY POTATO SALAD with chickpeas and chorizo

For the dressing:

1T fennel seeds

1 T coriander seeds both lightly roasted and crushed

4 shallots finely diced

1t white pepper

1T thyme leaves

Honey

2T white wine vinegar

80ml extra virgin olive oil (evo)

Juice ½ lemon

2 large mild chilli

Put all into bowl and allow to infuse for at least 1 hour

For the salad:

300gm waxy potato

100gm chickpeas

2T evo

160 gm chorizo, thickly sliced

100gm lettuce

1C coriander leaves

2 medium soft boiled eggs

Boil potatoes until tender, slice in half lengthways. Warm chickpeas and toss both in some of the dressing while still warm. Fry the chorizo in evo and add to rest of the salad ingredients. Serve topped with a soft boiled egg.

(I ate mine before I could photograph it so this image is from Stone Soup Cookery)

Bedrock

Look at this: Union Square Market Map

Drool, right?

It’s seeping potential. Imagine the eats you could make with all this.

Union Square Market, NY: Hand painted rustic signs, that really are rustic, not just ‘designed’ to look that way. Awnings. Baskets. Blackboards. Plumes of carrot tops. Goose eggs. Rooftop honey. Blueberries. Flags proudly proclaiming ‘Organic’.

I would like to transport myself there twice a week, for forever. It’s actually open four times a week but I have things to do here so it’d be a co-share arrangement.

And when I float home across the ether I’ll bring back a bag of goodies from ABC Carpet and Home.

It’s my favourite place and it’s right next to my other favourite place so it’s like a Mecca of goodness.

Part of the ABC of A.B.C. is to make home a sacred space. “Beauty, experience and magic”.

Geographically, it seems so distant from my home in Hawke’s Bay. Is it possible to have a home and a home-away-from-home so far from each other? One rational, emotional, practical; one spiritual, romantic, fantastical. The tunnel between the two would pop out in the market. We’re both market towns, HB and NY. Rural folks bring their produce to the centre and urbanites gratefully buy. It’s a meeting of people and cultures, energies and sensibilities, food and drink.

I could drill through bedrock to get there. The portal: our own markets here in Hawke’s Bay. The idea that all over the world people are growing stuff, selling it, exchanging product and chatter, and cash, then people are taking that stuff home and cooking it, sharing it, eating it. That is trade at its most raw, pure. Ancient and honest. Money made from hard work and solid principals. And a meal made from the same.

Bring the rainbow

Simple food, prepared well outstrips flashy fluffing with a pile of fancy fare. And the simplest of all is the humble vegetable. VEDGE is a vegan restaurant in Philadelphia and what they do with vegetables would garner the envy of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, he of the ultimate veg-head Vertumnus.

Vegetables are beautiful.

Meat comes in two colours: blood and blah. Vegetables bring the rainbow. “Eat your greens,” mothers tell their issue, “Eat your oranges, your reds, your purples, your yellows, AND your greens!”

VEDGE is the baby of Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby who have captured their restaurant in a cookbook, also called VEDGE. “100 plates that redefine vegetable cooking,” they say.

The ideas are simple enough to be easily dismissed. But there’s an aftertaste that makes you linger longing for more. Look again at that roasted carrot, come closer and see what’s been done with those Brussels sprouts.

Dinner hosts shrink at the thought of a vegan coming to tea. “No eggs?!” “No cheese?!” “A single serving of nut loaf?” But VEDGE offers so many inspired ideas the whole table will soon be devouring vegetables.

Few people raise meat to eat in their own back yards. But vegetables are so do-able. There’s such variety there, not just in type but in specifics. Take tomatoes: cherry, roma, yellow, plum, bush, brandywine and beefsteak. All ready to go, cheap to grow and offering up a hundred different meals.

Embrace the vegetable, make it the hero on the plate, invite some veg heads to tea and show them your moves. If you get it right with the vege you may even find you have no room left for the meat.

 

 

Stop talking and eat

Everywhere we look there’s food but much of it we can’t touch. There’s food on TV, in books, on blogs, in every magazine. There’s food on the radio. But we can’t taste any of it. It’s all talk.

What do people say? “Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink?” Same with food. It’s food-fatigue!

Who would have thought? Too much food in our lives! We risk losing balance and falling for the fantasy. What we all need to do is sink our teeth into reality. Crunch! Simple and easy.

Don’t label me locavore, sustainable, organic; of course I know where those vegetables come from! I don’t need to be slotted into a tidy box to prove my place. I always want to eat better and what I do in my kitchens is an extension of that.

My kitchen is a conduit between growers and eaters. That’s all. What’s fresh, in season, available. This with that. Nothing more. Enjoyed your lunch? Good. Over-analysing why is like dissecting the meal before you taste it.

I’m inspired to eat, and bored to tears talking about it. There’s a truth to what we do in the kitchen, and we hope you can taste it. Even naming it makes it feel thin and trivial. Your tongue can’t be free to really savour the flavour if it’s too busy chewing the fat.

But here I am adding to the prattle. Come in and eat. (I promise I won’t ruin it by talking.)

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Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
info@operakitchen.co.nz
+64 6-870 6020

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