Be My Guest: Foodopera

I am currently caught in a frustrating battle to figure out what exactly has gone wrong with the connection between my camera and computer. I can’t imagine anything so basic happening to Vanessa and Ingrid Opera, the sister act behind New Zealand food blog Foodopera.
These two juggle blogging with babies, magazine shoots, day jobs and photography – but Vanessa still found the time to fill in the blanks for this week’s Be My Guest.

Vanessa and Ingrid Opera (Image: Gemma Cathcart Neuendorf)

What’s your blog about?

Our blog is about food, recipes we love, recipes we have created and beautiful photography. It also features some behind-the-scenes posts relating to lighting and how to get published, as well as a list of child-friendly cafes.

When did you start it? Why?

Our blog started when we created a few sets of recipe gift cards sold in boutique gift shops. We wanted a place to share our recipes and photographs and, over time, wanted to create a portfolio of work.

We are busy working mums so our food reflects things that are relatively easy, not too heavy on your wallet and of course delicious to eat. We have also added a few posts that feature behind the scenes of our photoshoots and tips on becoming a published food blogger. One of the best things that has come from our blog has been the chance to meet other bloggers and attend the first New Zealand Food Bloggers Conference.

Peach Pastries (Image: Foodopera)

Do you have any culinary training or professional experience?

Nope, neither of us are professionally trained. Our father, who is Italian, probably sparked our interest. I have been really keen on cooking from a young age, while Ingrid has found her feet in the last few years.

Both of us have spent time working in hospitality, ranging from a fish and chip shop, bakery, rib and wedge joint, brasserie-style restaurant, a Pizza Express in Dublin, running a cafe in a golf course in an English village and finally cooking in an upmarket French ski resort.

Who are your food heroes?
I know Ingrid quite likes Bill Granger, his simplicity and freshness. I used to be really into Nigella Lawson, I just loved her appetite for everything food. Rick Stein is also a bit of an old favourite too. However currently I am into anything Asian, I love Kylie Kwong, her books and TV show.
I own HEAPS of cook books so its actually really difficult to have just one hero. My aunty recently gave me the book Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi that has amazing ways with vegetables and I picked up “Dinner at Matt’s” by Matt Moran at the library. It features fancy pants food that you could cook at home. The photography is great too.

Chilli choko chutney (Image: Foodopera)

Masterchef and TV food shows: hot or not?
Ingrid’s not too fussed on Masterchef, however I LOVE it. I have a series link booked on MySky and watch it most nights. I actually auditioned for New Zealand’s second series but nerves got the better of me and I told one of the judges (Ross Burden) how to make scrambled eggs instead of custard.
The food channel is one of my favourites too. I will watch anything food-related.

What are your three favourite posts on your blog?
The balsamic mushrooms one, in which we try to recreate the mushrooms at Dizengoff café in Ponsonby, Auckland.
How to love brussel sprouts – they really are delicious done this way.
And for pizza and pie lovers, our sister vs sister cheese food fight.

Brussel sprouts sauteed in wholegrain mustard (Image: Foodopera)

Tell us about another blog you love.
This is a hard one as there are so many awesome food blogs.

A favourite from when we started is Cannelle et Vanille – it’s pretty, romantic and it looks like she is living the dream.
We like the simplicity of Spoon Fork Bacon and the great styling and design.
I have also been checking out Sips and Spoonfuls recently – it’s lovely.
What’s for dinner tonight?
You have me on this one. I don’t know what Ingrid is having but it’s got to be healthier and more exciting than dinner at our house tonight. It’s oven chips (if you try hard you can imagine they are hand-cut and fried in goose fat!) and pork sausages with a good squirt of tomato sauce and mustard. There is a glass of chardonnay in my hand too.

Crispy fried calamari (Image: Foodopera)

What are your day jobs? What else do you do?
I am a teacher at a North Shore intermediate school, currently teaching graphics/design and English to mostly Korean students.

Ingrid is a graphic designer/art director for a large publishing company. We are both currently on maternity leave having had our second babies nine days apart – how convenient is that?!

We are currently juggling our time looking after our kids, writing our blog and growing Foodopera the brand. We are currently writing our third food fight spread in New World’s REAL magazine and have just finished the Christmas shoot.

Who do you cook for?
We both cook for our boys, both little and big. We get a list emailed at every family gathering saying who’s cooking what and Ingrid is stoked to be elevated from the regular ‘green salad’ to more complicated fare. We also cook for our nanny (Nana Val) whenever she is around helping us out (always). She loves her coffee and often specifies exactly what she would like for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
I used to mix dried herbs into our family cat’s jellymeat and would always bring her treats home from a restaurant I worked at. She would hear my car down the drive and come running.

Be My Guest: My Darling Lemon Thyme

New Zealanders will be familiar with Australians claiming some of our most successful compatriots as their own. They’ve done it with Neil Finn, with Russell Crowe (actually, they can keep him) and they’re even trying it on with today’s guest, Emma Galloway of My Darling Lemon Thyme. Well, hands off, cobbers, she’s ours.

What’s your blog about?
Healthy gluten-free and mostly lactose-free vegetarian eating.

When did you start it? Why?

I first pushed publish on my daughters 4th birthday, July 2010. To begin with it started out as a place for me to share recipes that I had come up with since becoming gluten and lactose-free. I’ve always wanted to write a cookbook too, so thought it would be a great way for me to practice recipe writing as well as getting my name out there in the food world. Nowadays it’s more like a visual diary of my life, filled with recipes, stories, photos and vege gardening tips.

Vegetarian sushi Image: Emma Galloway

Do you have any culinary training or professional experience?
Yes. I started working in the kitchen when I was 16 years old at one of the very first cafes in Raglan, back when cafes were a new thing in New Zealand (god that makes me feel old!). I worked weekends and full-time over the holidays and loved every second of it. After completing year 13 I went on to train professionally as a chef and then spent the next seven years working in the industry, mostly in the pastry section, flitting between NZ and Australia before leaving the kitchen to start a family six years ago.

Who’s your food hero?

Jamie Oliver, hands down. What that guy has done for this world in terms of inspiring people through food is unmatchable. I also have to mention Heidi Swanson as it was her book Supernatural Cooking and her blog, 101cookbooks, that inspired me to start my own blog. She has single-handedly made vegetarian food cool.

Creamy coconut rice pudding with date compote Image: Emma Galloway

Masterchef and TV food shows – hot or not?
Both. I think anything that encourages people to get out there and cook real food is a good thing. But it makes me jealous when the winner of MasterChef gets a cookbook deal at the end of it without even really knowing that much about food!

What are your three favourite posts on your blog?

I’m a major perfectionist so as much as I love loads of the first recipes I shared, it’s the newer posts with my improved photography skills that I am most proud of. My gluten + dairy-free Mexican chocolate almond cookies, creamy coconut rice pudding with date compote and my sushi post where I shared every tip I’ve ever learnt about making Maki rolls are a few of my most favourite posts.

Gluten and dairy-free Mexican chocolate cookies Image: Emma Galloway

Tell us about another blog you love.
I read a LOT of food blogs. But there are only a handful of blogs that I read every new post of. Amazing photography gets me every time and it’s the photos as much as the recipe itself that draws me in and has me coming back for more.
101cookbooks always inspires and I don’t think there is a post I haven’t read in the nearly three years that I have been following. Heidi’s food style is very similar to mine, but it’s her photos and sense of design that leave me gob-smacked. Wholepromise delivers stunning photographs and healthy food that makes me really hungry. And Green Kitchen Stories has the most amazing photos and a story that I can wholeheartedly relate to.

What’s for dinner tonight?
Gluten-free spaghetti with homemade lentil tomato sauce and winter slaw. I’ve been making this nearly every week since I left home, one of my mama’s famous recipes.

Lentil tomato sauce Image: Emma Galloway

What’s your day job? What else do you do?

I’m a full-time stay at home mum to my two kiddies. My youngest started kindy a few days a week this year. Next year he’s at school, so I suppose if I can’t get a book deal by then I’ll be on the hunt for a job! What kind? I have no idea. Being a chef is not the easiest job to fit around kids…

Who do you cook for?

My hubby works away for two weeks at a time, then home for one. So mostly I just cook for the kids and myself. We eat very simply when he’s away and strictly vegetarian, but when he’s home I bake a lot more often and cook chicken and seafood for him and the kids. While I eat eggs and rice :-/

Be my guest: As Strong As Soup

This week’s guest is Phil from As Strong As Soup. I had to really twist Phil’s arm to do this – admittedly, even more difficult done at a distance to someone you don’t know – and he has cunningly managed to answer my questions without giving anything away.
I love Phil’s blog – it’s is a mixture of historical knowledge, random food facts, recipes and hilarious half-tales that hint at a life lived to the full. Somehow it all hangs together in an elegant and compulsively readable fashion (and the recipes aren’t half-bad either). Here’s what I managed to get out of him…

What’s your blog about?

It’s really just a collection of recipes that I’ve created or found lying around. There are quite a number of French dishes in the blog, especially French baking. There’s no real plan behind that. It’s just that I’ve spent a fair amount of time in France and I can’t always find that kind of French cooking in English books.

When did you start it? Why?

Getting on for three years ago, I was sitting in a restaurant in the Languedoc thinking that I’d like to recreate the dish that I was eating when I got home. Trouble was I knew that I was hopeless at writing recipes down and I suddenly thought, “Why not start my own blog? That will force me to make a proper record”. By and large, it’s worked.

Indonesian Satay Bread
Indonesian Satay Bread Image: As Strong As Soup

Do you have any culinary training or professional experience?
I have always tried to remain as amateur as possible in all my endeavours in life and this is certainly no exception.

Who’s your food hero?

Actually I’ve got a few heroes, but none of them are well known. For instance, Pierrot who cooked in his own little restaurant for many years, often singing as he did so. He treated all his customers as friends, kept his food simple and his prices low and made the largest île flottante that I’ve ever eaten.

Duck Apicius
Duck Apicus Image: As Strong As Soup

Masterchef and TV food shows – hot or not?

Well, I know lots of people love them but I don’t really get most big TV shows. Watching shopping channels is slightly less irritating to me than competitive cooking or reality shows about people decorating cakes. I do enjoy some really low budget shows on the lesser channels and regional stations which are largely a woman (or man) wandering around the countryside with a saucepan.

What are your three favourite posts on your blog?
My first-ever post about the parmesan sablé, partly because it’s what started it all, but mostly because I still really like the biscuits.
Then the

Nonnettes with White Chocolate Chips

Duck Apicius, because they were challenging to get right but eventually turned out just the way I wanted them.

Nonnettes with White Chocolate Chips
Nonnettes with White Chocolate Chips Image: As Strong As Soup

Tell us about another blog you love.

That’s unfair because there are so many. Can I be cheeky and name two? Both these blogs have a wide range of food but both are rooted in very different traditions to the Anglo/French one that I know.
I’ve learned a lot from both Michelle at Food, Football and a Baby and Ozlem at Ozlem’s Turkish Table.

(Oops, I’ve just remembered that Michelle was on Masterchef – I obviously didn’t mean that bit about preferring the shopping channel).

What’s for dinner tonight?

For quite a while now I’ve been planning to recreate a dish of pork with prunes that I ate years ago in the Loire valley. I thought I might do that, but I’m likely to be really short of time again and so I think it’s more likely to be a homemade Eccles cake with cheese.

Eccles Cakes
Eccles Cakes a la Phil Image: As Strong As Soup

What else do you do?

I’ve done a number of odd and disconnected things in my life but these days I stick to making waistcoat-buttons in the silent night and trying to stay out of trouble. (I’m not doing too well at that).

Who do you cook for?

My cooking is definitely a family affair these days. I do spend a lot of time feeding a family of robins who live in a nearby tree, but they prefer worms to cake.

Be my guest: Pease Pudding

One of my favourite parts in Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary is when the hapless Bridget is trying to introduce people to each other at a book launch. I got the giggles thinking about it at the Wellington On A Plate launch on Monday night when I realised I was doing the same thing. “Helen, this is Iva, who does things with chocolate. Iva, this is Helen, who is in olive oil.”

In the spirit of introductions, I’d like you to meet Allison Pirrie-Mawer, of Pease Pudding. Alli is a trained chef, runs a cookschool, works in HR, surfs and takes beautiful photos. She’s also the driving force behind the New Zealand Food Bloggers Association. She won’t reveal where she gets the time to do all these things, but she has shared a few other secrets for The Kitchenmaid’s new ‘Be My Guest’ series, in which I plan to introduce you to all sorts of interesting people and their blogs.
Here goes…

Jammie Dodgers with cinnamon and ginger. Image: Allison Pirrie-Mawer

When did you start your blog?
My first blog post was in November 2008. It still makes me laugh when I look back on the photos, but I will never remove them because they show me how far I have come. Back in 2008 I fancied writing my own recipe book and thought blogging would be a good test. I’m not sure I would want to write a book now, though but never say never. I would be keen to get my photography up to publishing level and photograph for other people’s books though.

What’s your blog about?

Four years ago it was about practicing to write a book, now it’s probably more about being creative with new ideas and recipes and my newfound obsession with food photography. I’m constantly trying to improve on it. I am one of those people who constantly thinks about food, my posts are planned and styled days in advance in my head, not that they always come out how I want or expect!

Soy salmon with avocado, lime and wasabi salsa. Image: Allison Pirrie-Mawer

Do you have any culinary training or professional experience?

Yes, I went to culinary college in the UK straight from school while doing a chef’s apprenticeship at the same time. I worked in the industry for nine years in Liverpool, London and then Germany. I moved out of the industry for a while and now have come back to it. I opened my own cooking school on the wild west coast of New Zealand three years ago.

Who’s your food hero?

I still have that pull towards the homeland and Brit chefs, I love how Jamie made cooking accessible to all. Nigel Slater not only has great food but is also fun to read. Bill Cotter is one of my favourite vegetarian writers.
Here in New Zealand I love the passion and humour of Peta Mathias and I would also love to spend my winters in France cooking like she does.

Masterchef and TV food shows – hot or not?

This might be a bit of a shock but I don’t have TV so I don’t watch any regularly. When travelling to Sydney for work I do watch the AU Masterchef and other food channel programmes and enjoy them. I like that Masterchef has developed peoples’ interest in cooking,. It also means our blogs become more popular as a result of the every day person looking for new recipes.

Chocolate chip gingernut biscuits. Image: Allison Pirrie-Mawer

What are your three favourite posts?
I’m not sure I have favourite posts. I do like the photo on my gingernut biscuit post but that is probably because it is one of the latest and I am happy with the way the images I am taking are improving.

Tell us about another blog you love.

There are so many blogs I follow. Visually I love What Katie Ate, she’s my food photography inspiration. Then there is Food Blog and the Dog, about a vegetarian Brit living in Spain, Natalie always brings something new to the table, having also run her own restaurant in Spain and she also gives us an insight to her daily life there.

What’s for dinner tonight?

Ok, don’t go stealing this one – I haven’t posted it yet! Roast Chicken on a Pearl Barley and Zaatar Braise served with a Winter Coleslaw.

What else do you do?

I work as a human resource manager four days a week for an electronics company in Auckland and Sydney, hence all the travel. As well as that I run my cooking school, The Gourmet Gannet, in Muriwai, Auckland.

Who do you cook for at home?
I cook for hubby and the girls at work benefit from all my baking (there’s no way hubby and I need to eat it all by ourselves). My two cats think we cook for them too and always try and be part of evening meals – spoilt is the only word for them.

Pork cheek, fennel and cider couture pies. Image: Allison Pirrie-Mawer