Jess Daniell is the creator and founder of Jess' Underground Kitchen, a home-style ready-meal and catering business. Jess also runs a chain of very popular delis all over Auckland, including Herne Bay, Parnell, Remuera and Orewa, and is the author of three cookbooks. Her latest book My Undergound Everyday came out in March, featuring over 100 recipes that are on regular rotation in her home kitchen. Here she talks to Be Well about her kitchen must-haves and have-nots.
This year for me has been… 2020 has been a ride, as it has for everyone! JUK (Jess's Underground Kitchen) was able to keep operating during COVID-19 lockdown and we continued our online meal delivery service even though our stores were closed – definitely a silver lining and we were able to keep all of our staff employed.
My kitchen at home is… less than half a kitchen because I've ripped out most of the cabinetry! You won't believe the layers of floral wallpaper hidden behind those cupboards… and I found a scrap of newspaper from 1967!
Something you will always find in my fridge is… A jar of pickled jalapenos and at least three types of cheese.
My must-have pantry staples are… A packet of poppadoms (30 seconds in the microwave and they maketh the curry), corn kernels for a salty (or sometimes sweet) popcorn snack and fish sauce, because it adds depth of flavour to everything (even spaghetti Bolognese!)
My favourite ingredient to cook with is… probably lemon, because it can add so much freshness and balance to a meal, and it tastes like summer. I like to use the zest and the juice, and then if I'm cooking pasta I'll throw the juiced halves into the water, too.
My go-to mid-week meal is… a one-pan spaghetti with crushed garlic, fennel seeds, chilli flakes, lots of olive oil, lemon zest and juice and some Parmesan cheese. If I have any wilting veggies in the fridge, I'll throw these in, too – or some chunks of chorizo.
If friends or family stopped by unannounced for dinner I would make… a Middle Eastern-inspired mezze type situation with hummus, some cooked grains like bulghur or pearl barley, salad greens, crumbled feta, olives and sundried tomatoes from the fridge and any other fresh veggies I have on hand – cucumber, tomatoes, capsicum etc. If I have falafel in the freezer I'll bake off a few of those, or cook off some chicken or lamb. Everything in the middle of the table for people to build their own bowls or simply graze. Easy and delicious, and I've probably got most of the components in the fridge or pantry!
The dishes I most love to make are... Savoury dishes with big, bold flavours and lots of depth. Mexican, Indian and Thai-inspired dishes are on high rotation.
My cocktail cabinet is always stocked with... Hendricks Gin and East Imperial Tonic and I'm a happy lady.
My most-used kitchen appliance is… my toaster which gets used every morning– hello Vogels with butter and Marmite.
My least used appliance is… my SodaStream. I never have a gas refill or a bottle handy when I need it, so I just give up and drink tap water most of the time.
A kitchen gadget everyone should own is... a good microplane for zesting citrus, grating Parmesan and easy to throw into the dishwasher for cleaning up.
The spices I can't live without are… chilli flakes, fennel seeds and cumin seeds.
My advice for living well is... Enjoy a little, often.
Try Jess's recipe for Tamarind & Coconut Fish Curry – perfect for those pantry staple poppadoms.