Mexican-Themed Fish Bruschetta

Once again a Tuesday rolled though and I found myself standing in the kitchen wondering what to do with the stale end of weekend-loaf ciabatta. “Toast it and top it” is the inevitable answer. The result was a smash-up of Mexican and Italian which tastes of fresh and summer. I cooked this dish inside, but the bread and fish would both suit barbecuing. If you’re worried about managing the timing of this dish, I recommend (1) marinade the fish, (2) make the salads (leaving the yogurt on top to be stirred in as you serve), (3) slice the bread and oil it, (4) toast the bread, and (5) cook the fish. If you can manage 4 & 5 together, go for it. However, if you think you might overcook the fish or burn the toast, there is no shame in doing these one at the time. When serving the salads, drain off any juices so you don’t make the toast soggy. This recipe serves two hungry people.

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Salsa is basically chopped tomatoes with a few other bits in it. The trick to a good salsa is taking the care to chop everything up fine and evenly – especially the onion. Also, despite the fact it seems wasteful, taking the seeds out of the tomatoes will give you a much better final product. Use your judgement, however, if you are luckely enough to be using a home grown tomato variety like beefsteak as it is more flesh than watery seed. Removing the watery seeds is most easily achieved by quartering the tomato, running a knife between the seeds and the flesh starting at the end which was not attached to the stalk, and snipping off the stalk end of the wedge by turning your knife down to the board when you get there… one simple, elegant motion. Mix the following list of ingredients together, cover and refrigerate for about an hour to let the flavors combine.

  • 4 bigish sun-ripened tomatoes, watery seeds removed and diced finely
  • large handful of coriander (cilantro for the US based peeps) roughly chopped
  • juice to 2 limes (and a little extra lemon juice at the end if the salsa is not sufficiently piquant)
  • a couple of chillies finely chopped or a teaspoon of pre-crushed chili …I keep pre-crushed in the fridge because my skin reacts fearcly to touching chilli. If you don’t regularly chop up whole chillies, please take care. Use a fork to hold it down or gloves, and make sure you wash your hands throughly, with lots of soap, afterwards. One of my amusing kitchen memories was of a young chef who, despite being told to wash his hands after cutting up a bowl of chillies, did not adhere to this rule. Screams of agony were heard from the locker room shortly after. Leave the seeds out initially when you add the chili to he salsa. Taste the salsa. If it’s not hot enough, then add the seeds. if you have made it too hot, just add more tomato. 
  • small red capsicum finely diced (optional and not typically included in a salsa)
  • small red onion finely diced
  • salt and pepper to tase …dishes served cold often require more salt than those served hot. 

Fish is a favorite of mine in the summer – light, fast and tasty. But I tend to get into a rut and find myself always cooking it one of two ways: coated in panko crumbs and shallow fried or warped in foil with flavorings and baked. This marinade is a nice way to get out of a fish rut. You need a firm, white fleshed fish which is suitable for frying. I used filleted, skinless fish, but if you are up to making the skin on the fish crispy then leave the skin on. Wash two fillets, check and remove any remaining bones or scales, and cut into strips. Stir through the marinade described below, cover and set aside in the fridge for 1-2 hrs. When its time to serve, lightly fry (or barbecue) the fish in a little bit oil. Take care because small bits of fish will overcook very fast.

For the marinade: fry cumin seeds (1 tsp) and celery seeds (1/2 tsp optional), coriander seeds (1 tsp optional) in a pan until you can start to smell the cumin (i.e. until aromatic). Poor into a mortar and pestle, cool a little, then add about 1/2 tsp each of the following: cyan pepper, turmeric, milled black pepper, paprika. Grind all spices together until they are a mostly fine powder. Remove from the mortar. Crush a garlic clove with some salt in the mortar (the salt acts as a grinding agent) and add the spices back in along with enough lemon juice to make a lose paste.

Cucumber salad as presented here is not a raita, but follows the concept of a raita – yogurt + cucumber. The key differences is the additional spices and that when making a raita one should always remove the watery, seeded center of the cucumber before grating it, salting it and squeezing any remaining wateryness from it. I used whole, skin on telegraph cucumber (Lebanese cucumbers tend to have a tougher skin) cut into slices on a strong diagonal and then sliced into sticks. To this I added fresh mint leaves which were finely sliced, salt, pepper and a large spoonful of natural greek yogart. If you are making this in advance, do not stir in the yogurt until just prior to serving otherwise you will end up with a watery salad.

Toast is one of those magical transformations where stale, good quality bread can be given a new lease on life. I only toast on side of the ciabatta because toasting both sides often results in a product which would slice the inside of your mouth. Mix olive oil and crushed garlic, generously coat one side of cm thick slices of ciabatta, and grill (or barbecue) slowly until golden. In my oven I don’t use the top rack closet to the grill. This way the garlic has some time to cook before the bread browns.

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Wild-shot Rabbit Pie

I’ve been enjoying episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations lately. His attitude reminds me of why I love good food. Good food is equal parts of visceral living and connection – connection between physical and emotional, between cook and diners, between present and past. Smell and taste are hard wired into our brains and hooked into our memories more so than any other sense. When remembering a time distant lover it’s always the smell or taste that comes back first for me, followed distantly (if at all) by scattered recollections of sights and sounds. Bourdain often recounts similar experiences of memory and this is part of why he appeals to me. I also quite like the theme of No Reservations where good food doesn’t need to be complicated products of expensive establishments. Good food just needs to be true to the ingredients and the history of the people who make it, and this fits snugly with my own worldview that celebrates food cooked from scratch using techniques of my grandparents. Bourdain is also unashamedly omnivorous, but in a whole animal sort of way where all kinds and all parts of animals are celebrated. Although I admittedly suffer a little queasiness about offal, I enjoy eating meats other than the usual supermarket offerings of cow, sheep and chicken.

It’s with Bourdain’s perspective in mind that I’m posting a half recipe of wild-shot rabbit pie. This is a half recipe because there are no measureable quantities or exact directions, just some components and a process recounted. I must, however, start with an apology… due to the distractions of good company and a delicious bottle of Amisfield Pinot I clean forgot to take a snap of the final product. But rest assured friends, there was no limp pastry in sight.

The components of this dish were: one wild-shot rabbit; cumin, fennel and celery seeds; mushrooms, half an aubergine, bay leaves, garlic and an onion; stock (I used chicken). I broke my rabbit down into five parts so it would fit into the brazing dish by gently peering off the front and back legs. I fried the seeds by swirling in a hot dry pan until they give off a fine aroma, then ground them and rubbed them onto the flesh along with some salt and pepper. I caramelized each of the five rabbit parts in a heavy pan, deglazing with stock afterwards so as to reserve the goodness adhering to the pan after the meat has been removed. I used a cast iron dish that can be both sat the stovetop and in the oven so any golden goodness in the bottom of the dish missed by deglazing was retained (I am resisting the urge at this point to rant about how much I love cast iron cookware). There is something about the caramelization of meat that I find delicious. Lately with the advent if molecular gastronomy there has been a trend of water-bath or other low temperature methods of cooking meets. While I can see how these methods may preserve the tenderness and flavour inherent in animal protein, there is nothing quite like the sweetness, depth of flavour and aroma that comes from applying some decent heat (and a bit of extra fat) to meat.

Once the rabbit is sealed, I cooked the vegetable components down to the point of colouring and then put everything into a brazing dish. It is best to do this in batches so as not to crowd the pan. Overcrowding the pan will prevent browning because there is too much steam. Take care not to singe the onion or garlic as this will leave a bitter note in the dish. For many years I was half hearted about sautéed mushrooms on toast. Then I discovered that those limp, brownish, wet almost spongy things that I had been so often served were miss-treated fungi. Sliced and placed sparsely into a hot plan with a generous splash of high flash-point oil (I prefer rice bran oil at this point, but anything other than olive or walnut), with a little salt and pepper, they will fry till rich and golden. I like to finish mine at the last moment with a little knob of butter and French tarragon before turning out onto a thick slab of toast. Nom.

After caramelization I placed all components back into the brazing dish and topped it up with stock until the liquid almost covered the rabbit. I wanted this rabbit to roast on top while it stewed underneath. The concoction was slid into medium heat oven (around 150°C) and brazed, turning the meat occasionally, for around 5 hours. At this point I took the rabbit from the oven and stripped the meat from the bones using a knife and fork, savouring strips from the back-straps as chefs treats. I added the flesh back to the gravy filled brazing dish cooked this mix for another hour or so. In the end the vegetables had formed rich gravy and the meat was so tender it just disintegrated on the tongue. It would have been possible to stop here, give in to temptation and consume this with thick slabs of fresh white bred to soak up the gravy. But there is something special about pie…

After removing from the oven, I left the rabbit rest a while on the bench. While resting I added a little water every now and then, as it appeared to soak up the juices as it cooled and I didn’t want a dry pie. Ideally I would have waited a day or so for the flavours to develop before making it into pie, but impatience got the better of me. Spooned into a puff pastry case (see the bacon and egg pie recipe for pie making tricks) the rabbit returned to the oven once more and was cooked until the surrounding pastry was crisp and golden. The rabbit pie was served with creamy mashed potatoes and a side of fennel bulb that had been sliced, sautéed and topped with fennel seeds and char-grilled lengths of spring onion.

Before saying goodnight I would like to say a quick word of thanks to Ellersie Meats – a wonderful butchery providing a wide range of meats and great service, and the source of this particular rabbit.

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Baked Feta Nested in Leeks

This evening I made one of those shake the fridge meals in order to avoid a trip to the market and happened on a combination that I just had to share. Feta, leeks and fennel seed – amazing and simple.

All you need is 1 block feta, 1 leek, small teaspoon of fennel seeds and 1/2 teaspoon of celery seeds. Slice the leek in half lengthwise and wash the soil from the upper part. Slice leak thinly and saute until just soft with the seed’s and a little oil. Cut the feta into about 1 in cubes and put on a greased ovenproof dish. Top with the leeks and bake for 15-20 minutes at around 180 degrees Celsius. I agitated the leek nest a couple of times to make sure the edges didn’t scorch during cooking, but other than that its pretty low care.

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Vegan Barbeque – Warm Asparagus Salad and a Fresh Start for Summer

Summer has all but arrived here in Rotorua and I feel inspired to get back to my blog. However, the dynamic has changed somewhat; I no longer have a full kitchen or more than one to cook for on a regular basis. So this summer will be focused on quick, easy cuisine mostly cooked on the barbeque and, more often that not, vegetarian.

To kick off this summers theme I have an easy warm asparagus salad served on garlic crustini… the ultimate barbeque dinner for one in under 20 minutes.

For the crustini…
Slices of cheobatta or other flavoursome white bread
2 cloves of garlic crushed
4 tablespoons of olive oil

mix the olive oil and crushed garlic together. Brush this mix lavishly on both sides and sprinkle with sea salt.

For the salad…
1 dozen spears of young green asparagus
a capsicum
a handful of young spinach
olive oil

The asparagus spears have a woody section at their base. Remove this by taking each spear by either end and bending it until it breaks. It will break at the top of the woody section. Place spears into a bowl and cover in boiling water. Rest like this for a few minutes until their colour brightens. Drain and dress with olive oil and seasoning ready for the barbeque.

The capsicum I used is one that had been char-grilled yesterday and left in the fridge under oil. You can use fresh sliced capsicum, but it must be cooked for much longer than the asparagus. Slice the capsicum and, if already char-grilled, add to the asparagus. If not, keep separate and pop the capsicum on the barbeque well before the bread and the asparagus. 

Saute the vegetable mix on a hot plate while toasting the bread on open gill side, moving the slices regularly to avoid burning. When the asparagus is cooked to the point where it still has a little crunch (this will only take a couple of minutes), remove the vegtables from the BBQ and toss with young spinach. There should be sufficient oil in the the the BBQ’ed vegtables that the salad does not need further dressing. Serve salad mounded on top of the crispy bread.

There are of course limitless variations on this theme. I have recently made these barbequed crustini topped with grilled zucchini, field mushrooms, asparagus, halumi and a fresh cherry tomato salad. Quick, easy, fresh and seasonal – go mad.

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Absence

Due to significant domestic disturbance I have been taking a break from Foodscratch. However, I intend on being back on form providing recipes from a new (all be it much smaller) kitchen soon. Hugs, IC.

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Decadent chocolate brandy cake

I made this cake for a chocolate loving friend’s birthday last weekend. It is a deeply decadent, double layer, dark chocolate brandy cake filled and iced with a whipped dark chocolate ganache. The cake itself has a light texture and therefore makes a nice contrast to the ganache. The recipe is based on a rich chocolate rum cake recipe by Alison Holst (as published in Alison Holst: The Ultimate Collection). The recipe below makes one layer so double it for 2 layers. A single batch makes a low cake that would be suitable as a dessert for 6. Making two batches and assembling as a double layer makes it a spectacular offering. This recipe is designed to be made in a food processor. However, it is possible to make it without one (alternative instructions are included). Apologies for the absence of a nice picture of the final product, by the time it was iced the party had started and I was partaking in liquid celebration in a form that dinoysus would approve – not conducive to posing cake for pics.

Decadent Chocolate Brandy Cake

Preparation Time: 10 min mixing, 30 min cooking, 1 hr cooling, 20 min icing
Specialist Equipment: food processor, cake mixer

Ingredients

Cake (x by 2 if making a double layer cake)
75 g good quality dark chocolate (I recommend a high quality 60 % coco chocolate)
1 C caster sugar
1/4 C  boiling water
150 g soft unsalted butter
3 free-range egg yolks
1/2 C sour cream
1.5 Tbl brandy
1 C plan (pastry/cake) flour
1 tsp baking powder

Filling/Icing – Chocolate Ganache
250 g chocolate
200 g whipping cream
brandy

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Clip a sheet of baking paper into the base of a spring form baking tin (this ensures a clean removal) and lightly grease the bottom and sides with either butter or spray oil. If you do not have a spring form tim, still line the bottom and sides of whatever tin you have with baking paper.

Break the chocolate chunks and place with the sugar into a food processor. Process on high speed until the chocolate is finely chopped. Add boiling water and process until melted and combined. If you do not have a food processor, grate your chocolate, add with your sugar and boiling water over a double boiler arrangement, and fully melt the chocolate before moving onto the next step. When melting chocolate in a double boiler, the water in the bottom should not be boiling otherwise you risk heat damage and splitting your mix. Once the chocolate mix is made remove from the double boiler and proceed with adding the reaming ingredients as per the food processor version below using a cake mixer to combine instead.

Add the softened butter and process the until smooth. Add egg yolks, brandy and sour cream, and process again. Transfer the mix to a relatively large bowl, sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and carefully fold the wet and dry ingredients together. Your aim here is to combine the ingredients without knocking air out of the mix. You can find a demo video of this technique here.

Spoon the mix into your lined tin making sure to fill all the way to the corners of the tin. In the cooling cake pic below the cake on the left was not filled all the way into the corners, so it has a rounded edge instead of a nice corner like the one of the right. Gently flatten off the top of your cake and and place into the preheated oven.

Cook for approximately 30 minutes or until a small knife or skewer inserted into the centre comes away clean. The original recipe recommends cooking until the cake springs back when pressed. These cakes are not terribly springy, so testing in this manner may lead to overcooking. Cool the cakes for at least 1 hour. You can fill the gap by making the ganache.

To prepare the ganache, take the chocolate and chop it into small pieces 1/2 cm diameter or smaller. I use a large cerated knife to do this (seems to be more effective than a straight edge) or you could do this in your food processor. Put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Heat the milk, stirring regularly, until it is just boiling. Tip this milk over the chopped chocolate. Allow to stand for a few minutes without stirring then stir gently until the mix is smooth. Add a couple of capfulls of brandy to the molten chocolate and allow the mix to cool to room temperature. When the mix has cooled beat with an electric mixer until the ganache becomes lighter in color. If the mix is over beaten it will split and have a gritty mouth feel. If this happens put the mix over a double boiler and heat gently to re-melt and start over.

Assemble the cake by spooning 1/4 of the mix onto the lower half of the cake, spreading it nearly to the edges and placing the upper half on top. Coat the cake with the remainder of the mix. By this stage I wasn’t too fussed about the final finish, but if I was I would have used a pallette knife or long straight edge knife dipped in hot water and long smoth motions to get a smooth finish.

This ganache can be used unwhipped if you want a dark shinny finish. This makes a nice icing, but not a great fill. If you would like to try using unwhipped you will need to chill the cake first. Brush any crumbs from the chilled cake and cover with a thin layer of room temperature ganache. Return the cake to the fridge and chill until this shell has firmed. Apply a thicker second, and final, coat and again chill. This finish will be much heavier, but very decadent. Any left over ganache can be chilled and turned into chocolate truffles.

 

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The best thing about autumn: hot cross buns

One of the odd things about living in the southern hemisphere is that we celebrate traditions adopted from the opposite hemisphere at what seems like inappropriate times. Even though Christmas is in the peak of summer here, Santa still wears a fur trimmed coat and people spread around fake snow – so wrong. However the pagan spring equinox celebration of Easter, with its chocolate and spiced buns, suits an autumn equinox well. I made the first batch of the season yesterday and was pleased with the result. I used a recipe posted by Wild Yeast, leaving the fruit peel out and adding a little more spice. Cookistry offers some great advise for converting mixer recipes to hand kneed here. The buns came out lovely and light, and mouth wateringly good. My piping bag was MIA so I piped a couple of crosses with a plastic zip-lock bag, but gave up after putting my thumb through the bag thus leaving most of the buns without their hot crosses.

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Visiting the big smoke and all associated pleasures

Instead of being a home bod this weekend we ventured out to visit friends in Auckland. Although we have been in Rotorua for nearly a year, it still fells like a home-coming when visiting Auckland. As well as visiting friends we managed to do some shopping.

Time Out Bookshop in the Mt Eden village is the home of the lovely Lucinda – the sweetest Siamese that ever lived – and an independent book store with a great collection (including terrific cook books).

Bulk Food Savings is a bulk food and organic market with a great selection of flours, spices, nuts and grains. Located in the back car park of the Dominion Road Wendies seems like an odd place to find such a great wholefoods store, but I would recommend seeking it out. As well as carrying a great selection, it is a lot cheaper than many of the other wholefood shops around town. Not all of the product is organic, but it is definitely a good option.

After stocking up on dried foods we stopped by West Lynn Organic Meats and bought a section of organic beef sirloin which was later served with a roast garlic, parsnip puree and a beetroot and green bean salad. The Grey Lynn area of Auckland is spoilt for choice when it comes to exceptional butcheries; I would recommend both West Lynn and  the Westmere Butchery. Both butcheries sport a great organic free range selection. The bacon at West Lynn is as about as good as it gets, whereas the Westmere Butchery is famous for its sausages.

The final food stop in our Auckland romp, and perhaps the most exciting, was the Paris-Berlin Bakery. I have been oogling this bakery online for some time and was thrilled to finally get a chance to visit. Bread leavened with wild starters grown both on wheat and honey mediums, traditional German cheese cake (so good we had to go back the next day to get a second piece for my Berlin bred boyfriend who swears it tastes like home), french pastries, tarts and more. You know a place is good when it is in deep dark suburbia and still has a cue that goes out the door and onto the street. If you live in, pass through or are anywhere near Auckland you must visit this place.

Eat well friends.

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Blue cheese and walnut sourdough, and the inspirational Peter Reinhart

My amazon order arrived Friday and amongst the goodies was a copy of Peter Reinhart’s ‘The Bread Baker’s Apprentice’. This is a great book that is written in such a way that I feel like the author is standing over my shoulder watching and instructing as I bake. Much of this book is geared toward teaching skills, knowledge and formulas that provide a platform from which a baker can create. I love that Reinhart understands the science of baking and isn’t afraid to communicate it (for a taste of this watch his TED lecture). Inspired, I tried one of his formulas this weekend – Basic Sourdough Bread. One half I left plain and through the other half I folded blue cheese and walnuts. The final product of this formula was a light open crumb sourdough that is not particularly sour. It seems a very good sandwich and toast bread, but is not a sour as the Norwich or Norwich-more that I have been baking for the last month or so. The milder flavor, however, seems to make it well suited to flavoring with cheeses.

I served the blue cheese and walnut loaf still warm from the oven with honey and fresh pear as a desert. I think that this would also be divine with figs or caramelized onions or even with pear slices that have been spiced and caramelized in a pan. This loaf has been YeastSpotted.

Reinhart’s Basic Sourdough Bread with Blue Cheese and Walnuts This recipe was published in imperial measurements and has been converted to metric with Swedish rounding applied.

Yield

2 medium loves

Timing

2-3 days total

Firm starter:
– 4 hours rise
– overnight retard
– 1 hour benching

Final dough:
– 15-30 min mix and kneed (by hand)
– 3-4 hours ferment
–  10 min shape
– 2-3 hours proof (or retard overnight and rest for 4 hours on bench before cooking)
– 20-30 minutes bake

Ingredients

Firm Starter
113 g (4 oz) bram (I replaced this with a 100% hydration starter)
128 g (4.5 oz) unbleached bread flour
28-56 g (1-2 oz) water

Final Dough
574 g (20.25 oz) unbleached bread flour
14 g (0.5 oz) salt
340-397 g (12-14 oz) lukewarm water

Additions
about 80 g firm blue cheese
2 handfuls of walnuts

Directions

Day 1 – PM

Add the 100% hydration starter and flour together with just enough of the water to form the mix into a dough. Kneed into a small, firm ball. Work for only as long as it takes to distribute the starter and water evenly. Brush or spray the inside of a small bowl with oil, pop the dough in and coat with oil. Seal with cling-film and rest on the bench for 4 hours or as long as it takes to double in size. Once it has doubled in size place in the refrigerator overnight.

This pic shows the firm starter before it has been set aside to rise for 4 hours before refrigeration.

Day 2 – AM

Remove firm starter from the fridge 1 hour before you want to make the dough. Turn out on a lightly oiled surface, cut it into 10 pieces, coat with spray oil and cover with cling-film or a towel.

The starter in the morning before it was turned out and sliced into pieces.

I love the texture of this starter: weird spongy life.

Lots of activity on the kitchen table. The starter chunks resting while a batch of sourdough English muffins are rising.

Stir the ‘final dough’ flour and salt together in a large bowl, add the starter pieces and only enough water to bring the dough together. At this stage I only added  350 g of water. Bring the dough together with a large metal spoon. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed until the dough passes the window pain test (approximately 15-20 min) adjusting with flour or water to obtain a firm dough that is still pliable and tacky. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, coat with oil, cover with cling-film. Ferment at room temperature for 4-5 hours or until the dough has nearly doubled in size.

Mixing lumps of starter, like adding little gems of flavor and life.

Just enough water was added to bring it together. This ropey pile was turned into a smooth lump in no time.

The final dough should be smooth, firm and a little tacky, and should pass the window pane test.

The window pane test involves stretching a 1 tablespoon sized lump of dough out. If you can form a translucent membrane the dough has fully developed gluten. If you have a membrane with a few thick bits the gluten is moderately developed. This recipe asks for full gluten development, but I don’t think I got it quite there and it still turned out ok.

The dough after 4 hours fermenting at room temperature. In the winter when my kitchen is a little cool, I put the dough in the top of my hot water cylinder cupboard. If you don’t have one of these you can put the dough in the oven with the oven light on.

Day 2 – PM

When the dough has nearly doubled in size, gently remove it from the bowl and divide into 2 halves using a cerated knife (or portion out to make rolls if you wish). Try to avoid over-handling or compressing the dough so you retain as may air pockets as possible. Shape and place into a parchment lined tray, into a loaf tin or, if you are lucky enough to have them, into couches. I left one loaf plain and the other I stuffed with walnuts and blue cheese by carefully spreading out into a lose rectangle, topping with the fillings and gently folding it a few times to incorporate without knocking too much of the air out. At this stage you can either proof for 2-3 hours then bake or retard in the refrigerator overnight. If you retard the dough, it needs to rest on the bench for 4 hours before baking.

When the dough had finished fermenting, I gently turned it out onto the table while taking care to squeeze the air out of it. The top was smooth (see photo above) but the underside shows all the signs of life.

Being as gentile as possible, I spread one half of the dough out and topped it with walnuts and lumps of blue cheese. I folded it a few times aiming to end up with a loaf shape.

The two loaves shaped and ready for proof (and a sneaky walnut peeking out the top).

Day 2 – late PM or the following day

At least half an hour before you want to put the bread in the oven, prepare the oven for baking. I place a tray of scoria in the base of my oven and a pizza stone half way up, and turn the oven to maximum (230 degrees Celsius). Before putting the bread in the oven, score it with a pattern for decoration and to allow expansion room. The walnut and blue-cheese loaf I just slashed with a cerated knife. The plain loaf I snipped with scissors to crete a spiky pattern. The loaf in the tin I placed in the oven as is and the round loaf was slid onto the pizza stone with the piece of parchment it was proofed on. Poor 1/2 cup of water over the hot rocks (I use a watering can to do this so as to avoid burning myself). Turn the oven down to 200 degrees Celsius (classic bake, not fan bake) and bake with steam for 10 minutes (i.e., don’t open your oven door). The steam is required to help the crust achieve a golden brown color. If you do not have a tray of scoria, you can try using a large cast iron pan instead. Misting the walls of your oven with water from a spray bottle may also work, but needs to be done a few times over during the 10 minute period. After 10 minutes, remove the tray of scoria and bake for a further 15-30 minutes or until the crust is golden and the loaf sounds hollow. Cool for at least 45 minutes before cutting.

This method of decorating the loaf is another gem from Reinheart’s tome. I love the hedgehog look, but next time I would like to try fewer spikes that are larger and deeper than these ones.

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Grain Canon

Some people collect stamps, others coins; I collect grains – delicious, wondrous grains. I’m not sure when the collection began, but when I realized I was regularly cooking with no less than six different varieties of rice, I knew I had become a collector. This grain canon profiles grains (and a couple of pseudo-grains) from my pantry, with a little how-to for each, in the hope that it will encourage other budding collectors.

The 16 grains pictured above are the usual suspects in my kitchen, but some appear more frequently than others. The top left compartment contains bulgur wheat and two kinds of couscous. Couscous is not a grain, but it is included here because it gets treated in a similar manner as a grain. In the top right compartment is a mix of odd-balls including lentils, amaranth, quinoa and pearl barley. The lower compartment contains rice.

Couscous is a kind of pasta. It’s so quick and easy to cook that it could be referred to as instant pasta. Just add boiling water or stock, cover with a tight lid, rest for a few minutes then fluff with a fork. The ratio of couscous to liquid is approximately 1:1.25. As with most pasta, couscous is a little bland alone, so don’t forget the salt and pepper. I often add a little butter before adding the hot liquid so it melts and coats the grains. Couscous makes a terrific base for salads, but is also good just topped with a sauce or on the side as an instant carbohydrate. I have seen both fine and course varieties of couscous, but prefer the fine because of its quick cook character.

Israeli Couscous is pasta formed into little flattish pearls.  I commonly prepare this grain by sweating onion in a pan with some oil, adding the Israeli Couscous and frying for a minute before adding hot water or stock that is bought to the boil and simmered for 5-6 minutes, replacing the lid and removing from the heat to stand for 10 minutes. I use an approximate 1:1.5 ratio of couscous to liquid. This kind of couscous will not stick together and is a little firmer in texture than the standard couscous above. Again, lovely salads are to be had with this grain, but for some reason I feel that that Israeli Couscous handles meat well. I like it with fresh herbs and smoked fish shredded through it or with panfried chorizo and kale with roasted tomato.

Bulgur wheat is the only true grain in this compartment. It has a lower GI than the couscous’ and can therefore be considered a little healthier. Cook bulgur wheat by covering it with stock or water, bringing to the boil and simmering for ten minutes, before taking off the heat and resting with the lid on for a further ten minutes. This is a key ingredient in Tabbouleh, a tasty simple salad that so commonly graces our late night kebabs but is so much nicer made fresh at home. I often add uncooked bulgur wheat to soups or stews, but if you do this remember that the grains swell.

Pearl Barley is a winter basic that goes in most vegetable soups and many careless I make. It’s a great filler and adds a slightly nutty flavor. As an experiment, I once cooked perl barley in the style of a risotto (with a vegetable stock and finished with grated carrot and walnuts). It took quite a while, but tasted good. It doesn’t have the starch content of rice and doesn’t seem to go well with dairy, so the final product was not a creamy as a risotto.

Quinoa is an ancient grain that is high in protein and lysine. I prefer red quinoa to white both because of flavor and because it looks awesome on the plate. It cooks in aprox. 20 min in boiling salted water. I most often serve this grain with roast vegetables tossed through it. I also like it as a room temperature salad; perhaps dressed with citrus and herbs and topped with seared tuna. I have seen recipes for quinoa baked into muffins and quinoa as breakfast, so I am sure there is more I could do with this grain.

Split Red Lentils is the lentil I use most because it cooks so quickly (20 min max at boiling temp). Like pearl barley it gets added to soups and vegetable casseroles as bulk. However, if added at the start to a long cook dish they will disintegrate. This does add a nice creaminess to vegetable soup without having to add dairy (similar to the effect a few cubes of potato has). My favorite lentil soup is carrot, cumin, orange and red lentil soup served piping hot with a dollop of greek yogurt and some crusty bread. These lentils will pick up almost any flavor, so at my house they often end up as spicy Indian curry.

French Lentils take a little longer to cook than split lentils and should be rinsed before cooking. They should not be cooked to mushy. When not over cooked these lentils hold their shape and color and look amazing on the plate. Again these bed down well in soups or casseroles, but they most often get added to kushari along with rice and vermicelli noodles.

Amaranth is also an ancient grain. Although it can be cooked in boiling water water and served similar to quinoa, I have had little successes with this and often end up with a gelatinous mess of burst grains. To recover from this situation, place in a sieve and rinse with plenty of running water. Instead of boiling, I now pop amaranth like popcorn by putting it in a hot dry heavy bottomed pan with a glass lid and swishing it around until it has popped. It is best to do small quantities at a time. I love putting this on cereal (adds a great flavor). It can also be ground with salt in a pestle and mortar and sprinkled on food (particularly potatoes).

All of the rice varieties listed here, except arborio and glutinous, can be cooked in boling salted water or by absorption either on a stove-top or in a rice cooker. The white rices will take less time to cook than the others. Unless I am making risotto or rice puddings, I always wash my rice before cooking by immersing it in water, swishing around and draining at least 3 times or until the water runs clear. This rinses the starch out and ensures you don’t end up with a sticky mess. Despite being a Scottish decent Kiwi, rice is my comfort food and I can eat it 3 meals a day.

Basmati Rice we use to accompany all Thai, Chinese and Indian we cook. It has a lower glycemic index than jasmine rice and therefore a little healthier and suitable for diabetic friends. I use this variety of rice for pilaf and other absorption rice dishes such as kosheri. If you want to add a little color to your meal, add a half teaspoon of turmeric to the rice and water at the start of cooking. A pinch of saffron may also be used in this way to add a delicate color flavor.

Black Rice has a firmer texture when cooked than basmati and takes a little longer to cook (I just let it sit on the ‘warm’ setting for a little while when cooking it in my rice cooker). Although it looses a little of its color a little during cooking this rice looks spectacular on the plate.

Short-grain Rice (Sushi Rice) in New Zealand the most common variety of short grain is the Australian ‘SunRice’. This rice is the perfect accompaniment to Japanese food and holds it shape well enough to make good sushi rice.

 

Red Rice is firmer to the bite than white rice when cooked and and has a pleasant texture that contrasts with a vegetables that are a little soft (e.g., a roast zucchini and tomato sauce).

 

 

Glutinous Rice is a rice with a chalky appearance that I keep in my pantry exclusively for Thai sticky rice pudding. Made with coconut milk and palm sugar, and served with mango this has to be the queen of rice puddings. I have had savory Thai stickey rice in restaurants, but am yet to try this (although thinking about it now I don’t know why).

Brown Rice was the first non-white rice I ever tried. It commonly featured on the dinner menu at a friends place when I was growing up. They were a vegetarian family who ate many things I never saw at home, so mealtime visits were a wonderland of new foods.

 

Wild Rice is the most expensive of the rices listed here. It usually comes in small packets that seem to be excessively expensive. However, a tablespoon of this rice added to basmati will add an earthy nutty flavor and visual interest.

 

Arborio Rice is the rice used to make risotto. This classic Italian dish is easier to cook than imagined and well worth the time spent standing near the stove. When cold, flavorsome risotto can be rolled into little balls, crumbed and fried and served as an Hors d’oeurve.

 

 

 

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