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.


2 medium loves


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


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

about 80 g firm blue cheese
2 handfuls of walnuts


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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In leu of food…

Unfortunately I have had no time to cook this week as I have been out in the field for most of it. So by way of apology for the silence, I have posted here some fieldwork snaps. Some of the chemistry and geology team from work, as well as a couple of astrobiologists and an experimental petrologist from Spain, were lead around some of the awesome hot springs and associated deposits in the Taupo Volcanic Zone (aka central North Island, New Zealand for all non-geoscience types) by a geologist from Auckland University who specializes in the fossil record of life in extreme environments. It was an amazing few days with perfect weather.

Orakei Korako is a popular spot for tourists and one of the great geothermal sights in New Zealand. Both alkali-chloride and acid features can be found here; hot, sometimes acid and full of life.

Arapuni Spring is a pristine alkali-chloride spring tucked away in farm land. It was such a surprise to step through the scrub and see this rarely visited sight.

Te Kopia this is a series of acid features located on the Piroa Fault (a fault with 450 m of displacement). My favorite stops were at the acid lake with an unusual foam and the large, steaming hot landslide.

Back to food later this week, probably with the results of some bottling.


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Sunday brunch

Some friends from Auckland came down to stay for the weekend, so we put together a Sunday brunch.

Croissants were made yesterday following the recipe given by Dad Bakes.

Sourdough Loaf is the Norwich Sourdough posted by Wild Yeast.

Sourdough English Muffins are also from a recipe posted by Wild yeast.

The fresh egg mayonnaise is a recipe adapted from Ruth’s Mayonnaise in ‘Ottolenghi – The Cookbook‘. Ours is a milder version that was yummy on the fresh croissants with slices of cucumber fresh from the garden. Home made tangelo and grapefruit marmalades were also on offer, as was fresh brewed coffee.

Herbed Fresh Egg Mayonnaise (adapted from Ottolenghi)

Specialist equipment: blender (jug blender, stick blender or food processor)
Preparation time: 10 min

1 free-range egg
3/4 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed garlic (1 clove)
2 Tbsp cider vinegar 500 ml sunflower oil
2 large handfuls of either flat-leaf parsley or coriander (stalks and leaves)

Put egg, mustard, sugar, salt, garlic and vinegar into either a large bowl (if you are using a stick blender) or into a blender. Process while slowly drizzling the oil into the mix. When the mix thickens (it will also lighten in color) you can increase the rate of oil addition. Don’t be too hasty or else you will split it. If it does split, take the split mix out of the bowl, crack in another egg and slowly poor the mix back in while processing. Add the herbs last thing and process until they are chopped through. If you would like a smother, all be it green, final product, add the herbs about half way though. It is possible to do this by hand with a whisk, but it will take a little longer and it is quite a lot of arm work.

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Homage to the onion

Onions are a vegetable that rewards you with sweetness when cooked with time and care. However, if you are careless or rush it can be quite unpleasant. I have some loves and hates when it comes to onion. My biggest hate is big chunks of undercooked onion in food; something that seems to crop up in stuffed potatoes and quiches. My greatest onion love is sweet, soft camarlised onion jam. This is a terrific topping for savory goods, such as pies or pizza. Last night we topped melba toast with slices of aged cumin-flavored gouda and a teaspoon of onion jam – it was a great combination.

Along with using a sharp knife, there are a couple of things that can be done to make chopping onions easier. I always leave the root on when I chop onions. This holds the onion together, allowing me to get a fine dice (see below) an gives a little end to hold on to when you are chopping.

To make a fine dice, first cut fine slices towards the root, taking care not to cut all the way through the root, then rotate the onion, hold the layers together and slice the little cubes away. If you are doing a very fine dice, essentially mincing the onion, put in an intermediate step of slicing toward the root again, but with the knife blade horizontal (parallel with the chopping board). I have never found a way to stop onions from making me cry. The only good advice I have been given is to learn to chop them quickly.

I always precook onions if they are to be added to something where they will not get direct heat, such as pies, casseroles and sauces. I sweat onions that are going to be added to a white or cream sauce or to a pie. Sweating means to cook them in a pan over a relatively low heat until translucent and without giving them color. This sweetens and softens them. Onions that will go into brown or tomato sauce or casseroles and wot-not are sautéed. This means frying them over a medium heat until they are lightly colored. There is a lot of flavor in the browning that will permeate your dish. However, take care not to burn onions as that burnt flavor will also permeate your dish (the same applies to garlic).

Caramelized Onion Jam

Finely slice 5 onions. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and sauté over a moderately low heat (barely sizzling) for 45 minutes or until soft, sweet and a dark caramel color. Towards the end add 1-2 table spoons of vinegar (I use white wine, but balsamic or cider would also be fine) and a heaped tablespoon of soft brown sugar. Cool and serve as desired. This will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week. The oil component may go lumpy in the fridge, but this will disappear when the onion jam comes back up to room temperature.


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Sourdough thin-crust pizza

Making sourdough has become a regular Sunday activity and turning some of the bread dough into pizza is fast becoming a ritual. Last Sunday I made Norwich Sourdough and reserved a little dough in the fridge for pizza later that night. I kneed a little more flour into the dough before rolling out thin. The pizzas are cooked on a stone preheated in a 200 degrees Celsius oven. Two toping combinations featured this week: fresh tomato, home made pesto and a little cheddar mixed with parmesan cheese and pear, caramelized onion and blue cheese. (tip: saute the pear slices in a light oil beforehand). The sourdough makes such a great pizza base I don’t think I can go back to the spongey, sconey thick ones I used to make. Yeastspotted.

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