Bao buns

Bao buns are so posh, a couple of years ago they were the sandwiches of multiple Michelin starred chefs, last year they began to appear in trendy cafes. Soft and pillowy, these Asian buns are not only great cooked filled with spicy pork and veges or shrimps and chives at your local takeaway, but as the fancy chefs discovered a new take on the classic ‘sandwich’.

Bao are easy to make, the whole process takes 2-2.5 hrs. I used bamboo steamers bought cheaply from the local Asian shop, but any steamer can be used, the advantage of these is that they stack and if I buy more I can cook more bao at a time 😉


  • 525g plain flour (nb not hi-grade, many recipes substitute in some cornflour but I have not tried this)
  • 1½ Tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 50ml milk
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 200ml water (not cold not hot, just barely warm) 1You may need to adjust this, depending on your flour, I did, adding a couple of Tbs more water during the mix. But I guess you may even find you need to add flour!

And (half way through):

  • 1 tsp baking powder


Mix the dry ingredients, except NOT the baking powder, add the wet ones, and mix. When the dough forms knead long and well (I cheated and did both mixing and kneading in our breadmaker on dough setting). As always add more flour if the dough is ‘too hard’ and add more water if it is ‘too soft’ – once the dough is in the goldilocks zone stop meddling (the reason meddling is ever necessary is because different flours and they say even the weather can throw the proportions out a little bit.

Set the dough to rise in a warm place until well doubled (1-2 hours). Tip the dough out and flatten it, sprinkle over the baking powder, knead for 3-5 mins. Roll into a ‘sausage’ and cut into 16-18 similarly sized pieces. Roll each into a ball, flatten into a circle on a floury board and with a rolling pin (or large bottle) roll out  to a thin oval (rather longer than you’d think – the aim is to have enough when it is folded to make a decent bun). Brush the top with oil, fold in half and place on small squares (cut a bit larger than you expect the finished bao to be) of greased baking paper.

Place these carefully in the steamer leaving room for them to more than double again. Leave to rise, again doubling, about 1.5 hours.

Put the steamers on top of a saucepan of well boiling water, steam for 8-9 minutes. They should split easily, though a knife may sometimes help. Fill with something tasty, oily and salty. (I love bacon, lettuce and tomato with plenty of mayonnaise.)

Notes   [ + ]

1. You may need to adjust this, depending on your flour, I did, adding a couple of Tbs more water during the mix. But I guess you may even find you need to add flour!

Kale Salad with Sumac Onions and Chickpeas


Kale (pick almost enough to make a vege for two when cooked this is perhaps double what you’d expect to need for a salad)
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp ground sumac
i tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 Tbsp lemon or lime juice
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons mustard
125g chickpeas cooked


Soak and cook the chickpeas.
Remove the thick central veins from the kale and rip oor cut into small pieces. Pour oil and 1 tsp salt over kale and stir and rub it to coat thoroughly. Leave for an hour, this with the massage, will help break down the toughness.

Mince the garlic clove (a microplane is ideal) mix with mustard and citrus juice. This will be the dressing for the kale.

Wash the onion for a minute or two in fresh water (this will remove much of the sharpness (or heat?), drain, sprinkle with sumac and sesame seeds, mix.
Finally assemble toss the oily kale with dressing and chickpeas. Top with onions.

Ciabatta Bread is simple quick and tasty

Ciabatta is one of the simplest and most nearly fool-proof breads. Baking bread is so simple, just mix flour, water, and yeast. But so much can go wrong, and there are so many variations on the theme…

So, because ciabatta is one of the simplest and most nearly fool-proof breads it is a great place to start.


1000g Strong Flour (if in NZ Gilmours sell Beta brand which is perfect)
850g water
25g dried yeast
20g salt


Mix dry ingredients except salt. Make a well, pour in the water, and begin mixing. Before the dough has really come together sprinkle on the salt and mix for 3 minutes. The dough should be soft and almost runny compared to most bread doughs. (As this is a wet dough, so it will develop impressive gluten just with this mixing and standing.)

Allow to rest for 30 mins. Oil an roasting tray well (too much is better than too little), and tip the dough into the middle. Put in a warm place (e.g. airing cupboard) for 20 mins.

With oiled or floured hands (I use flour if the dough risks being too soft) fold one edge into the middle, and repeat for the opposite edge. Turn 90° and repeat. Leave to rise in the warm place. (Repeat twice more, i.e. folding and rising three times).

Tip out onto floured surface and cut into three oblongs. push each one down and spread, repeat the foilding and place on the baking tray. Leave to rise 30 mins or until doubled. Dust with flour.

Bake in a 210°C oven for 20 mins (turning half way through) put a pan of boiling water on the base of the oven to develop a nice crust.

NB I make bogus baguettes using this recipe (with a little higher flour/water ratio) and just cutting in half (instead of three) and folding the final time only the long sides.

Beetroot with horipito mayonnaise, smoked warehou and almond crisps

Both Barbara and I love beetroot, we’ve been cooking it as a vegetable (lovely dripping with melting butter and some salt) since the 70s, but now it is ‘fashionable’ (or was last year). Beetroot also despite its strong flavour and because of its strong colour (as we discovered at a degustation menu) pairs well with smoked white fish. Both beetroot and smoked fish love horopito (very fashionable with me at present) and mustard.

Both smoked fish and beetroot (do not forget the melting butter, o best beloved) risk being dry, so a horopito and mustard mayonnaise seemed the perfect match. But that would have no crunch… enter the almond cracker recipe I have been wanting an excuse to try…

If you don’t have horopito mustard probably a decent wholegrain mustard would work, though I added extra horopito…

Just boil the beets, peel, and slice thinly but not too thin (around 0.5cms or 0.25 inches roughly works for me), put some sliced or broken hot smoked white fish on top of each slice, top with mustardy lemony  mayo.

Almond crackers


200g ground almonds
1 egg (we have some very tiny ones currently so I used two)
3 pinches (one chef’s pinch) salt


Mix the ground almonds with the egg and salt, if the ‘dough’ is too dry you needed more egg if it is too moist you can add more almond. If it is just right, congratulations Goldilocks.
Roll the dough out between two sheets of baking paper. Thin, very thin, as thin as you dare. I left it much too thick the first time. Cut to shape or if you want round ones use a wine glass to cut circles (the dough can be reformed several times). You can top with grated parmesan to gild the lilly, but I just sprinkled with salt.

Place on a greased baking sheet, small gaps will do as these crackers do not spread.

Bake at 180°C (350°F for those still using Farenheit) for about 12 mins turning half way through. Leave to cool before freeing them.

65⁰ for the perfect egg?

Can you cook a perfect egg?

Can you cook an egg? It is harder than one thinks to cook a (near) perfect egg. The film Julie and Julia that we are currently enjoying makes the point firmly, to learn cookery one starts at the beginning, cooking eggs.

This eggs / 65⁰ eggs

For some reason, although we have had the sous vide circulator for a while now, and use it frequently when cooking meat, I have not before tried the famous 65⁰ egg. It should probably be called the ‘This Egg’, or «Œufs This» since this temperature is the result of work by French molecular gastronome Hervé This.

So for today’s experiment I am making myself a couple of 65⁰ eggs. The sous vide is the ideal way to do this, avoiding the terrible error of 64⁰ eggs.

During lunch at a local bistro, I notice a 65-degree-Celsius egg on the menu, served on a fricassée de girolles. As the plate is set down, This says: “That’s not a 65-degree egg. It’s a 64-degree egg.” The yolk is soft, and the egg white, while completely opaque, is so delicately jelled and fragile that it breaks apart slightly when it is plated. “Eh, oui,” the chef sighs; he is having des ennuis regulating the heat of his stove.  (Quoted from Discovery)

According to This’ research at 65⁰ one gets soft creamy yet set whites and a soft not quite runny yolk, pretty much how I like my eggs. For Barbara I may have to do some 67⁰ eggs, but today is about me 🙂

As the featured image shows, my 65⁰ egg is as described, the whites are opaque (though only just) and are indeed creamy, and as promised a ‘revelation’. The yolks, however, are almost set, and so for me less than exciting.

The quest for my ‘perfect egg’ continues…

This only cooks his eggs a short while, that might be the answer, but the Chef Steps egg calculator suggests that the perfect egg for me with a pretty firm white and yet pretty runny yolk would use 75⁰ for 15 mins or, after 12 mins ice and reheat… I may try that next week.


PS, these This Eggs were topped with a lemmony mustard mayonnaise, but does anyone know a quick easy foolproof way to make hollandaise?

75⁰ eggs

Update: 75⁰ eggs

Since the 65⁰ eggs were not perfect for me, I tried again, this time the 75⁰ for 12 minute version. The idea is that cooking at the higher temperature for longer makes the whites firmer, while cooking for a limited time 12 mins limits the damage to the precious yolk. One also rewarms the 75⁰  eggs for about two minutes which firms the whites a little more. My hope was that by rewarming Barbara’s eggs longer than mine I could give her a softer version of the cannon balls she prefers, while getting a ‘perfect egg’ for myself.

On the right in the photo above is a 12 minute 75⁰ egg, whites too soft, on the left a 13 minute egg, whites still a touch too soft. But the real killer is that in each case the yolk has begun to set a little. Maybe I’ll have to try 80⁰ eggs for various times…

PPS for Micaela’s eggs in their shells with ‘soldiers’, I suspect 12 minute 65⁰ eggs might be just right, the whites are soft enough to dip the ‘soldier’ through and should attach nicely. (Till now the problem with eggs and soldiers, the yolk is finished and the white remains alone and unwanted…)

PPPS or maybe I’ll try Kenji-Lopez style, he says:

I cook my eggs just like I’d cook them for a normal three-minute egg—plunging them into boiling water for three minutes, then shocking them for a full minute in an ice water bath. After that, I drop them into a 143°F water bath and let them cook for 45 minutes, which sets the whites to tender perfection all the way through while leaving the yolk warm, golden, and ready to flow.


Quick easy (almost foolproof) Mayonnaise

After years and decades of messing up mayo (and making many delicious batches) I have finally found a recipe that works every time. 1 Except when I remember the proportions wrong! One needs a stick blender and a straight-sided mug which JUST fits the head – like a piston. We have two, both old mugs with cartoon characters on that were left behind by the children growing up.

1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 cup rice bran oil (or other not too strongly flavoured oil – do NOT use extra virgin olive oil)
  1. Add the yolk, lemon juice, water, and mustard to the mug. 2 See above.
  2. Put the head of the blender into the cup (if you are worried it will overbalance attach the motor later).
  3. Pour the oil over slowly, so it sits on top of the other ingredients.
  4. Zap a little. Then raise the blender little by little till it is all mixed and you have a nice thick emulsion.
  5. Taste and adjust seasoning, nb I add some flavourings like horopito to the liquids at the start. 3 The picture above is horopito mayonnaise, hence the small flecks of horopito leaf.  (For really lemmony you can also add zest and even use lemon juice to replace some of the water at step 1.) Mix with a spoon or the spatula you will use to scoop it out.

Enjoy 🙂

HT: from Serious Eats’ The Food Lab

Notes   [ + ]

1. Except when I remember the proportions wrong!
2. See above.
3. The picture above is horopito mayonnaise, hence the small flecks of horopito leaf. 

Lamb Flap Salad: with carrot, rose petals, and cumin

Nice quick lunch today, Lamb Flap Salad: with carrot, rose petals, and cumin. Actually as you’ll see there are apple and fennel in there too, but they are secondary (except the apple adds a touch more sweetness. 1 Lamb goes so well with carrots because lamb ‘likes’ sweetness, the apple just adds a little more.


  • 200g 2 No, I did not measure this is a guess, but about right. precooked lamb (we used flap as we had done several in the slow cooker earlier)
  • 4 medium carrots
  • 1 eating apple (in our case since our Cox’s are small I used two)
  • several slices from a fennel bulb (then diced)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • petals from one large or two small roses

Put your frying pan on to heat (you want it smoking hot). Grate the carrots and apple, I use a Vietnamese grater that makes thin triangular sticks which are crisper than European-style graters. Salt the lamb and fry briefly, to get just a little Maillard reaction going and enrich the flavour. Tip on to chopping board to begin cooling. Sprinkle the veges with cumin. Put lamb on and rose petals on top, mix (reserve a few petals to decorate if necessary). Serve with mayonnaise (ours was slightly lemony and mustardy).

I think the flavours work really well and the cumin and rose petal should be just discernible with the fennel almost not noticable but just adding its own notes.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Lamb goes so well with carrots because lamb ‘likes’ sweetness, the apple just adds a little more.
2. No, I did not measure this is a guess, but about right.

The trick is to pick

New year is bad for vege patches. Summer heat and late rains are ideal growing conditions, but the holidays mean less time for the garden. Weeds run rampant, and tomatoes grow too fast to “pinch out”, more like jungle bushes than productive vines.

As a resolution, “beating the weeds” is unrealistic. Growing more traditional veges also seems unlikely, when they only cost cents in the shops.

Before you despair, and decide growing your own is only for the really dedicated. Think again! Granted many crops are more trouble than they’re worth, or more work than the family pet, there are still opportunities for delicious low maintenance crops. The trick is to pick, craftily. Choose crops for return on investment.

Here’s my current list of high ROI crops:

  • Cooking apples require pruning once a year, and fertiliser when you remember, but you can’t buy them, and they make delicious deserts impressing your guests!
  • Heritage varieties of other fruits also offer a high ROI, if you have not inherited a productive plum tree planting a couple (chosen to pollinate each other) is easy fruit.
  • Jerusalem Artichokes are a thistle, so of course they grow well! Big impressive plants look great, and a thick layer of straw keeps them weed free (almost). Earn “foodie points” with a vege that’s unusual, delicious and easy to grow and cook (copy the online videos).
  • Lettuce require some weeding and lots of watering, but repay with a salad you grew yourself (almost) and far less pain than tomatoes or cucumbers. Buying “Mesclun” seed gives plants of different varieties from one packet, all year round. The straw trick works for lettuce, but grow the seedlings quite big before planting them.
  • Rocket and other herbs grow like weeds, and can be used either as a flavouring or in salad.

What are your tips for picking for high ROI crops?

Recipe for socca – or farinata

Socca is the French word for it, it is a specialty around Nice, across the border in Italy too, but there it is called farinata. As a tasty snack or starter it’s simple, quick, and nutritious. It’s also completely gluten free. Simple and made from simple things it is an ideal quick meal after Christmas when one needs no more rich food, but wants something tasty and special. 

Socca is a breadless ‘flatbread’ of chickpea flour (gram flour from an Indian shop works nicely) and water with a little oil cooked in a cast iron pan. (You could use another ovenproof pan, but cast iron is great because of its heat retention.) Socca has many variants, two I love add: rosemary and onions (chopped fine and mixed into the batter prior to cooking), or some chopped fennel seeds.

Mix equal parts (one cup of each will feed two for a light lunch) chickpea flour (gram flour) and water for a not too thin or too stiff batter, add two tablespoons of oil, a little salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. (At least as much pepper as salt, but probably more. Be brave and you will find even pepper-shy people like it! Be brave, socca is a simple dish for culinary extremists as I’ll explain again below.) 

When the batter is mixed, let it rest. Half an hour is great, but at least while you warm the oven and pan. Heat the oven to at least 230⁰C on grill setting and put the pan on the hob to get it smoking. This is another place to be extremist, get the pan and the grill as hot as you can, the extra crispness of the crust will repay your extremism!

Place two tablespoons of oil in the pan and tip to coat.  Pour in the batter and place in the oven (probably 4-5 mins depending on the thickness of the bread and just how hot your pan and grill will go).

You could eat it with olives and small tomatoes for a healthy snack or starter. Ideal when chatting with friends.

Actually socca, like soccer, is not immune to national rivalry. The Italians call it ‘farinata’. But the name doesn’t change the taste. So, I’m content to credit both the nice people from Nice and the generous people from Genoa!

Recipe for socca

One frying pan size, serves two as a light lunch or four as a snack.

  • 1 cup chickpea/gram flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • diced onions or rosemary if you want more flavours

Mix and leave to stand. Pour into a frying pan as hot as you can, with a little oil round the base. Place under the grill, again as hot as you can. Ready when the top is nicely browning.

Pure Butchery or a Winter’s Tale

In winter I do my food growing in the barn, with nothing growing in the garden and only pruning in the orchard. I’m making bacon, salami and prosciutto (Italian style ham) with parts of our homekilled pigs. Though not this year as we had no pigs. After a hectic start we soon had bacon brining in a barrel and hams dry-curing in the spare fridge. Home-cured bacon is a simple and fun way to make or grow more of what you eat. Our chef son adds coffee to the cure, which is basically sugar and spice.

Prosciutto is another matter. Several weeks salting, then each ham takes months to age and air-dry. The meat is hung in a cool dry airy place (the barn). Examined for unwelcome mould (anything that isn’t white and powdery) any appearing is wiped off with vinegar-soaked cloths. Like the guru at River Cottage I rub them with acidophilous powder (the probiotic in yogurt) before they’re hung. This creates a slightly acid environment, helping proper ageing. At Christmas we discover if this care has produced the expensive delight we anticipate.

Salami gives quicker results. Four weeks after stuffing the skins, the beer sticks are already delicious. Full size ones take a little longer. They are less simple than hams though, soon after we hung them suspicious moulds appeared. Vinegar removed them for a while, but they returned. Then we spotted that Hugh F-W doesn’t cover salami. He is less afraid of flies and infection, but we realised that winter temperatures (keeping our garden from growing) also keep flies away. Uncovered they dried faster with no bad moulds. We’ve tried the “plain” beersticks, delicious, next the various flavours of pure pork ones…