Friday, September 16, 2011

Prawns and beans with shrimp sauce and lemon stir fry

What does the top shelf of your fridge look like? 

Mine is filled with an array of different pastes and condiments – hoisin sauce, fine shrimp sauce, soy bean paste, ground bean paste, sweet bean paste, chu hou paste, Korean hot bean paste, pickled ground chilli and also containers filled with dried scallops and dried shrimp.

This makes home cooking easy as I always have readily at hand a variety of condiments to create flavoursome dishes.

Most may be familiar with shrimp paste/belacan which is often used in Thai cooking, especially in curries. Belacan comes in a dehydrated, compressed solid brown coloured block. Fine shrimp sauce is different from shrimp paste but created through a similar process by grinding salted, fermented, dried shrimp. Shrimp sauce is purplish/grey in colour and has a thick liquid consistency like yoghurt. As you can imagine shrimp sauce is a little milder than shrimp paste and therefore great for using in a stir fry. A warning for people who have not had shrimp sauce before is that it has an overpowering smell (think durian, blue cheese or anchovies) and a strong salty taste but only a small amount needs to be added to a dish to give it a unique dimension of flavour, providing rich salty and savoury undertones.

My first exposure to shrimp sauce was putting a dollop of it in the bún riêu (Vietnamese pork, crab rice vermicelli soup) that my mum makes. My bowl of bun rieu would not be complete without it as it would deepen the overall flavours of the dish. Shrimp sauce is often used blended into foods and as a dipping sauce – mix it with a little lime and sugar and dip in some ripe green mangoes or tart apples (can you imagine dipping fruit into stinking fish?).

I also love having a jar of pickled ground chilli in my fridge, it’s great to add to a dressing or a stir fry for a hit of spiciness.

I have been waiting for spring to come so I can get my hands on some broad beans. 

(Broad beans from the Mondo Markets)

This is the first time that I have used broad beans in cooking. I used broad beans to cook a dish which includes prawns and is flavoured with pungent fine shrimp sauce, fish sauce, pickled ground chilli and finished off with a squeeze of lemon. When my dad cooks this dish he just uses stringless beans but I thought that a mixture of broad beans and stringless beans would be nice as I love the buttery and nutty flavour of broad beans. It’s a light dish but has strong flavours. 

~200-250g beans (mix of stringless beans chopped into 2-3cm lengths and shelled broad beans)
10-12 prawns shelled, deveined and chopped into small pieces
2 shallots thinly sliced
2 crushed garlic cloves
salt and pepper
~ ½ lemon
Sauce Mixture
2-3 tablespoons water
½ tablespoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon fine shrimp sauce
1 teaspoon pickled ground chilli

There is a bit of labour involved in getting broad beans ready for consumption but it’s worth it. You have to take the beans out of the pod and then remove the outer layer of skin - use a small knife or your nail to split open the outer skin and remove the individual bean, now repeat for each bean.


Combine all the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok over medium heat, add in the pieces of prawns and stir fry until the prawns just change colour. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Heat a little more oil in the wok, add in the shallots and stir fry until browned. Then add in the crushed garlic and the stringless beans, and fry for 1 minute, then add in the sauce mixture and fry for a further 1-2 minutes. 

Add in the prawns, season with a little salt and pepper and stir fry all together until the prawns are cooked through and the sauce is nearly dry. Then add in the broad beans and fry for about 20-30 seconds, the broad beans just need to be warmed through.

Turn off the heat, squeeze ½ a lemon over the top and toss through. 

Serve with steamed rice.

Check out my other spring recipe:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Crack Pie

“I made crack pie!”

I love the reactions that I get from people when I tell them I made crack pie…weird expressions, sometimes nervous laughter, excitement and then disappointment when I advise that there is no actual ‘crack’ in the pie.  

I have also found crack pie to be the ultimate test of how much of a food nerd you are. If I say crack pie and you can respond with David Chang or Momofuku then like me you obviously spend way too much time reading and thinking about food.

Crack pie is sold at David Changi’s Momofuku Milk Bar in Manhattan, New York . Many people have raved about it and I have come across it on many different blogs as one of ‘the’ pies to bake. 

Crack pie is made up of a buttery oatmeal crust and filled with a mixture of butter, heavy cream, brown sugar, sugar, milk powder and egg yolks (yes, it’s very rich). I would describe the filling as tasting like a light caramel or butterscotch.

I’m not sure why it’s called crack pie but after eating it the only conclusion that I can come up with is that it’s so good that it feels like a drug and you will become addicted to it. 

Here are the consequences of crack pie addiction:

  • You will experience changes in blood pressure (due to the amount of sugar consumed) 
  • It’s potentially dangerous (you could lapse into a sugar coma)
  • You will break into a cold sweat (it’s served chilled)
  • Increases your alertness/energy (you get a sugar high)
  • Lowers social inhibitions (you won’t be able to stop raving about it)
  • Erratic behaviour (you eat crack pie for breakfast)

[Please note: crack pie is to be eaten and not inhaled]

I recently made crack pie to take on a weekend away with friends down in Margaret River. As the food duties were divvied up, I took on Saturday night dessert with the intention of wowing my friends. Crack pie did not disappoint and I recommend it as something to bake if you want to impress. 

Making Crack Pie

(Recipe from LA Times)  

The recipe below states that 2 pies can be made but I ended up with one big pie and two little ones, and a little leftover filling. I think that when I pressed the crust into the pie shell I didn't make it thin enough but I liked having a bit more crust.

Cookie for crust


2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon plain flour
Scant 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
Scant 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (~115g) softened butter 
1/3 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons caster sugar
1 egg
Scant 1 cup rolled oats


Heat the oven to 375 (~190C) degrees.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. 
In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar and caster sugar until light and fluffy. 
Whisk the egg into the butter mixture until fully incorporated.
With the mixer running, beat in the flour mixture, a little at a time, until fully combined. Stir in the oats until incorporated. 
Spread the mixture onto a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and bake until golden brown and set, about 20 minutes. 
Remove from heat and cool to touch on a rack. 
Crumble the cooled cookie to use in the crust. 



Crumbled cookie for crust
1/4 cup (~60g) butter
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt


Combine the crumbled cookie, butter, brown sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse until evenly combined and blended (a little of the mixture clumped between your fingers should hold together). 
Divide the crust between pie tins. 
Press the crust into each shell to form a thin, even layer along the bottom and sides of the tins. 
Set the prepared crusts aside while you prepare the filling.



1 1/2 cups caster sugar
3/4 cup plus a scant 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon milk powder
1 cup (~225g) butter, melted
3/4 cup plus a scant 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 egg yolks
prepared crusts
icing sugar, garnish 


Heat the oven to 350F (~180C) degrees. 
In a large bowl, whisk together the caster sugar, brown sugar, salt and milk powder. Whisk in the melted butter, then whisk in the heavy cream and vanilla. 
Gently whisk in the egg yolks, being careful not to add too much air. 
Divide the filling evenly between the prepared pie shells. 
Bake the pies, one at a time, for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 F (~160C) degrees and bake until the filling is slightly jiggly and golden brown (similar to a pecan pie), about 10 minutes. 
Remove the pies and cool on a rack. 
Refrigerate the cooled pies until well chilled. The pies are meant to be served cold, and the filling will be gooey. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Kitchen Confidential – Being a chef, daughter of a chef…waiting

When Kitchen Confidential arrived in the mail from the Book Depository I was surprised to find that it had been quarantine tested. My friends thought the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (ASIC) suspected that there was food in the package and Australia has quite strict quarantine measures for food products. But after reading the book, I think that ASIC may have suspected that the book was laced with cocaine. 

I really enjoyed reading Kitchen Confidential. It’s a best-selling book, renowned for its behind the scene look at working in a restaurant kitchen. The moral of the story was that cooking professionally is hard work. My dad is a chef so I already knew what being a chef was really like but reading someone else’s story somehow reaffirmed to me even more how hard being a chef is and made me appreciate even more the work that my dad does.

Being a chef is strenuous work that is repetitious, it entails long hours over the heat of a stove, mountains of prep, bringing order to the chaos that is the kitchen, battle wounds from burns/chopping/bumping into things and other people, trying to achieve a 100% strike rate for all the dishes served… are required to give yourself entirely to the establishment (my dad can never take a sick day off work because the restaurant wouldn’t be able to function without him) and you don’t always make a lot of money. 

As David Chang stated in an interview earlier this year 
"There's the common misconception that restaurants make a lot of money. It's not true. If you look at maybe the top chef in the world, or at least monetarily, it's like Wolfgang Puck, but he makes as much money as an average crappy investment banker." 

I always remember the changing point in Michael Rulhman’s book The Making of a Chef, the day that made him want to prove himself as a ‘real’ cook. In the chapter ‘The Storm’, there was a blizzard so Michael couldn’t make the last day of the Skills One class so he calls the instructor Chef Pardus to tell him that he can’t make it and Pardus pretty much tells Michael that he is a wimp.
“Part of what we’re training students to be here is chefs – and when chefs have to be somewhere, they get there…Chefs are people who are working on Thanksgiving and Christmas when everyone else is partying…or at home with their family”

Cooks git there….
My dad works long hours and growing up I never saw much of my dad. I would be in bed by the time he got home from work and he would be sleeping when I got up for school, and at work when I got home from school. I rarely had the opportunity to celebrate with my dad his birthday or Father’s Day on the actual day as he would always be working. My dad has breakfast but eats lunch after 2.30pm when the lunch service finishes and then has dinner after 10:30pm at night when the restaurant has finished for the day. Even if my dad is hungry, he never has the time to eat within service, there is always a constant flow of orders coming in and dishes that need to be cooked and out of service there is prep to do for the next service.
...sometimes he doesn’t even have time to feed his own children…

After many years of working in various restaurants, starting out washing dishes and then moving to kitchen hand duties, and then working his way up to being a cook and owning a small lunch bar for a short period of time, my dad finally opened up his very own restaurant about 2 years ago. 

This is every chef’s dream, if you are working so many insane hours then you would want to be working for yourself.

(opening of my dad's restaurant with traditional dragon dancing)

The opening night was a very exciting time for my family. It’s like everything that my dad has done in his life had been building up to this point and it was a very proud moment.

On the opening night, I drove my younger brother and sister to the restaurant. When we walked in it was really busy which was a good sign. Mum had reserved for us the best table, a little booth at the back and we seated ourselves pouring over the large menu deciding on what to order. We placed our order and then waited, and waited. Our dad came out at some point to greet us but only very quickly as he needed to be in the kitchen. We waited some more…two hours later and still waiting.

It was pretty chaotic in the kitchen as it was the first night and everyone was still trying to get into the groove of things. A system for handling the flow of the tickets to cooking and dishing up had not been established. Other people were also waiting, sometimes over an hour for their meals. The teething issue that restaurants face when they first open is not a joke.

Mum was helping out in the kitchen and would come out now and then and say to us kids, your order is coming up next….yes, next, after that order that you placed in front of it. For every order that came in, ours would be moved back down the line because it was important to serve the customers first and get them out of the way.  We were family, we understood how important it was for our parents that night to satisfy all the customers that dined as much as they could and it was our duty to take a hit for the team.

After about two hours of waiting my mum confronted her three now starving children. The solution was to put $50 into my hand and tell me to take my brother and sister across the road to get some food. This was the only way that we would get fed that night.

At the restaurant across the road, we were the only customers. It was completely empty. It’s thunder and customers taken away by the opening of my dad’s restaurant, and business would continually be taken away. It’s funny though, what would the owner have thought if he knew that the only people eating at his restaurant that night were the children of the owner across the road…

After eating we went back to my dad’s restaurant and things were still quite busy. We said goodbye to our parents and headed home. We were all a little disappointed that we couldn’t eat at our dad’s restaurant that night. We had watched it being built, all the family had been at the restaurant a week before to give it a christening which involved enjoying a whole roasted suckling pig. But I was never mad because I knew how hard my dad was working, he would have been even more disappointed than us for not being able to feed his own children that night.

(christening the restaurant with a whole roasted suckling pig!)

For people who complain about service, think about the service that you get at times over the chef’s family members when you dine and how chefs spend their birthday, Father’s day, Christmases and New Years serving you rather than spending time with their family.

Spending some quality time with my parents (L-R mum, me and dad)

West End Deli, West Perth

If anyone asks me about West End Deli I will start by saying “their pies are really something…”

Earlier this year I checked out West End Deli for the first time and I have been back many times since. On my first visit to West End Deli, the first dish on the menu that I wanted to try were the pies that I had heard many good things about. 

I ordered the pork pie and was a bit surprised to find that it was served cold but when I looked inside the buttery flaky pastry I realised why as it had a terrine like filling. I hadn’t eaten this style of pie before but as a big fan of charcuterie I really enjoyed it. I have since learned that pork pie is a traditional British meat pie consisting of roughly chopped pork and pork jelly sealed in a hot water crust pastry. 

On another occasion I tried the steak and mushroom pie which was also delicious. Hot chucks of juicy and tender steak and mushrooms in flavoursome gravy, surrounded by golden flaky buttery pastry. It’s a classic pie done really well.

West End Deli is well regarded in the Perth dining scene but I don’t think you can say that you have really eaten at West End Deli until you have tried one of their pies.

West End Deli provides an all day brunch menu and it’s a place that you want to go to for something a bit more that your usual big breakfast. It has also recently opened up for dinner service four nights a week. The selection on the menu may be considered small but it changes regularly with a range of sweet and savoury dishes made from seasonal produce and to suit the weather. This is a place that I get excited about when a new dish comes onto the menu. Introduced to their menu in June this year, the combination of flavours and textures in their house smoked salmon, brioche, creamed spinach, slow cooked egg & tobikko dressing dish is a real delight to the taste buds.

(smoked salmon, brioche, creamed spinach, slow cooked egg & tobikko dressing dish)

Here are some photos of other dishes that I have had over my past few visits. I have never been disappointed.

(crepes, pedro xemenez strawberries, mint marscapone & pistachios)

(lamb, roasted beetroot, eggplant and goats cheese with fresh herbs)

(pork belly, pearl barley, calvados apples & crackle)

West End Deli have an in-house pastry chef. There is a small selection of pastries and cakes on a side table, and I think that West End Deli have the best almond croissants that I have ever had in Perth. After a meal at West End Deli I like to pick up an almond croissant for the road, but only if I am lucky because their croissants sell out fast. West End Deli is also one of ‘the’ places to go to if you want to buy a good freshly baked French baguette.

Check out West End Deli on the corner of Carr and Strathcona Street in West Perth, Leederville and work your way through the menu.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Chewy Coconut Lime Sugar Cookies

I’m always on the look out for new things to bake which have an interesting combination of ingredients and was intrigued by a chewy coconut lime sugar cookie recipe that I found from the Cook’s Illustrated. Chewy cookies made with coconut, lime and cream cheese? – these are ingredients that I don’t normally see together in a cookie recipe so I had to give it a go to see what the resulting cookies would taste like.

I love my cookies soft and chewy, and I always underbake my cookies to ensure that they will have a chewy texture. These coconut and lime cookies have a great chewy texture due to the use of cream cheese and vegetable oil which provide a soft consistency that is light and not dense or heavy. I love the flavour combination of coconut and lime, it just makes you think of being on a tropical island under a coconut tree with a pina colada or margarita in hand. I think this is a great cookie to bake for the spring and summer months.

Ingredients (makes about 24 cookies)
(Adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

•    2 ¼ cups plain flour
•    ½ teaspoon baking soda
•    1 teaspoon baking powder
•    ½ cup sweetened shredded coconut 
•    ½ teaspoon salt
•    1 ½ cups caster sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
•    ~60g cream cheese, cut into small pieces
•    1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
•    ~80g unsalted butter, melted and still warm
•    1/3 cup vegetable oil
•    1 large egg
•    1 tablespoon milk
•    1 tablespoon lime juice


Preheat oven to 175C. Line baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, coconut, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Place 1 ½ cups sugar, cream cheese, and grated lime zest in a large bowl. Place remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a shallow dish and set aside. 

Pour warm butter over sugar, lime and cream cheese and whisk to combine (some small lumps of cream cheese will remain but will smooth out later). 

Whisk in oil until incorporated. Add egg, milk, and lime juice, continue to whisk until smooth. 

Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until a soft dough comes together. 

The final dough will be slightly softer than most cookie dough. For the best results, handle the dough as briefly as possible when shaping the cookies. Overworking the dough will result in flatter cookies. Using hands, roll about 2 tablespoons of the dough into balls and roll in the reserved sugar to coat. Place the balls about 4cm apart on baking sheet and flatten with fingers or bottom of a glass. 

Bake for 11 to 13 minutes until the edges are set and just beginning to brown, rotating the tray after 7 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.