Thursday, September 20, 2012

Steamed Chicken with Dried Lily Flowers, Shiitake Mushrooms and Chinese sausage

My mum works at my dad’s restaurant only during the day. She worked both day and night when the restaurant first opened but now that things have settled and enough staff have been hired, she’s home after lunch service to do household chores etc. and more importantly cook dinner for my younger brother and sister. While my dad is a chef, my mum does most of the cooking at home. The food we have at home is different from the food served at the restaurant, flavours are often simpler but just as tasty, and it’s more wholesome with large quantities for sharing and leftovers.

However, my mum often gets sick of cooking and gets quite lazy about it. It can feel like more of a chore to her. I guess this is what happens when you work at a restaurant all day, when you come home the last thing you want to be doing is cooking, especially when you have been doing it all your life out of necessity (ie: to feed a family) rather than as a passion. Unlike me, where I get to experiment with my cooking and try new dishes all the time, and find it a gratifying endeavour. When my mum cooks for the family, it is an act of compromise where she tries to reconcile the different food preferences within the family, make sure we have a healthy and balanced diet, as well as cooking within limited timeframes and trying to be economical.

So my mum has quite a few go to recipes that she rotates around, which she knows us kids like to eat and are easy to cook. Her go to recipes are ones that make a lot of food, can be prepared ahead of time, requires little effort and tastes great. It’s food that has leftovers you wouldn’t be sick of eating the next day and would be happy to eat more often.

Everyone has go to recipes, what are yours?

This is one of my mum’s go to recipe. It's a delicious, comforting and homey dish.



This dish is very easy to make, all you have to do is chunk everything into a pot, marinate it overnight and then steam it the next day so it’s great for weeknights after work. I love this dish because there is a lot packed into it and it contains some of my favourite foods – chicken, shiitake mushrooms and Chinese sausage (lap cheong). I like being able to pick out different goodies to eat. It’s a dish that reminds me of living at home because it would frequently feature on the dinner table, and I remember fighting over with my younger brother and sister for the last bit lap cheong, because no matter how much lap cheong my mum would put in, there would never be enough. This is also quite a delicately flavoured dish in that you’ll find the seasonings are not overpowering but are there to lift the natural flavours of the other ingredients.

Steamed Chicken with Dried Lily Flowers, Shiitake Mushrooms and Chinese sausage

(An original recipe Blue Apocalypse learnt from her mum)

(serves a 4-6)


•    600-700g of chicken (mix of chicken wings and chicken thigh chopped into bite sized pieces)
•    6 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated (ie: soaked in water till softened, about 30 minutes), stalks removed and sliced
•    ½ cup of black fungus, rehydrated, trimmed and chopped into smaller pieces
•    30g of dried lily flowers, rehydrated, remove any hard stems (end bits) and tie into a knot (this prevents it from breaking apart)
•    3 sprig spring onions, cut into 3-4cm lengths
•    2 Chinese sausages, sliced
•    few slices of ginger
•    1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
•    1 tablespoon oyster sauce
•    2 teaspoons fish sauce
•    1 teaspoon cornflour
•    1 ½ teaspoon light soy sauce
•    pinch of salt and pepper


Combine everything together with the seasonings in a pot/large bowl and marinate overnight.

Steam over medium-high heat for about 20-25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. 

Serve with steamed rice.

•    See my steamed fish post for more details on how I steam dishes.
•    It’s a large quantity so you may have to divide the steaming into two batches or you can steam half one night, refrigerate the rest to steam the night after.
•    Dish can be reheated in the microwave or resteamed for about 10 minutes.
•    You can marinate the ingredients and then freeze it in containers. Take out to defrost and steam when you want a meal.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Checkerboard Cake – Clandestine Cake Club Perth

The theme for the September Clandestine Cake Club in Perth was Retro/Childhood cakes, bringing much nostalgia for the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Books which played a special part in the lives of many kids growing up in the 80s and 90s. Most people I know have had a birthday cake made from these books.

Not me though.

My mum isn’t much of a baker. All my birthday cakes where store bought from the Asian bakery. Asians like those light fluffy chiffon style sponge cakes with layers of whipped cream and fruit. That was the standard cake that everyone in my family got for their birthday.

My 1st Birthday

Look at my face! I’m shocked…hmm maybe my expression wouldn't be like this if I had a birthday cake made from the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Books?!.... Where’s my train? Choo Choo!

Without a precious childhood cake memory, I had to go a bit retro. Looking though a number of different cake recipes, the one that caught my eye was a checkerboard cake. It has a certain wow factor. It looks like it would be quite difficult to make. How do you get the checkerboard pattern? It must be magic…well I’m sure that’s what I would have thought if I had received such a cake for my birthday as a kid. It’s magic!

When it comes down to it, it’s not really a hard cake to make. You just need to plan ahead and it will take a bit of time to put together but the end result is worth it. It was interesting for me to learn that the checkerboard pattern was made up of concentric circles, layers of bullseye targets stacked on top of each other.  

You can buy special vintage checkerboard cake pans that have circular dividers to fill with alternating coloured batter, but who needs another cake pan? I don’t. Well my kitchen doesn’t. My kitchen cupboards are like a game of Jenga. I keep carefully slotting in more plates, pots and gadgets into every nook and cranny. Everything has its place. I use something, wash it and then put it back where I took it. If I placed it anywhere else, it would disrupt the balance and I’m sure everything in my kitchen would come crashing down. 

I prefer the DIY method which involves baking different coloured cake layers and cutting the circles out by hand, using a knife and tracing around a small plate. Then the inner circles between the different coloured cakes are swapped with white ganache cementing the layers together.

(Note: the circles should be as even as possible but mine weren’t – human error)

I was excited about putting the checkerboard cake together on the Saturday morning of cake club. I had baked the cake layers the night before and refrigerated them, as it’s easier to cut and assemble it cold because the cake won’t crumble as much when you cut the circles and layer them. I usually don’t bake cakes that require so much construction so I was proud that I had put myself up to the challenge. That’s one of the great things about cake club, it gives you an opportunity try baking a cake that you have never made before and share the results, good or bad, with other cake clubbers. It’s not a contest, there is no backstage cake sabotage and stories of cake catastrophes are welcome. Sometimes people bring a cake that they have had a few issues with making and when they confess their failures, it’s like an alcohol anonymous meeting, where everyone is nodding their head in agreement and can understand exactly what went wrong, we’ve all being through it and yet the baking addiction continues. 

Dinosaur Sprinkles!

I had no idea if I had been successful with the checkerboard effect until I cut into the cake at cake club. Hence, I had covered my whole cake in dark chocolate ganache and finished it off with some dinosaur sprinkles, so if all else fails, there was chocolate and dinosaurs are cool. I like the anticipation as you cut into a checkerboard cake, everyone was just as excited as I was to see the inside of my cake. Luckily it turned out well, much better than I had expected. Everyone was impressed. 

I pretty much used this checkerboard cake recipe from the blog Raspberri Cupcakes which has lots of great tips and some step-by-step photos. 

I whipped up a basic vanilla cake recipe and divided it into two bowls. I originally wanted to make vanilla and chocolate layers but since I had some leftover blue dye from a previous Apocalyptic cake endeavour I decided to use it for the alternating layer. After all, food dye is very retro, back in the day when artificial colours were all the rave, we weren’t so hung up on E numbers, process food was eaten religiously and the microwave was your best friend. How times have changed…these days you can’t mention eating processed food or using a microwave to cook with, without people looking at you like you have committed a sin and judging you for having bad taste. 

Inner layers

When I tweeted some photos the morning that I was putting the checkerboard cake together, I had some people asking if I was making a Smurf cake or maybe an Eagles edifice? No, my cake was coloured blue because my favourite colour is blue. There aren’t many foods that are naturally blue. Most people would be turned off if they saw blue food because it’s a sign that the food is spoilt. In fact, a Japanese company has created blue glasses to sell as a dieting aid on the premise that if you see food through blue coloured lenses you won't want to eat much because it would look unappetising. Alfred Hitchcock was famous for throwing a dinner party where he served all his guests food (martinis, steaks, peas, and mashed potatoes) that had been dyed blue, Very little was eaten and guests were repulsed and left. I am probably one of the few people in this world who would think that it was actually cool and happily eat ALL the blue foods. What about you?

While I didn’t have a childhood story to back up my cake, I loved hearing the stories behind the cakes that other Clandestine Cake Clubbers brought.

I loved the story behind this Gingerbread house where the lady remembered that she used to bake this cake with her mum when she was young and got her mum to send her some photos so that she could recreate it.  I love the fact that she stuck the photos on top of the cake and you could see the past and the future together.

One girl made a Toadstool cake from the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book. She owned the same fairies which featured on one of the covers so she was destined to make the cake and use the fairies. 

A beautiful butterfly cake, straight from the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book. It was funny to hear from the lady who made the cake that she usually outsourced all the cake making duties for her kids but made an effort to bake for cake club.

Hi Barbie! It would not be a party without a Barbie cake right? The lady who made it told us how as a kid she got freaked out when she cut into the cake and found that Barbie had no legs!

Clandestine Cake Club Perth "Retro/Childhood Cakes" – 1 September 2012

Did you have an Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake made for your birthday as a kid? Please share your story :) 

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Farewell Morning Tea. Hello Part-Time Work.

About a month ago, a lady that I knew who had returned to work from maternity leave wanted to work only two days a week and was looking for someone to job share with. I told her it was something that I would like to consider, but it didn’t take me very long to come to the conclusion that I wanted to work part-time. I have always dreamt of working less so that I could have more time to do things that I enjoy. This would be a perfect arrangement.

I had to resign from my job so that I could take up the part-time job share position which was in the same Department but in a different branch. I was nervous about telling my manager, especially since I had just taken the job three months ago and had been seconded on a six month contract. There was a lot of work to do and not enough staff. My manager had also been away from work due to some back problems and the day he returned to the office, I had to tell him…

I would like to terminate my contract here.


A part-time position has come up and I have always wanted to have more time to do things that I enjoy. 


I don’t see myself working in an office for the rest of my life. I would love to be able to do something food related. 

(…and then I sound like a babbling Masterchef contestant as I start talking about wanting to follow my passion and wanting to try doing something that makes me happy etc….)

Do you have a mortgage? How much less money will you be earning?

I pay rent…I have taken into account my lower wage and I can live on it.

We are really happy with your work here, we would love to have you continue. Your position will be advertised permanently soon and we hoped that you would apply for it.

I’m sorry, I’m not interested in working here long-term.

We would like you to complete your contract which will be till the end of October.


…so I spoke to the lady about the part-time position and was informed that they needed someone in the position soon. The most that they would be able to hold it for me was a month, otherwise they will find someone else…

I talked to my manager again and informed him that I needed to finish my contract in a month rather than three months. He told me that he would think about it and get back to me.


I went home that night feeling really bummed out. Resigning from my job was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I’d given my manager my notice for termination but he was reluctant to let me go and I needed to leave in a month, not three months, in order to secure the part-time position. I wasn’t sure what I would do if I was told that I couldn’t leave. I could just throw in the towel and quit but I didn’t want to leave on bad terms. I felt a bit reckless. I have never done anything like this before. I have been working full-time since I left university 5 years ago. I began to question my decision and whether or not I was doing the right thing. In addition to that, I was giving up a good chance of getting a permanent level 6 position in the public sector, this is like the holy grail for anyone working in government. Something that a few months ago I would have thought that I would be crazy for giving up…

I was also a little scared as I was heading into the unknown. Working full-time makes my life very regular. I had a routine. I was secure. I knew what I would be doing week in, week out. I’m not sure what my life would be like post full-time work nor did I have a plan. “Making a big life change is scary. But you know what’s even scarier? Regret.”  (A quote that I often come across on the internet, source unknown).

It’s funny how quickly your outlook in life can change when you are given an opportunity to think about things differently. 

I suddenly began to think about all the things that I could be doing rather than what I should be doing. 

Job? In the end it’s only a job. I can always go back to full-time work or find another job. I have many years of working life ahead of me. 

Money? So I will be poorer but I can live on less. I will learn to live within my means. 

Time? Time is something that I value the most and I don’t have a lot of. Especially now, I want this time now. 

Work to me has always been a means to an end. But what’s the point of having money if I feel that I’m unable to do all the things that I would like to be doing. Working full-time, I try to jam a lot into my weekends and sometimes they go so quickly that I forget what I actually did on the weekend. I never accomplish as much as I would like to and I can’t commit myself to anything. I don’t want to just continue working as I always have, doing the 9-5 thing, five days a week and be wondering a few years later “What if” or  “Why didn’t I?” 

You only live once right? 

I know that I can do a lot more with my life if I put my mind to it.


Days later I would get the outcome that I was hoping for and my manager told me that I could leave in a month. I was so relieved, grateful and very happy. My manager became quite supportive of my decision and I felt bad about leaving after only a short time in the branch but I knew it was something that I had to do.

It took a while to sink in, sometimes I couldn’t believe that it was actually happening. It all happened quite suddenly too, so that it surprised a lot of people and I surprise myself. If you had asked me at the beginning of July what I would be doing, I would not have been telling you that by the end of July I would be trying to resign from my job and then be finishing up full-time work in August. I was lucky that a part-time opportunity came up and I made the crazy decision to go with it.

Last week was my final week of full-time work. This week I begin part-time work, working Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Yes, I have Mondays and Friday off!

So what I will I be doing now? People are always asking me this question. What are my plans? My answer is…I don’t now yet…

When I think about my situation I recall something that I read in the Momofuku cookbook a while ago. When David Chang talks about figuring out what he wanted to do with his life he says:

I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want. I couldn’t stand wearing a suit or navigating office politics. I wouldn’t have to deal with either in a kitchen. I couldn’t imagine striving to get promoted to associate regional manager. I could imagine that learning to cook and striving to be a better at it would be rewarding…so maybe I could pour myself into cooking, to see how far it would take me…” 

Rather than having an answer for what you wanted to do in life, you can look at it in terms of what you didn’t want to do and would you could imagine yourself enjoying doing. 

I liked this way of thinking. I knew that I didn't want to be working in an office for the rest of my life, I remember finishing my degree in politics and economics, and coming out of university ready to change the world. How quickly was my idealism quashed when I started working in government, it can be such a frustrating environment to be working in when you realize why things never get done and there’s little you can do about it…I know that I really enjoy cooking and it’s something that I want to learn more about, get better at and be creative with. I also want to take my blogging to the next level – trying to do more innovative blog posts, developing my writing and photography, and creating more concept dishes. I want to learn how to make stop motion videos which I think would be cool for my apocalyse inspired dishes and then play my own music over the top of it (yeah I’m gonna dust off my guitar which has been hiding underneath my bed one day).

So I don’t know what exactly I will be doing yet but I’m excited about engaging in more creative pursuits and exploring different possibilities. I hope that if I just continue doing things that I enjoy, one day I will make something of it.

Right now I am just going to enjoy having some more free time to do things that I used to wish that I could do more of but never had the time to, like reading books and watching movies. I will have more time to devote to cooking and blogging. I have an ongoing list of dishes that I want to learn to cook and drafts of blog entries that I need to finish. I also want to create more apocalypse inspired dishes before we all die on 21.12.2012.

My new motto in life is this -

“Even if the apocalypse does not occur on 21.12.2012 we should live like is it and make a change in our lives to make us happier.”

I’m sure that everyone would love to be able to work part-time but it’s not an easy decision to make. There’s always the expectation that you are supposed to work full-time, that’s the norm, unless of course you have kids, than it’s a different story. There are many things you have to weigh up and consider. I have definitely become more thrifty, having one less drink than what I normally would when I’m out because it all adds up you know, and I’ve decided to stop buying clothes (well maybe just occasionally). But more importantly, I have this beautiful feeling of liberation, I’m looking forward to my post full-time work life.

Last Friday I had my goodbye morning tea. I was a bit sad to leave but also very thankful. I catered for my own morning tea even though I was told that it’s against the rules to supply food for your own morning tea, other people are supposed to bring food for you. But I wanted to cook for my colleagues to thank them for all their kind words of support for my decision to leave full-time work and in the end they happily obliged.

But one of my colleagues insisted on bringing in some sausages which he called little red hot boys. He told me that they are always a hit, every time he brings them they always get eaten. Everyone agreed that they are bad for you but ate one because it’s one of those things that you don’t often get the chance to eat, it’s a guilty pleasure.

(Little Red Hot Boys)

I baked one of my favourite cakes – the carrot cake from the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook (recipe here)

I wanted to make something savoury so I did some mini Vietnamese rolls which were a bit hit. A simple and quick version where I filled in some soft buns that I bought from the bakery in the morning with kewpie mayonnaise, pickled carrot, cucumber, coriander, spring onion and Vietnamese pan-fried chicken (recipe for chicken here).

By popular demand (because I had brought these in for morning tea previously and everyone loved it) I baked chocolate peanut butter brownies. I made these after seeing the recipe in SBS Feast magazine but I have tweaked it significantly now, adapting the recipe with some elements of Nigel Slatter's very good chocolate brownie recipe.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies 

(Adapted from SBS Feast magazine and Nigel Slatter)

  • 200g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 200g butter, chopped into cubes
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 60g plain flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
Peanut Butter Mixture
  • 300g smooth peanut butter (I used Kraft)
  • 75g butter, softened (can zap in microwave for 10-20 seconds)
  • 25g icing sugar, sifted
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a 20cm square cake pan with greaseproof paper.

Fill a small saucepan one-third full with water and bring to a gentle simmer. Place the chocolate and butter in a small heatproof bowl, place over pan and stir until chocolate is melted (don’t let the bowl touch the water). Allow to cool slightly. 

Whisk/beat eggs and sugar for 3-4 minutes until thick and pale. Stir in chocolate-butter mixture and vanilla extract. Then fold in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt until combined. Pour mixture into cake pan. Set aside to slightly thicken.

To make peanut butter mixture, beat the peanut butter, butter, icing sugar, salt and vanilla extract together until combined. 

Drop spoonfuls of peanut butter mixture into chocolate mixture and lightly swirl with a skewer or knife. 

Bake for 35 minutes at 180C, then turn down the heat to 170C and bake for another 10 minutes (total baking time about 45 minutes). Turn off the heat and leave in the oven with the door slightly ajar for half an hour before removing from oven and allowing to cool completely in pan. The top would have risen and it will appear slightly softer in the middle than around the edges but as it cools it will sink and the residual heat will finish cooking the brownies. The end result is a thin, crisp crust with a soft fudgy centre.

When the brownies have cooled, cut into squares. Store in an airtight container in single layers separated by baking paper for up to 1 week.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mundaring Truffle Festival 2012 – Truffle Masterclass

The truffle season has ended and every year I consume more truffles, and accumulate more knowledge on how to use truffles. Like a fine silk shirt, truffles need to be handled with care. I could imagine care instructions being attached to truffles with the following information – do not wash, keep refrigerated, do not store for long, consume immediately, gentle heat cycle, shave thinly, use sparingly.

I went to the Mundaring Truffle Festival this year (over the weekend of 28-29 July) with one thing in mind. I wanted to learn more about using truffles so I enrolled into the Truffle Masterclass on the Saturday where Alain Fabregues from the Loose Box, Guillaume Brahimi from Bennelong and Emmanual Mollois from Choux Café put together a three-course meal. 

There are few foods in the world that excite people more than truffles. Give them to some French chefs and they will sound like they have struck gold, yes, black gold. It was entertaining to watch the chefs together on stage, demonstrating how the dishes were prepared and giving away tips on cooking with truffles, plus general chatter and some jostling around. Well it was mainly Alain and Guillaume ganging up on Emmanuel as he was the pastry chef. It felt like the pastry chef was like the drummer in a band, the one that is always at the butt of all jokes and seen as the most dispensable. At one point they joked “what’s the difference between a chef and a pastry chef? ...well a chef can cook and owns a restaurant ("ba-dum-tsh"!) but the pastry chef rightly defends himself by saying that he has a lot of love. Desserts definitely have a lot more aphrodisiac qualities and eating sweets releases endorphins that make us feel good, it’s no wonder that even after a big meal, there is always room for dessert!

The Masterclass focused on using truffles to enhance the flavours of local produce such as Rottnest Island scallops and Dandaragan organic beef. One theme that was hounded on to us in the class was that it’s all about simplicity and cooking seasonally. Let the produce speak for itself. I have never thought of scallops being a seasonal food before but I learnt that the scallop season was from March to September

Fat is a good conductor of truffle flavour and being French, butter was of course added to everything in large quantities. Guillaume revealed that his Bennelong restaurant uses an average of 400kg of butter a week! When it comes to butter, “size does matter” they joked, well in terms of the amount of butter you put in, and another thing is that you can’t trust a skinny chef!

The first dish by Alain Fabregues was scallops and truffles on a bed of winter leeks. Scallops and truffles, you really can’t go wrong, both are rich in umami. The umami is intensified as you sear and caramelize the outside of the scallops, and you could smell it wafting through the air as it hits the pan. When executed well, scallops are in my opinion one of the most joyous things to eat and the ones that were served to us were cooked just right. The key is to undercook them, keep them medium rare. Overcook scallops become hard and rubbery, and rather than eating them you would want to throw them against a wall to see if they bounce back at you.

The main dish by Guillaume Brahimi was braised wagyu beef cheeks with celeriac puree and truffle. In winter so many braised beef dishes are served at restaurants with varying degrees of success but this one was amazing, the beef had been cooked until the meat fells apart at the stroke of your fork and the jus had an incredibly rich flavour. Definitely the best winter braised beef cheeks I have had this year. It was a simple dish but lifted with different textures, I liked the idea of adding croutons to the dish to provide some crunch. 

The dessert by Emmanuel Mollois was an apple tart faco tatin with a truffle heart. Truffles go well with sweet things like chocolate and toffee, but sugar is its enemy because when you add sugar to a dessert, you have to cook it for the chemical reactions to occur which results in browning and caramelisation, resulting in ‘that’ flavour which is much desired in desserts. The optimal heat for releasing the flavour of truffles is between 60C-80C. This presents a challenge for making desserts as a lot of the time you are using heat that is twice the optional level for truffles which would pretty much destroy its flavour.

Emmanuel has spent a lot of time mastering the art of making truffle desserts and year after year his truffle desserts are highly anticipated. This year it did not disappoint. It was interesting to learn about how Emmanuel got around making the truffle crème anglaise using as little heat on the truffles as possible. The truffles are added to the milk to infuse overnight and then removed from the milk. The milk is heated and the truffles are added back in to simmer at just under a boil at around 65 C degrees for 10 minutes. The truffles are then removed again and eggs are added to the milk and cooked at 85 C degrees. Grated truffles are added back into the milk and some gelatine is stirred in to set. Gelatine is used to thicken the crème anglaise and once it is cooled, the cream fills the inside of the apple tart. Creme anglaise is usually thickened by continually cooking the milk and egg mixture over the stove until it thickens, using gelatine provided a similar result but minimizes the heat to the truffles to retain the flavour. The end result was a crème anglaise that was harmoniously infused with a beautiful truffle flavour. 

I was impressed by the beef cheeks but the dessert had a real wow element to it and I felt that it had done the most justice in bringing out the flavour of truffles. 

I bought a little piece of truffle from the Mundaring Truffle Festival to take home and here is how I have been using the truffle over the past few weeks.

Celeriac Soup with Mushroom Garnish and Truffles

Pan-Fried Potato Gnocchi with Mushroom Puree and Mini Asparagus Spears 

Truffle Breakfast with Slow-Poached Egg (recipe link)

French Toast with Truffle Cheese (recipe link)

I am truffled out now. Although I love truffles, I'm glad that they are only a seasonal treat.

How have you enjoyed this year’s truffle season? What dishes have you cooked with truffles?