Monday, 26 January 2015

Cooking with Benjamin Cooper of Chin Chin Fame

One visit to Chin Chin and I knew that Benjamin Cooper was a god, okay maybe not a god but he has some godly abilities wielding a wok and a pressure cooker. There really is only one way to go for menu choices at Chin Chin and that is the feed me option where an endless parade of modern Asian dishes will pass by your table and leave again ravaged, unrecognisable from their original state. All that will be left are the smears that your fingers could not scrape off your plate. You may line up for hours on end or drink yourself into a semi drunk state in the Go Go bar downstairs waiting for your table if you leave your arrival to late but trust me, it is worth it.

Once you have devoured the divine offerings and surprisingly not been robbed of all your wallets contents at the register you should absolutely grab a copy of the Chin Chin cookbook on your way out the door. You may never be Benjamin Cooper himself. Your tattoo quota likely never high enough, your hair just doesn't seem to stand up on end the right way and the air of awesomeness you exude will never be palpable but you can have a crack at cooking like him, tattoos or not.

Check out the place mat I smuggled out with me from Chin Chin for a prop for this photo (don't worry they are paper and disposable)

Whilst perusing the book and considering if I was worthy of attempting any of the uber cool recipes inside I found a recipe for Chilli-Salt Chicken Wings and a sauce named Bandit Sauce. That sounded like something I could master in a relatively short amount of time. The overall process was a little more involved than at first blush and after a number of hours a making a master stock, simmering the chicken wings in the master stock, pounding the bejeezus out of a long list of ingredients for the bandit sauce and battering and deep frying the wings I scrapped all other plans for any other food that day and decided the wings were it. Luckily the moist tender chicken with it's crispy coating and the super sour punch in the face bandit sauce were enough to satisfy the soul.

This cookbook is deceptive at first. I would not recommend a first timer launch headlong into it without some careful reading of the full recipe and additional techniques. Whilst the guide to cooking time and difficulty seems like a handy little tool it doesn't actually take into account the additional recipes that are required to make the finished product. Many of these recipes appear tucked away at the back of the book, for example you need to make a master stock to complete the chilli-salt wings but the presumption is we would already have staples like this pre-made so the cooking of this is not factored into the guide given at the bottom of the recipe. I don't know about you but rarely would I have a ready to go home made master stock lurking in my freezer. A little cheeky really but hey, if you look at Benjamin Cooper and not think he might be a little cheeky then you might need your head checked.

I was also surprised that the book also contained recipes for some of the delicious meals we were served up in the restaurant. Clearly not one afraid to give away his secrets, probably as he knows that a home cook will never nail it to his standards anyway. My recent penchant for raw fish found it's nirvana at Chin Chin with it's Kingfish Sashimi with Thai flavours and lo and behold the cookbook contains the recipe, score!

This book surpasses any need for me to rate it, it speaks for itself. If the glory hidden in it's pages doesn't leave you gagging for more hours in the day to conjour up it's recipes or an abode closer to Chin Chin itself I will be shocked. Any self respecting home cook should have a copy, boot out that old copy of "The Joy of Cooking" and make room for the mohawk wearing bad boy of Asian cooking, Benjamin Cooper.
Originally posted on Monday, 26 January 2015 by

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Week in Review

The weekly review is all about showing you how despite living a 9-5 lifestyle how you can still be immersed in an exciting world of travel, food, cooking and exploration. 

Selling Travel

This week saw me start at my new workplace “Queanbeyan City Travel and Cruise”. After a whole day of being bogged down in setting up new log in’s to all of the travel suppliers systems and getting the technical side of things up and running I finally got selling on Wednesday. And what a day Wednesday was! All of the bookings I did for the week were generated on Wednesday (in amongst the many unconsummated quotes that fills a typical week). 

New job, new uniform

So of these bookings the most surprising was a trip for a family of four to go skiing in Queenstown, New Zealand. It isn’t the destination that is surprising, Australia’s proximity to New Zealand does mean it is a very popular destination, it was the price that astounded me. I found a 3 star hotel in the reliable Mercure chain just on the outskirts of Queenstown with a great view from it’s hillside perch for $1056 for 10 nights! Now that is amazing value and just goes to show that even travelling with two kids you can still find a great deal. Of course there are many other costs involved in a package such as this, there is the cost of the flights, car hire and ski gear and all in all the cost came out around $7000 but if you have ever looked at the costs to Ski here in Australia at our own ski fields you will know this is a good value trip and you are getting an international destination to boot.

Queenstown, NZ


I am an avid listener to the Amateur Traveller Podcast, a podcast which I have also been a guest on and you can listen to my interview on Canberra right here. It is a wonderful way to pass the time on the commute to and from work, it takes you on a little journey each episode and with 400 odd episodes in their back catalogue and new episodes each week you will never be lost for content. 

This week the Podcast took me to Nigeria (Episode 228) which sounded just as wild and crazy as I had always imagined. Not really a destination for the faint-hearted but if you are keen for adventure this episode will get you started in your planning.

Episode 291 took me to Honduras which made me realise that on our trip to Mexico, Guatamala and Belize a few years ago on route to a wedding in Tulum we probably should have extended and also taken in Roatan, a 4km long island off the coast of Honduras. But Hey you can’t do it all. We also focused our trip in the Yucatan region of Mexico and Mexico being such a diverse country there is plenty of scope to go back on another trip. That also reminds me I should mention that speaking of Tulum, what a great beach destination. Around 2 hours south of Cancun it kicks Cancun’s butt (unless you are into sprawling American all inclusive resorts, not my thing really). The locally owned shack style accommodation nestled discreetly (compared to Cancun anyway) on the stunning beach with it’s unreliable electricity on rickety shutters was heaven.

Tulum, low key beach paradise in Mexico

I also went to Lesotho with episode 292 where the guest described her week long pony trek through the rural villages of Lesotho. Not sure if I will be racing out to partake in that but the visions of village life with the locals dressed in the rug style garb and the tinkling of cow bells as the soundtrack to the trip did transport you far away from the Western culture you know.

Cooking Journeys

Shock horror, I barely made it into the kitchen this week! With starting a new job, settling into a new routine and two week night work functions the kitchen was a lonely soul this week. My staff meeting did take me to a Greek restaurant called Olive in Mawson, Canberra. Being an Asian food aficionado it was good to me forced outside of my regular restaurant routine and this place was the real Greek deal, with a real greek Yia-Yia running the front of house (and the back too I’m guessing). As our group were pretty comfortable eating pretty much anything and everything we put ourselves in the hands of yia yia and she did not disappoint. Entree’s of marinated octopus, Oysters, breads and dips, some out of this world deep fried olives and saganaki it set the scene for the homemade Moussaka, lamb shoulder and slow cooked pork that followed. It made me long for a Greek holiday where the food is as important as life itself and where every kitchen has it's own yia yia. Strangely the desserts of Creme Brulee, Sticky Date Pudding and Tiramisu were not Greek at all which was a little disappointing but were delicious all the same. Not a bad way to conduct a staff meeting, looks like I have walked into the right workplace.

Olive Restaurant conjurers up thoughts if a Greek Paradise 

Holiday at Home

This weekend my hubby and myself had a spontaneous holiday at home in Canberra. We had booked to go to the movies to see Reese Witherspoons “Wild” at the Palace Electric Cinema’s in the trendy suburb of New Acton (get your hipster pants on to fit in around here) and whilst having post work drinks at the Fellow’s Bar at the Australian National University where Martin works (the university not the bar) we decided to check out the rates at the design property in New Acton called Hotel Hotel which has been tempting us ever since it’s unconventional form emerged from the ground. Lo and behold they had a deal on which they sweetened by offering a further industry discount (perks of the job) so we checked in with not a skerrick of luggage or even a change of clothes. The hotel itself was just as you expect, crazy retro/industrial decor, a luxurious lighting design and amenities and a room with a view over the lake and Parliament house, not a bad way to treat yourself. We had dinner at A.Baker across the road which never disappoints. It’s modern almost experimental menu is crafted by talented chef’s who are not afraid to innovate. So good in fact that we went back for breakfast they next day.

The movie “Wild” was a good escape from reality. Having done some very novice hiking with the hubby and having read the book by Cheryl Strayed that the movie is based on it was an experience to see the Pacific Crest Trail come to life and to know that even with little to no experience and a monster sized back pack called Monster anyone can undertake an epic journey. I just hope "Wild doesn't do for the PCT what "Eat, Pray, Love" did for Ubud. I think the trekking itself might ward to the hoards of lost 30's something women though.

We topped off the Saturday with a visit to the exhibition “In the Flesh” at the National Portrait Gallery of Australia which incorporated hyper realism sculpture my favourite being that of Sam Jinks. For $10 well worth the cost of admission and put Madame Tussaud's to shame. I couldn't help though look at some of the sculpture and think “wonder if I could make that in cake” that is what a cake decorator does, see’s the world in cake.

Originally posted on Monday, 19 January 2015 by

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Hungry Planet Lemongrass Pork Noodle Salad

Wow I have managed to resurface from the depths of summer holidays. We rocked the South Coast of New South Wales (along with 90% of the state) for Christmas. We completely blobbed out on the beach Christmas morning and cooked some delicious Chrissy meals, seafood of course.

My triumph of the season was the moist and tender huge fillet of salmon I cooked up whole with a divine marinade of lemon, dill, garlic & mustard.

So I thought I would stick with the summer theme with today's recipe (just to really rub salt in the wounds for all you Northern Hemisphereians, yes just made that word up)

Nothing goes down better after a hot day than a Vietnamese inspired noodle salad. It's fresh herbs and tangy dressing will have you longing for a trip to Vietnam where the food is only out shone by the wonderful smiles of the locals cooking it. I whipped this one up one evening and enjoyed it so much I thought I better share it with you.


1 bunch of mint chopped
1 bunch of coriander chopped
1 punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 Lebanese cucumber cut in half, de-seeded and sliced
3 green shallots sliced on the diagonal
200g rice stick noodles cooked as per instructions on the packet, drained & cooled under running water
3 tbs crushed toasted unsalted peanuts
handful of fresh bean sprouts

Pork Paste:
2 sticks of lemongrass finely chopped (white part only)
3 cloves of garlic chopped
2 green chilli's sliced
8 cm piece of fresh ginger sliced
2 tbs palm sugar

500g of pork mince
2/3 cup of chicken stock
2 tbs fish sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 finely sliced kaffir lime leaves

1 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
juice of 1/2 a lime
1 tbs tomato sauce
1 tbs sweet chilli sauce
1 tsp brown sugar

  • Add 2 tbs of oil to a pan and on a medium heat brown the pork mince. Whilst this is browning add the ingredients listed under "pork paste" above to a mortar one by one in order of how they appear and pound each till you form a paste.
  • Add paste to the pan with the browned pork. Fry for 5 minutes stirring paste through mince well.
  • Add to the pan the ingredients listed under the "pork" heading above.
  • Simmer on a medium heat till all liquid evaporates. Approx 15 minutes.
  • Whilst the mince cooks assemble all of the ingredients listed under "salad" in a salad bowl. Reserve the bean sprouts and peanuts as these will be added last.
  • Combine all dressing ingredients, mix well and set aside.
  • Once pork is ready, serve your salad onto your serving plates. Top with a helping of the pork, pour over your dressing to taste and garnish with bean sprouts and peanuts that you reserved from the salad ingredients.
Originally posted on Sunday, 18 January 2015 by