Friday, May 20, 2011

Bean Nachos

In the late eighties I discovered a café in Sydney called Dean’s. Dean’s was (and still is) located in Kellett Street, Kings Cross. It was a small, somewhat dingy café with retro memorabilia hanging off the walls and old fifties tables and chairs with rattan chaise longues for furniture.

Dean’s was one of the few vegetarian restaurants in the Cross at the time. Not that I cared too much – but their menu was faithful. It included vegetarian lasagne, baba ganoush, vegetarian pate, and the piece de resistance, bean nachos.

Because Dean’s was open until impossibly late on weekends, we’d frequently head there after a night our clubbing or as the obligatory dawn end to a dance party. Our menu choice: the monster nachos. We’d get one, share it, and woe be tide anyone who was tardy into getting to Dean’s. There was never any left for them!

We made friends with the people who ran Dean’s and eventually some of us even got jobs there. I asked what the secret of the beans on the nachos was, and I was told to mind my own business. But late one night, one of the staff admitted to me that it contained parsley and he thought it made all the difference. I think the fact that the beans were blended into a paste helped too. There were no unsightly whole kidney beans hanging off the corn chips. No cloggy ground beef. Just beans. Refired ones, I guessed.

We had some great nights at Dean’s Café. In the summer of 88/89, a stinking hot year, I remember sitting on one of the chaise longues at about 4.00am. The duke box had been turned off and the ghetto blaster was playing instead. Can You feel It by Mr Fingers was pumping through the restaurant. We were hot, we were young, and in fact, I think we still might have believed at that point that we had the world at our feet. When I close my eyes, I can still feel the sheen of perspiration on my skin, and smell the acrid smoke of cigarettes trapped in my hair, thanks to the appallingly bad air circulation in the clubs we liked to go to then.

It’s worth saying that the first time I ever heard of sticky date pudding was at Dean’s Café. Therefore I’m going to say that I believe, unequivocally, that Dean’s invented the dish, which has been popularised in restaurants and cafes across Australia as standard dessert fare. Thank God Dean’s recipe for flour free chocolate cake never took off in the same way - it wa just too good to share.

I’ve always taken the special people in my life to Dean’s for a nachos. “Trust me,” I tell them. “This is the best nachos in the world”. Once they’ve had it, they always agree.

1 can refried beans
large pinch of freshly ground black pepper
small pinch seas salt
1 tblsp dried parsley leaves
1/4 cup of tomato puree
8 drops Tabasco sauce
100g plain corn chips
80gm grated tasty cheese (low fat is good!)

1 avocado
8 drops Tabasco sauch
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

2 tblsp sour cream to garnish
2 tsp hot chilli sauce to garnish

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius.
2. Combine the refrued beans, tomato puree, Tabasco sauce, parsley, pepper and salt in the bowl of your Kitchenaid (or another bench top mixer). Mix oon first gear until ingredients are well combined. Taste - this mix is really about the pepper so add a little more if you feel it needs it.
3. Arrange the corn chips on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Pipe teaspoonfuls of the bean mix onto each corn chip, using a piping bag fitted with a 1cm round piping tube.
4. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of grated cheese on top of the bean mix. Bake in th oven until cheese is melted - about five minutes.
5. Pipe half a teaspoon of guacamole onto each nacho. Then carefully position a quarter of a teaspoon of sour cream on top of the guacamole. Drizzle hot chilli sauce over each. And serve!

1. Scoop the avocado flesh into a small bowl. Add the Tabasco sauce, lemon juice, salt and pepper and mash together with a fork. Switch to a spoon and mix until ingredients are just combined. Do not over mix! Chunky guacamole is what you want.

Notes: Any left over bean paste can be stored in a glass jar in the fridge. It will keep for about a week. This bean paste also makes a great dip! Refried beans have less than 1g of fat per serve so they’re a relatively guilt free treat! The cheese and the sour cream are where the fat is in this recipe. If you’re watching your fat content, choose light versions of each to limit fat intake. In Australia, Doritos Original Corn Chips are gluten free and therefore are a great choice for your base corn chips. If you’re a wheat eater, you might like to choose the Nacho Cheese Doritos to further add to the flavour of this meal.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Helping others with their hunger

On this blog I talk about food and eating as if everyone in the world can get a meal of anything they want, any time they want. But for some people in the world that simply isn't the case. Millions of people on our planet struggle to get to have a single meal a day. So my husband and I decided to do something about it.

My husband is a brilliant illustrator, whose work appears at Brandi. He's donated one of his illustrations, printed on canvas, to The Hunger Project's silent auction, which takes place in Pert this weekend. But thanks to the web, anyone can bid on his artwork no matter where they are in the world. if you'd like to own this piece of art, just bid using the absentee bid button. Follow the link here: Brandi art auction.

We also sponsored another artist, photographer Tess Peni, to donate an artwork for the auction. It's a beautiful photo of carp printed on canvas. You can check it out here: Carp by Tess Peni.

Every dollar raised in this auction goes towards ending hunger on the planet.

Monday, May 09, 2011


How many of us feel hamstrung when it comes to producing something that involves pastry? I have to say as I've gotten older and more experienced in the kitchen, my pastry skills seem to have diminished. To the point where I've basically given up and just buy frozen ready-rolled pastry.

But when I saw Maggie Beer demonstrate her approach to pastry last Friday night, I felt I could give it another go. It's worth noting that I don't have a food processor. It's the one thing in my kitchen that is missing - mainly because I have no where to put one. And to be honest, in the past I've been let down by food processors. But that's a story for another post! This recipe is made using my trusty Kitchen Aid.

250g plain flour
200g salt-reduced butter
5-6 tblsp milk

1. Place the flour and chopped butter in the bowl of your Kitchen Aid. Using the dough hook attachment, begin mixing the flour and butter together until it resembles lumpy bread crumbs. Make sure the butter is at room temperature. You'll need to use fourth or sixth gear to draw in the butter and flour at the sides of the bowl.
2. Add milk one tablespoon at a time - I only used 5 tablespoons of milk in this recipe. Maggie Beer used 160g sour cream for liquid in her recipe, but I don't see the need to add additional fat to the pastry. I've used milk, but you could also use iced water for an even more low fat option. Run the Kitchen Aid on first gear to lightly combine. Do not over mix! The mixture still needs to be lumpy and crumbly. As Maggie said, if you can still see lumps of butter, that's good.
3. Tip the mixture out onto a floured surface. Begin drawing the mixture together into a square shape, pressing it from the sides and the top to make it level all round. Do not knead the dough! Once it's sticking together, wrap it in Gladwrap and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
4. Re-flour the bench then begin rolling the pastry out with a rolling pin. Try very hard to keep it in the square shape. Make sure you roll it so it's the same thickness all over.
5. Roughly cut the pastry into the shape you need it, leaving about an inch and a half extra. Maggie said this pastry shrinks and you just have to accept it. The extra will hopefully compensate for shrinkage. Line your baking tin witht he pastry - I used a teflon coated fluted tart tin which didn't need greasing. Sit the excess up straight if you can, then cover and put in the fridge to rest. Try and leave it 30 minutes if you can (I went and washed my hair to stop myself from getting it out too soon).
6. By now you should have your oven pre-heated to 180 degrees celsius (you know the drill). Dock the base of the pastry with a fork, ensuring it's got a good amount of holes to stop it from puffing up or bubbling. Line the pastry with a piece of baking paper, then fill it with pastry weights or beans or rice ready for blind baking.
7. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the paper and weights and inspect the excess pastry around the edges of the tin. Mine had flopped over and looked unsightly so I took my rolling pin and literally rolled the top edge of the tin to sever the excess. This left a really neat edge on the tart. I was going to throw the excess away, but instead I left it on the tray to keep cooking.
8. Fill the tart with whatever you're putting in there (or nothing if you're putting cold filling in later) and return it to the oven for a further 20 minutes.

Notes: I filled my tart with ricotta and spinach filling (the same as I use in filo triangles). I found the bottom of the tart hadn't been cooked enough in the blind baking, so it was still soft on the bottom of the tart. This is easily remedied with extra time at the blind baking stage.

The excess bits of pastry I left to cook were the revelation! They were caramel-brown, buttery and flakey!! I have honestly never cooked such good pastry in my life! This has left me with a few ideas for this recipe - namely cooking the tart shell then painting it with melted chocolate and filling it with lemon curd. I might do this by the end of the week, since I have loads of beautiful lemons in the fridge right now.

Thanks Maggie Beer for this amazing way of doing pastry. It really was fool proof. Just follow the instructions to the letter and it will work!

Chocolate Bronwies

Brownies are not an Australian phenomenon. They come to us via the good ole' US of A, and we can all thank the Baker for that! The only thing in Australian baking that comes close to a brownie is the humble chocolate coconut slice, which is a bit more like a flat biscuit and is covered in icing and sprinkled with coconut. A chocolate brownie is a whole other proposition - the best ones, in my opinion, are intensely chocolate and extremely moist. In January this year I published a recipe for Black & White Brownies. I was happy with the chocolate component, but when I cooked it on its own for my in-laws a couple of weeks later I found it was a bit on the thin side, and slightly cakey. Since then I've been thinking about how to perfect this brownie and I am pleased to say I have finally gotten it to a point when I think I've aced myself! Try it out and let me know if you agree!

400g high quality dark cooking chocolate (I use Callebaut)
375g salt reduced butter, chopped
2 cups caster sugar
2 tblsp vanilla essence
2 tblsp Dutch cocoa powder
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup almond meal
6 large eggs
pure icing sugar for dusting

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 in a fan faust). Line a 20x30cm brownie tin with baking paper, ensuring there's about an inch and a half extra above the top of the tin on both of the long sides. If your tin isn't teflon coated, thoroughly grease the other two sides to ensure the brownie doesn't stick.
2. Combine the chocolate, butter and sugar in a large glass bowl. Microwave on high for 2-3 minutes or until the butter is mostly melted. Be careful not to burn the chocolate.
3. Stir the mixture until the chocolate is completely melted and the ingredients are well combined.
4. Add the vanilla, flour, almond meal and eggs. Mix with a balloon whisk until thoroughly combined. Make sure there are no lumps!
5. Pour the mixture into the brownie tin. It will almost fill the entire tin but don't worry - it won't bubble over the sides. Place in the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remember, brownies need to be on the undercooked side, so decrease the cooking time according to how you know your oven performs.
6. When cooked allow the brownie to stand in the tin until it's completely cold. This is really important! It's best to make the brownie the day before you need it to ensure it's had time to settle. Run a sharp knife down the sides of the brownie where there's no baking paper to loosen it from the tin. Use the flaps of paper on the long sides as handles to lift it out and place it on a chopping board.
7. Carefully cut the brownie into 16 5cm x 7.5cm pieces. I seriously use a ruler to get the measurements right! Push it all back together and cover with a thick dusting of icing sugar. Then serve!

Note: Some people love the edges of the brownie for their chewiness. I can't say this brownie is particularly chewy, but in any case, I don't like edges! There's a new brownie tin out that's kind of Z-shaped so you can get more edges. You won't see me baking with one of these! You'll be happy to know the edges on this brownie are virtually as squidgey as the middle. Which is the whole point!

Friday, May 06, 2011

My Little Pony cute Cupcake Book

I am thrilled to announce I have finally published a book! It's not the long awaited Kitchen Alchemy book - it's something entirely different. I was very fortunate last year to be asked to design 12 cupcakes for the My Little Pony Cute Cupcake Book. My Little Pony is a world-wide phenomenon. The seven core ponies, Rainbow Dash, Toola Roola, Cheerilee, Pinkie Pie, Scootaloo, Star Song and Sweetie Belle have been creating fun and joy for little girls aged three to seven for over 25 years. So you can imagine I jumped at the chance to work with Hasbro and The Five Mile Press on this unique project. This month the My Little Pony Cute Cupcake Book is released in Australia through Scholastic Books. It features recipes and detailed decoration instructions for seven cupcakes based on the ponie, plus five extra cupcakes representing the world the ponies love to live in. It also comes with stickers and party invitation. I'm so excited to have been involved with the creation of this book. It's a wonderful gift for a little girl and anyone who enjoys baking cupcakes. If you'd like a copy check out page three of the Scholastic Catalogue by following this link: Scholastic Books