The musical fruit

I didn't like refried beans until fairly recently. In fact, it wasn't until after I'd tried feijoada that I started liking bean dishes of any sort. Now beans of all sorts are amongst my favourite foods.

Obviously canned refried beans are the most convenient, but not all brands are created equal, Some of them smell suspiciously close to dog food, or have a strange consistency. With that in mind, I decided to try making my own. The following is what I came up with. I don't think I'll be buying tinned beans again.

Frijoles Refritos

2 tbspn olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic
6 slices pickled jalapeno
2 x 425g can kidney beans, drained*
1 x 425g can cannellini beans, liquid reserved
1 tspn smoked paprika
2 tspn cumin
1 can beer


Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion, garlic and chilli and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the paprika and cumin and cook until fragrant. Add the beans, including the liquid from the cannellini beans. Add the beer and stir to combine. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer from one to two hours, until the beans are soft. Stir regularly to make sure the beans don't stick. When the beans are soft, mash with a potato masher to the desired consisteny - I like some of the beans to remain whole.

Serve with rice or as part of your favourite Mexican food.

Bean dip

Use the leftovers - if you have any - for a simple but tasty dip, by combining equal parts beans and yoghurt, with lime juice to make the consistency you like.

*If you prefer to use dried beans, prepare the beans by covering with water, bring to the boil then remove from heat and soak for at least an hour before cooking. This reduces the toxicity of the kidney beans and means you won't end up with what seems like a bout of food poisoning.

Cake extravaganza

Grown up birthdays are going to be on the back burner for us for a while - the small person doesn't allow for a whole night spent away yet, and most certainly would not support a cocktail party. So in an attempt to make the bread winner's birthday a bit special, I came up with a cake extravaganza.

I'm not quite sure what to call it. Being a layered mud cake, I thought something geology-related might be nice. Then again, the chocolate, caramel and nut layers make it somewhat like a Snickers bar. All I know is that it isn't for the faint hearted or anyone attempting to lose weight.

Unnamed mud cake

Chocolate layer

250g dark chocolate
250g butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup hot water
2 tspn vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Caramel layer

250g butter
200g white chocolate
1 cup, firmly packed, dark brown sugar
3/4 cup hot water
1 tbspn golden syrup
2 tspn vanilla essence
2 eggs
1 cup plain flour
1 cup self-raising flour


100g milk chocolate
1/4 cup cream
2 tbspn nut paste


200g dark chocolate
1/2 cup cream


Preheat the oven to 160 C. Grease 2 x 20 cm square pans and line the bases with baking paper. Starting with the chocolate layer, place the butter, dark chocolate, sugar, oil and water in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until melted and smooth. Remove from heat, add vanilla and allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Sift the flour and cocoa together. Add the chocolate mix and stir to combine. Place in the batter in one of the pans and bake for 90 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out with crumbs.

To make the caramel layer, place the white chocolate, sugar, butter, syrup, water and vanilla in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until the chocolate has melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Add the eggs and mix thoroughly. Sift the flour and add to the chocolate mixture. Stir to combine. Place in the oven and bake for 60 minutes until a skewer in the middle comes out with crumbs.

Remove both layers from the oven and allow to cool in pan for at least 20 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

To make the filling, melt the milk chocolate, then add the cream. Beat with a spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Stir through the nut paste.

Finally melt the remaining dark chocolate, then add the cream and beat until smooth and glossy.

To assemble the cake, use a cake layer slicer/leveler to cut the chocolate cake into two even halves. Level the caramel layer. Place one of the chocolate layers on a serving plate, then spread with half the nut filling. Top with the caramel layer, and cover with the remaining nut filling. Place the second chocolate layer on top. Spread the ganache evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Allow the filling to set, then serve. As a very rich cake, this should be enough for at least 16 people.


When it comes to kitchenware and cooking, I'm more than a bit of a gadget girl. This week, we've acquired a new stick mixer and a breadmaker. Both have had a bit of a work-out over the week, and I'd have to say I'm pretty happy with both of them. And being happy with them, when I invited a group of friends over for lunch, I had to use both of them.

The food: Soup
The Gadget: Wizz Stick Plus

I'm kind of clumsy, so the extra length of the Wizz Stick Plus is a definite plus, keeping me out of the way of hot soup splashes. It's got two speeds, the low one being about the same as the standard speed of my old stick mixer. Altogether, it did a good job of blending the soup to a really smooth consistency.

Leek and Potato Soup

1 tbspn olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or chopped
2 leeks, thinly sliced
700g potato, peeled and chopped
1.25 litres vegetable stock

Cream to serve


Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan. Saute the onion until translucent, then add garlic and continue cooking for around a minute. Add the leek and potato, stir, then add stock. Cover, and allow to simmer until potato is tender - depending on the size of the potato pieces, this should be around 20 minutes. When soft, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Using the slow setting on the stick mixer, break up the large chunks of potato. For an extra smooth soup, blend on the high setting. Serve with a dollop of cream and garnish with chopped spring onion.

The food:Ciabatta

The gadget: SmartBake Breadmaker

The SmartBake has a horizontal pan, which sounds like it should make a loaf with pretty normal dimensions. But that's only true when you compare it to a standard breadmaker which, generally speaking, would produce a loaf more like a tower than anything you see at the local bakery. That said, it certainly makes a nice loaf, kneading perfectly and rising just the right amount. And it's super easy to keep clean, which is always a bonus.

Since I'm fairly new to bread making, I used a packet of bread mix instead of bread flour, improver and what not. Having bought 5 kilos of bread flour yesterday, I'm sure there'll be plenty of more authentic recipes to come.


1 pkt crusty white bread mix
4.5 tspns dried yeast
420 mls water


Place the ingredients in the bread maker in the suggested order for your machine. Select a dough only setting - for the SmartBake, the pizza dough setting is the best one. Allow the machine to knead and prove the dough once, then remove from the pan. The dough will be very sticky and elastic. Divide the dough into two pieces and pull each half into an elongated oval shape. It should be fairly flat. Place the dough on an oiled baking tray and allow to rise for 30 - 45 minutes. The longer it rises, the coarser the bread will be. Leaving it to rise for any less than 30 minutes will result in a loaf that's like a standard white bread only denser. Bake at 210 C until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.


Pizzas really are a simple meal to prepare - here's last night's effort that went down very well with the primary care giver.

Artichoke Pizza

12 inch pre-sauced pizza base
Pizza sauce
Half green capsicum
Two button mushrooms
Pickled artichoke hearts (in vinegar)
Half stick of goats cheese
Pizza cheese

Start with the pizza base on a pizza tray - I've found the best ones are the refridgerated ones with preapplied sauce in the deli. There's never enough sauce, so I use Leggo's pizza sauce in a squeeze bottle - more flavour than plain tomato paste which I used to use, and a full tub of tomato paste is too much and you end up wasting some. Use the back of a dessert spoon to evenly apply the sauce. I usually add some garlic flakes at this point for extra flavour.

Light sprinkling of cheese directly on the sauce. Don't put too much cheese on - it will form a cheese bubble that burns and ruins the pizza.
Add diced green capsicum, sliced button mushrooms, then add eight artichoke hearts evenly spaced - you want them to be the feature ingredient of each slice. Make sure the artichoke is well drained - too many liquidy ingredients are the death of a good pizza. Goats cheese can be a bit tricky - if it's a firm cheese, you can add medallions of it, but if it's soft, sticky or crumbly, you're stuck spreading it as best you can. Goats cheese is a personal preference - and the most expensive ingredient. $8 worth only does two pizzas, but complements the artichoke so well, it's worth it.

When applying your ingredients, remember that the finished pizza is going to be cut into slices - leave the middle fairly bare of toppings to help with slicing. Add more cheese on top to finish - leave a bit of a well in the middle, and don't spill cheese onto the edge of the crust - it will burn. Sprinkle with oregano to finish.

Pizzas don't take long to cook - 12 to 14 minutes in a fan forced oven at 250C should be enough - commercial pizzas are cooked in only 6 minutes! You want the cheese to be just brown. Cut the pizza almost immediately after coming out of the oven - it will cool quickly. No need for parmesan with this pizza - the flavour of the goats cheese and the artichoke is the main attraction.

Trust me, after having worked in a pizza shop - make your own at home :)

Cookie time

The small person has started having sleeps through the day which has meant baking is back on the agenda. So far I haven't attempted anything too adventurous - he's just as likely to wake up at a crucial moment. Biscuits seemed like a good starting point. Muesli biscuits are a bit like Anzacs, only with less fuss. I like to think the dried fruit makes them a little more nutritious.

Muesli Biscuits

125 g butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 tspn vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup oats
1 tspn bicarb soda
3/4 cup dried fruit
1/4 cup coconut


Preheat the oven to 170 C and line a cookie sheet with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla essence and beat well. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Roll small amounts of dough into balls and place on the cookie sheet. Press to flatten. Bake for around 25 minutes until golden brown.

More winter warmers

Since the recent addition of a small person to the household, cooking has been a bit on the back burner. The weekly fruit and veg delivery hasn't changed though, and we've got something of a backlog in the crisper. On investigating yesterday, I found three heads of broccoli; clearly it was time to do something about it.

This soup serves 4 to 6 people, depending on how hungry they are.

Cheesey broccoli soup

1 onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tspn cardamon
1 tspn cracked pepper
1 tbspn olive oil
2 heads broccoli
1 litre stock
1 tspn mustard
1 cup cream
2 tbspn cornflour
1.5 cups cheese, grated


Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Roughly chop the onion and saute until transparent. Add the garlic, cardamon and pepper and continue to cook for around a minute. Add the stock and roughly chopped broccoli. Bring to the boil and cook until the broccoli is tender. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Using a stick mixer, puree the mixture until smooth. Add the cream and stir through. Put the cornflour in a jug or bowl, and add around half a cup of soup. Mix to a smooth paste. Return to the pot and heat again, stirring constantly to thicken.

Divide the soup evenly between bowls and sprinkle cheese on top. Place under griller until the cheese bubbles. Serve with crusty bread.

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