Monthly Archives: November 2012

Chocolate Hazlenut Indulgence Cake- My Own Creation.

If you are looking for a very indulgent chocolate cake that’s literally chocolate on chocolate on chocolate then this is the cake for you! It even has chunks of scrumptious hazelnut praline perched on top for that ultra gourmet touch. I have to admit that the end product really looked quite gourmet, almost professional in a home-baked kind of way.

I developed and made this cake for Geoff’s birthday the other night. I recommend using your usual chocolate cake recipe as we all have our favourites and if you are anything like me, you are quite particular. However, this recipe works well and is a very easy, quick mix recipe. You just throw everything into the mixing bowl and press the button. How easy is that?!!

I even surprised myself with the hazelnut praline “accessories”. I had never made praline before but had seen a recipe incorporating almond praline in a magazine at the hairdressers. They had crushed their praline up in a food processor but, as usual, I developed my own interpretation or “style”.

I love a good chocolate cake with hazlenuts so I decided to try a hazelnut praline and consulted Google for a recipe.

I was going to let the praline set as a slab. However, while I was pouring it out, I noticed strings of toffee and thought they would make a great decorative touch. I ended up pushing the hazlenuts apart with two forks (to prevent burning my fingers), which created some interesting, twisted shapes trailing with toffee threads. These looked quite spectacular for something so simple and tasted quite heavenly!! After all, who doesn’t like toffee?

Unfortunately, we’d gone out for Indian for Geoff’s birthday dinner and could barely squeeze in much of the cake…especially being so rich! So I’ve taken the toffee bits off and put the rest of the cake into the freezer for when Geoff’s sister visits on the weekend. I am thinking I might somehow turn it into a chocolate cake tiramisu. I could even recycle the praline. That does sound a bit ambitious but I have shocked myself quite a bit lately pulling things off.

Who knows? Perhaps, I might even make it onto Masterchef one day! You know how modest I am!

Chocolate Cake

185g butter

2 teas vanilla essence

1 3/4 cups castor sugar

3 eggs

2 cups self-raising flour

2/3 cup cocoa

1 cup water


Grease and line a deep 23cm round cake pan.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat on low speed until all ingredients are combined. Increase speed to medium for about 3 minutes or until mixture in smooth and changed in colour. Pour into prepared pan.

Chocolate Ganache

200g dark cooking chocolate

1 cup of cream

Place the chopped chocolate and the cream together in a small saucepan and melt gently over low heat.  Stir until the mixture is melted, glossy and smooth.  Place in a bowl and refrigerate until cool.  Once cool, use a whisk to bring the mixture together and ice as usual.


Whipped cream

Nutella Hazlenut Spread

Hazelnut Praline

½ cup sugar

1 cup of lightly roasted hazelnuts with skins removed.


Lightly roast hazelnuts making sure you don’t over cook them. I emphasise that they should be lightly roasted.

Rub roasted hazelnuts in a dry tea towel to remove skins.

Lightly grease a baking sheet.

In a dry heavy saucepan cook sugar over moderate heat, stirring with a fork, until melted and cook, without stirring, swirling pan, just until a golden caramel. Add hazelnuts, stirring until coated well. Immediately pour mixture onto baking sheet.

You can arrange this as a slab and then cut the praline with a large sharp knife or you can do it my way and separate the hazelnuts with a fork and create smaller pieces with stretched threads of toffee, which looked quite stunning. Try not to touch the praline as this removes its glossy appearance.


Cut the cake in half and coat the bottom half with about 1 cm of Nutella using a warm knife. Cover in whipped cream and add the top half of the cake.

Ice the top of the cake with chocolate ganache. Again use a warm knife.

Decorate the top with hazelnut praline.

Bon Appetit!

November 22, 2012

Yes, Minister…Morning Tea at NSW Parliament House.

Jazz in the Vines

It already seems like a lifetime ago. The weekend before last, Geoff and I escaped for a weekend away in the Hunter Valley about two hours North-west of Sydney. The Hunter Valley is wine country and we were staying at Cypress Lakes with Muscular Dystrophy NSW to attend Jazz in the Vines. We had an absolutely awesome time and really enjoyed living the high life.

Geoff took Friday off work and we went on a detour to Morpeth “on the way” to pick up the tea cosies which I’d bought on my last visit. We also had to restock our supplies of coconut ice, peanut brittle and fudge from Campbell’s and we enjoyed a lovely lunch.

We settled into our hotel and I had a short, long bath if that makes any sense. It was so relaxing and I could have stayed there for the night but we were off to the group dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food was magnificent even if I can’t quite remember what it was…a fish, a chicken dish perhaps. I don’t think I’ll ever get a job as a food critic.

Breakfast was included with our package and my excuse for eating so much was not having to buy lunch. I was good and started the day with yogurt, muesli and fruit but it soon went downhill and I was devouring the hash browns. There’s nothing like hash browns on a hotel buffet breakfast. They didn’t have pancakes on Saturday but they did on Sunday morning.  They were only fair…not the best I’ve had.

After breakfast, we all boarded the bus out to the Tyrell’s estate for Jazz in the Vines. Jazz in the Vines was celebrating its 20th Anniversary with an impressive line up of talent. We had special seating in the tent. I was just leaving the toilet when I heard Tom Burlinson (of Man From Snowy River – the movie fame) singing New York New York. I rushed down the front with my camera in tow like a woman possessed and captured a few new memories. I remember a band called Paris Dumper doing New York New York at the Nagg’s Head in Glebe too many lifetimes ago. We all used to do the Can Can back then when we could LOL!

Lisa Hunt was the final performer and she was fabulous. My favourite song was Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia. It was amazing. It was so good that I tried recording it on my mobile phone. I’ve never done that before but it was really, really good. Unfortunately, the recording sounds dreadful. Not worth keeping. I was down the front in what I guess you’d call the mosh pit and it was awesome being amongst it all. Looking at all the crazy and outlandish outfits and trying to dodge the many wine bottles which were rolling around in the grass. They did look rather deadly.

Jazz in the Vines wasn’t all just about wine. The Hunter Valley Cheese Company had a stand and we bought ourselves a cheese platter for lunch. Yum. Made plans to visit the factory on Sunday to continue my adventures of a cheesy.

As much as we loved Jazz in the Vines, perhaps the real entertainment was on the bus on the way home. There was a very interesting character…a bloke wearing a black afro wig. Geoff tells me an old lady on the bus asked if she could feel his wig. I missed that bit and all I saw was this bloke putting his wig on ton this old woman’s head. Then shoved it under her armpit and that wasn’t all. Then he was doing back flips in the aisle. I should be thankful. At least he kept his gear on although I’m surprised the bus driver didn’t throw him off. Kids have been busted on the school bus for much less.  This was all on a crowded bus. He kept saying that he came from Newport Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Geoff asked me how I’d feel if he was saying he was from our area. Hmm. Glad he wasn’t. We have dubbed him “the Ambassador for Newport”. He did a very impressive job…unforgettable at least!

I should also add that this bloke ended up sitting next to Geoff…what a contrast! I don’t think Geoff knew which way to look.

We had dinner back at the hotel. Again, it was fabulous and I do remember consuming a rather decadent chocolate pudding!

Sunday morning, I felt like a stuffed chook after yet another buffet breakfast. It was goodbye to all the Muscular Dystrophy crew and we were off to tour the vineyards after stopping off for a few photos along the way. I just had to photograph the roses and the vines together and I just might have photographed my teacup out there. Who would do something crazy like that??

We aren’t big wine drinkers and to be honest, I was more interested in the cheese. We went to the Hunter Valley Cheese Company for a tasting and a tour. This place is definitely worth a visit even if cheese is just a little naughty.

We bought some of the Hunter Gold Washed Rind Cheese and they had some kind of Irish cheddar which came in green wax. We didn’t buy some but I wish we had. It tasted great but also looked rather quirky with its green skin and I love quirky!! Might have to go back!

Our next stop was McGuigan’s next door where we entered the weird and wonderful world of wine.

As far as I’m concerned, wine comes in a bottle and most of it is undrinkable. I prefer very sweet, fruity wines and I’m usually offered Chardonnay which is very dry. I drink a wine and I either like it or I don’t and I almost burst out laughing when I hear people rave on about their wines:

“A kaleidoscope of flavours; ginger, apricots, honeycomb and toffee brittle. The palate is intensely rich however the acidity is a supreme counterfoil”

It sounds like something from a candy store!

You won’t get any of that fancy wine talk from me.

I didn’t even try to pretend that I knew what they were talking about. I didn’t need to show off although I was wishing I’d listened just a little more to all Dad’s wine talk. He is a wine connoisseur with a serious cellar. When we were kids, my brother used to do a very good send up of Dad sniffing his wine and pronouncing it a “jolly good year”. If it wasn’t, it was poured down the sink…no matter where it came from!

As for me, I don’t know a good year from a bad year. We bought a bottle of Merlot and a dessert wine…a Traminer. I have trouble writing about food and describing it. I have no chance of describing the wine other than to say that I could drink it. I am not much of a wine drinker and prefer sweet, fruity ones. I might as well stick to lemonade!

Next we drove round to Constables Vineyard, mainly to see the sculpture garden, however, we did buy another dessert wine. This one sounds like it could transmit a deadly disease..a Botrytus Semillon. I wasn’t far wrong. With this Botrytus stuff,  the vine is exposed to the “noble rot” of Botrytis cinerea which is a necrotrophic fungus. In other words, it’s a parasite. It consumes the water content of the fruit, concentrating the sugar present in its pulp. When attacked by Botrytis cinerea, the grapes shrivel and the acid and sugar levels are intensified.

All day Sunday, I had this sense of living on borrowed time. You know how it is when you are having a great holiday and you know you’re about to come crashing back to reality.

All too soon, we were at the station meeting up with my mother and the kids and I also had violin practice. Not good having to rush of to rehearsal after not touching the thing for a few days and right before the concert. Should have been practicing all day and being prepared.

Thank you Muscular Dystrophy for a fabulous weekend away.

xx Ro

The Rainbow Hospital

­Whenever I see a rainbow, I can’t help myself. I automatically search for the end of the rainbow and set about finding that elusive pot of gold. Even though I’m now a grown up and I know these things aren’t real, I can’t help myself. In my heart of hearts, I still believe in a bit of magic and pretend!

Never in my wildest dreams, would I have expected to find a hospital at the end of the rainbow but that’s what I’ve found.

Last Saturday, we had our first trip down to the new Royal North Shore Hospital and the kids took one look at the place and called it the “Rainbow Hospital”. This was quite interesting because the outside of the new hospital is predominantly grey but it does have some panels of colour and that’s certainly an improvement on the old “Brown Hospital”.

You might recall  I wasn’t all that thrilled about the new hospital and was still sentimentally attached to the old one in my previous post  about the hospital move  That all changed as soon as I stepped foot in the new hospital. It’s so light and airy, spacious…fresh. You could even call it stylish.

The very first thing I noticed when I walked inside was a bookshop…a real bookshop. That’s exactly what you need if you’re stuck in hospital for awhile. As usual, I couldn’t resist. I found Letters From Berlin by Kersten Dos and can’t put it down. It’s a true account of living in Berlin during WWII.

Then the rainbow colours hit. The lifts are all colour-coded. Moreover, all the curtains around the beds on the wards are all rainbow striped. I was quite impressed and it seemed like a lot of thought had gone into helping patients feel better mentally as well as physically. These curtains were certainly a lot more cheery than the usual hospital white-on-white but I do wonder how I’d feel after looking at those stripes for a couple of weeks and suspect a pair of sunnies might be in order.

We were down at the hospital for my regular blood infusion of immunoglobulin. We had arrived early and initially the place looked like a ghost town, although there were quite a few people wearing fancy t-shirts offering assistance. What we didn’t know was that Intensive Care and Emergency had only moved in the night before. The new hospital was brand spanking new and it was all very much in transition. This was quite interesting. We saw the Pink Ladies’ new home and it was still empty with a ladder inside. They would be moving in on Monday. It looked kind of weird… like arriving early for a party.

Due to some teething difficulties, I had to be admitted to have my treatment and was actually the first patient in the new Adult Assessment Unit in Acute Care.  It was all rather fun being the first patient and there was quite a buzz in the air. Again, there was all that settling in stuff like trying to find the light switch. The nurses were full of smiles and excitement, taking photos. It was quite fun watching the nurses explore their new surroundings and checking things out. The nurses also made me cups of tea, gave me a blanket and tucked me in. I could get used to this kind of treatment very easily!!

On Monday, I was back down again for my lung function tests back in the old “brown” hospital or  “chocolate b­­lock”, followed by an appointment in the new hospital so I was wandering between the two buildings. This felt quite weird really and a bit like traveling in between the departure and arrival lounges of two airports. It also felt like I was doing the time warp.

Sign outside the post office

Back at the brown hospital, some bits were still there and other bits had gone. The post office had moved but it was still business as usual upstairs on level 8 where I had my lung function tests. When I looked out the window, I noticed fields of yellow flowers in historic Gore Hill Cemetery next door and they looked just magnificent. There is such a timelessness there and those stone monuments have been there in many instances for over 100 years…a bit like Sleeping Beauty trapped in some kind of time warp although the myriad of flowers constantly change with the seasons.


Yellow flowers in Gore Hill Cemetery

Clinic 8 where I used to see my Rheumatologist

The brown hospital is also caught in some kind of time warp. Now that the new hospital is up and running, the old building is really looking old, worn out and ready for demolition. It is well beyond its use-by date.

The Pink Ladies’ Shop in the old hospital closes down.

The Pink Ladies

Monday was also moving day for the Pink Ladies, the hospital volunteers. The Pink Ladies are very dear to my heart (see post the Love of a Stranger). I visit their shop pretty much every time I visit, largely looking to buy second-hand books but I’m also lured in by the soft toys. I’ve also come to know a few of the ladies over the years and am a “regular”.


As you would have gathered by now, I have a bad track record with temptation. The shop was barely open and they were still very much in the throws of unpacking boxes, when I spotted a lonely, pink elephant sitting on the shelf. Of course, I couldn’t just leave it there and on the way out, couldn’t resist giving the elephant something of a tour. I can assure you that you won’t find photos like this in the official history.

Monday’s trip finished off with a chocolate flourless cake and a cappuccino talking to the pink elephant.

I’ve finally cracked!

PS I was lying in bed last night and I realised that I’ve glossed over a hell of a lot in this post. You look at my crazy pink elephant and it all looks happy happy joy joy when the reality was that at I was having a hard day and I was doing just about anything to feel just a bit better. I find my lung function tests very confronting and things at the hospital on Saturday were very stressful as well. I don’t usually hang out with pink elephants and I can also resist chocolate temptations as well but on Monday, I needed all my props to get me through the day. I felt quite dreadful to be honest but by the time I wrote the post, all the positives had sunk in. Many people have been very kind to me and I was feeling so much better.

I just thought I needed to be a bit honest about all of that because people tell me how positive I am but they don’t always see the whole picture. I can sink just like anyone else but I’ve also learned how to swim and how to find my way back to the surface! Sometimes it can be a long exhausting journey too but we are all on this path and I just appreciate everyone who is on this journey with me helping to clear the path.