Tag Archives: chocolate cake

Weekend Coffee Share 16th July, 2017.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

There’s a chocolate cake in the oven at the moment, so if you’re patient you’ll be able to have a slice of luscious chocolate cake with your choice of coffee, tea or Bonox. Quite frankly, I don’t recommend the Bonox and to be honest, I don’t think we have any. It’s just an expression my mother’s always used. Have you heard it before?

What have you been up to?

The kids have been on school holidays for the last two weeks and go back on Tuesday. I’ve been running around like a maniac trying to get the house and the kids ready. So, making the chocolate cake wasn’t such a good idea. Cocoa spread all over the kitchen and is a beast to clean up and while the icing was scrumptious, the cake itself was very dry and has been deemed a fail. The fan isn’t working in the oven and it’s clearly time to wave the white flag and put baking on hold until it’s fixed.

The school holidays have flown past. Our daughter’s been doing dance workshops and preparing for her upcoming Grade IV RAD ballet exam. Meanwhile, our son spent the first week at my parents’ place and the second week he was rehearsing for Gang Show, an annual variety show put on by Guides and Scouts. We attended their performance last night and loved it and were so proud of him. He smiled throughout the entire performance and really must’ve been enjoying himself. If you have an opportunity to attend a Gang Show near you, I strongly encourage it. Society is so quick to judge our young people when they do something wrong, but they also need our support when they’re doing something right. You will probably see more polished performances elsewhere, and you might find some of it slow or geared towards another age group, but there’s also a magic in a good, inclusive amateur performance. Something which leaves you warm inside, simply because.

By the way,  I should mention that the theme for this year’s show was holidays and included classics like Surfing USA by the Beach Boys, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from Mary Poppins. Hearing those classics again, is always good.

Alongside these activities, we have still been grieving the loss of our precious Border Collie, Bilbo three weeks ago. The grief is starting to lift now, and writing about him has helped. I’ve also been writing about our first tentative steps without him. This has included being sorely tempted to adopt Stella, a four year old Maltese x Tibetan Spaniel which a friend had in rescue. However, we have decided to wait awhile and get a Border Collie pup in the New Year. In the meantime, I spotted a pseudo Border Collie and brought him home. He’s been christened “FB”, or Fake Bilbo. Having him around, has been unexpectedly good. Perhaps, we could also call him “Clayton”…the dog you have when you don’t have a dog, although Lady just growled at me and reminded me that we still have a real dog.She was most upset.

As it turns out, I’ve been driving the kids around a fair bit over the last two weeks. For me this is a bit on a mixed bag. On the one hand, being in the car is ideal for catching up with them and I love driving them around with their friends in the car. I learn so much and feel part of their lives. On the other hand, it can be stressful driving to unfamiliar places, especially when they’re late. It can feel like you’re putting too much of yourself out there, and it can be quite draining.

It’s just not the driving, but lately I’ve been feeling quite lost. Like I’ve pouring myself out all the time and there isn’t much left. That I’m running close to empty and aside from having a nap, I’m not sure how to recharge myself. The usual sparks like trying to write my book or going out for coffee with friends, aren’t lighting the fire. I had thought of going away for a few days in the holidays by myself, but after losing Bilbo I didn’t want to leave Lady at home by herself. I know these thoughts are leading me in a new direction and I’m currently at that point where you can’t see the dots joining up and the overall picture is still obscured. That it will come. My daughter starts high school next year and won’t need so much taxiing which will be good. Yes, I can see myself finding my feet again in the new year, although there always seems to be something going on  and it’s my job to be the wind beneath their wings. Yet, I also need to fly and it’s a struggle to find that balance. Indeed, sometimes this song comes to mind:

“What about me? It isn’t fair
I’ve had enough, now I want my share
Can’t you see, I want to live
But you just take more than you give”

I have no doubt that kids forget their parents also need to be nurtured, recharged and get that all-important pat on the back. No one can keep giving and giving and keep living. If you’ve ever read Shel Silverstein’s: The Giving Tree, I find that illustrates this well.

Have you ever felt like this as a parent?

On the other hand, these trips often take me to places I wouldn’t go and while I’m waiting, I can go exploring.

Last week, I ended up in Gosford for a few hours while my daughter was at a birthday party. I ended up talking to a bloke I met in the lift for an hour. He turned out to be a musician and a writer, but then started to talk to me about aliens living amonst us and conspiracy theories and I decided to go for a walk.

Gosford is a funny place. It terms of location, it has so much going for it. It’s on the waterfront and has a train station and is 30 mins to Sydney and just over an hour to the heart of Sydney. Yet, it somehow became the old part of town and many parts of it are tired if not derelict. It’s clearly a place which could use and well deserves a good facelift, and this is slowly coming along.

So, after walking to check out some Autumn trees, I came across the skating rink, which had been set up for the holidays. My daughter had been keen to go, but has been too busy. That’s a bit of a shame, because skating outdoors like this isn’t something we’re used to in Australia and it’s rather special. So, it would be good to experience and support it. I want them to keep it up.

To fill you in on recent posts, there have been a few about dogs:

Resisting Temptation.

Our Surrogate Dog

There’s also been my usual contribution for Friday Fictioneers: A Shimmer of Moonlight and an account of my first go at cooking with fennel, which is quite an odd looking thing to me: Cooking An Alien Being

So how has your week been?

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Part-Time Monster Blog.

xx Rowena

 

 

 

Nigella’s Nutella Cake with Rowena’s Raspberry Cream

After a very extensive preamble, here is my revised version of Nigella’s Nutella Cake. The ingredients are the same but I’ve added more detail to the directions after I encountered difficulties.

If you check out Nigella’s recipe online, she writes: “Not only is this one of the easiest cakes to make, it happens – joyously – to be one of the most delicious. My household is totally addicted!”

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Yum! Just check out all that Nutella and melted chocolate.

To be perfectly honest with you, this cake is NOT easy to make. You have to separate eggs and whisking the egg whites by hand, is open to disaster and exhaustion and after two attempts, we’re still fine tuning the cooking time. It also generates a lot of washing up.

However, there’s something about this cake that encourages me to persevere. It definitely improves after a night to set in the fridge and I love it served with fresh raspberries and cream and I needed a good coverage of roasted hazelnuts on top to break up the richness of the cake. They also provided that much sought after “crunch”.

So, I would consider this a special occasion cake for adults.While my kids do have a very sensitive palate and don’t like dark chocolate, they found the cake “too bitter” and really didn’t like it.

As I found Nigella’s icing too runny after two attempts, I have included an alternative recipe for dark chocolate ganache, which has worked for me in the past.

Nutella Cake

Ingredients

For the Cake

6 large eggs (separated)

1 pinch of salt

125 grams soft unsalted butter

400 grams nutella (1 large jar..NOT the jumbo size)

1 tablespoon frangelico (or rum or water)

100 grams ground hazelnuts

100 grams dark chocolate (melted)

Dark Chocolate Ganache

  • 250g dark cooking chocolate, chopped
  • 1/3 cup double cream

100 grams hazelnuts (peeled weight)

Raspberry Cream

Double Cream

1 punnet fresh raspberries

Sifted icing sugar to taste.

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4/350ºF.
  2. Melt chocolate in the microwave, following packet instructions. Put aside to cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl 1: whisk the egg whites and salt by hand until stiff but not dry. This means soft peaks but not until the foam starts to ball up. Put aside but you need to move quickly or the foam will liquefy.
  4. In Mix Master bowl 2: Beat the butter and Nutella together, and then add the Frangelico (or whatever you’re using), egg yolks and ground hazelnuts.
  5. Into Bowl 2: Fold in cooled, melted chocolate, then lighten the mixture with a large dollop of egg white, which you can beat in as roughly as you want.
  6. Bowl 2: Fold in remaining egg white a third at a time.
  7. Pour into a 23cm/9 inch round greased and lined springform tin and cook for 40 minutes or until the cake’s beginning to come away at the sides, then let cool on a rack. The cake will still be moist and wet inside, so do not overcook.
  8. Hazlenuts: Toast the hazelnuts either in a moderate oven or in a dry frying pan until the aroma wafts upwards and the nuts are golden-brown in parts: keep shaking the pan so that they don’t burn on one side and stay too pallid on others. Transfer to a plate and let cool. It’s imperative that they’re cold they go on the ganache while If your hazelnuts have skins on then after toasting in the frying pan transfer them to a slightly dampened tea towel and rub them while they are still warm to remove the skins.

To Make The Icing

  1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the cream, liqueur or water and chopped chocolate, and heat gently. Once the chocolate’s melted, take the pan off the heat and whisk until it reaches the right consistency to ice the top of the cake

Assembling The Cake

Unmould the cooled cake carefully, leaving it on the base as it will be too difficult to get such a damp cake off in one piece.

Ice the top of the cake with ganache, and cover with whole, toasted hazelnuts.

Slice cake into small portions, as it is quite rich and plate up with a generous scoop of raspberry cream.

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….

Enjoy and if you do make the cake, please let me know how it goes. I’m rather curious.

Nigella’s Heartbreak…Her Nutella Nightmare.

Once upon a time, Nigella Lawson published her hit cookbook: How To Be A Domestic Goddess. The book included her famous Nutella Cake, which I have subsequently tested, crashed and tasted.

Basking in the media spotlight, however, Nigella was oblivious to the troubles brewing on distant shores. That while there was the beauty, there would also be the beast. That her once elegant creation, would erupt with a dangerous avalanche of chocolate ganache and roasted hazelnuts all over a fancy plate. Moreover, that this mighty beast, which should only ever been known as “The Avalanche”, would masquerade around the World Wide Web as Nigella’s Nutella Cake…the very one, yet nothing like the same.

Nigella Nutella Cake

Nigella’s Nightmare…The Avalanche.

I’m sure she’s not amused!

Naturally, you have to feel sorry for her. It’s all very well when people post their successes and flood social media with stunning, visually scrumptious photographs. However, there’s always that idiot who can’t follow the instructions. Rather than taking responsibility for their horrific screw-ups, they then have the audacity to attach her name to their disaster…”This is Nigella’s Nutella Cake. “

If anyone was within their rights to sue, Nigella has a very, very strong case.

Looks like I’d better watch out!

Please forgive me, Nigella. I have sinned!

Of course, once you publish anything, you have to let your “baby” go. Leave it, for better or worse, in your reader’s hands. That’s the risk you take. Otherwise, all of us writers would simply leave all of our babies locked away in the bottom drawer.

However, when you’re a famous chef or cook and your baby is a recipe book, the risks intensify. Not only will your readers inevitably criticise your work, they could well screw up your recipes and post photographic evidence on every social media platform on the planet. This, of course, is an absolute public relations disaster! Your reputation, your precious reputation is hanging round your ankles along with those wretched undies with the broken elastic, and it’s not your fault!

No doubt, that’s too much for even a Domestic Goddess to bear!

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Dip your finger in! Can’t you just taste the Nutella’s magic?

After all, is it her fault that they can’t follow a simple recipe? That they don’t understand that “whisk the meringue” doesn’t mean beat the living daylights out of it, sending it past the Emergency Department and straight to City Morgue. It’s not HER fault that the meringue’s  gone flat because you forgot to prepare your ingredients beforehand (a process known as mise en place among chefs) and had to send your nearest and dearest off to the shops to replace the chocolate someone else has thieved from the pantry. AND, it isn’t Nigella’s fault they have a temperamental oven, whose temperatures yoyo up and down like it has a weird tropical fever.

However, when her challenged followers show off their flops, Nigella gets the blame.

That is, as long as they don’ claim “it was an act of God”.

Anyway, after seeing Nigella on Australian Masterchef recently, I was inspired to bake her Nutella Cake. Although I’ve had a few baking disasters in the past, I was quietly confident. The recipe says it’s easy peasy and how could a cake made with a jar of Nutella, possibly go wrong?

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My son adding extra Nutella to his cake. He doesn’t like dark chocolate and found the cake “bitter”.

You’d be surprised.

Or, on the other hand, maybe not!

Indeed, even for me, this cake was a disaster and I’m actually struggling to find anything I did right.

It all began with beating the egg whites. Or, should I say “whisking” the egg whites. I forgot that I wasn’t making my pavlova. That “whisk” really means is “hand whisk” using one of those big balloon-shaped contraptions you see on Masterchef.

I know that now.

Then, there were the cooking times. We had a lot of trouble trying to work out when the cake was ready. Unfortunately, this was compounded the fact I had to go out while the cake was still in the oven and left its future in my husband’s usually very capable hands. He did what you usually do. Stuck a skewer in the cake until it came out clean. That was until the top started “caramelizing” and he realized he’d missed the moment. However, overcooking it meant I could cut the cake in half to fill it with whipped cream and fresh raspberries. Well, that was until the top layer broke into several pieces which I patched up again with my sloppy ooze of milk chocolate ganache. Yes, despite beating and adding icing sugar and butter, the icing never resembled a spreadable consistency.

Time to take a swig of the Frangelico. By the way, Nigella recommends serving a glass of Frangelico with the cake.

I should mention that I used milk chocolate for the ganache as my kids don’t like dark chocolate. They have sensitive taste buds and I suspect they could be supertasters. Supertasters have extra tastebuds on the tongue. That must be it. Surely, it’s not my cooking?!!

As if The Avalanche hadn’t already been through enough, it’s troubles weren’t over yet.

The following day, Geoff found our dog, Lady, her royal scruffiness, with paws up on the table, tail wagging and half the cake missing.

Not good for the cake…or the dog! Chocolate can kill a dog. Thank goodness I didn’t go with the dark chocolate for the ganache! Why can’t that dog tell that eating chocolate is a health hazard? Can’t she read the packaging? What’s wrong with the mutt?!!

So, after all of these compounding mistakes, I was starting to think this cake was just doomed and that Nigella and I were like oil and water. We simply didn’t mix. I was never ever going to be a domestic goddess!

However, my husband had other ideas and said it was worth: “another go”.

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This leads me to Round Two, which was certainly a vast improvement but still wasn’t trouble-free thanks to the oven and the fridge.

Have you made any of NIgella’s recipes? I must confess that I’ve never even seen a copy of How To Be A Domestic Goddess and found the recipe online.

xx Rowena

Nigella’s Nutella Cake Revisited.

Nigella Lawson is a legend in the kitchen…the original “Domestic Goddess”.

Sadly, we mere mortals can only dream of finding a magic wand to convert our TV dinners, burnt offerings and tinned spaghetti on toast, into something out of the pages of her cookbooks.

Actually, I’m not a bad cook. Indeed, I am renowned for my pavlova, pancakes, Chocolate Chip Cookies and roast dinners. I’ve even successfully tackled Jamie Oliver’s Lasagna.  Moreover, I’ve also been teaching my kids to cook and I must admit, they’ve also been teaching me. I’m not that arrogant to believe that this teaching the kids stuff is a one-way street. I learn a lot too.

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Nigella’a Nutella Cake with Rowena’s Raspberry Cream.

 

However, my trouble is with consistency, which more and more, I’m also attributing to NOT being in the Masterchef kitchen. I know you’re probably thinking that only a bad cook blames their appliances but you just tell me the last time you saw frozen eggs appear in the Masterchef kitchen? That’s right…NEVER!!!

Indeed, I had NEVER EVER seen frozen eggs before either. By the way, when I say frozen eggs, I’m not talking about the ingredients of an IVF stew. Rather, I’m taking about raw hen’s eggs. I store our eggs in the fridge and somehow the temperature control had been moved and we had frozen eggs. Not all of them, just a few. When I cracked them open, they’d turned into sloppy ice cubes and couldn’t be used..especially for Nigella’s cake, which  was built on fluffy egg white. After all, I could hardly separate the yolk from the white when they were fused together in an amorphous blog of ice. Moreover, freezing destroyed the cell membranes. So, even once the eggs finally defrosted, they were completely useless and looked in need of Viagra. I’ll say no more.

So, when I blame my cooking disasters on my appliances, I’m not just making excuses. It’s true!

Nigella Nutella Cake

“The Avalanche”…My first Attempt at Nigella”s Nutella Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache.

Indeed, I think there’s some kind of appliance mutiny or rebellion going on in my kitchen and it’s spreading beyond the fridge. In what might seem an unlikely union of forces, the fridge is in cahoots with the oven.

You see, our oven has a faulty fan. That same fan makes your oven “fan-forced”, which makes quite a difference to the temperature of your oven and cooking times. Moreover, when the fan isn’t working, it also means that your food doesn’t cook evenly and horror of horrors, you might need to open the oven door and turn things around. If you know anything at all about baking cakes, especially sponges, you’ll know that opening the oven door is the kiss of death, which deflates your lofty sponge faster than a speeding bullet.

Just to complicate things further, our oven fan sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t and turns itself on and off during a bake.

Clearly, that oven is not my friend.

So, with a faulty oven and frozen eggs, for a second time I set out to replicate Nigella’s Nutella Cake. I don’t know whether you’d say I was brave or crazy because even before I’d melted the chocolate or whipped up the egg whites, there was trouble. While all those motivation types would tell me: “Never give up” BUT haven’t they heard of what’s meant to be? Or, more pertinently, that something “wasn’t meant to be”.

Quite frankly, I don’t think it’s being a a quitter or a loser when you decide to stop banging your head against a brick wall and try something else. Use a lateral approach. Everybody’s different. We’re not all meant to fit into the one, same pair of shoes.

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Our son smothered his slice with Nutella. Found the cake too bitter. That was without the icing. Neither of our kids like dark chocolate.

The other problem I had with Nigella’s Nutella Cake is that my kids didn’t like it. My son slathered his slice in Nutella to mask the “bitter” taste and my daughter didn’t eat it. Even though the cake does have Nutella in it, which my kids absolutely adore, it also has dark chocolate which they can’t stand. Based on their comments, I’d say it’s more of an adult cake and even then, you only need small portions. It’s quite rich. I also felt it I needed raspberries and cream in addition to the generous covering of whole roasted hazlenuts found in Nigella’s original. She also recommends eating it with a glass of Frangelico and perhaps I should have tried that, but it was a busy night.

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I hope half of this is still in the fridge. I’m feeling sick just looking at all that Nutella….even though I really love it!

So, at this stage, I don’t know whether I will make Nigella’s Nutella Cake again…even with my modifications. Most of my cooking is for our family and I can’t see the point of going to so much trouble to make a cake my kids don’t like when there are other cakes and desserts we all enjoy such as Apple Crumble with fresh custard.

Although the recipe says it’s easy, you’re separating eggs, whisking egg whites by hand, melting chocolate, using two separate bowls…that’s a lot of fiddling around and cleaning up for one cake, which I still haven’t been able to perfect on my second attempt. This time, the cake was good but the icing was still runny.

Still, my husband and I enjoyed it.

On a more positive note, I’ve just returned for a second piece 24 hours later and really loved the cake…with or without the cream and will be making it again. The cake much much more moist. The icing had set and it was a great flourless hazlenut chocolate cake. Something I really would be proud to serve for guests. With Masterchef gracing the airwaves, that’s quite an endorsement.

Perhaps, I am a Domestic Goddess after all and my spirit is soaring… on chocolate wings!

My baking no longer human. It’s divine.

xx Rowena

PS I will be posting the recipe in my next post.

 

 

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share 29th May, 2016.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

As much as I love my morning coffee, this week I’m recommending you join me for High Tea Queensland style at the Teahouse Gallery in Mudgeeraba on the Gold Coast Hinterland. You’ll be offered over 20 teas presented in little glass jars and you’re encouraged to take the lids off, smell and take your time making your choice. While you’re waiting for your pot of hot tea to arrive, you can admire each others’ vintage tea cups with their pretty patterns and gold trim. I collect antique tea cups, the way with Shelley and Royal Albert being my favourites. They remind me of cups of tea with my grandmothers who’ve since passed on.

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If things had worked out a bit differently, I could have offered you a slice of Nigella’s Nutella Cake. However, you know how it is when Lady Luck is working against you and every twist and turn doesn’t entirely work out and then all those mishaps seemingly fuse together into a veritable “catastrophe!”

Nigella Nutella Cake

An Earthquake Hit Our Interpretation of Nigella’s Nutella Cake. The lactose-free Cream was to “skinny” for the ganache, leading to “liquification”.

Well, that’s what happened with the cake. The minor mishaps along the way would not have been a major problem. However, we had great difficulty judging cooking times and whether the cake was ready. I needed to pick up my daughter and left my husband in charge. He kept getting mixture on the skewer (a sign that the cake isn’t cooked) but as it was starting to “caramelise”, he thought he’d better take it out. This meant the cake was somewhat burnt, dried out and the hazlenuts tasted bitter. However, a layer of cream, fresh raspberries, icing and freshly roasted hazlenuts almost resurrected the thing and we did enjoy a few slices. That was until our naughty little Lady dog was caught with paws up on the kitchen table, nose through the plastic bag and tail wagging until Geoff sent her packing.

I have been on the lookout for a good chocolate cake recipe to make for birthdays etc and thought this might have been the one. I’m going to give it another chance but suspect the kids would prefer one without the hazlenuts. All recommendations would be grateful received.

Anyway, we arrived home from our road trip to Queensland on Monday night. It was a huge relief to be home after our 2000 km round trip, even though it was hard to leave family and the North behind. However, once you’re in the car, you just want to get there.

If you’re interested in virtual trip to Australia’s tropical Queensland, here’s a series of links to my posts:

Driving To Queensland Via The Long White Line.

Sunset Behind Surfers Paradise

Surfers Paradise By Night

Bangalow Markets – Near Byron Bay

A Queensland High Tea

I hope you’ve all had a great week. What is the weather doing in your neck of the woods? We have two days left until the official start of Winter. That could mean anything. Yesterday, we had rain and a sudden cold snap. It was absolutely freezing, especially as our homes aren’t built for Winter and our Winter woollies are still in the roof. Indeed, the dogs are lucky to still have their fur coats. I was very tempted to take them but a dog on my lap is almost as good!

By the way, we go into denial around this time each year, thinking we live in a perpetual Summer. Then, we wonder why it’s cold and whinge bitterly.

Anyway, the sun is back out again today and although my toes are frozen numb, things are looking up.

I hope you’ve had a great week. It’s now Sunday afternoon here so we’re starting to get ready for another week.

This has been part of the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Diana at  Part-Time Monster . You can click here for the linky to read the other posts.

xx Rowena

 

 

Therapeutic Indulgence: A Rendez-vous with Laksa and a Saucy Chocolate Cake.

In my last post, I confessed to running away from home for the weekend for some seriously self-indulgent R & R after a rough week of medical tests for our daughter .

While Saturday saw me catching the ferry to Palm Beach and time traveling back into my early 20s, on Sunday I caught a lift to nearby Avalon for a seriously indulgent feast. That’s right…food glorious food! So you can go stick your green smoothies and assorted super foods where the sun don’t shine. I’ve now subscribed to the pleasure principle and I’m in hot pursuit of some seriously indulgent foodie treats!!

Yoda has relocated to Sydney's Avalon Beach.

Yoda has been relocated to Sydney’s Avalon Beach.

My first stop was lunch at Yoda. Yoda is the sort of place you’d expect to find tucked away in an alleyway in South-East Asia. Yet, it has somehow astro-traveled to beach-side Sydney via the Millennium Falcon so now I can safely enjoy those authentic Asian flavours without catching some ghastly, turbo-charged, gastro bug. I’m not always an adventurous restaurant eater and often stick with what I’ve had before and really enjoyed. I don’t get to eat out all that often and so I don’t like taking chances. The food not only has to be good, it has to be something I love. L-O-V-E LOVE!! It also has to be better or different to what I cook at home and I’m a good cook. When we go to Yoda for dinner, I tend to order the Tea smoked duck with freshly spiced orange sauce & coriander salad or the Vietnamese chicken cabbage salad with peanuts, roast garlic & house dressing. These are both fabulous, authentic dishes. However, I thought I’d try something different and chose Laksa lemak which is a coconut soup with chicken, prawn, fishcake, noodles & cucumber/coriander salad. This was such a treat and I felt like I was casting a fishing line into the richly fragrant soup. Hey presto! I caught some octopus, fish cake and then a few prawns. It was such a treat and much more productive than any of our fishing expeditions where we’ve only caught fingerlings we had to throw back.The seafood was really well cooked and tender and the Laksa soup with it’s rich, aromatic flavours, was just divine.

However, the food wasn’t all I experienced at Yoda. As I shared in my previous post covering the ferry and bus ride over, when you travel alone you met such a smorgasbord of interesting characters.

Sitting at Yoda, the gentleman next to me struck up a conversation. I’m not saying he was trying to pick me up or anything like that. It’s just what Avalon is like…so community oriented and friendly that you don’t think twice about talking with total strangers. Anyway, my new-found friend is “batching” while his wife’s away for an extended time looking after her sick mum. This has left him in a bit of a spot. Should he spend month after month staying home in front of the box by himself or get out there and keep living? It’s a hard call. He kept saying: “you only come this way once”, which is so true. Nobody wants to waste whatever precious time they have left. From what I understand this means going out to see a few bands. Eating out. We all want to carpe diem seize the day but when you’re married and your partner is out of action for whatever reason, what are you supposed to do? Stop breathing? I don’t know. As an extrovert myself, I could sympathise.  We all have to get out, although that said, there are certain activities which should be curtailed.He told me his wife had called saying she’d heard he was at Palm Beach with a blond and he replied: “At my age, what did you expect me to have? A bucket & spade?” No to be fair, mentioning a blond conjures up all sorts of connotations where as if she’d been hanging out with a woman with glasses, for example, would it be so evocative? Anyway, he had a fine wit and certainly had me in stitches and I suspect he’s been up to no more mischief than wishing he was 21 again!

After indulging at Yoda, I headed across the road to Bookacino, a landmark Indy bookshop with a cafe out the back. For a die-hard bibliophile, Bookacino reminds me of exploring your grandparents’ home with all its nooks and crannies. Exploring row after row of titles, you never know what you might find and the new worlds those pages will open. Being an insatiable sticky beak, I just love it.

Of course, despite our cascading  columns of books and claustrophobically packed bookshelves, I can’t go into Bookacino without taking new “friends” home. After all, how could I ever leave a great book homeless and alone? Oh no! It needs love, family, a place to call home! This might sound like very faulty logic. After all, how could a book living in a crowded bookshop with thousands of friends, or possibly rivals, ever be considered homeless or even  alone? However, the heart tells a very different story. I hear its cries!!

This time, I walked out with The Art of Belonging by Australian social commentator, Hugh Mackay and a colouring-in book: The Impressionists. for our daughter.

Chocolate Cake heaven!!

Chocolate Cake heaven!!

Next stop was Cafe Ibiza. To be perfectly honest, I must confess that I wasn’t going there for health food. Rather, I was looking for the most indulgent, decadent chocolatey chocolate thingy that I could find.  Something so evil it would smash the evil calorie counter. What I found, even exceeded all of my superlatively luscious, chocolate fantasies. A simple chocolate cake warmed and smothered in chocolate sauce and as I ate the cake, the chocolate sauce became a sumptuous soup. I dove deep into its incredible depths and didn’t even rise to draw breath. Oooh! Death by chocolate never tasted so good!

Sumptuous Chocolate Soup

Sumptuous Chocolate Soup

After such indulgence, I’m of a view that “when you’re on a good thing, stick to it” and I’d much rather stick to an endless supply of chocolate sauce than a can of Mortein insect spray.

So now I’m on the search for the ultimate chocolate sauce recipe to hold me over until my return. It’s a matter of life and death!!

“The greatest tragedies were written by the Greeks and Shakespeare…neither knew chocolate.”
― Sandra Boynton

After such therapeutic indulgence over the weekend, I’ve decided that I need to throw caution to the wind closer to home and break out more often. After all, we only live once!

xx Rowena

Laugh or Cry: Overcoming Birthday Caketastrophes!

Tomorrow, is our son’s 11th Birthday and of course, it’s going to be bigger than Ben Hur.

Surprise! Surprise! I decided to bake a Chocolate Cake and I’m jazzing it up with a caramel and whipped cream filling and smothering the lot with lashings of Milk Chocolate Ganache and a sprinkling of M & Ms. I know that sounds really indulgent,even decadent, but you only have a birthday once a year!

Chocolate cake…You can’t go wrong with chocolate cake.

The meaning of life can be found in Mummy's bowl.

The meaning of life can be found in Mummy’s bowl.

However, you obviously haven’t heard about my luck with making birthday cakes. It’s so bad that I’ve dubbed it: “The Great Birthday Cake Curse”!! For some strange reason, every single birthday cake I’ve ever made has been cursed, doomed, even double-doomed, as all sorts of dreadful complications set in.

Yet, with the precision of a surgeon, I painstakingly restore the cake and save the day.

Hey, who am I kidding?

There’s nothing precise about me in the kitchen. Rather, I’m very “slap dash”, whacking on the icing to camouflage near-fatal, structural craters, which are so deep that you could hide a semi-trailer inside…even an entire road train!!

Yet, despite these devastating catastrophes, I overcame the hurdles and had that cake out on the plate, candles alight with everybody singing “Happy Birthday”.

My husband’s uncle, who was a builder, always used to say that the difference between an amateur and a professional is being able to cover up their mistakes. Looking at how I’ve patched up my cakes, I can’t help wondering how many houses down in NE Tasmania are being held together by lumps of icing? It’s one of the world’s greatest gap fillers!!

Despite my birthday caketastrophes, I’m renowned for my scrumptious pavlovas and choc-chip cookies. Indeed,  when I took my choc chip cookies to scouts recently, I was quite the pied piper attracting throngs of little admirers. Indeed, after seeing the cookies in action, I decided to throw out my copy of How To Win Friends & Influence People and simply hand out cookies instead.

This only compounds my confusion. What’s the deal with the birthday cakes? Why do I have so much trouble? Who knows? It remains one of life’s great mysteries!

No doubt being more practical than yours truly, I can hear you wondering why I don’t just buy a cake instead? Why do I keep torturing myself birthday cake after agonising birthday cake? Talk about a masochist!

Well, if you have ever made a birthday cake for someone you love, you’ll know precisely why I have to make these @#$% birthday cakes myself. That’s right. I add that magic ingredient…my love. You can’t buy, manufacture or even fake that and it’s not something you can buy off the supermarket shelf!

So here I am the night before Mister’s big 11th birthday expecting a tribe of friends at his party. The cakes have been baked without incident.  Everything is proceeding exceptionally well.

That was until it came to whipping the cream . A relatively simple task but that’s what turned the tide. Actually, make that whipping the low-fat lactose-free cream. Mister and other family members are lactose intolerant. I was concerned that being low-fat might be a problem but I’m ever the optimist.

I’d been beating the absolute crap out of the cream and it was still sploshing around like milk in the bowl when it should have been resembling butter, if not cheese. It had also splattered  absolutely all over the bench, anything parked on it and all down my shirt. That was when I dug out my magnifying glass and had a closer look at the label. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be.  Oh my goodness! There it was. “Not suitable for whipping”. The cake was doomed. The party was doomed.Disaster!!!

It was 11.00PM. The shops were shut and I had two cakes which desperately needed to be sandwiched together. In my desperation, I thought the caramel might just be enough. Being my usual Einstein self, I thought that if I scooped the thicker layer of cream off the “milk” and mixed it with the caramel, to put it good old colloquial Australian lingo: “she’ll be right, mate”.

However…

Instead of bulking up the caramel, the cream almost turned it liquid.  My only hope was that it would fill up the bubbles in the cake before it ran off the edge and onto the plate. Taking a chance, I hoisted up the second layer of cake and prayed it would stay put, despite slipping and sliding around on roller skates. My only hope now was that the chocolate ganache would hold the cake together against all odds.

Not to be deterred by my humble prayers, catastrophe followed catastrophe and if I hadn’t developed resilience from all my previous birthday cake disasters, there would have been tears, loud wailing and unceasing sobs  as I cried and cried and cried….the world’s biggest loser of a Mum!

It might not be my party, but I’ll cry if I want to!! You would cry too if this had happened to you!

I'm not the only one who gets stressed out by birthday parties!

I’m not the only one who gets stressed out by birthday parties!

It’s My Party: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCPqaG8sVDE

 

Then and I guess you can see it coming, the @#$% cream stuffed up the ganache, which was sploshing like a chocolate milkshake. Desperate, I added cup after cup of icing sugar, trying to thicken it up. I’d poured in half the bag and it was still looking sloppy but at least, it was holding some shape. I poured the “ganache” over the cake and I looking like a human pretzel, I crossed everything I had to boost my luck.

But no! The ganache flowed over the top of the cake and kept going creating a moat around the poor, drowning cake. The river was so deep, you could literally kayak through it. Definitely not the look I was looking for so I started bailing the ganache out with a ladle and not unsurprisingly, it sploshed all over the bench and that’s when I found the dog not unsurprisingly underfoot.

This is where the birthday cake curse worked in my favour. Not being my first salvage operation, I had a few  tricks up my sleeve. In this instance, the answer had to be M & Ms. They cover up a multitude of sin. Although thanks to that wretched low fat lactose free “cream”, even they mucked up and were sliding down the cake. @#$%!!!

However, just when you think you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s salvation.

All's well that ends well.

All’s well that ends well.

I could have hugged one of my son’s friends. As he takes his first mouthful, he speaks up like a true Masterchef:

“I know what this is. It’s chocolate mouse!”

I’ve never been so thrilled. The chocolate ganache monster had a name and it was good.

Guess, it goes to show that you can’t go wrong with a chocolate cake after all!

By the way, here’s a past post about Birthday Cakes: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=5947&action=edit&message=6&postpost=v2

Do you have any funny birthday stories to share? I’d love to hear them!!

xx Rowena

Easy Peasy Chocolate Party Cupcakes

Chocolate, lollies, cake, balloons, pass the parcel, loads of presents, friends and party hats and swirling twirling party skirts and singing: “Happy Birthday”!

Our family has hit birthday season with a haze-filled thump. With our kids having birthdays 10 days apart and what with baking cakes for school, Scouts and not to mention having something with candles stuck on top to blow out at home, I usually get lost in a baking whirl and this recipe has saved my skin year after year.Becoming something of a birthday cake-making factory, I think I’ve even tripled or quadrupled this mixture in the past.

You just throw all the ingredients in the mix master bowl and press the button. That’s it. The Ganache Icing is also deceptively simple and again, virtually instant and lusciously chocolicious!!

Happy Birthday Chocolate Cupcakes for Scouts.

Happy Birthday Chocolate Cupcakes for Scouts.

This recipe has been written in very easy to follow steps, bearing kids and inexperienced bakers in mind. So, you no longer have to resort to packet mixes and bought cakes. You, too, can bake from scratch, be a Masterchef and smile for the camera…I made it myself!

That’s right. You can do it!!

Who can argue with Snoopy?

Who can argue with Snoopy?

I’ve cooked with my kids all their lives. However, last year I decided it was time to ramp things up so they could cook a meal and become more independent. During this time, I realised that cooking teaches us so much more than simply producing a meal or a cake we can eat. It also teaches sequencing, time-management, multi-tasking, planning, health and nutrition as well as being environmentally-minded. It is also an ideal time to chat and bond with our kids, although things can get a bit fraught when creative minds don’t follow instructions and get ahead of the proceedings.

However, at these times as you’re counting to ten doing your deep breathing exercises, it could be a timely reminder that life isn’t just about the destination. We also need to make the most of the journey and be a bit flexible…especially when it comes to adapting our adult ideas of cake perfection to the realities of living with kids.

As John Lennon said and I have quoted many times on my blog:

My Favourite John Lennon Quote: Quote Diaries.

My Favourite John Lennon Quote: Quote Diaries.

So without further sub-plots and asides, let the baking begin and don’t forget to lick but not double-dip the spoon!

Easy Peasy Chocolate Party Cupcakes

Makes 24 cupcakes.

Ingredients

185g softened butter, diced

2 teas vanilla essence

1 3/4 cups castor sugar

3 eggs

2 cups Self-Raising Flour, sifted

2/3 cup cocoa powder

1 cup water

(I have also mixed in about 250g blueberries and sprinkled macadamia nuts over the top but I keep them fairly plain for the kids)

Directions

1) Turn oven onto 180 degrees Celsius.

2) Line a 12 cup muffin or cupcake tin with patty papers. I usually give the tray a coat of pray oil beforehand for ease of cleaning afterwards.

3) Sift four and cocoa into a large mixing bowl.

4) Add diced butter, vanilla essence, castor sugar, eggs and water.

Dicing the butter.

Dicing the butter.

5) Beat on low speed of an electric mixer master until the ingredients have combined. Then increase the speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes or until the mixture is smooth and have gone lighter in colour.

6) Spoon a heaped dessertspoon of mix into each patty paper.

7) Bake for around 10-15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

8) Stand for 5 minutes and then turn upside down on a wire rack to cool.

9)When the cake has cooled, ice with Chocolate Ganache.

 

Chocolate Ganache

250g good quality Milk or Dark Chocolate (Kids prefer milk and adults prefer dark here)

1/3 cup cream

Fancy decorations like sprinkles, hundreds & thousands,stars etc optional.

Directions

1) Melt the chocolate in the microwave for about 1 minute. Remove.

2) Add cream.

3) Stir well.

4) Perhaps, I was just lazy but I simply dropped a teaspoon of Chocolate Ganache on top of each cupcake for a rich,decadent look. However, the kids couldn’t resist adding that splash of colour (and goodness knows how many artificial colours and flavours). Each to their own.

Happy Baking & even Happier Birthdays!

xx Rowena

PS Just to prove that I’ve been making this cake for awhile, here’s this variation of a theme: Chocolate Hazelnut Indulgence Cake. It even has hazelnut praline. Yummy!

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=5837&action=edit&message=6&postpost=v2

 

Why We Have Birthdays!

What with kids, dogs, activities and more et ceteras than we ever thought possible, at times my husband and I look at each other wondering: who on earth are you?
Far from being alone in all of this, we’re all guilty. Well, perhaps not all of us.
Anyway, this is why celebrating birthdays is so important. For at least one day of the year, each of us is special and we get our moment of glory in the spotlight as we glow in golden candlelight and actually blow out our own candles. That is, if the kids don’t beat us to it!

Happy Birthday Geoff...21 Again! (and again!!)

Happy Birthday Geoff…21 Again! (and again!!)

Last week, it was Geoff’s birthday and it is a sad reflection of my priorities that it’s almost taken me a week to wish him Happy Birthday on my blog. My justification is that I was too busy cooking up a birthday feast on the day and considering it was 40 degrees Celsius that was no mean feat. The chocolate for the cake had already melted before it hit the microwave and me along with it.

Geoff used to drive an Austen Healy Sprite which now in storage. I created this ceramic paint of the Spite seemingly flying along the Yellow Brick Road for his birthday before we got married. You could say the rubber hit the road what with the mortgage, kids and my health issues.

Geoff used to drive an Austen Healy Sprite which now in storage. I created this ceramic painting of the Spite seemingly flying along the Yellow Brick Road for his birthday before we got married. You could say that the rubber has since hit the road what with the mortgage, kids and my health issues.

Since then, I’ve been responding to my Versatile Blogger Award…shameful priorities, I know!
You would think that by the time you’re our age that birthdays wouldn’t matter anymore but for some reason birthdays always seem to be special. While I was having chemo, the very elderly man next to me remarked that it was his birthday and said: “I sure know how to pick ’em”. He was quite upset about being there for his birthday and I guess we all have that idea that birthdays are somehow sacred..no matter how old and supposedly “mature” we are. That we are somehow entitled to a Happy Birthday. That our birthday has to be special and we must be spoiled rotten. Moreover, if our birthday doesn’t go to plan, we somehow feel entitled to a refund or a repeat: “Play it again, Sam”.

Yummy Happy Birthday Lasagna!

Yummy Happy Birthday Lasagna!

In my usual style, I did what I always do for family birthdays. I cooked up a feast. The day before the birthday, had been relatively cool and that’s when I decided to make my variation of Jamie Oliver’s Lasagna. I’ve changed so much about the recipe that it really is my own dish now yet I still like to call it our: Jamie Oliver Lasagna. This is quite a luxurious lasagna dish with a layer of diced pumpkin roasted in “bruised” coriander seeds which I guess is what really gives it Jamie Oliver’s stamp. The point of cooking this fancy lasagne, of course, is to say I love you without words and through actions in a way that reheating a non-name frozen lasagna simply can’t achieve.

This birthday cake wasa a gushing, oozing waterfall of chocolate icing. Not one for the stylist!

This birthday cake was a gushing, oozing waterfall of chocolate icing. Not one for the stylist!

Likewise when it came to the home-made chocolate cake we had for dessert, our daughter sprinkled popping candy over the top and the chocolate icing cascaded over the side a little too enthusiastically creating a gushing waterfall or what my son unceremoniously  called: “a mess”! Although I would have preferred restaurant perfection, our creation was oozing with love and was absolutely scrumdiddillyumptuous!

DSC_6492

Miss made this card for Daddy. It shows the two of them working on our Morris Minor.

There was also a home-made birthday card.

Handwriting to warm up even the coldest of hearts. Happy Birthday Daddy love from Mister!

Handwriting to warm up even the coldest of hearts. Happy Birthday Daddy love from Mister!

Plus handwriting money can’t buy…

And move over Garfield, there were also two greedy dogs trying to ambush Geoff’s lasagna. For some reason, Lady considers the dining table an extension of her domain!

Happy Birthday Daddy xx Bilbo and Lady with Mum.

Happy Birthday Daddy xx Bilbo and Lady with Mum.

However, by going out to a restaurant or cooking something really basic, we do actually get more of a chance to talk and catch up instead of me exhausting myself over a very hot stove on a real scorcher of a day and then needing to clean it all up.

But when you show your love through cooking and infuse it into your food, there’s no other way to say Happy birthday…especially when you’re on a budget.

Sometimes all this family stuff can seem a bit sickly sweet and too “Brady Bunch” or “Happy Days”. However, for most families, these birthdays are just a temporary ceasefire on the home front. Time to lick your wounds. Take a deep breath and recuperate. Get fresh ammo. If you’re particularly blessed, you might even get to enjoy some leftover cake in relative peace and quiet the next day although don’t go getting your hopes up. This is real life… not some fantasy novel.

Somehow, birthdays often seem to bring out the worst in people too and it’s more than likely that your perfect birthday is going to descend into the war to end all wars. That instead of eating your cake, you end up feeding it to the dog…or perhaps the dog already beat you to it. You always need to be on the look out for little patch jobs on cakes.

That’s right. No one’s going to tell you that your cake has dog germs…especially not on your birthday!

xx Rowena

PS: In case you are wondering why Marge Simpson in a bikini was on Geoff’s birthday cake, it was left over from my 40th birthday cake. My best friend and I almost share birthdays and we had a Marge each on our cake.

Too Much Chocolate Temptation!!!!

After indulging on Chocolate Caramel Slice all last week, I was going to be good this week. Perhaps against my better judgment, I decided not to turn my kitchen into a veritable Chocolate Caramel Slice factory by pumping out the next batch as soon as the last piece evaporated with my cup of tea. I decided to wait.

You see, I had become a new, reformed woman. Yes, even I was capable of some self-restraint and could also redefine chocolate as a “sometimes food”.

Restraint on the chocolate front is a new and particularly foreign concept for me. However, while doing my food and cooking research, I kept reading that chocolate is a “sometimes food” and after awhile, I had an attack of the guilts. Even this chocoholic was going to reform.

Although “sometimes” might mean occasionally, unfortunately when it comes to having a sweet, chocolaty treat, I am what you would call more of a “frequent flyer”. Try as I might, that late night sugar craving hits and I forget that I’d had a Tim Tam yesterday or Chocolate Caramel Slice all last week. I want chocolate and I want it now!! Believe me, depriving me of chocolate will result in a tantrum which makes Gordon Ramsey look like a purring, little pussy cat!

So here I was at home on Saturday night minding my own business and trying to be good. As you could probably appreciate, I’m not that good at being good. Yes, it’s confession time. There I was playing online Scrabble again and checking out puppies for sale on the side. While puppies aren’t chocolate or Chocolate Caramel Slice, I’m not supposed to be looking at puppies at the moment either but how can I resist? They’re just too cute. Besides, it’s not my fault. It’s all those terrible online advertisers who know the very weakest point in your Achilles heel and flash it up at you in a way you can’t resist. I looked up puppies once or twice on Gumtree and now they come and visit me every single day. It’s not my fault!

So there I was playing online Scrabble and looking at puppies when along came an invitation to get this app which provides you with endless recipes, shopping lists and all sorts of cooking info. Isn’t it cruel the way advertisers flash evil temptation at you when you’re practicing self-restraint?!! Before I knew it, this chocolate-starved, weak-willed chocoholic had succumbed yet again. I was whizzing up a chocolate cake.

This is how I came across this recipe for Flourless Nutella Cake. This recipe only required eggs and Nutella and took about 30 minutes to cook. Such almost instant gratification was too hard to resist. 1, 2, 3 and that cake was in the oven and the countdown was on.

Well, it wasn’t quite 1, 2,3. I had to beat the eggs up and heat the Nutella in the microwave and mix it all together. All that might have taken about 10 minutes but it was all very easy peasy and the results look truly professional. You would never guess that there were only 2 ingredients.

A close-up of inside the cake.

A close-up of inside the cake.

The kids were in bed when I made this but I’m fairly sure they could make it themselves with just a bit of supervision around the microwave and of course making sure the Nutella actually ends up in the cake and not in their tummies instead. I do try to limit how much Nutella the kids eat as it is definitely a sometimes food. A word of caution regarding nut allergies… Nutella contains hazelnuts.

So here is the adapted version…

 

The cake in its tin

The cake in its tin.

Flourless Nutella Cake Version 1.1

Based on recipe by Matt Moran, Masterchef.

Ingredients:

6 large eggs

360g Nutella.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 175C. Grease a round 21 cm springform or standard cake tin with spray oil and line with baking paper. I used a standard cake tin and it was fine.
  2. Crack eggs into a medium sized mix master bowl and beat on the highest speed until the eggs have tripled in volume, which should take 3- 6 minutes.
  3. Using a set of kitchen scales, weigh and measure out the Nutella. This is quite a messy business but finger-licking good! Probably best measuring it into a medium-sized glass bowl which then goes into the microwave to 20-40 seconds to soften the Nutella up.
  4. Add 1/3 whisked eggs to the softened Nutella and gently fold it in until well combined. The mix should turn dark brown. Add another 1/3 eggs and fold in. Repeat with remaining 1/3 eggs. Ideally, the Nutella will mix through easily but when I made it the Nutella was still firm and not mixing well so I returned the batter to the mixmaster and beat it carefully on a slow setting for a few minutes until the mix was dark brown and well mixed. It didn’t seem to do it any harm.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan and place in the oven to bake until cooked through, about 20-40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely before removing from pan.
  6. I served it up with fresh strawberries and it could also like a dollop of cream but doesn’t need it.
  7. You could also dust a little icing sugar over the top.

Enjoy!

Feedback

I haven’t mentioned that I used to work in market research and so every time I dish up one of my new cooking creations or indeed “experiments”, I grill the family to get their detailed opinions. They’ve now come to understand that “good” and “nice” or especially “yuck” don’t cut the mustard. I need detail and they have become much more expressive.

Unfortunately, when I asked everyone what they thought about the Flourless Nutella Cake, it turned out that the rest of the family didn’t share my enthusiasm. My daughter said: “It tastes like egg.” She didn’t finish her piece. Our son said it needed icing. My husband wasn’t sure about the texture and didn’t really feel that it tasted chocolaty enough. He found the taste a bit vague. To be fair, I don’t think he’s tried many flourless chocolate cakes.

I am thinking of making it again and adding more Nutella…say 1-2 tablespoons.

I wonder if I’m the only mother in existence whose kids are so fussy about their chocolate cake?

How about you give it a whirl and let me know how it goes!

XX Rowena