Beginner’s Chocolate Cake with whipped Chocolate Butter Icing

A few years ago I set out on a mission to find the “best” chocolate cake recipes around. And by “best”, I meant “best moist cake”, “best mud cake”, “best cake for kid’s parties”, etcetera – you get the picture. A chocolaholic like me can’t possibly rely on only one chocolate cake recipe to meet my various chocolate needs; and what is dense and decadent, filled with rich dark chocolate demands a very different audience to a lighter, milder children’s birthday cake.

Beginner's Chocolate Cake

So this is my “lighter, milder children’s birthday cake” and is a wonderfully straight-forward recipe that any new baker perhaps low in confidence might want to start off with. Where it lacks complication and a  list of ingredients as long as your arm, believe me, there is no lacking in flavour or texture.

I tend to match my icings with the type of cake too, so where you have a richer cake, I feel the icing should complement it, but be more simple. Likewise where you have a plainer basic cake, you get to experiment and be a little more flamboyant with the icing. So keeping that in mind, I was experimenting with good old butter icing the other day and came up with this version. It is light and creamy, with only a hint of the icing sugar present. I really don’t enjoy icings where the only thing you can taste is the icing sugar itself, so never be shy to play around with icing ingredients and quantities until you find one that works well for you.

Basic Chocolate Cake:
3 eggs
250 ml castor sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
250 ml flour
½ cup cocoa
½ tsp salt
½ cup milk
2 Tbsp butter
3 tsp baking powder

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Prepare two round 20 cm cake tins by buttering the sides and bottom and coating in a thin layer of flour, or line with baking parchment.
  2. Beat the sugar and eggs together until light and fluffy, probably for around 3 – 5 minutes on a medium to high speed.
  3. Sift the dry ingredients (except the baking powder) in a separate bowl.
  4. Add the vanilla essence to the egg mix.
  5. Boil the milk and butter in a saucepan on the stove or in a microwave proof jug.
  6. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the egg mixture alternately with the butter/milk mixture. Fold together until well combined.
  7. Sprinkle over the baking powder and stir to combine. The mixture will be quite runny.
  8. Pour it evenly into the two prepared baking tins and bake in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean.
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tins on wire cooling racks. After about 10 minutes, invert them onto the wire racks and allow to cool completely before icing.

Chocolate Butter Icing with a difference
1 cup butter, at room temperature (soft but not melted)
2 cups icing sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
hot water
chocolate bar for decoration

  1. Add sufficient hot water to the cup of cocoa powder to form a smooth runny paste – I can’t tell you exactly how much water, but add a little at a time until you get there. It might be more than you think you’ll need, but once added you can’t remove it, so see how you go. Set aside to cool. It must still be more of a paste, not a runny liquid.
  2. Cream the butter with an electric mixer until light in colour and smooth. Add the sifted icing sugar a little at a time and continue to mix until well combined and smooth.
  3. Add the cooled cocoa/water mixture and mix well to combine.
  4. Place the mixing bowl into the fridge for a while to cool completely and set a little, about 15 – 20 minutes.
  5. Beat the mixture on high to whip it up then pour/lather it between the layers and over the top and sides of the cake.
  6. Grate chocolate over the top, in this case my favourite Peppermint Crisp.


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Chicken Mayonnaise

I was chatting with someone the other day and she had only ever made a chicken mayonnaise mixture for sandwiches with leftover roast chicken or bought deli chicken. It hadn’t occurred to her that you could enjoy this tender, tangy savoury filling in under 15 minutes with no leftover chicken, deli or roast, in sight.

Chicken Mayonnaise

Sometimes we just don’t realise how quick and easy something can be to make from scratch. Even mayonnaise, but that’s for another day. I prefer chicken thighs to chicken breasts as they are packed with flavour. The meat is darker as well.

By simply poaching a few chicken pieces, breasts or thighs, you can have chicken mayo on hand in minutes. I do realise that a saucepan of simmering water with white flesh floating in it isn’t the most appetising of images, but push on through and you’ll be grateful. Remove all skin first, and any extra bits of fat possibly found on the meat. Simmer gently for a few minutes until cooked. Then drain and chop the meat. Add your favourite bought mayonnaise or homemade if you prefer, and voila! I prefer the mixture cold, but if you’re adding to snackwiches, warmed pita pockets or crusty rolls fresh from the oven, warm chicken mayo will be perfect.

So there you have it. No recipe needed. Just a few simple steps:

  1. Remove all skin and fat from the chicken piece/s and place them in a saucepan.
  2. Cover with boiling water (Just boil the kettle! Who has time to wait for a pot of water to boil?) and simmer gently for a few minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
  3. Drain and set the meat aside. You might want to reserve the liquid stock for something else. Allow to cool.
  4. Chop or break the chicken up into small pieces and add a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise. Mix well.
  5. Fill your sandwiches, wraps, pita pockets or layer on crackers.


Tip: Get creative and add chopped tomatoes, red onion, gherkins, sun-dried tomatoes, chives, spring onions or pesto.

Pecan Nut Loaf

This delicious little loaf can be prepared and on the table in an hour. It is a mixture of savoury and sweet, with the Pecan nuts adding a crunchy, chewy texture and altogether different flavour. Very tasty, the actual flavour is a little hard to explain, but if you love Pecan nuts, then this loaf is definitely for you. Even if you’ve never had a Pecan nut before, give it a try. I highly recommend it.

Pecan Nut Loaf

In Summer this little loaf accompanies fresh salads while in Winter, we enjoy a few slices with a hearty soup. I’m always so eager to begin munching on it directly out of the oven, but have to remind myself that when warm, it is extremely soft so may crumble when sliced. It does need to cool for a few minutes before you can cut any decent size slices, but the freshly baked bread smell and the melting butter means this one is definitely one of my favourites.

Yesterday we had the first sunny day in a while as the first weeks of Spring have brought rain, rain and more rain. Moreso than Winter! The temperature, however, was a balmy 15 degrees (yes I’m being sarcastic) but with the wind chill factor, I’m told it dropped to about 9 degrees so not to be put off, we wrapped up warmly and set off to watch car racing at the Hampton Downs track just south of Auckland. Actually, it’s in the Waikato region. A region well known for beautiful vistas, dairy farming and colder temperatures than Auckland. As we travelled along next to the Waikato River in the warmth of the car with the sun glinting on the water, I realised once again how very blessed we are to live in such a beautiful country. On returning home, it was a pleasure to tuck into this tasty loaf and a bowl of thick veggie soup.

500 ml wholewheat flour (or plain if you haven’t got wholewheat)
30 ml sugar
15 ml baking powder
60 ml oil
3 ml salt (honestly! a pinch of salt will do)
1 large egg, beaten
250 ml milk
100 g pecans chopped
extra pecans for the top

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease and/or line a small loaf tin.
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Stir in the oil, egg and milk, then add the chopped nuts, combining well.
  4. Spoon the batter into the loaf tin and bake for about 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  5. Serve sliced with butter.


Chicken Pasta Bake with Feta, Pumpkin and Kale

I always find that the last few weeks of term are packed to the brim with activities. It’s like the school suddenly realises that they had planned to do a number of things during the term and for some reason, they all end up in the last three weeks. Even trying to catch up with friends can be tricky as everyone has so much on. And when life gets this busy, I find myself turning to safe, delicious, quick and easy pasta dishes.

Chicken Pasta Bake with Feta, Pumpkin and Kale

I love pasta and I really miss having a good Italian restaurant close by, although that’s probably a good thing for my budget and hips. This is one of those dishes that came together well and is great for using up leftover roast or deli chicken, or the few minutes it takes to defrost a couple of thighs or breasts won’t add much to the preparation time.  I find chicken thighs far tastier than breasts. It is a darker meat and often cheaper to buy too.

Pumpkin can also be swapped out for Butternut if you prefer, but as I had pumpkin on hand, it worked a treat. Butternut is sweeter, but I find the pumpkin combines well with the saltiness of the Feta and the sweetness of the cream. My family always give this one the thumbs up!

1 – 2 cups pasta shapes (depends on how many you are cooking for)
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 – 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 Tbsp oil
2 – 3 chicken thighs, diced*
1 cup pumpkin/butternut, diced
1 cup kale
½ cup dry white wine**
1 cup cream
½ cup plain cheese, like Edam
½ cup strong cheese, like Tasty Cheddar or Parmesan
½ cup feta, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C.
  2. Cook the pasta as per the packet directions and drain.
  3. Fry the onion over a gentle heat in the oil until the onion is translucent. Add the chicken and brown evenly.
  4. Add the garlic and pumpkin and fry for a further 2 minutes.
  5. Pour in the white wine and cream. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Leave to cook until the pumpkin softens and the chicken is cooked through – about 5-10 minutes. Check it as you don’t want the pumpkin to be too soft. Add the kale towards the end of the cooking time.
  6. Season to taste.
  7. Remove from the heat and stir through the pasta, coating it evenly. Then pour it all into an oven proof dish.
  8. Dot with the diced feta and sprinkle over the Edam and Cheddar/Parmesan.
  9. Bake in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes until the cheese has melted and browned slightly.
  10. Serve with a side salad.


* Use shredded leftover cooked chicken if you prefer and add when you add the kale.
** Alcohol cooks out of wine when used in cooking, but if you prefer to leave it out, you may want to increase the cream.


Everyone needs encouragement, whether it’s getting through an illness, problems at work, facing up to a new challenge or completely stepping outside of our comfort zones.

EncouragementToday my little boy faces one of his biggest challenges yet. Today he will play in his first recital. I’ve known the nerves have been there for the last couple of weeks and have gradually been growing and growing as today has drawn closer, but I’ve tried to play it down in some ways, encourage him in others and above everything, make him feel that it is not about getting it absolutely perfect, it’s about having the courage to try something new.

Children are a glorious gift. They come into our lives a blank canvas and we, their parents, carers, extended family, teachers and coaches are responsible for imprinting messages and behaviours. How we treat them, how we respond to their needs, sets them up for their future. I firmly believe that their innate character has a lot to do with their particular path in life, but without positive affirmation in a loving, safe environment, we have disabled them before they’ve even begun their journey of life.

We see the effects of negative influencers on children every day. You just have to switch on the news or listen to the radio to hear about babies, toddlers, youths being bashed, mistreated or killed; or doing horrendous things to each other that you wonder how on earth they even knew to do such things. These are the future adults who will be responsible for our planet and civilisation, yet I often marvel, and to be honest, get angry, when I hear about how they are treated.

I recently came across a quote by Anne Frank, “Everyone has inside them a piece of good news. The good news is you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is.”

I was deeply saddened this week to hear about that family that gave up everything in search of a new, better, safer life for their children. But their journey stopped abruptly out on the open ocean when two beautiful little boys and their mother drowned. The heart-wrenching image of a tiny body washed up on the beach. The tears of a father who’s hopes and dreams have been brutally stolen from him.

So today, I will pause to appreciate the wonder and beauty of my surroundings. Take a moment to breathe the fresh air, bask in the slightly warmer Spring sunshine. Love my little boy that much more and be grateful for the life I have been blessed with. It’s not always easy. We all have pitfalls, flaws and personal mountains to climb; but without sounding like a cliche, I firmly believe that by remaining positive, taking lessons away from failures, finding the strength, energy and courage to keep on trying, we can only ever become stronger, nicer, better people, families, individuals and citizens of this beautiful yet troubled world we call home.

In the words of Dr. Wayne Dyer who sadly passed away on 29 August, let’s remember: “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”.

Be kind to yourself, your loved ones and those around you. Be a positive beacon in what can sometimes be a dark, dreary and scary place. Open yourself up to new things. Very often we can’t see the wood for the trees, but dreams and opportunity surround us.

Hopefully that by reminding my little boy that all his hard work and practicing up to now, encouraging him and above all, loving him, will help him do his best today.


Father’s Day Lemon Meringue Pie

To anyone else I imagine that Father’s Day and Lemon Meringue Pie don’t have much in common, unless your Father is like mine and would eat Lemon Meringue Pie every day of the week if he could. This coming Sunday is Father’s Day in New Zealand; the first Sunday in September so I’m sharing this recipe with you in honour of my Dad.

Lemon Meringue Pie.Lemon Meringue Pie was always one of my favourite things to make as a child as it is super easy (well my version anyway) and you always have an appreciative audience. While still living at home, I remember always having to make two – literally. One for the family and one for my Dad. I have a photo of him somewhere in one of my many albums, sitting with his lemon meringue pie and a spoon ready to do his best.

I haven’t seen my Dad in 5 years now. It’s awful living so far away, but these things happen when you move half way round the world and as a twenty-something, it was great moving out of home, finding independence, getting married and moving away, but it’s different when you have your own family and you want your children to have a relationship with your parents.

Anyway, Dad, I love you. I miss you. If you were here I’d make you the biggest pie I could. But right now know that I’m thinking about you and remembering how much you love this pie…almost as much as you love me…almost :).

This list of ingredients makes a large pie. If you’re wanting a smaller one, halve the filling ingredients. I’ve tried making the cornflour lemon meringue without the condensed milk, but my family isn’t a fan.

For the base:
1 x 250 g packet plain biscuits (Marie, Digestives, Malt or Wine biscuits)
125 g butter, melted

For the filling:
2 x tins condensed milk
3/4 – 1 cup cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 egg yolks
finely grated rind of 2 lemons

For the meringue:
4 egg whites (or use all 6 if you want a huge meringue)
½ cup castor sugar

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C (or 160° fan-forced) and grease/spray a flan dish with a removable base (my preference).
  2. Process the biscuits in a food processor until they are a fine crumb (or seal them in a plastic jiffy bag, removing all air, and bash them with a rolling pin until you have small crumbs).
  3. Add the melted butter. Combine well and push into the base and sides of a pie dish to form the crust. Allow to set in the fridge for a half an hour.
  4. Beat the condensed milk, lemon juice, 6 egg yolks and the lemon rind together and pour into the set pie crust.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until thick and frothy. Slowly pour in the castor sugar while continuing to whisk and watch the mixture become shiny and smooth. You want it to be between the soft and stiff peak stage.
  6. Spread the egg white meringue on top of the pie, taking care to cover the entire top right to the edges. Meringue tends to shrink in the oven so you don’t want it pulling away from the sides.
  7. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes. The meringue should be just coloured and cooked through.
  8. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.


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