23 November 2013

Nana's Christmas Cake

I remember, as a child, the ritual of making the Christmas cake. I remember mum carefully measuring out the ingredients, I remember her preparing the tin and tying newspaper around it, I remember licking the bowl when the cake was in the oven, and I remember the heavenly Christmas smell that filled the house for the 4 hours the cake was cooking.
I've taken up the tradition of the Christmas cake, and determined to mimic mum's I rummaged through her tattered much loved recipe book and found this recipe. Handwritten in mum's handwriting, the mum in Mum's Xmas Cake is actually my grandmother. So this recipe has been through 3 generations and when my children are ready to cook their first Christmas cake, that will make four. I hope you enjoy it as much as our family do.

Nana's Christmas Cake

  • 1 kilogram mixed fruit (I used currants, sultanas, and mixed peel)
  • 180 grams butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons brandy (or 1 teaspoon brandy essence)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • grated rind of 1 lemon (or 1 teaspoon lemon essence)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda


1.   Soak fruit overnight in 1 cup hot water. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. 

2.   Remove from heat and add in the butter, sugar, golden syrup, spices, brandy, vanilla essence and lemon. Stir to melt butter then leave to cool. Heat oven to 130 degrees celcius (250 degrees fahrenheit).

3.   Beat eggs and add to the fruit mixture. Dissolve baking soda in milk and add, and finally add sifted flour and baking powder. Mix well and pour into well lined 8 inch cake tin. Wrap newspaper around the tin and tie with string (this insulates the cake to prevent the edges burning while the middle of the cake is cooking).

4.   Place the tin in the oven, on top of a magazine (to insulate the bottom) and cook slowly for 3 hours. Check to see if a skewer comes out clean, if not then cook for another hour. Test again. Turn the oven off and leave the cake in oven to dry out.

5.   Put the cake into a container with a good seal. Poke holes in the cake with a skewer, and gently pour a few teaspoons brandy into the holes. Repeat every week. Store in a dark cupboard until Christmas. Cake is best made 2 months before Christmas.

8 November 2013

Chana Masala

I've been going through an Indian food phase recently, I love the combination of spices, which you can buy ready blended or in my case, I take such pleasure out of roasting the spices and grinding them together to create a wonderful curry powder. I bought a cheap as chips coffee grinder and it only gets used for spices, if you like using different spices, it's well worth buying as freshly ground is so muh tastier than pre-mixed powder.

Northern Asian food requires more time in the pan than SE Asian food. You need time to cook out the raw flavours in the spices, and time too for the flavours to develop and blend together into something that is greater than the individual spices that go into it. I'm also a big fan of using different kinds of protein, and one of my favourites is chick peas (garbanzo beans to the folks in the US).

Chana Masala

  • 2 tablespoons chana masala powder
  • 800 grams tinned chick peas
  • 2 tablespoons oil (not olive)
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 1 inch thumb of ginger, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large tomato, chopped or 1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated coconut (optional)
  • 5 small shallots (optional)

Masala Powder
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 cardamon pods
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 dry red chillies
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 inch piece cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg powder


1.   If making the masala powder, roast the whole spices in a dry pan individually as they all take differing amounts of time to cook. Grind together in a spice grinder, and then mix with the dry ginger and nutmeg.

2.   Heat the oil over a medium heat, and saute the onion, ginger and garlic until onion is soft, add in the curry powder and cook a further 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

3.   Add the tomato, chick peas, and 3 cups of water. Bring to the boil, and simmer gently for 25 minutes. Taste and add salt to taste. I added a large chopped potato at this stage as well as I love curried potatoes, so tend to pop them in curries that don't typically have them in there. Stir frequently and if it starts to get dry then add more water. The final curry will be fairly dry.

4.   Blend the coconut and shallots together into a paste and add to the cooked curry, cook for another 2 or 3 minutes and serve with Indian breads like paratha or dosa and rice.