Women’s Weekly Spiced Fruit Christmas Cake

Christmas Cake 2010

Christmas Cake 2010

I wanted Christmas to be full of traditions when I had my own family and no better way than to bake a Christmas cake every year. I tend to get in the Christmas spirit of things quite early, like now for instance. So now is the time to get baking that Christmas Cake, for me this has become a tradition each October which started back in 2009.

That year I purchased the Women’s Weekly Christmas Cookery and Craft Special 2009. It featured lots of lovely recipes and at that time I was quite a novice baker but interested all the same. I wanted to make my own Christmas cake for the first time and the magazine featured a straight forward recipe for a Spiced Fruit Cake I believed I could follow. The ingredients list wasn’t mind bogglingly long like some recipes, nor were the instructions overly complicated. To my great relief, pride and joy the resulting cake I made tasted and looked amazing.

I recently contacted Women’s Weekly, who have kindly given me permission to publish their Spiced Fruit Cake recipe. Thank you Sue at Women’s Weekly for making this happen, I am truly grateful.

I’m now not so much a novice baker but quite experienced and I really enjoy finding new recipes. I recommend you take a look at http://www.womansweekly.co.uk for further inspiration. In addition this year they have published Women’s Weekly Best Ever Christmas Cakes, which contains some wonderful designs.

Spiced Fruit Cake

1kg packet dried mixed fruits
8 tablespoon rum
250g butter (softened)
250g dark muscavado sugar
300g plain flour
4 large eggs
1 level tablespoon ground allspice (or ground mixed spice for a traditional cake)

20cm round cake tin, lined with baking parchment (I also wrap the outside of the cake tin in brown paper to ensure the cake doesn’t burn on the edges)

1. Tip the dried fruit into a bowl and pour over 4 tablespoon of rum. Stir the fruit, cover the bowl and then leave the fruit overnight to absorb the rum.

Dried fruit soaked in rum

Dried fruit soaked in rum

2. Set the oven to Gas mark 2 or 150c (I set my oven to Fan 130c).

3. Cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Then beat the in the eggs, one at a time, adding a tablespoon of flour along with each egg. Fold in the remaining flour and ground allspice, then stir in the soaked fruit.

4. Spoon the mixture into the lined cake tin and level the surface. Rub over the top of the cake with a wet hand to smooth the surface.

Ready to be baked

Ready to be baked

5. Bake the cake in the centre of the oven for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, or until a skewer comes out clean after being inserted.

6. Remove the cake from the oven and leave it to cool for about 15 minutes, then spoon over the remaining rum. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin.

Baked Spiced Fruit Cake

Baked Spiced Fruit Cake

7. If the cake is not going to be decorated immediately, the wrap the cold cake in baking parchment and then foil. Store in a cool and airy place for up to 3 months.

I like to feed my cake every 2 weeks with 1 to 2 tablespoons of rum in the run up to Christmas.

Cooled fruit cake ready for wrapping and storing

Cooled fruit cake ready for wrapping and storing

How to decorate your cake

1kg white sugarpaste
1kg white marzipan
4 – 6 tablespoon apricot glaze

28cm round cake drum

1. Turn the cake upside down and place it in the centre of the cake drum.

2. Warm the apricot glaze and brush over the sides and top of the cake.

3. Knead the marzipan until soft and roll out on a surface dusted with icing sugar until 5mm thick. Lift the marzipan over the cake and press it down making sure there are no air bubbles.

4. Trim away the excess marzipan.

5. Knead the white sugarpaste until soft and roll it out on a surface dusted with icing sugar until it is 5mm thick. Brush the cake with cool boiled water and lift the sugarpaste on top of the cake and pressing down on top and then the sides to ease it in place. Make sure there are no air bubbles.

6. Trim away the excess sugarpaste.

7. The cake is now ready to decorate with your choice of festive decorations. I quite like the pastel blue and white snow flakes on my cake in 2010 or you could go a bit more traditional with holly like my 2012 cake. Festive cutters in the shape of holly and snowflakes along with coloured sugarpaste are readily available online or in your local cake decorating shop.

Christmas Cake 2012

Christmas Cake 2012

I hope you are inspired. This recipe is really easy so if you have never made a Christmas cake before, now is definitely the time to try. So get baking! Let me know how you get on.

Thank you once again at Women’s Weekly for allowing me to publish your fabulous recipe.


Beefy Meatballs with Bucatini Pasta

Lovely Meatballs and Pasta

Lovely Meatballs and Pasta

There is nothing more satisfying than cooking a meal that the whole family enjoys. This meatball recipe is one of those, it is tasty, wholesome and just plain good. I like to make a big batch and divide it up in portions for the children and then with what’s left (usually half) I add 1/4 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes for a spicy kick for us grown ups.

One of my favourite pastas is bucatini, if you have never come across it, it is best described as long thin tubes of pasta. Bucatini is also ideal for toddlers and young children to eat as it can be cut up easily into bite size pieces.

The meatballs can be made ahead and kept in the fridge covered in clingfilm until needed later in the day.

Ingredients (Serves 4 adults)


500g lean mince beef
2 slices of wholemeal bread
1 tablespoon mixed herbs
1 large egg (beaten)
1 teaspoon of fine sea salt
Black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

Tomato Sauce

2 x 400g chopped tinned tomatoes
1 small onion (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (optional or amount according to taste)

400g bucatini pasta
Parmesan cheese (finely grated)


1. In a mini chopper or food processor whizz the bread until you get breadcrumbs.

2. In a large bowl mix together the mince beef, breadcrumbs, mixed herbs, salt, egg and a good grinding of black pepper. I tend to use my hands as it is easier to combine all the ingredients.

3. Once thoroughly combined take small chunks of the mixture and roll with your hands to get small meatballs about 3cm in diameter. No need to be exact here but try to get them roughly the same size so they cook at the same time. You should get anything between 34 and 38 meatballs. Then set aside until needed.

Meatballs ready for cooking

Meatballs ready for cooking

4. To make the tomato sauce first heat the olive oil in a large heavy casserole pan and sauté the onions until soft.

5. Add the tinned tomatoes, dried oregano and a grinding of black pepper. Add the dried chilli flakes at this stage if you wish. I tend to add only 1/4 teaspoon of chilli flakes to half the tomato sauce, so the other half is chilli free and child friendly.

6. Bring to the boil and simmer until you have a lovely thick tomato sauce. Keep on a low heat stirring every now and again. Cook for approximately 30 minutes.

7. Meanwhile to cook the meatballs heat the olive oil in a large frying pan.

8. Pan fry the meatballs in three batches, by browning all sides until the meatballs are cooked through. When the first batch of meatballs are cooked add to the tomato sauce and then fry the second batch of meatballs. Continue until all the meatballs have been cooked and are in the tomato sauce.

9. Cook the bucatini pasta in a saucepan of salted boiling water until al dente and scoop out a cup of the starchy pasta water and set aside.

10. Drain the pasta and add to the meatballs in tomato sauce. Add a little of the starchy water to help emulsify the sauce. Stir through well whilst still on the heat for about 30 seconds.

Meatballs ready to serve

Meatballs ready to serve

12. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese on top.

I hope you enjoy the meatballs with bucatini, they really are a winning combination. Like always I love to hear what you think, please leave your comments in the box below.


Link up your recipe of the week

Spicy Potatoes, Chorizo and Peppers with Pan Fried Sea Bass

Pan Fried Sea Bass

Pan Fried Sea Bass

Ok, let’s face it if you live in England summer is well and truly over. The weather is most definitely autumnal, brisk winds and plenty of rain too. So if you are longing for the sun or just want a little reminder of your holiday this is for you. This meal has a real Spanish vibe with the chorizo and spices, which marry perfectly with the delicate fish. The beauty of this dish is that it’s so easy to prepare and tastes delicious. To make life a little easier you can get everything ready in the baking tray earlier in the day, cover it with cling film and pop it in the fridge until needed.

Ingredients (Serves 2)

400g Charlotte or new potatoes
1 Red pepper (cut into 2cm squares)
12cm Chorizo ring (cut into 1cm slices)
1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp Smoked paprika
A good pinch of salt
A grinding of black pepper
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 Sea Bass fillets (skin on)
Rocket leaves


1. Pre heat your oven to Fan 200c.

2. Prepare your potatoes by scrubbing them clean and then cutting into halves or thirds depending on their size, you want the potato chunks roughly the same size.

3. Par boil the potatoes for 12 minutes.

4. Put the potatoes, chorizo and peppers in a baking tray sprinkle over the cayenne pepper, smoked paprika and season with a generous amount of salt and black pepper. Toss everything in 1 tablespoon of olive oil so everything is beautifully coated.

5. Place in the oven and cook for 25 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, heat a non stick frying pan with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.

7. Season the fish fillets with salt and black pepper and pan fry skin side down until the fish is almost cooked through, turn over once then flip back over again.

8. Serve the cooked fish with the potatoes, chorizo and peppers along with a side salad of rocket leaves.

I hope you enjoy this taste of summer.

Until next time.


I have entered this recipe into the Spice Trail Challenge organised by Vanesther at Bangers and Mash. This months challenge is to include paprika in a dish.

Chicken and Mushroom Risotto Style Orzo

Risotto Style Orzo

Risotto Style Orzo

If you have been following my blog, let me say ‘Thank you, I appreciate your support and lovely comments’. If this is your first visit ‘Welcome, I hope you enjoy and come back again’.

Earlier in the month I posted a review of Nigella’s Pasta Risotto with Peas and Pancetta, which discussed the benefit of using orzo pasta instead of the traditional risotto rice when making risotto. I’ve come to love type of dish and I usually make it if I’m eating alone, I’m not sure why it’s just the way it is. I don’t have bags of time to hover over a stove so this method of making a risotto style meal appeals a lot to me. I adore roast chicken so I thought pairing chicken and earthy mushrooms together would make a lovely autumnal orzo risotto. The chicken stock and a good grinding of black pepper in the recipe gives it a bit of oomph. I like to serve mine topped with rockets leaves.

Ingredients (Serves 1 easily doubled)

2 Chicken thighs (skin on and bone in)
80g Mushrooms
125g Orzo pasta
350ml Chicken stock (made using 1/2 Kallo organic chicken stock cube)
1 1/2 tablespoon Parmesan cheese (finely grated)
1 tablespoon Olive oil
Salt and Black Pepper
Rocket leaves


1. Pre heat the oven to Fan 180c.

2. Place the chicken thighs in a non stick baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper, roast for 40 mins until the chicken is cooked through.

3. Shred the chicken meat off the bones and set aside.

4. Heat the olive oil in a heavy casserole pan.

5. Quarter slice the mushrooms and sauté them in the olive oil for about 5 minutes.

6. Add the orzo pasta to the pan and stir to coat the pasta in the residue oil and mushroom juices.

7. Pour in the hot chicken stock and add the shredded chicken. Season with salt and black pepper.

8. Bring to the boil and then simmer on a low heat for about 15 minutes until the stock has been absorbed.

9. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the grated Parmesan and add more black pepper if necessary.

10. Serve garnished with a handful of rocket leaves on top.

Like always do let me know what you think, especially if you have had the opportunity to try this recipe.

Until next time.


Link up your recipe of the week

Rachel Allen’s Coconut and Lime Cake

Coconut and Lime Cake

Coconut and Lime Cake

I was racking my brains for inspiration for my first ever cake club meeting. The theme was holiday flavours, this got me thinking tropical holidays, tropical fruits and then bingo I thought Coconut and Lime Cake. I had been looking through my vast collection of cookbooks (I’m not exaggerating I have a lot of books) and came across a few different versions of the same cake. However, it was a Rachel Allen’s version of this cake I opted for. The chosen recipe was taken from Rachel’s book entitled ‘Cake’, a beautifully put together book but somewhat lacking in photographs. The recipe and ingredients appeared straight forward and I had the right size cake tin 20cm square. So I thought it was worth a go regardless of whether I knew what it should look like.

If like me you have one of the first print editions of Rachel’s book then you will soon realise there is an error in the recipe, as it does not state when to add the coconut mixture. I found from Rachel’s website that it should be incorporated after the flour has been folded in.

I use a fan oven so quite frequently when I’m following recipes I have to adjust the oven temperature by about 10-20c. For this cake I decided to bake it at 160c but in hind sight this might not have been the right thing to do as it took 1 hour to bake not 35 minutes as the recipe said. Just like the Blackberry Buttermilk Sponge cake.

The resulting cake was moist and with a pleasing flavour. Both the coconut and lime came through perfectly. I increased the quantity of coconut milk in the icing to suit my taste and it was really delicious. A lovely change from the usual sponge cake.

I was a little nervous of letting the other cake club members try my cake but it wasn’t any sort of competition so I had nothing to lose. I think they liked it, my family certainly did so I’m pleased. I would definitely make this cake again. If you have Cake by Rachel Allen give this recipe a go and let me know how you get on.

A mug of tea with a serving of coconut and lime cake

A mug of tea with a serving of coconut and lime cake

Until next time.


Easy Peasy Flatbread Pizzas

Flatbread Pizza

Flatbread Pizza

Pizza is one of those foods that everyone loves, well nearly everyone. Rather than buying a takeaway or opting for a shop bought one, both of which can be expensive this is a fantastic cheaper alternative. I’m not pretending that this is authentic Italian cuisine but my children like it so it works for me.

I felt inspired to make these Flatbread Pizzas when I first found M&S’s new Oval Flatbreads (twin pack) for 99p. Although I can vouch the flatbreads taste delicious just as they are, pizza bases immediately sprung to mind. Of course you could make your own pizza dough, which is extremely satisfying but sometimes speed is of the essence. This recipe is especially quick if you make the tomato sauce base in advance.

As this recipe only uses half the tomato sauce base, I usually put the other half in a plastic container to be stored in either the fridge or freezer. Just on its own the tomato sauce is great with pasta.

This is an ideal recipe to get children involved with as they can do most of it themselves. Children enjoy their food so much more if they have made it themselves so why not have toppings that they would not normally try to entice them to eat new things. When we have had school friends round for tea this meal has proved a hit.

Tomato Sauce Base (enough for 4 pizza bases)

400g Chopped tinned tomatoes
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Black pepper

1. Empty the tinned tomatoes into a lidded saucepan, add the herbs, balsamic vinegar and a good grinding of black pepper. Stir ingredients well.

2. Bring to to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes with the lid partially on, stirring every now and again.

3. When ready you will have a lovely thick sauce.

Flatbread Pizzas (makes 2)

M&S Oval Flatbreads (twin pack)
50g grated cheese (mozzarella or cheddar)
1/2 quantity tomato sauce base
Small handful of frozen sliced peppers
Small handful of frozen sweetcorn
1 slice of good quality ham (chopped)

1. Pre heat the oven to Fan 200c.

2. Lay the flatbreads on a non stick baking sheet. Spread the tomato sauce over the flatbreads leaving a gap around the edge.

3. Sprinkle on the cheese.

4. Top with the peppers, sweetcorn and chopped ham.

5. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until starting to crisp.

I normally serve the pizza with tomatoes and cucumber on the side. If you enjoy using this recipe please let me know as I love to hear your feedback.


Link up your recipe of the week

Nigella’s Pasta Risotto with Peas and Pancetta


About a year ago I was given a copy of Nigellissima by Nigella Lawson as a present, since then it has become my favourite Nigella book. The recipes are Italian inspired in that they use Italian ingredients or are based on Italian recipes.

I strongly recommend you try the following recipes:

Meringue gelato cake with chocolate sauce – a delicious and decadent dessert for adults

Chocolate olive oil cake – a moist chocolate cake for chocoholics

Curly edged pasta with lamb ragu – a comforting pasta dish with a hint of chilli

Pasta risotto with peas and pancetta – a big hug of a dinner

The latter is probably the recipe I make most frequently, so much I think that I’ve memorised it. There are 2 good things about the pasta risotto firstly it is very quick, much quicker than a traditional risotto. Secondly, I usually have all the ingredients (or that I now shop so I have all the ingredients). The pasta risotto is not made using traditional risotto rice but rice shaped pasta called orzo. Some supermarkets stock orzo alongside rice products whereas some stock it with the numerous varieties of pastas. I either buy the brands Merchant Gourmet or Cook Italian, purely because the supermarkets where I shop have yet to stock their own brand, maybe they will soon.

Do give this recipe a try, I’m sure you will enjoy it. Thank you Nigella.

The Best Pancetta and Courgette Pasta

Pancetta & Courgette Pasta

Pancetta & Courgette Pasta

I’ve been making this pasta recipe for as long as I can remember and it uses some of my favourite ingredients, chopped tinned tomatoes and cubetti di pancetta.

Chopped tinned tomatoes are fantastic, aren’t they? When I have a tin in my cupboard I know we won’t go hungry. I can rustle up an easy pasta sauce or pizza topping with a handy tin of toms. I usually buy in bulk the branded Italian ones when they are on offer in Sainsbury’s so it makes things a little more affordable.

Cubetti di pancetta is a great fridge standby product with a typically long shelf life. I tend to use it a lot for this recipe but also in chicken pies and my absolute favourite Nigella recipe Pasta Risotto with pancetta and peas (I hope to blog about this another time).

Pancetta & Courgette Pasta (serves 4 children or 2 adults)

400g chopped tinned tomatoes

160g cubetti di pancetta (with herbs if possible or just add 1/2 teaspoon of mixed herbs to the pancetta)

1 courgette

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Black pepper

200g whole wheat penne pasta

Parmesan or cheddar cheese for grating on top

1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan or a deep frying pan with a lid.

2. Meanwhile, chop the courgette into quarter slices then add to the oil and cook until soft and starting to char.

Cooking the courgette quarter slices in olive oil

Cooking the courgette quarter slices in olive oil

3. Add the pancetta and sauté until starting to crisp. If your pancetta doesn’t come with herbs add 1/2 teaspoon of mixed herbs at this stage to the pan.

Pancetta now added to the pan

Pancetta now added to the pan

4. Add the tinned tomatoes and a good grinding of black pepper, bring to the boil and then simmer with the lid on partially for about 20 minutes so you have a thick sauce.

Chopped tinned tomatoes added to the pan

Chopped tinned tomatoes added to the pan

5. While the sauce is cooking cook the pasta in a pan of salted boiling water until it is al dente.

6. When the pasta is cooked scoop out half a cup of the cooking water, then drain and add the pasta to the pan of sauce and stir through on the heat for about 30 seconds. Add a bit of the cooking water to the pan to help the sauce become silky over the pasta.

7. Serve the pasta with a grating of parmesan or cheddar cheese on top.

Easy Peasy Chicken Goujons

Chicken Goujons

Chicken Goujons

Hardly a recipe at all but I felt the need to share this easy peasy recipe that my children love. These chicken goujons are the perfect way to get children cooking in the kitchen with you. Not only will the kids have fun helping but they will be learning at the same time.

This recipes is enough to feed 3 to 4 children depending on their appetite.

Chicken Goujons

250g mini chicken fillets
1/2 box of Panko breadcrumbs
1 egg
Plain flour (about 2 heaped dessert spoons)
Salt & pepper
2 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil

1. Pre heat your oven to 180c (fan)

2. Heat the oil in a non stick frying pan

3. Now get 2 large plates, 1 large bowl and a non stick baking tray.

4. In your first plate add the flour and season with the salt and pepper.

5. In the large bowl crack in the egg and beat until combined.

6. In the second plate scatter the breadcrumbs.

7. Now to get dipping, dip the chicken fillets in the flour to fully coat, then the egg and then finally in the breadcrumbs.

8. Fry the goujons on both sides until golden brown, I then like to finish off by placing them on a baking tray in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes to ensure they are fully cooked through.

A simple dinner of chicken goujons, a jacket potato and salad for the children or grown ups if you like.

Chicken goujons with a jacket potato and a bit of salad

Chicken goujons with a jacket potato and a bit of salad

Blackberry Buttermilk Sponge

GBBO book and my version of the Blackberry Buttermilk Sponge

GBBO book and my version of the Blackberry Buttermilk Sponge

If like me you are a little bit obsessed with the Great British Bake Off, you can understand my delight when I was given the latest GBBO book as a present. The book titled the Great British Bake Off Everyday is written by Linda Collister with recipes from Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood and the Series 4 contestants. After browsing through the book I decided to start at the very beginning with the Blackberry Buttermilk Sponge, using plump in season blackberries.

It proved to be a very simple and straight forward recipe. I have a fan assisted oven, so I baked my cake at 160c rather than the 180c stated in the recipe. After 35 minutes I checked my cake and I could tell that it was nowhere near ready, I popped it back for another 10 minutes. This time I tested the middle of the cake with a piece of dry spaghetti, but it still wasn’t cooked through. The cake was finally baked to perfection after being in the oven for 1 hour!

Blackberry Buttermilk Sponge

Blackberry Buttermilk Sponge

The cake is quite moist and a bit zingy with the buttermilk and tart blackberries. I let the cake cool down before I sliced it and enjoyed it with a lovely cup of tea. I recommend you try this recipe if you are planning on having an afternoon tea.

The next recipe I want to try is Paul’s Apricot Couronne. The GBBO contestants did so well with this technical challenge in episode 6 I feel inspired to have a go.