Power flush the central heating system

Yep – Winter is here and the heating system is struggling. That’s the problem living in such a hard water area – sludge builds in the system and apparently causes cold spots in the radiators. In my case they are cooler at the bottom than at the top. It’s worse downstairs than up – but it’s just a symptom of sludge…and it will only get worse the longer it is left.

So, I’ve got three quote so far…two at £450 plus VAT, one at £600-£650. The fact that my radiator valves are unlikely to survive the power flush means an extra £100-£200 on top of the bill. Just in time for Christmas…nice.

Christmas cake

How many different recipes are there?

I’ve been through my collection of cookery books and have found no less than six different recipes – all similar in some way – all different in others. One recipe bakes for nearly five hours, one for just two and a half.

Yes, I’m baking Christmas cakes. Today I’ve prepared and baked one for my boyfriend. Tonight I’ll put the fruit in brandy to bake another for A & I as a little gift for Christmas. Normally, I bake little baskets of mince pies, angel cakes etc. for my “nice” neighbours – but I think the “nice” ones will get Christmas cakes this year. Whether I actually get around to marzipan and icing is another thing!!

I’m also baking cookies for the office regularly…last week I did “Blooming marvellous brownies” and oat cookies… The oat cookies went down a storm – the brownies disappeared quickly (as usual) – but with only three/four of us in the office on a regular basis – I’ll have to halve the recipe – otherwise our team will all be lardy very quickly.

Good oat-based cookie recipes are most welcome! (i.e. wheat free please).

Recipe for Christmas Cake:

Source: Adapted from Delia Smith’s Rich Fruit Cake recipe

400g currants
250g raisins
200g sultanas
115g glace cherries, rinsed and quartered
75g candied mixed peel, chopped
5 tablespoons brandy
225g plain flour
quarter teaspoon salt
quarter teaspon fresh nutmeg, grated
half teaspoon ground mixed spice
225g unsalted butter
225g soft brown sugar
4 large organic eggs
50g almonds, flaked or chopped (your choice)
1 tablespoon black treacle
grated rind two oranges

My version differs slightly from Delia’s – as over the years I have played with it somewhat.

Still here goes: soak the fruits together in the brandy overnight to infuse that Christmas flavour. Then, when you’re ready to get going, line your cake tin with greaseproof paper. I do this cake in a 9-inch round cake tin, Delia says an 8-inch (20cm), but I’ve always found that too high up! 7-inch (18cm)square cake tin as an alternative.

Next cream together the butter and sugar. I do this in an electrical mixer – it’s much more efficient. Don’t skimp on this at all – this stage it’s important to get as much air into the mixture as possible.

In a large bowl sift together the dry ingredients (flour, salt, and spices).

And in another bowl beat the eggs together. Start adding the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar mixture – just a little at a time, beating it as you going to ensure it’s thoroughly combined. if the mixture starts to curdle (it will, especially if your house is warm!), add a little bit of flour as prevention.

Next, fold in your dry sifted ingredients – a little at a time. Be sure not to beat this time. When well combined, add in your brandy-infused fruit, nuts, treacle and orange rind. Stir until you’re happy it’s combined, but don’t beat.

Transfer the mixture to your lined cake tin and spread evenly.

I always place a circle of paper over the cake with a cut-out for steam – to stop the top drying out too much. It depends whether or not you wish to ice the cake!

Bake in a low oven (gas mark 1, 140 centigrade, or 275F) for at least 4 hours. I nearly always give them 5 hours – but I tend to test the cake at 4 and a half (with a skewer).

Cool in the tin and when ready, unwrap from the greaseproof, wrap in foil and store until you’re ready to ice. You can feed the cake with more brandy – but I don’t find this necessary. I tend to bake these as gifts for people, and usually I make them a month in advance…with 5 tablespoons of brandy to start, you don’t usually need any more!

Good luck…