Category Archives: Holidays

Homemade Mince Pies

If you’ve been following me for a couple of weeks, you’ll already have my homemade mincemeat recipe, as well as a nice and easy sweet shortcrust pastry recipe. Now it’s time to put them together to make warm, comforting homemade mince pies. Trust me, if you’re expecting friends and family to drop in over the festive period, you’ll feel very smug when you present a plate of these to them with their coffee or mulled wine! They’re also lovely to take with you as a hostess gift if you’re dropping in somewhere for a visit. 

And if you don’t like mincemeat (and if you haven’t been converted by my recipe yet) you could always use chopped apple and cinnamon or jam instead.

 how to make mince pies  

You will need:

1 batch sweet shortcrust pastry (or a packet of ready-made)

Around 24 tbsp of mincemeat (again, a jar of shop-bought would work) 

A little butter to grease the tin

A sprinkle of icing sugar for each one 

A shallow 12-hole tray 

Cling film

A rolling pin 

A round biscuit/scone cutter plus a small star cutter (you can make a round pastry lid instead as you make a couple of holes in it to let the steam out, or another festive shape such as a Christmas tree, or send them out into the world topless and calm them tarts!) the round cutter is pretty essential, but if you’re clever, a glass and a knife would do the trick, just aim for circles big enough to line the bottom and sides of each hole. christmas recipes  
1. Use a pastry brush to thinly butter each muffin tin hole, to make sure the pies can be removed later. 

 cling film pastry rolling 
2. Take the pastry out of the fridge and cut in half. Place one half on a large piece of cling film and flatten out as much as you can with your hands. Put another piece of cling film on top and roll out to about 3mm thin for nice crisp pies (and it makes the pastry go further!). This can be time consuming and it requires a bit of muscle, but stick with it. And, trust me, the cling film method is light years easier than trying this with flour and a board!

 cutting out mince pies 

 3. Remove the top layer of cling film and cut out as many circles as you can. Try not to twist the cutter, as this will change the shape of your little rounds. Keep as close as you can when you do the next one, and that way you’ll make the most of your pastry sheet without having to re-roll too often.  Remember you have the other half to roll-out as well. 

 thin shortcrust pastry 
They may lift out when you take away the cutter, but if not, just carefully peel each piece from the cling film. 

 how to make tarts 
4. One pastry circle per space, thank you. Lay the pastry over each hole and gently push in from the edge. It should fall nicely into place. 

6. Cut out the lids. If necessary, gather and re-roll, or roll out the other half if you haven’t used it yet. 


7. Carefully spoon in the filling. About 1 and a half to 2 tablespoons of filling into each pie. 

 homemade mincemeat 

8. Put the lids on. 

 how to make pastry 
9. Put in the fridge for at least half an hour to allow the pastry to firm up. It sounds daft, but it really makes a difference. 

10. Pre-heat the oven to 170C fan and bake for around 20 minutes or until the pastry is starting to brown. 

11. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing from the tin. The pastry should contract a little making this easier, but you can always help them out a little with a paring knife. 

 christmas party food 
12. Once cool, dust with icing sugar. christmas home baking  

What’s in my Hand Luggage

Whilst recent events have made me reconsider my normal hand luggage packing practice (being tested for explosives in a Croatian airport), I always find it interesting to read other people’s hints and tips for packing, so I thought I might as well share mine.

The bag – first of all, you need a bag to put all your stuff in. I prefer a large handbag with good handles or a shoulder strap. If you go with a bag that has to be carried (rather than a small wheely case), you’ll be less likely to overpack. Also, for a girl, it’s better to treat your hand luggage as a roomy handbag, as you’ll want to keep your normal handbag essentials on you when you travel.

Being short, I’ve always struggled with managing overhead storage on planes, trains and buses, so for me it’s essential (unless I’m travelling with Mr Brooker) to have a bag that will fit under the seat in front (or under the table on a train). That makes this bag perfect for me, as it’s fabric and will easily mould into a small space.

A change of clothes – despite never having experienced lost luggage (touch wood), I always pack a change of clothes in my hand luggage, just in case. Usually, that consists of a pair of shorts, a tshirt, a change of underwear, flip flops and a dress, if you have one light enough which won’t crease easily. This also takes a little weight out of your suitcase. Stick them in w plastic bag, to keep them nice and clean, just in case emerging in your bag leaks or spills.

Important Documents – passport, tickets or boarding pass, travel insurance policy schedule and contact details. I also had some Italian and Croatian phrases to read on the plane. 
Your general essentials – phone charger, camera and charger, your tablet, if you’re taking it, and any medications you might need. I also travel with Vaseline in my bag to deal with dry lips, mints to freshen up and a hair bobble in case my hair needs to be dealt with. 
Travel time essentials – sunglasses so you’re prepared as soon as you step off the plane, and something sensational to read during all that time sitting on your bum. I also take another book or two in my suitcase, or buy more at the airport, but that usually works out to be extremely pricey!
Money! – I always travel with 2 purses to split my money up. I have my every day purse with sterling and a little local currency as well as my cards etc, and another for foreign currency only. Only when we travel do we carry such an amount of cash. So keep what you don’t need for each day safe in a separate purse in your hotel safe. Plus if you get pick pocketed en route, they’re not going to be looking for 2 purses. 

Make-up – we’re talking non-liquid essentials and anything fragile, such as palettes and baked blush. You don’t want these getting wrecked in the hold. And everything’s to hand  if you do lose your luggage. 

Ok, a pop-up wine glass isn’t essential. But this one’s pretty cool. £4 at Tesco.


Liquids – I’m sure you all know about the plastic bag rule for liquids in your hand luggage. Nothing over 100ml, and all to be placed in a clear plastic bag. I think ziplock freezer bags are the best thing for the job, and a great way to keep all your make up and hand sanitiser altogether.

So that’s pretty much it! I’d love to hear your hints and tips for packing – which items can’t you do without?!

Mango-glazed Ham

Sorry I haven’t been able to blog for awhile; I’ve been taking a quick holiday on the Isle of Skye and the rules were made pretty clear that we should be keeping work and the Internet to the bare minimum! Ever since then, I’ve been trying to get some new recipes up but my WordPress app has not been playing ball. 

More on our trip another day….

As we were staying self-catering, we went to the butcher on the morning we left. On Sunday afternoon, I made my mango-glazed ham, which always seems to go down well. I’ve made this twice for Christmas and once as a hostess gift and it’s a much thriftier way of acquiring enough cold meat to see you through. You’ll need to pay attention to the cooking time on the packet, as this will depend on the size and type of ham.

You will need:

1 smoked gammon joint

1 litre orange and mango juice

1/2 litre chicken stock 

1 bouquet garni

2 bay leaves

Mango chutney, enough to cover the top of the ham – about 3/4 of a small jar or half a largish jar


large stock pot


1. Unwrap the ham and remove any film or paper. Check the cooking time suggested. I normally knock off about 10 minutes from the boiling time as it will be baked as well.

2. Put the ham in the pot and add the juice and stock. If there isn’t enough liquid to cover the ham, top it up with water until the gammon is just covered. Add the bouquet garni and bay leaves. 

3. Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer. Check on the pot every now and again to make sure the ham stays covered. After the recommended cooking town, allow to cool for 10 minutes or so then carefully remove the ham. 

4. Allow to sit to cool a bit more. Trim off the rind and some of the fat. And preheat the oven to about 190C.

5. Score into the fat, but not all the way through, into a criss cross pattern. Stud each corner of the squares you have made with cloves. Spoon on the mango chutney until coveted. This will require some patience as it will melt and drop off the sides a bit when gravity takes hold – just scoop up and pour back over. 

6. Pop on a foil lined tray in the oven and bake for 40 minutes or until the glaze is golden. You might want to take it out half way through to scoop on any chutney that has come off and turn. 

Carefully slice when cool and enjoy with chutney, crusty bread and salad!


Happy Valentine’s (from one without a Valentine)

So here’s to another February 14th. I know that most people have a love/hate relationship with this day (or a hate/hate relationship if your name is Charles) but nevertheless, happen it will every year.

I, personally, forego this holiday every year because my boyfriend doesn’t believe in its commerciality. It’s fair enough, he treats me better than any girl deserves, but still, I love love and if we think we’re a good together, then we should be nailing Valentine’s Day, not shunning it. And all girls like to find a man on their doorstep holding a bouquet big enough to block out his head.

For those of you who criticise the commerciality of the day, spare a thought for the local florists, gift shops, butchers, bakers and restaurants who rely on this day every year to make up for the January slump. It is always lovely to see a man walking down the street with a stunning bouquet for his lady. Supermarkets, confectioners and Hallmark, though, you guys are vultures. If you’re going to do it, gentlemen, here are some tips for you:

1. If you’re going to buy her flowers, go for a single rose from a local florist, or a completely unrelated bouquet variety.

2. If you’re going to buy her a trite old teddy bear or other cliched gift, think again! Get her something she would want any day of the year: a book, perfume, a candle, something for her home. True romance is about what’s in your heart, not your wallet.

3. If you’re going to feed her, take her to a local restaurant (not a chain!) or make her something from scratch (not a dine in for two meal deal!) preferably from local produce.


4. Don’t watch 50 Shades of Grey.

5. Don’t propose! It’s just as clichéd as a New Year proposal.

So what do you do if you aren’t in a relationship and that ‘secret admirer’ hasn’t turned up to surprise you at the last minute? Don’t wallow! Remember, the ones who are taking part are probably doing so reluctantly, or because they want something from their special lady. If they can’t love you every day or treat you as you deserve, they’re not worth your time.

Have the girls over, put on a DVD and drink wine. Maybe cocktails. No ice cream. Ice cream is for wallowers. If all your girls are on dates, treat yourself, on your own. Cook yourself your favourite dinner, have a hot bubble bath with music, a book, candles (don’t burn the house down) and a glass of wine. Don’t cry. Make yourself pretty, put on your favourite pjs and watch a comedy. Or a horror. Whatever. Don’t cry. It’s just a day. Tomorrow will swing around soon enough. And if all else fails, it’s Pancake Day on Tuesday!