Mince pies of course!

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This was my first attempt at mince pies, and they turned out really well, in a chunky homemade sort of way! The recipe uses homemade pastry (which, if you have never made before, is surprisingly simple), shop-bought mincemeat and a sprinkle of orange zest. The pastry lids are finished off with a pinch of sugar, as suggested by my oldest son. He also suggested we use chopped pecan nuts as an alternative topping for a couple of them, which was a rather excellent idea.

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My oldest felt his sugar and pecan suggestions were enough input, so my youngest actually helped with the making. He rolled out some of the pastry, cut the lid shapes with cookie cutters and put them on top. Hence the interesting array of shapes! Don’t worry if you don’t have cookie cutters – use the rim of a glass or a bowl instead (make sure they are slightly bigger than the muffin tray holes to allow for covering the sides too).
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If you want more sophisticated mince pies then aim for thinner pastry, as since the pies are quite small it is easy to end up with more pastry than filling. Don’t worry if you have some leftover pastry, just make sure it is rolled out flat, put it in a freezer bag and freeze. You could use it to make something else another day (I made cornish pasties!)
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For the mince pies you will need a muffin tray, cookie cutters or glasses and a straw.

Mince pies (makes 12)

For the pastry

125g butter, melted (I do this in the microwave for 20 second bursts – takes about 1 min)
250g plain flour
2-3 tbsp water

For the filling

Approx 1/2 jar (220g) mincemeat
Zest of 1 orange
Optional – white/light brown sugar for sprinkling

To make the pastry, mix the butter and flour together with a spoon and your hands if necessary, add the water and squeeze in to a ball. It shouldn’t be too sticky. Flour a surface and lightly flour a rolling pin. Roll the pastry out (in two lots if short on space) until it is about 5mm (1/4 inch thick). Don’t press too hard with the rolling pin as it may stick, and use more flour on the surface and rolling pin to avoid it sticking if necessary.

Use a large cookie cutter (around 10cm) or the rim of a similar sized glass or bowl to cut circles out, and gently place them in the muffin tray holes, ensuring they cover the sides too. Add around 1 tsp mincemeat and a sprinkle of orange zest to each pie (avoid overfilling or it might overflow in the oven). Cut smaller circles/cookie cutter shapes for the pie lids, pierce a hole in the middle with a straw and place on top of each pie. Sprinkle each pie with a pinch of sugar if you like.

Bake the pies on gas mark 5/190 degrees for 15-30 minutes (this will depend on your oven), until lightly browned. Check every few mins after 10 mins to avoid burning. Once cooked leave to cool a little – they are nicest when still warm! Will last a couple of days in a sealed container.

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Wild West Rice (ready in 45 mins)

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Wild West Rice is based on Jamie Oliver’s version of a Native American recipe.  It’s a unique, sweet and nutty dish full of interesting flavours and textures.   Rice is mixed with dried cranberries, onion, chopped almonds, cinnamon, garlic, dill and lemon juice and eaten with lovely thick wedges of roast butternut squash.  We had the dish with baked trout but it would be nice with chicken or a salad too.  My kids rejected the butternut squash but liked the rice!  I had a feeling that would happen, but it was worth a try… They were intrigued by the name of the dish, which sparked off a discussion about cowboys.

I used a packet of pre-cooked microwave rice to speed things up, and stir-fried it with the other ingredients instead of microwaving it.  Pre-cooked rice is absolutely brilliant for making cooking times quicker and can be kept in the cupboard for a good while until needed!

Wild West Rice (serves 4)

2 tbsp any oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed/chopped

1 red/white onion, chopped small

1 packet microwave rice (I used brown rice)

Shake cinnamon (I probably used about 1/4 tsp but use what you like – avoid lots though as it will overpower the dish!)

Large handful dried cranberries

Small handful roughly chopped dill

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper

1 butternut squash, skin on and deseeded, cut in to thick finger sized chunks

Heat the oven to gas mark 5/190 degrees.  Put the butternut squash chunks in to a baking tray, drizzle with 1 tbsp oil, season with salt and pepper and mix well.  Roast, shaking the tray every 10 mins and turning the chunks if necessary, for around  30-40 minutes, until soft and golden brown on the outside (time will depend on your oven).

Meanwhile, put 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan/saucepan on a medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion and fry for a few minutes until soft.  Add the rice and cinnamon, cranberries, dill and lemon juice and fry for a few more mins until all mixed and cooked through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Put the rice on a plate with the butternut squash chunks.  Eat with fish, chicken or a salad.

Afternoon Tea – at home

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A few weeks ago we were on our way to a very rare treat of ‘afternoon tea’ at a family cafe, when it all went wrong and we didn’t make it (I won’t go in to detail, but let’s just say that tensions were high).

Anyway, not to ruin the whole day, we decided to have afternoon tea at home, which turned out to be more fun than I reckon it would have been at the cafe.  The point of afternoon tea at home is to enjoy yourself and momentarily forget about having a balanced meal.  You don’t have to make anything from scratch as it is the experience that is most important.  You could get everything from the shop, make one thing yourself or go crazy if you feel like it.

Since we don’t have those fancy three layer cake stand thingies we constructed them out of an upside-down cup and two plates.  And my son helped me decorate kitchen roll sheets to use as napkins.

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The kids decorated the table with some bizarre things like an egg timer and a dice (!)  I made two sweet treats that I knew were pretty simple: a damp lemon and almond cake (the first cake I ever made a few years ago) and banoffee pie, plus we had some leftover digestive biscuits in the biscuit tin.  I also made some simple parmesan and poppy seed lollipops (see below for recipes) and got creative with the contents of the fridge – egg mayo sandwiches, cheese sandwiches and cheese and chorizo sandwiches.

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The kids had a carton of juice each and I used my gran’s dusty teapot to serve tea, but a jug of squash or even water with sliced fruit or cucumber is a great alternative.  If you have sweet lollipops handy you could put them in a cup for people to help themselves, or if you have fruit you could cut and thread them on to a straw or skewer.  Sausage rolls, cheese biscuits, cheese and pineapple, crisps, any sweet biscuits and scones and jam would work great too.  Absolutely anything goes!

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Here are the recipes I used:

Damp lemon and almond cake: https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/damp-lemon-and-almond-cake-20-mins-prep1-hour-cooking/

Cheats banoffee pie: https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/cheats-banoffee-pie-ready-in-30-mins/

Parmesan and poppy seed biscuits: https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/snazzy-yet-simple-party-food/

And a few that would also work well:

Instant cheesecakes https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/instant-cheesecakes-for-the-party-season/

Veggie mince cups (feel free to fill with other ingredients as long as not too wet): https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2016/01/21/veggie-mince-cups/

Sausage rolls: https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/stilton-crust-veggie-or-meat-sausage-rolls-20-mins-prep30-mins-cooking/

Choc peanut butter cups: https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2015/02/04/chocolate-and-peanut-butter-cups-4-minutes-of-effort/