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I’m Back!

Hello Blog Readers

I’m back after a long break despite good intentions earlier this year to blog more frequently. Life has been chaotic in the Domino household since March with many setbacks, medical issues and other matters of which I shan’t bore you about, suffice to say we are now back to normal. I think. Well, as least as normal as it can be here.

Sadly, a brief summer seems to have passed us by and autumn is well and truly on the wind. The leaves are turning and dropping already and most of the garden flowers spent although a few are maintaining a colourful display. To be honest, it’s been looking quite good these past few months thanks to the extra effort put in by the other half now he’s retired. At the moment he’s busy putting up new soffits and guttering around the man-cave before winter exerts another toll upon the tools and man toys.

As for me, I’ve had a few setbacks and disappointments but none that cannot be overcome and move forward from. I’ve even managed to create some artwork this summer and can boast three on public display in a nearby town venue.

I’ve also had a few shocks this summer, the biggest being when one day the other half requested curry and rice for dinner. Curry? Is he serious? Oh, and can I put apple and sultanas in it too? In all of our 42 years together he’s never once asked for a curry, let alone eaten one. He’s always moaned and grumbled and groaned whenever I’ve had one out, even if simply chips with curry sauce! Okay, so who is this man and what have you done with the real Dave? So a mild chicken curry I made. Well, I say made, it was made using a Korma curry sauce curtesy of Aldi. And golly good it was too. And now a regular on the Friday lunch menu. Talking of menus…

As you are probably aware, or not, I am a great lover of Greek food. Greek anything, in fact. And sadly, I haven’t been able to get to Greece now for several years, the past two years with no holiday at all! (Can hear the violins playing already.) I love the dips, especially tzatziki and hummus but those ready-made ones from supermarkets are just not the same. I had a deep craving for hummus one balmy week in June but didn’t dare make one as Dave is allergic to garlic. The smell, the taste and the thought. He goes ape. He can’t stand it. What to do…? How to curb such a want. Dare I attempt to make one?

Yup. I picked up a couple of tins of chickpeas, opened one, read the instructions how to make – easy enough and blitzed away minus the garlic. It tasted bland, it tasted dull, it tasted … of nothing. Then came a lightbulb moment. Now, it might seem obvious to you but it wasn’t to me until that moment. I added a dollop of roasted onion chutney to the mixture and voilà. Wonderful roast onion hummus I could eat until the cows came home, well… until it was all gone, without him moaning and groaning about it. It would have been even better with some garlic, but hey ho, this little beggar can’t have it all ways and this was better than none at all. So here’s the recipe.

1 400g tin of cooked chickpeas – drained and rinsed.
2 teaspoons of tahini
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and whizz to desired consistency.
Then add 1 tablespoon of onion chutney and blitz for a few seconds, add more lemon juice/oil/chutney to taste.

It even freezes well too.

Shame I can’t get Dave to try it. Perhaps one day he’ll surprise me again.

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101 Things to do with Cucumbers…

…well, maybe not 101, but there’s certainly more to this fruit than sliced in a salad. And yes, cucumbers are fruits.

This year, we’ve grown a dwarf variety, two plants which are cropping ridiculously well. If we’d only grown one plant, it would surely have died, as in previous years, but this summer we are awash with them, cropping 5-6 a day. The Bee Gees may have had a Cucumber Castle (how many of you can recall that film, I wonder?) but we have a cucumber mountain!

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Today’s crop

I’m all for eating 5 a day, but I don’t think that it meant 5 cucumbers! Oh heck, what to do with them all? I’ve given plenty away, and eating the rest as best and as fast I can in the hope that like the cucumber, it will make me tall and thin, and most probably turning green as a result.

My dear English granny would always and only serve cucs thinly sliced and soaking in malt vinegar – not for me. It seems that was the only way the British ate them, apart from sliced into thin, brown bread sandwiches so beloved of the English garden party and tea at the Ritz!

These cucs, as fat as the normal ones but only much shorter, are too big to pickle and preserve like gherkins, so apart from making tons one of my favourite Greek dishes -tzatziki (yogurt, crushed garlic, and cucumber) and adding them to every sandwich and salad, I’m also been happy to use them as a side dish vegetable with a cooked meal. You may wonder if I’ve gone a little mad, but this dish is one eaten often in Germany, and one my mother showed me how to prepare. It’s simple and delicious and goes very well with hot food such as casseroles or steak or chicken (think KFC chicken with coleslaw). It’s especially good with fish dishes and one I always make when serving trout.

Cucumber Salad

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Cucumber Salad

Simply peel cuc and thinly slice, add a finely chopped onion, and toss in mayonnaise. Serve within half-an-hour or the water in the cuc will thin down the mayo too much. If you do want to make this more in advance, slice the cuc, put into a colander, sprinkle with salt, and press down with a heavy weight, ie a brick on a plate, to extract the juice. Then, before adding the other two ingredients, pat the cuc slices dry on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper.

That still leaves me with a mountain to conquer, so yesterday I attempted making cucumber soup. If leek and potato soup can be eaten hot or cold (even if it is renamed vichyssoise), I thought why not give it a go. I love cold soups, gazpacho being a favourite frequently made in the summer. Cuc soup didn’t disappoint. Hot or cold, it was lovely and simple to make. I enjoy making soups as you can use anything and especially useful in using up those bits and pieces lurking in the fridge. As long as you have the basics: potato and onion, you don’t have to fuss with weighing and measuring everything either.

Cucumber Soup

100_6528Using approximately equal volumes of cucumber, potato and onions (spring onions, including the green parts, also work) simply the peel the two veg, chop into chunks then sweat these two in saucepan in a little butter or oil for a few minutes before adding cubed cuc – no need to peel.

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Add  enough water or vegetable stock to cover (I used the water my runner beans were cooked in the previous day – full of goodness and flavour), place lid on saucepan and bring to a gentle boil before turning down heat to a simmer for approx. 10­ to 15 mins or until veg and cuc tender. Then add in some chopped lettuce, such as cos or little gem, and cook for a further 5 mins.

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Add salt and pepper to taste and if you wish, a flurry of chopped fresh parsley. Allow to cool slightly before blitzing with blender until smooth. Serve hot or cold with a swirl of cream or yoghurt. If reheating, do not allow to boil.

This is one I will definitely be making again.

An Amazing Lady

Many may recall how last year, I set about losing weight in a sponsored slim to help send my little great-nephew, George, to America for a life-changing operation to help him cope with cerebral palsy. The operation was a major success and I will bring you an update on his progress very soon. I managed to lose 2 stones. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, particularly as there are many food groups I cannot eat a lot of, and some I have to avoid altogether. I’m still very much overweight. I never used to be, I was a skinny child, as my family can testify; I only had issues with my weight following the birth of my daughter some 40+ years ago. But this post isn’t about me; it’s about someone I wish I had met twelve months ago, if not before.

JUSTINE FORREST (PROMO SHOOT 07.02.2013)

Four years ago she was morbidly obese, barely able to walk a few yards, and experienced many indignities only us big people can. She’s happily married with three lovely children, two of whom have serious medical conditions. It was her love and concern about them that finally persuaded her to do something about her weight once and for all, otherwise she wouldn’t be about much longer to care for them.

So she devised an eating plan, something that was easy to follow, didn’t cost a fortune in expensive or special foods, with recipes which provided nourishing home-cooked meals that all the family can enjoy. And the weight started to fall away. It was only after having lost a considerable amount of weight that Justine could start to exercise, mainly walking the family dog regularly. But what a difference now – Justine now does regular exercise and with her husband runs marathons, fundraising to support the two charities that have helped her in the care of her children, and are running in the London Marathon this April. I certainly will be supporting and sponsoring them.

Justine loves to cook and bake cakes, something that doesn’t help when trying to lose weight. As the weigh fell, her confidence and courage grew, so much so she applied to appear on one of the reality cookery shows on TV, taking part in and going on to win Michael Winner’s Dining Stars in 2010, culminating in cooking a dinner party in Michael Winner’s home for guests Sir Roger Moore and Lady Moore, Andrew Neil, Giorgio Locatelli, Christine Bleakley and Kym Marsh. Wow! This led to several further TV appearances on Harry Hill’s TV Burp and on GMTV.

JUSTINE FORREST (PROMO SHOOT 07.02.2013)

Spurred on by this and praise for her chocolate brownies, Justine set up her own bakery business online (Brownies by Justine Forrest)and supplying outlets and restaurants in her region. Having tasted these brownies, I can assure you they are heaven. My husband’s comment after eating one was, “Tell her she should sell them online, they’re fantastic. Best I’ve ever eaten!”  They are. You simply must try them! Justine now gives regular talks at food shows and on radio and demonstrates regularly – just this week appearing at the Ideal Home Show in London. She also appears regularly at the Wellbeing Farm in her home region.

Justine is so full of enthusiasum for what she does, it rubs off; it certainly has on me, with a JJ Final Cover Smallzest for life she wants to help others in the position she was in. In her own words (no ghost writer for Justine!) she has written an honest, moving and heart-warming account – Justine’s Journey – of how and why she achieved such a weight loss, as well as telling what goes on behind the scenes of a reality TV show. She tells of the many heartbreaking moments in her life, told with such open passion and raw emotion, it made me cry in places, along with many ups and the downs along the way. In the book shares her “Plan”.

Hear why Justine wrote her book

This isn’t just another diet book, it’s a way of life full of tasty, easy to follow recipes, lots of tips and hints, and so full motivation and inspiration it can help anyone achieve a complete change in their life. It’s certainly encouragement enough for me to lose some more weight. If Justine can do it, so can I.

But you know what is even more encouraging in all this, Justine’s Plan allows for cake. Yes, cake! What’s not to like about following her Plan? Give it a try. I’m on it now!
Buy Justine’s Journey (available at all Amazon sites)

Website: www.justineforrest.co.uk

Facebook www.facebook.com/justine.b.forrest

Twitter https://twitter.com/JustineForrest

English Flapjacks

Today, a beautiful sunny morning,  put me in the mood not for spring cleaning but for baking a cake. But what?  Inspiration! Suddenly the thought of flapjacks sprung to mind. Haven’t made them for years. Uses only one pan or bowl, takes minutes to make.  So here goes.

Recipe

100_5768Grease tray bake tin (mine’s 9×13″ but you can use any tin, even two sandwich tins or a small roasting dish). I line the tin to avoid scratching it when I slice the cooked flapjacks.

Oven set to 170C fan or 180C normal/350F or Reg 4.

Into large saucepan melt 6 or 7 tbsp of Golden Syrup   (recipe called for 6 but as it always sticks to the spoon, I add an extra one) and 200g butter (any sort). This could be done in a microwave using large bowl. When butter melted, stir in 340g  porridge oats plus a pinch of salt. Mix well.  This is the basic, standard plain recipe. But you know me, I like to be different. I also stirred in a handful of chocolate chips, 1 tbsp of cocoa powder and 2 tbsp of luxury mixed fruit.

Pour mixture in to tin and spread evenly. Push any exposed fruit into mixture to avoid burning. Pop in oven for 20-25 mins until golden. It will still feel soft when it comes out of oven but it’s supposed to, as it firms up on cooling.

Place tin on cooling rack (I use the metal grid from my grill pan) and cut flapjacks into portions but do not remove from tin. Allow to cool completely before removing. These keep well in an airtight tin, and one (all right, two) mid morning with my coffee (in the garden today!) went down a treat. I have to say, they were delicious!

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Hard luck, Dave, I’ll make you a chocolate cake next week.

Christmas, Coffee and Song

Christmas for many is a time of excitement, expectation and merriment, a gathering of families to share and enjoy good food and the exchanging of gifts along with the sanctity and ritual of traditions, be they religious or familial. It is also a time of reflection, remembering those who are no longer with us, and those that cannot be with us for whatever reason.

It is at this time of year when I always miss my father most. He loved everything about Christmas, the pains he took in making our toys when we were little – the wooden forts and dolls houses and prams; all the secrecy, the pleasure he obviously took in finding the right things for us all, and the fun I know he had in putting up all the decorations and dressing the tree on Christmas Eve after us four children had gone to bed. He also took charge of bringing home and cooking the turkey.

One pleasure he took was in taking us all to see the Christmas lights along the Great West Road at Brentford, where we lived. Near to the Gillette factory was Firestone Tyres factory, which had a long, lawned frontage that to us children seemed to go for miles. Every year the factory put up a fantastic display of lights: trees, sleighs and all sorts. It was a magical sight and I continued this evening excursion with my own daughter, much to her delight.

Lights at Firestones. Copyright Clive Warneford

Lights at Firestones. Copyright Clive Warneford

Christmas is for children, the magic for me seeing the pleasure in their smiling faces as they see displays, the decorated tree, and that wonderful moment of pure joy when they rip open their presents.

Each year in late November, Oma, my German grandmother, would send over a parcel of Christmas goodies. These always included Advent calendars, our presents, and lots of foodstuffs that were not available at that time (back in 1950s and 60s) in England: things such as Stollen, Lebkuchen and Lebkuchenherzen (iced gingerbread hearts). She always sent candy canes – something normally associated with the USA. The origin of striped candy canes comes from Germany when these treats made to represent a shepherd’s crook were given out to children when leaving church at Christmas time.

There is one special tradition I now continue although at the time we came across this, it had nothing to do with Christmas but is now the time of year I preserve the memory of my father. One year, my husband treated my parents, my daughter and me to a holiday cruise down the Rhine in Germany. It was Easter time, and an incredibly hot one at that. One of the towns along the river we visited was Rudesheim, where they make Asbach Uralt– a type of brandy, and one of my favourite tipples (when I can get hold of it!). It was here we were introduced to Rudesheimer coffee – a type of “Irish” coffee, with a difference. Dad couldn’t get enough of it, insisting on this whenever we had coffee during that trip. Years later, when he and my mother spent many Christmases with us, I would make Dad his Rudesheimer coffee in memory of that lovely trip together. And each year at Christmas I still make myself one. Okay, maybe two or three over the festive break. I have included the recipe here. Unlike the spirited after-meal coffees we are used to in the UK, this one is served in a large mug, or, as I have, a special cup and saucer bought in Germany for the purpose of. I hope you give it a try.

Meanwhile in a time of reflection and sadness following several sad happenings recently, here is my tribute to the dreadful shootings in America last week:

Wishing everyone an enjoyable, peaceful and safe Christmas.

Afternoon Delight

Or Has the Sangria Queen Meet Her Match?

It’s only 3 weeks to go before I leave England’s rain sodden shores for sunnier climes for my annual pilgrimage to the sun with my mother and two sisters, plus this year, my sister’s niece is also joining us – one happy band of girls hitting the beaches of Corfu. For our holidays we always rent a villa for a fortnight, our own pool is a must, and we never bother hiring a car. Buses and taxis are much more fun.

Must Have Our 5-A-Day

The first thing we do when we arrive at our destination is to find the local supermarket and stock up with essential supplies. The holiday company always leaves a welcome pack – tea, coffee, bread, bottle of wine, marmalade, butter, cheese, milk  – but our needs expand to more necessities as we are great believers in having our five a day on holiday as the picture right testifies.

Part of our holiday ritual involves an afternoon “sundowner” made by me. I’m the Sangria Queen, an expert, but I need to make a few jugfuls before we go away and perfect my recipe. After 20 years of making this afternoon delight, you’d think I wouldn’t need any practice but the year before last whilst back in Minorca, I met my match on the sangria front. Admittedly, it was in the guise of a local bar owner who added his own lilt on the recipe; but for his one addition, his made it in exactly the same way as taught to me many moons ago by a gorgeous, sweet Spanish bar owner on Majorca.

The secret is to not use cheap plonk or cheap “local” alternatives to the liqueurs. A good drink, like a good meal, deserves the best you can afford. We’ve tried it “on the cheap” and it just doesn’t cut it, certainly not for our discerning and deserving tastebuds. Always use a wine you enjoy drinking. Lousy wine makes lousy sangria. And please… never use the ready-made stuff sold in bottles. Yuck! It will put you off sangria for life.

The biggest problem we always find on holiday is most villas do not have a decent serving jug, let alone a big one. We always end up buying one, normally pottery – you know, the touristy type of thing, flowers, bright colours – that comes home with us. I think this year it is my mother’s turn to have the jug but knowing her, she’ll  decide to leave it at the villa for someone else to enjoy.

So, here goes. Here’s the Recipe:

Cheers: Another Good Day in Paradise

The morning or day/evening before you plan to serve, prepare all your fruit. Proportions and ratios don’t count here – whatever you have to hand in the fruit bowl (we always keep fruit in the fridge on holiday). The only fruits to avoid are bananas and kiwi. So, into the serving jug goes sliced apple, orange, lemon, lime, diced melon, cherries if you can find them, strawberries even. Working to one bottle of wine, on top of the fruit pour over half a wine glass of brandy (good stuff please) and half a glass of Cointreau or Grand Marnier and allow to steep in the fridge until required. When ready to serve, pour in a bottle of red wine, top up with ice cubes and then add lemonade. Taste (cook’s perk) to check there’s enough brandy and Cointreau in it. You probably won’t get much lemonade into the jug so serve extra lemonade to taste separately. Serve with a spoon to eat the luscious fruit at the end.

This can also be made with white wine and/or champagne but we have found we much prefer it the traditional way.

Now for that extra something the bartender in Minorca added: to the fruit he also added a measure of banana liqueur. It made such a difference, so if you’ve got some to hand, do try.

Enjoy, down to the last drop!

More Please

To catch up with my latest news on Slimming for George: click here

Fruit Cake and A Good Book – A Wonderful Combination!

As promised, I have included my recipe for fruitcake. Or Easy Peasy Fruitcake, as I call it. As it is just that: so easy peasy to make, keeps wonderfully, and is my husband’s favourite. The reason I like this recipe is that it is easily adaptable to what’s in the storecupboard, weights don’t have to be too precise, the ingredients can and be chopped and changed to suit, it makes a fabulous Christmas cake and doesn’t call for any fancy equipment or culinary skills to make. So … aprons and wooden spoons at the ready, here we go! Click this link to take you to the recipe!

And what goes well with a slice of cake especially on a chilly, wet afternoon? Yes, tea or coffee, that’s obvious. But what about a good book? Last week saw the release of one I know is a brilliant read:  Tricia Jones’s seventh novel Bull At The Gate, a contemporary romance with a hint of the paranormal.

Alexander “Bull” McKinley’s reputation as a hard-nosed businessman is tested when an old Fairy Gate and local superstition stand in the way of a lucrative development contract. But then, he hadn’t had to deal with a woman like Dee Ashman before. A woman who detests those who put profit before people, and she’s damned if an arrogant, insensitive and, okay, wildly attractive capitalist is going to destroy the symbolic heart of the village and break her beloved grandmother’s heart.

Available from Wild Rose Press and Amazon

 

Cake Recipe: Apple Crumb Cake

In response to numerous requests following my blog on German Easter Traditions, I’m happy to include a delicious Rachel Allen‘s recipe for Apple Crumble Cake on my Recipes page. Often eaten as part of breakfast in Germany any day of the year, this cake is equally delicious made with plums. I do hope you’ll give it a try.