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Shirataki noodles make lovely ramen

Shirataki noodles make lovely ramen

shirataki

I know soup is good for you. I know it’s great if you’re trying to eat better. But I just don’t like it much.

There, I said it. Soup is boring.

There is one exception I make in the soup department, and that’s ramen. I mean proper ramen, not squiggly dried noodles in a brick. A huge, steaming bowl of fresh noodles and pork broth that’s been simmering for two days. Oh, there is nothing like it.

I am, like most of the old country, trying out this 5:2 eating plan. Essentially it means eating normally for five days a week, and then for two (non-consecutive) days you fast. Well, eat 500 calories a day.

In a happy coincidence, House Foods, the people who make tofu shirataki noodles contacted me to try  out their noodles right around the same time. I had been eyeing these in the refrigerator case, and have actually tried them once or twice in the past. But now I had a plan.

An entire package of shirataki noodles is only 40 calories, as well as being full of protein as they are made of tofu. I approached them as I do spaghetti squash, namely anything dieting people crow about tasting ‘just like pasta’ generally doesn’t taste anything like it. Shirataki noodles are Japanese in origin, so clearly they would be better in ramen-like incarnation than trying to make them into bolognese.

When you take them out of the package and drain them, there’s a distinct, er, fishy smell. Rinsing and then microwaving for a minute decreases it. They are definitely a bit slippery in texture. Eating the noodles in soup means this isn’t an issue. Finally, I topped my soup with pan-fried trout, any residual fishiness only benefited the final taste.

Miso sort-of ramen with shirataki noodles and steelhead trout
serves one

1 package of tofu shirataki noodles
1 heaping tablespoon of miso paste
Boiling water
Half fillet of pan-fried steelhead trout, or salmon
Fresh baby spinach leaves
Dash of togarashi

1. Drain shirataki noodles in a sieve in the sink, rinse thoroughly with water. Put shirataki noodles in a medium bowl with tap water and microwave for one minute. Drain and rinse again. Set aside.

2. Mix miso paste with enough boiling water to fill a large soup bowl, leaving room for the noodles.

3. Add noodles to bowl, top with fresh spinach leaves and trout, sprinkle with togarashi. Serve immediately.

 

Disclosure: I was given coupons to buy my shirataki noodles with, however I managed to leave them at home, so I bought the noodles myself! The opinions and recipe in this post are my own. 

 

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Properly yummy chocolate green smoothie

Properly yummy chocolate green smoothie

Properly yummy green smoothie

My son has informed me that he doesn’t like to eat ‘green things’. I shouldn’t be surprised, my mum has been telling every boyfriend I’ve ever had that I refused all green baby food she made for me.

Of course, Elliot will eat peas by the bowlful, but I haven’t brought up this contradiction for fear he’ll stop eating peas entirely. He’s not totally vegetable averse thankfully, if I let him he would bankrupt us with his love for organic red bell peppers.

Lately, I’ve been getting into making smoothies. I know, I’m approximately 20 years late on this trend. They always seemed like such a faff, so much mess for something I would rather have had in its constituent solid forms anyway. However, now I’m dealing with a 3-year-old, and a spinach salad for lunch means making a separate meal, so into the blender it goes.

Here’s the trick – a spinach smoothie is not chocolate coloured by simply adding cocoa powder. That makes an attractive grey sludge that no sane person would drink. The secret ingredient is a handful of healthful frozen blueberries. Suddenly, the smoothie turns a gorgeous dark chocolate brown. Magic, with added antioxidants.

As a smoothie newbie, I’ve learned: blend the spinach and water on their own first for a smoother result, and freeze bananas in chunks for easier blending. Of course, if you’re the lucky owner of a Vitamix, you can throw this all in there, plus your phone, and it will come up smooth as you like. I don’t recommend the phone, by the way, expensive, and, er… mercury is not an antioxidant, I’ve heard.

For my husband, I add a scoop of vanilla protein powder to this mix. As with all smoothie recipes, use whatever you’ve got. An apple, half a pear – all good stuff. I try and cram in more spinach if I can, but it all depends on your equipment, you really can’t taste it over the cocoa. Also, I apologise for the photo – but taking a picture of a brown drink is really beyond my artistic skills.

Chocolate green smoothie
makes one big one, one small one

  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 banana, frozen in chunks or fresh
  • 3 tbsp plain greek yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 2 tbsp (or more) frozen blueberries
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • Chia seeds, ground flax seeds as you see fit
  1. Blend spinach and water until smooth.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.

 

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Sarah’s mum’s Norwegian Apple Cake

Sarah’s mum’s Norwegian Apple Cake

Sarah's mum's Norwegian Apple Cale | Erin at Large

 

apple cake 1

A few years ago, I was whinging about needing something to bake with apples. My friend Sarah promptly sent me her mum’s recipe for Norwegian Apple Cake, which she said to me is ‘probably not really my mum’s recipe as we aren’t Norwegian’.

This is one of several ‘hot milk’ cakes I’ve seen floating around, invariably from someone’s mum or grandmother. My mum has made a variation with caramel sauce since I can remember, the recipe for which she received from her mum. The thing with hot milk cakes is they are dead simple to make and incredibly hard to properly screw up. Butter is melted in the milk, which is heated to boiling and then poured, hot, straight into the eggs and sugar. I thought this would mean instant lumpy custard, but it doesn’t. It also does away with the tedious step of creaming butter and sugar together. I’ve tinkered with the recipe in the smallest of ways by adding a teaspoon of vanilla and a grate or two of nutmeg to give the dense cake that nice doughnutty taste. It is just as lovely without.

A word on the apples. The original recipe Sarah gave me specified Bramleys, which are a tart green apple grown all over England, but not available in my end of North America. I’ve used pretty much any eating apple over the years, both over there and over here, as I have made this cake countless times. Galas are fine. Pink Lady apples, whilst often suggested as a dessert apple, went a bit mushy in this recipe. As the apples only grace the top of the cake and are sprinkled with sugar before going in the oven, you want them to have a bit of shape at the end of the process. I’d say Granny Smith are probably the closest analogue to the Bramley – but I just don’t like them. The short of it being pick an apple you like to eat.

This is a great cake for making contributions to a bake sale or fete, because it slices into squares easily and looks fancy – despite being simple and quick to make.

Norwegian Apple Cake

  • 2 large eggs
  • 225g granulated sugar
  • 100g butter
  • 150ml milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3-4 apples (see above)

Preheat oven to 200ºC/390ºF.

Grease and flour a 20cmx30cm baking tin.

Whisk the eggs and 200g of the sugar until thick and creamy in a large bowl.

Put the butter and milk in a pan and bring to the boil. Take pan off the heat, add vanilla.

Stir, still boiling, into the eggs and sugar.

Sieve in the flour into the bowl, grate nutmeg and fold until there are no lumps.

Pour the mixture into the tin.

Peel, core and slice the apples, arrange them on top of the mixture in the tin and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the tin, then slice.

 

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Making butter at home

Making butter at home

Make your own butter at home | Erin at Large

Butter is one of those things that I never thought of making myself.

Which is saying something, because I bake most of our own bread, and have yoghurt, cheese, and sausages queued up to make in the ‘when I have a day to myself’ column.

It was in [amazon_link id=”0762780215″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]my friend Niamh’s lovely cookbook[/amazon_link] that I first came across the idea of making butter at home. Well, that and my obsession with the Victorian/Edwardian/Wartime Farm series, but that’s not quite the same thing.

I googled it as well, to be sure there wasn’t something I was missing. It seems not, on a small scale anyway.

You will need a quantity of whipping cream, or double cream, depending on where you live.

Making butter is the process of separating nearly all of the butterfat from the buttermilk. You do this by agitating the cream so much that it separates, collecting the butter in one big lump, leaving behind the buttermilk. If you’ve ever overwhipped cream, you’ve seen this in action. You can make this happen pretty much however you like, from shaking it vigorously in a mason jar, to using many small appliances – food processors, blenders and stand mixers all work, according to my friends on twitter.

I used my Kitchenaid stand mixer, with the whisk attachment. Empty your whipping cream into the mixer, turn it on and gradually increase the speed as the cream thickens. When using a mixer, keep an eye on the proceedings, because once the magic happens and your cream separates – it will be a mass stuck to the whisk slapping around in a bowl of buttermilk! I was hovering nearby with a dishtowel to throw over it, and that seems to do the trick. I carefully poured my buttermilk into a container for future use.

Coax the butter into a cheesecloth, and over a medium bowl in the sink, squeeze squeeze squeeze it. Hang the butter in the cheesecloth from the faucet over the bowl for a further two hours. I added the resulting buttermilk to my container, and then added salt slowly to the butter using a spatula. Okay, actually I got frustrated and ended up doing it with my bare clean hands. You can leave it unsalted, of course, but it won’t last as long.

My husband, at the end of all this, understandably asked gently why I would bother making butter myself. I handed him a piece of baguette with the fresh butter on it and all that came out of his mouth was… ‘whoa’.

That’s the thing – it tastes like poshest butter I’ve ever had. I can’t figure out why. I used organic whipping cream from our big local dairy, so it was good but not impossibly so. The salt I used is Murray River Pink Flake from Australia, which is lovely, but I still don’t think it put it over the edge. Whatever it is, I’m not sure I can go back to bog standard butter bricks in foil from the shop. This is much too good.

The photo above is my homemade butter melting on blueberry buttermilk muffins made with – of course – the buttermilk from the butter-making process. Butter in a bowl looks pretty uninspiring no matter what you do with it, I now realise!

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Nutella on popcorn? Oh yes

nutella popcorn

When I worked in a huge office in the middle of an office park wasteland over 10 years ago, the only place I had to turn for mid-afternoon snack cravings was our cafeteria. They were pretty good, all things considered, they made a breakfast wrap I still hold as a benchmark of the best breakfast wrapped in a tortilla. The day the bags of sweet and salty kettle corn appeared next to the cashier, though, that was a moment of joy. No more bags of substandard mini chocolate chip cookies, oh no. It was a revelation.

Ever since, I have been a seeker of the balance between salty and sweet. I love baked kale chips with tamari and maple syrup, Chinese doughnuts with red bean paste, and when every sweet thing seemed to contain salted caramel a couple years back, I was in heaven.

I was thrilled to discover that in British movie theatres, the popcorn comes in ‘salty’ and ‘sweet’ flavours. When you mistakenly ask for butter, the 12-year-old behind the counter first pretends they didn’t understand the word you said, but when your meaning is clarified, they can’t conceal a lip curl of disgust. Also, it’s cold. Besides all that, the nice thing is you can ask for half-salt and half-sweet. Yum.

Why it took me this long to recreate this experience at home, I’ll never know.

The first step is popping your own popcorn, rather than using a readymade microwave bag. I’m not asking you to drag the red-and-white circus-themed air popper from whatever corner of the attic you’ve put it in, nor figure out how to oil-pop corn on the stove. My mother-in-law turned me onto this crazy bowl with a lid that you can put in the microwave with plain kernels in it and approximately three minutes later proper popcorn comes out. Magic.

Finally – get some decent kernels. I went and bought a bag of popcorn kernels from our local shop, and they tasted okay. But when someone gave me some posh kernels, I realized the ones I had in the big no-name bag were not up to snuff. I like Fireworks Popcorn.

Rigourous testing ensued, of course. All the below topping ideas cover one-third of a cup of kernels (pre-popping). All salt mentioned is large-flake sea salt.

Nutella popcorn
Thin out one tablespoon of Nutella with two tablespoons of melted butter. Mix with popcorn, then salt to taste.

Salted caramel corn
This is the best caramel corn I’ve ever had. Make a batch of David Liebovitz’ butterscotch sauce. He uses salted butter, which I find makes the resulting sauce a bit salty (perfectly so!) but do taste it and add more if you like. I’ve found North American salted butter much saltier than the ones I used in England. Make your popcorn, then spread it out on baking sheets lined with parchment paper (do NOT skip this step or you will cry later). Drizzle the warm sauce over the popcorn, then toss it gently. Let it cool, if you can manage it. You will have plenty of sauce leftover, thank me later.

Soy and parmesan
I saw this mentioned across the internet – it was alright, but nothing I’d bother with again. You have to sprinkle the soy carefully or it makes the popcorn soggy.

 Peanut butter and maple syrup
This works best with creamy peanut butter. Thin two tablespoons of peanut butter with water, and then whisk with three tablespoons of good maple syrup, and two tablespoons of melted butter. Toss with hot popcorn, and salt to taste.

Salt and sugar
Our favourite by far for quick assembly and taste. Melt butter (I’ll leave quantities to you), and pour over popcorn. Toss gently with salt, and then a small amount of white sugar.

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