Blog : holidays

Hey, Sugar! How ’bout some sugar-free lovin?

Hey, Sugar! How ’bout some sugar-free lovin?

Everyone wants that special treat for themselves the one they love on Valentine’s, right? Treat yourself and anyone else around you with these giant chocolate raspberry treats. They’re sugar-free, keto-friendly, and delicious. Here’s how to make them.

Chocolate:
Follow this recipe. I doubled it.

After you’ve made the chocolate, pour the chocolate into a mold, using just enough to coat the molds. Flip it upside down onto a cooling rack with a pan underneath, allowing the excess chocolate to drip out. Let it harden completely, then coat it a second time and flip the molds.
I used FlexiPan, but if you don’t have one, just leave the chocolate to cool slightly. We’ll make truffles and come back to it later in the recipe.

Ganache: 
Mix equal parts dark chocolate with equal parts warmed heavy cream. I heated 300g heavy cream in a saucepan, careful not to scald. Take off the heat, break up 300g dark chocolate, and stir until blended. Set aside to cool.

Raspberry Cheesecake filling:
Place 225g cream cheese into a bowl and set aside.
In a blender, mix 250ml heavy cream, 85g honey, and 65g fresh raspberries, or about ½ cup. Blend for a few seconds, until the ingredients are mostly combined and the cream has thickened. Fold into the cream cheese.

 

Method:
Once the second layer of chocolate is set, spoon a little raspberry cream into the mold and seal it to the edges of the chocolate. Leave enough room to add a layer of ganache and melted chocolate in the mold. Chill to harden slightly.
Then, layer the ganache on top of the raspberry cream. Chill, then top with a final layer of the cooled dark chocolate, making the base as smooth as possible. Chill in the fridge until the chocolate has set.

The chocs should pop out of the molds carefully. If you have any trouble, place your hands on the top of the molds to warm and loosen from the mold. The chocolate has a very low melt point, so it will melt very easily.

If you don’t have a FlexiPan or a mold, You can make truffles!
Chill the ganache and the raspberry cream for a few hours. Once chilled, use a tablespoon measure and roll into balls. If you’re feeling really fancy, roll the raspberry into balls and freeze them only until solid. Roll the ganache into a thin round and wrap it around the raspberry cream ball. Then, using a fork or a toothpick, dip the ball into the cooled, melted chocolate and set aside to harden. Decorate as you like: Roll in desiccated coconut, finely chopped nuts, or dust with cinnamon and cocoa powder.

Enjoy with a giant mug of prosecco and your fuzziest slippers.

10 small steps to make a big difference in 2018

10 small steps to make a big difference in 2018

Sugar highs and food comas this Christmas? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. With the New Year looming around the corner and tins of candies and sweets still half full under the tree, it might seem too premature to think about lifestyle overhauls and extreme fitness regimes for your New Year’s resolutions. Don’t worry! This is the New Year’s Lite version: you don’t have to reconstruct a version of your life to live every January 1! Here are 10 easy ways you can begin to make positive changes throughout 2018.

 

1. Wake Up Well

We all know that a strong morning routine really sets us up for the day. But did you know that your bedtime routine is equally important, if not moreso? This nighttime routine is called Sleep Hygiene. Resting your brain as well as avoiding certain foods and stimuli are the keys to having a successful day. Here are some practical things you can do:

  • Avoid screen time at least one hour before bed. That means no more scrolling through Facebook in bed!
  • Avoid caffeine, rich, and spicy foods before bed. These can act as stimuli as well as cause indigestion.
  • Try to get to bed at roughly the same time every night. This helps to train your body clock to drop into your sleep rhythm quickly, maximising your quality of sleep!   

 

2. Sip Smart — The Importance of Clever Hydration

First of all, we need to de-bunk the idea that 8 glasses of water each day is necessary. There’s no research to prove it, however, keeping hydrated is a serious matter. Which is why how we drink is as important as what and how much we drink.

If you gulp your water quickly, it might feel good after a workout, a salty food, or in the morning when your mouth is parched, your body is less able to absorb the gulps than if you sip. Gulping causes the water to pass through your body quickly, leaving less time for absorption. Sipping water allows your body to hydrate fully, and is less likely to give you cramps. If remembering to drink throughout the day is difficult for you, try setting alarms to remind you. Or link your hydration in with the next step!

 

3. Pause Productively

Getting the right work-to-break ratio can benefit you and your workday. Research says that for every hour you are sitting, the last 15 minutes should be a break. Get up, stretch your legs, distract your brain — even drink a few sips of water! The exercise is good for your body, and the mental break from your desk is good for your brain. Your productivity will increase and your waistline might even decrease!

 

4. Protect with Probiotics

We’ve all heard about the importance of probiotics. But it’s more than protecting yourself from embarrassing flatulence or making sure you are digesting your food well. Science has called the gut a “second brain.” The enteric nervous system in the gut communicates with the bacteria inside the gut, and 90% of these cells carry information to the brain, not from the brain. We really are what we eat: as our gut communicates to our brain, the messages from that bacteria, whether good or bad, influence our moods. Be sure to eat wholesome, natural foods and take plenty of fermented probiotics, like kefir, kombucha, or even foods like kimchi.

5. Mind Your Mind

Mindfulness was the trending hashtag of 2017, but for a very good reason! More and more, people are realising the benefits of slowing life down and appreciating the now. Mindfulness is the practice of quieting your mind and being still. Some do a very light version, others recite mantras, while others listen to a guided meditation. One easy way to get started is to clear a space and set the timer for 5-10 minutes. Either sit down or lie down, close your eyes, and listen to your breathing. Try not to think about anything in particular, just be aware of the environment around you and the sound of your own breath. If you’re struggling to focus, or feel that mantras are too hocus-pokus for you, there’s an app called HeadSpace that talks you through how to quiet down. My husband and my kids use it — I usually fall asleep!

 

6. Swap the Sweets

By now, we should all know that sugar is linked to weight gain and diabetes. But there are more nasties that lie behind the candy stripes. Here are a few more reasons to wipe the white stuff from your diet:

  • Sugar raises blood pressure, cholesterol, and risk of heart attack.
  • Sugar can impair cognitive function and reduce proteins that are necessary for memory and responsiveness. It also lowers BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which puts sugar-eaters at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
  • High-sugar diets are more likely to cause you to suffer from asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

Here is a cheeky alternative to the sweet stuff, but is equally indulgent: Healthy Dark Chocolate. It’s velvety smooth and delicious!

 

7. Keeping Up With the KCals:

So many New Year’s diet plans focus on cutting calories and opting for light alternatives. But these light alternatives are light on the health as well. Where fats and calories are slashed, sugars and additives are increased, making your “healthy” option a serving of rubbish! Why not try to focus less on cutting calories and aim to consume more nutrient-dense calories instead? If you’re cutting things like sugar out already, add a few nutrient dense foods like:

  • Leafy green vegetables (like kale, collard greens, spinach, bok choy, cabbage and romaine lettuce)
  • Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts
  • Carrots, parsnips, asparagus, tomatoes, mushrooms, artichokes, and bell peppers
  • Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and other berries
  • Sea vegetables

 

8. Breathe Better

Here’s a test: exhale completely. Place your hands over your belly button. Take a big breath in. Does your belly button expand? Mine doesn’t. My breath stops at my diaphragm. I’m a shallow-breather and this is why that’s not a good thing:

Shallow breathing has been linked to increased anxiety and raised blood pressure, as well as preventing oxygen to reach the lowest portion of the lungs, where blood vessels that carry oxygen to the cells are found.

Deep breathing has been called the foundation of health. Here’s how to help yourself breathe better.

  • Check your posture. Make sure you are sitting or standing tall. This allows your breath to reach the lower lungs easily.
  • Breathe in slowly, relaxing your shoulders and expanding your abdomen naturally. Think of how you breath when you are almost asleep — slow, heavy, full.
  • If you are going to try mindfulness this year, deep breathing is a great technique to practice with it!

 

9. Teach an Old Dog a New Trick

This is the art of distraction: glean the benefits of learning a new hobby or skill this year! The pace of life seems to be increasing at alarming rates. Studies have shown that with the high levels intensity you might face at work, drive that stress and energy into a hobby. Not only is simple, inconsequential productivity good for your brain and emotions, it is also beneficial for your productivity at work. When we have something to distract our minds, our subconscious continues to work without the pressure of producing results in the conscious state. Ever wonder why you suddenly have the answer to a problem the next morning after a long sleep? This is the same thing. So stop living vicariously through your Pinterest boards and Netflix binges and get out there and enjoy your life!

 

10. You Do You

Lastly, Don’t sign up to a health regime or diet plan if it doesn’t work for you. Pick and choose from this list. Find your balance and make healthy changes that work for you!

Pucker Up, Summer’s Here!

Pucker Up, Summer’s Here!

Summer in America is very different to summer in Northern Ireland, where I now live. You have lovely spring days that lead gradually into ever-increasing warmer days that bloom into those hazy days of summer that are so blissful and relaxing. Here, we get a week or so in May, then a week or two in September of good weather, maybe a high of 23c/75f degrees. Then, our days are pelted with rain, chilly, blustery winds, and the occasional hail shower. Summers are not known for being a great sunny season, hence the abundance of pale skin here in Northern Ireland!

But not all of life is so sour. Or at least it is, but should be celebrated not mourned! The long stretches of sunlight in May caught in between the rain showers are the perfect growing conditions for rhubarb. These jewel-toned stalks bloom within these intense bouts of rain then sun… then more rain. Although you might be tempted to think that rhubarb is only good for stewing and tarts, I invite you to take a closer look at this jewel of the garden and get creative in incorporating it into your dinners, desserts, and snacks this summer! And whatever you do, don’t forget to invite someone round to share in this tantalising, sour fruit!

 

Rhubarb & Strawberry Curd

Curds are surprisingly easy to make, yet complex and decadent to eat. Enjoy this curd as the filling for a meringue pie or as a topping for Irish scones… Or straight from the jar for a cheeky tart snack!

 

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces of strawberries
  • 2 ½ cups juiced raw rhubarb
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter (not hot)

 

Method

  1. Chop rhubarb into thumb-sized pieces and place into a blender. You will need enough juice to produce 2 ½ cups, which is roughly 6 large stalks. Blend the rhubarb for about one minute.
  2. Place a sieve over a glass bowl. Pour the juice and pulp from the blender into a sieve and press the pulp against the sieve until mostly dry. Discard the pulp.
  3. Ensure you have enough juice. If you’re just under measurement, add a drop of water to make up the rest.
  4. Blend the strawberries and sieve them as well.
  5. Combine the juices with the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan, ensuring the cornstarch is incorporated fully.
  6. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to the boil and then remove from heat. The mixture should be thickened and glossy.
  7. In a separate dish, beat the egg yolks. Slowly add a portion of the juice to the yolks, whisking the yolks constantly to prevent scrambling the eggs.
  8. Once the yolk mixture has been combined, slowly add the mixture into the saucepan, along with the warm melted butter. Return to medium heat and stir constantly until the curd has thickened considerably.
  9. Sieve the curd and refrigerate for a few hours until set. It will keep for about a week in an airtight container, refrigerated.

 

Additional Notes|Substitutions

  • I used my curd as a summery substitute for lemon curd in my meringue pie. The inspiration for this came from the house we just moved into! The house is a lovely cottage on the edge of town, with beautiful trees and plants, including a thriving patch of rhubarb. Andrena, my neighbour who owns the house, gave me the inspiration and history of this pie: Ruth lived in the house we moved into. She made a simple tart by slicing rhubarb into a pie shell and dropping strawberry flavoured gelatine in between the rhubarb. After baking, it was sweet, tart, and gooey! But she didn’t stop there. The real showstopper was a tower of sky-high meringue that floated like a sugary cloud atop the tart. It was Ruth’s father who built the house back in 1927. Ruth was a phenomenal baker, baking regularly until 2 years before she died at 97 years old! It was only fitting to allow her legacy to inspire this recipe.

 

Stuck for Stuffing?

Stuck for Stuffing?

I know we’re late in the game on this one, but what’s Christmas without a little bit of chaos, right? Don’t panic if you’ve already got your stuffing or dressing sorted. Stuffing is not merely a side dish for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, but a delicious addition to the stick-to-your-ribs dinners that the cold, short winter days invite. This is such an easy dish to make, and this recipe will add a special warmth to any dinner you pair with it. Whether made into a loaf or as loose stuffing, I hope you will enjoy this as much as I do!

Sweet & Savoury Stuffing
Serves 6

Ingredients

  • Rapeseed Oil, or any other oil for cooking, plus a few pats of butter
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 2 sticks of celery, finely diced
  • 2 cooked beets, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 persimmons, cut into medium slices, and then halved
  • 8 ounces cooked and peeled chestnuts, halved (or find a pack of pre-cooked, vacuum packed chestnuts)
  • 1 pound pork sausage meat
  • 8 – 10 ounces dry bread crumbs or cubes
  • ¼ – ½ dried cranberries, depending on your preference
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 ounce fresh sage, chopped finely
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

 

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 375f/190c/gas mark 5.
  2. In a large roasting tray, coat the beets and persimmons in oil, seasoning lightly with salt, pepper, and a dash of nutmeg. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan. You will use this pan to eventually combine most of the ingredients, so ensure it has a high enough wall to hold it all. Brown the sausage meat, being careful to break up the meat well.
  4. Once browned, add the onions and saute until becoming translucent. Tip in the carrots and celery and saute for another 5-6 minutes.
  5. Stir in the chestnuts, sage, nutmeg, orange zest, butter, and cranberries. After mixing well, fold in the breadcrumbs. For a moister stuffing, or to make a stuffing loaf or balls, many people add a pint of stock to the stuffing at this stage.
  6. Once combined, add the stuffing mixture to the roasted beets and persimmons and stir gently until combined. Taste the stuffing mixture to ensure the seasoning is to your liking and then place the tray back into the oven, finishing off for another 25-30 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are just toasted nicely. If roasting as a loaf, bake in a loaf pan for 45 minutes or until heated thoroughly and crisped on top. Stuffing balls should take 30 minutes.