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Cacao truffles with edible rose, orange and pistachio confetti

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It’s often hard to stay focused during two hour biochemistry lectures first thing on a Monday morning and admittedly sometimes my mind starts to wander- that’s when I started to day dream about these chocolate truffles. We’ve all heard of the common phrase ‘don’t play with your food’, well I’m no Heston Blumenthal but that’s exactly what I like to do because when it comes to making healthy treats sometimes you have to be a little bit imaginative.

I’ve made traditional truffles before but this version doesn’t contain any refined sugars or double cream, also the orange zest, pistachios and roses give a natural pop of colour.

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Ingredients

Truffle filling:

6 medjool dates

4 tbsp cacao powder

1 tbsp honey

100g melted cacao butter ( or 85% dark chocolate with only 3 tbsp cacao powder)

Coating:

85% dark chocolate

Confetti:

Crushed pistachios

Orange zest

Edible roses

Method :

Firstly melt the cacao butter or chocolate in a bain marie  then process all of the truffle ingredients in a blender or food processor.

Leave to set in the fridge for around half an hour. When you take it out it should be soft enough to handle but solid enough to hold its shape.

Take around the size of 2 heaped tea spoons of the truffle mixture and shape into balls with your hands.

Melt <85% dark chocolate in a bain marie then dip the truffles in one at a time making sure it is fully coated in chocolate.

Place the dipped truffles onto grease proof paper and sprinkle the tops with the ‘confetti’.

Finish with an edible rose.

Leave to fully set at room temperature.

Then give them to someone special!

 

 

 

Home-baked breakfast

Whole wheat croissants with chia jam 

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When I first clapped eyes on whole wheat croissants baked by heavens bakes by I couldn’t wait to give it a go too! However, when I was still up at half 12 last night waiting for the dough to chill in the fridge for the 3rd time and then waking up at the crack of dawn to turn the heating on so that they could proof by the radiator for 2 hours, I think it’s fair to say that I was beginning to curse myself, especially for the fear that after all this time they may not even work. I didn’t quite realise what I had let myself in for. All that said, welcoming a friend into my little home, flooded with the buttery smell of fresh baked croissants was totally worth it.

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Ripping the warm pastry open and seeing soft flaky layers was so satisfying! I was worried that the whole wheat would have made them tough or heavy but luckily it hadn’t.

The actual method of making croissants is very easy, the only annoying part is that you have to keep stopping to let it chill in the fridge for an hour at a time, then you have to let them proof for 2 hours.  If there was one thing my Nanna has grained into me about pastry making is that it must be kept cold, so under no circumstances was I going to cheat by being impatient.

My mistake was making them late in the evening. I will definitely make them again in the future but I will leave it for a rainy day when I’m stuck in the house working on assignments so that I’m not sat around waiting for them to chill.  – Please don’t let the time put you off. If you have a day where you’re stuck in the house too I urge you to make them.  They make a great breakfast treat if you have guests round, and who doesn’t want to wake up to the smell of fresh croissants?

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You can even freeze them before proofing to save for another day, although I don’t know about you but I don’t think I would be able to leave them once I had reached that stage haha!

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I served mine with a chia jam, made purely by microwaving frozen berries, adding a spoonfull of honey and chia seeds, mixing them all together and leaving it to chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.  After that time the chia seeds become soft and form a jelly like substance making it a jam like consistency. – No need for boiling fruit to an exact temperature with an insane amount of refined sugar. You also get the added benefit of omega 3 fatty acids from the chia seeds!

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The other health benefit comes from choosing whole wheat flour instead of plain due to the extra fibre that it provides. Now clearly pastry isn’t a diet food but I believe that health is about moderation not restriction- and if you can still eat your favourite treats every now and then but with a slightly healthier twist without sacrificing taste, then all the better!

New research suggests that the so called ‘fat gene’ that causes some people to struggle with their weight may have something to do with their gut bacteria. Personally I do not support testing on animals but a study published this year in Science magazine showed that low levels of good gut bacteria significantly influences appetite, weight and metabolic abnormalities which can lead to obesity and diabetes. A healthy gut is one which contains high levels of gut flora, one way to control this is by eating more soluble fibre as this stimulates the growth of good bacteria due to the fermentation process that occurs in our colon.

Recipe

2 cups (280g) wholemeal bread flour

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

2 tablespoons demerara unrefined sugar ( or honey)

2/3 cup (160ml) milk, very slightly warmed

1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt

5 1/2 ounces (160g) unsalted butter, cold and cubed

1 egg

pinch of salt

Method

Day 1:

1. measure out the glour and add it to a large bowl along with the salt.

2. In a seperate bowl, mix the yeast with the warm milk and sugar and let it sit for a few minutes until small bubbles start to form.

3. Stir in about one-third of the flour mixture into the liquid and let it stand until it starts to bubble again, this should take around 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Mix in the rest of the dry ingredients and stir until it is well combined. This will form a tough dough at which point it is ready to knead on a lightly floured countertop , just enough to bring it together into a cohesive ball, but do not overknead. 10-15 seconds should be enough.

5. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with cling film. This will then need to  rest in the refrigerator overnight. (Or for at least 6 hours.)

6 hours later:

1. Then lay a piece of grease proof paper on the counter and place the butter in the middle. Enclose the butter and roll it into a 4- by 3-inch (10 by 8cm) rectangle. Then return the butter to the fridge to chill for 20 to 30 minutes.

2. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it out on a lightly floured countertop so that it forms a rectangle large enough to fold over the block of butter, the dough will be around 2cm thick once it is rolled out.

3. Unwrap the chilled rectangle of butter and place it in the centre of the dough. Fold each side over the butter, sealing the butter completely, and whack the dough with a rolling pin to flatten it out. Roll the dough into a 12- by 9-inch (30 by 22cm) rectangle.

4. Lay the rectangle of dough out in front of you so that the longest sides are horizontal. Lift up each side (left and right) and fold it into 3rds to create another rectangle. This time the longest sides of the rectangle will be vertical from you. wrap it in plastic wrap, and return it to the fridge to chill the dough for 45 to 60 minutes.

5. Taking the dough from the fridge again, lay it out on a lightly floured counter top and roll it into a 30 by 22cm rectangle around 2 cm thick, then again, lay the rectangle of dough out in front of you so that the longest sides are horizontal. Lift up each side (left and right) and fold it into 3rds. – wrap the dough back up in cling film and place back in the fridge for another 45 to 60 minutes.

6. Repeat stage 5 one last time. – The whole point in this process is to combine the butter into the dough to make the pastry layered and flaky.

7. First prepare your baking tray by lining it with grease proof paper. Next, unwrap the dough and roll it out on a lightly floured countertop until it’s a 30 by 22cm rectangle again. Trim the edges with a sharp knife so that it is neat and cut the dough into 3 rectangles, then cut each rectangle diagonally, making 6 triangles (as shown below.)

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8. Take one triangle and starting at the wide end, roll the croissant up toward the point, not too-tightly. Set it point-side-up on the baking sheet and roll the rest of the croissants the same way.

9. Cover the baking sheet with a large plastic bag and leave the croissants to proof in a warm place for 2 hours in which time they will almost double in size.  (If you wish, you can chill the rolled croissants overnight. Take them out of the refrigerator and let them proof in a warm place, as indicated.)

10. Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Mix the egg with a pinch of salt and brush each croissant with the glaze. Bake the croissants for 5 minutes, then reduce the heat of the oven to 150ºF, and bake for 20 minutes or until browned.

11. Now you can enjoy all your hard work and trust me it’s definitely worth it!!

If you need more help check out http://www.davidlebovitz.com

 

Shrove Tuesday

This week, for the lead up to Shrove Tuesday, I have ate my fair share of pancakes, I hope you all appreciate the sacrifices I have to make haha!

They’re all cooked in the same way as regular pancakes- in a frying pan with a little bit of oil, but they are cooked on a slightly lower heat.  There really are so many different ways that you can make them and with lots of different flours – such as wholemeal and buckwheat. You can also experiment with the types of milks, from regular cow’s milk, almond milk or even coconut milk. The most important part is having enough binding agent to hold them together, either from eggs or banana. Chia seeds are also great because after a few minutes they form a jelly like substance which creates a strong formation that will help to hold the pancakes together.

However, to keep the cost down most of these recipes only require very basic ingredients such as oat flour (made by blending porridge oats), milk and either banana or egg. From this basic foundation you can add all sorts of additions such as herbs, linseed, chia seeds or protein powder. They really are extremely versatile and the amount of milk you use will control how thick your pancakes are.

Blini pancakes with smoked salmon and avocado

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Perhaps the poshest pancakes I’ve ever made!

I love smoked salmon and avocado so I will find an excuse to put them on anything, even pancakes.  I think their petite size makes them very pretty and I love the pop of colour from the pickled cabbage and baby kale.

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Ingredients:

Pancake Mixture:

1/2 cup Oat flour

1/4 cup Almond milk

1 egg white

Pinch of salt

Toppings:

Smoked salmon

crushed avocado (seasoned with a little salt and pepper)

Picked beetroot

Baby kale

Pesto pancakes with chicken and caprese salad

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Basil is another one of my favourite ingredients and it smells amazing! Blending some fresh leaves into the pancake mixture not only livens up your pancakes with a beautiful green colour but it also adds more flavour as pancakes are generally rather bland and rely heavily on what you add to them.

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Thankfully I had enough mixture to make two of these pancakes because the second time around I placed it back in the pan after loading the pancake with the fillings so that the mozzarella cheese would melt. It was so good that I scoffed it before even considering to take a picture so the ones you see here are from round one!

I think a lot of people tend to go for sweet pancakes but I think I actually prefer savoury ones, they are so versatile that you can fill them with just about anything!

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Ingredients

(makes 2)

Pancake mixture:

1 cup oat flour

1 whole egg

1 cup almond milk

Small handful basil leaves

Pinch of salt

Fillings:

Shredded free-range chicken breast

1/2 mozzarella ball

1 tomato

few basil leaves

Protein pancakes

Protein pancakes are probably the most common ‘healthy pancakes’- or most instagrammed at least! We serve something similar to these where I work at Filmore and Union, some customers like to order them without yogurt but with skinny bacon instead. I would have loved to try them like this myself but unfortunately I didn’t have any bacon at the time of making them so I will have to give that a go next time!

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Ingredients

Pancake mixture:

1 small ripe banana

1 whole egg

2 tbsp protein powder of your choice

Small handful of frozen raspberries

Toppings:

Natural yogurt

Blueberries

Banana

Strawberries

honey

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Bounty v snickers pancakes

Anyone that knew me whilst I was at college (the first time!) will know about my obsession with Snickers bars. Maybe hard to believe now but once upon a time I had a pretty bad addiction! Mars bars were another strong contender. I can’t actually remember the last time I bought a Snickers bar and to be honest I don’t even crave them these days but these pancakes are the perfect remedy to get your chocolate fix, still a treat but whilst also providing nutrition rather than ’empty calories’.

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Snickers recipe

Pancake mixture:

1/2 cup oat flour

1 whole egg

1 cup milk

1 tbsp raw cacao or dark chocolate powder

Filling:

3 medjool dates

1 tbsp peanut butter

1tsp honey

(blend together in a food processor or blender)

  • Melted dark chocolate and peanuts to garnish.

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Bounty Recipe

Pancake mixture:

1/2 cup oat flour

1 whole egg

1 cup coconut milk

Filling:

2 large squares of 85% dark chocolate

2tbsp hot coconut milk

(mix together, carefully adding a little bit of coconut milk at a time)

-melted dark chocolate and coconut flakes to garnish

 

 

Why you should ditch the ‘super food’ products. 

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Heath is somewhat of a fashion at the moment with many businesses cashing in on the growing market. The term ‘high in antioxidants’ is a common marketing tool used to attract the health concious and urge them to buy their premium priced product with a green juice in one hand and a trendy antioxidant ‘superfood’ bar in the other.

Firstly, lets set a few things straight…

What are free radicals?

Free radicals are molecules containing at least one unpaired electron in their outer shell, making them highly reactive. They combine with one another, or with single atoms that also carry free electrons, to create a stable molecule, all of whose electrons are paired. However, they can also react with intact molecules, forcing them to lose one of their own electrons and changing its original structure to make space to connect to the free radical molecule. This lost molecule then itself becomes a free radical in the process, once again looking for an electron to steal , this may be from a lipid or protein molecule, or a strand of DNA or RNA. This is why they have such a bad reputation. However, our body’s own antioxidant supply usually counteracts free radical production.

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Fig1: Jeremy Chin (2015), Free radical molecule stealing an electron. 

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are the match makers/Paddy McGuinness of the chemical world. The body generates free radicals as the inevitable by-products of turning food into energy. Others are in the food that we eat and the air that we breathe and some are generated by the chemicals created when sunlight comes into contact with our skin. Their job is to stop lonely free radicals from breaking the perfect harmony of molecules in stable relationships. They do so by generously giving electrons to free radicals without becoming unstable themselves.

Antioxidants vs Free Radicals

Fig2:  (2014), The electron donation from an antioxidant molecule to a free radical molecule to create a stable structure. 

However, there are a number of factors that can reduce how many antioxidants our body is able to supply, age and poor diet being a couple of them. However, much like how eating a lot of sugar can cause your blood glucose levels to drop, the consumption of a high number of antioxidants can also cause a drop in our body’s own antioxidant supply. This is because the body already produces all the antioxidants it needs from metabolism and other chemical reactions, if it detects any more it simply slows down production.  Anything taken in excess disrupts our own body’s balance. A healthy diet through eating wholefoods is enough, we don’t need anything extreme such as juicing 12 carrots or buying fortified ‘superfood’ products or supplements.

Free radicals aren’t all that bad…

In addition, free radicals aren’t always as bad as they’re made out to be. We can all be influenced to make bad choices at times but free radicals mean well and they do have some benefits. Most importantly they play a huge part in respiration, our most important chemical reaction and bodily function, they also help to strengthen our immune system by destroying harmful bacteria in our body as well as being a part of the inflammatory process that helps repair injury. This occurs to heal cuts but also when you’re training at the gym – repair is a major part of muscle growth!

Too much is damaging but as with everything it is a case of moderation. Our body is pretty good at keeping a healthy balance so long as we aren’t abusing it by eating a bad diet. The other way, we also don’t need supplements or specially antioxidant-fortified food products, just a variety of natural, whole foods. Nothing extreme. So instead of grabbing that cleverly packaged snack bar, try choosing a fruit that you’ve never tried before instead.

Admittedly in the past I have been caught up in some hypes and I’m no stranger to a wheatgrass shot. Nutrition is such a controversial subject with new research being released all the time yet we’ve merely touched the surface. That’s why sometimes you have to take a step back and take things back to basics.

 

Posh toast

Avocado toast is everywhere at the moment so why not take it a step further for a very easy and delicious lunch that is packed full of goodness!

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Ingredients: 

1 slice superseded wholemeal bread

1/2 small avocado

Salt and pepper to season

Sprinkle of chilli flakes

1 small handful of kale

Garlic king prawns 

A few tips of asparagus

Fresh basil

Drizzle of olive oil

Method:

Firstly place a slice of bread in the toaster and add the asparagus to a pan of hot water.

You then need to roughly mash 1/2 small avocado and season with salt and pepper, add a sprinkle of chilli flakes for an extra kick. 

Once the toast is done, roughly spread the avocado on top and simply layer with a small handful of kale, garlic king prawns, asparagus and fresh basil leaves.

Then drizzle with olive oil along with some extra chilli flakes. 

Turkey and sweet potato cottage pie

The ultimate winter comfort food
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When I was younger my mum made sure that we ate proper home cooked food and there was nothing better on a cold winter night than coming home to a big dish of shepherds pie! There was usually enough to feed the whole street but after a few helpings we usually managed to polish it all off.

 I still love these kinds of meals and I’m a firm believer that health does not mean restriction. More often than not the reason why people can’t maintain a healthy diet long term is because they cut too much out. This take on a winter classic provides a great source of lean protein and complex carbohydrates without compromising on taste or that homely feeling! Using individual ramekins also helps with portion control, if like me you can’t help taking a second helping! 

Ingredients (serves 2):

Turkey mince

1 medium carrot, sliced

1 cup garden peas

1 onion, finely chopped

1 medium sweet potato, diced

dried oregano

1 spring onion, finely sliced

1 tbsp tomato purée

1tbsp Worcestershire sauce

250ml beef stock

small amount of cheddar cheese to grate on top (reduced fat or regular) 

Salt and pepper to season.

Method:

Firstly, preheat the oven to 200c then place the diced sweet potato into a pan of boiling water.

Next, brown the mince together with the onion in a medium sized pan.

Once the mince is browned, add 1 tbsp tomato purée, 1tbsp Worcestershire sauce and 250ml beef stock along with the carrots and peas. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally then transfer into an oven proof dish. 

Drain the sweet potato and mash with a small amount of milk. Add salt and pepper to season, I also like to use dried oregano in sweet potato mash for extra flavour. Scoop the mash into the ramekins to cover the mince then grate cheese on top and sprinkle the top with spring onions. 

Place the ramekins into the oven on a baking tray for around 20 minutes and serve with seasonal vegetables.

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THAI CASHEW COCONUT RICE WITH GINGER PEANUT SAUCE

In my family we love having big get-togethers and cooking for each other, so since being back in my home town for the holidays I’ve enjoyed not having to only cook for myself. When you’re only making one portion it isn’t usually worth buying specific ingredients to make a proper recipe and I usually just throw something together with whatever I have in  the fridge. When I found out that my family were coming over tonight I jumped at the chance to try out a new recipe inspired by host the toast. On this occasion I made it as a side dish but you could easily turn it into a main meal by adding either chicken or tofu kebabs.

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INGREDIENTS

For the Coconut Rice:

1½ cups dry brown rice

1 (15 oz) can light coconut milk

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

For the Salad:

2 red bell peppers, finely chopped

1 red cabbage, shredded

1 small red onion, finely diced

1 cup parsley, chopped

¾ cup green onions, thinly sliced

1 cup cashews, finely chopped

For the Ginger Peanut Sauce:

⅓ cup peanut butter

2 tablespoons honey (or agave to make it vegan)

3 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoon sesame oil

Water to thin

Lime wedges

DIRECTIONS

  1. Rinse the dry rice well until the water runs clear.
  2. In a medium-sized pot, mix together the rice, coconut milk, garlic, salt, and water. Cover and bring to a boil.
  3. Once the pot reaches a rolling boil, reduce heat to low and let simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. After 30 minutes, turn off heat and let sit (with lid on) for an additional 10 minutes.
  5. As you wait for the rice, make the peanut sauce.
  6. In a small, microwave-safe bowl, combine the peanut butter and honey. Microwave for 15 seconds, or until the peanut butter thins. Stir well. Add the ginger, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. Stir again. Thin as desired with water.
  7. Fluff the rice and combine it with the chopped vegetables and cashews (I reserve a few whole cashews to garnish with, but it’s not necessary). Drizzle with a bit of the Ginger Peanut Sauce and taste– you most likely will not need to use all of it. Serve with lime wedges.

Healthy Christmas

All natural, vegan mince pies

These were an experiment and thankfully they turned out to be delicious! I made them for my brother in law as he is vegan and no one deserves to miss out on mince pies at Christmas!

The only thing I would say was a down fall is that they are slightly more rustic looking than a normal mince pie because the pasty mixture doesn’t hold together before it is cooked so you have to compact it into the tins rather than rolling it out and using a cutter.

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Ingredients (makes 10 mince pies)

Pastry:

400g ground almonds

5tbsp agave nectar

4 tbsp melted coconut oil

Mince filling:

160g (1 cup) of raisins

160g (1 cup) sultanas

70g (1/2 cup) dried apricots

40g (1/4 cup) chopped blanched almonds

3 tbsp agave syrup

1 tbsp agave nectar

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups apple sauce

65ml (1/3 cup) water

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp mixed spice

Zest of One Whole Medium Sized Orange

2-3 tbsp brandy (optional)

Method:

Firstly, prepare the mince filling. Mix together all ingredients with 5 tbsp of water. Cover and simmer for 30 -40 minutes on the hob. During this time you may need to add additional water. Stir the mincemeat ever 5 minutes to keep an eye on its consistency.

Whilst the mince filling is cooking you can make a start on the pastry mixture. Simply mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Once it is fully mixed it will be a damp sandy consistency and will only slightly hold together in your hand. It’s not like a normal pastry which you roll out and cut. Grease a cupcake tin with coconut oil and take a handful of the mixture and compact it into the tin to form a pastry shell. This takes a bit of time to make it neat. Once you have finished, place it into the oven for 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven after 10 minutes, fill with mince meat, and more pastry on top. I compacted the mixture on a chopping board and used a cutter to form a heart shape. Brush the extra mixture outside of the cutter to one side and very delicately lift it up with a spatula and place on top of the mince pie. Remember to be very careful as it doesn’t hold together very well before it is cooked and cooled due to the low melting point of coconut oil.

Return to the oven for a further 5 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before removing them from the tin. ease them out with a knife around the edges and gently tip the tin upside down.

Place on a plate and chill before serving.

Healthy Christmas

Mulled wine

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Ok so I’m not going to lie to you and say that mulled wine is a health food but I’m all about balance and Christmas is about treating your self. However if you even need an excuse to enjoy this festive drink that fills your home with a warm and spicy fragrance, it does come with some health benefits as well as being a hug in a mug!

It can prevent heart disease

Several reports in 2000 confirmed that wine reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. Red wine is a great source of antioxidants, which increases levels of HDL (good cholesterol) and gets rid of the bad stuff, which can significantly prevent heart disease and clogged arteries.

Cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties

What’s a great jug of mulled wine without a couple of sticks of cinnamon sticks floating in the mix? Well, aside from adding that ‘Christmas in a glass’ taste, cinnamon contains antioxidants that have potent anti-inflammatory activity that can reduce swelling and restore normal tissue function.

It keeps your bones strong

Drinking red wine in moderation can slim your risk of osteoporosis by increasing bone mineral density of both men and women. A recent study showed that women who drank 11 to 29 grams of alcohol a day, the equivalent of one to three glasses of wine, had greater bone mineral density, measured in the hip region of their thigh bones, than non drinkers or heavy drinkers.

Nutmeg can detoxify the body

Nutmeg, a common spice in mulled wine, acts as a tonic in many different ways, and therefore boosts the overall health of your body. More specifically, It cleans out the liver and kidney of all the toxins that may be stored there from alcohol, drugs, pollution, food, or natural organic toxins.

It can slow down the signs of ageing

Antioxidants in red wine combat damaging free radicals that play a role in aging and age-related diseases. There is a high concentration of antioxidants called polyphenols, including resveratrol, in wine that can keep you looking younger for longer.

But remember – it’s only a glass or two that will keep the doctor away, not the whole bottle.