Yes, I’m aware that this blog has been on extreme hiatus for some time. I’m sorry 😦

Domino’s voted top pizza company in customer experience league table
It’s a good start to 2011 for Domino’s, who at the end of 2010 have topped a poll by Nunwood of 5500 consumers. When asked to rate over 170 brands, customers deemed Domino’s their favourite pizza company. While Domino’s couldn’t quite beat Amazon – the UK public’s favourite brand overall – and had to share some of the glory with the result of a Valued Opinions survey (which revealed Chinese food to be Britain’s favourite takeaway) the chief executive of Domino’s was still delighted. “We’re delighted to have been voted the top pizza brand in this customer experience survey,” said Chris Moore. “We pride ourselves on not just delivering great tasting, piping hot pizza but fantastic customer service too. We’ve made considerable investment in both our ordering process, with new innovations such as our online pizza tracker and iPhone app, and customer service programme this year so to score well in this survey is the icing on the cake – or the pepperoni on our pizza!”

First weight-loss clinic opens in Northern Ireland
And for all you Northern Irish pizza eaters who don’t fancy losing weight the traditional way, Northern Ireland’s first weight-loss clinic has just opened. Gravitas has six other clinics across the UK, and it is they who have opened the doors to Northern Irish people (who have traditionally had to travel to mainland Britain or continental Europe for weight loss surgery). Having a facility closer to home is important on several levels, says Andrew Kennedy, an experienced weightloss surgery consultant. “The secret of good long-term weight loss rests on the strength of the partnership between the patient and the bariatric team. All too often patients who travel overseas for cut-price surgery do not get the vital aftercare and support needed for a safe, successful outcome” he added. “At Gravitas, we provide consultant-led follow-up locally with 24-hour emergency access. By working closely with our colleagues in primary care, we ensure excellent outcomes, significantly better than those generally reported in most European centres.” In the face of spiralling obesity statistics in the country, it’s always great to know that whatever their medical concerns, people have a place to go to address them. In the meantime, don’t munch on too much Domino’s (we know it’s good, though).

National food award for Brighton restaurant
Independent vegetarian café iydea has won the Best Approved Eating Out award from The Vegetarian Society. Described as an “express vegetarian canteen that offers fresh, healthy, world food available to eat in or take away, with fresh menus and new ideas every day” by owner Steve Billam, it sounds like a pretty good antidote to all that pepperoni alluded to in the past two paragraphs. And it isn’t just a place for the PETA brigade either – 90% of iydea’s customers are non-vegetarians.

Wild venison now available from new online shop
That 10% of vegetarian iydea customers may want to look away now, though – venison can now be ordered all year round at the click of a mouse thanks to Deliciously Wild’s new online shop, recently launched at http://www.deliciouslywild.co.uk. Additive-free and gluten-free sausages and burgers are also available, and all products are delivered in specially insulated boxes so that the meat stays in peak condition. The website gives recipes and cookery information for a meat that could help us detox after the horrifying indulgence at Christmas – venison has less fat than skinless chicken, is high in Omega-3, and is a good source of zinc, potassium, phosphorous and riboflavin. So what are you waiting for?

So what the fudge should I eat?
Sadly, the answer isn’t usually fudge. Or venison. Or pizza. Or you may not fancy the vegetarian cuisine advocated above (though I can’t see why – as a vegetarian, I was slimmer, more energetic and financially better off than as a meat-eater). The book entitled “So What The **** Should I Eat?” by nutritionist and food lover Fiona Kirk therefore perhaps hopes to bridge this gap between celebrity-endorsed fads and long-term healthy-eating regimes of sainthood. Promising to put you in charge of your shape without the feelings of deprivation and denial, it could be what plenty of us need this January – especially following the news that British women are the world’s worst dieters (according to the SPA Future Thinking survey, which interviewed 1500 respondents from around the world). Fiona explains, “Diets are no fun and leave most of us feeling depressed, deprived and dreaming of pizza and pastries. There are a great many books dedicated to helping people achieve optimum health and permanent fat loss and make fascinating and inspirational reading but many are heavy-going and demand total dedication and an iron will. So What the F*** Should I Eat? is more geared to those of us who struggle with the word “no”, find radical change difficult and want to shout from the rooftops that life without a few of our favourites just isn’t living! But, with a little knowledge and a few strategic changes we can cut through the confusion and fat goals can be achieved. And, no we are not staring premature death in the eye unless we ditch the burgers for ever, no matter what the food police tell us!”

Heart-shaped biscuits from Loseley for Valentine’s Day
By Valentine’s Day, however, we should all hopefully be feeling a bit more comfortable in our own skins and ready to hit the biscuits again (not me, though, thanks to my wedding dress fitting in February and subsequent wedding in April). The makers of Summer Meadow Butter, Loseley, bring you this recipe to tempt the one you love: mix 125g butter with 170g sugar until soft, beat in one egg, and then stir in 230g sifted plain flour and 30g of sifted self-raising flour along with 5tbsp desiccated coconut. Cut the mix into heart shapes and bake in a preheated oven of 160°C for 30 minutes. For the icing, mix an egg white with 120g icing sugar before adding another 120g icing sugar and 2tbsp flour, and enough lemon juice (up to 2tsp) to make a spreadable icing, which can be tinted with food colouring before being spread on the cooled biscuits. Present to your loved one to say je t’aime this February.

More Valentine’s treats
The world’s first chocolate-themed hotel has a special Valentine’s package on the menu. The Chocolate Boutique Hotel in Bournemouth has a Valentine’s Day special for £200, involving a night in a chocolate-themed room (complete with chocolate fountain), and two chocolate cocktails in the Chocolate Bar, as well as breakfast the following morning (where I suppose you could drink hot chocolate and indulge in a chocolate muffin or three). On the Saturday, there’s also a Belgian chocolate waffle making workshop (sadly not included in the package deal) at the hotel.

If your budget is a little lower, don’t hesitate to head for Millie’s Cookies, where you can purchase half a dozen red rose cookies or a massive heart-shaped cookie to bestow on your better half. You can also bring home Chip, the cuddly Millie’s Cookies bear, for £9.99, so that you can still enjoy the sweetness of Millie’s even after you’ve eaten all the cookies.

And for gifts for the foodie in your life…
Whether for Valentine’s, birthdays, or any other occasion, nothing says “have a good one” to your resident foodie quite like a gift from Giles and Posner. I already spoke about their innovative Mini Cupcake Maker in October, but the company also plays host to the Hard Candy Candyfloss Maker, which makes candyfloss from hard boiled sweets as well as traditional sugars, and the £29.99 Hotdog Rotisserie. For something more upmarket, you could also try the £60 Stonebake Pizza Oven or the £30 Hot Stone Grill. With popcorn makers and cocktail makers to complete the collection, there truly is something for everyone – you need never be stuck for gift ideas again.

Giles and Posner are not the only ones offering gastronomic gifts, though – others to consider include OXO’s new baking spatula, which at £5 is appropriately supple and rigid to cut and serve all newly-baked treats with ease, as well as being dishwasher-safe.

The world’s first vegetarian TV channel
After years of waiting for technology to catch up, VeggieVision TV founder Karin Ridgers has finally launched the new web TV station in partnership with Life On Show TV. “There are no programmes that cater especially for the estimated 3 to 4 million vegetarians and vegans in the UK and VeggieVision TV would like to be the answer to this – and more.” Karin says. According to the Office of National Statistics 18.3 million households in the UK (70 per cent) had Internet access in 2009. With around 5% of the population vegetarian and an increasing trend of meat reducers VeggieVision TV aims to cater for these people in particular. Karin continues: “We have a fantastic American comedian to share with the viewers as well as cookery clips and celebrity interviews. The Vegetarian society in Japan have been in touch and would like to film for us too. We have a Hollywood actor who is based in Thailand who has made a super clip for our viewers and we can’t wait to show even more content too.” VeggieVision TV channels currently include Cookery, Information, Entertainment World Vision and You TV. Karin is speaking to several schools that are interested in working with VeggieVision and is also keen to develop a music channel too. Now working with Life on Show TV Karin is working flat out to make VeggieVision (www.veggievision.tv) a sustainable business success and a portal that people will enjoy watching no matter what their dietary habits.

Spice up more than just the meal this Valentine’s with a Chantra Thai Curry Kit
Even the veggies can enjoy this one. Skip the queues at restaurants with overpriced Valentine’s Day menus and instead use Chantra Thai Curry kits (see http://www.thaicurrycompany.com) to create a genuine Thai atmosphere at home. The boxes are packed with ingredients carefully sourced from Thailand, such as libido-enhancing lemongrass and chilli, to bring the evening to a seductive conclusion.

Drink your way to good health
We can’t dine on curry all the time and expect to stay svelte, however (sadly). But some drinks companies think they can help to put us on the road to good health with their liquid innovations. The Biocera Alkaline Antioxidant Jug Filter uses bioceramic materials developed from natural minerals to bring alkaline ionised water into the financial reach of everyone. Some traditional filter jugs can leave the water acidic, which is not always good for your health, while the alkaline jugs short-circuit this. Distributed by http://www.water-for-health.co.uk, the Biocera Alkaline Antioxidant Jug Filter has led to whispers on the wind of clients feeling more energised following its use, as well as overweight purchasers losing weight, diabetic consumers getting better blood sugar control (and thus being able to reduce their medication) and cancer sufferers coming through treatments better. At £47.75, it perhaps is a little more expensive than other filters on the market, but maybe good health through your drinking water is worth more than that.

ALIBI Pretox drinks, however, won’t set you back nearly £50 for an initial outlay. Blending 17 essential vitamins, herbal extracts and amino acids, the drinks should certainly help you through the day by giving that extra little lift. Preparing the body in advance for whatever stress you throw at it, ALIBI Pretox drinks are available in Original Citrus or Pomegranate flavours, and are stocked in 48 locations across the UK (mainly Waitrose and WHSmith).

Another “super drink” comes in the form of Chocolatea (which maybe the Chocolate Boutique Hotel should consider stocking if it does not carry it already!). TeaForLife.co.uk combines its already bestselling green tea Simply Sencha with raw organic cacao nibs for a new health sensation that tastes great. Loaded with antioxidants, flavanoids and magnesium, it’s a low-calorie way to simultaneously satisfy your chocolate cravings and leave you feeling fit.

An Eggshellent Charity Breakfast
UK charity Feed The Children (http://feedthechildren.org.uk) is encouraging people to “go to work on an egg” and help to feed children around the world during their Breakfast2Live campaign, which will take place between February 20 and February 26. Workplaces and schools are called to stage charity breakfast events to raise money to help hungry children in the UK and overseas, while restaurants and cafés might like to donate a proportion of their profits to the campaign, to help us all think of the less fortunate.

Much-loved chef moves on
The memorably-named Paul Da-Costa-Greaves is moving on after thirteen years at the Galley Restaurant in Topsham to concentrate on his fine food range, Feeding Your Imagination (http://www.feeding-your-imagination.co.uk/). Paul acknowledges that “as [his] new organic chocolate, seaweed sauces and Christmas puddings have taken off, [he] can no longer give The Galley Restaurant the attention that it deserves.” The self-styled ‘chocolate therapist’, despite his thirteen years at The Galley being over, surely has many more exciting adventures around the corner.

Vitamin what?
We’ve all heard a lot about Vitamin C and Omega-3, but what about Vitamin K2? Two major studies of over 21,000 people have proven this vitamin’s efficacy in helping you to have a healthy heart, and two patents have also just been awarded to this effect. Currently marketed under the name MenaQ7, it’s sold at http://www.nutricentre.com (as well as at other independent retailers) at £18.95 for 60 tablets, and I’m sure that in 2011 Vitamin K2 is going to be the next big thing.

Top 10 Food Trends for 2011
Vitamin K2 is not the only thing to watch out for this year. MySecretKitchen.co.uk’s top trends are as follows:
1 – It’s all about reduction – sodium, sugar and the “undesirables” ie the ingredients that are not understood by the masses. If it’s not in the pantry it’s going to be kicked out.

2 – Citrus Twists – Not just orange and lemon but Yuzu, Pomelo, Tangerine, Bergamot (the flavour that gives Earl Grey tea that unique taste) will be seen more often as people want familiarity but with a little twist.

3 – Hedgerows – As people continue to look inside the UK and around them, so the local produce will continue to flourish. More flavours to come in 2011 for Rose, Blackberry, Elderflower, Rosehip, Elderberry and Sloe.

4 – Smoking toasting and roasting – The trend for increased authenticity in the food that people eat along with an increased willingness to experiment will mean people looking at roasted and toasted spices and smoked oils to add the extra flavour to the occasion.

5 – Good tasting functional foods – It’s all well and good adding the likes of Acaii to a beverage because it’s good for you but it’s got to taste good too. Look out for ingredients that are healthy and good for you in 2011 that also taste great.

6 – Eat in and entertain – More cooking shows, especially when they are focussed on entertaining at home will mean a rise in the dinner party experience. This will also mean more “one-upmanship”; more complicated recipes, more extreme foods, as Mrs Smith becomes even more determined to outdo Mr Jones’s last dinner party efforts.

7 – Extreme BBQs – People are no longer interested in putting the Chinese glazed spare ribs onto the Barbie. Other countries will come through to put more authenticity into the event – Brazilian, Korean, Mongolian as well as the extreme opposite where people will focus solely on traditional local produce from the butcher round the corner with locally produced sauces and marinades from the farmers markets and local delis.

8 –Respect – Continued research in what people are eating along with education in the food chain will mean a surge in fair-trade and free range, although not necessarily organic

9 – Where else can we discover? – What will be the new country that will explode into our everyday cooking lives? Mexican and Thai will continue to rise and are here to stay, North African continues it’s path upwards, but what’s the next big country? Difficult to predict as this trend tends to follow people’s holiday destinations and we all know this has reduced over the last couple of years. If we were to stick our necks out we’d go South American – Brazilian, Argentinean and Peruvian.

10 – Chocolate and … – Chocolate has had quite a lot of good publicity recently with regards to its health properties and it’s becoming quite trendy to know a lot about it. It’s all about provenance, cocoa solids levels, natural processing and the like. Chilli and chocolate combination has become almost the norm with the Walkers launch last year. More flavours will be combining with chocolate next year – lime, raspberry, cherry and for the more daring will bacon and chocolate become seen as it is the States? Somehow we think we have a few years ahead of us before that happens in the UK….

Heavenly Cakes announces gluten- and wheat-free cake range
Stevenage-based Heavenly Cakes have just launched a range of gluten-free, wheat-free and additive-free cakes to their always delicious handmade confections, which are also available online at http://www.heavenlycakes.co.uk as well as in store. With more than 25 variants in stock it could be the largest “free-from” range in the country. Maeve Green, who creates all Heavenly Cakes products, was determined to launch only when she had a very large range to offer. “We could have introduced 3 or 4 cakes, but we wanted to make a bold statement to this vibrant but hitherto short-changed sector of the market. The feedback from our customers, both business & consumer led us to pursue our plans on a much grander scale- and I think the hard work was worth while!”

Beat the January blues
January 24th – widely known to be the most depressing day of the year – has been labelled by Collier’s Welsh Cheddar as UK National Welsh Rarebit Day, following its recent reception of the accolade of the UK’s Best Mature Cheddar at 2010’s National Cheese Awards. Combining Cheddar with ale, mustard and Worcestershire sauce, it takes only a few minutes but takes cheese on toast to a whole new level in doing so.

And for a bit more magic..
In January, where the weather is cold and the post-Christmas blues are still lingering, we can all do with a bit of magic, which is what Guoman Hotels hope to inject with their Wizard of Oz afternoon tea. To celebrate the launch of the Wizard of Oz musical in February, The Royal Horseguards Hotel in London’s Whitehall has designed an exclusive wizardy afternoon tea menu. Whimsical treats on the menu include the Emerald City Lime Jelly, Dorothy’s Ruby Slipper Candies, and Over The Rainbow macaroons. To finish, at an additional cost, pick a cocktail to see you through 2011 – Brains, Heart, Home, or Courage.

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