Special Christmas foods now hitting shelves

Christmas seems to get earlier and earlier every year (not that I’m complaining!) and food retailers are no exception to this, rolling out new products in the hope of making life easier for the Christmas cook and making a quick buck along the way. The Secret Kitchen, for instance, counts a white wine and porcini finishing sauce (to garnish chicken, pork and white fish), a chocolate peppermint sauce (for hot chocolate and desserts) and a mochaccino cookie mix among its newest innovations. Vimto is also launching a new drink to celebrate the festive season: its Hot Mulled Berry Punch blends the original Vimto flavour with spices for a brand new drink which can be drank hot or cold, alone or as a mixer for a hot winter cocktail (and all for £1.89/725ml at Tesco from November 21!). In addition, celebrity chef James Martin has launched an exclusive range of his own brand products with Highland Fayre, creating luxury gift hampers, boxes and baskets that include signed gift cards and James Martin cookbooks. Containing fine wines, relishes, cakes, preserves, handmade chocolates and more, the hampers are suitable for all occasions and budgets. The ultimate gift, though, perhaps comes in the form of a collaboration between The Antique Wine Company and British design house Linley: its rosewood, ebony and satinwood box is being made in a limited edition run of 50, housing five of the finest bottles of Bordeaux. Containing a bottle each of Château Lafite Rothschild 2003, Château Latour 1982, Château Mouton Rothschild 1986, Château Margaux 2000 and Château Haut Brion 1989, you’ll need money to burn: this classic coffret will set you back £12,800.

Calorie counting

I can’t be the only one to feel that one method of preparation for Christmas is to overcompensate in the months before by increasing the proportions of diet and exercise. It would appear that others do feel the same way, as now more than 1000 McDonalds restaurants in Britain have begun displaying the calories in each item on their menus, following trends in New York City. Other chains that have signed up to the British calorie display programme include KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks.

But there are also other ways and means to drop some weight should you feel so inclined: David Kirsch’s Thermo Bubbles are the latest Hollywood trend in the form of a supplement that you add to your drinks to help you maintain your fitness and wellness goals. Tasting of pink lemonade, the supplement contains two blends of vitamins, herbs and minerals to boost energy levels and metabolism, curb appetite, and promote lean muscle mass. Said to be 100% natural, the supplement contains no artificial colours or flavours and can be added directly to water. It’s available at Space NK for £37.

Hypno-Aromacology Programming also allegedly makes it possible to naturally shed pounds – this time by tricking your brain into eating the right foods. Philip Winston, an Oxford-based clinical hypnotherapist, creates a “virtual gastric band” that is food-specific. Following an individual client consultation, Winston uses hypnotherapy and aromacology to “rewire” the client’s tastes and desires.

There’s an app for that

It’s also unsurprising that most smartphones also now have apps to help to keep you on the straight and narrow – and more new diet-related ones are out this month. Those with coeliac disease – as well as those with other food allergies or intolerances – can use the FoodWiz to help them make ‘safe’ food selections when out shopping. The constant vigilance that’s often required for those with food allergies and intolerances can often be time-consuming, boring, difficult and frustrating – and it’s something FoodWiz aims to help with. The app has the full cooperation of the major supermarkets, who have shared their food databases for the first time with a third party: the FoodWiz team. By simply inputting ingredients they wish to avoid, and scanning barcodes in store, shoppers can safely choose appropriate foods.

The NutraCheck app also scans barcodes to help shoppers keep track of their diets. Once a barcode has been scanned, it is added to a food diary which tots up daily calorie intake and helps dieters on the road to successful weight loss. Its UK food database contains over 100,000 foods and weights and measures are also tailored to UK users. The app  also shows how many calories you have left for the day on the home screen icon, without the need to open it, and gives access to the Nutracheck online slimming community for instant support and advice. Weight loss progress is also shown in a graph for immediate updates and motivation.

And to undo it all…

…there are naturally plenty of cookery courses available in the run-up to the holiday season. Ashburton Cookery School is on hand to help you cook the perfect Christmas dinner in just one day thanks to its time-saving tips and advice, as well as inspiring recipes and key organisational skills that can come in handy from canapés to Christmas pudding. Six one-day courses, each priced at £149, are available throughout December. For the oenophiles among you, a Food and Wine Matching Masterclass at the AWC Wine Academy with Saturday Kitchen star and wine writer Susy Atkins could be right up your alley. Taking place on December 7th from 11.00-13.00, the £95 course promises to show you how to match eight fine wines with traditional festive dishes (which will be served in canapé form). Wines will include classic reds from Bordeaux and Rioja, Champagne, Riesling from Germany/Australia, a white Burgundy, and a tawny port.

You could of course always do one better and fly out to Carcassonne in France to prepare yourself for yuletide. Owing to last-minute cancellations on the French House Party Carcassonne’s flagship cookery course, the Gourmet Explorer has spaces available at the unbelievable price of £950 – usual cost £1400 for single travellers. The all-inclusive course includes cookery tuition from not one, but two master-chefs who run their own multi-star restaurants in the Carcassonne region.  Transfers from Toulouse or Carcassonne airports are also included, as well as two meals out at restaurants and various other outings.

Public health: meat-eating and alcohol

As a lapsed vegetarian (crossed over to the dark side for 1-2 years before realising I would be moving to France, where resistance would clearly be futile), I would still call myself a veggie sympathiser: even today, I don’t eat meat/fish every day and see no need to. I was therefore pleased to see the distribution of a paper to all MPs recommending a plant-based diet as a way to ease the strain on public health systems. “Plant-Based Diets: a solution to our public health crisis” shows leading physicians revealing their belief that such a switch would reduce the incidence and cost of various menacing maladies, such as cancer, obesity and heart disease. With over 60% of the population being overweight or obese, the release of the paper is very timely indeed. But vegetarianism or veganism are still not magic bullets: plenty of people who already follow these diets still sadly succumb to these diseases. However, we may as well give ourselves a good chance to begin with. Even if we just go meat-free a few days a week, that, in my view, is better than consuming meat and fish every day.

John Dalli, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, also addressed the 9th plenary meeting of the European Alcohol and Health Forum in Brussels. Commissioner Dalli appealed to industry, civil society and the public health community to strengthen efforts to protect young people from alcohol-related harm. According to the most recent European surveys, half of school children aged 15 to16 years have drunk alcohol in the past month – despite the minimum drinking age being 18 in most EU countries. The Commissioner will stress the need to step up action, especially when it concerns young people. His speech is available here, and more information can also be found on the Alcohol and Health Forum. But I think it is important, too, to avoid being reactionary: in my experience, safe introduction of small amounts of alcohol within a child’s home can help to demystify alcohol and minimise the appeal of binge drinking.


But since we all need to have fun sometimes, I think that Bristol-based chocolate company Feeding Your Imagination’s recent four Gold stars from the Great Taste Awards for their Fairtrade chocolate bars is worth celebrating. The bars weigh 100g and have irreverent names such as Sensual, Sexy and Seductive. The hand-made chocolates also go beyond deliciousness by using natural essential oils and herbs to bring therapeutic properties to the eating experience. The Sexy bar brings chilli to the mix, while Sensual uses orange oil and nutmeg alongside a hint of chilli. While these bars won a star each, Seductive won two stars for its combination of ginger, jasmine green tea, and goji berries. With the essential oils helping to create a “massage from within”, and fifteen bars in the range to choose from, this would certainly be a unique gift for any chocoholic.

Counting down to Christmas in chocolate form is also hardly new, but FotoInsight hopes to combine the traditional chocolate advent calendar with happy family memories in its special Advent calendars with your own picture and 24 chocolate balls in festive wrapping as an alternative to mass produced advent calendars. Out now, each calendar costs £9.99.

A hug for the tummy from across the miles

If you can’t be with friends and family – at any time of year – it’s always great to be able to let them know you’re thinking of them. Whether it’s care packages for students at uni from worried parents, or birthday gifts being sent from afar, Muffin Heaven believes it has the answer with its cake delivery service. Its indulgent and supersized £12 Muffin Hugs are hand made in Devon from all natural ingredients and do not contain any preservatives. They are individually decorated and wrapped, and adorned with a personal message. For an extra £1 muffins can be accessorised with a sparkler or candle. Choose from four mouth-watering and irresistible flavours: Carrot, Orange and Cinnamon, Rocky Road, Double Chocolate Hug and Strawberries and Cream. Or, for Christmas, select a limited-edition flavour: White Chocolate & Cranberry, Chocolate Cherry Brandy, Rum and Raisin, or Christmas Spices.