Christmas party treats

I personally never get bored with cake in any form, but if you wanted an even more fun form of cake that was easy to share, you could try the Cake Pops Maker and Waffle Stick Maker from Sweet Treats’ home baking range. Cake Pops can be easily put into gift bags at parties or shared at tea time, while waffle sticks can be made for a fun festive breakfast thanks to the Waffle Stick Maker. Both are ready in minutes to dip and decorate, and plenty of recipes are provided to get you started too. Starting from £19.99, they should provide hours of fun for parties and rainy days, for kids of all ages (especially the grownup ones).

Lidl has also launched its largest ever range of baking products recently, having introduced 15 products to its listed range, and 12 products as limited edition items, with the potential for more lines to be added. In addition, the supermarket chain is trialling in-store bakeries in a few select branches to ascertain demand for freshly-baked products. If successful, these will be rolled out across all 600 Lidl stores in the UK. If the products really will be freshly baked – as opposed to Lidl merely serving as a tanning salon for cakes that are shipped in from frozen – then I’m all for it.

Shine inside and out this winter

With the onset of cold weather, we are often inclined to turn to recipe books that are bursting at the seams with soups, puddings and pies. But to keep healthy throughout the year – even when it’s freezing outside – many believe that we should be continuing to incorporate more and more raw foods into our diet. This is a philosophy espoused by Rebecca Kane, whose newest book, Shine Inside and Out, aims to help us do exactly this. Shine Inside and Out follows her first book, Turn Your Shine On, in providing recipes for refreshing smoothies, soups, main meals and desserts, which are all wheat free, dairy free, and, crucially, raw. Already a Raw Food Expert for Videojug, Rebecca specialises not only in classic cold dishes, but also in such delights as chocolate brownies and Thai curries, which continue to appeal even in winter – with traditional Christmas treats such as mince pies also available. Stay tuned for a review of Turn Your Shine On coming soon!

From raw food to pure hydration

A study conducted by the British Beer and Pub Association shows that the alcohol drinking levels among young people have dropped. Overall consumption per person aged 16-24 has fallen by 12% between 2004 and 2011, with 48% of respondents in this age group saying they had had an alcoholic drink in the last week (compared to 70% in 2003). There could be several reasons for these statistics. One is that people are notoriously bad at self-reporting: the fact that people say one thing and do another is a perennial peril of any sort of field work. Another reason offered for this drop is that young people are arguably going to cafés more in order to socialise, rather than going to bars and pubs. Some say that this is due to the popularisation of cafés in shows like Friends, but this seems less likely given that the show went off the air some years ago. More likely is that young people are flocking to cafés for the free wifi, thanks to the popularity of social networking. Coffee chains in particular have become more ubiquitous, while pubs and bars close regularly. In any case, if it is true that the British binge drinking epidemic is on its way out, then I am glad: whether old or young, less (when it comes to alcohol at least) is definitely more.

Foods to include this party season

New report Ripped To Shreds (co-authored by personal trainers Shaun Petafi and Dean Connor) has recently been published to advise us of foods to include in our pre-party diets to boost fat-burning and show off a leaner profile. You could even include them in your party menus (as per my recommendations below!).

Shaun and Dean firstly recommend walnuts for their omega-3 content and mono-unsaturated fats. Why not construct some crostini as canapés, using walnuts, tomatoes, and blue cheese? Use their next ingredient, gluten-free oatmeal, to make porridge for your breakfast, to keep blood sugar and insulin levels low. For your Bonfire Night party, why not throw some into your parkin and serve up with some Lapsang Souchong? (More on this prontissimo.)For a Mexican theme, serve low-fat nachos with guacamole: Shaun and Dean’s third ingredient is avocado, promoted for its slow-release carbs and ability to absorb calcium. Add chilli pepper flakes to your salsa too, as these boost calorie burn. Use smoked salmon for a dinner party starter or on a bagel for breakfast with cream cheese, to help you get more omega-3 in. Eat half a grapefruit each morning to accelerate weight loss, and prepare a delicate grapefruit sorbet for a dessert to wow your guests as well.

The positive effects of honey are well-documented, and as it’s low on the glycaemic index, it helps to maintain a fat-burning environment in your body. Drizzle on your morning porridge (see above!) or serve on buckwheat pancakes for a fun kids’ party. Peanut butter is another great topping in both of these cases, and comes recommended by Shaun and Dean as a source of helpful unsaturated fat (but stick to the natural peanut butters that don’t add extra sugar or trans fats). Broccoli is their next ingredient to include as it helps to enhance fat loss, and I would serve up Saint Delia’s broccoli and cheese soufflé in an instant for a dinner party. Extra virgin olive oil, prized by Shaun and Dean for its ability to improve cardiovascular health, can also be exploited to the extreme, whether you’re drizzling it on salads, pasta, or risotto.

This kind of advice is invaluable to all, and I personally look forward to downloading my copy from the Ripped To Shreds website. It’s also available from iTunes and Waterstones, so there’s really no excuse to not get your mitts on one. Happy fat-burning!

Leading cosmetic clinic advocates diet over surgery

Further to this, it’s great to finally see a clinic advocating a diet over surgery. Court House Clinics have just confirmed what many of us already new, by supporting findings that a ‘quick fix’ cosmetic treatment for weight loss just isn’t viable. The national cosmetic group has used a case study of their own to provide evidence for their statement. A Birmingham housewife weighed 15st and 2lbs when she approached Court House Clinics seeking advice on bariatric surgery. With a BMI of 42.8, she was advised to lose weight naturally first using their Alizonne diet programme, and in this way she dropped seven dress sizes in eight months. Dr Patrick Bowler, the clinic’s head consultant, explains: “These results cannot be achieved by surgery alone. Obese patients are put at risk by quick fix surgeries which do not have any long term health or medical benefits. Court House Clinics advise anyone thinking of undertaking a weight loss treatment to fully investigate the programme before investing money. Surgical solutions are only ever part of the solution, not the whole solution according to the group. Patient participation and commitment to treatment is a key factor in getting the desired results.” It’s wonderful to finally see clinics and patients using treatments in a responsible way, and using surgery just as a last resort. If only others would follow their example.

Special Kensington Place prizes

To celebrate its 25th birthday, Kensington Place, Notting Hill’s popular neighbourhood restaurant, is offering a special daily prize for the first 25 days of November, its birthday month. Keep an eye on the Twitter pages of KP (@KPrestaurantW8) daily to see what you can win through retweeting, being the first to wish KP a Happy 25th, and other exciting ways that will be revealed closer to the time.

Make the most of the truffle season

Truffles are treasured in many top restaurants for their delicate flavour and elusive availability – so when a supply comes along, it’s worth making the most of it. To do precisely this, Angela Hartnett’s Murano restaurant is bringing back its white truffle menu for a limited time only. For a £50 supplement guests can enjoy dishes including scrambled eggs with truffle on toasted sourdough, hand-rolled tagliatelle with truffle and butter emulsion, and baked vacherin with truffle and grilled poratoes. Also available is a gourmet pizza loaded with white truffle, Parmesan, rocket and crème fraîche. I’d hot-foot it there if I were you: my experience at her Whitechapel restaurant recently was superb (more of which to come).

Looking for lunch?

I’m always looking to jazz up my lunch box, and here’s something that would make a real treat on the days when you need a truly special lunch. Whether you’ve got something to celebrate or just a long day ahead of you, the bento boxes provided by Ichi Sushi and Sashimi Bar sound like they would surely fit the bill. The sushi bar, which is located near Westminster Bridge, has introduced four bento boxes, which start from £14 with their Vegetarian Box. For £2 more, Japanese food enthusiasts can enjoy the Ichi Box, which includes a salmon roll, seaweed salad, sushi nigiri selection and a green tea Opera cake, and for £18, the Asian Box comes with a chasoba noodle roll, edamame beans, a sushi nigiri selection and a pistachio and chocolate grenache mousse. Then there is the pièce de résistance (or whatever that is in Japanese): the deluxe Okamoto Box (£20) includes a larger selection of fresh sushi and sashimi, perfect for sharing. The boxes are available from Monday to Friday during lunch hours, and if I were in London, I’d definitely indulge to celebrate the end of term.

Thanksgiving with Melrose and Morgan

It’s true that not all American imports are welcome. I could do without Halloween, Justin Bieber, Jersey Shore, and spreadable marshmallow paste. I can see, however, why even Brits may be willing to embrace the tradition of Thanksgiving, and with Melrose and Morgan, it’s made even more possible for the time-poor, as the three course meal is delivered oven-ready to the door. Although priced a little highly at £32.95 for a minimum of six people, the feast is a wide spread indeed, including roasted, boned and rolled free-range bronze turkey breast, served with pork-and-chestnut stuffing, gravy and fresh cranberry sauce with port and orange. The side dishes are autumn root vegetables with roast pears and herbs, bourbon and brown-butter sweet potato mash, and sprout tops with toasted pecans and caramelised shallots. Starters include spiced pumpkin soup, while for pudding you can choose between pumpkin or pecan pie. Happy Thanksgiving indeed!

Go East

Travel company Kuoni has joined forces with the recently relaunched East India Company to bring alive the art of ancient tea drinking through a series of events being hosted throughout November. Audiences interested in travel and tea will be able to learn how tea is transported from plantation to cup, with the journey encompassing tea varieties such as Dragonwell, Rainforest Lumbini, and Thousand Year Red. All will be introduced by Tea Master Lalith Lenadora, with Kuoni’s team on hand to talk to customers about holidays to the locations where the tea is grown. The events will feature tea tasting as well as canapés, biscuits and chocolates created by the East India Company, alongside a prize draw, with the evenings taking place at 7-8 Conduit Street, London, on November 6th and 15th, and with one customer event to be hosted on the SS Great Britain in Bristol on November 13th. To reserve your place, contact Rebecca Leech at Kuoni – I know I’d attend if I could.