Saturday 9 December 2017

Stocking fillers and tummy fillers for foodies of all ages (review roundup)

Whether you're looking for festive nibbles or Christmas gifts for foodie friends and secret Santas, there are some lovely new products hitting the shelves at the moment, that will appeal to everyone, whatever their age or dietary restrictions. You can't have Christmas without chocolate, and this Diva box of Bonieri chocolates from Turin looks very snazzy, in its sleek black and white packaging.

Inside the box, you get twelve individually wrapped, boat-shaped gianduiotti chocolates which, unbelievably, are sugar-free. Yes, I know what you're thinking ... "Sugar-free chocolate? Yuck, I'd rather go without." Well, yes, I was inclined to agree with you before tasting these ones. Don't just take my word for it though - they won a 2016 Great Taste award. They are made with cocoa paste, Piedmont hazelnut paste, cocoa butter and sweetener and they're gluten-free and suitable for vegetarians, as well as those who need to avoid sugar for health reasons or lifestyle choice. They contain 54 calories per chocolate and have a lovely smooth, silky texture. You honestly would never guess that they're sugar-free if it wasn't written on the box ! (RRP £11.95 for 120g) For more information :

Hands up if you are guilty of regularly throwing away over-ripe bananas. I have to admit that I am, even if I have a tried-and-tested banana bread recipe that uses up most of them before they go too far. I'm not alone though - 1.4 million edible bananas are thrown away in Britain every day. Snact reacted to this problem by creating a trio of Banana Bars, using fruit that would otherwise have gone to waste for being too 'ugly' or not the right level of ripeness. Available in three flavours - Apple & Cinnamon, Carrot & Spice and Beetroot & Cacao, the soft, chewy bars come in eco-friendly wrappers that are fully compostable and compost at a similar rate to orange peel. They taste very nice and are vegan, gluten-free, less than 130 calories and free from flavourings, colourants and artificial sweeteners. What's not to like?! We also tried a bag of Snact Fruit Jerky which has a satisfyingly chewy texture and great fruity taste, as well as being equally eco-friendly because it is made with surplus apples. For more information :

Staying on the healthy snacks theme, do you prefer sweet or savoury options? Even if nobody is hungry after all that turkey, not to mention the Christmas pudding and mince pies, it's always nice to have little bowls of nibbly things to share in front of the festive telly binge over Christmas.

If you want something healthier than a family tin of chocolates, Bear Claws are as delicious as sweets but contain nothing but 100% fruit and vegetables and the same amount of sugar as half an apple (with a lot more fun !).  They even count towards your five a day. Indie Bay Snacks pretzel bites are a reinvention of the pretzel with alternative flours and wholesome grains, making them the ultimate #snackswithbenefits. Perfect for munching on while waiting for Big Ben to chime on New Year's Eve (even if, presumably, they'll be using a recording this year).

If (like me) you've been trying (but failing !) to get enthusiastic about chia seeds, Andean Sol have a great new way to get some of the superfood into your diet : an innovative range of Chia Oils. A world first, the Olive and Chia Oil is cold pressed to maximise flavour, adding life to any dish, whether it’s drizzled, dipped or doused over food. Available in 250ml bottles with a RRP of £8.99, the nutritious oil brings together the best of both worlds, the sublime taste of the highest quality extra virgin olive oil blended with the impressive plant based Omega-3 power of cold pressed chia oil. The result is a rich peppery oil that will add depth to any dish. Andean Sol has also launched a pure Extra Virgin Chia Oil, made from the finest ingredients sourced only from the warm and sunny foothills of the Andes Mountains and containing approximately 64% of plant powered Omega-3 fatty acids. With a light nutty flavour, it is the ideal nutritious salad dressing. Available in 100ml bottles with a RRP of £9.99, you can experience the true taste of the Andes with every drop. Ever wondered where your food really comes from? Well now you can know, because by entering the unique code found on the back of Andean Sol packs onto their website, you can learn about the process, people and farm who worked hard to create the new oil range. Available on Ocado. For more information :

If you prefer making your own snacks and tasty treats, the Christmas stocking filler-sized Flavours of Wales : The Baking Cookbook pocket book (RRP £6.99) by Gilli Davies and Huw Jones showcases ten authentic sweet and savoury Welsh recipes, including Bara Brith, Caerphilly Scones, Teisen Lap and Aberffraw Cakes. Despite living in Swansea for three years, there are several tasty treats that I'd never heard of and can't wait to try, having seen the full colour photos accompanying each recipe.

There's nothing better than a warming bowl of homemade soup on a cold winter's evening, especially after all the over-indulgence of Christmas. I make soup at least twice a week - using the leftovers from the roast on Sunday evening and once more, usually with bacon and lentils or split peas, at some point during the week - so I love Drew Smith's Broth To Bowl : Mastering the Art of Great Soup from Six Simple Broths.

As well as giving me some great twistq on the soups I already have in my repertoire, such as Bean & Barley Soup, Old-Fashioned Split Pea Soup or French Onion Soup, it also has lots of inspiration for more exotic soups, including Monkfish with Ginger, Mussel soup or Chickpea soup with leeks, coriander and tomatoes.

With over 60 recipes, there's something for everyone, including vegetarians, meat and fish-lovers. As a keen globe-cooker, I particularly love the exotic offerings, from French bouillabaisse to Thai Tom Yum Goong, Scottish Cock-a-leekie and Japanese Dashi. Using nothing but honest, unprocessed and natural ingredients, it is perfect for the health-conscious home cook, and anyone interested in using time-honoured techniques to expand their culinary skills, not to mention reducing food waste by using up odds and ends that may well have ended up in the bin otherwise. The full-colour photos make it enjoyable to flick through and I'm looking forward to upping my soup game and making lots of lovely warming dishes to see us through the colder months. (Hardback, 160 pages, RRP £20.)

Finishing off with one for the kids, The World In My Kitchen by Sally Brown & Kate Morris ,
co-creators of CBBC’s I Can Cook,  offers a whistle-stop culinary tour of the world. Today you could be having a Peruvian meal, tomorrow your table could be whisked over to Finland and the day after chopsticks will be on the table instead of knives and forks as you take a trip to China !

The Madhouse kids are quite used to me cooking up lots of exotic dishes but they don't always want to try them, so it was great to find a variety of kid-friendly options that they could help prepare. In fact, they didn't need much help from me at all, as each recipe has been created so that your child can cook as independently as possible, with simple preparation, easy to source ingredients and serving suggestions to help create a balanced meal.

The recipes, all tested by children before being allowed in the book, are devised to produce a portion size equivalent to two adults and two children, so your mini chefs can feel really proud when they dish up a meal to serve the whole family. As well as honing important life skills, including cooking and nutrition, the book is educational, with maps and facts about each country dotted amongst the recipes.

(Paperback, 160 pages, RRP £12.99)

That little lot should give you plenty of food for thought (and bellies) over the Christmas period !

Disclosure : We received the products in order to write an honest review.


  1. We love gianduotti, always bring them from Italy, though not this particular brand. Curious to try sugar free chocolates. Haven't heard of chia oil either, it must be super healthy.

  2. Looking for ideas for Christmas presents already!


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