Make Healthy Chocolate Your Friend!

To say I’m a chocolate fiend is an understatement. Chocolate is my friend.  No really she is – she’s been there for me throughout all the key moments in my life.  Comforted me in sadness, celebrated with me in happiness, calmed me down in anger and prepped me up with energy when I’ve needed it.  Like for millions of others, chocolate is a warm comforting blanket.

When my health issues cropped up I actually had to abandon chocolate for a while as she became a toxic friend for me. So I did go chocolate-free for quite a while.  And when I decided to let her back in my life our relationship had changed.

Now she had to be a high quality friend. She couldn’t just satisfy a primary urge of a sugar fix but had to offer my body and health something more.  She also had to cater to my dietary requirements of being dairy free but she couldn’t compromise on taste.   As I started my journey for new friends, I was surprised to see how much the chocolate market had changed.  In fact there was so much choice that I was like a kid in a sweet shop!  The need for a ‘healthy’ chocolate friend didn’t appear to be just a unique thing for me but was in demand by a growing population who wanted what I did.  Furthermore, it doesn’t appear that this market will slow down anytime soon as there’s a whole host of new healthy chocolate desperate to be our friends. And I’m all too willing to make new friends….

northernmunkeebites.ombar1Ombar Chocolate 72% Raw Cacao

Rating: 8 out of 10

Appeals to: free-from lovers, healthy-conscious eaters and lovers of high quality chocolate

Packaging

Now I’m not too sure that I was first attracted by the packaging. It didn’t scream out to me from all the different varieties on the shelves.  A slightly muted brown paper packaging with a pop of colour is how it differentiates itself.  However upon a second and tertiary glance, it actually looks quite classy with a high quality wrapping and upon opening a golden inlay.  It feels smooth to hold and starts to cry out high quality.  What I particularly liked was the rather clean/clear writing and not too much information on the front – just key words that I needed for my requirements e.g. % of raw cacao, dairy free.  Looking on the back provides me with the full information that I do need and in an easy to read manner.

Price

£1.99 – I have purchased this from a few health shops including Planet Organic and Holland & Barret.  When I first purchased it I thought the price was pretty steep for what looks like a small bar (35g).  However having tasted it against other brands it is quite reasonable and there are often discounts available on it in the health stores I mentioned.  It also helps me manage my consumption as because it is quite a price tag I don’t gobble it all in one go but actually have started to have it over two or three days which then makes me think it’s worthwhile as well as making sure I don’t over indulge and spreading the cost!

Delivery

This chocolate delivers. There are other varieties of the brand that I haven’t tried because I enjoy this version so much.  For me, dark chocolate is now my preference over milk and white.  This bar provides that small chocolate fix without being overly rich.  It’s slightly bitter but there’s creaminess to it which takes the edge of it.  I find that if you take one slab of it and let it melt slowly in your mouth, it gives you that feeling of eating a full chocolate bar.  To me that screams quality and ticks off all my boxes.  The product states it contains natural antioxidants and live cultures and I don’t know whether that adds to the flavour or not; but either way this is a tasty chocolate and one that is becoming a firm friend.

Verdict – in a word, creamy! Whilst the price can initially cause you to pause to purchase, after tasting it you can see that it’s actually a fairly reasonable price.  The 6 bar chocolate is enough to keep you satisfied for a couple of days providing you with that chocolate fix in an allergy free manner.  Plus if it states it’s good for your gut, I’m not one to say no to chocolate!

Details: https://www.ombar.co.uk/

I would love to hear your thoughts if you have tried this product – feel free to leave comments below.

Guest Blogger: Mrs M.

About Me

As a person with a recently diagnosed sensitive digestive system, I’m now on a path to make sure I eat well whilst still enjoying myself. Having been fearful of food, I now love finding new products, going to new restaurants to try new twists on dishes and am constantly looking for quirky items to consume.  I’m a huge supporter of simple food that is made tasty with the right combination of ingredients and more importantly enjoying your food and diet in a balanced way.  That means I always have room for my favourite item – chocolate!

 

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Gosh Being a Fussy Eater CAN be Simple!

I’m not sure about you but I for one am getting weary of the cornerstones of healthy eating is to cook everything from scratch. Do not get me wrong, I 100% believe that the benefits of taking raw ingredients and creating a nutritious dish with your own hands is one of the pleasures of life.  Cooking this way provides numerous benefits; you know what you’re eating, you’re not exposed to (more) pesticides, it’s less expensive plus one of the main perks is the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you do manage to create something that looks great and tastes fantastic.

However sometimes I don’t have time to wash, cut, chop, sauté, marinade, cook, season and then add the final flair of presentation to the dish with a touch of basil. Sometimes I just want to come home after a busy day at work and know there’s something in the kitchen that won’t take me long to cook.

Yet whilst the retail food industry is definitely looking at the ingredients it puts into its products now, it’s still full of those sneaky little ingredients that are just not good for you. A food item that sounds healthy is suddenly causing sweats when you turn over the packet and look at the ingredients – sugar, fructose, starch and then if you have intolerances and allergies you see the words wheat/mustard/dairy/fish sauce which makes you drop the packet quicker than a hot potato.  Finding simple food products that don’t have these pesky add-ons proves difficult.

So when you find a food product or brand that caters to your every digestive whim, it takes a lot of restraint not to go wild and purchase in bulk. I randomly stumbled over the Gosh brand and it fit my criteria perfectly.

northernmunkeebites.ohmygoshGosh Sweetcorn & Quinoa Bites

Rating: 9/10

Appeals to: free-from lovers, vegetarians, healthy-conscious eaters and anybody else who fancies a quick bite

Packaging

It was actually the packaging that caught my eye as I was browsing the supermarket shelves. The slightly quirky sleeve and bright orange colour jumps out with the large font of the brand name Gosh making you do a double swivel of your eyes.  What I really liked as well is that you could see the product as clear packaging peeps over the top of the sleeve.  I liked the fact I could see what I’d be eating rather than it being fully covered in a cardboard sleeve.  Easy to read information on the front and back tells you immediately this is safe for allergy/intolerance sufferers to eat.  For me the ingredients list is simple and quick to run your eyes over quickly.

Price

£2.50 (based on Tesco’s pricing).  I’ve become so used to paying more for allergy-free products that when I see a product that’s reasonably priced it makes me think huh? But this is a very fair price for a product that is simple and tastes good.

Delivery

I was expecting a dense, slightly tough texture when I bought these so was really (pleasantly) surprised that these were soft and oh so chewy. To say they are tasty is an understatement – these little babies are so moorish.  I could have eaten the full pack in one go but had to restrain myself.  The flavours of harissa and paprika are just enough not to overwhelm the product and add that little bit of spice.  I’ve had these on three or four occasions now all in different dishes, and each time I just look forward to popping one of these in my mouth.  Delicious!

Verdict – in a word, simple. These are worth every penny, quick to cook, simple ingredients and delicious to eat. For those, like me, who have to be careful about the ingredients they eat, this product is one of the very few that I can stock up on and be relieved that when I get home from work there’s something quick to pop in the oven, fills me up and goes with a variety of dishes.  I would definitely recommend these without hesitation.

Details: www.goshfreefrom.co.uk

Feel free to leave your thoughts below after you’ve tasted them – always open to different opinions!

Guest Blogger: Mrs M.

About Me

As a person with a recently diagnosed sensitive digestive system, I’m now on a path to make sure I eat well whilst still enjoying myself. Having been fearful of food, I now love finding new products, going to new restaurants to try new twists on dishes and am constantly looking for quirky items to consume.  I’m a huge supporter of simple food that is made tasty with the right combination of ingredients and more importantly enjoying your food and diet in a balanced way.  That means I always have room for my favourite item – chocolate!

Indian Tiffin Boxes

When I say ‘microwave meal’ to you, what do you think of? Soup? A jacket potato with a cardboard bottom? A dubious looking ready meal with enough salt content to cater for half of Lancashire? Still? Really? Well, let me tell you times have moved on.

Chilled food has been on a steep upward curve since 2013 and the disturbing Horsegate Scandal swept through food manufacturing. I realise this was a despicable and trust-destroying time but may be it wasn’t such a bad thing. The news stories forced consumers to demand more from manufacturers and it made manufacturers more accountable for full food traceability and sourcability. We have become obsessed with where our food comes from and we have, rightly, become distrusting of re-constituted, Frakenstein-food.

Thankfully there are a number of marvellous-microwave-meal-masters out there that have dedicated themselves to not only producing food with credible provenance but food that pushes the boundaries and expectations of what can be cooked in the microwave.

I love discovering new food pioneers and Street Monkey is a fabulous example for you to gorge on…

Street Monkey

northernmunkeebites.streetmonkeyRating: 9/10

Appeals to: fine food aficionados, time poor hunger-bursters and just about anyone really

Packaging

The packaging is the lifeblood of the branding here and it really inspires the authenticity of Indian Street Food and tiffin boxes. The colours are bright and vibrant and, more importantly, will serve to disrupt the bland chiller. The Street Monkey branding is strong and I do think more could be made of the character reference to bring some personality to the products.

Price

£6.00 – now, this price point says two things to me: quality and luxury and the food delivers against this. My concern for this product and price point is that it limits stocking points. The quality of the food deserves the price point but, in most mainstream retail outlets, it would be an outlier. It’s important when pricing a product to consider what will be surrounding it. High-end retailers stocking Charlie Bingham et al should welcome this product and price with open arms but it may be too much of a stretch for the middle market.

Delivery

Phenomenal. I cannot convey how good the quality of the food is. Take whatever you thought about Indian ready meals and tear it up; this has the potential to be a game changer.

The slow-braised beef madras is up there with the best curry I’ve ever tasted, ready meal or otherwise!

Verdict – in a word, game-changing! This product and brand has huge potential with a couple of tweaks and a targeted go-to-market strategy it could take over the chilled shelves. Seek out this monkey and take it home!

Details: www.street-monkey.com

Any comments, thoughts or questions? Or are you a fine-food-hunter yourself and you want to offer me some tips? Leave a little comment below because sharing is caring!

Northern Munkee.

#MeatFreeMonday

I’m not ashamed to say it: I am a 6ft 2″, 20stone (plus), flexitarian!

Now, clearly I like my meat, you only have to see me to know that, but I’m not wed to it. I’m also very aware that the term ‘flexitarian’ feels very faddy but, just in case you’re not au fait with it, let me assure you the concept is quite simple: I just don’t eat meat all the time.

I have joined the thousands of others in the UK that aren’t necessarily card carrying vegetarians but occasionally partake in things like #meatfreemonday. So what’s driving this growth amongst the meat-loving populous?

Well it’s quite simple really: health and a huge improvement in the availability of convenient, good quality meat free food; in that order. It is now understood that eating a lot of meat, especially red meat, isn’t necessarily a route to a healthy lifestyle. This new demand has presented an opportunity for a number of companies to flourish and produce fantastic fresh and frozen vegetarian foods.

OK, that’s all well and good but you should know by now that I like to add a commercial ‘so what’ into the mix…

Well, The Independent called out flexitarianism as a key food trend for 2017 in an article published at the end of last year meaning retailers that ignore the needs of its shopper base will come unstuck. The marketplace has really heated up with foodies flourishing in lots of different categories. COOK has managed to redefine what is meant by frozen food and our freezers are now filling up with a cornucopia of fantastic free-from frozen goodies.

So when my friends over at Goodlife asked if I wanted to try out some of their products I jumped at the chance; and here’s what I thought…

Goodlife Foods

Rating: 9/10

Appeals to: vegitarians, flexitarians, free-from followers, food lovers and just about any body

Packaging

The charm of this brand really shines through from the packaging. It’s simple but certainly stands out against the wallpaper that adorns most freezers. The branding and packaging conjures up imagery of the self-sufficient good old days when everyone tended to an allotment and shared out this year’s bumper crop of runner beans. The food descriptions on pack are also very powerful in terms of setting expectations about the goodness inside; you’re really not expecting a free-from taste experience.

Price

£1.89 – £2.49 (based on Ocado’s pricing) – I was actually pleasantly surprised when I checked Ocado’s pricing. You could be forgiven for thinking that they would be more in line with COOK’s prices, which are significantly steeper. The freezer is a very value driven area of the store so price is a key driver of purchase, however these products are targeted at a discerning consumer so Goodlife have to find the delicate balance between value for money and a great tasting product.

Delivery

Green Bean, Spinach and Wensleydale Sausages

Now we’re all adventurous foodies here, right? So please don’t allow appearance to cloud your judgement with these beauties. They may not look much but they taste phenomenal and certainly deliver against the description. These sausages are bright, fresh and flavoursome and the sausage skin provides a snap as you break through it. The creamy cheese and onion notes linger on the palate long after the swallow. These are brilliant!

Tomato and Olive Grill

Goodlife’s grills give a very different eating experience to the light sausages with a rich intense flavour buffeted by a wholesome tomato base with a delicate, dancing olive across the top notes.

Mushroom and Spinach Kiev

Finally, the kiev. Now this is special. The light, herby crumb offers a fantastic juxtaposition to the creamy, delicate interior. The cheese sauce runs throughout the eat and far exceeds the point of swallow.

Verdict – in a word, flexy! As I said at the top of this post I am a flexitarian and I fully see the value in meat free days from a health perspective. However, this choice has only been made possible by fantastic tasting meat free options. I’m a food lover so taste is always king but thanks to people like Goodlife I don’t have to compromise just because I want to go meat free. Why not join me next #meatfreemonday?

Details: http://www.goodlife.co.uk

Any comments, thoughts or questions? Or are you a meat free warrior yourself and you want to offer me some tips? Leave a little comment below because sharing is caring!

Northern Munkee.

Eating Well This January: Eating In

OK, so I’m going to assume that a lot of you are like me in that you may have overindulged a little over the Christmas break; am I right? Well if you’ve done that then you probably also spent most of the Twixmas period trying to eat all the bad things left in the house before January arrives; still on track? Now it’s time to admit that you’ve started making strange noises when you raise yourself out of a chair and to do something about it.

I’m not into that ‘New Year, New Me’ bullshit but I do believe that making lifestyle changes can provide a good platform to being a bit happier and a bit healthier. So, I’m on a quest to find ways to eat well but improve my health at the same time.

Mrs Munkee and I have opted to give the paleo diet a try. Now, I’m not usually a fad-follower but I want to get my mission into print then I will feel more obliged to stick to it and will be publically shamed if I fail! I do want to be clear though: this does NOT mean that I will be neglecting my duties as a Food Adventurer. Instead, what I want to do is find ways to eat great food that fit within the parameters of a healthy lifestyle and food routine.

Please don’t be alarmed though. January’s blog series won’t be preachy and I won’t be turning into a spandex-clad-Mr Motivator-look-a-like. It’s just another leg to my Food Adventure.

Buko Coconut Jam

Rating: 7.5/10

Appeals to: lifestyle managers, competent culinologists and DIY foodies

Packaging

The spreads market is very crowded but it doesn’t take much to interrupt the fixture and the shopper. Buko’s simple technique of using a different shape jar and more vibrant colours will achieve that disruption. The packaging also emanates healthy cues and communicates what it is and what it should be bought very quickly and simply.

Price

£4.50 – £5.00 – I’ve said this in previous blogs but price points are a tool that manufacturers can use to set customer expectations. What would you think of a product that claimed to be healthy and luxurious but was selling for 32p…erm, what’s the catch, right? Buko’s price point isn’t cheap but it is appropriate for the market.

Delivery

This is my second round of reviewing Buko’s Coconut Jams so I have a bit of an advantage here.

Instead of just tucking in with a spoon I used these widely diverse jams in a number of different ways: to accompany meat, to flavour smoothies, to work through porridge, to bake with and even to enhance sauces.

Verdict – in a word, versatile! These coconut jams should be a staple for any healthy warriors cupboard as a brilliant defence against the bland. Keep it coming Buko!

Details: www.bukofoods.com

Northern Munkee.

 

Food Review of Christmas 2016

Well, the decorations should now be stuffed back into the loft, the ‘good’ cutlery should have returned to hibernation and the last scraps of turkey should have been consumed. Christmas 2016 is done.

So I want to take this opportunity to look back at my personal Christmas and some of the brilliant food discoveries I made…

Preparation is Everything 

northernmunkeebites.roastpots.JPG

If you speak to Mrs Munkee, she’ll tell you that I can get quite stressed in the kitchen. If there’s ever a moment when I run out of workspace it’s just not worth being in the vicinity for fear of a passive aggressive torrent of abuse. So, this year, as a pre-emptive strike, I sought advice from Master Chef DGH on how to reduce the work on the big day.

I already do the majority of the vegetable preparations the day before but the gem I will keep with me for life is freezing roast potatoes. As well as being a god-send for timing on the day these were the best spuds I’ve ever tasted; a brilliant sweet, crispy and fluffy tatty!

Here’s DGH’s recipe.

Your Turkey Needs Good Friends 

If you’re like me you’ll see the benefit of investing in a quality bird however if you’re going to surround it with sub-standard accompaniments then you might as well pluck and roast a sparrow.

I would always recommend making as much as you can manage from scratch however, we all know that a little help in December is welcomed. So here are a couple of fantastic products that did my meal proud:

Mr Crumb Stuffing

northernmunkeebites.mrcrumb.JPG

I can understand if you’re offended by the idea of buying in stuffing, I get it; but you’d be wrong.

This stuffing is superb. It is light, multi-textured, fresh and, best of all, very easy to do. Having this on my Christmas table offered a great sweet, spicy juxtaposition to juicy turkey.

Heck Festive Baubles

northernmunkeebites.heckchick.JPG

I first came across this company on an Alex Polizzi (check spelling) documentary and, it I’m honest, the show didn’t put them in the best light. If you take that as you’re only interaction with Heck then I feel sorry for you because their meat is phenomenal.

Heck produced a fresh meat selection just for Christmas called Baubles. These are little meatballs of high quality, high meat, high flavour greatness! One of my favourite elements of the Christmas meal are the pigs in blankets but I didn’t need them this year!

Merry Twixmas 

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t look forward to Twixmas, that joyous period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve when the world is still sleepy and we believe that we’re obliged to eat ALL the food in the house!

The question is, though, how do we make that Twixmas period extra special without completing the unthinkable task of leaving the house? This is what I did…

Just the Jelly 

northernmunkeebites-justthejelly

I love these little pots and I’ll tell you for why: their versatility. If you haven’t experienced this concept before they’re a rich jelly infusion with fantastically concentrated flavours. This year I used them as a meat accompaniment, a cheese accompaniment, a soup enhancer and a gravy enhancer!

Casa de Mont 

northernmunkeebites.cdm.JPG

I can’t tell you the amount of time I’ve salivated over these beauties and done nothing about it; but I decided this year I was going all out!

Not only is this ham incredibly tasty and last forever (slight exaggeration) but it also makes an impressive centre piece. I think I’ve started a new Twixmas tradition!

So, that’s enough turkey and tinsel reminiscing for one year. I love hearing from you all so leave me a comment below and let me know your fantastic festive food finds!

Northern Munkee.

Key Food Trends in the UK…

Focus on SIAL: Review

Over the last week or so I have been focussing my attentions on Paris and SIAL: the world’s largest food innovation exhibition.

Innovation is the lifeblood of food retail as it drives new shoppers, new interests, new sales and new opportunities. There has been a plethora of game changing innovations over the last few years that have redefined food retailing in one way or another: bottled water, the shelf check-out, home delivery, micro-meals, vaping…the list is endless.

So, in the spirit of SIAL, I’m going to give my view of the world of retail and food innovation and then review some of the new insights that came out of the conference.

Sustainability

This has been a hot topic in the food industry for a long time and probably always will be. Sustainability can mean different things to different people but in its simplest form it’s a means to ensuring that we have longevity in supply of food. That can be achieved through fair wages and working conditions, exploring renewable energies or protecting the environment that produces the food. I wrote on this subject in a previous blog and in particular about how manufacturers are turning away from organisations, like the Fairtrade Foundation, in search of a more effective way of creating a sustainable supply chain.

In commercial terms, sustainability is still important to shoppers which can be evidenced from campaigns like The Grocer’s Waste Not Want Not. Suppliers should be mindful of their sustainability stance and can use it for commercial gain such as the multiple retailers’ adoption of ‘wonky veg’ to win hearts and minds.

Food Waste

I touched on this point briefly above but, as odd as this may sound, the management of food waste is becoming more and more trendy. This is partly driven by social awareness and hardship programs like Fair Share and also a socio-economic drive to stop throwing money down the drain through negligence and ignorance.

This trend has seen brands such as Toast Ale, beer made from surplus bread, to emerge. Now, I’m not claiming this is a new trend, far from it; the practice has existed for hundreds of years since fruit manufacturers wanted to preserve their wares in sugar to make jam or potato farmers wanted an outlet for surplus potatoes in a snacking format. What I am saying is that this concept and story is now becoming a commercial opportunity.

Dot Com

Online food shopping is something that has been growing steadily year after year in the UK but there has to be a significant leap forward in the near future that will be a game changer. If I was a betting man I’d say that is more than likely going to come from Jeff Bezos et al over at Amazon where drones are already lining up laden with groceries. Amazon will steal a march on the grocery sector, it’s just a matter of time.

For now, companies like Deliveroo will continue to innovate and do things differently and better than before but surely no one can beat the Amazonian beast to the online food retailing crown?

Flavour Trends

Flavour trends are really difficult to predict and if I could tell you the difference between a flash in the pan and a sticky trend I’d be a very rich man!

Flavour and food trends tend to be driven by social elements like which holiday destinations are popular at the time and therefore it changes frequently, almost on a yearly basis. One trend that is definitely here to stay in the UK is provenance. We are still obsessed by where our food comes from to keep a check on traceability and quality.

Health is still prominent on the trend agenda in the UK and the movement over the last 18 months has seen protein come into the limelight. Is this trend a sticky one? I think not but only time will tell.

Now that my soap box is well worn I’ll move on to take a look at the World Tour studies produced by SIAL with a focus on what we can expect in the UK.

World Tour Studies: UK Trends

Three Key Food Trends:

Coconutty – Daniel Selwood (journalist for The Grocer magazine) highlights Pip&Nut (which I wrote about in a previous blog) as the key brand in this trend. He highlights that British shoppers are looking for products with functional benefits and coconut proliferations will be around for the next few years.

No Carbs – Selwood also calls out the British quest for a tasty alternative to a carbohydrate accompaniment which has led to a whole raft of innovative pasta/noodle/potato alternatives.

Super Snacking – this review also comments on the snacking revolution that is well underway in the UK with lifestyle champions on the search for more tasty and more beneficial snacks. Selwood highlights popcorn as a key trend along with a range of new snacking options brought by brands like Graze.

Trends in Retail

This report offers a few juicy nuggets in terms of what to watch in the retail market with Amazon Fresh, Holland & Barrett driving change in the arena.

So all that leaves me to ask is what are your food or retail trends for 2017 that you want to highlight? Come on people, sharing is caring.

Northern Munkee.