Some festive advice from “Sparkles”

Last Posting Dates in the UK with the Royal Mail

  • Second Class – Wednesday 18 December
  • First Class – Friday 20 December
  • Special delivery guaranteed – Monday 23 December
  • International Airmail – check out the web page

Turn it up! – Spotify

For you Christmas music lovers – Listen to Spotify channel – Christmas Jazz at the Coffee Shop – Lush, warm, cosy – No singing and No Slade. Some of you might call it Muzak – fit for only department stores – but Sparkle dares you to give tunes and jazz a chance. Also recommend Christmas Jazz – perfect for entertaining, sitting and chilling, wrapping presents.

Happy Planet Christmas

Reducing waste at Christmas

From next year John Lewis and Waitrose are removing the plastic toys from their crackers. Aldi will be selling re-usable bags for fruit and veg starting the end of this month in the North of England, Midlands and Scotland – at 25p each and made from recycled plastic bottles. If the initiative is successful it could be rolled out to Aldi’s 840 stores. The supermarket says that if introduced nationally, the initiative will remove the equivalent of 113 tonnes of single-use plastic from circulation each year.

Of course, shoppers who don’t want to pay for the new bag or use a free plastic bag can instead bring their own bags or Tupperware containers for free. The supermarket adds that it is on track to have all own-label packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2022.


Guide to the Best Mince Pies

Good Housekeeping have just revealed the Best Mince Pies Tasting Test for 2019.

The winner scoring 90/100 was ” Baking Agent Mini Mince Pies “. Rich Buttery pastry with a delicious vanilla flavour. Bite sized and bake at home – ooo yes please. Ocado £3.79 for 12.

Runner up is a Costa Coffee All Butter Mince Pie 82/100 £2.10 each.

Third in the contest Morrisons – The Best all Butter Mince Pies 80/100. Star topped snowy lids reveal a packed filling of fruits with ginger and cinnamon, the orange and lemon peel add a perfect citric punch. £2 for 6.

Aldi Specially Selected Mince Pies came in a number 4 with 78/100. A snowflake topped pie with a dusting of icing sugar. Spiced with cinnamon, orange peel and plump sweet vine fruit giving a lovely rounded flavour. Taters liked the biscuity tasting pastry. £1.35 for 6.

M&S Collection Mince Pies were 5th 77/100. Lured in by the splash of brandy, deliciously zesty with boozy notes and sweetness from the juicy vine fruit. Tasters said that it lacked the festive spiced taste though. £1.35 for 6.

Another supermarket came in at 6. Asda Extra Special Luxury Mince Pies 73/100. Juicy vine fruit in a thick jammy sauce filled the golden pastry. Pastry soft and light with a delicious shortbread taste. Again, not enough festive spice for the tasters to score more points.

Other contenders were:

  • Asda Extra Special Sloe Gin Mince Pies 69/100. £2 for 6.
  • Lidl Luxury Mince Pies 65/100 £1.79 for 6
  • Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference All Butter Mince Pies 61/100. £2 for 6.
  • Bettys Classic Traditional Mince Pies 59/100 £10 for 6. It’s sad that a baker of this history isn’t cutting it against other retailers.

Talking Turkeys

Out of the 17 tested

3rd place scoring 79/100. Lidl British Free-Range Bronze Turkey Crown with Pork, chestnut, onion and thyme stuffing and dry cured oak smoked bacon lattice. One criticism – some found the sweetness from the honey roasted chestnuts a little too prominent. £16.99 for 2.72 kg.

2nd place with 79/100. Asda Stuffed Turkey Crown Roast in a bag – Yes – a bag to help keep that oven clean . Easy to carve with delicious notes and sage and onion. Stuffed with quality pork. One minus – the skin didn’t crisp up enough despite opening the bag towards the end of cooking. £13 for 1.75kg.

1st place scoring 84/100. M&S Turkey Breast Crown with pork, sage and onion stuffing. Described as a gloriously golden bird wrapped in bacon and well-filled with the stuffing. Tasters loved the crisp crunch of the bacon and the smoky-sweet flavour it added. Seasoned with sage, parsley and black pepper elevated and balanced the flavour making it herby and gamey. £30.60 – £39.10 for 1.8-2.3kg.

Or even better how about visiting your local butchers for a fresh one and the trimmings – Tilly’s butchers source fresh turkeys from Manley, Cheshire, and they will be around £10.90 per kilo.

English cheeses pleases – But Welsh ones are better …

Black Bomber voted Best British Cheese for a Fourth Time. Rich, smooth flavour with a creamy texture. Tastes splendid squished into a stick of celery. Amongst others in the range are:

Red Devil (chilli and crushed pepper) – perfect for melting over nachos,

Amber Mist – mature cheddar with Whiskey (Royal Welsh Show Bronze medal winner,

Natures Nectar – Rum marinated Figs and honey,

And for Christmas – Bouncing Berry (silver at the Nantwich International Cheese Awards)- what better than a burst of real cranberries. Light, creamy and fruity.

Stir-up Sunday

…is the traditional day to make your Christmas Puddings and Christmas cakes and this year it was 24th November.

If you’ve not heard of Stir-up Sunday, it is a tradition that goes back to the Victorian times when the family would gather together to each stir the Christmas pudding – while making a wish.

Xmas Puds

Joint winners 79/100. Iceland 12-month matured Christmas Pudding.

Iceland 12-month matured Christmas Pudding. Shot through with warming alcohol and heady Christmas spices, almond and pecans add crunch. Deliciously jammy vine fruit and plump glace cherries mixed with citrus peel – £4 (400g).

Lidl 24-month matured Christmas Pudding. Generously laced with cider, cognac AND brandy soaked glace cherries! A light and balanced in flavour pud. Savoury treacle undertones, lots of vine fruit and a crunch from nuts. £11.99 (907g).

Joint runner up 77/100. Harvey Nichols Christmas Pudding. Rich, almost chocolatey flavour with plenty of vine fruit and citrus peel. Crunchy whole nuts add texture to this sticky but light pudding. £9.50 (454g).

Ellie Elf – at least Harvey Nics came a respectable 2nd-ish.

Booths Brandy, Port and Walnut Christmas Pudding. Described as a cross between Christmas pudding and a cake. Gently spiced with juicy fruit including apricots, with the taste of marzipan and citrus. Chewy fruit and crunchy walnuts added interest. £11.95 (908g).

A vegetarian option at Figgy’s (they do however contain nuts and alcohol). Handmade in Devon by husband and wife team Richie and Jo Evans. They won the Gold in the Taste of the West Awards this year and a Gold in the Great Taste Awards, which they liken to an Oscar of the food world. The puddings are recommended by food writers and chefs, including James Martin, Xanthe Clay, Rose Prince and Tom Parker Bowles. Prices range from £12.95 (350g) £17.95 (550g) £24.95 (950g) and just £1.95 postage for any number of puddings UK mainland. Check their page for other postage rates.

I think that the small puds would make lovely gifts. Oh – they are all wrapped in cotton pudding cloth and in Mason Cash ceramic bowls too – definitely a plus.

Booths have Lilly’s Vegan Christmas Pudding. Described as finest vine fruits, apple, apricot and ginger blended with vegan and gluten-free ale and brandy. There are nuts in this recipe though. £6 for 2 people.

All the big supermarkets are doing alcohol free puds and Tesco have a nut and alcohol free pud, £2.00 for 400g (2 for £3 offer at the moment) – have a look round or use to check on stock of all the big supermarkets and get the best offers on things you buy and see what’s on offer too.

Here is a simple guide to lighting your Christmas Pudding.

Make sure you choose a plate with a little depth and a good-sized rim and plonk your pud in the middle. It is important to get the brandy/rum/whiskey really hot as this will make the flame bigger. Pour 2 -3 tablespoons into a long-handled metal ladle and heat over a gas flame for 20 seconds (or heat in a little pan then transfer into the ladle). If using gas gently tilt the ladle over the gas flame to light the spirit – or, and I think more safely – use a match – you’ll need someone to help. Immediately pour it over the pud – wait for the flames to go out – then tuck in.

Follow these tips for the best glazed carrots

  • Use a sauté pan that’s large enough to hold the carrots in a single layer—a straight-sided 10-to 12-inch sauté pan works well. This is important so the carrots cook quickly and at the same rate.
  • If you’re cooking for more than six people, use two pans or cook the carrots in batches, reheating the earlier batches just before serving.
  • You can use a cooking liquid other than water, such as vegetable or chicken stock, but I tend to choose water because it lets the carrots’ own flavour come through. Enough liquid to just cover the carrots.
  • Cover the pan with the lid slightly askew once the liquid comes to a boil. This lets some steam escape so that ideally the carrots will be cooked by the time most of the water has evaporated.
  • Cook the carrots until the tip of a paring knife enters the carrots easily but still with the barest touch of resistance. I like my glazed carrots tender with a hint of bite.
  • When the carrots are done, remove the lid and boil the remaining liquid until it evaporates and forms a syrup. Shake the pan to roll the pieces around and evenly coat them in the glaze. You can serve the carrots just like this, or you can top them with a sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs.

Let’s Bake a Vegan Christmas Cake

Vegan Christmas cake – a rich, moist and boozy vegan fruit cake that is perfect for the festive season. Eat right away or make in advance and feed as often as you like with rum or brandy – stopping a week before you marzipan/ice the cake.

This recipe by the Domestic Gothess. Find the link to her page and the recipe here:

Handmade White Christmas Cake (600g)

A festive round handmade Christmas cake made from the finest roast hazelnuts, almonds, orange and amaretto. Topped with a beautiful layer of white chocolate and almond paste. Made by a certified green producer, this handmade chocolate cake does not only taste phenomenal, but is sustainably made in a local setting. A lovely looking alternative Christmas cake. £12.50


Just like the traditional panettone – made with passion and plant sustainably sourced plant-based ingredients only. Classic and chocolate available. Sourdough starter aired 3 times a day and the dough rises 4 times over 72 hours. Hand-made Vegan, No Palm Oil.

Ultimate Vegan Christmas Roast Wellington

A Vegan Christmas Roast Wellington, described as having a ‘meaty’ texture packed with Christmassy flavours. 6/10 on the difficulty scale. Serves 6/8. Not gluten free.

This chef has some amazing food – have a wander round the website.

Marks and Spencer doing a similar vegan product.

Plant Kitchen Festive Roast

Described as a blend of mushrooms and soya with a cranberry and chestnut stuffing garnished with a whole bay leaf (no half measures from Your M&S) and comes with a sachet of vegetable gravy and 12 vegan cocktail sausages with mushroom, soya, caramelised onion and herbs.

Looking at the recipe above – you could wrap the pastry round this one too – brushing on the cranberry first – Yes! Serves 4. £12, Product code 29022410. The nutrition details are available on-line. Not suitable for milk and egg allergy.

Best Roast Spuds

Maris Piper / King Edwards /Desiree.

A collection of ideas from some of the best in the know…

Michel Roux Jnr: Oven 200 – heat oil  Peel and halve potatoes. Put them in a pan of cold water with plenty of salt. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer quickly 8-10mins. Drain in colander for a few minutes before shaking to ‘bruise’ the outsides – (put them back into the pan to do this and put the lid on to shake says St Delia Smith). Tip spuds into the hot oil – return to the oven – do not shake. After 10mins, turn and cook for another 30-45mins turning every 20mins or so until golden. Drain on kitchen paper and season with flaky sea salt. Delia says if the spuds are ready before you are – leave the potatoes in the oven and turn it off. BBC Good Food suggests once fluffing up the outside of the potatoes in the colander sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of flour and shake gently until they are evenly and thinly coated – transfer them carefully to the roasting pan and roast in a single layer. Nigella shakes the par-boiled potatoes in a little semolina for added crunch. Choose your favourite!

Here’s an idea – how about hasselback potatoes instead – they look amazing.

A showstopping cross between a roast potato and a fried one, both comfortingly fluffy and satisfyingly crunchy.

From Chef Arron @ The Grosvenor Chester.

First up is you don’t need to peel them – bonus.

Oven 180 degrees, place a kebab stick through the centre of your potato. Make cuts 5mm apart (stopping at the kebab stick). Take out the stick. Rinse the spuds under cold water to take some of the starch out – running water better than a bowl. Blanch 3-4 mins in boiling water. Drain and brush outer surface and slices with olive oil and sprinkle with Maldon salt. Bake in the oven for 30-40mins.


Something to drink first

First up is news on the newly released and eagerly anticipated Marks and Spencer Christmas range which is packed with indulgent flavours, innovative ideas and eye-catching decoration.

First pick is Clementine Gin Liqueur Snow Globe £15

Taken to a new level with the addition of 23 carat gold leaf which swirls in a snow globe effect when the bottle is tilted.

Sure to add magic and sparkle to any cocktail. Isn’t this just a delightful picture!

More Clementines in a drink – Coca-Cola is launching a festive edition – Clementine Diet Coke. Available in Tesco, Asda and Morrisons from mid-October.

Bubbles Bubbles Bubbles – Prosecco

Want to know the results of the top picks this Christmas?

Winner: Morrisons Prosecco Superiore DOCG 89/100. Blend of apple and citrus (grapefruit). Light and refreshing fizz with loads of bubbles. £10.

Runner up: Harvey Nichols Valdobbiadene 83/10. Hints of red on the nose, a citrusy flavour and a lightly sparkling texture. £16.

Next: Tarvisium Prosecco from Laithwaites. Citrus and pear flavours but the bubbles … didn’t last long… £12

Amongst the others tasted:

  • Tesco Finest Valdobbiadene DOCG 70/100 £10
  • M&S Colle del Principe DOCG 70/100 £12
  • Aldi Organic Extra Dry 66/100 £7.99
  • Lidl Allini Prosecco Spumante 66/100 £7.99

Sparkle suggestion…

Always have a bottle of either Crème de Cassis or Crème de Mure in the house – add a spot to any white wine – bubbly or not – and Boom there you have a beautiful Kir. Use the cheapest white for your Kir – the liqueur is so strong that any expensive delicate flavour will be lost. Head over to for a Crème de Mure recipe.

Gin Gin Gin Gin Talkin’

Spiced Orange and Cinnamon G&T

  • 50ml Gin
  • 125ml tonic
  • Fresh orange slices (plus peel to garnish)
  • Fresh ground nutmeg
  • Cinnamon stick

Put it together: Pour gin and tonic into a glass over plenty of ice, Then add a few orange slices, a little sprinkling of ground nutmeg (optional) and garnish with a cinnamon stick. (Don’t use ground cinnamon!).


Described as tasting more Christmassy than that first warming mulled wine of the season. This mulled wine gin liqueur combines spicy cinnamon and cloves with vanilla, clementine (yep those tangeriney/orangey/satsuma thingies – well I was asked the other day…), and a drop of juniper. Suggestion here is to serve with your favourite tonic or add a cheeky splash to your mulled wine – £25.99 50cl (20% proof).

From the same company: Mayo infused with gin – real gin. Squirt it over everything in sight the blurb reads. 2% proof and suitable for vegetarians. £5.99.

And finally, from this company – and there are so many gin related quirky things, Cranberry sauce infused with orange and a splash of vodka – smother your Turkey Lurky and piggies in blankets with this…£9.99.

Watermelon Gin from Two Birds with Fever-Tree Cucumber Tonic.

Peaky Blinder Spiced Gin

A full-bodied gin named after the Peaky Blinders – I know a few who might like this one but beware whoever buys it may keep it themselves. Described: Nose: Ripe orange, oak-y cassia and perhaps a hint of coffee bean Palate: Ginger and black pepper and fresh citrus. Finish: Oily juniper and a hint of eucalyptus. £21.39.

Wasabi Gin

Dancing Sands distillery in New Zealand has gone and created Wasabi Gin! Local Golden Bay wasabi root is used alongside kelp, orange, horopito (a native peppery herb) and other botanicals. It’s bottled at 58% ABV, rather than the traditionally used term ‘navy strength’, Dancing Sands would prefer you used ‘wasabi strength’. £43.95

Asda have launched three new festive gins after the successful Gingerbread Gin last year.

There’s Mince Pie Gin Liqueur (£10) which Asda experts suggest pairing with Extra Special Clementine tonic.

Toasted Marshmallow Gin Liqueur (£10) – pair that with some prosecco for a fizzy festive drink.

And third is the winter Extra Special Spiced Gin with Cranberry and Clementine – triple distilled and comes in at £18 a bottle.

Make your Gin and Tonic how you like it – add fresh cranberries and some sticks of rosemary – Rosemary is fabulous in a G&T, and finally – twirl and sip

Pink Gin


  • 70cl Gin
  • 200g Fresh raspberries
  • 100g caster sugar


Combine the raspberries, gin and sugar in an airtight jar, close and shake well. Store in a cool, dark place for two weeks. Strain using a sieve or muslin cloth.

More ideas from BBC Good Food

For a raspberry and lemon gin, add the stripped peel of 1 unwaxed lemon to the gin before steeping. For a raspberry and vanilla gin, add a stripped half vanilla pod to the gin. For a raspberry Bakewell gin, add a few drops of almond extract to the finished infusion. You can swap the gin for vodka and make raspberry vodka. The gin will keep its vibrant pink colour for a few months and will be drinkable for a year.

Idea – use the boozy raspberries in a trifle.

When buying your wines for Christmas – look out for organic and vegan wines for the most sustainable options.

Waitrose says: Winemakers use substances called fining agents, which clarify the wine by attracting all the tiny suspended particles left after the winemaking process. The traditional fining agents are gelatin, egg white, a milk protein called casein and isinglass derived from fish – all of which vegans avoid. Vegan wines are made without animal products, so winemakers either leave the particles to sink naturally to the bottom of the wine, or use non-animal fining products usually bentonite, a form of clay or pea protein.’ Just look for the wording on the label – all the supermarkets are selling vegan/vegetarian wines – too many to list It’s time we all spent a little more time reading labels – remember to take your glasses oh boys and girls of a certain age… Marks and Spencer have announced a commitment to make all of its own-label wines vegan by 2022 – currently 70 per cent is vegan friendly. Lidl (£11.49) and Sainsburys (£21) sell vegan champagnes.

NAWB Show 2020

The NAWB web site – – has been updated with all the details for the 2020 NAWB Annual show at Coventry on March 20-22.

The printed show schedules are now available. A printed schedule will be given or sent to any judge who has confirmed that they will attending the show within the next couple of weeks. It will also be sent or given to members who attended the show this year, unless you let me know that you will not be attending next year.

If anyone wishes to have a printed show schedule sent to them who did not attend last year, then please let me know, and I will send one to them. All details of the show, including all booking forms, are on the web site.

Please note the following if you are attending – The closing date for booking a room at the Coventry hotel is February 6th The closing date for your menu choices is FEBRUARY 5th. You may send me your choices by email before this date, but please also include a paper copy with your booking/entry form.

Elaine Robinson NGWBJ
NAWB Web Site Manager