31 Dec 2015

Grocery Gems Best of 2015

I haven't quite managed to review as many products this year as I have in previous years, but it's still been an enjoyable 12 months of keeping up with the world of new and limited edition goodies. It's time to look back at my favourite reviews of the year. But it's not just all about me, check back tomorrow for a countdown of the top ten most viewed posts of 2015 - the readers favourites!


It might seem like an odd choice to pick a vegan chocolate bar as the winner of my Best Chocolate for 2015 but I simply loved this one. It's Nutella in a chocolate bar format; enough said. It's also the only chocolate bar that I've reviewed this year that I've bought more than once. It's definitely worth tracking down if you can. Other top picks for my favourite chocolate reviews this year include; the Hazel Mountain White Chocolate from County Clare and the Toblerone Crushed Corn


I haven't reviewed very many cakes this year so I hope this Hot Cross Muffin counts! Let's just say it was my favourite baked treat. I know opinion was split on these Hot Cross Muffins but I thought they were perfection; juicy raisins and currants and just the right amount of zesty orange and lemon flavour too. The only problem was that they were so difficult to find. Special mention in this category has to go to Cadbury for finally jumping on the banana trend with their Cadbury Banana Mini Rolls and also to Mr. Kipling for their fun ranges of Halloween and Christmas cakes. 


So it turns out that I only reviewed ONE spread in the last 12 months - the Bounty Coconut Spread. This is something of a shocker to me as I've always reviewed lots of spreads in the past. I'm not sure if there weren't enough exciting new releases or if my kitchen cupboards just couldn't take one more jar. The Bounty Coconut Spread was disappointing in flavour, so it's not so much the best spread of the year, as the only spread of the year! Still, it was an exciting release at the time and was one of the most memorable reviews of the year for me.


This was not just my stand out drink of 2015 but also one of my favourite products from the whole summer. It's a crazy combination of jelly and coffee that just appealed to all my senses. I loved the sweet caramel flavour alongside the soft, squidgy jelly pieces. Please bring this back next year Starbucks! I have to also mention the Starbucks Fan Favourites Frappuccino campaign which saw the limited release of a Cinnamon Swirl Frappuccino - a very close run second place. 


At first I was going to choose the Kettle Crisps Bacon & Maple Syrup as the winners of this category - this is a flavour that's become a firm family favourite. However, I had to give it to the Walkers Bring It Back Campaign for the overall effort from Walkers to relaunch five retro flavours, and the fun factor in trying them all out. It was a great campaign and I would love to see other brands follow suit - perhaps Mars could delve into it's archives and bring back some much missed chocolates such as the Banjo Chocolate Bar. Let's hope 2016 sees more retro inspired campaigns! 


I managed to complete quite a few more countries in my Around The World challenge this year, although it was still far fewer than I would have liked! However, my overall favourite were the traditional Turkish Delight and Baklava that Mr. Grocery Gems bought in Istanbul. Such an amazing selection of flavours and textures that were a definite highlight for me this year. Other enjoyable reviews were the Nizza chocolate bar from Iceland and the Elite Taami from Israel


It was hard to choose between two offerings from Krispy Kreme: the Biscoff Spread doughnut and the Reese's Peanut Butter Doughnut. These were both released fairly early in 2015 and the Reese's just edges it into the lead in this close run race! 

I hope you've enjoyed this round up of 2015 reviews. I didn't include a BEST ICE-CREAM category this year because, annoyingly, I never got around to posting up a review of my favourite ice cream this year - the awesome Ben & Jerry's Pumpkin Cheesecake. Must try harder next year!  

All the best to everyone for 2016 :)


23 Dec 2015

New Instore: Tesco Snowman Cheesecake, M&S Christmas Cake Curd & More

Tesco Snowman Cheesecake: I haven't bought many new products in the last few weeks - it seems it's all about festive favourites at the moment. However, I couldn't resist this adorable Snowman Cheesecake from Tesco. This will be a great dessert for the kids on Friday - they really don't like Christmas pudding anyway! £4.00p at Tesco.

Thank you so much to Lucy W. who sent me some more fab finds.

Collective Dairy Morello Cherry Kirsch Yogurt: Lucy was really happy to find the latest limited edition flavour from The Collective Dairy. It's a Morello Cherry Kirsch - it looks good! 

M&S Christmas Cake Curd: This is a spread inspired by the flavours of Christmas Cake - it's perfect for slathering on toast, brioche or croissants. Sounds delicious! Spotted at M&S.

Crema Pariani: A Pistachio creme spread! This one looks very interesting. If you've tried it then let me know what you thought in the comments below! Spotted at M&S.

Many thanks again to Lucy W. If you've spotted any new products instore then I'd love to hear from you - email grocerygems@gmail.com or tweet me @grocerygems.

21 Dec 2015

Review: Mash Direct Fresh Veg

I was recently sent a selection of freshly prepared vegetables from the lovely people at Mash Direct. They're an independent family owned company that aim to provide easy to cook, delicious, healthy veg with all the flavour of being homemade. It's certainly a great product for this time of year and is perfect for anyone who wants to take a bit of the stress out of Christmas.

Each product in the award winning Mash Direct range contains specially selected heritage vegetable varieties, grown and prepared on their family-run farm in County Down. The vegetables are gently steam cooked immediately after harvesting to ensure a fresh flavour and texture, whilst retaining their natural nutritional benefits. All Mash Direct's products are gluten-free, with no artificial additives, preservatives or colourings and are low in salt. 

There are lots of seasonal favourites in the Mash Direct range including:
  • Honey Glazed Parsnips coated in butter, honey and light brown sugar (RRP £1.59p). As with most of the Mash Direct products these just need to be cooked in the oven. Parsnips are one of my favourite vegetables, especially with a roast dinner, and I really enjoyed the lovely sweet flavour here.
  • Ready to Roast Root Vegetables - a mix of parsnips carrots and beetroot, marinated in herbs (RRP £1.79p).  This colourful trio of veg was very popular with all the family - my kids especially loved the combination of colours!

  • Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and a Butter Glaze - freshly steam-cooked Brussels Sprouts with a bacon and butter glaze (RRP £1.89p). These just need 10-12 minutes in the oven. I really enjoy the combination of Brussels sprouts and bacon and especially when they are as easy to prepare as these! 
  • Duck Fat Roast Potatoes - These potatoes are coated in duck fat and cooked so they're crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside (RRP £1.89p). I've tried a few ready-made roast potatoes (usually frozen ones) and always been disappointed with the flavour. These roast potatoes from Mash Direct however are completely different and taste (almost!) as good as homemade. 

  • Red Cabbage and Beetroot - This is one of Mash Direct's most award-winning products - it's won two Great Taste awards, a Grocer Gold Award and a Quality Food Award. The veg is delicately steam cooked and blended to create a mix of flavours and textures. It's a really delicious combination of flavour that I've never tried before and would be a great addition to any festive meal.

  • Overall, I enjoyed all the products from the Mash Direct. I've never bought ready-prepared fresh vegetables before but I've been won over by just how easy and tasty the Mash Direct range is. It's a great range for taking some of the stress out of this busy period, especially if you have a lot of family meals to prepare. 

    The Mash Direct range can be found in the ready meal aisle and is available in Northern Ireland and Scotland in Sainsbury's, Tesco and Asda and throughout Great Britain in Asda, Ocado and Wholefoods as well as other independent stores. The full Mash Direct range includes; Creamy Garlic Potatoes, Red Cabbage & Beetroot, Spicy Potato Wedges, Vegetable Burgers, Bubble & Squeak Mash Pot, Bangers & Mash Mash Pot, Potato Croquettes, Honey Glazed Parsnips and many more.

    See the full list of products at www.mashdirect.com/products

    PR Samples.

    17 Dec 2015

    New York Snack & Shopping Haul!

    The globetrotting adventures of Mr. Grocery Gems continued recently with a visit to New York City last month. It's all in the name of work, but luckily he managed to get some shopping done too (and of course I'd given him a ridiculously long list!). It goes without saying that he brought home a generous amount of candy bars such as Payday, 100 Grand and 5th Avenue to name just a few (see photo above!). These were all bought in places such as Duane Reade and Walgreen's as they seemed to be the easiest places to find chocolate and groceries in Manhattan.

    Luckily he also made it in time to find lots of Christmas themed chocolates and candies. He bought two large bags of festive M&M's which are coloured red, green and white, two types of Christmas Peeps, and a large pack of Reese's Peanut Butter Trees.

    Unfortunately he couldn't find any of the limited edition flavoured Oreos (he really wanted to get the new Cinnamon Buns flavour!) but he did get this awesome Winter Oreo pack. They have a red coloured creme and cute winter characters on each biscuit.

    In the early days of this blog I used to review American cereals quite regularly. However we rarely buy them these days so it was fun to get some old favourites as a one-off treat. I especially liked the fun pack of mini Kellogg's cereals!

    From the New York M&M's World he found this simply awesome apple shaped container filled with I♥NY printed M&M's. This was easily the most popular gift with the kids, they were absolutely enthralled with it!

    Away from the world of chocolate, Mr. Grocery Gems also surprised me with an amazing haul from Bath & Body Works. Sadly we don't have this store in the UK but all it's products are just gorgeous - these foaming hand washes are phenomenal!

    Just look at how cute their PocketBac hand sanitisers are! And they all smell fab too. My favourite is the Jolly Gingerbread Oh Snap.

    The Bath & Body Works range of home fragrances is really worth a try too. These large three-wick candles have the most beautiful packaging (the silver lids have an embossed snowflake design) and have lovely festive fragrances; the two pictured are Vanilla Bean Noel and Marshmallow Fireside.

    Last, but not least, was a much anticipated visit to the Nintendo World store in New York. Mr. Grocery Gems bought quite a lot here, most of which is top-secret until Christmas! One thing that was top of our shopping list were these cute 8-bit Mario plush cushions.

    Even though our Christmas tree has a simple red, white and silver theme, it's now rocking these bright yellow Mario ornaments too. Thanks Mr. GG!

    What does Santa get up to during the year? Photobox finds out with the help of the nation's kids!

    This is such a cute idea from Photobox! They set out to discover exactly what kids think Santa gets up to for the other 364 days of the year and the results are just wonderfully imaginative. Inspired by this, Photobox have created a calendar filled with photos from a year in the life of Santa! There's Santa dressing up as a pumpkin in October, having lunch with the Tooth Fairy in May and even playing football in June. 


    PhotoBox documents a year in the life of Santa, according to the nation’s kids

    With just 15 days to go until Santa’s busiest day of the year, have you ever wondered how he spends the other 364 days?  Well, the experts have spoken – and according to the nation’s children, over a fifth (21%) of 5-8 year olds think he loves tucking into fish and chips, nearly a fifth (16%) thinks he spends Halloween dressed as a pumpkin and a quarter (24%) thinks his favourite Sunday Roast companion is the Tooth Fairy.

    The light-hearted festive poll was commissioned by photo gifting service PhotoBox, who print customer photos onto a wide range of products, including photo books, canvases and calendars to name a few. They asked children to describe what they think Santa does when he’s finished delivering their presents, and the results were magical. According to the children, whilst December is a given, Santa’s January is spent fast asleep next to the glowing embers of a cosy log fire (69%), teddy in hand.  Santa feels revived by February, when our unlikely romantic only has thoughts for Mrs Claus, and can be found pouring his heart out into love letters for his one and only (72%).

    Santa writes a love letter to Mrs Claus in February!
    Santa’s known to be particularly secretive of his age, but children have exclusively revealed that he spends his birthday just like them - gorging on yummy ice cream (36%).  When he’s not scoffing sugary delights, he’s digging into his number one dish, hearty fish and chips (21%) – but similarly to the kids, he finds broccoli harder to swallow (only 3% thinks he enjoys it!) And what better beverage to wash it down with than his favourite tipple - a chilled beer (26%)?

    In his downtime, Santa partakes in a couple of unexpected hobbies when he’s not ‘chilling out with the elves’, including: singing (42%), colouring in (27%), baking (25%), shopping (20%), skateboarding (12%), and bungee jumping (6%). The survey revealed that Santa is also a little partial to dressing up, with his favourite Halloween costume being a pumpkin (16%).  Not long after, he enjoys Bonfire Night in full swing, with a quarter (25%) of little ones informing us that he ‘Oohhs and Aahhs’ at the colours of the pretty sparklers.  Perhaps they remind him of the impending fairy lights and candlelit choirs on the way?

    If his life had taken a different route, Santa’s other career option would have been a postman (8%); he’s evidently a man who likes delivering things!  Always trying to reduce his sleigh’s hefty carbon footprint, Santa writes his ‘naughty or nice’ list with a pen and recyclable paper (39%); his responsible note-taking saving a multitude of trees around the globe every year.

    I loved the idea that the kids surveyed think Santa's ideal alternative career would be as a postman - that's just genius in my opinion. My own kids think that Santa would make a good policeman, no doubt because all the checking up on whether people have been naughty/nice would give him some extra skills in that area! 

    Inspired by the findings, PhotoBox has captured Mr Claus throughout the year, and has made the beautiful images available to download online, with each month depicting the hilarious descriptions and runaway imaginations of the nation’s children.

    To download Santa’s photos for the year ahead and get started on your own personalised calendar, visit: www.photobox.co.uk or download the PhotoBox apps from the App Store, Google Play or Amazon.

    PR Samples.

    14 Dec 2015

    Review: Turkish Baklava & Turkish Delight

    Mr Grocery Gems brought home a selection of Turkish delights and baklava after a recent visit to Istanbul. I wasn't going to review them but everything was just so amazing that I had to give them a shout out here. All the Turkish treats were bought in a lovely store called Hafiz Mustafa in Istanbul which has been making sweet delights since 1864.

    The first box was filled with an assortment of jewel coloured sweets, filled with a variety of nuts such as pistachios and hazelnuts. I've never tasted anything quite like these before, they were seriously DIVINE.

    Each one was packed full of nuts and surrounded by a flavoured jelly in varieties such as rose, mint, kiwi, pomegranate and hazelnut. My favourites by far were actually the hazelnut ones - I loved the texture of the crunchy hazelnuts against the soft jelly.

    We also tried the traditional solid flavoured cubes of Turkish delight. The flavours here, of rose, apple and lemon, were all quite delicate and very sweet. They had a lovely firm, yet soft texture, that was was just wonderful. 

    Lastly, he also brought back a box of Turkish Baklava. I have to admit I've never tried baklava before. The dried-up pastries I've seen for sale in supermarkets here have never really appealed to me. Happily, I was pleasantly surprised by just how delicious these syrupy little pastries can be. Each one was filled with nuts and had a unique texture that was both flaky and juicy at the same time. Another winner!

    7 Dec 2015

    Degustabox November Review & £6 Discount Code!

    The latest Degustabox arrived last week and it's full of festive treats and goodies. It was even more exciting than usual opening up the November Degustabox as it's the last one before Christmas (there will be two boxes in January instead!).

    I have to also include a photo of the box itself which was decorated with cute Christmas designs. If you've been thinking of treating yourself or a loved one to a Degustabox then don't forget to use the fab £6 discount code below. It's a really great gift idea for the foodie in your life!

    Discount CodeBLDEG15

    Each Degustabox costs £12.99 a month, which includes delivery, with no fixed contract involved. Degustabox have kindly provided my readers with the following Discount Code for £6.00 off your next Degustabox, bringing the cost to £6.99 delivered. Enter the code - BLDEG15

    Here's a closer look and review of the products inside this months Degustabox:

    Belvita Soft Bakes: The new Belvita Soft Bakes are available in three varieties; Golden Grain, Red Berries or Chocolate chips. As the name suggests, they promise a softer texture from the popular breakfast biscuit brand. Check out my Belvita Soft Bakes review for more photos and details about these tasty bakes. 

    Food Thoughts: This Organic Fairtrade 100% Cocoa Powder is ideal for better baking as it's naturally unsweetened, with no added sugar and is also gluten free. It has a rich flavour and is also delicious for making hot chocolate.

    Teisseire Gourmet Drops: These Vanilla or Caramel flavoured drops come in handy little squeezable bottles that are easy to take on the go. They can be used to flavour any drinks, hot or cold. I love both flavours in coffee but I also enjoyed the vanilla flavour for perking up fizzy drinks. My kids are both fans of vanilla milkshakes and the Teisseire drops worked well for that too! 

    Rekorderlig: This Dry Apple Cider is the latest creation from The House of Rekorderlig. It's a crisp apple cider which is described as being lightly golden in colour with a clean, dry finish. It's a lovely modern update on a much loved classic drink.

    Branston Orchard Fruit Chutney: I just love discovering new products like this around Christmas time. It's a combination of bramley apples, sultanas, orange zest and spices - I can't wait to try this chutney with the Christmas leftovers!

    Bourne & Wallis British Baby Beetroot: Bourne & Wallis is a range of contemporary tasting pickles rooted in the Victorian pursuit of preserving, made using only naturally grown vegetables, herbs, spices and fine traditional vinegars. Another great product to have for the festive season, this will be fab for any cold lunches or in sandwiches.

    Hartley's Jelly: There were also two jelly treats including in the November Degustabox. Hartley's Jelly is perfect for creating quick and easy fruity creations at Christmas. The Hartley's Glitter Jelly brings an extra sparkle - check out my review for photos. I also can't wait to try out the recipe for a Black Forest Trifle using the Hartley's Black Cherry Jelly for a fun twist on a classic dessert.

    Butterkist: As a popcorn fan I was excited to find two products from Butterkist, including the classic Butterkist Sweet & Salted and their new Discoveries Salted Caramel Popcorn. The latter has a sweet and creamy flavour with a wickedly salty edge that is just delicious.  There are two other Butterkist Discoveries flavours available; Pulled Pork or Sweet Chilli & Zesty lime.

    Ryvita: Crackers are an absolute must at Christmas and I'm loving these flavoured varieties from Ryvita. The Ryvita Thins Cheddar & Cracked Black Pepper are long flatbreads with are fantastic for dipping. I buy these quite regularly so I was happy to find a pack in the Degustabox. Also included are the delicious Ryvita Green & Black Olive Crackers. Each box has four individually sealed packs of six crackers which is very handy.

    Nim's Fruit Crisps: These award winning fruit crisps are made from 100% fresh sliced fruit that is air dried with skin, pips and core to retain as much goodness as possible. They're naturally high in fibre and vitamin C and are suitable for vegans with no fat, dairy or gluten. 

    I really enjoyed the slightly crunchy and chewy texture here. The fruity flavour is intense and natural tasting, especially from the pineapple, which makes these a moreish little snack too.

    Divine Chocolate: This 70% Dark Chocolate with Raspberries is made using freeze dried raspberries and natural flavours. Divine is unique in that Kuapa Kokoo, the co-operative of smallholder farmers in Ghana who supply their cocoa, also own 44% of the company.

    The chocolate itself is gorgeous with a lovely dark, yet sweet, flavour and plentiful flecks of dried raspberries. I'm not always the biggest fan of dark chocolate but this one is flavourful without being bitter and the raspberries add a deliciously fruity burst.

    Jim Jams Hazelnut Chocolate Spread: Jim Jams is one of the 'Degustabox Discoveries' this month. It's a range of no added sugar, gluten free spreads. This Jim Jams Hazelnut Chocolate Spread is made in Belgium and contains sweeteners (maltitol) rather than sugar. The flavour is really good, with a very creamy cocoa taste and lots of hazelnut coming through too. I enjoyed the addition of little crunchy hazelnut pieces within the spread too. In terms of the sweeteners, this spread still tasted lovely and sweet and thankfully didn't have any artificial sweetener type flavour. 

    Holy Lama Spice Drops: As if the Degustabox wasn't packed full already, there is also a little extra gift this month. Holy Lama Spice Drops are highly concentrated extracts of herbs and spices that retain their natural goodness and taste. I'll be using the Mulled Wine drops with cranberry juice to make a non-alcoholic version of the traditional Christmas drink.

    Overall, I was delighted with the festive selection in this months Degustabox. From the gorgeous Christmas themed packaging to the delicious treats inside, it was a thoroughly enjoyable box. It's difficult to choose from such a packed box but my favourites this month were the Teisseire Gourmet Drops, the Branston Orchard Fruit Chutney and the Divine Chocolate.

    For more details on Degustabox:

    Degustabox website: www.degustabox.com/en

    I received a Degustabox in order to provide an honest review.

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