Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Schwartz Chicken & Leek Bake mix review

My quest to clear out my kitchen cupboards continued today. I'd discovered this pack of Schwartz Chicken & Leek Bake mix and thought it sounded ideal for lunch.

First you need to cook up some chicken (or I used turkey) breast, some leeks and some chopped bacon.

Mix the contents of the pack with some milk.

Add to the pot, bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes to thicken.

Pour into an ovenproof dish, top with grated cheese and put in the oven for 20 minutes for the cheese to melt and go golden brown. The whole family loved it - Pierre and Juliette, who never eat much, asked for seconds ! I served it with baked potatoes but it would also go well with mash or rice. It creates a lot of sauce so you could also add cooked pasta to the dish for a complete meal. I did feel it lacked a bit of oomph though so I'd add some spices - maybe smoked paprika, herbes de Provence and garlic pepper - next time.

We've been testing new Limited Edition Peach and Mango Fruit Shoots

Just in time for the February half term holiday, Fruit Shoots got in touch to ask us if we'd like to try out their new Limited Edition Peach and Mango flavour. I already knew that they'd be a big hit with the kids so it was a bonus when I saw that they contained no added sugar. 

They are also free from artificial colours and flavourings and they contain real juice. I was stunned to see that each 200ml bottle only contains 10 calories, 0g of fat and 1.6g of sugars.

Flavour-wise, the kids thought they were delicious - sweet and refreshing but with a slightly tart topnote. The sweetness comes from fruit juice and sweeteners - the complete ingredients list is as follows : Water, Fruit Juices from Concentrate (Peach 6%, Mango 2%), Acid (Citric Acid), Natural Flavouring, Acidity Regulator (Sodium Citrate), Antioxidant (Ascorbic Acid), Preservatives (Potassium Sorbate, Dimethyl Dicarbonate), Sweeteners (Acesulfame K, Sucralose).

The sports bottles are great - they're really practical for drinking out and about or in the car, they can be closed off and don't need to be drunk all in one go like cans and they are less likely to be spilt or dribbled than bottles or glasses.

It's a shame these are only available as a limited edition as we'd buy them all the time. It's made me think about Fruit Shoots in a new light too - I'll definitely be investigating the No Added Sugar options in greater detail, as well as Fruit Shoot Hydro with no added sugar, which is "a flavoured water for active kids on the go", and Robinsons Fruit Shoot My-5 which counts as one of your kid’s five-a-day.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : 85p each or £1.99 for a 4 pack

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

Black is always on trend, whether food or fashion or a mix of both !

When Lady Gaga unveiled her very strange and now iconic raw meat dress at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, I'm sure I wasn't alone in scratching my head and wondering where on earth she (or her designers) got her inspiration from. I'm sure you'd never believe that this very elegant and more veggie-friendly alternative, modelled by TV star Lucy Watson, has been inspired by the new packaging for Pilgrims Choice Cheddar Cheese. Yes, really !

The dress was exclusively created using supreme silk satin and features over 20,000 patterned enlaced sequins carefully hand-stitched onto the gown. It reflects the Pilgrims Choice brand colours in its black and gold material and also in the shape of the logo, which echoes the swipe underneath the Pilgrims Choice logo on its blocks of cheese, to celebrate the cheese's recent make over. It may be inspired by a block of cheddar but that's the only cheesy thing about it - the £40,000 couture outfit by acclaimed designer Zeynep Kartalis is accompanied by £30,000 worth of vintage canary yellow diamonds, once again reflecting the iconic Pilgrims Choice brand colours. Forget Made in Chelsea, this is more Maid in Cheddar ! The new Pilgrims Choice Cheddar Cheese brand packaging is in stores now, priced at £4.00 for a 350g block, but you'll need to get through a fair few kilos if you want to have a go at recreating that dress !

If you want something equally sophisticated and eye-catching but prefer your cheese on your plate, you might like to try this stylish and striking spaghetti dish, also inspired by the new packaging. This sophisticated alternative to an everyday pasta meal deliciously combines the richness of sautéed shrimps with juicy tomatoes and cheesy Pilgrims Choice sauce. Why not get a dinner party scheduled and impress your guests !

Spaghetti Nero


· 300g black spaghetti
· 2 tbsps olive oil
· 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
· 1 leek finely chopped
· 225g cooked shrimps
· 200g Pilgrims Choice Mature Cheddar
· Dash of white wine
· A sprinkle of chilli flakes
· 1tbsp cornflour
· 12 fl oz milk


1. To make the sauce, heat the oil and add the onion, garlic and leek and cook until soft.
2. Make a cheese sauce in a separate pan - mix the cornflour in the milk to form a paste then add the rest of the milk (Personally speaking, I'd melt some butter and mix in the cornflour to make a roux before blending in the milk.)
3. Heat until it boils, stirring constantly, and when it has thickened add the Pilgrims Choice Mature Cheddar and stir well
4. Add it to the cooked onion and leek, stir well and add the shrimps (don't overcook)
5. Add chopped tomatoes
6. Season with white wine, chilli, salt and black pepper
7. To cook the spaghetti, fill a large pan with 2.2 litres of salted boiling water, add spaghetti, turn down and simmer for 8 - 10 minutes
8. Drain and serve with the sauce


What do you think about black food? Everyone at The Madhouse (including me !) was very dubious at first when I made Cuttlefish Ink Paella, even if it smelt and tasted lovely !

PS Just to clarify, the dress is black and gold, not white and gold or black and blue, whatever your eyes are telling you !

Disclosure : I'll be receiving some Pilgrims Choice Cheddar. It's up to me if I eat it or wear it though !

Meet Pierre's new bedtime buddy, Twilight Turtle (review)

You may have noticed me talking about Cloub b's Sleep Sheep (you have a couple more days to win one in my giveaway, if you haven't entered already) but it was a different bedtime buddy that arrived at The Madhouse for Pierre - a soothing Twilight Turtle.

This nocturnal hero in a half shell will create a calming glow and project star constellations on the ceiling in a choice of three colours - amber, green and blue. It has a timer built in so it will turn itself off after 45 minutes. Unlike many night light/light show products on the market, it doesn't provide any sounds or music and the star projections are static - the fact that it is quiet may help young children get to sleep more easily (I remember the Madhouse kids had a music and lights projector when they were small and they'd wake up and start cring when the music switched off !) and it's definitely a bonus if you have an older sibling sharing a bedroom who doesn't want to be disturbed. (I've just noticed that is a second version with music available too.)

Pierre loved it as soon as he saw it in the box. 

I scrutinised the box, crossing my fingers that we would have the right combination of batteries in the kitchen drawer, and got my first nice surprise for parents - it takes 3 x AAA batteries and they are included. How often does that happen ?!

The second nice surprise came during the unboxing. I am frequently annoyed and often perplexed by the mindblowing array of devices used by manufacturers for holding toys in boxes. These days scissors aren't enough, you sometimes need a screwdriver just to get the product out of the box ! Well, Cloud b have made it nice and simple for parents - the velcro strip covering the battery compartment is the only thing holding it on the cardboard packaging. Perfectly sufficient and dead easy to remove. *Breathes a sigh of relief and puts away the toolbox.*

The Twilight Turtle has a soft body but a hard plastic shell so I wasn't sure that he would be very comfortable for taking to bed. I suggested to Pierre that we put him on a shelf but he decided he was still lovely to cuddle.

It was still daylight but Pierre wanted to shut all the curtains to make it dark enough to have a play. There are three buttons that you can press to choose the colour, plus an on-off switch. His favourite was the blue one because if he pointed the shell towards himself, he turned into a star-covered version of Avatar ! The different colours offer varying degrees of brightness - blue gives the most light, green is more muted and amber is a discreet glow.

The plastic shell has a series of star shapes and one moon cut into it and the light shines through these to project the constellations on the ceiling. The enclosed little guide book explains that there are eight different constellations on the turtle's shell and helps you recognise them.

As well as being good fun and educational as you try to spot the constellations, the mystical and mythological names such as Orion The Hunter, Pegasus and Draco the Dragon can be great prompts for inventing bedtime stories. The packaging mentions a Star Guide and Storybook but I could only see the double page constellation guide in various languages.

Pierre loves the Twilight Turtle, both as a snuggly playmate during the day and a reassuring nightlight at bedtime. It's also great fun to take him under the covers and make a starlit den too apparently !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £26.95

for more information : http://cloudb.com/UK/home/
Family Fever

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

Monday, 2 March 2015

Don't miss the #NickJrBlaze and Monster Machines twitter party on Friday !

There was much excitement at The Madhouse when we discovered that we'd been selected as party hosts for a fun Nick Jr Blaze and the Monster Machines twitter party that will be taking place on Friday 6th March from 3.45-5.45pm. 


We received our party box at the weekend and I thought you might like a sneaky peek at what's inside. I bet you didn't expect that !

 As well as watching the premiere of the new Blaze and the Monster Machines show, the party will be focusing on learning through educational STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) activities at home.

As always, during the party there will be online spot competitions and more fun and games for the children to take part in, so make sure your laptop, PC or smart device is ready to go as the party starts. If you can’t wait until Friday then click on the badge at the top of this blogpost which will take you to the UKMumsTV website where you can download some activities for some Blaze and the Monster Machines inspired fun.

Keep an eye on the #NickJrBlaze hashtag on twitter and follow me @cherylp59 as well as @NickJrUK and @UKMumstv so you don't miss out on any of the updates. Hopefully see you on twitter on Friday !

Disclosure : We received a party pack to takepart in the twitter party on Friday.

Shimmer n Sparkle Crystal Craze Gem Cuff Bracelets kit review

We always love the craft kits in Character's CRA-Z-ART range so we were over the moon to receive the Shimmer n Sparkle Crystal Craze Gem Cuff Bracelets set to review (even if it is a bit of a mouthful !). It's a simple kit aimed at girls aged 6+ and two of the Madhouse mini-testers gave it a try - 10-year-old Juliette and 5-year-old Pierre, proving that it appeals to children of both sexes (although he didn't want to wear the finished articles - he gave them to me, awww!). You can see how they got on in our vlog below.

You can see why I don't do many vlogs - Pierre always manages to sabotage them !!

The finished bracelets are very pretty and they take literally a few minutes to put together. The braided one (that you can see at the end of the vlog) is particularly striking and looks like it should have been much more complicated to make than it really was.

There is one item in the kit that we didn't use - the shiny metallic thread.

The instructions tell you to wrap it around the gems then glue it into place but Juliette and Pierre both decided that they didn't want to do this for some reason. Pierre thought it would be too fiddly and Juliette thought it wouldn't look as pretty and didn't want to risk ruining her already very pretty creations.

Here's what they should look like if you use the thread - I must admit, I don't think it really adds much to the finished design !

It's a lovely kit that's very simple and quick to use so children of all ages could quite successfully make the bracelets, even if they're slightly younger than the suggested age range. I did think it was a very big box for what you get inside (excess packaging is one of my bugbears !) but this is probably to justify a higher price tag because it is quite expensive for what you actually get (5 bracelets, 20 gem sticker strips and some thread). Both Pierre and Juliette had great fun and were extremely proud of their finished creations so they thought it was well worth it.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £14.99

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

Family Fever

Goodlife Cauliflower & Mature Cheddar Sausages with Truffle Oil (review)

When I went freezer-diving last week, I came across this pack of Goodlife Cauliflower & Mature Cheddar Sausages with Truffle Oil. You may remember my recent reviews of some of their other veggie sausages (French Beans & Spinach Sausages with Wensleydale Cheese and Red Sky Tomato & Basil Sausages with Creamy Mozzarella), as well as their Spicy Veg Beanburgers with a Kick of Chipotle Chilli. I wasn't sure what we'd think of these ones - we love cauliflower cheese but would it work as a sausage, and would the flavour of the truffle oil overpower everything else? Well, there was only one way to find out !

I cooked them from frozen in the oven but they can also be grilled or fried. They stayed very pale and  looked quite bland but they are deceptively punchy. I love the texture, which is firm and juicy like a real meaty sausage, and the flavour is really nice - I couldn't actually detect cauliflower much and if I hadn't seen the box, I would have said they were cheese and onion.

I served them with some fried onions and mushrooms and baked beans (posh beans in fact - some Tuscan Beanz, which we prefer because they're less sweet and have more flavour than regular baked beans) which was lovely. If you're trying to have at least one meatless meal a week, this is a simple and family-friendly option. The only slight niggle is that you only get four sausages in the box which isn't enough for a family meal - I'm sure they could have used less packaging too because it's a big box for four sausages.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £2.69

for more information :  http://goodlife.co.uk/

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

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The February Degustabox has arrived !

I always love the first peek inside a new Degustabox, trying to spot what might be hiding inside before diving in and unpacking it all. As soon as I saw the first products in February's box, I knew that last month's healthy eating theme was long gone !

Although there are still some healthy options, there are some totally indulgent treats like chocolates and brownies in this box too. As usual, it's a nice mix with cooking sauces, drinks and snacks from some well known brands and also some totally unknown companies.

The kids squealed with delight when I pulled out the first product - some Chocolate Brownie Bites from the American Muffin Company (£2.50). They're individually wrapped so they're great for popping in your handbag for snacks on the go. They're very nice and I was surprised to spot that they are gluten free and wheat free so even Coeliacs can enjoy them.

Staying on the chocolatey theme, our next find was Lily O’Brien’s Cocoa Cookie Crunch (£2.60). We tried out some of Lily O Brien's Christmas Chocolates this year and these were equally nice, if not nicer. They're crunchy chocolate biscuit pieces smothered in creamy milk chocolate and the sharing pouch didn't last for long !

Original Melba Thins (£1.39) were the next product out of the box. They're labelled as "quite somethin' - for night owls & early birds", which basically means they can be eaten for dinner with savoury toppings or for breakfast with sweet toppings. 

We've tried many of the Schwartz Flavour Shots (2 x £1.40) in previous Degustaboxes and they're a great way of knocking up a tasty and exotic dish with very little effort. The blend of herb and spice infused oil really packs a punch and adds great depth of flavour. You can read my review of the Spanish Paella Flavour Shots here and I'm looking forward to trying out the Indian Mild Masala Curry one very soon.

Beet It Sport Pro-Elite Bars (2 x £1.85) are a new one to me but it is apparently the number one natural nitrate brand in the world. They are reputed to help lower blood pressure and improve sports performances. They are flapjack bars and they taste better than I expected !

Another unknown snack brand next - Jack Link's Original Beef Snack (£1.39). It's made with the best quality beef seasoned with spices and oven roasted. Sounds perfect as I'm following the Dukan 2 diet at the moment and that's pure protein !

A duo of peanut-themed products next. Whole Earth Peanut Butter with Sunflower, Pumpkin and Flaxseed is another high-protein offering that I can tuck into without feeling too guilty. It can be eaten on bread or toast but I'll also be looking at incorporating it into muffins or cookies. Peanut Hottie (£3) is a hot drink powder that I'd heard about but never tried. I was very dubious but it's not as sickly as I thought - Sophie can't get enough of it !

Laimon Fresh (£1.99) is another brand that I'd heard of but never tried. It's a lightly sparkling lemon, lime and mint flavoured soft drink using only 100% natural ingredients. It's a lovely refreshing drink that is more sophisticated and grown up than many soft drinks on the market. It can be drunk on its own or mixed with white rum to create an instant mojito !

The enclosed recipe card gives the Spanish Paella recipe that you can find on the Flavour Shots pack and a serving suggestion for Melba Thins. Nothing very inspirig but the products don't give you much leeway in terms of creative recipes this time.

The total retail value of this month's box is £22.56 so the £12.99 subscription fee is great value, especially as you can use code  DCM2X to get a £3 discount at the checkout.

for more information :

Disclosure : I received a free box in order to write an honest review.

ALDI Specialbuys for Mother's Day instore today

Have you turned your calendar over to March yet? If you have, you've probably noticed that Mother's Day falls on March 15th this year, leaving you just two weeks to get your act together and treat your dear old mum to something special. ALDI are launching their mother's day specialbuys instore today and they have something for all budgets and all mums, whatever their tastes and hobbies.

Here are the highlights :

A woman can never have too many bags, so ensure Mum’s latest is the Ladies Patch Leather Handbag (£7.99). Stylish yet practical, this quality range is made from real leather and is perfect for both special occasions and every day wear.

Pamper her with the Ionic Hairdryer (£15.99). Built to give a faster drying time and reduce damage, Mums will feel fabulous with their soft and shiny finish.

Bring out her creative side with a selection of Easy World Craft Books (£2.99), packed full of arty ideas for Mum to enjoy on her day off.

If Mum loves a mini break – she’ll be a fan of the Premium Travel Case (£17.99). Ideal for weekends away, this chic, easy-to-manoeuvre gift is the perfect size for hand luggage, but can also be expanded to hold more.

This Ladies Umbrella (£3.99), is available in 3 attractive designs and has a pretty frill finish so Mum can look stylish whatever the weather.

Complete your gift with a Handmade Luxury Mother’s Day Card (£1.99), lovingly crafted in six beautiful designs to brighten any Mums day.

Available from Sunday 1st March and while stocks last so don't habg about !

Disclosure : I'll be receiving some samples from the range.