Thursday, 22 June 2017

#GoGadgetFree for National Unplugging Day this Sunday

This year’s National Unplugging Day is being held on Sunday 25th June 2017 and parents around the UK and beyond are being asked to pledge to #GoGadgetFree and spend the day from sun-up to sun-down without any technology. That means no screens at all, except for sunscreen, which will be essential in this heatwave if you're planning on spending time outdoors !

 To celebrate the day, Ravensburger offered to send us one of their board games to play with, and as I looked through the list, I realised just how many of their games we already play and love. (You might like to click through to check out our reviews.)

Bugs In The Kitchen is always good for a giggle, especially as I find the Hex bug a bit creepy so theMadhouse kids love making it scuttle across the worktop when I'm busy making dinner, once they've finished playing !

Labyrinth is also a great family favourite that appeals to players of all ages, because you can try playing strategically or just move random pieces about and laugh in delight when it ruins everyone's carefully laid out plans (which is Pierre's usual way of playing !). This picture highlights several of our tech-free pastimes in fact - not just board games but also a pyjama day combined with an indoor den.

Asara is another game of strategy, better suited to older players who want a longer, more challenging game

Despite its 8+ suggested age range, Indigo is slightly easier for younger siblings to join in with because it's involves creating pathways, which is more visual and less abstract.

This time, we discovered Penguin Pile Up, a fun game for children aged 5+. which is quick and simple to explain with absolutely no complicated rules or lengthy setting up required - always a bonus when you want to enjoy some quality time with the kids but are short on time.

The first job was clipping together the white and black plastic pieces to form penguins - Pierre found this simple and also great fun so he happily set everything up. The only other thing to do before you can start playing is share them out amongst the players.

Players take it in turns to gently place a penguin on the ice bank without making it tip up or wobble too much. If you're too heavy handed, you'll make them all slide off and you lose the game. You can see in the photo how hard Pierre is concentrating !

Board games are a great way of avoiding cries of "I'm bored" during screen-free time, but Ravensburger have another range that is perfect as a fun family challenge to while away an afternoon - their puzzles, including the 3d puzzles that we always love putting together as a team. (Click through to see some of the 3d puzzles that we have reviewed.)

If you fancy getting out and about in the fresh air, I highly recommend giving geocaching a go too - it's a great way of finding little known local areas and will have the kids walking miles with no complaints !

What do you have planned as fun family #GoGadgetFree activities for National Unplugging Day?

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

Giveaway #632 : Win 1 of 2 L.O.L. Surprise! Dolls - closing date 6/7

L.O.L Surprise! is the newest collectable craze in the UK - as the ultimate unboxing toy is combined with the anticipation of surprise, it’s no surprise it has sold out across the UK!

Much like unwrapping a gift, watch the excitement build as each of the 7 layers reveals a different surprise, including an emoji sticker, accessory, and finally their hero - a L.O.L Surprise! Doll. Never a dull outfit day for these fierce dolls, mix and match accessories with each character to work out who wears it best.

Not your average dolls, these fashion-forward characters are packed with personality. From Rockers to Merbabies, each L.O.L Surprise! comes complete with bathtub, doll stand and hangout, all doubling up as a purse.

But the surprise doesn’t end there, once the final layer has been unwrapped, feed the adorable tot water with its baby bottle accessory and reveal its feature – with special dolls changing colour when placed in cold water! With over 45 to collect, there has never been a more exciting time to start collecting the ultimate unboxing experience that offers a different surprise with each layer.

To find out more, check out our L.O.L. Surprise! review or head over to the L.O.L. Surprise! website.

This is also your chance to win one of the L.O.L. Surprise! Dolls. I have two to send to two lucky Madhouse Family Reviews readers (one each) - just fill in your entries via the rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 6/7/17

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook and in the giveaway post subject line. Please note, you will be contacted by email and/or twitter and if I haven't heard from you after 28 days, I'll have to pick another winner. Prizes will be sent out by the companies or their PR directly to winners. Madhouse Family Reviews cannot be held responsible for any prizes that go astray !

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Globecooking recipe : Gazpacho manchego de mera (Spain)

When I saw a recipe in my Spanish-themed Kitchen Trotter box for a gazpacho, I was expecting to discover a cold soup. This fishy version from Valencia, however, is to be eaten hot and it's more like a stew than a soup. We ate ours lukewarm as it was such a hot day and it was perfect as a summer meal.

It required two products from the box - some saffron and a pack of Tortas Cenceñas, which are like mini crackers. I thought they'd go soggy and horrible but you can't even detect them in the finished dish - they just bulk it out and thicken it.

Gazpacho manchego de mera

ingredients :

300g white fish
3 very ripe tomatoes
1/2 a red pepper
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
a good pinch of saffron
1/2 a bag of tortas cenceñas or crackers
2 bay leaves
500ml water 
1tbsp tomato concentrate
2tbsp olive oil
salt, pepper

Cook the fish in a drizzle of olive oil for 5 minutes on each side and set aside. Season with salt and pepper. I chopped mine into chunks to save time as it will be broken up in the gazpacho anyway.

In a separate pan (or, to save washing up, put the fish into a large soup pan and reuse the frying pan), heat a drizzle of olive oil and cook the onions, garlic and red pepper for 5 minutes, along with the bay leaves.

Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Put the fish in a large soup pot and mash it up with a fork. Remove any visible bones.

Stir the tomato mixture into the fish and crumble the crackers over the top. Toss in the saffron and gradually stir in 500ml of boiling water. 

Cook for 15 minutes, adding extra water if necessary so that it doesn't dry out. I added a squeeze of tomato concentrate too but this wasn't in the original recipe.

Serve warm.

Fancy trying some more Spanish cuisine? How about :

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Madhouse Diaries : Discovering a WWII shipwreck at the beach

We've had the Norwegian teacher exchange group over this week and, as they looked after us so well when we were in Stavanger, taking us up a mountain called Dalsnuten, visiting a museum about traditional Norwegian costumes, taking in the beautiful scenery at The Old Vicarage (Hå Gamle Prestegard) and exploring the World War II Bunkers in Vedafjellet, we wanted to show them the sights of Dunkirk too. The beach and the dunes were the obvious place to start, so we went for a long walk followed by a picnic.

It was a Sunday morning so the far end of the beach was pretty much deserted, except for a few horseriders in the surf. It still seems strange to me to see horses in the sea, but I suppose it's because I'm used to shingle beaches in Britain which are pretty unstable underfoot.

Add a few palm trees and you could be in the Seychelles ! We're in the middle of a heatwave so we've certainly got the sweltering temperatures.

 We all kicked off our socks and shoes and splashed through the wet sand and shallow water at the water's edge. 

We've visited this beach many times before - it's where the World War II bunkers are and we've been geocaching around here too - but never at low tide, so I was delighted to see that one of the shipwrecks was visible.

I knew they were there - there are about three or four, to my knowledge - because they are marked out with yellow buoys bobbing in the sea, so that the kite surfers and jet-skiers stay away from them, but I've never had a chance to see them. I've always wanted to though, so this is something to tick off my "local things to do" bucket list !

From a distance, the wreck looks like a whale carcass rising up out of the sand.

This was apparently a cargo boat, not one of the Little Ships that came back and forth across the Channel - you can still see the engine - but it was still involved in rescuing troops during Operation Dynamo and sadly didn't survive.

Parts of it are surprisingly intact, given that it has been under the sea for over 70 years.

It's quite creepy, when you think about the history behind it. We're all looking forward to Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk film being released this summer, having seen the town transformed into how it looked during wartime, so I'm sure that will make it even more poignant.

 It was strange to think that the tide would soon be hiding it away again. 

 In twenty years of living here, it's the first time I've managed to see it and some of the members of the group didn't even know the shipwrecks were there !

Madhouse recipe : A Breakfast Wrap for Father's Day

When the kids wanted to make a special breakfast for Madhouse Daddy for Father's Day at the weekend, I had visions of burnt toast and cold coffee, but with a bit of careful thought (and peeking in the fridge for inspiration), I found a simple, tasty and totally foolproof recipe that they could put together within minutes.

 A Breakfast Wrap for Father's Day (or any other day of the year !)

ingredients :

1 flour wrap
2 eggs
knob of butter
salt, pepper
2 hot dog sausages
a drizzle of HP sauce

Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. Crack the eggs into the pan (or in a pint glass first if you're worried that they may need to fish out bits of shell !) and push them about with a wooden spoon, breaking up lumps, until they resemble scrambled eggs. Add a couple of chopped hot dog sausages for the last couple of minutes.Turn off the heat, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the wrap on a plate and heat it in the microwave for a few seconds. Scrape the eggs and sausages into the wrap, drizzle with brown sauce, fold it up and serve immediately to a happy smiling dad (or mum !).

To make it even more special, we received a personalised HP Sauce bottle for Madhouse Daddy, which was the perfect finishing touch. Unbelievably, HP Sauce has been the original and best brown sauce since 1899. I've recently picked up my family history research again and it's crazy to think that my great-great grandfathers may well have been adding HP Sauce to their dinners all those years ago !

Disclosure : We received a personalised bottle of HP Sauce in honour of Father's Day.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Madhouse recipe : Terry's Chocolate Orange Millionaire's Shortbread

I love Terry's Chocolate Orange. When I was growing up, they went with Christmas, as I'd often find one in my stocking, and even now, while I'll happily munch on the bars throughout the year, I reserve the original orange-shaped ones for Christmas. There's something about the whole ceremony - tapping it on both ends, peeling back the paper, fanning out the segments then passing it round for everyone to take a piece - that makes it seem extra special.

When Terry's got in touch and asked if we'd like to try out their recipe for Millionaire's Shortbread, we were delighted, but the Madhouse kids were horrified when they read through the method and discovered that we had to melt a Chocolate Orange. They thought it was totally sacrilegious so I had to buy some of the bar formats for the melting part, and save the Chocolate Orange for decorating the tops !

 Terry's Chocolate Orange Millionaire's Shortbread

The Terry’s Chocolate Orange Millionaire's Shortbread is an irresistible twist on the traditional recipe; the crumbling shortbread base and indulgent caramel perfectly combine with the signature chocolate orange flavour for its top layer decorated with the iconic orange segments.

Prep time 45 minutes
Cook time 50 minutes
Makes 25 squares

135g Butter
175g Plain Flour
55g Sugar
1 Orange, zested

379g can Condensed Milk
75ml Golden Syrup
150g Butter
100g Sugar
3 Terry’s Chocolate Oranges

Preheat the oven to 180c/160fan and line a 20x20 brownie tin. In the bowl of a food processor, add the butter and plain flour. Blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs and then add in the sugar and orange zest and blitz again to combine. Take the mixture out and work with your hands to form a ball of dough. (I did this by hand and replaced the butter with margarine so it was easier to mix.)

Push the dough into the base of the lined tin until it is flat and even and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, prepare the caramel. (I halved the quantities and still had plenty.) In a large non-stick frying pan, heat the condensed milk, golden syrup, butter and sugar until the butter has melted and the mixture begins to boil. 

Stir constantly to keep it from burning. Turn the mixture down to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes or until the colour starts to become golden brown. Remove from the heat and transfer to a heatproof bowl to cool and thicken slightly.

Once the shortbread is cooked, allow to cool for 10 minutes and then pour the cooled caramel over the top. 

Allow to cool and then chill for 10 minutes while you melt the chocolate.

 Bring a small pan of water to the boil and place a heatproof bowl over the top making sure that the water does not touch the bowl directly. Break up the chocolate oranges into segments, reserving half of one for decoration and tip the rest into the bowl. Turn the heat down immediately to a gentle simmer and allow the chocolate to gradually melt, stirring occasionally. (I used the microwave instead.) 

Once the chocolate has melted, remove the shortbread from the fridge and pour over the chocolate, making sure to spread it into the corners. Use the remaining chocolate segments to decorate the top and then chill until firm. 

Once the chocolate is set and you are ready to serve, slice into 25 squares. (I followed the size of the chocolate orange segments so we got 12 pieces.)

 This was a huge hit - so much so that I didn't even get a taste (except for a bite of Pierre's piece) because the kids polished the remaining squares off for dessert before I got home from work the next day. They've made me promise to make some more though, so next time I'll make sure I get in first !

Disclosure : Recipe courtesy of Terry's, who provided some Chocolate Oranges to try it out.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Madhouse recipe : Ricotta, Bacon & Tomato Pasta

"What's for tea, Mum?". "Erm, something involving a tub of ricotta that needs using up but I have no idea what !" I knew that ricotta was an Italian cheese but I didn't know anything more than that, so when I saw a tub in the reduced-for-quick-sale aisle in the supermarket, I decided to give it a go. I was expecting something a bit like a cross between cream cheese and cottage cheese but it was smoother and creamier than I expected - it's quite bland so I decided to use it in place of cream in a twist on spaghetti carbonara. The kids didn't even notice any difference, except that it had tomatoes in it !

Ricotta, Bacon & Tomato Pasta

ingredients :

1 onion
1 pack bacon lardons
4 mushrooms
3 tomatoes
a tub of ricotta
fresh basil

Put the spaghetti on to cook. Start frying the bacon and, when it has released a bit of fat, add the onions.

After a few minutes, throw in the mushrooms and cook until the bacon is cooked through. Drain off the excess fat.

Drain the pasta. Transfer the bacon mixture to the larger pot used for the pasta.

On a gentle heat, stir through the ricotta.

Add the spaghetti to the pot and stir until nicely coated in sauce. Stir through some chopped tomatoes and scatter a generous amount of ripped basil leaves on top.

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky.