Monday, 25 June 2018

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #25

Last week, I ended up going slightly off plan because, after Sunday lunch, the kids headed to the freezer for an ice cream and ran back to tell me the red light was on and it was defrosting. After an emergency defrost and stock-take, I was relieved to see that most of it had survived and remained frozen. I ended up throwing out two bags of mushy veg and had a chicken and some sausages that were defrosting, so they ended up being added to last week's meals to use them up. It could have been much worse though. I've also changed the way I menu plan. Up to now, I've always sat down and decided what I want to cook then written out the shopping list while menu planning. Since changing our weekly shop to a Saturday afternoon at Lidl, I've discovered that, purely by chance, I always hit the time when they reduce the prices on all of their short-dated meat and refrigerated items, so I'm now stocking up the fridge and freezer with bargains and seeing what I can make with them once I get home.


lunch - Polish sausage (metka) with boiled potatoes & veg

dinner - spaghetti bolognese


lunch - school canteen

dinner - creamy pork, carrot & leek casserole with rice


lunch - steak in pepper sauce with Actifry chips & coleslaw

dinner - spaghetti carbonara


lunch -  school canteen

dinner - patatnik, a Bulgarian dish made with grated potatoes,


lunch - school canteen

 dinner - BBQ chicken & salad wraps


lunch - kids' choice : probably McDonalds or KFC

dinner - homemade potato salad with salmon


lunch - gammon steaks, roast potatoes, veg & gravy

dinner - bacon sandwich

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Book review : The Swedish Girl - Alex Gray

The Swedish Girl, first published back in 2003, is the tenth book in the DCI Lorimer series, but I haven't read any of the others and I still loved it. (I picked it up in the 3 for £5 section of The Works.)

The Swedish girl of the title is 18-year-old Eva Magnusson, just starting at university in Glasgow and getting to know the new housemates who are sharing the luxury flat bought by her ultra-rich father. She is a bit aloof and has a great sense of entitlement, but, after the death of her mother, she has been brought up as Daddy's Little Princess, so she is used to getting what she wants when she wants - including a whole string of lovers who all think they are something more special to her. The descriptions of the shared housing, with everyone settling into their new roles and seeing each other coming and going, made me smile as it reminded me of my own student days many years ago. This sense of fun and new beginnings is brought to a swift end however when Eva is discovered dead in the living room (which should maybe be renamed the dying room) and one of her male housemates is locked up as the presumed killer.

The only other girl in the house, Kirsty Wilson, is convinced that her new friend can't have done it though and, as a policeman's daughter, she can't help but set out to prove it. DS Lorimer (he hasn't made it to DCI yet) unofficially agrees with her, and when more women, who look remarkably like Eva, start being murdered, they have to wonder if Glasgow has a new serial killer on the loose.

It's a gripping read, full of red herrings and unexpected twists, as well as several characters who could all have turned out to be the killer. My favourite character is big-hearted, determined amateur sleuth Kirsty Wilson, but I get the feeling that she is just a bit-part in the rest of the series, which is a shame. DS Lorimer and his sidekick, psychologist Solly Brightman, seemed rather bland in comparison, but if I'd read some of the previous novels in the series, I would surely have had a deeper knowledge of their personalities and motivations.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere (5 Dec. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0751548227
  • ISBN-13: 978-0751548228

Madhouse recipe : Blueberry and coconut crumble squares

Award-winning British brand The Groovy Food Company has partnered with foodie mum and presenter on Britain’s Got Talent, Alesha Dixon, to create a range of delicious, healthy recipes and show consumers how best to use the brand’s natural and unrefined foods to feed the body’s overall health and wellbeing. 

They sent us over a bottle of their agave nectar, along with a recipe to try out. 

 Blueberry and coconut crumble squares

Makes 12 Prep 15 mins Cook 45 mins


For the base:

250g plain flour
50g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
125g coconut oil, chilled until firm
100g The Groovy Food Company Dark Agave Syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g desiccated coconut
zest 1 lemon
1 egg, beaten

For the filling

300g frozen blueberries
75g The Groovy Food Company Dark Agave Syrup
juice 1 lemon
2 1/2 tbsp cornflour


1. Heat oven to 180/160 fan/gas 4. Grease and line a 17cm x 25cm (or 20cm x 20cm) baking tin with baking parchment.

2. Stir the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and a pinch of salt together in a large bowl. Add the firm coconut oil and rub in using your hands, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the agave and vanilla. Transfer 200g of the mixture to a separate bowl, for the crumble topping, and stir in the desiccated coconut and lemon zest, cover and chill. 

To the remainder add the beaten egg, then tip this into the baking tin. Using your hands press the mixture into an even layer, prick with a fork and bake for 15 mins, leave to cool.

3. Meanwhile for the filling, put berries, syrup and lemon juice in a pan. Heat gently until the mixture begins to bubble, then cook for 2-3 mins. Remove from the heat. Mix the cornflour with 2 tbsp cold water. Very slow stir in the cornflour mixture into the blueberries, stirring all the time. Return the pan to heat and bubble for 1 min. Set aside to cool.

4. Once cooled a little spoon the blueberry mixture over the base, and spread to an even layer. Top with the crumble topping and bake for 25 mins or until golden. Leave to cool completely before cutting.

I'd never tried using coconut oil to replace butter or margarine for making breadcrumbs but it does work just as well. The crumble topping is a bit on the dry side but the blueberries and agave nectar add lovely sweetness and moisture. They're very simple to make too, so the kids can get involved with everything except cooking the blueberries. If we manage to go blackberrying at the end of the summer, I'll definitely be making these again - they'd be fab with summer fruits like strawberries and peaches too.

Disclosure : I was provided with the ingredients to recreate the recipe.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Fab freebies of the week 23/6

Morning all ! Judging by the way my nose is twitching (don't worry, it's hayfever, I haven't turned into a rabbit !), it's going to be a beautiful day so I think we may have to head to the beach or out into the countryside for some fresh air and sunshine. Whatever you have planned, have a lovely day and here's this week's roundup of fab UK freebies to start the weekend off in style ! :)


On Juan Pablo Montoya's twitter feed: For all my fans. It’s Le Mans week! A to show my appreciation of your support. 3-month free trial to , which includes exclusive access to the biggest Le Mans archive. Click the link and use code MONTOYALM24: …

We are looking for 3,000 Insiders with a baby aged between 0 - 6 months to try Bepanthen Nappy Care Ointment.

To celebrate the launch of the Hidden London collection, Emerald Street have teamed up with Penhaligon’s to give you a free sample of one of the three new fragrances

Inch Loss & Body Contouring Wraps - single use sample pack (free with free shipping)

SoPost are giving away samples of John Frieda Sheer Blonde shampoo - get in quick ! :)

Calling all fun loving families – this is your chance to host a Bassetts Vitamins August Adventure Week party with Come Round !

If you donate an item of M&S clothing to Oxfam, either in-store or at one of the charity shops, you will get a £5 M&S clothing and home voucher to spend in store.

H&M also offer a £5 off a £30 spend voucher if you take in a bag of clothes to recycle.

Apple also have a recycling scheme - Trade in your eligible device for an Apple Store Gift Card.If it’s not eligible for credit, they’ll recycle it for free. 

By returning six MAC primary packaging containers to a MAC counter or MAC Cosmetics Online, you will receive a free MAC lipstick of your choice as a thank you and five empty Lush pots will score you a free face mask in their stores.

Are you tired of using the wrong foundation shade? Sick of getting colour-matched wrong and ending up orange or ashy? Try our new free foundation-matching service ❤️ and free makeup samples for those in the UK yay!

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Stress-free midweek meals from Field Fare (review)

Some days, juggling kids and jobs and household chores and endless paperwork is utterly exhausting, but at the end of the day, you still need to get food on the table and feed hungry tummies. For those days, having a frozen ready meal in the freezer is an absolute godsend. I was therefore delighted when Field Fare got in touch and asked if we'd like to try out some of the new additions to their ever expanding range of frozen food. You may remember, last year we reviewed their ready-to-bake cookies, summer fruit, chicken à la king and coq au vin, which were all very popular with the whole Madhouse Family. This time, we got to sample their dual-purpose pizza/focaccia dough, slow-cooked pork belly and spicy bean chilli.

The dough retails at 75p per portion and just needs to be defrosted at room temperature for four hours or in the fridge for 12 hours. That means you can pop it in the fridge overnight for lunch or get it out after lunch for the evening meal.

The dough is supposed to double in size when left to prove, something I was initially dubious about because I assumed the subzero temperatures would have killed off the yeast, but it really did work, as you can see in the photo.

Each ball of dough is the perfect size for one individual pizza so I called the kids to the kitchen to play at being pizzaiolos !

After much stretching and flinging (and laughing), we had four more-or-less round pizza bases to customise. The huge benefit of using individual bases is that everyone can tailor their toppings to their own tastes, and we all ended up with hugely different combinations.

On the left, cheese-lover (and tomato-hater) Juliette went for a crème fraîche base topped with salami, grated cheese, parmesan, camembert (yes, really !) and mushrooms (as an afterthought, when she saw me chopping them). Sophie, on the right, went for cream, salami and mimolette cheese (and she also pinched some of my olives). I think they were both inspired by flammekuechen, which have a cream base.

Pierre went for a minimalist meat feast, using a tomato base and various slices of meat (chicken ham and polony). In my opinion, I had the best combination : tomato, mushroom, salami, cherry tomatoes, cheese (grated cheddar and mimolette) and olives.

When we pulled them out of the oven, we were very impressed. The dough had morphed into the perfect crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle, deep pan pizza base and they were exactly the right size for a meal for one.

I had two balls of dough left so I squished them together to make focaccia, drizzling the top with olive olive and sprinkling on some rosemary and sea salt.

Again, we were very impressed when it came out of the oven. Juliette even said it looked like it had come from the baker's, which is high praise indeed !

It has a slightly dense, chewy, delicious texture and was hugely popular topped with salted butter as an after-school snack. It kept perfectly fresh for two days, and probably would have lasted longer if the kids hadn't eaten it all !

The ready-to-roast Pork Belly looked quite small when I got it out of the freezer (RRP £4.99 for 220g), but it is deceptive and does indeed serve one to two people adequately. Field Fare have done all the hard work - it has been precooked for 2 ¾ hours, drained, sprinkled with sea salt and browned, then a liquor is made using the saved pork stock and added to the portion for added succulence and flavour during re-heating. It comes topped with a thick layer of crispy crackling, which Juliette was very pleased with. The meat underneath is very juicy and has the texture of pulled pork.

The spicy bean chilli (RRP £2.75 for 350g) is a mix of Kidney beans, Chickpeas and Cannellini beans with jalapeno peppers, infused with cumin and a hint of smoked paprika. I love the fact that you can see recognisable chunks of vegetable (courgette, carrot, peppers, ...) in there. After giving it a stir, it was lovely - however, it did have quite a kick.

To tame things down for the kids, I stirred through a glug of crème fraîche. This made it look less appetising, but tasted absolutely blooming lovely and the kids gobbled it up.

This is half a portion of pork belly, half a portion of spicy bean chilli and, to be honest, the potatoes were superfluous, but I wasn't sure what the kids would make of the chilli. As it turned out, I needn't have worried !

When I hear the words frozen ready meal or frozen pizza, I instantly think bland, cardboard-tasting and very industrial, but all of these products looked and tasted absolutely homemade. They can also be cooked straight from frozen making them total lifesavers when you need a meal in a hurry and you have zero energy.

The Field Fare frozen offer of premium ready meals continues to grow, now numbering over 60 loose products, meals and desserts, alongside the original scoop-and-serve range of more than 80 fresh frozen fruit, veg, fish and bakery goods. That means that there's something for all tastes and for all occasions. I also give it top marks for its eco-friendly credentials, both in terms of minimal packaging and avoidance of food waste because you can buy exactly the quantity you need.

for more information :

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

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The BBQ-themed June Degustabox review

This week, the postie dropped off a brand new Degustabox for us to discover and it seemed to be a bumper box this month. Maybe that was just because absolutely everything in it appeals to us though. There are lots of brands that I recognise - many of them from previous Degustaboxes in fact - as well as a few complete unknowns and a couple of well-known brands - a good mixture, just the way I like it.

After unpacking everything (and fighting the kids off a few things that they wanted to try straight away !), I looked at the enclosed information and recipe cards and discovered that this box has a BBQ theme - perfect for the summer. Time to delve in and discover the contents.

Capsicana Cook Sauces (2 x £1.99), which are Product of the Month, are on a mission to change the way we eat Mexican and Latin American food at home in the UK, offering authentic flavours in the convenience of a ready made sauce. There were various varieties to discover in this month's Degustaboxes - we got Cuban Chilli & Lime, made with Habanero Chillies, and Brazilian Chilli & Coconut, made with Frutsecens Chillies. I love the sound of the flavours but the Hot chilli rating does put me off a bit, especially as the kids will undoubtedly find them too spicy.

Idahoan is a brand I'd never heard of until we got to try their Garlic Mash in a previous box. This time, it's Idahoan Gratin Cheesy Oven Bake (RRP £2.30), which will be perfect for a quick midweek meal when I'm home from work late and need something on the table quick, or if one of the girls fancies cooking for a change. Just add hot water, milk and butter for a tasty side dish. Preparation time 3 minutes, cooking time under half an hour - can't say fairer than that !

 Great British Biscotti Co was a brand I'd never heard of, so we were keen to try their take on the Italian classic with their White Chocolate, Cranberries & Pistachio twice-baked biscuits (RRP £1.30). The buttery biscuit base combines perfectly with the zingy flavours of the cranberries and the creamy richness of Belgian chocolate. The kids thought they were a bit hard and dry, but that is pretty much the nature of biscotti ! I thought they were lovely and they're robust enough for packed lunches and picnics.

One of my favourites now, and the main one that I had to fight the kids off ! - The Jelly Bean Factory Gourmet Jelly Beans (£1.25). 36 gourmet flavours, all very tasty, and the fact that they are made with Fairtrade sugar is an added bonus. We often buy these as I am especially partial to jelly beans.

Frylight Avocado Oil Cooking Spray (RRP £2.99) is a convenient and simple way of cutting down on excess fat and calories when cooking. It can be used at higher temperatures, due to the resilience of avocado oil, so it's ideal for everything from shallow frying and roasting to stir fries. It can also be used as a cake release spray, if used on cake tins and bun trays before baking.

Mighty Fine Salted Caramel Honeycomb Bar (RRP £1) is another new find and a very tasty one at that. Their signature handcrafted honeycomb is made with natural ingredients, light, crisp and slightly salted, and in this bar, it is covered in a creamy caramel Belgian milk chocolate. Very tasty but very sweet so a little goes a long way.

On to the drinks ...

No & More Raspberry & Blueberry (RRP £1.29) is a refreshing blend of spring water and delicate fruity flavours. With no sugar, sweeteners, preservatives or artificial ingredients, it's a great way to encourage kids (and adults) to drink water rather then fizzy drinks or overly sweet juice drinks.

Everybody knows Orangina and in this box, you can try both the original and light versions (RRP 2 x £1.20). We love the pulpy texture and the fact that it is not too fizzy.

Rosie's Pig Raspberry Roller (RRP £2) is a sparkling cloudy cider with raspberry and cucumber flavourings. It tastes better than it sounds ! Served chilled, it is a lovely refreshing drink, perfect for warm summer evenings, but I still think the cans look too much like soft drinks and are too appealing to children. 

The kids really enjoyed the Brioche Pasquier products in the last box, so they were over the moon to discover a pack of Pains Au Lait (RRP £1.75) - milk brioche rolls that can be eaten with any number of sweet or savoury fillings, or even just straight from the pack. Lightly toasting them really releases the buttery flavour and gives them a lovely soft crunch that is a great way to start the day.

Finally Peckish Rice Crackers (RRP £1.79) were a brand and a product that we were unfamiliar with, but we'll be looking our for them again. I like the conveniece of the individual snack packs and the kids loved the tangy barbecue flavour. They're baked not fried, gluten free and under 100 calories per portion. Sold !

A subscription to Degustabox costs £12.99 per month including delivery, with each box having a value of much more than that, but the great news is, I have a discount coupon code for you which means you'll get the first box for just £7.99 - enter code 0BS6T at the checkout.

for more information :

Also now on Instagram @DegustaboxUK

Disclosure : We received the box in order to write an honest review. As a Degustabox blogger, I receive all of the products that go into the monthly boxes, but subscribers may not get exactly the same selection.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Book review : This I Would Kill For - Anne Buist

The King is back - no, not, Elvis Presley, but wild-living, on-the-edge, one-of-a-kind, bipolar psychiatrist Dr Natalie King, who has already featured in Medea's Curse and Dangerous To Know (click through for my reviews) and now returns for the third instalment, This I Would Kill For.

With her intense career, chaotic love life and unstable mental health, Natalie already has a lot on her plate, but things become even more stressful when she is embroiled in an emotionally charged custody battle, involving accusations of sexual abuse. With both the mother and adoptive father slinging insults and accusations at each other and revealing their less palatable sides, Natalie has her work cut out trying to decide what is best, and safest, for those who really matter : eight-year-old Chelsea and her little brother Chris. There are numerous twists and turns and red herrings along the way so you never know how the plot is going to pan out and, even if the culprit did feature in my mental list of suspects early on, he wasn't the main contender.

The character of Natalie has really grown on me as the series continues. She is complex, unpredictable and frequently imprudent, but her heart is always in the right place and she seems to be thinking more of others and less of herself as her character evolves. In this book, we see her coming to terms with impending motherhood but, in typical Natalie King fashion, she first has to figure out who the father is and which of her two love interests would be the best bet for her and her unborn child.

The scenes of Natalie working with Chelsea in play-therapy and trying to understand her plight and unlock her secrets are poignant and believable. The highly-charged interplay between the feuding parents, both in and out of the courtroom, sometimes seems slightly over-the-top but sadly, high profile cases in the news do show that some custody battles lead to shocking and tragic conclusions. The fact that author Anne Buist is the Chair of Women's Mental Health at the University of Melbourne and has over 25 years of clinical and research experience in perinatal psychiatry, working on cases of abuse, kidnapping, infanticide and murder, adds authenticity to the drama and makes it into an even more chilling and poignant read.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (15 Jun. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 178719812X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1787198128

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Monday, 18 June 2018

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #25

Just one after-school meeting this week and I must say, I'm looking forward to getting back into a normal routine. It's been pretty relentless lately !


lunch - pork chops with apple sauce, garlic mash and peas/carrots

dinner - there will be left over chicken from the roast - I'll knock up a creamy chicken pasta dish for the kids but I'll use up a jar of curry sauce from the cupboard, both with rice & soft tortillas from the last Degustabox


lunch - school canteen

dinner - spaghetti bolognese


lunch - beefburgers, rice & ratatouille

dinner - sausages with mash & peas, or sausage casserole in the slow cooker


lunch -  school canteen

dinner - pork belly with baby potatoes & veg & gravy


lunch - school canteen

 dinner - spicy bean chilli with baked potatoes or maybe made into a sort of cottage pie


lunch - kids' choice : probably McDonalds or KFC

dinner - home made pizzas


lunch - Sunday roast

dinner - fridge grazing

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Early Man Model Making Challenge

Aardman, the creators of family faves Wallace & Gromit, Shaun The Sheep and Chicken Run, are back with a fantastic new stop-motion animation, Early Man (released on 28th May). Shot in Aardman’s own distinctive style, the film takes audiences on an extraordinary journey into an exciting new world, unleashing an unforgettable tribe of unique and funny new characters voiced by an all-star British cast.

Set at the dawn of time, when prehistoric creatures roamed the earth, EARLY MAN tells the story of courageous caveman hero Dug (Academy Award-winner EDDIE REDMAYNE) and his best friend Hognob as they unite his tribe against a mighty enemy Lord Nooth (TOM HIDDLESTON) and his Bronze Age City to save their home.

Leading Dug’s tribe of lovable misfits is Chief Bobnar (TIMOTHY SPALL) who is joined by Treebor (RICHARD AYOADE), Magma (SELINA GRIFFITHS), Asbo (JOHNNY VEGAS), Barry (MARK WILLIAMS), Gravelle (GINA YASHERE), Eemak (SIMON GREENALL) and Grubup (RICHARD WEBBER). MAISIE WILLIAMS voices Goona, the gallant and indomitable rebel who befriends Dug and helps the tribe in their battle to beat the Bronze Age at their own game.

Also joining the stellar cast are ROB BRYDON, who voices the Message Bird - an ingenious Bronze Age communication device – KAYVAN NOVAK as Dino, Lord Nooth’s assistant, and MIRIAM MARGOLYES as Queen Oofeefa, ruler of the Bronze Age world.

It's a fun family movie that has definite overtones of Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. The kids loved the funny characters while, as an adult, it's fun trying to put the famous names and faces to the voices.

In celebration of the DVD release, we were challenged to take part in the Early Man Model Making Challenge and received a bundle of Early Man merchandise, including plushes of Hognob and Dug and official Aardman modelling kits for Dug, Hognob and Goona.

These kits combine modelling clay in the quantities and colours required, along with cardboard inserts that allow you get a genuine likeness for the film characters. The kids had great fun putting them together.

You can even join the tribe and share your creations online with the #EarlyMan hashtag.

Disclosure : We received the products in order to take part in the activity.

#MySundayphoto #SundaySnap 17/6

OneDad3GirlsSunday Snap
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