Saturday, 18 November 2017

Being Supermum with a little help from Field Fare ! (review)

I know I've mentioned this already (several times in fact - looking for sympathy? me ?!) but the week  before last was an absolute killer at work. With two parent-teacher evenings and a school board meeting, plus Sophie's parent-teacher evening, all in the same week, I was leaving home at 7am and getting back about 8.30pm most days. The trouble when you're a busy working mum is that the kids don't care about things like that - they still want to do baking with you at the weekend and, even if frozen pizza is fine once in a while, I don't want to serve it every day. Luckily, Field Fare had come to the rescue and sent through some of their wide range of frozen food that left me feeling like Supermum !

So what do the words "frozen food" conjure up for you? Bland ready meals that wouldn't feed a sparrow, soggy veg and mushy fruit? Yep, me too, if I'm honest, but Field Fare have made me have a total rethink. I'm very late to this party actually, because Field Fare have been trailblazing since 1977 and, 40 years ago, launched a pioneering idea in independent retail : high quality fresh fruit, vegetables and baked goods, frozen direct from the field and sold loose by the scoop from branded freezers. As well as being eco-friendly in terms of food waste and packaging, this also means you can see exactly what you buy.

The first thing that caught my eye in my mystery package were these cards, describing a range of gourmet cookies, including Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate Chip and White Chocolate & Pecan Cookies (55p each). I couldn't get my head around frozen cookies - how would that work?

Well, it's actually a stroke of genius and something I'd never even considered as possible before. The cookie dough has been carefully prepared, rolled into a cylinder, cut into individual servings then frozen.

You just take them straight from the freezer, pop them on a baking sheet and shove them in the oven. (The website was a bit sparse on cooking advice so I assumed they should be cooked straight from frozen, although it didn't actually say so.)

After the suggested cooking time (15-20 minutes at 150°), they still looked a bit weird so I left them for an extra five minutes.

They came out absolutely beautifully - I don't think I have ever managed to create such perfectly round, regular cookies before.

They tasted as good as they looked too, with a lovely soft, chewy texture and a generous amount of chocolate chips and nuts. There is no way you could tell these weren't freshly made and freshly baked. They reminded us all of Millie's Cookies, that we sometimes pick up as a special treat in town, so creating these at home was fabulous. The only bad news was I barely got a look in as as they were all munched very quickly !

There were also some bags of mixed fruit. I'm never very keen on frozen soft fruit because it invariably turns to mush when it's defrosted, but this was a total game changer. As I poured it out of the bag onto a baking sheet to defrost, I could see that each piece had been frozen separately, rather than unceremoniously dumped and frozen into one congealed lump, as is often the case.

I wasn't sure how long it would take to defrost so I pulled the bag out on a Sunday morning and left it on the side as I prepared the Sunday roast. By the time we were ready to eat, so was the fruit.

We love fruit salad in the summer months and managing to find fresh tasting strawberries in November was a real treat. It wasn't quite as firm as totally fresh fruit but it is still in a totally different league to tinned fruit and I would never have guessed it had been frozen. It's tasty, vibrant and healthy as a no-fuss dessert for the family or for a special occasion - even something like Christmas, if you want a lighter option to the traditional Christmas pudding. I still have a bag of Summer Fruit (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants - 53p per 100g), that I am going to use as the topping for an indulgent cheesecake. There's something extra special about eating fresh-tasting summer fruit in the middle of winter !

We also received some of their single-serving ready meals, which can be cooked from frozen. We started off with Chicken à la King - chicken breast in a cream, white wine and sherry sauce, with mushrooms and sweet peppers.

Here's how it looks when you pull it out of the freezer. You can see it's been freshly made with "real food" - proper slices of chicken and fresh vegetables. There are even some chives artistically arranged on the top to show it's in a different class to the usual supermarket offerings.

And here it is straight out of the oven, after a quick stir for the sauce - it smells homecooked and very tempting.

We added a side serving of veg and had a delicious, filling meal that genuinely tasted homecooked. I thought the £4.99 price tag was a little on the expensive side, but having seen what you get and the quality of the ingredients, I actually think it's not bad value at all. The price is on par with a takeaway and is undoubtedly a healthier option.

The next night, Madhouse Daddy was a total lifesaver and proudly served up a delicious Coq Au Vin, with a pouch of microwavable rice, when I came home from my final late-nighter. Even better than having a meal ready and waiting in the slow cooker after a long day at work because it came as a surprise !

It was a total eye-opener for me, proving that frozen food does not necessarily equate to mushy vegetables and cardboard-tasting pizza. Field fare have a range of over 50 one and two portion premium ready meals, including authentically spiced international cuisines and sophisticated vegetarian options, as well as desserts and, new for 2017, gluten free dishes, including award-winning gluten free pies. The loose range now stands at over 80 products - from sweet potato chips to cinnamon swirls – and is available in over 400 independent garden centres, farm shops, delis and butchers, spanning the Shetland Isles to Jersey.

Whether you need a quick option for extra busy weeks, something special to impress on an anniversary or special occasion or you want to pick-and-mix the exact quantities of fruit, vegetables and more (I highly recommend the cookies !), it's definitely worth checking out what they have on offer.

for more information :

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

Fab freebies of the week 18/11

Welcome to the weekend and another round-up of the week's best UK freebies. If you're looking for a way to keep the kids entertained and you have a Toys R Us nearby, don't miss that one this morning. Whatever you're up to, have fun ! :)


You are all invited to Toys ‘R’ Us stores on Saturday 18th November for LEGO® Star Wars TM Make & Take between 11am- 1pm. Come in, make your very own LEGO Mini BB-8 TM and take it home! Details here

Don't get caught out! Book a FREE seasonal safety check with Protyre and avoid some of the most common car troubles. The Free 6-Point Check will cover your car's lights, wiper blades, oil level, battery health and also includes a windscreen wash top up if required! We will also check your tyres to make sure you're still legal on the road.Get information on tread depth, stopping distances and book your free check now at

The website is down at the moment but hopefully it's just a blip - Hovis are giving away a whopping 1,000 FREE Egg Cups and Toast Cutters shaped like trees - enter with code H316131211 (play around with the last couple of numbers if that code has been used too many times - one entry per person per day)

There are currently baby and adult samples available on the Aveeno website

Free Hempura 5% 1ml CBD Oil Sample - Want to try our best-selling 5% Hempura CBD oil? We are offering a free 1ml sample for you to try. Simply enter your name and email below and we'll give you access to where you can order one! (UK only)

Protect your finished worktops from stains, and stop returning to finished jobs, with Federchemicals Rep-Oil, exclusively in the UK from Stonegate! Request your FREE sample from us today and try Rep-Oil for yourself versus the market-leading brand.

Planning on donating to Children In Need? Then this one's for you !
BunKneez 🐰‏ @Bunkneez
Donate to children in need and we’ll send you free samples of any products you like. #donate #ChildrenInNeed #childreninneed2017 #charity #natural #organic #skincare #haircare #vegan #mum #uk


Get a free sample of FELIX FunSauces, when you claim a GO CAT Crunchy & Tender ADULT sample

Head instore & show your support! Pick up a Smiggle #BeKind wristband today! (#BeKind wristbands available in store for a limited time only, maximum of two wristbands per person. while stocks last. not available online. children)

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.

You may also like to enter my current giveaways :

Friday, 17 November 2017

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 17/11

Sophie said to me earlier in the week, "how can it possibly be December in a fortnight?" I have no idea but within no time at all, we'll be getting the Christmas tree up and wrapping presents - I've already bought the paper, I just need to find the time to get wrapping ! The weather has no such doubts though - it's freezing ! - so I'm looking at hearty winter fayre this week.


lunch - Time for the traditional KFC/Burger King/McDonald's option

dinner - spaghetti carbonara


lunch - roast dinner, probably chicken

dinner - leftovers from lunch or fridge grazing


 lunch - everyone will have to fend for themselves this lunchtime, I'm in a meeting at work

dinner - gammon, mash & peas


packed lunch - chicken salad wrap

dinner - tartiflette - potatoes, bacon, onions and a whole stinky cheese melted on top - if it's good enough for the Alps, it should keep the cold at bay here too !


lunch - tacos or fajitas

dinner - something in the slow cooker - beef carbonnade (beef in beer stew) maybe, or I'll have a rummage through my tin of cooking mix sachets


packed lunch - ham salad

dinner - chicken or pork curry


packed lunch - cheese & tomato sandwich

 dinner - homemade quiche with salad

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

Join in with the weekly meal plan bloghop !

Thursday, 16 November 2017

A Despicably Good Breakfast (and Competition) with Ready Brek !

I don't know if it's purely psychological or if it's because it really does herald the end of British Summer Time but putting the clocks back at the end of October always seems to make a huge difference to my early morning wait at the bus stop. Suddenly it's dark, it's miserable and it's bitterly cold ... Many of you are probably not old enough to remember the original Ready Brek adverts from way back in the seventies when kids on-screen would eat a bowl of Ready Brek, dubbed "Central Heating for Kids", and then go outside with a warm glow radiating from them, but let me tell you, it works for grown-ups too !

The Madhouse kids weren't interested in central heating for kids OR grown-ups though when the postie dropped off this despicably good package - they were instantly drawn to the DM3 goodies accompanying the boxes of Ready Brek and the on-pack promotion that gives you the chance to win a Minions-themed prize every hour.

Weetabix and Despicable Me 3 have joined forces to bring you a fabulous competition, with prizes including Night Mission Goggles, Remote-controlled Drones, Virtual Reality Viewers and ... wait for it ... Flying Unicorns ! With a bit of luck and your on-pack unique code, you may well win everything you need to have your very own Despicable Me 3 adventure. If the worst comes to the worst and you don't win, you'll have a rather lovely breakfast/after school snack as a consolation prize!

If you're unfamiliar with Ready Brek, it's a totally lump-free, smooth porridge that comes in several flavours, including chocolate, honey, seriously oaty and original, which can be customised to suit your own personal tastes - here at the Madhouse, I love a spoonful of strawberry jam swirled through while the kids swear by a big dollop of Nutella. Each to their own ! It's a great way to start the day, offering long lasting energy as well as a quick and simple meal option that takes just seconds to prepare. It's suitable for children aged 6 months upwards, so it's perfect as a weaning food too.

It's also a brilliant ingredient for baking - I frequently use it in place of ground almonds if a recipe calls for them and if you replace some of the flour with Ready Brek in cookies, it really helps them to hold their shape when you put them in the oven. You may remember the horrifically realistic witch's finger biscuits that we made for Halloween (with almond fingernails and strawberry jam blood !) - they were made with chocolate Ready Brek. If you want something less ghoulish, I highly recommend Ready Brek, Banana & Apple Muffins and Cinnamon Raisin Ready Brek Muffins which are school-approved lunchbox treats and also great for breakfast on the go.

They're also great for munching in front of movies too, as we discovered when we settled down to watch the Despicable Me 3 DVD. We went and saw this at the cinema as soon as it came out, but we giggled just as much watching it the second (and, indeed, the third !) time. In fact, we picked up on a lot more jokes and silly comments (that Pierre now won't stop repeating !) watching it again. It's lovely to find a film that appeals to all members of the family, not always an easy task with an 8, 12 and 16-year-old to cater for.

The kids have also been having great fun recreating scenes from the movie and making up their own Minions adventures with the fab Mineez Dru's Super Lair playset. Where better to make a plan for world domination ?!

It has oodles of despicably fun features including a radar launcher, hidden trap door, ejector seat for any misbehaving Minions and ... a fart platform - cue endless giggles ! The silly sounds haven't lost their novelty value yet and Pierre still thinks it's the most hilarious thing ever ! It also comes with 3 exclusive Mineez characters that can be added to your collection.

If you're a fan of Minions and Ready Brek, make sure you stock up now to maximise your chances of winning a despicably great prize - enter your codes at

Disclosure : This is a collaborative post.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Globecooking recipe : Newfoundland Cod Au Gratin #readcookeat

I'm always delighted to learn that a new Sgt. Windflower Mystery has been published, partly because I can't wait to snuggle under the duvet with my favourite Mountie (in a purely platonic, literary way of course - his heart belongs to Sheila !), but also because I know I'm probably going to get several great ideas for dinners and definitely some wonderful inspiration for desserts. If there's one thing that Sgt. Windflower loves as much as keeping his peaceful hometown of Grand Bank safe and sound, it's his food, so there's always a long list of things for me to try out in the Madhouse kitchen for the #readcookeat challenge.

I love learning about the traditional, regional dishes from around the world, so I have had great fun recreating Newfoundland Raisin Molasses Bread, Pea Soup with Dough Boys and Fried Fish with Scrunchions, amongst many other things. In the latest novel, A Tangled Web (click through for my review), there was a mention of another fishy dish that caught my eye.

p48 Marie, the long-time waitress, came by to take their order.

I'll have the cod au gratin and the turkey soup, to start, please" said Tizzard.

"Sorry, b'y. We're all out of the cod au gratin", said Marie.

Tizzard feigned great disappointment, but as Windflower knew, he would be happy with almost any kind of food, as long as it didn't focus on vegetables.

When I started to google, I didn't realise that this was part of the repertoire of iconic Newfoundland cuisine, but it seems to be a long-loved local classic. I read a number of online recipes, including one for Canadian Cod au Gratin at Genius Kitchen and Girl Heart Food's Traditional Newfoundland Cod Au Gratin, then I came up with my own twist, using what was in the Madhouse kitchen. The result, while not being much of a looker, is great comfort food, like a hug in a bowl, perfect for a chilly autumn evening.

 Newfoundland Cod Au Gratin

ingredients :

drizzle of olive oil/butter
1 onion 
2 leeks (not a traditional ingredient but it works really well)
some cod fillets
salt, lemon pepper/lemon zest, sumac (optional)
white sauce (butter, milk, flour)
grated cheese
dried breadcrumbs

Heat the butter or olive oil (or a bit of both) in a large frying pan and gently fry the onions and leeks until they start to soften.

Lay the cod fillets on top and continue to cook for a few minutes.

Break up the fish with a fork or a wooden spoon as you cook it, until it goes white all the way through.

Zesty citrus flavours work well with white fish, so I decided to add some of the sumac that I brought back from Turkey, which has a lovely sharp, lemony tang. It added great flavour but also gave it a slightly worrying pink colour that made the fish look very undercooked ! You could use lemon pepper or lemon zest, along with salt and pepper, instead.

 Make up your white sauce - I never bother weighing ingredients for this. I put in a couple of tablespoons of butter and a couple of tablespoons of flour, cook it until it creates a thick paste then add about half a pint of milk and bring it to the boil, whisking constantly, until it thickens up and creates a creamy sauce.

Transfer the fish mixture to an ovenproof dish, pour in the sauce and give it all a good mix.

Scatter a layer of dried breadcrumbs and grated cheese over the top and then off to the oven at 180° for about half an hour until the cheese has melted and the topping has gone golden brown.

My sauce, with a dark orangey-red colour from the sumac, bubbled up around the edges, but it made up in taste what it lacked in visual appeal !

Linking up with the #readcookeat challenge over at Chez Maximka

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Gel-a-Peel Colour Change Kit review

As you'll know if you're a regular follower of my blog, Juliette is already a big fan of Gel-A-Peel, which she has used to create all manner of fashion accessories and personalised goodies, including notebooks, T-shirts, bracelets and even a funky unicorn-themed jewellery box which still has pride of place in her bedroom. She was super excited to learn about the latest additions to the range : Gel-a-Peel 2-Tone Kit, which lets you watch your designs flow from dark to light with two colours in one gel tube, whilst the cool Gel-a-Peel Colour Change Kit means you can transform your day to night style as your designs turn from pink to coral, purple to lavender or turquoise to gold.

We received the latter to put through its paces and even before it was out of the box, Juliette was oohing and aahing over the pretty colours of the tubes. The special gels are light sensitive so, as it says on the packaging, they change colours in the sun. Sunshine is in pretty short supply at the moment though so it's good to know that they also change colour if you hold them up to an artificial light too.

If you're unfamiliar with Gel-a-Pel, it's a rubbery silicon gel that comes in all sorts of colours and finishes, including glitter, neon and glow-in-the-dark. The tubes always remind me of a cross between glitter glue pens and a piping set for icing cupcakes, because there are a selection of different nozzles that you can attach to the tubes to get a different effect. (Juliette has quite a collection so some of the items in the photos, such as the work station in this photo, are sold separately.)

You can use the gel pens free hand and let your creative juices flow or follow the templates that come in the box for things like bracelets.

You can also use little plastic moulds to make 3D embellishments or charms, which can be stuck in place with a little squirt of Gel-A-Peel. It sticks to pretty much everything including wood, glass, plastic, card, canvas, cotton, ... 

The packaging of the Colour Change Kit, which includes 3 colour change gel tubes, 16 design templates, 5 designer tips and a gel tray, says that you can make over 60 colour change accessories.


There are some lovely charm moulds in the pack, including winged hearts, interlocking heart pieces, Cupid's arrows and feathers, with a funky Native American vibe going on.

The moulds and bracelets need to be leftover overnight (at least - if making very thick designs, you may have to wait a few days for it to be completely dry) and I haven't been allowed to see the finished items - Juliette muttered something about Christmas and surprises and made a hasty exit !

Any tween or teen-aged girl who is keen on fashion and crafts would definitely love to find a pack under the tree on Christmas morning, but it's also a lovely addition to your crafts supplies in the run up to the big day, opening up lots of creative opportunities for making totally unique and personalised handmade gifts for friends and loved ones.

for more information :

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

Monday, 13 November 2017

Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You - the new festive family film

Are you feeling festive yet? You may be rolling your eyes and thinking it's far too early to be talking about Christmas but there are only 42 sleeps to go - woohoo ! I went into town with the girls at the weekend and we started stocking up on stocking fillers, as well as oohing and aahing at all the Christmas jumpers and accessories in the shops. The Madhouse kids would quite happily put the tree up and get all the decorations out right now, but we'll hold off until the first weekend of December as usual. That traditionally also signals the time I get my beloved Christmas CD out and this invariably ends up being the non-stop soundtrack to our time at home for the whole of December and January. One of the ultimate cheesy Christmas classics is Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas so I was delighted to learn that a new animated movie Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You hits the shelves today. The film, narrated by Mariah Carey, follows little Mariah as she chases her dream of having a puppy of her very own, making her ultimate wish for Christmas come true.

When Little Mariah (Breanna Yde) sees a darling little puppy named Princess at the pet store, she suddenly knows exactly what she wants for Christmas. Before her Christmas wish can come true, she must prove that she can dog-sit her uncle’s dog, Jack, a scraggly rascal - in fact, the worst dog in the county! Jack turns Mariah and her family’s perfect holiday preparations upside down in hilarious ways. It wasn’t exactly the Christmas she wished for … it turns out that it was more than she ever wanted !

Showcasing stunning visuals in beautifully realised CGI animation and an amazing festive soundtrack, the film features several songs from Mariah Carey’s immense discography, including the all-new original song Lil Snowman, two more of the pop queen’s holiday classics, Miss You Most (At Christmas Time) and Christmas Time Is In The Air, and - of course - the iconic song All I Want for Christmas is You.

After the song and the popular illustrated book of the same name, Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You film featuring Mariah’s music and narration will definitely be a festive family favourite for years to come.

If you're looking for Christmas printables to keep the kids busy in the run up to the big day, click through on the picture for the bigger, high res version of the maze, featuring Little Mariah and Jack the dog from the film.

Disclosure : We received a copy of the DVD.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Madhouse recipe : Spaghetti Squash with Cherry Tomatoes, Chorizo & Parmesan

During the half term break, we went to visit my friend and work colleague who retired at the end of the last school year. I took her a big bag of books and she gave me a box of lovely home-grown fruit and veg from her allotment - some potatoes, fantastically sweet grapes and a butternut squash - as well as some gifts from her Moroccan husband's family - some sweet almonds and tiny dried figs from her mother-in-law's garden, as well as some tiny home-baked aniseed cakes.

This week, I decided to make butternut soup but when I sliced it open, I discovered that it was full of stringy fibres - aha, spaghetti squash. I've heard of it and seen pictures online but had never eaten it before, let alone cooked it. Google to the rescue !

I'm still not entirely sure it was a spaghetti squash because all the recipes said that it is really hard to cut and you need to bake or microwave the whole thing so that you can pierce the skin. My one was actually quite soft and I managed to cut it into quarters and scrape out the inside without pre-cooking it.

It looked more like grated carrot than spaghetti so I'm not sure - maybe it was another type of squash altogether. It tasted lovely though, whatever it was !

Here's the recipe I threw together, using up odds and ends from the fridge.

Spaghetti Squash with Cherry Tomatoes, Chorizo & Parmesan

ingredients :

1 spaghetti squash
drizzle of olive oil
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
1 mild chorizo, diced
a big handful of cherry tomatoes
a good handful of parmesan
a dozen or so fresh basil leaves 
salt, pepper

Heat the olive oil and gently fry the onions and garlic.

When they start to soften, add the diced chorizo and cook until it starts to change colour and release some lovely fragrant, red oil.

Add the strands of spaghetti squash and give it all a good stir. Cook for 2-3 minutes.

Toss in the halved cherry tomatoes, the chopped basil leaves and the parmesan. Season with salt and pepper and give it all good stir to combine.

Serve with more parmesan on top and a couple of extra basil leaves for a splash of colour.

This was surprisingly tasty, despite my initial reservations. I thought spaghetti squash would be stringy and horrible but it's actually really nice and I'll be keeping my eyes open for more at the local farmers' market.

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky as it used up lots of random things from the fridge.
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