Friday, 24 April 2015

Creepy Crawly Hunting with the Discovery Bug Barn (review)

I love educational toys (and luckily the Madhouse kids do too) so we were over the moon to receive some Discovery Channel science toys from Trends UK to review. The first one that we tried out was this Bug Barn.

Inside the box, you get a viewing barn, a magnifying viewing canister, a magnifying glass, tweezers, a net and a sheet of insect clings to decorate your bedroom windows or mirrors (and give your sisters a heart attack when they brush their teeth in the morning and see a huge spider looking back at them !).

Everyone was fascinated by all the tools in the box, particularly the magnifying glass - what big eyes you've got, Juliette !

Time to go bug hunting.

Can't see anything in here. Where are you all hiding?!

Aaaggghhh look Mum, I've got something !

Time to have a closer look in the magnifying canister. It's only a tiny greenfly but we could see its legs and antennae moving.

Hey Sophie, come and see what I found ! 

It's great to find a toy that appeals to all three of the Madhouse kids - it's a rare occurence to find something that will occupy a 5, 9 and 13 year old, as well as being of interest to children (and adults !) of both sexes. This is actually an important point for Trends, who are keen to show that girls can get just as much enjoyment from science projects as boys,  despite coverage in the media saying that girls have less interest in science and don't choose it as a career.

We eventually managed to find some tiny snails and an ant to look at in the small magnifying canister. It works really well for seeing the creepy crawlies close up but it's very hard to open, particularly for little fingers. (This does have the added advantage of making sure the bugs don't get out by accident though !)

The viewing barn is good for bigger things that you can catch with the net - Sophie managed to catch a huge bluebottle but she had to recruit Madhouse Grandad to set it free because she ran away to hide !

This is defintely a toy that will be getting a lot of use throughout the summer. Our favourite item is the transparent plastic, magnifying canister and we've already decided that we'll be using it to look at flowers, dandelion seeds, pieces of bark and anything else that we come across as well as bugs on our nature walks. If we get the chance to go pond dipping, it will give us a chance to look at the tiny pondlife too so I'm looking forward to lots of adventures throughout the coming months.

For everything you get in the box, I actually thought it would be more expensive so I was pleasantly surprised by the price.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £14.99

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

Walkers MixUps review

Do you find yourself standing in the crisps or snacks aisle of the supermarket having a hard time choosing which ones to throw in the trolley? If so then you'll love Walkers MixUps which offer several different snacks or flavours in one pack !

The most mixed-up variety is the Snacks Mix MixUps. They are available in Cheese and Spicy  flavours and you get a mixture of Doritos, Monster Munch, French Fries and Wotsits all in the same bag. These are all Madhouse faves so I knew they'd get a warm reception.

I grabbed a random handful and was impressed to see that all four varieties are represented in fairly even proportions. I would have liked a few extra Doritos personally, as they're my top choice, but the great thing about the bags is that you can pick and choose what you want. These would be great for parties and picnics or for putting in a sharing bowl in front of the telly.

You can also get Crisps Mix Ups which put two different flavours of crisp in the same pack. These are available in Cheese & Bacon and Cheese & Worcester Sauce flavours, both combinations that work very well together. As you can see from the picture, you can tell which are which from the colour but it's also nice to pop one in your mouth without being sure which flavour you'll get. Think Willy Wonka creating crisps and snacks instead of sweets and you won't be far wrong !

The final option is Popcorn MixUps, which are available in Sweet & Salty and Sweet & Spicy flavours. I've had sweet and salty popcorn before but each piece of corn was uniformy covered in the same seasoning, so it was quite innovative to have a mixture of both in the same bag. Eating these in a dark cinema where you wouldn't know what you're popping in your mouth would be great fun !

I thought it was a bit of a strange idea when I read the press release, but having tried them, we've all been won over. Eating a regular one-flavour bag of crisps will seem quite boring now !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £1.99

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

What's Cooking At The Madhouse? menu plan 24/4/15

Woohoo we've made it to the holidays - two weeks off, phew ! Time to have another stocktake and continue dejunking the stuff that's lurking in the kitchen cupboards and freezer, as well as trying out the recipes from my Chile-themed Kitchen Trotter box. I'll need to plan lunches and evening meals for the next two weeks so I should be able to work through lots of bookmarked recipes too !


lunch - possibly McDonalds, possibly sausages, chips and beans for the kids/potjevleesch and chips for the grown-ups

dinner - homemade soup


lunch - fingers crossed the weather's nice enough for a BBQ, if not roast chicken

dinner -  sandwiches or leftover soup


lunch - chicken and veg pie with the leftover roast, mash and peas

dinner - Empanadas with salsa, salad and rice


lunch - paella

dinnerchicken with hoi sin sauce, stir fried veg and noodles


lunch -  Charquican - a traditional Chilean stew made with meat, potatoes and vegetables (recipe to follow)

dinner - seafood salad


lunch - spaghetti carbonara with leeks and mushrooms

dinner - chicken curry with rice


lunch -spaghetti with meatballs

dinner - carrot tarte tatin with salad

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

Meal Planning Monday

Want to see what everyone else is eating ? Head over to Meal Planning Monday at Mrs M's blog !

Globecooking recipe : Shawarma (Middle East)

A few years ago, there was a restaurant that we used to go to regularly on Friday lunchtimes called Oriental Express and their signature dish was shawarma. Similar to a healthier version of a kebab, it was a mix of spicy chicken, rice, salad and garlic sauce.

When I spotted this Shoarma mix in a local discount store, I couldn't resist trying it out. It's from Knorr in Spain but I'm not sure if it's available in other countries. Now that I've tried it, I'll be recreating it myself with my own spice rack though, so I'll give you the recipe suggestion from scratch.


ingredients :

4 chicken breasts
1 onion
olive oil
shawarma seasoning (suggested mix : cumin, coriander, garlic granules, paprika, turmeric, Cayenne pepper, black pepper, garlic salt)

2 cloves garlic
3tbsp mayonnaise
6tbsp Greek yogurt or ricotta

salad and rice to serve
optional : flour tortillas or pitta pockets

Crush the garlic and mix into the mayonnaise and ricotta/yogurt. Put in the fridge to chill.

Put all the spices in a bowl and add a drizzle of olive oil. Blend to a smooth paste and add 1tbsp water if necessary. Finely chop the chicken and onion and toss in the spice paste until evenly covered. Heat a drizzle of oil in a large frying pan and fry the marinaded chicken for 10 minutes until cooked through.

Serve with rice and salad, with a generous dollop of garlic sauce on the side. Alternatively use the chicken and salad to stuff a tortilla or pitta pocket.

This is my ultimate fakeaway. It tastes delicious and seems like a naughty kebab but is actually quite healthy.

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! ***

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Kids' app review : Painting Gallery with Niru Niru & Friends

A brand new app was released today and we received a review code to try it out. At first glance, I thought it wasn't very original - it's a painting and drawing app that already exists in numerous other shapes and forms, many of them free, unlike this one - but the more the Madhouse kids played with it, the more we discovered features that we really liked.

 Painting Gallery with Niru Niru & Friends starts off like any other painting app. You can choose between a range of artist's tools to paint by hand, instantly fill in areas or use virtual pencils, markers, crayons or watercolours with 30 different colours. To make things look extra special, you can also choose between a variety of backdrops.


Where things get interesting is in the choice of stickers (over 100 of them) that you can add to your picture, rotating, resizing and placing them wherever you like so that they fit into your composition perfectly. The really ingenious thing is that you can choose white ones to colour in too, so you are basically able to create your own colouring pages.

There are even alphabet stickers, enabling you to add text to your pictures.

Or you can get back to basics and let your imagination run wild by drawing or painting free style.

Once you've finished your masterpiece, you can create a personalised frame then hang it in the gallery. You can come back to your picture if it needs completing at a later date.

This Youtube video showcases the app and its different functionalities. If you sat down and came up with a list of everything you'd like to see in a painting app, I think you'd be hard pushed to find something that the app doesn't already offer. You can even record the names of the colours so that your child can hear a familiar voice speaking.

My only slight quibble is the price. It costs £2.29 which isn't hugely expensive but I'm not sure it offers enough extra features to justify upgrading from the free drawing app that the Madhouse kids have been playing with up until now. Maybe adding some really unique features, such as some mini games - why not create a spot the difference or jigsaw puzzle game using the pictures that you have put in the gallery, for example? - would convince me though.

 star rating : 4/5

RRP : £2.29

Disclosure : We received a code in order to write an honest review.

Lalaloopsy Girls Crazy Hair review

The Lalaloopsy girls have had a bit of a makeover in the latest range of Crazy Hair dolls. Their extravagant hairstyles, flamboyant outfits and big shoes take them more into the category of fashion dolls so I think they will appeal to a wider audience of slightly older girls. Any child with an interest in hair styling, whatever their age, will love the new funky hair because it is so much fun to play with and style.

Juliette received the deliciously-named Scoops Waffle Cone, who joins the line-up alongside Jewel Sparkles, Cinder Slippers, Confetti Carnivale and new arrivals Dyna Might, April Sunsplash, Peppy Pom Poms and Tippy Tumblelina. I have only just learnt that they all attend the Lalaloopsy Academy for Learning Arts (L.A.L.A. Prep).

She's a very pretty doll with multicoloured hair and big button eyes.

The crazy hair comes from the fact that the doll has a mixture of woollen hair and also waxed threads that can be bent into weird and wacky shapes. There is also a separate pack of extra waxed threads in the box - careful, ours almost got thrown away with the packaging ! - which allows you to add extensions to create bigger curls and added volume.

The box contains a curling tool and also a little bottle of hair glitter, but be warned, the packaging says that it shouldn't be used on human hair. It's a lovely doll that is ideal for tweens, half way between a fashion doll and a little girl's doll.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £20

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

Giveaway #475 : Win an Ultimate girly night in bundle - closing date 7/5

What's your idea of the ultimate girly night in? A glass of bubbly and chocolate cake? A feelgood rom-com on DVD? A home-spa pamper session? Well, thanks to online bingo site Paddy Power, you could do all of the above and have an evening of fun and giggles with your best mates.

They have kindly offered to send an ‘Ultimate girly night in bundle’ to one lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader, which consists of:

· New copies of ‘Blended’ and ‘The Other Woman’ on DVD.
· A bingo board game.
· 4 face masks.
· A £10 supermarket voucher for a shop of your choice.

To be in with a chance of winning, just fill in your details in the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 7/5/15

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook, twitter 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 a week, 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 !

Other giveaways you may be interested in :

Madhouse recipe : Bacon & Egg Breadbaskets

Fancy something a bit different for breakfast or brunch? How about these Bacon & Egg Breadbaskets ? As they are made in silicon muffin cases, I debated calling them Bacon & Egg Muffins but I think the Golden Arches might have that one covered already !

Bacon & Egg Breadbaskets

ingredients  (for each basket) :

1 slice of bread
1tbsp bacon pieces
1 egg

Cut the crusts off a slice of bread and push it into a silicon muffin mould. Don't worry if it tears and use little pieces pulled off the crusts to fill any gaps.

Pop them on a baking sheet and put them under the grill to toast for a few minutes.

While the bread is toasting, fry up the bacon pieces and drain off as much grease as possible with kitchen roll. Put a spoonful of bacon pieces in the bottom of each breadbasket and crack an egg into the top of each basket. Don't worry about the excess egg white that will run over the edges.

Put back in the oven for 10 minutes until the eggs are set.

The kids gobbled these up with much enthusiasm but they didn't work exactly as I planned. I thought the egg would run down and cover the bacon pieces which would end up encased in egg, with the bread also coated in egg. The egg actually sat on top of the bacon though so we ended up with crunchy toast, a layer of bacon then a baked egg sitting on top. With hindsight, I would therefore use beaten eggs next time and make sure the bacon was completely covered. The eggs ended up with a strange, almost plasticky texture on top too so I think beaten eggs would definitely work better, even if they wouldn't look as good.

You may remember I told you about Warburton's new adverts featuring Sylvester Stallone in a recent blogpost and I mentioned that they'd sent me through the kit needed to recreate Sly's look. Well, here you go - sorry it's a bit blurry, I think Juliette was giggling too hard when she took it ! (Or maybe she was in a rush to eat her breadbasket !)

Disclosure : I received a hamper of goodies from Warburton.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Come Dine with Donald Russell ! (review)

You know what it's like when the kids are sick and off their food so you try to tempt them with lots of different scrummy things and by the time the evening rolls round and it's time for the grown-ups to eat, you're just too shattered to start cooking a big meal again ? Yep, that's been The Madhouse since last week, but Donald Russell took me under their wing and got everyone's tummies filled with some top notch nosh !

Never heard of them? Umm, I'll be honest, I hadn't, but the Donald Russell company is a Royal Warrant holder and Britain’s leading mail-order and wholesale meat supplier. Based in Aberdeenshire, they are a pioneering company, using shock-freezing methods to perfectly capture matured meat at its optimum flavour moment, allowing consumers to enjoy restaurant quality products in the comfort of their own home. They sent us through a lovely piece of slow-cooked lamb that we haven't eaten yet, but this week, we've been trying out their brand new range of vegetable side dishes (a first for the company) and potato rösti. The range includes:

Broad Beans, Petit Pois & Bacon in Béchamel
Carrots & Petit Pois in Béchamel
Cauliflower Cheese
Creamy Savoy Cabbage
Leaf Spinach in Béchamel
Buttery Mashed Potato
Crème Cheese & Herb Potato Rösti Bites
Hot Dog Potato Rösti Bites
Alpine Cheese & Bacon Potato Rösti Bites

The vegetable side dishes are ultra convenient. They come in plastic trays with a film on top and can be cooked in a microwave or conventional oven from frozen. This cauliflower cheese, for example, took just five minutes in the microwave and I decided to pop it under the grill for a couple of minutes extra to give it some colour. The sauce was nice and creamy and the kids loved it. There's just enough in a pack for two side servings or three small children's portions.

I decided to tempt the poorly kids with these Hot Dog Potato Rösti Bites. Again, they can be cooked from frozen and just need to be popped in the oven for 15-18 minutes. (They can be cooked in the microwave but you wouldn't get the crispy golden texture that I wanted.)

I wasn't really sure what to expect, and nor were the kids, so they were quite excited when I called them to the dinner table ! You actually get one long hot dog sausage encased in potato rösti (like hash browns) that are the perfect consistency, soft on the inside but crisp on the outside. The kids absolutely loved them and asked if there were any left !

There weren't, but they also loved the Alpine Cheese and Bacon Rösti Potato Bites, which are similar but smaller. They're very cheesy and had a definite smoky bacon flavour, although we couldn't see any visible bacon pieces in them.

If you struggle to get your kids to eat their five-a-day, the side dishes are a godsend. The Carrots & Petit Pois in Béchamel also disappeared in record time, despite the Madhouse kids often turning up their noses at regular peas and carrots !

Time for the grown-ups to get a look-in ! I chose the Broad Beans, Petit Pois & Bacon in Béchamel for us, which was as delicious as it sounds.

I paired these with the Crème Cheese & Herb Potato Bites and some Chicken Sausages, both of which took about 18 minutes in the oven - giving me time to put the kids to bed while it cooked itself.

It was delicious and looks and tastes freshly made, not at all like something you've just pulled out of the freezer and cooked from frozen.

That's what you have to remember when you look at the prices - this is restaurant quality food that can be reproduced in minutes in the comfort of your own home with zero effort. Don't lose from sight that this is the award winning supplier of meat to HM the Queen! The vegetable side dishes cost £7 for 2 packs (2 x 210g) and the rösti cost £3.50 for one pack of 6. Definitely more expensive than frozen vegetables from the supermarket but that's a bit like comparing a fast food hamburger and a sirloin steak ! You can also buy in bulk which makes it slightly cheaper - for example, the Vegetable & Rösti Selection, containing a total of 11 packs of everything we received, costs £41.75. They also have weekly and monthly meal planner boxes, that look like a great idea, but they sell everything, from meat, pies and ready meals to desserts. It's definitely worth having a look around the website to see what's on offer. I'll be very tempted to stock up the freezer before Christmas.

As I love hunting out bargains, I couldn't fail to spot the chance to win £250 of products for signing up with your email. As I googled Donald Russell, I also stumbled across an amazing Groupon offer for a steak selection pack at up to 59% off (you pay £29 instead of £70.50 !). There are also numerous mentions of discount codes so it's well worth googling to see if there are any current codes available. (You actually get one in your welcome email when you sign up.)

for more information :

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