Thursday, 31 January 2013

Quick and Easy Room Makeover Ideas from 3M Command

If you're wary of getting the drill out and don't know one end of a rawlplug from the other, these ideas for totally tool-free room makeovers sound perfect. I love the idea of the hanging herb garden in the kitchen.

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Command Products from 3M are a range of ingenious adhesive strips and hooks which allow home lovers to hang decorations, mirrors, pictures and much more without the hassle of nails, screws and tacks, throughout the home. Holding fast to wood, tile, metal or to painted walls, Command Products can revolutionise the way that you hang almost anything. Yet when the time comes to refresh a room with a new look and style, the strips and hooks can be removed from walls quickly and easily without leaving any marks.

Why not try out one of these simple ideas to give your home a stunning Spring update?

Feature Wall

Spring is the perfect time to give a drab room or area a revamp. However, if the idea of picking out new paints and getting messy with DIY fills you with dread, follow our tips for creating a simple gallery/feature wall which will create an instant impact and interior transformation, without the mess of nails and holes all over the wall. Displaying and arranging your favourite artwork is easy with Command Picture Strips:
  • Firstly, choose the area in your home that you wish to update, it may be the wall running up the stairs, a quiet reading area or simply the space above your sofa that needs an injection of style and colour. It’s all about refreshing your existing scheme and transforming a tired area within your home
  • Plan your colour palette – what colours do you like and what is your existing décor? If you are looking for on trend colours then buy a few interiors magazines and see what’s hot. We
recommend sticking to a maximum of three colours and combine them with a highlighting colour such as cream or white
  • You don’t have to just use black & white or colour photos for your gallery, sketches or illustrations can look just as stylish. As long as the pictures complement one another, you can be fairly creative with your selection
  • Keep the spaces between the frames fairly small. A good tip is to lay them out on the floor and decide on the arrangement before you commit to hanging them on the wall
  • When you are happy with your selection, use the easy to stick, easy to remove Command Picture Hanging Strips to hang your frames as they avoid the need to drill or hammer any holes into your walls
  • Opt for similar style frames i.e. modern, rustic, shabby chic that will suit your existing interior décor and complement each other Try to balance out the colours in your picture gallery. Pick one key colour which features in most of your images and spread these out on the wall. This allows the eye to travel around the whole gallery easily and it will bring a real synergy to your display.
Hanging Kitchen Herb Garden


Now that Winter is finally over and the first Spring flowers are starting to bloom, why not bring some greenery into your kitchen? Make the most of the space under your kitchen cupboards by creating a vertical herb garden on this free wall space.
  • For fresh herbs at your fingertips, place oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme into small starting pots
  • Place these pots into clear waterproof containers such as the Command Clear Caddies. These caddies come with Command strips which allow you to quickly and easily attach them to the wall without the need for damaging hooks, nails or screws
  • Then use some white chalk to write the names of each herb on chalkboard labels and stick them to the front of the caddies to easily identify each plant.
Where Are My Keys?


Trying to find lost house or car keys can be a perennial problem in a busy household. These simple tips should make early morning hunts for the keys a thing of the past:
  • Hang a series of framed photos of your house, car, shed etc on a section of blank wall space that you walk past every morning
  • Attach a Command Micro or Clear Mini Hook to each frame and use these to hang each set of keys on to ensure they are always to hand – simple!
  • Applying the frames to the wall using Command Picture Hanging Strips ensures that if you redecorate or decide to move your key wall, that you can remove the frames cleanly and easily and rehang elsewhere without any damage to your walls.
Bedroom storage solution


If you are struggling to find space in your wardrobe and chest of drawers, follow these simple tips to create a little more hanging space in your bedroom:
  • Simply apply Command Medium hooks at a range of different heights on a blank wall in your bedroom
  • Use the hooks to stylishly hang your favourite accessories; scarves, hats and handbags to the walls
  • Not only does it solve a storage solution, but done with a little style it can all a great design feature to your room
Temporary Interior Party Decorations

For many, spring signifies the start of endless children parties and festive celebrations such as Easter. The thought of decorating your home can seem like a dreadful hassle but Command Products remove that worry:
  • If you are concerned about hanging temporary decorations as you don’t want to mark your walls, Command Products offer the perfect solution

  • Command Hooks give you the flexibility to hang everything exactly where you want it to go and best of all you can easily remove them all once the party is over without leaving any damage to your paintwork or walls. Command Micro Hooks and Decorating Clips are particularly good for hanging lightweight items such as fairy lights, bunting and simple cardboard decorations.
Organise your Kitchen cupboards



Sorting out your storage is a great job for spring. There is nothing more satisfying than having everything ordered and looking lovely. Here are some tips for making the best of your cupboards even in the cosiest of kitchens:
  • Make sure the shelf heights are suitable for the items that you place inside. It often works to have smaller items that you use regularly such as condiments, spices, and herbs at the top and larger objects such as vases at the bottom


  • Make the most of limited cupboard space by using the sides as well as the shelves. The easy to apply, easy to remove Command Micro Hooks work well for hanging light weight items inside the cupboard such as tea-towels whilst Command Wire Utensil Hooks are great for small tea cups and utensils Opt for thin objects on the doors such as tea towels so that you can still close them after hanging. Command Picture Clips can also be used on the inside of the doors to neatly hang up all of your loose recipes.
Organise your children’s bedroom


If seeing carpet in your children’s bedroom is a rare sight, follow these simple ideas to get clothes, toys and bags off the floor and easily stored away:
  • Prioritise items that are needed on a daily basis, such as cycle helmets, coats and school bags and use Command Medium hooks to hang them at ‘child height’ on the area of wall nearest the bedroom door – this will leave no excuse for the kids not to hang these items up as they run in from school or from play time with friends!


  • To tidy toys, colouring books, pencils, pens and even mobile phones attach a couple of different sized Command Clear Caddies to the walls near desks or side tables. These are available in a range of sizes; the largest is ideal for colouring books whilst the smaller ones can be used for little toys and pencils. Just make sure you check the weight restrictions on the back of the packets before you use them.

For more inspiring home transformations from Command Products please visit: www.facebook.com/inspiringtransformations


Disclosure : I'll be receiving some products from 3M in order to try out some of the room makeover ideas.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Create a gorgeous indoor den for the kids with 3M

Flavourly Flavour Box By Post review



One of the biggest perks of receiving all these lovely things to review for my blog is discovering some absolutely cracking brands that would have totally passed by under my radar if they hadn't suddenly popped through my postbox. Flavourly have taken this idea and developed it so that it can help everyone, not just bloggers, discover some of the smaller, less well known brands out there. They offer a monthly subscription service to send you, through the post by Royal Mail, a lovely selection of foodie items from UK artisan producers.

We received January's box through the post last week and excitedly unpacked it to see what we'd find inside. It comes in a sturdy carboard box with fully recyclable packaging and everything was in good condition. There's no insulation or chill packs in there though so I'm not sure how the cheese would survive in the warmer months !


We discovered :

Farmhouse Nettle Cheese from Northumberland Cheese Co - Northumberland Cheese Co are a small dairy on the Blagdon Estate in South Nortumberland who hand produce 16 different cheeses. I must admit, the addition of nettles initially put me off - I wouldn't have been brave enough to pick this up in the shops - but it's actually a pleasant taste with the fresh herby flavour of the nettles nicely complementing the creamy cows' milk cheese. And no, it doesn't sting your mouth when you eat it ! 

Forest Kitchen Traditional Handmade Scottish Oatcakes - You could pass these off as home made. They're the perfect crisp, crumbly texture with a lovely fresh oaty taste and they went perfectly with the Nettle Cheese, but also the Bacon Jam. (More about that in a moment.) The Forest Kitchen won a Great Taste Gold Award for these in 2011 and I can see why.

2 packs of Greeff's Beef Biltong - Handmade on the Isle of Wight, which surprised me because I thought it came from South Africa, but it turns out that Nick, from Isle of Wight Biltong, is third generation Zimbabwean and learnt to make it on his father's cattle farm. Well I never ! Again, this is a product I wouldn't have picked up by myself, expecting it to be dry, hard and overly chewy, but it was actually much nicer than I expected and I probably would buy it again (dependent on price). 

Eat 17 London Bacon Jam - I did a double take when I first heard about Eat 17 Bacon Jam online a while a go and have remained sceptical so it's something I'd never have bought in a million years because it just sounds so wrong. It is, however, so right ! It's not jam, it's more relish, with a lovely smoky bacon flavour. It's brilliant for jazzing up cheese on toast, quiche, omelettes, baked potatoes and burgers but I'm sure there are a million other things it could be used for too - just give me some more time !

Wee Tea Company Rooibus and Vanilla Tea - I'm not a tea fan so I passed this on to a friend. She said it was nice but was only subtly flavoured.

Forest Kitchen Traditional Handmade Scottish Whisky Fudge Slab - Having tasted the Oatcakes made by The Forest Kitchen, I was expecting great things, even if I'm not a whisky fan. It's lovely soft creamy fudge, slightly too sweet for my liking, but the whisky flavour is only subtle so that didn't put me off.

Contents aside (because they will change every month), I think it's a great idea. Each package costs £22 which, while certainly not cheap, does work out pretty good value when you look at the number and above all quality of the items inside. Two things that definitely could be improved on are the very short use-by dates on several of the products and the fact that you don't get any choice at all in your order - while I like the element of surprise and the fact that you're led into unchartered foodie territories, trying products you probably never would have bought by yourself, it would be good to have vegetarian and maybe gluten-free options available (maybe at a lower price for fewer items, if this is a logistical problem). 

It would make a great gift (I'd love one of these for Valentine's Day or Mother's Day - hint hint !!) for any foodie with a sense of adventure. Another bonus is that they donate a meal to a food bank for every Flavourly box sold.

If I've piqued your interest, you can get a £10 discount off your first box with the code GIFT10

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £22 for a 1-month subscription

for more information : http://www.flavourly.com/

Disclosure : I received a Flavourly box in order to write an honest review of the service.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Get ready for a Tree Fu Tom Twitter Party !


I must be mad ! You may remember the (slightly !) organised chaos last year when I took part in a live twitter party for Sylvanian Families and tried not to lose my sanity as I ran around mopping up spilt drinks, taking little people to the toilet, renewing cupcake supplies and running games and challenges, all while trying to keep up with the simultaneous twitter feed ! It was all very manic and I felt like Shiva, the multi-armed Hindu god, at the end, but it was all a good laugh (especially - ahem - once all the guests had gone home and I'd had a glass of wine to recover !)



Well, we had so much fun that I was happy to be invited to join in with another one, this time for Tree Fu Tom. We're all fans of Tree Fu Tom here at The Madhouse. Pierre and Juliette love the tales combining adventures, magic and nature and - above all - copying the special moves. I love the fact that it's a programme they both love watching together because it appeals to both sexes and I also love watching them join in with the Tree Fu, taking it all very seriously I might add!

The twitter party will be on 19th February from 4-6pm. Make sure you drop in, not just to laugh at me and the other party hosts trying to keep things running smoothly and keep up with the tweets, but also because you'll be able to win prizes too. Follow the hashtag #treefutomtoys for more information.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Tree Fu Tom : Tree Fu Go! DVD review
You're invited to a Sylvanian Families Twitter party on Tuesday
 Getting ready for the #RockOfAges tweetalong

DVD review : Cupid Dog



The lovely people at Lionsgate recently sent me a huge stash of DVDs to review so we're making Sundays into a regular family movie afternoon as we work our way through them. First up was Cupid Dog, which is due to be released next week (on 4th February), just in time for Valentine's Day.

The title tells you everything you need to know - this film features romance and a dog ! Sounds like an unlikely pairing ? Well, yes, it is - but if you can get past the suspension of disbelief, it's actually quite a nice family movie that the kids will love and the parents will smile beningly through.

The basic storyline is that Gabe, the Cupid dog of the title, is not at all happy that his master Eric is all set to head off across the Atlantic to a new job in London, leaving him facing six months in quarantine with all the nasty, scary doggie-hoodlums. Being inspired by a TV dating show, he decides to put a plan in action to get Eric to fall in love with his pretty neighbour Sara so that he'll give up his plans to move to London. As the saying goes, "the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray", and the same is true for dogs, so the match-making mongrel has to go all out to succeed in his mission to bring the star-crossed lovers together.

If you're looking for a proper rom-com, you might be slightly disappointed because the human characters take pretty much minor roles. Gabe the cute talking Cupid pooch is very much centre stage and the film frequently reminded me of Marley & Me : The Puppy Years. The Madhouse Mini-testers loved his antics and the whole concept of the dog being the one in control. As a grown-up, you can't help thinking that it's all very implausible and the dialogues are a bit stilted, but it's still a fun movie to share as a family.

If you want a bit of romance on Valentine's Day but know you'll have the kids in tow, it's ideal viewing !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £9.99




Disclosure : I received a copy of the DVD in order to write an honest review.

Other reviews you may be interested in :


Now Is Good DVD review

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Um Bongo review


Remember this?

Way down deep in the middle of the Congo,
A hippo took an apricot, a guava and a mango.
He stuck it with the others, and he danced a dainty tango.
The rhino said, "I know, we'll call it Um Bongo"
Um Bongo, Um Bongo, They drink it in the Congo !

The python picked the passion fruit, the marmoset the mandarin.
The parrot painted packets that the whole caboodle landed in.
So when it comes to sun and fun and goodness in the jungle,
They all prefer the sunny funny one they call Um Bongo!

Now either, you'll be thinking I've totally lost the plot or, if you're a child of the 80's like me, you'll be grinning with recognition and feeling all nostalgic ! Either way, I highly recommend you watch the original advert from the 80's below but I apologise in advance because you'll be singing it for the rest of the day !




 I remember drinking Um Bongo as a child so, when I was given the opportunity of trying some out on the Madhouse Mini-Testers, I jumped at the chance. I was slightly nervous that it wouldn't live up to my expectations though - I'm loving all the 80's brands that are being brought back but sometimes, they're not as good as you remember (or maybe your tastes change when you're an adult).

We were sent a carton of the Original Tropical-flavoured "Congocoction juice drink" and also a carton of the new Orang-Utan Orange Juice Drink. I'm pleased to say, the original tropical variety is exactly as I remember it so that was a real blast from the past. The new orange version is nice too, but it didn't have all the happy childhood memories that the original flavour brought back so it wasn't quite as good in my eyes. The Madhouse Mini-testers, who had never heard of Um Bongo and were grinning bemusedly at me dancing around the kitchen singing the advert, loved both flavours equally.

I decided to have a closer look at the nutritional content. The orange juice drink (ie not pure juice) contains  Water, Orange Juice from Concentrate (20%), Sugar, Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Citric Acid, Vitamin C, Flavouring and a 200ml serving contains 82 calories and 20g of sugar. The tropical variety contains Water, Fruit Juices from Concentrate (19%) (Apple, Lemon, Orange, Pineapple, Passion Fruit, Mandarin), Sugar, Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Fruit Purées (1%) (Apricot, Guava, Mango), Vitamin C, Flavouring, Citric Acid and the same calories and sugar content. I'm pleased to see a no added sugar variety will soon be hitting the shelves too. It's also great to see that a 200ml glass contains 64mg of vitamin C which is 80% of the RDA.

If you want a blast from the past in a glass, it will definitely hit the spot. Even without the nostalgia, the Madhouse Mini-testers gave it a big thumbs up too.

Now, get ready to learn the new words ...

Way down deep in the middle of the Congo,
We rediscovered passionfruits and apricots and mangos,
Reminded what it tasted like when they all danced a tango,
We found the knack and brought it back, tropical Um Bongo !

And for the orange version ...

Way down deep in the middle of the Congo,
We found a funky jumping juice a monkey moving mambo,
We left out all the ape ricots, the passion fruits and mangos,
With just the taste of oranges
It's orang utan Um Bongo !!

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £1.29 for 1 litre

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

Disclosure : We received two cartons of Um Bongo in order to write an honest review.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Book review : The Salome Effect - James Sajo



I have to admit, when I plucked The Salome Effect off my bookshelf and had a quick look at the cover, I wasn't hugely inspired - it reminded me of an outdated travel guide or a 1970's Technicolour postcard that has been lingering on a dusty postcard rack off the beaten tourist track for a few decades too long ! I was therefore actually pleasantly surprised by the punchy, intriguing writing that sucked me in right from the first page.

I like lead characters to be complex and multi-faceted and that is certainly the case for the main protagonist here. Robert Orazio is a well-liked American living in Italy where he makes his money giving English conversation classes and spends a large chunk of it in a rather seedy strip joint where he is in love with one of the "girls", a Romanian beauty named Mariana. But he is also a former soldier suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which leads to a few hallucinations that leave him (and the reader) wondering what is true and what isn't in his view of the action in the latter part of the book. Mariana is another complex (albeit rather underdeveloped) character - she may work in the sex industry but is above all an art-lover and is loath to open her heart to Robert due to a tragedy in her private life several years ago so the couple barely share a kiss. Robert will do whatever it takes to win her favour, even if this goes beyond what is legally or morally acceptable. The parallels with Salome - a sensual dancer whose feminine charms led her lust-fuelled admirer to commit murder and bring her her heart's desire in the form of John the Baptists' head - are evident.

The book seemed to me to be almost a text book model of a classic noir novel. In his What is Noir? article, George Tuttle says : "In this sub-genre, the protagonist is usually not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. He is someone tied directly to the crime, not an outsider called to solve or fix the situation. Other common characteristics of this sub-genre are the emphasis on sexual relationships and the use of sex to advance the plot and the self-destructive qualities of the lead characters. This type of fiction also has the lean, direct writing style and the gritty realism commonly associated with hardboiled fiction." This definition quite accurately describes The Salome Effect.

I found the plotline to be believable and couldn't help but empathise with the main character, despite all his failings, watching with horror as events spiral out of control like a slow-motion car crash. I was slightly diappointed by the final few chapters because some of the central characters (such as Hassan and Marianna) suddenly seemed to have a personality transplant and commit some very out-of-character actions. All the loose ends did tend to get tied up rather too neatly at the very end too.

On the whole though, it is an enjoyable, fast-paced read and you certainly shouldn't let the rather uninspiring cover design put you off !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £8.95


  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: WingSpan Publishing (9 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595944591
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595944597
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.2 x 21.6 cm




Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Other reviews you may be interested in :


Book review : All Fall Down - Louise Voss & Mark Edwards



Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Knorr Gourmet Luxurious Cheese Sauce review (and Cauliflower Cheese recipe)


Packet cheese sauce mixes are a culinary short cut that I often use here at The Madhouse, so I was keen to see what we'd think of the Knorr Gourmet Luxurious Cheese Sauce with a hint of Pepper that we received to review.


As with any other packet cheese sauce mix, you just need to add milk and bring to the boil while whisking then leave to simmer for a couple of minutes to thicken. I could see the specks of pepper in the mix when I added it to the milk in the pan.


I decided to cook up a cauliflower cheese  for dinner. I always add in other vegetables to make it more interesting, taste and appearance wise. Here it was carrots and potatoes as well as cauliflower, but it can be whatever you have in the fridge really - leeks, broccoli, mushrooms and peas all work well too.


I added some ham and fried onions, again to add extra flavour, and tossed all the ingredients in the cheese sauce to cover everything evenly. 


A sprinkling of grated cheese on top and off to the oven until the cheese is nicely browned and bubbling. (About 1/2 hour at 180° but this dish can also be prepared in advanced and kept in the fridge or freezer until needed.)


It's a perfect healthy but warming dinner for a cold winter's evening. The sauce was lovely and creamy but I have to say, I couldn't really taste any difference compared to my normal non-gourmet packet cheese sauce.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : 89p for 33g

for more information : http://www.knorr.co.uk/

Disclosure : I received a selection of Knorr products in order to write honest reviews.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Monday, 28 January 2013

Lindt Creation review


Just hearing the name Lindt has me instantly thinking of velvety, smooth, indulgent chocolate melting in my mouth so we were very excited just before Christmas when, first, we won a selection of bars over on Chez Maximka's blog then, shortly afterwards, we were offered some more bars to review. Yum ! We received three different flavoured bars to try.


The first flavour we tried was Luscious Caramel. Lindt say : "The smoothest caramel, layered on top of delicious milk truffle, enrobed in a layer of heavenly milk chocolate". This reminded me of the caramel kegs in the Christmas tins of chocolates which just happen to be one of my favourites (as well as the Madhouse Mini-testers', I was gutted to discover this year !) so it went down very well. It's sweet but not overly sweet and the caramel is lovely and gooey, while not being too runny.


Next, we moved on to the Velvety Vanilla Almond bar, which is described as : "Deliciously crisp almond pieces in velvety vanilla flavoured truffle, layered with luscious golden caramel set in dreamy milk chocolate". This has a combination of lovely flavours but I actually found it a bit too sickly for my tastes. The strongest flavours are ultra sweet vanilla truffle and caramel, which totally overpower the taste of almonds. I personally think they should increase the proportion of almonds to counterbalance the sweetness slightly.



Finally, we sampled Divine Hazelnut, which Lindt describe as : "Irresistibly crisp hazelnut pieces, whipped
into a moreish praline and encased in luscious milk chocolate". This one has a lovely rich chocolatey taste and actually ended up being my favourite, which surprised me. It's smooth, velvety chocolate with crispy bits that come through as it melts in your mouth without the overpowering sweetness of the Velvety Vanilla Almond bar.

There is also a Sumptuous Orange bar which we didn't sample and which sounds lovely - "A decadent combination of zesty orange pieces, wrapped in rich dark chocolate to create an indulgent heart with bursts of tangy goodness". I'm not usually a huge fan of dark chocolate but I do think it complements orange flavour nicely so I think this sounds very appealing.

The Creation bars are 100g and are made up of large squares - a bit too large in my opinion, because they are so sweet and indulgent. Half a square would be enough to satisfy most chocolate or sugar cravings.

If you like the intense flavour of high cocoa-content dark chocolate, you'll find these much too sweet and mellow, but if you have a sweet tooth, they're sure to hit the spot.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £1.99 for 100g


Disclosure : We received some bars of Lindt Creation in order to write an honest review.

Other reviews you may be interested in :


Delicious Desserts Recipes with Aero Bubbly Chocolate



Get baking for The Great Comic Relief Bake Off

Red Nose Day 2013 is heading your way on Friday 15th March when the great British public will once again be asked to Do Something Funny for Money. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Red Nose Day which has raised over £600m and helped to change lives both in the UK and Africa. In the nation's kitchens, ovens will be fired up and whisks will be at the ready as the great British public goes into baking battle to help raise money for Comic Relief. To inspire the nation to host their own bake sales and raise money for those living incredibly tough lives in the UK and across Africa, 16 celebrities will demonstrate their baking prowess in The Great Comic Relief Bake Off on BBC Two - prepare for a big dollop of laughter to be thrown into the Bake Off mix !

To help the great British public raise a tasty sum, Red Nose Day has come up with the perfect accessories to make life in the kitchen that little bit sweeter.



The Great Comic Relief Bake Off book (£2.50 with at least £2 going to Comic Relief. Available from Sainsbury’s and other good book retailers.)

The Great Comic Relief Bake Off book is packed full of easy, delicious recipes for the nation to try. Featuring 13 of the best recipes from the Great British Bake Off books, such as Squidgy Brownies and Carrot Cake Muffins, this Red Nose Day cookbook could help amateur cooks master baking brilliance.



Emma Bridgewater apron (£12.99 with at least £6.50 going to Comic Relief. Available from Homesense and TK Maxx.)
For those wanting to look dishy in the kitchen this Red Nose Day, there is a specially designed Emma Bridgewater apron which features in the Great British Comic Relief Bake Off.


And providing the icing on top is Queen of cakes and bakes Mary Berry who has offered some useful hints and tips on how to hold the perfect bake sale which include:

1. Ask everyone to get baking too – the more you bake, the more money you’ll make
2. Hold a pay-to-enter bake off competition
3. Download some customisable posters to promote your cake sale
4. Make sure you have a variety of dishes to satisfy everyone’s tastes
5. Ask for a donation each time people go to fill up their plates

The money raised will help to change the lives of disadvantaged people living across the UK and Africa.

If you need some inspiration for what to bake, here's one of the recipes from the book :



Recipe from The Great Comic Relief Bake Off book - Carrot Cake Muffins

You can have all the same flavours and textures of carrot cake in a muffin, plus the sweet cream cheese icing as a surprise filling.

Makes 12 cakes

75g shredded bran cereal
225ml milk
zest of 1 medium orange
120g cream cheese
1 level tablespoon caster sugar
3 large carrots
125g light brown muscovado sugar
200g self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
1½ level teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 level teaspoon ground ginger
2 eggs
4 tablespoons sunflower oil

1 Put the bran cereal and milk into a mixing bowl and stir just to mix. Leave to soak for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas 7. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper muffin cases.

2 Tip half the zest into a large mixing bowl with the cereal and milk and put to one side. Add the cream cheese and caster sugar to the remaining zest in a small bowl and mix well – this will be your filling.

3 Peel the carrots and, using the coarse-hole side of a grater, grate the carrots onto a board. Weigh out 150g grated carrot and add to the large bowl. (Save any leftover carrots for a salad.)

4 By now the cereal will be very mushy. Add the brown sugar and mix well with a wooden spoon. Sift in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and ginger but don’t mix them in just yet.

5 Break the eggs into another bowl and add the oil. Beat with a fork just until the egg yolks are broken up and mixed with the whites. Tip into the big bowl and mix everything together with the wooden spoon.

6 Using a medium-sized spoon, drop a dollop of the carrot mixture into each paper muffin case in the tray. Drop a small spoonful of the cream cheese filling into the middle.

7 Cover the filling with the rest of the carrot mixture, dividing it evenly among the cases. Place in the heated oven and bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown. Check the muffins are cooked by gently pressing the centre of a muffin with your finger – if it springs back then it’s ready.

8 Remove the tray from the oven and leave for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer the muffins to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container and eat within 24 hours


Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Come Round to a Gallo Moscato party (if you're not snowed in!)


Last weekend, 200 Come Round Gallo Moscato parties were supposed to be going on, including one at The Madhouse. 


If you've never heard of Gallo Moscato - which, I have to admit, I hadn't before we were selected as party hosts -  it's a very sweet white wine. The Gallo Family website says that it "is bursting with delicious flavours of peach, honey, and ripe citrus - in a delightfully light style". I couldn't detect any specific flavours so I asked my guest tasters what they thought - words that were thrown out were crisp, sweet, fruity, peachy, mellow, syrupy, very nice and "a bit like Shloer with a kick" (!).


We received a fabulous party pack to get things swinging with balloons and a big poster to decorate the room,  plastic wine glasses, wine glass charms and coasters, a CD to provide the soundtrack, a candle and several bottles of Gallo Moscato. There were also two boxes of Italian Cantuccini almond biscuits from Arden & Amici. 


Then this happened. Hmmm. I was very impressed with Come Round who contacted everyone to say don't worry, if snow stops play, don't put your guests in danger, you can postpone your parties until next week. Well, some of our guests managed to brave the snow nevertheless (the lengths some people will go to for free wine !!)  and made it on the original date.


Apart from the biscuits, I wasn't sure what to serve with the wine. The Gallo Family's food pairing notes say : "Honeyed sweetness in a lighter style is a wonderful contrast to spicy Asian take-out or Mexican dishes, and complements everyday desserts" so we provided sweet and savoury nibbles to go with the wine : spicy chicken goujons, peppery crackers and crisps as well as sweet biscuits, cupcakes and fruit. It did actually go with both. I had read somewhere that the Cantuccini biscuits were lovely dunked in the wine - this sounded wrong (I'd even say sacriligious !) to me, too much like dunking a rich tea biscuit in a cuppa, but I gave it a go nevertheless. I wasn't too keen really, especially as I ended up with biscuit crumbs floating in my wine ! (Not that it put me off finishing my glass, I must say !) The flavours did go well together though - and it made the others laugh !


The other guests were supposed to be coming over yesterday, for an early birthday celebration for Juliette but one couple ended up phoning to say their kids were shivery, with a fever and a tummy ache, so they'd better stay at home with them rather than dropping them off at granny's as planned. This has certainly been an ill-fated party from the outset ! I don't think the balloons and poster will last another week but the wine and some of the biscuits will be ready and waiting for when everyone's feeling better and the snow has gone !

Did anyone else have a Gallo Moscato party or go to one? Or did you have trouble with the snow too ?

for more information : http://www.gallofamily.com

Disclosure : We received a party pack from Come Round in order to host a Gallo Moscato party.

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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Leeks au gratin recipe (and Schwartz Cheddar Cheese Sauce review)


When I said to the Madhouse Mini-testers that I was planning on making Cauliflower Cheese for tea, they all groaned. Fair enough, let's try another vegetable - leeks au gratin? Surprisingly, this was met with cheers. Wow, that was easier than I thought ! Before they could change their minds, I chopped, washed and cooked up some leeks in some salted water.




While that was cooking, I made up a packet of Schwartz Cheddar Cheese Sauce mix (that I'd received in my Year of Flavour With Herbs and Spices goody box). I love cooking from scratch but also love using short-cuts when time is short, and packet cheese sauce mix is a store cupboard staple here at The Madhouse. It always looks a bit lumpy when you mix in the milk but ...



... a few minutes on the cooker, stirring continuously, and it thickens up into a lovely creamy cheesy sauce with zero effort.


I added some chopped ham to the cooked leeks. The flavours go really well together and the colour contrast looks pretty too, which is always important when trying to tempt the kids to eat vegetables.


I poured over the cheese sauce and mixed it all up so that the leeks were evenly covered and the ham was distributed throughout the whole dish.


A sprinkling of grated cheese and I popped it under the grill for 20 minutes until the cheese was bubbling and golden brown.

All three of the Madhouse Mini-testers asked for seconds, which I was very pleased about. Even the grown-ups liked it and decided it made a nice change to cauliflower cheese too so this is definitely one that we'll be having again.

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#FaveFamilyRecipes Competition : Rainbow Fish Pie