Thursday, 17 January 2019

Globecooking recipe : Alnwick stew (England)

We've been having some pretty cold weather lately so I've been digging out some new (or at least new-to-me) recipes for traditional winter warmers. Think pots of slow-cooked goodness, tasty curries, satisfying soups ... and Alnwick stew. I'd never heard of it before when I saw someone mention it on social media, but when I looked it up on google, I knew it would go down well.

Alnwick is a county town in north Northumberland, situated close to Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Scottish border, as well as Newcastle upon Tyne. It is home to Alnwick Castle, which has featured in Blackadder, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and, more recently, Harry Potter. This won't mean anything to you, but I was shocked to see that it is also twinned with Bryne, in Norway, which I visited last year when we were staying in Stavanger - talk about a small world !

Anyway, back to the food - it's simple to prepare, kid-friendly and used nothing but store-cupboard basics and a joint of gammon that was in the freezer. You could also use thick cooking bacon instead of gammon, if you prefer.

Alnwick Stew

ingredients :

a gammon joint (or a pack of cooking bacon)
a knob of butter
2 onions
1tsp English mustard powder
2 bay leaves
salt, pepper
4-5 potatoes
1l vegetable or chicken stock

Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/Gas mark 5. Chop the gammon into medium sized chunks.

Use the butter to grease an oven-proof dish. (I used up some Frylight spray instead.)Scatter over some onions.

Top with half of the gammon.

Add a layer of potato slices and season with salt, pepper and mustard powder. Tuck a couple of bay leaves in there too.

Repeat all three layers to use up the rest of your ingredients.

Pour over the stock until it comes up to just below the top layer of potatoes.

Bake in the oven for an hour and a half. The potatoes should go lovely and browned on top.

We really enjoyed this, even if all of the stock was soaked up by the meat and potatoes. I was tempted to add gravy, but in the end, it didn't need it. Keep a check on the last half hour of cooking though, and add extra stock or remove from the oven if the potatoes and meat are cooked through.

*** Adding to my globecooking recipe index ***

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Book review : Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Excursions In The Great Weird North - Will Ferguson

Just before Christmas, I promised myself that I wouldn't buy any more books, as I had more than enough of them overflowing from the shelves of my bookcase, and lots more arriving for review. Well, that ended up being the first of my New Year's Resolutions to be broken, as when I headed into town on January 2nd, they had a selection of books on sale in WH Smith for £1. Despite my best intentions, I just couldn't walk past them !

Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Excursions In The Great Weird North is, as its name suggests, a collection of (for want of a better word) essays based on the travels of Will Ferguson. Will is Canadian and his travels take place over a period of three years, with a quick jaunt or a press trip here or there, often accompanied by some member of his family : his young son, his Japanese wife, one of his brothers, ... This insight into his family is just as interesting as his travels and you get a real sense of who Will really is, as he interacts with his various family members and recounts tales of his youth.

Canada is an incredibly vast and diverse country, something which is quite hard for a European to really understand, and the writing reveals many different areas to us. From the westernmost point in Vancouver Island to the delights (and accent) of Newfoundland, right across in the east, each chapter reveals a new idea of what it means to be Canadian. From the earliest colonial settlers starting up a new town to the Inuit tribes and even the Vikings, Will Ferguson gives a great rundown of Canadian history in a very readable way, but there are other episodes - particularly the fascinating trip to see polar bears in Churchill - where it is all entirely focused on the here and now. Whatever you are looking for, you're bound to find it somewhere in Canada - and the book gives us a great overview of some of the quirkiest places.

The style of writing is irreverent and humorous, and often made me think of Bill Bryson. Whether reading the chapter on Uncle Tom's Cabin or the earliest settlers and their fur trading stations, a ship stranded on the prairies or a peaceful canoe trip with his four-year-old son, I couldn't help but be enchanted by each very different tale of life in Canada. I already fancied exploring Canada one day, but this book has given me an even greater desire to add another stamp to my passport !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (27 April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841956902
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841956909

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Giveaway #709 : Win a Space Record Breakers book - closing date 29/1

Even as an adult, the concept of space is totally mind-boggling. With time measured in billions of years and space in trillions of miles, it's no wonder that we find it so hard to get our minds around the notion of outer space. 

Space Record Breakers looks at the wonder of space and is bursting with easy-to-read facts focusing half on the natural wonders of space and half on the history (and future) of humankind's exploration. What's the biggest known planet? The hottest star? The most intrepid astronaut? The first woman in space? The biggest volcano in the solar system?  You can find out infinite facts and stats within its pages.

Packed with pictures and short texts, it's perfect for even reluctant readers to dig into, to learn all about everything that you may have ever considered about space, and a whole lot more. Meteor showers, animals in space, telescopes used, supernovas, dwarf planets, volcanoes in the solar system, asteroid strikes, ... even as a grown-up reading along, there is plenty to learn ! 

It's a great starting point for those interested in space, with plenty of ideas for things to go looking up online for a more in-depth explanation. There are lots of things that lead to questions that even I didn't have the answers to, but luckily, internet can help parents out !

It's a fascinating book that the whole family will enjoy reading through.

Space Record Breakers | 9781783124459
Author: Kevin Pettman
Paperback | £8.99 | Published: January 2019
Age: 8+

Carlton Kids have kindly provided me with a copy of Space Record Breakers to give away to a lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below. 

UK only. Closing date : 29/1/19

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook and in the giveaway post subject line. Please note, you will be contacted by email and/or twitter and if I haven't heard from you after 28 days, I'll have to pick another winner. Prizes will be sent out by the companies or their PR directly to winners. Madhouse Family Reviews cannot be held responsible for any prizes that go astray. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. The winners' personal contact information will be passed on to the PR / Brand responsible and used only for delivery of their prize. 

You may also like to enter my other giveaways :

Monday, 14 January 2019

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #3

The first week back at work was pretty brutal, with lots of rushing around sorting out paperwork for passport applications and the life insurance money. I'm getting there, but it's a long job and there are only so many hours in the day ! I'm hoping for a calmer week this week, but just in case, I'll go for some simpler options. And breeeeeathe !


dinner - chicken & bacon pasta bake (with the addition of any leftover meat and veg from the Sunday roast)


dinner - pork chops, mash & veggies


lunch - homemade chicken nuggets, rice & ratatouille

dinner - tartiflette (baked potatoes, bacon, onions and stinky reblochon cheese !)


dinner - steak & spaghetti


 dinner -  flammekueche - an Alsace dish very similar to pizza but with crème fraîche instead of tomato puree as a base, and bacon and onions on top


lunch - kids' choice of fast food - probably the old favourite, McDonald's !

dinner - sandwiches and fridge clearout


lunch -  the classic Sunday roast - roast chicken, stuffing, gravy, carrots, mushrooms, onions

dinner - sandwiches and/or fridge clearout

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


Sunday, 13 January 2019

Giveaway #708 : Win a Sharks book - closing 28/1

Sharks are some of the most awe-inspiring creatures on Earth. In this book, profiles of the fiercest sharks and accounts from those working up close and personal with the predators are presented in stunning CGI artwork for a thrilling read that will make you marvel at these incredible animals - and may well give you goosebumps !

The book is divided into four chapters : A Sea of Sharks, Killer Design, Deadly Killers and The Future of Sharks.

Whether you love or loathe them, you can't fail to be impressed (and probably scared !) by some of the pictures, showing off their fierce teeth and wide open mouths. The numerous photos let you see sharks up close, fighting and even breaking through a divers' cage !

There are also lots of first-hand accounts written by a marine biologist and profiles of many species of sharks, including the Great White, Hammerhead, Goblin, Tiger, Bull and Megamouth species. It also looks at the dangers of shark extinction and conservation. I'm not keen on sharks but I wouldn't want them to cease to exist, all the same !

It's a fascinating read, with short texts that won't put off beginner or reluctant readers. Perfect for schoolwork, or just for pure enjoyment, it's a book that you can share with your children - I found it fascinating as an adult, and Pierre excitedly read through the texts, with lots of wow-moments !

Sharks | 9781783124510
Author: Ben Hubbard
Paperback | £8.99 | Published: January 2019
Age: 8+

Fancy winning a copy? Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below - good luck !

a Rafflecopter giveaway

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook and in the giveaway post subject line. Please note, you will be contacted by email and/or twitter and if I haven't heard from you after 28 days, I'll have to pick another winner. Prizes will be sent out by the companies or their PR directly to winners. Madhouse Family Reviews cannot be held responsible for any prizes that go astray. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. The winners' personal contact information will be passed on to the PR / Brand responsible and used only for delivery of their prize. 

You may also like to enter my other giveaways :

coming soon !

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Fab freebies of the week 12/1

I seem to be spending the whole time running around like a mad thing at the moment, dealing with loads of paperwork on top of work and the kids. I need another holiday !! Ah well, in the meantime, here's another roundup of the week's best freebies to chill out with. Enjoy !


Complete the form below to receive a Scented Tattoo, from the latest KILIAN collection, My Kind Of Love

Authentic Skincare are looking for product testers for their new face cream

Check out Trnd's latest product tests, for Gillette Skinguard Sensitive razors and Fairy Non Bio's Child Safety at Home project

Visit us in store to get shade matched and take home a FREE 7-day supply of the perfect foundation for you. Offer includes NEW Skin Long-Wear Weightless Foundation SPF 15.

Right now, you can grab free loads of freebies over at Checkout Smart : Tasty Soya Pieces, Tasty Soya Mince, Love Hemp spring water, Oasis Aquashock (2 flavours), VWater, akcohol-free Heineken 0.0, ...

Answer 5 easy questions correctly to get your FREE 100ml sachet of Nikwax Down Wash Direct

Will you win a free Tennent’s Limited Edition Pint Glass? Use code 30JUN19L8269

New to the #DermaFamily? Did you know, you can try most of our products before you buy with our FREE samples? Simply head on over to the Derma Organics website for more info!

☕☕☕Do U want to lose #weight? Gain more #energy? Be more #focused & be #happier in yourself? Inbox 'Coffee' plus your address & email for your 3 #free #samples (UK only)☕☕☕

☕☕☕Do U #love #hotchocolate but not the #calories? Our #revitalu #cocoa has just 25 calories per cup. Inbox 'Cocoa' plus your address & email for your 2 #free #samples (UK only)☕☕☕

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 :

coming soon !

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Book review : The Watcher - Ross Armstrong

The Watcher by Ross Armstrong is a book that I grabbed off my bookshelf over Christmas. I'm not sure where it came from - probably a charity shop find - but I wanted to delve into something that I had actually chosen to read, not that I was obliged to read for a review, over the Christmas holidays. I read some on the train down to see my sister-in-law in the West of France, then read some more at my parents' home in Sussex, then finished it off this week, now that I'm back at work. Sometimes I was a bit confused by what I was reading and how it all fitted together, but I'm not entirely sure if that came from the story itself or my busy lifestyle during the holidays !

The story is narrated by Lily Gullick, a middle-aged woman who lives with her husband Aiden and spends a lot of her time peering out of her window into the homes of her neighbours in the tower block opposite. She calls herself a birdwatcher and labels the beginning of each chapter with details about her different sightings, although it is soon revealed that this is actually just code-talk for her neighbours. 

Each chapter begins with a countdown - "7 days till it comes", "42 days till it comes", ... - but the reader has absolutely no idea what we are counting down to. With this and the initially incomprehensible bird-watching notes, full of initials and abbreviations, I was wrong-footed and couldn't work out where we were heading. I think this state of confusion and lack of clear objectives is supposed to give us an insight into Lily's state of mind, but it left me feeling annoyed, as I always like to be one step ahead of the game and work out what will be going on right from the early pages of a book (even if I end up being completely wrong).

Lily is excessively voyeuristic and this left me feeling uneasy. She has strange, secret meetings with Jean, one of her elderly neighbours, and also has a weird habit (with a hastily explained logic) of pretending to be a doctor. Once Jean has been killed and she is convinced that her neighbour is up to no good, she doesn't think twice about breaking into his flat, leaving a bug and, all for good measure, having a run-in with the local bad boys on the estate. This didn't really help me to trust or build up a rapport with the narrator.

Two thirds of the way in, everything changes. There is a big announcement that changes the way that you've read everything up until then. With her own observations and logic seriously put into doubt, it is hard to readjust and work out where the story is going. Things do soon pick up again though, and the closing chapters are intense and nerve-wracking. Some of the details in the final chapter - such as the wrecking ball and the nail-biting wait in the rancid skip, for example - seemed a bit overdone, and I couldn't help but wonder if everything that I was reading was true or if Lily was over-thinking things again. It turns out that she is a bit of a hero though, despite her tricky past, and all things come good in the end.

 The fact that Lily is the first-person narrator doesn't give you the sense of distance that a more level-headed, external narrator would have offered, but it was an interesting read, even if at times I felt a bit wrong-footed.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HQ; First edition edition (21 Sept. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780008181178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0008181178
  • ASIN: 0008181179

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Madhouse recipe : Chicken stir-fry

Christmas is a great time for eating (and over-eating !), with everything from mince pies and Christmas cake permanently on hand, as well as numerous boxes of biscuits and chocolates constantly doing the rounds. All that's without even mentioning the huge Christmas dinners on both side of the Channel ! Now we're back home and back to school, I'm trying to get us back into some healthy but kid-friendly eating routines. This chicken stir-fry was a quick and simple way to use up leftover roast chicken from the day before, with loads of veggies that the kids didn't even moan about eating because they were busy using chopsticks and they were easy to pick up - bonus ! I used whatever veg took my fancy in Aldi, so feel free to swap in other things, depending on what you have in the fridge !

 Chicken stir-fry

ingredients :

drizzle of olive oil
leftover roast chicken
1 onion
1 pack carrot sticks (or a couple of carrots)
1 pack baby sweetcorn
1 pack mange-tout
1 pack bean sprouts
1 pack noodles + seasonings
sweet soy sauce

This is what the meal started out as - all the leftover bits of chicken after our Sunday roast. There were a few bits of breast meat but mainly the legs and wings.

Start off by removing all the chicken from the bones and ripping it all into equal sized chunks or strips. I ended up with more meat than I first thought ! 

I had a pack of Thai flavour noodles in the cupboard that needed using up - along with a single serving pack of noodles, there were two sachets, one of thick soy sauce and one of green herbs. Boil up some water and let the noodles soak while you sort out the veggies.

This is quick to cook so sort out all your veggies before you start adding things to the pan - you need them all chopped into pieces about the same size.

Heat up the oil in a large pan or wok and fry the onion for a couple of minutes, then add the carrot and babycorn strips. Cook, stirring constantly.

Next, add the mange-tout. (I tried sugar snap peas this time, as they were on special offer, but the kids prefer the usual mange-tout.)

Then throw in the beansprouts, along with the chicken, and stir-fry for a few minutes until they have wilted and made some room in the pan.

Drain the noodles and add them to the pan. Looking in the fridge, I also found half a can of sweetcorn and the end of a pouch of Uncle Ben's rice, so they went in too. Give it all a good stir to stop it sticking.

Add a generous shake of sweetened soy sauce (or just regular soy sauce will do, if that's all you've got) and stir to combine all the flavours.

Add the sachets from the noodles (thick soy sauce and green seasoning that looks vaguely like dehydrated parsley but could be anything really !).

Heat through until the veggies are cooked but still nice and crisp, the chicken is perfectly warmed through and the sauce has oozed through everything. This is lovely with a final sprinkle of sesame seeds on top, but we'd run out !

This was a great way of using up leftover roast chicken and clearing out the veg compartment of the fridge, as well as using up a pack of instant noodles, so it's going on this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Monday, 7 January 2019

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #2

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and New Year. We were busy catching up with both sides of the family during the holidays - in fact, I took some time to write this menu plan while still on holiday, so I'm not entirely sure of what's in the freezer ! Oh well, things can always be switched around. In 2019, I want to get back into trying lots of new globe-cooking recipes, but I'll have to try to find some kid-friendly options that we can all eat. So here's this week's plan - I'm on a mission to get lots of extra hidden veg in our meals, whenever possible !


dinner - pork stir fry, with noodles and loads of veggies (red peppers, carrot strips, baby sweetcorn, mangetout, beansprouts, onions, ...)


dinner - chicken enchiladas or fajitas with guacamole and rice


lunch - Patatnik, a Bulgarian potato dish, with fried eggs or beefburgers, depending on what's in the freezer, and maybe some ratatouille

dinner - rigatoni al tonno, a tuna-stuffed pasta dish, with a cherry tomato sauce


dinner - Kung Pao chicken with rice & stir-fried veggies


 dinner - Alnwick stew (a potato-topped gammon stew) with peas & carrots


lunch - kids' choice of restaurant/fast food - probably the old favourite, McDonald's ! I think I'll go for a chicken salad, or maybe a wrap.

dinner - sandwiches and fridge clearout - I'll try making a Panzanella salad (dried bread, tomatoes, cucumber, ... - I'll share the recipe afterwards)


lunch -  the classic Sunday roast - roast chicken, stuffing, gravy, carrots, mushrooms, onions ... but I might go for rice rather than roast potatoes, after all the festive over-eating !

dinner - sandwiches and fridge clearout

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


Sunday, 6 January 2019

Madhouse diaries : The festive decorations

Well, it doesn't seem five minutes ago that we were coming out of school, excited about trekking off to visit the family on both sides of the Channel, but it's already time to head back into the classrooms. Where does the time go ?! As they were still open this weekend, we decided to go to the town hall to revisit the Christmas decorations and displays that they'd put up. I think they did a great job !

The whole entrance hall and staircase is decked out with towering Christmas trees, oodles of lights and giant displays hanging from the ceiling. I always think you can never have too much at Christmas, and whoever set up this display obviously shares my sentiment !

We all oohed and aahed at the white Christmas trees, giant candy canes and gingerbread men welcoming us as we headed up the stairs.

 Heading around the corner, you are confronted with a giant steam train - after rubbing your eyes, you realise that it's just a giant poster, but with the addition of steam, as well as a bench and other decorations to make it look like a railway station platform, you do really feel like it's real ! This leads into a room showing off some miniature train tracks, but they were so busy, I didn't stop to take photos.

Heading through a darkened corridor, we arrived in the reindeer's stables, complete with smiley elves looking after the kooky-looking beasts !

They have great character and really set the scene. Pierre loved sitting on the wooden stools, complete with saddles, too.

No Pierre, you can't be a reindeer !

Next, we found ourselves in a wonderful, wintry landscape, complete with cheeky elves playing and hiding in the Christmas trees !

I love the way they've cleverly used the lighting to make this look so realistic. You could almost imagine you are in a forest in Lapland !

 From here, we headed into the wintry library and crafts area, where younger children could sit at big tables with people dressed at elves, making Christmas cards and reading festive story books.

Following the arrows, we headed into a room with a giant chair and a (fake) crackling wood fire. This is where Father Christmas was sitting in the run up to Christmas, but we'd missed him.

The Big Man in Red may have been long gone, but the Madhouse kids still had fun posing in the photo props !

 The visit was a lovely way to finish off the holidays and take a final chance to wonder at the festive magic.

 Pierre had a different idea of festive magic though, and asked if we could finish off with a trip to the festive fairground, which will be in the town centre until next weekend !

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