Sunday, 18 February 2018

Madhouse recipe : Tagliatelle with Ragu Sauce from scratch

Cirio have recently released a new recipe book full of delicious dishes that are simple to make and bursting with flavours from Italy. They sent me a selection of their products, along with one of the recipes to try out -  Tagliatelle with Ragu Sauce. Ragu Sauce, or spag bol as it has been unceremoniously renamed by the majority of Brits, has been a staple of my diet since my student days. It's simple to prepare, but also simple to get wrong. For some, it involves using a pack of extra value pasta and a jar of bolognese sauce, which is unlikely to get great results. For others, me included, it usually involves a sauce made from scratch and a pack of supermarket spaghetti. I do occasionally buy fresh pasta from the chilled aisle, but I'd never thought about making it from scratch, assuming I'd need one of those fancy pasta makers that you see on cookery programmes.

Cirio's recipe shows just how easy it is to make a simple egg pasta from scratch though - Pierre had great fun and was totally blown away by the fact that he had produced something that he thought could only be found on supermarket shelves ! Many people also don’t realise that the quality of the tinned tomatoes that they choose to add to their cooking can make a huge difference to the taste, consistency and quality of any dish. Cirio is one of the highest quality brands of tinned tomatoes on the market, and is made lovingly in Italy for an authentic Italian flavour. Additionally, the health benefits of tomatoes cannot be disputed - tinned tomatoes in particular contain more Lycopene than fresh tomatoes, which is good for the heart and proven to reduce the risk of cancer.

Above all, it's a simple dish that can be made with nothing but store cupboard staples, even after a busy day at work, and that the whole family will enjoy.

Tagliatelle with ragu sauce

Serves 4 


For the classical egg pasta:

200 g flour
2 eggs
extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

For the ragu sauce:

1 stick of celery
1 onion
1 carrot
2 garlic cloves
extra virgin olive oil
red wine
Cirio tomato puree
500 g mixed minced meat
500 ml Cirio Passata

Start by making the pasta. Beat the eggs with a dash of olive oil and salt. Add the flour to make a firm and elastic dough. Wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge for half an hour.

During this time, you can make the ragu sauce. Finely chop the celery, carrot, onion and garlic. Lightly fry the vegetables in the olive oil then add some tomato puree.

Add the minced meat and cook until brown and quite dry. Pour in the red wine and cook until it evaporates.

Add the passata and bring to the boil.

Check the taste, add sugar to make it less acid and salt for seasoning.

Back to the pasta. Flatten the dough with a rolling pin and roll into thin pasta sheets less than 1mm thick.

Cut into 7mm strips. To prevent the dough sticking dust with flour.

Cook the tagliatelle in boiling salted water for three minutes. Drain the pasta and serve topped with the ragu.

Disclosure : Recipe and some ingredients provided by Cirio.

#MySundayphoto #SundaySnap 18/2/18

Perfect reflection in the stillness of a beach in Jaeren, Norway

OneDad3GirlsSunday Snap

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Be My Gel-entine?! Gifts for BFFs with Gel-a-Peel (review)

Whenever half-term (or even weekend) boredom sets in and Juliette starts mooching around the house, wondering what to do, I invariably tell her to make something with her Gel-a-Peel. It's so versatile and can be used on all manner of materials, from cardboard, wood and glass, to metal, plastic and fabric, so you can even use it for "screen printing" and customising clothes. What says BFF better than making matching customised T-shirts in honour of Galentine's day?!


Gel-a-Peel is available in all sorts of textures and colours, to help get your creative juices flowing. Juliette has already experimented with pearly pastel, neon, glow-in-the-dark, colour change and two tone, amongst others, so she was delighted to receive two more packs to discover : Jelly Kit, which is perfect for making charms and jewellery.

And Fuzzy Kit, which comes with little pots of powder to sprinkle over the gel designs to add a fuzzy texture.

Each pack comes with a mould tray that helps you make 3d embellishments and charms simply, as well as a plastic sheet to lay over templates (in the box or downloadable on the Gel-a-Peel website) to make funky bracelets.

Leave your finished designs overnight and the gel will set into a rubbery, flexible texture that can be worn as jewellery or made into decorations for phones, notebooks, pencil toppers ... whatever you fancy.

The different nozzles allow you to play around with textures and you can even add little inserts, such as this mini moustache, before your design has dried.

 Nothing shows appreciation like a homemade gift, and Juliette had great fun making little accessories and cards to share with her friends in honour of Galentine's Day. She used various techniques, writing directly on the card, making 3d embellishments then sticking them on in a butterfly shape using a little more Gel-a-Peel as adhesive. Very creative !

Disclosure : We were gifted two packs of Gel-a-Peel.

Fab freebies of the week 17/2

Morning all - it'll be a bit of a short round-up this week as I've come down with the dreaded flu and will be crawling back to bed in a bit !

Request a free bracelet

Help us develop a revolutionary concept for the UK market! Complete our quick 5 minute questionnaire and we'll send you some delicious Free Veggie Sweets in the post today!

You can get a free eyeshadow palette worth £13 from Cougar but you will have to pay P&P - use code SIXSHADES

Quarter of #PamperBoutique #Rainbow bubble bomb. If you live in UK and would like a #free sample, let me know

Request a foil-seal sample of Dior Poison Girl perfume - always good for the sock drawer !

Noughty haircare are looking for product testers

Download a voucher for some free Princes Tuna - Please note: Only one coupon available per person and only one email address allowed per person. Coupon valid 02.10.17 - 31.03.18. Redeemable by UK residents 18+ only in participating stores only.

Sign up to HANX to recieve your pack of HANX condoms — for free!

To celebrate the anniversary of 100 years since women received the vote, Boudavida are giving away 100 pairs of their ‘Kinetic’ leggings.

Disability Rights UK is pleased to announce that we are working in conjunction with UNITE Magazine. Sign up for your free sample copy or take advantage of 30% off a subscription to ensure you don’t miss out on the first issue.

🌸Be inspired by #Shiseido's latest #fragrance creation; Ever Bloom #Sakura Art Edition. Receive your #free, deluxe sample today by showing this post to your nearest Shiseido counter! One per person, whilst stocks last. 🌸#sharebeauty

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

Friday, 16 February 2018

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #8

Last week before the holidays - energy is flagging so some good old family faves that I can cook with my eyes closed are on the cards this week !


lunch - The traditional Burger King visit

dinner - homemade soup of some shape or description - Mexican-style tomato and bean maybe


lunch - roast dinner - we had pork last week so probably chicken this week

dinner - leftover soup from yesterday or fridge grazing


lunch - beefburgers, ratatouille and rice

dinner - twice baked potatoes, stuffed with bacon, cheese, onions, mushrooms, beans


dinner chicken, cherry tomato and pesto pasta


lunch - chilli con carne & rice

dinner - salmon & Chinese veg


dinner - chicken curry & rice


 dinner - spaghetti carbonara

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

Join in with the weekly meal plan bloghop !

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Andean Sol superfoods review

You may remember that back before Christmas, I featured a new range of Chia Oils from Andean Sol. The company, who focus on sun-baked, South American superfoods, are on a mission to bring the rich taste of the Andes to UK meal times, and they sent through some more of their innovative products for us to discover.

A UK first, Organic Royal Quinoa is the king of the quinoa world when it comes to flavour and overall quality. Offering a fluffier texture and nuttier taste, it is packed full of nutrients and can only be sourced from the expansive salt flats of southern Bolivia. Available in two unique variants, Organic Tricolour Royal Quinoa RRP £5.99 and Organic White Royal Quinoa RRP £5.99, both can be used as a versatile side dish, a wholesome salad base or even an alternative to hot porridge.

Quinoa is high in fibre and iron, a source of plant protein, gluten-free and low GI, making it a great choice for those who need a free-from diet. I've been using it as an alternative to rice or couscous with dishes such as chilli con carne or Moroccan-style tagines, which works really well for the whole family.

Packed full of nutrients, Chia Seeds can be paired with salads, granola, pasta or even blended into a smoothie. Available in two variants, Organic Black Chia Seeds RRP £7.49 and Organic White Chia Seeds RRP £7.49, they are ideal for those who are looking for easy ways to add goodness to everyday meals.

I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of chia seeds, but on a recent work trip to Norway, I enjoyed eating a bowl of thick breakfast yogurt every day, topped with a scattering of various dried fruits and seeds including chia seeds. They make a great addition, in terms of taste and texture, and I've discovered that they can also be incorporated successfully into cookies and muffins without the kids even noticing ! They are high in Omega 3, Iron, Plant Protein and Fibre, gluten-free and non-GMO.

For more information, visit:

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

Book review : Saving Sophie - Sam Carrington

Things at work have been incredibly hectic lately, which always means I turn to a gripping, chilling, grisly work of crime fiction to keep me sane - it's my little bit of escapism, taking my mind off everything to do with work as I'm sucked into the emotional, gut-churning story unfolding on the pages, and the jolt of adrenaline at the exciting bits saves me from falling asleep in front of the telly as soon as I sit on the settee !

Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington was another of the books that I picked up on the three-for-a-fiver shelf at The Works. The strapline on the front cover instantly intrigued me - "A teenage girl is missing. Is your daughter involved, or is she next?" - and the fact that the daughter was called Sophie, just like my own teenage daughter, had me smiling wryly. When I started reading and learned that the husband was called Mike, it started to seem a bit freaky though. Luckily the mum was called Karen, not Cheryl, or I think I'd have run screaming from the room !

I'm pleased to say that my own teenage daughter is not into drinking or nights out with her friends just yet, like the Sophie in the book, but I'm sure it won't be too much further down the track, so I could really empathise with the horror and apprehension of the parents when their 17-year-old is dropped off by the police after being found wandering around after a night out with her friends, totally out of her head on drink or drugs, with no memory of how she got into such a state. When her best friend still hasn't resurfaced the next day, a missing person's inquiry is launched. Then a body is discovered. This is just the start of a sickening cat-and-mouse game of manipulation and revenge, made all the worse by Karen's crippling agoraphobia, brought on by the trauma of an attack several years earlier.

The impact of the novel comes from the fact that you can really put yourself in the parents' place, as they live their worst nightmare. Karen immediately asks all the right questions : Why can't Sophie remember anything? How could she have got so drunk so quickly?  Did anything untoward happen in the taxi that was supposed to have brought her home? - but, as a parent myself, I couldn't understand why she didn't take the next step to get to the bottom of things or at least calm her fears, especially when it turned into a murder inquiry. In her shoes, I'd have asked the police to run a drugs test (I instantly thought about Sophie having her drink spiked explaining the memory loss) and taken her to a doctor to check there were no signs of sexual assault. As the book progressed and more and more warning signs started flashing, along with some huge clues and pieces of evidence coming to light that could clearly help to piece together the investigation, it became frustrating to see that everyone, from Sophie and Karen to the police themselves, seemed intent on ignoring every possible lead. After finding incriminating evidence on Sophie's phone, for example, the police decide not to mention it to see if she will bring it up herself at some point. Again, when she inadvertently reveals that she knows details of the crime scene that have never been made public, the inspectors share a meaningful look but don't challenge her about it. With the killer of a teenage girl on the loose, I'm pretty sure the police would have been relentlessly following every lead, however small, and working on the assumption that speed is of the essence. Similarly, when Karen realises that her daughter is in trouble, then discovers her murdered dog in her bath, she still sits down for a coffee and a chat with her daughter's best friend. I just wanted to shake the whole lot of them for being so passive and unresponsive - there's a limit to how much anyone, parent or child, would be willing to hide from the police when things got really serious and potentially dangerous.

The end also left me feeling slightly unsatisfied as it seemed unrealistic. Once again, the police fail to react and use the clues they've uncovered, and, while I was happy that the parents finally decided to get proactive and do something, their actions seemed totally out of character and their response to certain bombshells strangely calm. The red herrings and web of manipulation are also brushed aside too swiftly - I would have liked some deeper analysis of how the events came to pass and how each character played their part in the whole sorry mess.

Despite all these niggles, I did really enjoy the book though. It's a chilling look at every parent's worst nightmare, particularly poignant for me as I'm on the cusp of this whole new era of parenting myself and the character shared my own daughter's name. The plot is gripping and emotionally wrought and I could empathise with the characters, even if I frequently shook my head at their inability to act.

star rating : 4/5

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Avon (15 Dec. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0008191816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0008191818

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

L.O.L. Surprise! Confetti Pop review

Wow, it's only Wednesday and what a week it's been already ! Yesterday was Pancake Day and I came home from work to find Sophie in the kitchen making a batch of pancakes, which was a nice surprise - it's the first time she's ever tried making them (using a recipe on her phone) and they came out better than mine ! Pancake Day is also known as Mardi Gras, which means carnival in some cultures, making it the perfect time to discover the newest addition to the popular L.O.L. Surprise! range, Confetti Pop.

In honour of Galentine's Day, which is the day before Valentine's Day, if you were wondering, we received a lovely package of the brand new L.O.L. Surprise! toys, for Juliette to share with her best friend. It was great timing for her too, as today is her birthday. I now officially have two teenagers in the house - eeek !

The official target audience for L.O.L. Surprise! is children aged 6+, but their appeal goes way beyond, as Juliette and her other tween and teen-aged friends show.

The new Series 3 L.O.L. Surprise! Confetti Pop starts off with the same pass-the-parcel type fun, peeling off the layers to reveal the traditional stickers that offer a clue to the identity and special ability of the doll still hiding inside. There is also a tattoo that can be worn as a ring on your finger.

Other surprises are hidden away inside compartments in the ball, which are revealed by twisting the bottom section and snapping off the hinged plastic pieces. There's still an element of suspense because each accessory is hidden away in a plastic bag. Juliette always has a feel before ripping them open to see if she can guess what's inside - it's like Christmas all over again !

Juliette was intrigued to come across a ribbon hidden amongst the layers, but the name gives you a big clue. For maximum effect, put the ribbon at the bottom and pull downwards. The top of the ball will fly off, revealing the confetti surprise and the remaining contents inside. This can be reactivated and used over and over again.

As with the other series, after the sticker layers, each L.O.L. Surprise! contains cute accessories, clothes and shoes then the final reveal of the doll itself. Unlike previous series, which had seven surprises, the Confetti Pop boasts nine surprises (2 stickers, ring tattoo, doll, outfit, shoes, 2 accessories (drinks bottle and one other) and the confetti pop).

Juliette got Cheeky Babe from the Rock Club group, which she was very pleased with, because she loves the outfit and the hair. It reminds me very much of the Spice Girls circa 1995 ! As usual, the final surprise is putting your doll in water to see what its secret ability is - will it spit, pee, cry, colour change or maybe something else, as there is now also a mystery ability?

There is also a plastic zip inside, which can be attached to the ball as a handle if you want to use it as a purse or carry case for your doll and accessories. One half of the ball can also be used as a stand for your doll, if you want to show off your collection on your bedroom shelf.

We love the new additions - particularly the confetti pop mechanism -  and still find the concept of opening all the different layers to reveal each surprise in turn a great idea, particularly in the modern world of instant gratification !

L.O.L Surprise! Confetti Pop has an RRP of £10.99, but you can also buy smaller and cheaper L.O.L Surprise! Lil Sisters, which have an RRP of £5.99. L.O.L Surprise! Lil Sisters have five surprises (stickers, accessories and a doll). As with the bigger version, the surprises don’t stop there – bathe your doll to reveal her colour change water surprise. Her ball can become either a keyring or bath set. There are 35+ L.O.L Surprise! Lil Sisters dolls to collect in series 3.

Another exciting addition to the range is new L.O.L Surprise! Pets, each containing seven surprises. Collect puppies, kittens, bunnies and ultra-rare hamsters. Discover the water bottle inside and either feed or bathe your pet to find out if it cries, spits, pees or colour changes. You can mix and match your cute L.O.L Surprise! Pets accessories with your L.O.L Surprise! Dolls and L.O.L Surprise! Lil Sisters. What’s more, your L.O.L. Surprise Pets, Dolls and Lil Sisters all match and belong to clubs including, the Opposites Club, the Retro Club, the rare Glitterati and many more.

L.O.L. Surprise! was the must-have toy this Christmas, and I can't see that changing any time soon. They're great fun and very collectible and the new additions are bound to make them even more appealing.

L.O.L. Surprise! Series 3 is for children aged 6+ and is available from all good toy retailers including Smyths and The Entertainer. For more information, visit

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