Monday 30 September 2013

Jane Asher Creations Choco Bean Cookie Mix review

Over the weekend, I got fed up of my over-stuffed baking cupboard throwing things out at me every time I opened the doors, so I went on a mission to clear out as many of the boxes and packets as possible. We had a good old session in the kitchen making jelly, Oreo custard pots, bread, whoopie pies and - when the girls went off to pottery club - Choco Bean Cookies with Pierre.

The kid-friendly pack contains a bag of cookie mix, a sachet of icing mix and a bag of choco beans (that's Smarties to you and me).

Pierre wanted to make them all by himself and, apart from using the hot oven, I was amazed that see that he did ! He mixed the butter into the cookie mix. (I melted it in the microwave to make it easier.)

Then flattened the balls of dough on the baking trays. The pack suggests making 6 big cookies but we made 12 smaller ones instead.

I was slightly annoyed at the size of the bag containing the chocolate beans as it could have been a third of the size. I thought Pierre would be disappointed at the amount of sweets that came out of such a big bag but he didn't say anything.

After mixing up the icing, he spread it over the cookies, commenting that it was just like making muddy puddles on the Peppa Pig cakes

Time to practise counting, putting four sweets on each cookie so that there were enough to go round.

Ta-da, the finished cookies.

Just look at his proud little face !

The kit retails for about £1.59 - not bad for an afternoon of fun but it would be cheaper to make your own. They're not the most indulgent cookies I've ever made but for a kid-friendly option with no complicated measuring and weighing, they're not bad at all.

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Giveaway #324 : Win 3 copies of Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Cracking Contraptions Manual - closed - winners Maya Russell, Beverley Derbyshire, Annabelle Higgins

Wallace and Gromit’s famous ‘Bed Launcher’ has come out on top in a recent survey to find Britain ’s most loved cracking contraption.

With over 25 per cent of the overall vote, the wonderfully wacky and highly technical invention beat the likes of Techno Trousers, Rocket and Bun Vac 6000 to the top spot.

Merlin Crossingham, the Creative Director of Wallace & Gromit said: “Wallace would be incredibly pleased with the result. It is the perfect contraption for those early morning starts, especially if you’re not keen on getting out of bed or don’t have time for a hearty breakfast. With the help of his trusted sidekick Gromit, the whole process is over in seconds, meaning Wallace can get on with a busy day of inventing.”

Carried out by Aardman Animations, the online survey was launched to coincide with the release of Haynes’ most recent title, Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Cracking Contraptions Manual, which combines both previous volumes in one handy tome.

Answering questions like how the Techno Trousers work, what’s inside the Rocket and how Wallace rebuilt Preston the Cyber Dog, this is a book no Wallace & Gromit fan should be without.

From the Austin A35 Van and the Bun Vac 6000 to the Mind Manipulation-O-Matic and the Turbo Diner, this is the complete technical guide to the inventions of Wallace & Gromit.

See what’s inside each contraption and find out exactly how it works with fantastic cutaway drawings by Graham Bleathman, photographs and full technical descriptions.

Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Cracking Contraptions Manual, by Derek Smith and Graham Bleathman (published by Haynes) available from priced £16.99.

Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Cracking Contraptions Manual
Published by Haynes
Published on 3rd October 2013
Written by Derek Smith and Graham Bleathman, Illustrator
ISBN: 9780857334114
RRP: £16.99

The publishers have kindly offered to send a copy of the book to 3 lucky Madhouse Family Reviews readers. Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 14/10/13

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.

Kids' app review : Daddy Pig’s Puddle Jump

When we were offered a review code for Peppa Pig's latest app, Daddy Pig’s Puddle Jump, the Madhouse Mini testers let out a squeal of delight. They still have lots of fun playing with the other apps that we downloaded many months ago featuring everyone's favourite piggy : Peppa Pig's Holiday, Peppa Pig Theme Park and Peppa Pig Party Time

As the name suggests, the app - which can be played as a one or two-player game - invites you to jump in muddy puddles as either Peppa, George or Daddy Pig. You start off on a short, flat course with a couple of trampolines but the courses get longer with big hills as you progress through the levels. It actually reminded me of the Racing Flying Penguin app where you make penguins whizz down mountain slopes really fast then shoot them up in the air so they go flying.

You can work your way through different levels from 1-15, and you can go back to previous levels to try to improve your star score. As a grown-up, I had a quick play and couldn't work out what gave you extra stars though - are you supposed to jump as high as possible or keep on the slope? I think the idea is just to jump over the bushes and get as muddy as possible but it doesn't really seem to matter.

Pierre and Juliette didn't even bother trying to work it out - they just had fun splashing in the muddy puddles. After a short while, they got bored though and were ready to move on to another game. The problem is, we've been spoilt with the other Peppa Pig apps which offer several mini-games, all of which are as good as this puddle-splashing game. It would have been great as a mini game within a more complex app but was a bit too repetitve to be a stand alone app, in our opinion.

It was perfect for playing to while away the time while Pierre waited for his Peppa Pig Muddy Puddle cupcakes to cook though !

star rating : 3.5/5

RRP : £1.49

Disclosure : We received a code to download the app, in order to write an honest review.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

The official LOGO board game app, free on both iPhone and iPad

You may remember that a while ago, we reviewed (and loved) Drumond Park's family-friendly game called Logo Who Am I? Well, if you're a fan of the game (or even if you've yet to discover it), you'll be pleased to know that they have turned the game into a fun app. Even better news, it's totally free.

The LOGO app is broken down into seven convenient, bite-sized question types – Reveal, Blur, Tilt, Grid, Shape, Trivia and Colour – and twelve increasingly challenging levels of play. Each level contains 20 questions which must be completed within a particular time, and once complete the next level is then unlocked. Each level uses a mix of the question types, involving more than 1,100 questions with almost 300 images in total.

As you work your way through each level of the games you can check progress on the levels screen, where successfully completed levels are highlighted in green alongside your best recorded time. Incomplete levels are in red – and you can also go back and try already completed levels again to improve your scores, at any time.

The seven question types offer an exciting array of challenges with each round – and in every case, you type the answer from the letters appearing at the bottom of the screen before the timer runs out. For Reveal, you rub the screen with a finger to gradually expose the image hidden beneath; you watch the screen with Blur as a well-known image slowly comes into focus; and in Tilt it’s a simple tilt of the screen to move the circle around - to reveal an image hidden beneath.

Grid allows you to select a square from the grid to reveal part of an image. Extra squares can be revealed, but there is a 10 second penalty for each. With Shape you try to guess an image from just its outline before the timer runs out; Trivia allows you to select the correct answer from the multiple choices given; and finally, Colour presents you with a black and white image of a well-known logo or packaging, with part of the design flashing grey. Here, you need to correctly identify the colour of the flashing part from the palette below.

 ‘The official LOGO board game app’, for both iPhone and iPad devices, is available to download from 1st October on the iTunes App Store list, completely FREE until 31st December 2013.

Sophie has become addicted to a variety of free apps that ask you to name famous brands, including Hi Guess the Food and Icon Pop Brand. The trouble with those ones is that they are predominantly American brands, many of which are totally unknown in Europe, so the LOGO app will be a great alternative.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Kids' app review : Henri le worm - The Missing Cookbook

Sunday 29 September 2013

Magic Nail Laboratory review

Both of the Madhouse girls are big into playing around with make-up and nail varnish when they get the chance, so when we were sent a Magic Nail Laboratory from Interplay to review, I instantly knew that it would get a warm reception.

When it arrived, I was very pleased to see that it's part of the Wild Science collection, which goes way beyond a simple girlie pamper session accessory, providing an insight into the science behind beauty products (homemade and shop bought) as well as giving tips on looking after your body. We had a huge amount of fun with the Lip Balm Laboratory that we reviewed last year and were very impresed with the quality of the lip balms that the girls made, so we had very high hopes for the Magic Nail Laboratory.

The first thing to do was unpack the ingredients and look at all the contents. It contains :

Clear polish base
Shimmer cream
Red and white colourants
Nail stickers
Gift bottles
Toe separator
Stirring stick
Buffer and sandpaper file

The instruction booklet gives lots of useful advice on looking after your nails and keeping them manicured, which Sophie was very interested in, but the main attraction was making their own nail varnish, adding pigments or shimmer to the polish base. Sophie took control of the fiddly measuring and mixing, but Juliette didn't feel left out because she was put in charge of the nail stickers. Very special nail stickers at that, because they are designed to change colour in sunlight or glow in the dark. Cue big whoops of excitement !

I was very pleased to see that the nail varnish came off easily in the bath too, peeling off without any need for harsh nail varnish remover and - all importantly - without damaging or drying out the nails underneath. 

I did take some photos of the finished nails but Sophie refused to let me post them because she was embarrassed of her chewed nails and cuticles. (She said I can add some in a few weeks when her nails have grown longer !) If this kit helps her kick the habit of biting her nails, that's an even bigger bonus. Even without that incentive, it's a really fun and educational kit that any tween or teenaged girl will love. 

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £12.99

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

Other reviews you may be interested in :

French recipe : Pork Orloff

Today, our roast dinner is Pork Orloff, a traditional French dish that you can buy ready-prepared at the butcher's in France. It's a pork fillet stuffed with cheese and bacon.

If you want to make your own, here's what you'll need : 

a pork fillet weighing 1-1.5kg
200g sliced bacon (or "lard" as the French use, which is not the same as English lard !)
200g emmenthal or gruyere cheese, in slices
optional - tomato slices
optional - a "crépine" which is the membrane of a pig's stomach (hmmm nice ! - but it's no worse than sausages or haggis !)

Lay the pork fillet on your work surface and make vertical cuts 2/3 of the way through the meat all the way across at regular intervals about 1-2cm apart.

Slip a slice of bacon and cheese into each gap. If desired, top with slices of tomatoes.

Now you have to make sure it all holds together during cooking. The crépine used by French butchers is ideal, but if you're too squeamish or can't get hold of one, you can tie it all up with string.

Roast for 1-1.5 hours until the juices run clear.

Ours is in the oven on a bed of roast potatoes, carrots, onions and mushrooms, with a side serving of slow cooked red cabbage ready to serve - yum !

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

This week's must-try recipes 28/9/13

This week's veg box 29/9/13

I only went to pick up some potatoes at the market today, as I already had quite a lot in the fridge and fruit bowl, but I ended up coming back with this lovely selection ! Red and white potatoes, parsnips (which is quite exciting as you can't usually get them in France), lettuce, spring onions, leeks.

The spring onions were quite exciting in themselves because I got the usual white/green ones but also these bright red/purple ones. The stallholder gave me a big handful of these herbs too - I think they're flat-leaved parsley and curly parsley, unless anyone wants to tell me anything different !

Now, I use dried parsley all the time, but haven't really experimented with the fresh stuff. It looks far too lovely to waste though so who has an idea of something special to do with it ?

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

What to do with ... rhubarb ?

James Martin Bakery Roasted Red Onion & Balsamic Vinegar Bread Mix review

Last week, I tried out James Martin Bakery's Cheese & Chive Soda Bread which went down rather well, so today I decided to give the other packet a go and made Roasted Red Onion & Balsamic Vinegar Bread. Unlike the soda bread, this one could be made by hand or using a bread machine, but I was a bit dubious of getting the cooking time right in my bread machine, as I always use it on the same setting with the same range of flours, so I made it by hand.

I followed the instructions and it mixed quickly and easily into a ball of sticky dough. I could smell the slight tang of the balsamic vinegar but couldn't detect any red onion - I was hoping to see a few chunks in there.

After leaving it to rise for 45 minutes, I wouldn't say it had doubled in size but it had definitely got bigger.

The picture on the front of the pack shows a tear-and-share loaf, which you make by placing balls of dough so that they are just touching. I decided to do something that I'd always wanted to try and made a plaited loaf.

It didn't really work because one part sprang out so it ended up looking more like a roast chicken, but you get the idea !

When it was cooked through, I put it under the grill to go crusty and brown on top. I love the crustiness of the top splitting open to reveal the softer bread beneath. Tastewise, it's very nice. You get the delicate flavour of the balsamic vinegar coming through, although I still couldn't detect the taste of onion.

I picked this up at Tesco's on promotion for about 79p but I think they retail at about £1 usually.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Kitchen Nomad Globe-Cooking Recipe #13 : Baba Ghanouj (Lebanon)

Sunday weigh-in : Can do better !

Last week, I was determined to get my weight loss back on track and confidently said : "Next week WILL get me into the 81 point somethings, even if I have to chop an arm off ! (Or maybe not !)" Well, I'm glad I added in the bit in brackets because this week sees a gain - only 600g, which isn't a huge amount, but it's still going the wrong way. I'm not really sure why - I've switched from salads to warmer comfort food but a lot of it has been veggie-based. I haven't had a chance to do any exercise but things are just too manic at work at the moment so I'm not getting home in time. Oh well, overall, I'm still in a better place than I was at the start.

Positives of the week

- eating lots of healthy meals cooked from scratch

- going back to drinking water instead of diet coke

- my weight may not have gone down since going back to school but my jeans are feeling looser - that's the little sign that the Slimpod is working !

Current targets 

Last week's target was : A sensible loss, to make up for the last two weeks of no change - let's aim for 1kg and get back on track. (FAIL)

This week's targets : Keep eating healthily and stay positive. Start listening to the Slimpod regularly again.Try to get in some exercise, even if it's running around in the park with the kids.

Longer-term targets : Get back to the 70-somethings. Get my badges back to "weight lost" being more than "left to lose" (they were on 29lb lost/28lb left to lose just before the summer so let's aim to get back there as quickly as possible.)

Lose a stone (6.35kg) by Christmas challenge : 0.2kg lost so far - not great !

STILL TO GO : 14.9kg

Feel free to add your weightloss posts to our weekly linkie - it's great to see how everyone else has been getting on and give each other support and encouragement :) 

Created by MyFitnessPal - Free Calorie Counter

 MyFitnessPal - Nutrition Facts For Foods

Saturday 28 September 2013

Amie natural skincare review - Like mother, like daughter !

Amie recently sent me through some of their skincare products to try out, and offered to send two sets - one for me and one for Sophie. Although I totally appreciated the gesture, it did leave me feeling slightly dubious. Could the same products really be suited for a 12-year-old girl and and a 40 (nearly 41 - eek !)-year-old woman? Well, time would tell !

The first product that I tried was the Morning Clear Purifying Facial Wash, in the pink tube. In my experience, "purifying" usually means astringent and facial wash usually means a gel or a foaming lotion. I therefore did a bit of a double take when I squeezed some out on my fingers and discovered a pale pink cream. I actually had to check to make sure I hadn't picked up the moisturising lotion by mistake ! 

I applied it to my damp face, massaged it into my skin then rinsed it off. It didn't feel like a facial wash, it felt more like a moisturiser, but my skin did feel refreshed and clean afterwards. It's lovely for waking up in the morning, as its name suggests, but I also like using it at bedtime to clean off the day's grime. My skin doesn't feel dry or tingly as it does after using many purifying products, it feels hydrated and soft.

A quick look on the website reveals that the active ingredients in this product are mayblossom and elderflower to purify and decongest the skin, keeping oiliness in check and helping prevent spot formation; natural sugar moisturisers to ensure skin is not stripped or dried out; cocoa seed butter to nourish; sweet almond oil to soften; orange blossom and raspberry to tone pores and refresh skin. Phew, that's an impressively long list of lovely natural ingredients.

On to the second product, the Morning Dew Matte-Finish Moisturiser in the yellow tube. This is a lovely light moisturiser that is absorbed instantly into the skin without leaving any feelings of greasiness or shine on your face, so I can put it on before heading out of the door to work when I'm in a rush, unlike many of the other moisturisers I've tried. It leaves my skin feeling soft, soothed and protected from the cold, wind and rain outside, so it will be my new ally over the autumn and winter. It can be used under make-up too.

I went to investigate the natural ingredients in this prodct and was equally impressed : organic rosehip and bilberry nourish, natural plant sugars hydrate and Vitamin E acts as an anti-oxidant protecting against sun damage and pollution; Lemon Fruit Extract acts as an effective antiseptic whilst Orange Blossom is an excellent skin clarifying agent, helping to remove excess sebum and keep oily skin clear. The ingredients are 90.8% natural, which does mean that I feel really safe handing them over to my (almost) teen-aged daughter.

Amie’s products are completely free from parabens, sulphates, mineral oils, petrochemicals and animal extracts and they are suitable for vegetarians and vegans. They have been especially designed to work in complete harmony with your skin to help keep it clear, soft and radiant and I love the fact that they are packed with natural plant and botanical extracts rather than harsh chemicals.

I was also very impressed by the low price tags. Sophie loved the fact that she could use the same grown-up products as Mum too !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : Matte-Finish Moisturiser £4.95 for 100ml, Purifying Facial Wash £4.95 for 150ml

for more information :

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

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Dead Sea Spa Magik Sunsafe SPF50 Sun Cream review

This week's must-try recipes 28/9/13

I don't only write blogposts, I also love reading everybody else's, and I seem to be following more and more foodie bloggers or general bloggers who bake things that look delicious. I keep favouriting tweets and saving emails or not deleting bloglovin round-ups with things that I want to make, then losing them in my ever expanding inbox, so I've decided to do a (possibly regular) round-up of things I've spotted that have made me go hmmm and that I definitely want to try. It will be a great place to look when I've some spare time and want something new to try.

The first thing that I took note of this week was this Moroccan Rose, Fennel & Chocolate Cake from Belleau Kitchen because it uses the orange blossom honey that we brought back from Agadir (although there's not much of it left !)

Next - and definitely not good news for my diet again ! - these yummy-looking Chewy Chocolate & Peanut Butter Cookies from White Lily Green, which have the added advantage of using only ingredients that I already have in the cupboard.

Splodz has definitely killed all my plans for eating healthily with her unbelievably simple Nutella Brownies - excuse me while I lick the screen !

One that had me intrigued over the summer and that I have yet to try - bread cooked in the slow cooker, as demonstrated by Jo over at Given To Distracting others (and if she can manage it with a broken finger, it must be easy !)

Perfect autumn comfort food that the whole family would undoubtedly love - this Bacon & Potato Layer Bake from Fab Food 4 All will be coming soon to one of my menu plans for sure !

Hmmm I'm feeling hungry now !

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

What's Cooking at The Madhouse next week? menu plan 27/9/13

I'm getting ready to discover the cuisine of Pakistan !

Kitchen Nomad Globe-Cooking Recipe #12 : Freekeh Salad with Za'atar Crusted Fish (Lebanon)

Children's book review : My First Bicycle Book

Cico Kidz recently sent me through a few of their My First books to review - if you look closely, you might be able to work out what the other two titles are. If not, you'll just have to wait for the reviews coming up next week !

The first title that we explored was My First Bicycle Book. All three of the Madhouse kids - 12-year-old Sophie, 8-year-old Juliette and 4-year-old Pierre - own a bike and love whizzing around the big car park opposite our house on them. They've never really thought about how a bike works though, or even how to look after one properly, so I was interested to see what the book would teach them.

Well, the first thing that leapt out is that this is a really fun, entertaining book that aims to be as enjoyable as it is informative. The kids were instantly attracted to the sticker page at the back of the book which is there for you to use to decorate your bike.

The book has the perfect balance of serious, educational pages and fun activities to try out. There are sections on adjusting your saddle height, using your gears, pumping up a tyre or mending a puncture, keeping your bike clean as well as a whole chapter on the science of bikes, which looks at concepts such as friction, momentum and streamlining which can be taken beyong bike-riding into the world at large.

But it's not all scientific theory and "how to" guides. There are also cool ideas for things to do on your bikes such as creating an obstacle course.

The butting bottle and ducking gate idea uses nothing but common household items - empty bottles with lids, a cane and some string. It gets kids involved in a fun arts and crafts activity painting the bottles before getting outside in the fresh air on their bikes and actually trying it out.

Juliette is desperate to make some handlebar streamers out of old plastic bags now too !

If I hadn't received the book for review, it's not a title that I would have gone out of my way to buy. The Madhouse Mini-testers love riding their bikes but I didn't really think they'd be interested in reading about them. However, I've been proved totally wrong. The book is packed with fun projects and interesting facts that have had them reading it cover to cover.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £9.99

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: CICO Books (11 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 178249037X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782490371
  • Product Dimensions: 27.4 x 20.4 x 1 cm

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

Other reviews you may be interested in :

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