Friday 31 January 2014

January's Degustabox has arrived !

There was a very exciting delivery at The Madhouse this week - the January Degustabox ! I showed you what was in the December Degustabox last month and have been having fun incorporating some of the contents into new recipes in the Madhouse Kitchen, making an Apple & Pear-offee Pie which I've already told you about, and a Spicy Sausage & Mediterranean Veg Lasagne - a recipe that I'll be sharing with you very soon.

Well, here is what was hiding away inside the January box :

Belgian Butter Crisp biscuits from Jules Destrooper who have respected the original 19th century family recipe, using rich summer butter and a secret blend of spices, for 4 generations and 125 years ! I've tried these before in Belgian chocolate/duty free shops and they are lovely, with a really rich, satisfyingly buttery taste. They're very moreish !

Quinola Mothergrain Express is the perfect way to enjoy quinoa and save time! I've heard a lot about quinoa and how good it is supposed to be for you, so I love the idea of the ready-cooked sachet which can be eaten cold in a salad or warmed up with a hot meal. Both organic and Fairtrade, Quinola Mothergrain Express have won 4 Great Taste awards and it is also gluten-free.

Dorset Cereals Berry Granola, described as a heavenly mix of traditionally baked oats and zingy blackberries and raspberries, embraces all the principles of Dorset Cereals ideas on Simple Pleasures. I've tried many Dorset Cereals products in the past and have yet to find one that I don't love.

Goody Good Stuff sweeties in both Tropical Fruit and Sour Mix varieties - I've tried Goody Good Stuff sweets before (see my review here) so I know that the fact that they are suitable for vegetarian, halal and kosher diets, as well as being gluten, dairy, soy, nut and high fructose corn syrup free doesn't mean that they don't taste delicious. I may have to hide these ones from the kids !

Maggi’s So Juicy and So Tender range of cooking aids are the perfect answer to those tricky mid-week meals when you're in a rush.I've already tried out the Mexican Chicken and Sticky BBQ Chicken cook-in-the-bag So Juicy sachets, so I'm really keen to discover the new So Tender range which comes with herb-coated sheets of cooking papyrus instead of the bag for you to wrap the chicken in  - sounds intriguing ! I have the Italian Chicken sachet to try out.

Zico Coconut Water is a brand I'd never heard of, although I have read about Hollywood stars adopting coconut water as their new healthy drink. The Zico Chocolate in the Degustabox is made from 85% coconut water (from concentrate) and a natural chocolate flavour, offering a low calorie option with great hydrating qualities that should help banish those pesky chocolate cravings. The brand say you should choose Zico to get some Oomph so I'm looking forward to putting that to the test !

I'm not a tea fan so I thought I may have to pass this one on to a friend, but the bottle of naturally fizzy and slightly alcoholic drink does actually looks quite appealing. GO! Kombucha is the UK's leading raw kombucha tea brand and, in celebration of Chinese New Year, Degustabox are working with the brand to highlight their China White and Golden Yunnan teas which faithfully adhere to the ancient Chinese recipe. Filled with pro-biotic enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, they say that it is the perfect way to start your New Year invigorated and revitalised. It's the perfect month for trying a detox aid so I'll definitely give this a go. It's supposed to be an acquired taste though so I haven't been brave enough to try it yet - apparently you only need to drink a small amount each day for the health benefits to kick in. I'll let you know how I get on !

Amy's Kitchen Tomato Soup - this looks perfect for a quick midweek meal or I may end up incorporating it into a casserole or pasta bake if I'm feeling inventive. I love the fact that the ingredients list contains nothing but natural and organic ingredients with no nasty E-numbers.

Garofalo spaghetti - I've reviewed Garofalo pasta before and loved it. It has a really authentic look and taste and I love the slightly rough texture which is perfect for mopping up sauce.

There are some recipe ideas in with the Degustabox - I like the sound of the Quinola, Thyme and Beetroot Soup in particular - but I'm also looking forward to coming up with some new dishes myself too. I'll share them with you, obviously !

Each Degustabox costs £9.99 plus £3 post and packing and they guarantee that the value of the box contents will be about double what you pay. I also have a special code for Madhouse Family Reviews readers which will get you £3 off the price of your box - enter code C0QCF at the checkout.

Even better news - I'll have a giveaway coming very soon where you will be able to win your very own Degustabox too.

for more information :

Disclosure : I received a Degustabox in order to write an honest review.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

This month's Kitchen Nomad box ... Destination La France !

This month's Kitchen Nomad box ... Destination La France !

I always love the moment a new Kitchen Nomad box arrives at The Madhouse. First, you have the excitement of discovering which country is being showcased this month, then you look at all the exotic ingredients wondering how to pronounce them and what on earth you are supposed to do with them before finally looking at the recipe cards to see what globe-cooking delights you'll be eating in the coming weeks. Well, this month's culinary destination is ... France. Not quite as exotic as some of the other far-flung countries that have been featured in previous boxes (Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Greece, Mexico and Pakistan so far) but France has such a rich gastronomical heritage that I couldn't wait to see what had been selected.

This month's box contains :
Sardine fillets in Organic Sunflower oil from Fish4ever
Traditional Organic Sea Salt from Clearspring
Clear honey from Rowse
Dark Green Speckled Lentils from Just Natural
Mediterranean Salad Croutons from La Rochelle
Dijon Original Mustard from Maille
Broken Walnuts from Just Natural
Thyme from Nature's Kitchen

I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed to see some already well-known and widely available supermarket brands in there such as Maille (admittedly French) and Rowse - I'd have preferred some less well-known alternatives actually sourced in France in authentic French packaging to really provide the full virtual gastronomic tour experience.

On to the recipes themselves ... This month we have :

Tomato Slices and Sardine Pâté
Carrot Tarte Tatin
Chunky Savoie Salad with a Walnut Vinaigrette
Beer-doused Ham Hock
Walnut and Caramel Tart

Being married to a Frenchman, I was sure I'd already know half of the recipes backwards but I'm pleased to say, they're all new dishes that I'm really looking forward to discovering.

Watch this space, I'll be showing you how we get on. A bientôt, mes amis !

Disclosure : I received a discounted Kitchen Nomad subscription in order to keep you up to date with their latest boxes.

What's cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 31/1/14

I seem to have an increasingly large collection of cooking sauces and sachets in my cupboards so I'm going all out to use up at least a few of them this week !

lunch - Herbes de Provence marinated chicken thighs with Dauphinoise Potato Bake & ratatouille

dinner - homemade soup and toast for the grown-ups, homemade chicken nuggets with pasta for the kids


lunch - traditional roast dinner of some description - if it's chicken, I have a 2 in 1 Garlic & Thyme Roast Chicken seasoning mix with Crispy Roast Potatoes topping
 which might be nice but there seems to be a lot of chicken on the menu already !
dinner - leftover soup or porridge if anyone's hungry

dinner - Tuscan Sausage oven bake with Steamed Potatoes with Herbs & Bacon seasoning

dinner - Mediterranean Chicken Pasta with Crispy Crumb Topping


lunch - Nasi Goreng (with king prawns, veggies and rice and maybe leftover chicken if there is any)

dinner - Beef & Ale Stew in the slow cooker

dinner - Apple & Sage Pork with Mediterranean Vegetables
dinner - Chicken & Bacon Pasta Bake (if needed - but I wouldn't be surprised if the fridge is bursting with leftovers by now !)

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

Meal Planning Monday

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

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Madhouse recipe : Treacle Toffee

As I've already mentioned, I made a New Year's resolution to dejunk my food cupboards and find uses for some of the rather unusual (to me) products that have been lurking at the back because I didn't know what to do with them. Enter the perfect candidate : a tin of black treacle. Now the only things that I could think of with the word treacle in them were treacle tart and treacle toffee. It turns out that treacle tart is actually made using Golden Syrup, also known as Light Treacle, rather than its black counterpart so that left me with Treacle Toffee, which may be called bonfire toffee, plot toffee, Tom Trot, claggum or clack, depending on where you live.

Treacle Toffee

150g black treacle
150g sugar
50g butter

In a heavy based saucepan, heat three parts black treacle and three parts sugar to one part butter.

Heat over a moderate heat, stirring every now and then, until it has all melted together.

Then stop stirring and allow to boil for a few minutes. If you have a sugar thermometer, you can get all technical and decide whether you want brittle or chewy toffee. I didn't, so I went for 5 minutes which gave a slightly brittle but still very chewy consistency.

When I looked at the black, tar-like mess in the pan, I thought this would end up in the bin ! I poured it into a baking parchment-lined tray and left it for 15 minutes to set, after which I peeled it off the paper and cut it up with scissors.

Black treacle has a very strong, slightly bitter taste that really comes through in the toffee. I didn't like it at all but the kids can't get enough of it, so it really is down to personal tastes.

There seem to be a million different recipes for making treacle toffee so if you have a better way - or if you have a great idea for what else I can do with the rest of my tin of black treacle - I'd love to hear from you in the comments !

Homemade Thursday

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Madhouse recipe : Chick-Chick Soup

Thursday 30 January 2014

Making Robin Caramel Popcorn Balls

When I bought my Christmas hamper online, using shopping vouchers that I'd won in a competition, I had a few pounds left over so I used them on a fun-looking kids' cookery kit from Pelican Bay for Robin Caramel Popcorn Balls. It was the perfect entertainment for a wet, windy Wednesday afternoon.

Inside the kit, I was impressed to see there were lots of interesting looking ingredients : some mini marshmallows, mini chocolate drops, candy beaks, red sugar, brown sugar, popcorn kernels and plastic sticks.

First you need to make the caramel by melting the brown sugar, marshmallows and a little butter. This made a lovely gooey sauce, but it sets quite quickly so, with hindsight, I'd have done better to pop the popcorn first, rather than follow the order on the instructions. Although we quite often make popcorn in the microwave, this was the first time we'd done it properly in a pan which the kids thought was hilarious !

Once the popcorn is ready, you just add the caramel, mix it up then squish it into balls and insert the sticks. (Easier said than done !)

This is the illustration on the pack.

And this was our best attempt. Very cute but the caramel holding the popcorn balls together was all on the inside so there wasn't enough stickiness for the red sugar to stick to.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating though and these little critters certainly didn't hang around for long - they were scoffed within minutes !

It's a fun little project and one that you could easily recreate even without the kit. I'm wondering what other animals we could make out of popcorn now !


Head on over to the fabulous Kitchen Fun with My 3 Sons linkie for more ideas :)

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Making Flowerpot Bread from The Kids Only Cookbook

Madhouse recipe : Chick-Chick Soup

Wondering what to do with those leftovers from your Sunday roast? Look no further - this is perfect for a fuss-free Sunday night supper. If you're wondering where the name comes from, it's because we made it using leftover roast chicken and a can of chickpeas !

Chick-Chick Soup

ingredients :

leftover roast chicken (or whole leftover carcass if you want to make your own stock)
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
leftover vegetables (I had carrots, roast potatoes and parsnips but you could add leeks, peas, kale ...)
any leftover gravy
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 litre chicken stock (homemade with the carcass or I used a Knorr Stock Pot)
1 tin chickpeas
1 Knorr Herb Infusions Pot (or add fresh or dried herbs of your choice)
salt, pepper, smoked paprika, smoky chipotle sauce

In a large pot, gently fry the onions and garlic for a few minutes in a drizzle of olive oil. 

When soft but not browned, add the roughly chopped chicken meat and any fresh vegetables. Continue to cook for a few minutes, stirring. Add the spices and leftover gravy and stir again.

Pour on the tin of tomatoes and the stock. Add the chickpeas and bring back to the boil. Leave to simmer for 1/2 hour for the flavours to develop, adding the herbs (or herb infusion pot - these are our new find and they add a lovely depth of flavour to soups) towards the end of the cooking time.

This is a lovely warming, satisfying soup and it's a great way of reducing your food waste.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Madhouse recipe : Spicy Carrot Soup

Kitchen Nomad Globe-Cooking Recipe : Mexico - Black Bean Soup

Book review : Ping-Pong Diplomacy - Nicholas Griffin

Ping-Pong Diplomacy sounds like it would be a great title for a work of fiction, but the rather long subtitle clarifies that it is actually non-fiction : Ivor Montagu and the Astonishing Story Behind the Game That Changed The World.

I must admit, I'd never thought of ping pong as a game that changed the world so I was intrigued enough to want to find out more. The book presents the rather eccentric character of Ivor Montagu, a wealthy Englishmen who wanted to use the game as a tool for promoting his Communist ideologies. Montagu was highly successful in what he set out to achieve but I couldn't warm to him - he spied on his country, betrayed his friends and didn't seem overly fazed by the horrors of the Stalinist Soviet state that he supported. I would have liked the book to give a more fleshed out and detailed account of the man, his personality and his motives because I didn't really feel that I got to know or understand him.

The story of the sport's growth and importance on the world stage was fascinating and rather surprising though. If it had been in a novel, it would have been dismissed as being at best highly unlikely and at worst completely ludicrous, but they say that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. The sport was a catalyst for thawing the frosty relations between China and America after the war (as well as giving the Japanese a chance to redeem themselves slightly), opening doors for diplomatic negotiations that would otherwise have remained firmly closed. This had a ripple effect, distancing China and Russia, forcing Russia into an arms race that would ultimately lead to an end to the Cold War. All that with a simple game like ping pong !

You don't need to be an expert on table tennis to enjoy the book, but you do need to be interested in world politics and history. The book touches on many key moments, including the Holocaust, which aren't dealt with in any great detail so you do need some good general knowledge of modern history to really get the full overview.

I thought it was interesting but did start to find it a bit heavy-going about half way through. It's not one that will keep you up half the night turning the pages but it does offer an enlightening look at how something so simple as an parlour game could (and did) end up shaping the modern world as we know it today.

star rating : 3.5/5

RRP : £20

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (2 Jan 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857207342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857207340
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 3.2 cm

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

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Book review : The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

DVD review : Last Passenger

Last Passenger was released on Blu-Ray and DVD at the start of the week (on 27th January) and we were excited to receive a preview copy.

I was immediately pleased to see that it's an action movie set in London – all the great thrillers seem to be set in America so it made a nice change. Another aspect that instantly appealed to me is that it starts with an everyday occurrence that made me feel like it could have been me in the film. After a long day at work, Lewis jumps on the last train home. He should be starting to unwind, releasing the pressure of the day, but unfortunately, his day is just about to get a lot worse.

His journey starts off fine – he hits it off with a flirty fellow passenger (played by Kara Tointon who will always be Dawn from EastEnders to me !) but it soon becomes obvious to Lewis, and the five other passengers on the train, that it has been hijacked by a sociopath intent on hurtling them all into the afterlife. He'd have been better off staying late at the office !

Just like in all the great disaster movies (such as The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure that I remember from my youth !), the bunch of strangers have to work together if they want to stay alive. The film manages to find the perfect balance of drama and emotion and it had me on the edge of my seat. For a low budget Britflick, I thought it was a great film and definitely worth watching.

star rating : 4/5

DVD/ Blu-ray details
RUN TIME: 97 mins
CERT: 15
RRP: £14.99 / £15.99
CAT NO: KAL8323 / KAL8324
BARCODE: 5060192813999 / 5060192814002




Disclosure : We received a preview copy of the film in order to write an honest review.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Family DVD review : The Smurfs 2

Valentine’s recipe : Heart Shaped Cake

As Valentine's Day is also Juliette's birthday (9 years old, into double figures next year - where does the time go ?!), this cake looks like it could be the perfect dual purpose recipe. If it's only supposed to serve two, I'd need to double or treble the quantities though !

Mat Follas Heart Shaped Valentine’s Cake




100g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
4 medium happy eggs
80g self raising flour
30g cocoa powder

50g butter
50g 72% cooking Chocolate
20g cocoa powder
250g icing Sugar



Mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Mix the happy eggs together in a separate bowl, then slowly add to the butter mixture.

Mat’s top tip: if the mixture starts to curdle, add a tbsp flour.

Fold in the rest of the flour and 30g cocoa powder until it has an even consistency

Mat’s top tip: if the mixture won’t drop off the spoon, it’s too thick, so add a little warm water.

Pour the mixture into a heart shaped baking tin. Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 40 minutes. To test whether the cake is cooked, probe it in the middle with a skewer, if the skewer comes out clean, it’s cooked. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.


Melt the butter and chocolate together on a low heat, add cocoa and then mix in the icing sugar with a fork, adding warm water until it has a thick consistency. Wait until the cake is cool before icing it.

For more recipes, please visit

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Strawberry Shortbread Hearts recipe

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Maggi Honey & Mustard Chicken review

While I love cooking from scratch and experimenting with new herbs and spices, I also love the convenience of having cooking sauces and seasoning sachets as a fall-back plan for those days when I'm in a rush and need something quick and simple on the table. Continuing my New Year's resolution to clear out everything lurking at the back of my food cupboards, I'm moving on to the seasoning sachets so I'll be reviewing lots of them over the coming weeks ! Last week, I tried out Maggi Honey & Mustard Chicken. It is described as "an all-in-one sticky honey and mild mustard chicken tray bake" which is "the ideal mid-week dinner". That certainly ticked all the right boxes.

After mixing the contents of the sachet with 200ml water, I dipped in the chicken thighs and left them to marinate while I prepped the veggies.

I peeled and chopped a few carrots, a couple of onions and some potatoes (leaving the peel on the potatoes - I prefer the texture and it adds fibre and vitamins too). I tossed these in the remaining mixture.

I put the vegetables in a roasting tin, laid the chicken on top and poured the last bit of mixture over the top of the chicken.

I headed off to do other mum-stuff and 45 minutes later, I could smell delicious cooking smells wafting out of the kitchen. I love the fact that you get a complete balanced meal with very little effort because once it's in the oven, it gets on with it all by itself and needs no input whatsoever. 

The sauce gave the vegetables a nice lift and created a wonderful brown crispy chicken skin. It has a lovely mild flavour which the whole family loved - in fact, nobody could really detect mustard at all.

The pack has slightly confusing nutritional values displayed. It says that one serving provides 517 calories, 13.3g of sugar, 20.4g of fat, of which 5.1g saturates, and 1.6g of salt. This presumably includes the suggested 750g of chicken thighs & drumsticks, 200g potatoes and 200g root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips or sweet potato, which I would guess is supposed to serve 4 (but served 5 for us, although I didn't weigh out the meat and veg).

star rating : 4/5

RRP : 85p

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Orgran Gluten Free Buckwheat Pancake Mix review

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Booja-Booja Truffle Selection N° 1 review

Booja-Booja recently sent us through a rather swish box of their organic truffles for us to try out. The solidly-built chocolate brown box with embossed gold writing looks like it should contain expensive jewellery rather than chocolate, so we made sure we kept this one well hidden until the kids were in bed. Rather too well hidden actually - I came across it when clearing out the cupboard at the weekend and squealed "ooh, I'd forgotten that I'd hidden that up there !"

I couldn't help but smile when I opened the box. There is a little card inside with a "Boojagram" on it that reminded me of fortune cookies with their slightly cryptic mystical messages. Ours said : "Learn lessons lightly when you can" - hmm.

Under the protective paper is a shiny gold foil seal, keeping those truffles nice and fresh and in perfect condition. I almost squealed "we've found the golden ticket" but, even if this reference to Willy Wonka was in-keeping with the chocolate theme, it seemed slightly too irreverent for the all important moment of discovering those decadent truffles nestling beneath.

The box contains four rows of three truffles and they all look identical, so make sure you know which way round the box is when you look at the accompanying descriptive sheet.

Now, I must admit, I did a bit of a double take when I saw the flavours (well, one in particular) : Fine de Champagne, Cherry Cognac, Kalamon Olive and Around Midnight Espresso. I don't like coffee and I wasn't at all sure about the combination of olive and chocolate so it was with some trepidation that I bit into the first one.

They're actually very nice though with a richness and slight bitterness that chocolate connoisseurs will love. The olive flavour is barely detectable so doesn't interfere with enjoying the chocolate, as I had feared ! It's great to know that they're all handmade in Norfolk and are organic, dairy, gluten and soya free.

I must admit, the Truffle Selection n° 2 does appeal to me more than this selection. It contains the less unusual and "safer" flavours of Rhubarb & Vanilla Fool, Hazelnut, Banoffee Toffee and Almond Caramel. Given the choice of that or olive, I know which one I'd choose !

If you want a sophisticated, special chocolate gift for Valentine's day, you know where to look. Booja-Booja truffles are available in all good delicatessens, independent health shops, fine food halls, Selfridges, Planet Organic, Wholefoods and

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £13.50 for 141g

for more information :

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

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Ferdia Milk Chocolate Salted Caramels review

Giveaway #357 : Win crime fiction The First Rule of Ten - closed - winner Aaron Milne

The Rules of Ten is a brand new detective novel series by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay.

The main character, Tenzing 'Ten' Norbu, spent many years in a Tibetan monastery before becoming an LA cop. Now he's going solo as the city's first Dharma Detective.

Battling old grudges and new cases, Ten has got his work cut out for him. Whether he's tackling sleazy film stars, is on the trail of strange cults or is just trying to keep his love life on track, Ten has got to be prepared for what the City of Angels has in store for him.

Find out more at:

I've just started reading The First Rule of Ten so I'll be sure to share my review with you as soon as I've finished. In the meantime, Hay House Publishers have kindly offered to send a copy of the first book in the series, The First Rule of Ten, to one lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. To be in with a chance of winning, just fill in your entries on the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 11/2/14

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.

Other giveaways you may be interested in :

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...