Saturday 31 January 2015

Madhouse Daddy gets in on the Hotter Shoes testing ! (review)

We love Hotter Shoes here at The Madhouse - we've already tried and reviewed several pairs from previous collections including Jewel, Penny and Sugar shoes, Keswick walking boots and some furry Cannes boots that we won in a competition. The amazing thing is, just checking back on those reviews, some of them are from several years ago and I'm still wearing them and they're all still in great nick - I was actually shocked at how old they are! Well, this time, Hotter were looking for a male reviewer so Madhouse Daddy got to sit in the hot(ter) seat !

The model that he received is Defender, described as a multi-tasking lightweight brogue with a distinctive wax finish for a smart or casual look.

They come in two colours - a rich reddish mahogany colour (redwood) and the classic brown (oak) that we received. Time to hand over to Madhouse Daddy to see what he thought !

"When I saw the brown colour on the website, I was a bit dubious about whether they would go with my suit for work but they are actually a more understated deeper brown colour than it appears online. The detail on the front is very classy but they are also casual enough to be worn at the weekends with jeans and jumpers too. I'd never tried a pair of Hotter Shoes before so when I slipped my feet into them and wiggled my toes, I was surprised at how comfy they are. I usually end up with sore feet from blisters and painful rubbed skin when wearing new shoes but these ones felt like they'd already been broken in - I felt like I was walking around in slippers, which, I've been told, is a common reaction, explained by the air cushions that make them ultra-comfortable. I've never really understood what all the fuss was about when women go on about finding the ultimate pair of shoes, thinking that shoes were just a functional item rather then something to get excited about - however, now that I've experienced the Hotter Shoes happy feet experience, I might be a bit more enthusiastic from now on when I need to buy new footwear !"

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : currently £55 (was £85)

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

Tideford Celebrity Chef Soups review

I've already reviewed some of Tideford Organic's soups - click through to see what we thought of their Spicy Butternut Squash soup and Pea & Mint soup - so we were very pleased to receive their Celebrity Chef soups to try out, created in conjunction with a trio of world renowned chefs. The three flavours in this range are Mitch Tonks' Smoked Haddock Chowder with Organic Leeks and Peas, Mark Hix's Celeriac and Apple soup and Aldo Zilli's Tuscan Bean soup.

The one that appealed to me most was the creamy smoked haddock chowder and I wasn't disappointed. This soup is produced by Tideford Organics using the signature chowder recipe of leading chef, award-winning food writer and seafood champion Mitch Tonks. It uses naturally smoked haddock caught off the South West coast and it is a really satisfying, hearty soup, perfect on a cold wintry evening. This is my favourite of the three.

I wasn't sure what I'd make of Mark Hix's Celeriac and Apple soup because it's a smooth, fairly thin soup and I do tend to prefer thick or chunky soups. It's a simple vegan-friendly combination of British apples and vegetables with a gentle hint of celery and it was OK but I did find it a bit bland.

Famed for his innovative London restaurants and regular appearances on both TV and radio, Italian chef Aldo Zilli has shared one of his favourite soup recipes with Tideford Organics. Made in Tideford's Devon kitchen, Aldo's Tuscan Bean soup is packed full of organic sun-ripened Italian tomatoes, chickpeas, haricot beans and fresh vegetables from Riverford Organic Farms. To finish, the soup is seasoned using garlic, crushed black pepper, rosemary and thyme. This actually reminded us of our homemade soup so when you need a quick hearty and healthy meal after a long day at work, it's perfect.

 Tideford Organics believe that delicious, healthy food can only be made with organic ingredients that are farmed responsibly with no artificial pesticides or fertilisers so all of the soups in the 'celebrity chefs' range are organic and also gluten free. They are particularly proud of the fact that they don't add anything that wouldn't be found in your kitchen cupboard so the colours and flavours come from using organic vegetables, herbs and spices that are slowly cooked. That's why it reminded us of our homemade efforts then !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £3.49 for 600g

for more information :

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

Madhouse recipe : Chocolate Chip & Honeycomb Cookies

I haven't made cookies for a while but when I saw this recipe containing not just chocolate chips but also a crushed up Crunchie bar, I knew they would be a big hit. I used half measures but with hindsight, should have made more because they disappeared in record time !

Chocolate Chip & Honeycomb Cookies

Makes: About 18 cookies
Cooking time: About 12 minutes
Oven temperature: 180°C, 350°F, Gas mark 4


125g (4.5oz) Butter, softened
200g (7oz) Soft light brown sugar
3 the happy egg co. eggs
150g (5oz) Plain flour
2.5ml (½tsp) Baking powder
50g (2oz) Plain chocolate, cut into chunks
75g (3oz) Pecan nuts, roughly broken (I left these out)
2 Honeycomb chocolate bars eg crunchie bars – roughly chopped
Extra pecan nuts & honeycomb chocolate pieces for decorating


1. In a large bowl mix together butter, sugar, eggs, flour and baking powder. Add the chopped chocolate, pecans and honeycomb, mix until thoroughly combined. Cover with clingfilm and chill for 30 – 60 minutes until firm.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas mark 4. Line 4 baking trays with non-stick baking parchment.

3. Place a dessertspoon of the cookie mixture on to the baking trays, leaving plenty of space between each biscuit as they will spread – cook about 4 cookies per tray. (Put the mixture back in the fridge between each baking batch)

4. Bake for about 12 minutes until just starting to brown on the edges – the cookies are slightly crunchy on the edges & soft & spongy in the middle

5. Remove from the oven and carefully, while still warm, push extra pieces of pecan nut and honeycomb into each biscuit.

6. Let the cookies cool on the trays. When cool remove from tray & eat – store in an air tight cookie jar.

Credit: This delicious recipe was made using happy eggs. The happy egg co. are committed to providing the highest possible standard of welfare for their hens, with the belief that happier hens lay tastier eggs. For more mouth-watering recipes, visit

Happy eggs but also Happy Madhouse kids !

Friday 30 January 2015

Book review : The Curvy Girls Club - Michele Gorman

Go on twitter on any Wednesday and all you'll see are #weightlossWednesday and #WobblesWednesday hashtags popping up on your timeline. I even have my own Sunday weigh-in weekly linkie here on my blog. It seems that the whole world is full of curvy girls (and boys) desperate to shed a few (or a few dozen) pounds. As the strapline on the front cover of The Curvy Girls Club says, "Imagine a world where looks don't matter". Well, yes, that would definitely be nice but unfortunately it's probably about as realistic as a calorie-free cupcake or a stick of celery using up more calories to eat it than it contains !

The Curvy Girls Club is a lovely, heartwarming, feel-good book that will have you cheering on the plus-sized heroines as they try to find happiness and self-acceptance, while contemplating some of the pitfalls along the way such as diet pills and faddy diets. All four of the main female characters are imperfect - Ellie is insanely jealous and insecure in her relationships, Pixie is a bit bloody-minded and selfish in her attempt to secure a future for herself and her kids away from her abusive husband, Katie is obsessed with her longtime office crush and Jane's confidence has been totally shattered by a thoughtless remark about her post-pregnancy weight - but this just makes them all more realistic and likeable.

The novel starts at a slimming club where the fun-loving friends have had enough of facing the walk of shame to the scales and decide to organise their own nights out instead. Their first trip to the theatre is laughably disastrous (although it would be mortifying if it actually happened) and the other members of the slimming club soon want to get in on the action. The Curvy Girls Club is born.

It's not always a smooth ride though. When Katie's weight mysteriously starts to plummet, tensions run high and friendships are put to the test. Katie realises that achieving your dream dress size doesn't instantly turn your life into a fairytale with a happy ending and the key to a happy life is looking beyond the number on the scales to be happy as you are, whatever your size. There are important lessons there for us all to learn.

A lovely note at the end of the book informs the reader that a real life Curvy Girls Club exists online, offering support, friendship and empowering daily reminders that you're lovely. If you're just about ready to ditch the New Year diet, maybe you should buy a copy of the book and concentrate on sorting out your mindset rather than your waistline !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £6.99 (but a bargaintastic £2 on amazon at the moment !)

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Avon (15 Jan. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007585624
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007585625
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2 x 19.8 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy from the publishers in order to write an honest review.

Madhouse recipe : Rosebud Apple Tart

I saw the idea of using red apple peel to make rosebuds to decorate the top of an apple pie in a magazine ages ago so when I spotted some red apples in the fruit bowl, I decided to give it a go. 

 Rosebud Apple Tart

ingredients :

1 shortcrust or flaky pastry base (homemade or shop bought)

4 red apples
2tbsp sugar
a drizzle of maple syrup
1tbsp cinnamon
a little lemon juice

75g butter
300g icing sugar
75ml milk
30g custard powder (I used my Spanish Crema Pastelera)

Use the pastry to line your pie tin. Prick with a fork all over. Bake it blind (filled with baking beans or rice if you want to keep it nice and flat) while you sort out the filling.

Wash the apples. Use a knife to thickly peel them. Put the peel to one side.

 Chop the remaining apple into pieces and put it in a saucepan with the sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, maple syrup and a little water. Cook over a low heat until it is soft and caramelised but still in chunks. 

Spread over the pastry base

I decided to recreate the filling from the Nanaimo Bars as they were such a hit. Melt the butter. Whisk together the icing sugar, custard powder, butter and milk (I used Provamel rice almond milk but regular milk is fine) until it becomes thick and creamy. Add a bit extra custard powder and/or icing sugar if it's not firm enough. Spread the mixture over the apples.

Put the apple peel in the microwave for 15 seconds so it is nice and pliable. Roll it into rosebud shapes and stand it vertically in the custard filling.

Pop in the fridge to firm up (the warm peel will melt the custard icing slightly so it needs to be chilled) and eat cold.

Tasty Tuesdays on

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? (menu plan 30/1/15)

Back to a week of family faves and using up things in the cupboards


lunch - Breton crêpes complètes (with egg, ham and cheese, followed by sweet options) - these went down so well, the kids have asked for them again !

dinner - homemade soup and even homemade bread if I get time


lunch - traditional Sunday roast

dinner - leftovers, bagel or soup


dinner -  chicken curry and rice


dinner - prawn stir-fry with Hoisin & Garlic sauce & noodles


lunch - salmon in Laughing Cow sauce with rice and broccoli

dinner - slow cooked beef - probably bourguignon or carbonnade - with root veg mash


dinner - baked potatoes, sausages and beans


dinner - stuffed round courgettes with rice and baked tomatoes - not sure what to stuff them with - bacon and spelt? spicy chicken? Moroccan spiced mince?

***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 !

Thursday 29 January 2015

Globe-cooking recipe : Hoppin' John & Collards (USA) #readcookeat

 It's been ages since I've taken part in the #readcookeat challenge because there have just been no mentions of food in the latest books I've been reading. When a description of a local dish came up in the book I'd just finished reading, The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank, I squealed and immediately marked the page ! (You can see my review of The Hurricane Sisters here.)

The book takes place in South Carolina Lowcountry, which is the coastal area and islands of the state. Wikipedia has an article on Lowcountry Cuisine which includes such dishes as Sweet Potato & Crab Soup, Shrimp & Grits, Charleston Red Rice and Frogmore Stew (also known as shrimp boil and, you'll be pleased to know, nothing to do with frogs !).

Here's the paragraph that had me running for my post-it notes :

(p104) "Clayton and I tried to go every year just to watch all the participants in their crazy costumes run into the freezing water. Then we'd walk along Middle Street where all the restaurants had set up tables right on the street and have a plate of hoppin' John and collards for good luck. Eating collards on New Year's Day was to ensure money in the coming year. Greens bring green? Hoppin' John was a Lowcountry dish that ensured further good fortune. It was made of field peas and chopped onions cooked with smoked ham hocks. The watery juice from the pot of peas and onions, which we call pot liquor, was used to cook rice. Then, when the rice was tender, the peas and onions were combined with the rice. Was it delicious? No, it was earthy and nutty but not exactly delicious.However, it was traditional to eat it and Charlestonians were just superstitious enough to never change a tradition.This particular ritual was a good thing for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that this particular one told you who you were. No one in their right mind would crave a bowl of hoppin' John except the sons and daughters of the Lowcountry. Maisie always said that knowing who you were and where you belonged was one component of good mental health. I believed that too."

Well, I may not be a daughter of the Lowcountry but it still sounded pretty good to me! Wikipedia is again very helpful in giving different recipe suggestions for this dish - I could substitute mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, kale, cabbage etc - anything that evokes the colour of American dollar bills really - for the collard greens (which is just as well as I've never seen them in the shops). The field peas are a smaller version of black-eyed peas and many people use bacon or country sausage for the ham hock. Other variations include adding green pepper or vinegar and spices. If you serve it up the day after New Year's Day, it is apparently called Skippin' Jenny !

Hoppin' John & Collards

3 cups dried beans (traditionally black eyed peas but I used chick peas)
2 onions
6 rashers bacon
2 cups rice
2 cups kale

I also added :
1/2 bag frozen Chinese veg
1 garlic Knorr Stock Pot
1 herb Knorr Stock Pot
1 vegetable Knorr Stock Pot
a dollop of Chipotle & Cola Tabasco Sauce 

Soak the beans for several hours, rinse and drain. Put the beans in a pot of water with the onions. I added the three Knorr stock pots here to inject some extra flavour. Cook for 30-40 minutes, topping up the water if necessary. Ten minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the chopped kale and Chinese veg.

Now, you should use the cooking water from the beans/onions to cook some rice but firstly, the water had almost all been soaked up by the beans and secondly, I had some leftover cooked Kingston curry rice from my Jamaican Jerk chicken meal, so I added that. I originally planned on using bacon lardons and putting them in with the beans to cook, but the Madhouse kids wanted a bacon sandwich so I ended up using rashers and cooking them separately instead !

It was actually very nice - admittedly not something that I'd pick in a restaurant but a lovely winter warmer all the same.

Linking up with this month's #ReadCookEat challenge

Link up your recipe of the week

Sugar Swap Maple Syrup Recipes for #BreakfastWeek

Earlier in the week, I told you about some of the rather lovely recipes I've been making with maple syrup - Nanaimo Bars, Cranberry & Apple Compote, Cinnamon Maple Sticky Buns, Maple Syrup Glazed Pork, ... All totally delicious but not exactly diet friendly. Well, Clarks have some good news if you're watching your waistline - their Original Maple Syrup is a blend of pure maple syrup from Quebec and carob fruit syrup from the Mediterranean so it has 45% less sugar per 100g than white sugar. Carob fruit syrup has a low glycemic index too so it's a healthier option. I also love the rich colour and the burnt caramel flavour that it adds to both sweet and savoury dishes.

Clarks have come up with a whole host of healthy recipes for National Breakfast Week so I thought I'd share a few with you.

Berry healthy maple porridge


For the porridge
150g rolled oats
500ml skimmed milk
500ml water
50g sunflower seeds

For the topping
400 g of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries
Clarks Maple Syrup


1. Combine the oats, milk and water in a medium saucepan. Stir well and place over a high heat, until the mixture begins to boil. Turn the heat down and stir continuously for 4 - 5 minutes until the porridge becomes thick and creamy.
2. Remove from the heat and stir in the sunflower seeds. The porridge will continue to thicken as it cools.
3. Divide the porridge between 4 warm bowls, top with the fresh berries and drizzle generously with Clarks Maple Syrup.


• Substitute the sunflower seeds for a mixture of pumpkin, sesame and poppy seeds.
• Frozen berries are a good substitute when fresh berries are not available. Simply warm in a small saucepan with a good glug of Maple Syrup.

Maple glazed banana and coconut porridge


For the porridge
150g rolled oats
2 x 400ml tin coconut milk
200ml water
Clarks Maple Syrup

For the topping
2 - 3 bananas, peeled and sliced diagonally
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Knob of unsalted butter
3 tablespoons Clarks Maple Syrup


1. Place the oats, coconut milk and water in a medium sized saucepan. Stir well and place over a high heat until the mixture begins to boil. Turn the heat down and stir continuously for 3 -
4 minutes until the porridge is thick and smooth. Add maple syrup to sweeten and stir well.
2. Heat the butter in a small non stick frying pan and add the banana slices. Cook for 2 -3 minutes until the banana begins to caramelise. Add the maple syrup and heat until bubbling.
3. Divide the porridge between 4 warm bowl and top with 3- 4 slices of the caramelised banana.
4. Dust with the cinnamon and drizzle with the sticky pan juices.

• For a tropical treat, top the porridge with a combination of mango cubes, passion fruit and shavings of fresh coconut.
• For an indulgent Winter treat, add a glug of rum to the pan before serving.

Maple and cinnamon buttermilk pancakes


150g plain flour
2tsp cinnamon
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tbsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
250ml buttermilk
150ml whole milk
3 medium free range eggs, separated
75ml Clarks Original Maple Carob syrup (plus more for drizzling)
75g melted butter (melt this in the frying pan to leave a little for frying)
Blueberries to serve (optional)


Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
Mix the egg yolks, buttermilk, milk and syrup together until smooth and combined. Then in another bowl whisk the egg whites with a clean whisk, until stiff. Slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour, whisking to avoid lumps. Fold the egg whites through the batter and then you're ready to griddle the pancakes.
Cook for a couple of minutes on each side. Serve straight away with more syrup and berries.


Recipe developed by Cathryn Dresser, Great British Bake Off 2012 quarter finalist, as part of the ‘Make the move to maple carob syrup’ campaign by Clarks Maple Syrup.

for more info and recipes : 

RRP : £1.98 for 180ml, available in major supermarkets such as Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury's.

Disclosure : I received a bottle to try out.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

ALDI's new Baby and Toddler range instore 29th January

Whether you’re preparing for a new arrival or stocking up on day to day essentials, Aldi’s Baby & Toddler Specialbuys range includes everything you need - in store on 29th January, while stocks last.

They sent us through some of the items to check out. (Stop those tongues wagging - there are no more babies on the cards at The Madhouse but we have a friend who is pregnant !) They look really high quality - I'd never have believed they came from ALDI so don't feel shy about offering them as a gift to a new mum. I particularly loved the fleece blanket which is lovely and soft and the pack of muslin cloths that are as funky as they are functional. (I remember when the Madhouse kids were small, my muslin cloths were ultra useful but they were ugly things !) The Muddy Paws New Friends book would be a lovely gift "from the baby" for a big brother or sister too.

The complete product list is below - don't hang about for these ones, as I think they'll sell out very fast !

On sale on 29.01.15 and available while stocks last

STORY BOOK - £0.99

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

Kids' CD review : The Pirate's Breakfast - Nick Cope

If you have under 10's, I'm sure you'll agree with me that it's often very hard to know what to play in the car on long journeys. The nursery rhyme/wheels on the bus type of CDs are fine for a while but will soon start driving you mad (especially as they get in your brain for the rest of the day, even long after you've you've arrived at your destination !) and I used to hate it when we left the radio on and the girls (in their younger years) would sing along with totally inappropriate lyrics like "don'tcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me" or "hit me baby one more time". Let me just silently scream from the front passenger seat !

Well, as I told you when I reviewed his What Colour Is Your T-shirt? CD, Nick Cope is a good compromise. He recently sent us through his new The Pirate's Breakfast CD and, even if they're probably a bit old for kids' CDs now, The Madhouse Mini-testers have been loving listening to it. Pierre in particular absolutely LOVES the (what he sees as) naughtiness of The Baby's Done A Poo.

To give you an idea, this is his face whenever he hears the immortal line "something really bad just came out of his bum" ! Oh to be five years old again !

While the lyrics will definitely appeal to the kids (Jemima the Scaredy Cat, New School, When I get Older ...), some of them seem to be speaking more to the parents (Another Day for example, where he talks about pouring another cup of tea before doing the washing up and going to work). Other songs sound a bit silly and light-hearted on the surface but have a more poignant subtext, for example, Nana's Noodles, which are impossible to replicate since she went to the Great Kitchen in the Sky. Awww.

Music wise, the acoustic backing tracks aren't at all headachey (unlike many kids' CDs) and I really like Nick Cope's voice - he reminds me of someone I used to listen to but I can't think who - Billy Bragg maybe? He has a really expressive voice - you can tell he's smiling as he's singing and that's infectious, making us laugh as we listen along too !

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £7.99

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

Kusadasi diaries : Clever Sunset Photoshoots

One of the things I read online before heading off to Kusadasi in Turkey last year was that the sunsets were rated as some of the most beautiful on the planet. Goodness knows who decided that or even how they could choose but I have to agree, they were pretty amazing.

The colours of the sun and then of the sky were quite amazing and the open air restaurant backed on to this view so we always watched the sun go down just as we tucked into dessert and before running off to the mini disco.

Every single person in the hotel had a play at getting a funny photo with the sunset at some point and it turned into a nightly game with us to get the perfect shot before the sun totally disappeared (which it does surprisingly quickly - ten minutes and it's all over).

The sun on the palm of my hand pose was the most popular.

 Or there was the two-handed variation.

 Getting the height absolutely right is actually quite difficult because you can't see the sun in the photo preview because it's too bright.

Sophie seemed to get the knack of judging exactly where to put her hand !

 But even with clever poses, it's still stunning.

We've just booked to go back to the same hotel this summer so I've been idling browsing on internet for some new ideas for clever sunset photoshoots - I think we could have great fun trying out some of these poses this year !

Found on Pinterest

Togally Blog has loads of great ideas

This one (found on Flickr) is very clever.

I've learnt that this technique is called "forced perspective" and if you google it, you'll find loads more fun ideas for getting quirky photos that look great fun to try out, with or without a sunset. Let me know if you've got any more ideas for us to play with this summer with the sunsets !

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