Tuesday 31 March 2015

Picture book review : Daniel O'Dowd Was Ever So Loud - Julie Fulton

Daniel O'Dowd Was Ever So Loud is the latest book in the Ever So series - we've already reviewed Tabitha Posy Was Ever So Nosy and Miss Dorothy-Jane Was Ever So Vain.

In this book, we meet a little boy called Daniel who really needs to turn the volume down !

He's so noisy that he causes all sorts of havoc, upsetting the animals at the zoo, annoying his teacher and even destroying the town's lighthouse.

However, his extreme noisiness turns out to be a blessing in disguise when he looks through a huge telescope made of cheese (yes, you did read that right !) and spots a huge meteor about to crash into the Earth. He whizzes off into space and shouts so loud that it disintegrates.

Daniel is a hero ! But he has to remember the wise words of his teacher about listening being even more important than speaking in order to get back to Earth !

It's a lovely fun story with an important life lesson for young readers and a huge dash of silliness thrown into the mix. Daniel is a bit of a rascal but his heart is in the right place and the crazy scientist is great fun too. Elina Ellis's instantly recognisable illustrations make it a delight to read at bedtime, with Pierre pointing out things that he's spotted in the pictures as I read. As it's written in rhyme, it's a really enjoyable book to read aloud.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £6.99

  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Maverick Arts Publishing (28 Jan. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848861184
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848861183
  • Product Dimensions: 19.7 x 0.3 x 26.3 cm

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

Madhouse recipe : Creamy Cheese, Potato and Bacon Quiche

You may have seen my recent blogposts about the Japanese recipes that we tried and that I was pretty sure we wouldn't like (and 100% sure that the Madhouse kids would turn their noses up at !) so this recipe developed from a look in the fridge to see what I could come up with as a plan B meal ! It's the first time I've put potato in a quiche but it worked quite well so it's another great way of using up leftovers.

Creamy Cheese, Potato and Bacon Quiche

1 ready made puff pastry sheet
1 pack bacon lardons
5 leftover boiled potatoes
100g grated cheese
4 eggs
20cl liquid crème fraîche
milk (skimmed, full-fat, almond or rice, whatever takes your fancy)
a handful of cherry tomatoes

Use the puff pastry to line a flan dish and prick all over. Pop in the oven while it preheats at 180°C. Use this time to cook up the bacon lardons. Drain off all excess fat.

Remove the pastry from the oven and cover the base in sliced cooked potatoes.

Cover with the bacon. Crack four eggs in a pint glass, beat and add 20cl crème fraîche. Top up the glass with milk, mix and pour into the pastry.

Sprinkle with grated cheese and arrange halved cherry tomatoes arround the edges.

Bake in the oven for about half an hour until completely set and the cheese has melted and gone golden.

This can be eaten warm or cold next day, when you realise that Japanese food is better than you expected !

Monday 30 March 2015

Picture book review : Robopop - Alice Hemming


Having already reviewed, and loved, The Black and White Club and Bibble and the Bubbles, we were delighted when Maverick Books sent us a new picture book from Alice Hemming to review. This one is called Robopop which made me smile because I'm sure the allusion to Robocop will go right over little readers' heads.

The story introduces us to Dylan and Daisy who think their dad is a bit rubbish because he's no good at football and doesn't have a sensible job like the other dads at their 'Bring Your Dad To School Day'. All together now - awww !

Well, he may be rubbish at football but he is good at inventing things so he comes up with Robopop, a robotic dad who is excellent at getting the kids in top form for playing.

They may initially be happy but the kids soon discover that the robot dad is just a bit too full on and they'd rather have their own dad back after all.

I loved the fact that all through the story, the real dad is hanging about behind the scenes keeping an eye on his ungrateful offspring. Pierre also loved looking out for him and his weird and wacky disguises and hiding places.

All's well that ends well when they manage to transform Robopop into a lean mean cleaning machine - I quite fancy having one of those myself !

It's a lovely story about appreciating the people in your life, quirks and all, and also about what being a dad is really all about. I found it slightly odd that there is no mention of a mum anywhere at all in the story but the Madhouse kids didn't pick up on this and there are plenty of single-parent families out there anyway.

As usual, the story is really brought to life by the fun, colourful illustrations (courtesy of James Lent).

star rating : 4.5/5

  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Maverick Arts Publishing (28 Jan. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848861664
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848861664
  • Product Dimensions: 11.6 x 0.3 x 26.1 cm

RRP : £6.99

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

Our cupcakes using Betty Crocker Carrot Cake Mix

After sampling the delicious carrot cake at Costa, I remembered that I had a box of Betty Crocker Super Moist Carrot Cake Mix from my hamper of American goodies. This is the version "with pudding in the mix" (whatever that means !) that is, as far as I can tell, not the same one that we usually get in European supermarkets. Inside the box, you just get one big bag of cake mix.

You need to add 2/3 of a cup of oil (I used the healthy rice bran oil from a recent Degustabox) and 3 eggs.

Pierre cracked the eggs, poured in the oil and got stirring. It all blends together easily and doesn't create lumps.

I decided to make individual cupcakes rather than one big cake so we divided the mixture into 16 cupcake cases. If you look closely, you can see little round orange dots. I was dismayed to see that, once again, after our Jiffy Blueberry Muffins Mix, this cake mix uses "imitation carrot pieces" rather than real carrot. What is it with American cake mixes and their artificial fruit/vegetable pieces ?!

After 15 minutes in the oven, they were ready. 

They are extremely soft and light but a little bland - they taste of cinnamon but not a lot else. I could have frosted them but decided against it, so that might have helped them out. They're still quite reasonable - I've been eating them and Sophie and Madhouse Daddy like them, but Pierre and Juliette aren't keen.

Footprint painting crafts

You may remember our recent handprint crafts session when we transformed Pierre's handprints into a variety of creatures. I made a throwaway comment that it could be good fun to try with footprints too and he's been begging to have a go ever since so I finally relented and we got the paint pad and some sheets of paper out in the bathroom, so I could plop him straight in the bath when he was covered in paint ! Once they'd dried, it was time to see what we could turn them into.

This was my first attempt. I'm not really sure what it's supposed to be - a duck with legs maybe ?! I had visions of turning the toes into eggs and drawing a nest around the bottom of the duck which would make more sense.

This was my favourite (of my efforts) - a sealion balancing a sparkly ball on its nose.

Pierre decided to turn his first one into Barbapapa.

Then we got the feathers out to create a fluffy bird.

I saw this idea for a tractor online (by googling "footprint paintings").

So Pierre had a go at making an aeroplane.

This bearded man is very cute.

But I have no idea what this one was supposed to be !

Or this one - it's got colourful feathers though, what more could you need ?!

It's amazing how much fun you can have with a simple paint pad and I love seeing how inventive kids can be.

Globe-cooking recipe : Kyuri No Sunomono (Japan)

This Japanese starter, combining rehydrated seaweed and cucumber, really didn't sound very appetising but it was surprisingly tasty. Each individual ingredient separately wasn't particularly nice - the seaweed had a pungent fishy taste like anchovies, the cucumber strips were salty and the vinegar sauce was very acidic - but they all come together in perfect harmony. The star ingredient that really makes the dish is the surprising Ume Plum Sesame Seeds that add a lovely nutty topnote.

Kyuri No Sunomono

ingredients :

4g (half a jar) of dried Wakame seaweed
2tbsp Ume Plum Sesame Seeds
1/2 cucumber
100ml rice vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
1tbsp sugar
1tbsp soy sauce

This month's Japanese-themed Kitchen Trotter box included a jar of dehydrated Wakame Seaweed.

It looks a bit like tea leaves when you put it in a bowl, but it has a very strong fishy smell, reminiscent of the sea.

Add cold water and leave for 10 minutes to rehydrate. It will double or even triple in size so a little goes a long way. Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible.

Peel and thinly slice the cucumber into strips. Lay out on a plate and sprinkle with salt, then leave for 20 minutes, to remove excess water. Rinse thoroughly to remove as much salt as possible (but they will stay quite salty). They should go quite soft and ploppy. Carefully squeeze out excess water with kitchen roll or a clean tea towel.

Combine the vinegar, sugar and soy sauce to create a dressing. Stir until the sugar has totally dissolved.

Put the cucumber strips in the bottom of individual ramekins, put a dollop of seaweed on top, drizzle with the vinegar dressing and sprinkle generously with Ume Plum Sesame Seeds.

It's a surprising blend of flavours that creates a light, refreshing and undoubtedly healthy starter.

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! *** 

Fancy trying some other Japanese dishes? How about Horenso No Shira-aé and Kamo No Teriyaki & Yakisoba (Teriyaki Duck with Soba Noodles)? 

Sunday 29 March 2015

Making Jus Rol Pain Au Chocolat

While rummaging through the fridge the other day trying to make space for ANOTHER fridge cake (the Madhouse kids have got slightly obsessed with making - and eating ! - them), I came across this pack of Jus Rol Pain Au Chocolat that has been lurking in there ever since Sophie saw it on the supermarket shelf and asked if we could buy so that she could make them. She was busy on facebook with her friend so didn't want to come and help make them though, so it ended up being Juliette and Pierre who discovered how quick and simple they are to create. (Sophie did manage to prise herself off her laptop to eat them though, funnily enough !) 

The first thing we were impressed by was the innovative packaging - you just twist the inner cannister and it springs apart, revealing the puffy pastry underneath that splurges out. You can't get fresher than that !

You carefully unroll the pastry.

Then pull it apart using the handy perforations.

Put the pastry pieces on a greased baking tray, lay a chocolate strip on each end and fold over to the middle then flip them over.

And that's it. They literally take a couple of minutes to prepare. The kids were a bit dubious though.

They don't look particularly impressive when they go into the oven.

But twelve minutes later, they look - and taste - amazing ! The pastry is soft and buttery and the chocolate isn't too sweet. It is very hot though so make sure you leave them to cool for a few minutes before tucking in, to avoid burning your mouth. They're not as flaky as proper pain au chocolat bought in a French boulangerie but they are better than most shop-bought ones we've tried - we were extremely impressed.

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