Wednesday 30 September 2015

Globecooking recipe : Crispy Medu Vada-style Lentil Fritters (Sri Lanka)

One of the recipes in this month's Sri Lankan-themed Kitchen Trotter box was for Crispy Medu Vada-style Lentil Fritters. They are supposed to be deep fried but as I don't have a deep fat fryer any more (I have an Actifry which would have smashed them to bits !), I shallow fried them and reheated the leftovers in the oven. This meant that they came out a bit dry, but luckily there is an accompanying coconut "chutney" to add some moisture. Having looked up Medu Vada, I don't actually think they are anything like them, because they look more like dougnuts with a smooth batter. Nevertheless, these lentil fritters were nicely spiced and surprisingly simple to make. They were supposed to be a starter but I served them with rice as a main meal.

The recipe called for three products from the box, which could all be replaced by other things - Black Curry  (a mild blend of cumin, coriander, rice, mustard, coconut, mace, black pepper, curry leaves, cinnamon, clove, cardamom - you could use mild curry powder if it's all you have), Rice Flour (normal flour or cornflour could be used) and curry leaves. I saw  Madhur Jaffrey on Saturday Kitchen a few weeks ago saying that dried curry leaves were a waste of space because they don't taste of anything and I was inclined to agree with her, until I opened the tub of curry leaves in the kit and was hit with a fragrant blast of spicy zestiness.

Crispy Medu Vada-style Lentil Fritters

ingredients :

40 curry leaves
3tbsp black curry powder
10 tbsp rice flour
1 onion
250g lentils (blonde or green)
2tsp ginger (powder or fresh, grated)
1/2tsp chilli powder
a pinch of salt
oil for frying

for the chutney :

1 pot Greek yogurt
20g grated coconut
1tsp black curry powder
10 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
the juice and zest of 1 lime
a pinch of salt

Put the lentils to cook in a pan of boiling water for 20-30 minutes until soft but still quite firm. Meanwhile, put all of the chutney ingredients in a bowl, stir to combine and chill in the fridge.

Put the onion, curry leaves, black curry powder, chilli powder, ginger and salt in a food processor.

Blitz until reduced to a pulp and stir to make sure it is all nicely combined.

Drain the cooked lentils, add to the food processor and blitz for 10 seconds. You still want some lumps in there. Stir through the flour to create a firm paste.

Use two tablespoons to create oval-shaped fritters.

This is actually much easier than it looks !

Fry gently for a few moments on both sides until they go golden brown and crispy on the outside.

Drain on kitchen paper.

Serve as an appetiser with the coconut chutney as a dip, or as a main meal with rice and a dollop of coconut chutney on the side.

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

Link up your recipe of the week

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Boo ! Aldi Specialbuys Halloween range review

I blame it on the PR people with all their "Christmas in July" events but whatever the reason, lots and lots of people seem to be talking about Christmas already ! OK, to be fair, it's only 86 days away - panic stations ! - but there's another fun celebration on the calendar before then ... Halloween ! If you like to be organised well in advance, you'll be pleased to know that Aldi's Specialbuys Halloween range will be hitting the shops this Thursday (1st October).

They sent us through a selection of the products from the range and they're all great fun. These boppers and glasses really appealed to all three of the Madhouse kids.

They're ideal if you have any Halloween parties coming up or you want a simpler (and cleaner !) alternative to face paints for trick-or-treating.

The item that gave us the biggest laugh though was this dancing skeleton, who looks a bit like a cross between Rod Stewart and Monster High ! If you press on the button between her feet, it blares out incredibly loud music which always makes the unsuspecting person holding it jump out of their skin and almost throw it across the room ! Perfect for Halloween frights !

 The Dracula doorbell is equally loud and will also make trick or treaters jump out of their skins if you ask them to push it to claim their booty ! With its flashing red eyes, loud doorbell sound and booming Dracula voice asking if you are scared, it will delight Halloween fans of all ages !

I absolutely love this Jack-o-lantern shaped ceramic plate which has a gorgeous vibrant orange colour and a reassuringly chunky feel. It will look great for displaying Halloween cupcakes or maybe all our trick-or-treating loot.

I also love the look of the big inflatable characters which would look great in the front porch to welcome trick or treaters !

We all love Halloween here at The Madhouse so I think we'll have to pop down to Aldi to stock up on some more bits and pieces ! The complete range is as follows :

Halloween Inflatable Characters £12.99
Dancing Skeleton £7.99
Halloween Serving Dishes £6.99
Musical Door Knockers/Bells £6.99
Children's Dressing Up Set £3.99
Children’s Halloween Pyjamas £3.99
Halloween Battery Operated Lights £3.99
Halloween Berry Lights £3.99
Halloween DVDs £3.99
Halloween Drinkware £2.99
Girl's Halloween Tutu Set £1.99
Children’s Halloween Boppers £1.79
Led Tealight Holders £1.79
Trick Or Treat Tins £1.79
Pumpkin Carving Kit £1.49
Children's Halloween Tights £1.29
Assorted Partyware £0.89
Halloween Gel Stickers £0.89
Halloween Spiders Web £0.89

The range will be available while stocks last from Thursday 1st October. 

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

Our back-to-school allies (review)

photo by Allan Foster on Flickr

Wherever I look, people seem to be coughing, sneezing and blowing their noses at the moment, so I suppose cold season is now upon us. I hate this time of year as a teacher because the kids are always coughing without putting their hands over their mouths (I might remind you, I teach 11-16 year-olds, not little kids !) and at parent-teacher evenings, I shake about a hundred hands in a row which probably spreads even more germs. So far I haven't succumbed to the back-to-school bugs but I tend to think it's more a case of when, not if, I come down with a cold. Luckily, I've received several bug-busting or immune-boosting products to review lately that should help me and the rest of the Madhouse Family stay fighting fit for a little while longer ! Here's a little round-up :

First up was Sterimar's new Stop & Protect Cold & Sinus Relief (RRP£8.99 for 120 sprays). This is a brand that I already use to alleviate my hayfever symptoms in the summer months, so I'm really pleased to see that they now offer a winter ally too. It is designed as a rapid and effective double action nasal spray that effectively relieves the symptoms of colds and sinusitis fast, but also fights further infection to protect against new attacks. Using natural sea water, it forms a protective and invisible film which encapsulates, inactivates and rapidly neutralises the germs responsible for the symptoms of common colds, preventing viral development by up to 99%. It also contains added copper to reduce the spread of germs, manganese as a fluidifying agent and cleansing eucalyptus oil. It is drug-free so is perfectly safe for pregnant/breastfeeding women and children aged 3+. I'll definitely be reaching for this as soon as I get the first signs of a sniffle or bunged-up nose.

I'd never really thought about cold and flu bugs lurking on the surfaces in the home, but Dettol pointed out that the flu virus can live up to 2 days and the cold virus up to 7 days, so keeping surfaces clean and disinfected can help prevent the spread of illnesses. They sent through a bottle of Dettol Surface Cleanser (RRP £2) which kills 99.9% of bacteria, including E.coli, salmonella, MRSA and the flu virus. You can use it all over the house so I've been wiping down door handles as well as the kitchen worktops and plastic tabecloth on the dining room table.

Even now that the Madhouse kids are pretty much grown up, I always like to keep a pack of baby wipes in my bag for cleaning up hands (and faces and T-shirts !) when we're out and about. If we're out geocaching or on country walks, stroking animals and picking up leaves and conkers, it isn't always possible to wash our hands so baby wipes and a little bottle of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer are the next best option. These are equally useful if one of the members of the family has a cold, to try to prevent the spread of germs. Organyc sent us through a packet of baby wipes from their all-new 100% Organic Cotton baby range, as well as some of their female sanitary protection products, all of which use Organic Cotton with no added nasties.

I think one of the biggest reasons that the back-to-school bugs are so virulent is because everyone is so tired and run down getting back into the school routine that they don't have the strength to fight them off. I was delighted to receive 3 months' worth of Seven Seas Perfect7 Woman to try out because I've reviewed them before (click through to read my review) and I was impressed with the little signs I noticed (longer and stronger nails, less feelings of tiredness ...). I've been taking them for a month, since going back to work, and I've again noticed that my nails and hair seem in better condition as well as my general sense of well-being (less tiredness and less bad moods !). Perfect7 is designed for people feeling the first signs of ageing who want to support their body from the inside and is formulated with 7 key benefits in mind for both men and women, with a unique blend of Omega 3-rich marine oils, key vitamins and minerals. You take one capsule from each blister pack once a day and they are totally tasteless and easy to swallow.

 I was actually very interested to read some research carried out by Seven Seas to see what does and what doesn't make you look older or younger than your years - there were a few surprises in there. While bad habits such as smoking and a high intake of alcohol were shown more frequently in the visually older participants, interestingly there were a few lifestyle factors that made no statistical difference, such as anti-ageing skincare regimes. Also you can no longer blame your offspring for your grey hairs, as there were no statistical differences between those who did and did not have children ! Here are the findings : 

Busting the myths: factors which made no difference to looking older than your years 1. Anti-ageing skincare products 2. Regular exercise 3. Stress 4. Being vegan or vegetarian 5. Having children 

The 7 Lifestyle habits for looking younger 1. Having a positive attitude 2. Long-term relationship or marriage  3. Cut out caffeine 4. Increase oily fish intake 5. Low sugar diet 6. Reduce alcohol 7. Give up smoking 

Time to stop blaming my grey hairs and wrinkles on the kids then ! 

We also received some Holland & Barrett Omega 3 Fish Oils to help keep the Madhouse kids on top form. Over the coming months, a whopping eleven products will be released in the range, with Teensense and Kids Omega 3 chewable fruit burst capsules in store now. These come in two flavours, blackcurrant and orange, and will soon be joined by Calcium and Vitamin D ‘Softie’ versions in the coming weeks, followed by multivitamin tonics. Both Teensense and Kids Omega 3 Fish Oil capsules contain Vitamins A, D, E and C for healthy hearts, brains and vision and are made exclusively for teens and children aged 3 years plus, respectively. The benefits of Omega 3 for the heart, brain and vision are well known, but many fish oil supplements have an unpleasant fishy taste and smell. Well, the verdict was mixed on this one. Sophie wasn't keen on the texture (you need to chew the soft capsule quite hard to burst the fruit flavour centre) and she really didn't like the flavour of the Teen range. Juliette and Pierre were quite happy to eat the Healthy Kids ones though and agreed that they are more pallatable than other fish oil supplements I've given them in the past ! You're supposed to take two per day so each tub won't last long. (RRP £8.49 for 30 Teen capsules, £7.49 for 60 Kids blackcurrant and £7.29 for 60 Kids Orange - not sure why the different flavours have different prices !)

Well, hopefully this little lot should see us through the winter months in fighting form !

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

Release The Beast ! Teksta Robotics Scorpion review

When I hear the brand-name Teksta, I immediately think of the cute robotic puppy and kitten that made them famous, but when Character got in touch to see if we'd like to review their latest robotic critter, it wasn't anything as cute and cuddly - it was the Teksta Robotics Scorpion! Eeek !

All three of the Madhouse kids squealed with delight when they laid eyes on it - it is a very large, striking, sleek and fairly realistic robotic creature - then they squealed with laughter as I started inserting batteries and its legs started wiggling like a huge spider and made me jump. It's almost too realistic and it made me shudder ! As did the number of batteries required - 4 x AA for the scorpion and 2 x AAA for the controller. Luckily we have rechargeable batteries, otherwise it could get expensive !

The controller can be used in two ways - either strapped on the back of your hand or just held in the palm of your hand. The first time you use it (and each time you switch the scorpion on), you need to push the big button in the centre of the controller to establish a connection with the scorpion, then you're ready to go.

After a bit of practice, we soon had him scuttling around the floor in all directions, making the dogs go loony ! It works really well on hard floors like parquet or lino but we also had a try on a big rug - it goes much more slowly but does still work.

You may notice in this picture and on the little video below that one of the scorpion's legs came off when I was putting in the batteries. It's easy enough to push back on but it did keep falling off again so in the end, we just left it off. I was ready to write this off as bad luck or me being clumsy, but I noticed that Eileen at ET Speaks From Home had the same problem. Hopefully this is a small design fault that they will be able to rectify easily.

 Once the kids had had enough of making the scorpion scuttle around and bash into the table legs, we got out the target that it comes with. If you pull apart the scorpion's jaws then line it up with the target, it will close its pincers on it and drag it around the room. We've decided that we'll have to see what else it can pick up - kitchen roll tubes, cans of deodorant and teddy bears have all been earmarked as prospective targets for future playing !

You can have a look at our first experiences with the Teksta Scorpion here. I'd just like to apologise in advance for the state of the floor - Pierre was so impatient to play that he couldn't wait for me to throw the hoover around first !

If you buy two (or more) Teksta Scorpions, you could have even more fun with them, having races to the target and also epic battles. It would also avoid all the cries of "can I have a turn now?" if you have several children who all want ot play with it at the same time !

The Teksta Scorpion is suitable for children aged 5+, but it appeals way beyond that age, certainly into teens and even most adults can't resist having a play ! It's slightly creepy so it doesn't seem too babyish and it appeals to both sexes. We've been having great fun with it so I'm sure these will be lurking under lots of Christmas trees this year !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £39.99

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

Monday 28 September 2015

Our weekend activities with Weekend Box

Pierre was delighted to receive a Weekend Box to review a few weeks ago. If you don't know the company, they send out letterbox-friendly kits containing everything you need for four fun-filled activities for children aged 3-6.

We unpacked the contents and discovered that the theme of this box was The Wild West. The activities were :
- BBQ Beans on Toast
- Totem Pole
- Native American Headdress

Pierre looked at the instruction sheets and decided that he wanted to start with the dreamcatcher - before launching into a long description of all the nightmares he's ever had in his 6 years of existence !

Time to discover what's in the envelope for this activity.

A paper plate, some wool and an assortment of beads and feathers.

It's actually a really simple idea but I'd never have thought of it ! You cut the middle out of the paper plate and pierce holes around the edge.

Pierre decided to decorate it with crayons and stampers.

Then you thread the wool across with beads attached in random places.

Add some long pieces of wool to dangle down and attach feathers and beads.

Pierre was very proud to hang it up above his bed and has happily informed me every day since that he hasn't had any bad dreams because the dream catcher has been protecting him !

He wanted to go straight on to activity two - the Indian headdress.

We mixed up the powder paint and Pierre decorated the headband with squiggles.

While the paint dried, he concentrated hard on cutting lots of slits to make the feathers - great fine-motor skills practice.

As you can see, he was very proud of his handiwork !

We still have two activities to make on another day so I'll be sure to come back and show you how we get on with those. Even if you could buy all the contents for cheaper than the price of the subscription, it's great to have everything in one place without rummaging through the crafts cupboard or needing to go out and buy supplies.

You can subscribe to receive Weekend Boxes fortnightly or monthly and each box costs £7.50. There's no commitment to continue and you can pause or cancel your account whenever you want. By using code MADHOUSE, you'll get the first box free. If you go to their homepage and take a 4-question survey, they'll also send you your first box for free at the moment.

Disclosure : We received a free box in order to write an honest review.

A Taste of Finland with Moomins on the Riviera

As I told you last week (it's not too late to enter my giveaway to win three copies !), today sees the release of Moomins on the Riviera, a DVD that was a lovely trip down memory lane for me but that also appealed to the Madhouse kids.

Along with a copy of the DVD and some cute and cuddly Moomins toys, we received some fun activity sheets.

As well as a selection of authentic Finnish treats and snacks for us to munch in front of the DVD. Much more exciting than the usual popcorn ! The sweets, chocolates and biscuits were all met with enthusiastic lip-smacking and mumbles of appreciation ...

But the biggest squeal of excitement came when the kids spotted the Moomins branded sweets !

It was a lovely way to explain to the Madhouse kids that the Moomins cartoon is based on the beloved Finnish comic strip by Tove Jansson. They found it hard to believe that I watched The Moomins as a child - the comic strip actually started way before then, back in 1945 ! - but they loved the peaceful, gentle atmosphere (unlike many modern cartoons) that reminded them of the equally long-running Barbapapa.

To find out more about the DVD, head over to my giveaway and try your luck to win your own copy.

Disclosure : We received a Finnish-themed goodie box to celebrate the release of the new Moomins on the Riviera  DVD.
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