Monday 29 February 2016

Gazillion Tornado mega bubble blower (review)

Pierre was incredibly excited when we received the Gazillion Tornado bubble machine to review. It's a mega bubble blower that promises to produce hundreds of bubbles per minute. As you can see, he was so enthusiastic, he couldn't even wait until he was out of his pyjamas before asking if we could try it out !

The Gazillion Tornado features a rotating wheel of bubble blowers that dip into the bubble solution and a fan that blows them up in the air.

It comes with one smallish 4oz bottle of  Gazillion Bubbles solution (and we also got two extra refills for the purposes of the review).

You make a hole in the paper seal of the bubble mixture by pushing the inverted bottle into the slot on the machine.

Once you turn it on (after inserting 4 x AA batteries), you'll instantly be in bubble heaven ! Well, as long as you follow the instructions that is - the first time, Pierre was in such a rush that he pulled the paper seal right off so the whole bottle sloshed into the reservoir. I didn't think this would be a problem but the resulting bubbles were a bit of an anticlimax (maybe ten bubbles per minute, as opposed to the huge cloud of bubbles that come whooshing out when you do it properly).

Both Pierre and Juliette had great fun trying (and failing !) to catch all the bubbles.

It was actually quite a windy day so you don't really get the idea of just how many bubbles there were because they kept getting blown away before I could take a photo !

The only slight negative is that the bubble mixture doesn't last for long so we'll definitely be investing in some more refills. You could use regular bubble solution or washing up liquid but I get a feeling it wouldn't work as well as the official stuff.

We've tried numerous bubble guns and battery-operated bubble blowers in the past and have been systematically underwhelmed. This is actually the first time ever that it lived up to, and even surpassed, the claims on the pack.

You can see how much bubbly fun we had in our mini video.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £12.99

Available from Tesco

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

Madhouse recipe : Cholesterol-busting roast winter vegetable lasagne

In honour of National Heart Month, HEART UK has partnered up with Flora ProActiv on a campaign to raise awareness of the life-threatening effects of cholesterol. High cholesterol, which is a problem for over half of the population of England, is a major risk to heart disease as it contributes to the narrowing of vital arteries which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. There are no obvious signs or symptoms with high cholesterol so HEART UK and Flora ProActiv are urging people to check their cholesterol levels. They highlighted the issue by disrupting the London underground for a day with men in yellow suits representing cholesterol, which is an original way of getting the message across !

The good news is that for most people, there are simple and effective ways to lower cholesterol which includes changes to diet and lifestyle. Eating healthier, including super cholesterol busting food like plant sterols, and getting more active helps lower cholesterol and most people will see an effect in as little as 3 weeks. Flora ProActiv challenged me to create one of their recipes for dinners that can help lower your cholesterol and I opted for their gorgeous winter vegetable lasagne. I know it sounds too healthy to be tasty but it's actually totally scrummy !

Roast winter vegetable lasagne


2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, peeled, cut into wedges
2 parsnips, peeled
1 sweet potato, peeled
1 courgette
2 carrots, peeled
1 red pepper, finely diced
400 gram canned chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp oregano or thyme
6 sheets lasagne sheets
25 grams Flora pro.activ buttery spread
25 grams plain flour
350 ml skimmed milk
55 grams cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 tsp English mustard
4 slices toasted granary bread
40 grams Flora pro.activ buttery spread
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp chopped parsley

I slightly adapted the recipe to use what I had in the veg box of the fridge, so I used a mixture of swede, beetroot, sweet potato, courgette, carrot, onion and mushrooms.

Chop all the vegetables into chunks and put them in a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and roast in a preheated oven at 190˚C for 25 to 30 minutes or until cooked. I love the wonderfully bright colours.

Although I wasn't so keen when it was on my hands !

When cooked, mix with the tomatoes, tomato purée, chilli powder and herbs.

Meanwhile prepare the sauce by placing the Flora ProActiv Buttery spread and flour into a saucepan. Add the skimmed milk gradually, constantly stirring over a moderate heat. Bring to the boil.
Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until smooth and thickened. Add half the cheese and the mustard.

Assemble the lasagne by placing half the vegetables in an ovenproof dish, cover with three sheets of lasagne and top with half the sauce. Repeat layers ending with cheese sauce.

Sprinkle with the remaining cheese (I also added some dried breadcrumbs to give it a bit of crunch) and return to the oven for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Use the remaining ingredients to make garlic bread to accompany the dish.

I didn't really think I'd like this as much as regular lasagne but I think I actually prefer it. It's packed with flavour and is the ultimate winter warmer.

Disclosure : I received a shopping voucher for ingredients in order to try the recipe.

Link up your recipe of the week

Sunday 28 February 2016

Sunday weigh-in : Back to the grind

Back to work this week with an in-set day on my afternoon off so I didn't have much time to myself for ... well, anything really ! I did have SlimFast bars on Monday and Tuesday but for the rest of the week, I needed to catch up with so many colleagues that eating at the canteen was the easiest choice. I made the best choices possible though so I'm happy enough with a small loss, 400g of the 1kg that I put back on over the half-term holiday. Next week I'll make a concerted effort to blast the rest !

I have Sophie moaning at me because she wants to go out for a run so I'll keep this short !

Positives of the week

- A loss, however small, is always a step in the right direction

Current targets 

Last week's target : Get rid of the kilo I put back on. Slimfast shakes/bars for lunch and breakfast. (hlaf-done)

This week's targets : Get rid of the rest of that rogue kilo to get back to the lower end of the 87's.

Short-term targets 

(1) get back into the 80's
(2) get my "lbs lost" back into double figures
(3)  get my "weight to lose" badge down into the 40's
 (4)  get back to 87kg, my pre-holiday weight   
(5) get my "kg lost" badge back into double figures 
(6) get my "weight loss" badge higher than my "still to go" badge
(7) get back into my (smallest) bright blue jeans comfortably
(8) get back to 77kg - my lowest weight since my pregnancies

Longer-term targets :  Hit my target weight of 70kg.

START WEIGHT :93.7kg (BMI 34.8)
WEIGHT LAST WEEK  : 88.2kg (BMI 32.8)
WEIGHT TODAY :  87.8kg (BMI 32.6)
STILL TO GO : 17.8kg

Feel free to add your weightloss posts to my weekly linkie - it's great to see how everyone else has been getting on and give each other support and encouragement. You can even grab the linkie code and add it to your own blog if you like. :)

Created by MyFitnessPal - Free Calorie Counter

 MyFitnessPal - Nutrition Facts For Foods

Hijacked By Twins

Saturday 27 February 2016

Book review : Fractured - Clár Ní Chonghaile

Fractured, the adjective, could be used to describe the main protagonist, Peter Maguire, or the country that he finds himself in, namely war-torn Somalia. Fractured, the novel, gives us an in-depth and poignant portrayal of both.

Foreign correspondant Peter is on a research mission in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, when he is kidnapped by islamic fundamentalists. In captivity, he is battered physically and mentally, but in the depths of despair, he finds a glimmer of hope and humanity in his young captor Abdi. A fragile but life-affirming bond grows up between the two, despite the chasm that separates them in all areas of their lives, and Abdi puts his own life on the line by helping Peter escape. Peter's salvation is bittersweet - the cost of his survival is horrendous bloodshed, with several innocents losing their life to save him. I couldn't help but wonder if their deaths were justified, to save just one man, who had no real reason to be in Mogadishu in the first place. The fact that Peter is most definitely an anti-hero, with more faults than qualities, doesn't help !

There is also a sense of history repeating itself. Peter's mother Nina was also a journalist and knows the score, so she heads to Somalia for the interminable wait for news of her son's fate. She is forced to revisit another emotional trauma many years before, in which a fellow journalist, Shaun Ridge, was shot dead before her eyes in Liberia. The pair had only met the day before but that was enough time to for them to fall head over heels in love and conceive a child, Peter. Peter's own life is equally complicated, with a girlfriend in Paris, where he lives, and a past love and secret child in Liberia.

Peter, Abdi and Nina are all given their own narrative voice in alternate chapters. They have all dealt with emotional trauma, made numerous bad decisions in their lives but ultimately want to find a way forward and redeem themselves. The mood shifts from bleak despair to frail optimism, but there is always the sinister sense of things waiting to go wrong hovering in the background.

It's a tense, edgy read that gives a clear sense of life in countries ravaged by war. It's a book that will make you think about life as a journalist, why people are drawn to fundamentalism, the randomness of life and being in the wrong place at the wrong time and ultimately, the true meaning of life and inner peace. Not at all what I was expecting to contemplate after the bleakness of the opening pages !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (1 Feb. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785079824
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785079825

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

Friday 26 February 2016

Giveaway #537 : Win 2 x The Children of Green Knowe on dvd - closing 11/3

Simply Media are delighted to announce the release of The Children of Green Knowe, a charming and mystical classic children’s mini-series adapted from Lucy M. Boston’s novels. It comes to DVD for the very first time on 28th March 2016.

When his father and stepmother leave the country for Christmas, young Toseland (Alec Christie – The Office) is doomed to spend the holidays at his boarding school, until his eccentric great-grandmother, Mrs. Oldknow (Daphne Oxenford – Coronation Street), invites him to stay with her at The Green Knowe estate, an 11th century house built by Normans. While she tells him stories of his ancestors, Toseland soon finds out not everything is what it seems, when he begins to see the spirits of children who lived in the house during the reign of Charles II.

Originally screened in 1986 but never released on DVD, The Children of Green Knowe is directed by BAFTA winner Colin Cant (Moondial), alongside BAFTA winning producer Paul Stone (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).

The Manor of Green Knowe is open to the public, details here:

If you fancy a trip down memory lane or want to share this retro classic with your own children, I have two copies to give away to lucky Madhouse Family Reviews readers. Fill in your entries in the rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 11/3/16

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 28 days, I'll have to pick another winner. Prizes will be sent out by the companies or their PR directly to winners. Madhouse Family Reviews cannot be held responsible for any prizes that go astray !

You may also like to enter my other giveaways :

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 26/2

It should end up being a bit of a mixed bag this week - some bookmarked #readcookeeat recipes, some globecooking recipes from my new Martinique-themed Kitchen Trotter box and some blogger cookery challenges to get my head around !


lunch - probably McDonalds, for the soft play

dinner -  homemade pizzas with salad


lunch - roast dinner

dinner - sandwiches or soup


dinner - fish pie


dinner -  creole chicken with rice


lunch - Tinga tortillas (from a kit - no idea what they have that's different to regular fajitas !)

dinner -  veggie lasagne


dinner - pasta bake


dinner - accras de cabillaud (Martiniquaise cod nuggets) with mash & peas

***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 25 February 2016

#readcookeat recipe : Greek-style lamb casserole with mint and cinnamon (Runaway)

I've just finished reading Runaway by Peter May (click through to read my review), in which a group of grandads decide to recreate their teenage jaunt to London fifty years before. Back then, they were full of hope and youthful dreams of making it big in the music business, but this time, their trip has a darker, more sinister edge, even if they're not all aware of it. In the sixties, the young lads were taken in by the seemingly benign Dr Robert, who gave them a place to lay their heads and food to fill their bellies, even if it wasn't all as altruistic as it seemed. This was their first meal together (where, it turns out, their wine has been laced with LSD).

p247 I don't think any of us had ever drunk wine before. A warm, rich, heady red with which Dr Robert filled our glasses each time they were in danger of emptying. We all sat around his table, changed and washed, eating Greek food that he'd had delivered from a restaurant in the high street. Another first - at least, for me. I had never tasted anything like it before. Lamb flavoured with mint and cinnamon. Rice wrapped in vine leaves. Slow-cooked beef in a rich gravy that simply fell apart when you poked it with your fork. Tuna like steak, broken into pieces and served in a salad with little white cubes of cheese.
It was the first decent meal we'd had in three days, and we devoured it.

I've cooked quite a few Greek recipes before so I already have a blogpost about dolmades (stuffed vine leaves).

I also have a tried and tested recipe for Carbonnade, a slow cooked beef in beer casserole from Belgium which is always a family favourite.

So this time I decided to recreate a Greek-inspired lamb casserole with mint and cinnamon.

Slow-cooked  Greek Lamb with Mint & Cinnamon

ingredients :

shoulder of lamb, chopped into pieces
2 onions
1/2 green pepper
drizzle of olive oil
2tbsp cinnamon
1tbsp smoked paprika
2tbsp dried mint
sprinkle of salt and pepper
a few stalks of dried oregano
3tsp garlic puree
1 tin tomatoes
a squeeze of tomato puree

Put the meat and onions in the slow cooker. Drizzle with olive oil and toss in all the herbs and spices. Throw it all around to cover the meat.

Add the rest of the ingredients and cook on low for 6 hours (or whenever you get home from work !).

Serve with rice or orzo, to be authentic. We had ours with macaroni cheese because that's what the kids were eating !

Fancy cooking the books? Join in with the #readcookeat challenge over at Chez Maximka.

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Back to normal with McCain : Baked Tortilla Using Frozen Chips !

McCain have launched a 'Back To Normal'  campaign to help mums and dads get back into the  swing of the school routine and mid-week teas, which I could particularly relate to this week after having a lovely half-term break (just a few days ago, but it seems like a distant dream already !).  They sent through a pack of goodies, containing an oven tray, serving tongs, oven gloves, plates, egg timer and a supermarket voucher to stock up on McCain frozen products and other ingredients. They also sent through some recipes from Holly Bell, from Recipes From A Normal Mum, one of which immediatey leapt out at me as a potential timesaver because it's a twist on a family fave recipe that I often cook - Spanish tortillas. Frying cubes of raw potato until they are golden brown and soft is what takes the time when making tortilla, but Holly had the ingenious idea of replacing them with frozen chips. Would it work though? Well, there was only one way to find out !

You could use oven chips but I always cook mine in the Actifry so that was the first thing to set off.

While they were cooking, I threw some frozen bacon lardons in a large frying pan, along with some chopped onions and red and green peppers. (I used fresh but you can buy these ready chopped and frozen too, to save even more time.)

Drain off any excess fat. Add the chips and give it all a good stir.

Crack three eggs into a pint glass, give them a whisk then top up with milk to the top of the glass. (My failproof method !) Pour into the pan and put it in the oven for about 15-20 minutes until it's set.

I served it with onion rings (also snatched straight out of the freezer and thrown in the oven with the tortilla) and it was a big hit. Pierre gobbled up his plateful and came back for seconds and then thirds, which is almost unheard of (although he did request no vegetables in it next time - he's dreaming !). The girls looked at me like I'd gone mad when they saw it but they did have to agree that it passed the taste test hands down.

There were still some chips left in the Actifry so the kids had extra chips with theirs, whereas I had salad. It tastes fab - very similar to my usual tortilla in fact - and it is actually a double timesaver, firstly because you don't have to spend 20 minutes or so waiting for the potatoes to cook and go golden brown, and secondly because you don't have to wash up a pan with bits of burnt potatoe glued to the bottom ! 

I'll admit, I was dubious when I saw the recipe, but it's definitely one that I will be using again ! This is my usual tortilla recipe, just replacing the potatoes with chips, but Holly has a different recipe that you might like to try, using peas and layering the chips, which looks fab when you slice it into squares.

Disclosure : I received a baking pack and shopping voucher for ingredients in order to take part in the Back to Normal campaign.

Madhouse recipe : 10-minute Chicken & Sweetcorn Fried Rice

You know those days when you get home from work with zero energy but still need to get something on the table before the kids start eating it ! Well, this dish is perfect - it used up the leftovers from the roast chicken from Sunday, as well as some leftover cooked rice that was in the fridge.

10-minute Chicken & Sweetcorn Fried Rice

ingredients :

leftover roast chicken (& any cooked veggies)
leftover cooked rice
drizzle of olive oil
2 onions
4 mushrooms
tin of sweetcorn
a few tbsp Chinese Fried Rice Sauce

Heat the oil in a large pan or wok. Toss in the sliced onions and mushrooms and stir fry for a few minutes until cooked through. Add the chicken and rice. (If you haven't got any leftover cooked rice, you can use a sachet of microwavable rice.) Add the fried rice sauce and sweetcorn. Heat through, stirring constantly, for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to sit there for a few minutes before giving it a final stir. Any bits of rice stuck to the bottom will soak up the sauce and lift off the pan.

Linking up with the #KitchenClearout linky because it used up all the leftovers in the fridge.

Lego Nexo Knights Magazine launches today (review)

If you have a Lego fan in your midst, get ready for him (or her) to head down to the local newsagent's clutching their pocket money in their grubby mitts every month, because a new Lego Nexo Knights magazine hits the shelves today !

If you are unfamiliar with Lego Nexus Knights, it is the brand new fantasy-based castle theme from Lego, including elements such as robo horses, catapults, lava launchers and mobile castles. The sets officially launched in the New Year so it's a great way to discover the new characters and the futuristic Kingdom of Knighton. The Nexo Knights, led by Clay and guided by their mentor Merlok 2.0, must journey to defeat Jestro the evil jester, the Book of Monsters and their lava monster army. 

It all sounds very exciting, which is reflected in the magazine, which is brightly coloured and packed full of content. 

Each issue comes with a free Lego Nexo Knights toy - in the first issue, it's a limited edition Lance figure - which is a great way of adding to your collection. There are also competitions inside the magazines, which give you the chance to win Lego sets. (Speaking of competitions, UK Mums TV currently have a competition running where you can win a year's subscription to the magazine.)

The pages are filled with comic strips, activities (mazes, spot the differences, colouring, ...), information about the Nexo Knights and readers' pages, where you can send in your artwork to be featured.

You also get a double page poster to put on your bedroom wall.

The magazine is aimed at children aged between 6 and 11 years old and their target audience within this age range is 90% boys and 10% girls. There's nothing to stop girls reading and enjoying it, but there is a distinct lack of female characters in the stories and features, so it's basically the boy-oriented equivalent of the more girly Lego Friends magazine.

Issue one is out today - normal price is £3.25 and it will be on sale every four weeks.

Disclosure : We received a subscription to the magazine in order to write an honest review.

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