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.

Madhouse recipe : Polka Dot Swiss Roll

As I told you earlier in the week, I've been having great fun (and a few hair-raising moments !) trying out some of the recipes from the first ever Bake Box. I've never made a swiss roll before, let alone a polka dot one, so I was slightly nervous it would all go horribly wrong, but it was actully a great success ! Check out the official recipe as well as a very useful video tutorial over on the Bake Box Blog. Here's my tweaked and slightly simplified version.

Polka Dot Swiss Roll

For the pink cake mix :

Oil or Cake Release Spray
75g butter, at room temperature
75g icing sugar
2 egg whites
75g plain flour
½tsp vanilla essence
Food Colouring Gel (in pink or any colour of your choice)

For the plain cake mix:

3 medium eggs
125g caster sugar
125g self-raising flour

For the filling :
1/3 jar strawberry or raspberry jam
can of squirty cream

For the decorations :

fresh strawberries
200g white chocolate
food colouring dust (optional)
sprinkles/ freeze dried raspberries or strawberries

Here's the recipe card, showing their prettified version that I was aiming to recreate, and the silicon mat from the Bake Box. 

Now proper bakers have a KitchenAid. I have to make do with a mini-helper with a Rabbid Rabbits plastic whisk from a McDonald's Happy Meal !

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy then gradually whisk in the egg whites. Stir in the vanilla and food colouring then fold in the flour.

Put the greased silicon mat in a swiss roll tin - or if you haven't got one, I discovered that a roasting tin will do ! Use the polka dot pattern to pipe dollops of pink cake mix in a regular pattern. (You could do this yourself with a regular silicon mat.) I'd like to try with other patterns like squiggles or hashtags or swirls next time. Put it in the fridge while you mix up the plain batter.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar then gently fold in the flour for the plain cake mix. Pour it over the top of the pink dots and very carefully spread it across the entire surface with a spatula. Bash the tin down flat a few times to get rid of air bubbles.

Bake in a preheated oven at 200°C for 10-12 minutes until pale golden and starting to shrink away from the edges of the tin. Allow to cool slightly on the silicon mat then roll it up (this makes it easier to roll up without breaking later), unroll it and leave it to cool completely (still on the silicon mat).

While it was cooling, we made some chocolate decorations for the top. We melted white chocolate and mixed in some food colour dust - it was supposed to be blue but came out a bit of a dodgy warship grey colour ! We spread it out thickly on a sheet of foil, sprinkled silver balls and freeze dried raspberries over the top then left it to set. While still soft but almost set, we used a mini butterfly cookie cutter to cut out chocolate shapes for the top of the cake then put them in the fridge to set completely.

When completely cooled, spread the whole surface of the cake with jam. I was supposed to make firm whipped cream from scratch but I went for the easy option and used a can of squirty cream instead (not through laziness but because the kids were getting impatient !).

Now for the tricky part. Carefully roll it up while gently peeling off the silicon mat. I was amazed at how well the polka dots worked.

This was already a pretty amazing looking cake if you ask me (and I'd have been tempted to stop there if the kids hadn't been egging me on !).

Squirt more cream across the top and stick on heaps of chopped fresh strawberries and chocolate butterflies - or sprinkles or icing sugar or whatever you fancy really.

The cake itself wasn't the most fantastic tasting cake I've ever made but it definitely had visual wow-factor and the kids couldn't get their heads around the polka dot pattern ! The chocolate butterfly shapes would have looked better in a different colour but overall, we were very pleased with the way it turned out.

Disclosure : I received a Bake Box for review.

Link up your recipe of the week

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 :

I've been putting Bake Box to the test ... or vice versa ! (review)

I'm always cooking up all manner of things in the Madhouse Kitchen, both sweet and savoury, but even if I'm a dab hand at making cakes and cookies, I always tend to go for taste over appearance, probably because I often have the Madhouse kids pitching in. When I was given the chance to review Bake Box, a brand new subscription service offering keen bakers a variety of kitchen tools and decorating ingredients, as well as recipe cards and a dedicated website complete with video tutorials, to help you learn your skills and up your game, I was intrigued.

The postie soon dropped off this rather fetching pale purple box decorated with a stylised cake stand filled with delectable-looking cakes. It's a very sturdy box that can be reused for storage, in or out of the kitchen.

But onto to the important bit - the contents ! 

I glanced at the envelope of recipes and discovered that the theme of this first box is Spots and Stripes - that certainly sounds intriguing - then I went to see what was in the box.

The first thing I saw was a silicon bundt mould, which is very handy because I only have a very small individual sized one, which is a bit of a waste of time. I also spotted a dotty silicon mat, some pink Pro-Gel professional grade food colouring, a dress-shaped cookie cutter, a piping bag and nozzle, some spots and stripes templates, some plungers and a cutter/crimper for sugar paste.

I turned to the recipe cards and was very impressed by how original they are - cute Fashionista Biscuits, a very funky Striped Birthday Cake, Pinwheel Lemon Cupcakes, Chocolate Bundt Cake, a Blueberry Charlotte that looks utterly amazing and a remarkable Polka Dot Swiss Roll. Sophie had a look, smirked and scoffed "yours won't look anything like those" ! Thanks for the vote of confidence, although I must admit, I was thinking myself that they looked rather challenging and used a lot of techniques that I'd never even dreamed of trying to use, such as making spotty cakes !

Well, guess what - I managed, even with the kids helping out ! Admittedly, they don't look absolutely identical but they were a lot of fun to make, tasted great and got a "wow" from the kids when it was time to eat them. Here's our version of the Bundt cake.

And here's our strawberry and blue chocolate butterfly topped Swiss roll. I actually made a Swiss roll ! And it didn't fall apart ! And more to the point, it's spotty !!

The recipe cards have exactly the right tone, giving plenty of guidance to novice bakers but not talking down to confirmed cake-makers. You don't get step-by-step photos but if you head over to the Bake Box website, you can see the video tutorials which make it all look even simpler. 

We adapted the recipes slightly (mainly because the kids were too impatient to eat the finished creations and didn't want me to spend too long making them look even prettier !) but they stil looked fantastic and even better, we've already been discussing new ways to incorporate the tecniques into different recipes. The spotty cake in particular really impressed the kids and I was very pleased to pull off a Swiss roll, even without a Swiss roll tin. (I used a roasting tin instead !)

You can subscribe to Bake Box (or buy a one-off box) for £14.99 plus delivery and you'll get a new box every two months. This is the perfect timescale because any more regular than that and you wouldn't have time to try out all the new recipes and techniques. I found myself pushed to my limits so it was a really rewarding experience.

I'll be back to show you more about how we made the cakes, but have a look at for more info. The next box is now available and has a "springtime in Paris" theme (order by the end of February for delivery in March). This would make a fabulous Mother's Day gift if your mum enjoys pottering about in the kitchen - or you could use it yourself to create a really special cake  for your mum instead !

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