Saturday 31 December 2016

Ready to see in the New Year !

We've just popped into Tesco's (like half of the planet, judging by how busy it was !) and picked up some of their party food for tonight. The Orchard at Tesco had sent me through a £5 voucher to try out a couple of things from the range, but they already had a 3-for-2 offer going on and, on top of that, they were reducing the prices on everything for quick sale so I managed to grab a whole feast for a fiver (well, £7 if you're splitting hairs !) - can't say fairer than that ! It all looks really tasty too.

I picked up a pack of 10 coconut king prawns with mango salsa (was £4, reduced to £2.15).

12 Chicken Massaman Wonton Cups (was £4, reduced to £2.56).

10 Thai Fishcakes with lime and chilli dipping sauce (was £4, reduced to £2.28).

12 West Country Steak & Cornish Real Ale Mini Pies (was £4, reduced to £2.08)

We also picked up some fireworks for a mini display in the back garden to help keep the kids awake until midnight !

Pierre is already looking awe-struck and they're still in the box !

Whatever you have planned for tonight, I hope you have a fabulous New Year's Eve.

Disclosure : I received a voucher from The Orchard to try out some of the Tesco Party Food range and share my honest thoughts.

New Year's Eve Mocktails with Princes Fruit Refreshers

What will you be drinking as Big Ben chimes in the New Year later on? Princes sent us through a fruity parcel of goodies this week to help us come up with some delicious mocktails for the kids to enjoy, along with anyone else who wants a non alcoholic option to see in 2017.

As well as some other ingredients (mint leaves, coconut, citrus fruit, fizzy soda water ...), we received two cartons of Fruit Refreshers, the new line of drinks from Princes made with no added sugar.

The range incorporates tasty and exotic fruits from around the world, featuring the finest ingredients such as North American cranberries, coconut water, Peruvian limes, Floridian oranges, Spanish peaches and Alfonso mangoes. Each flavour contains just 25 calories or less per 150ml serving, as well as no preservatives, making them ideal for adults and kids alike.

We received two varieties to try - Peach & Raspberry and Pineapple, Peach & Passion Fruit. We tried them on their own to start with and both were a huge hit with the whole family, kids and grown-ups alike. They have no added sugar but are beautifully sweet, without being too syrupy like some fruit juices and juice drinks.

Here are our New Year Fruity Fizz Mocktails, made by blending half a glass of Fruit Refreshers with 4tbsp fresh coconut water, a squeeze of lime juice and then topping up the glasses with fizzy soda water. To make them extra special, I added slices of lemon, orange and banana on the side of the glass and added a brightly coloured straw.

The kids loved them ... but they also said that the drinks were just as tasty straight from the cartons without all the faffing about ! They had lots of fun behind the scenes though, with Pierre making me shudder by gaily sucking on half a lemon without even wincing and Madhouse Grandad getting the toughest job - cracking open the coconut !

Princes Fruit Refreshers are available in six delicious flavours, including Cranberry, Pineapple Coconut & Lime and Mango, as well as unique flavours, Pineapple, Peach & Passion Fruit and Orange, Lemon & Lime, so there’s a fruit juice for every taste, whether enjoyed with breakfast, lunch or as a non-alcoholic alternative with an evening meal. The cartons can be stored in the cupboard before being chilled as required, thus saving valuable space in the fridge. On shelves in Asda with an RRP of £1.04, Princes Fruit Refreshers will replace the current range of added sugar juice drinks.

Disclosure : We received a mocktail kit, including some cartons of Fruit Refreshers and some fresh ingredients.

Friday 30 December 2016

Chewy Moon healthy kids snacks subscription box (review)

New Year is always a great time for giving your diet an overhaul and snacks are often the first place to start, whether for you or the kids. Out with the old and in with the new is child's play with Chewy Moon, the UK’s first nutritionally-balanced subscription snack box for children between the ages of 4 and 10.  They proudly explain : "Our snacks are made from natural ingredients, with no refined sugar or nasties. We provide five snacks in a box, together with a ‘fun pack’ comprising comics, fact cards and totem toys, making our box just as much fun as it is healthy."

We received a sample box to try with the Madhouse kids and they were instantly won over by the funky packaging featuring cute animals and the little extras in the box. The snacks themselves all got a thumbs up too :

Space Chimp Jack 'n' Berry - Strawberry shapes, cranberry, blueberries, flapjack ... but not just any flapjack. This one  is actually healthy with no sugar, no fuss, no nasties but plenty of fibre and a good amount of protein to fill and power you up ! Very tasty it is too.

Dr Fluffy.nom Freaky Fruits -  Blackcurrant drops, apricot sticks, cherry cubes, peach cubes, raspberry strips ... basically they look, feel and taste like sweets but minus the junk. Unsurprisingly these were the unanimous favourites !

Loved Up Squirrel Fantasticos - Pizza balls, edamame beans, baked cheese ... this one may not sound overly healthy on paper but cheese is a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin B12 and the pizza balls are made with wheat flour, olive oil, tomato, flax seeds, salt, yeast, wheat malt, onion, oregano and natural flavour. The Madhouse kids loved the cheese and pizza but weren't too keen on the edamame beans and didn't think they went with the rest. I liked the fact that there are savoury options as well as sweet snacks though.

Funny Duck Cherry Cola - Cola raisins, cherry, cranberry ... the Madhouse kids loved these and when I had a taste, I could see why. They're juicy, chewy, sweet and zingy. Raisins also pack more nutrition than their small size might reveal, because when grapes are dehydrated to produce raisins, the nutrients become more concentrated, making a handful of raisins a snack rich in B vitamins, iron and potassium.

Brand Stylist Happy BBQ - Smoky almonds, smoky coconut chips ... The organic smoky coconut chips in this snack are a savoury superstar! Coconuts are a great source of fibre, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids for healthy bones and teeth. The kids weren't so keen on these because they found the texture a bit dry and would have preferred a mixture of fruit and nuts, but I finished them off and loved them.

The snacks also come with "old skool stuff for you to make and do" in the box, with more activities online - on instagram you can also win instant giveaway prizes and enter video competitions for even more gifts. In our box, we got a guide to cloud spotting (and the science behind the different types), a comic strip and a pop-out-and-make Dr Fluffy.nom.

We loved the wide variety and the originality of the snacks, which are healthier than many sweet or savoury kid-oriented snacks while remaining appealing to young nibblers. They're suitable for school  lunchboxes and the letterbox-friendly packaging is a great idea. The standard weekly boxes cost £3.95 + 98p postage. As the brand is only just launching in January, you can get your first box for free (and you can unsubscribe at any time).

for more information :

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

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 30/12

I don't need a menu plan until after New Year because we'll still be visiting family but, after all the festive over-indulgence, I'm looking forward to some healthy, hearty, wholesome and fairly plain dishes to kick off the new year. On Monday we're all still off but it's back to the grindstone for the whole family on Tuesday *groan* !


lunch - sandwiches on the way home

dinner - soup - but we'll all be tired after the journey (and New Year's Eve) so I'm guessing it'll be from a carton (probably New Covent Garden if they're still doing their £1 off vouchers)


lunch - the fridge and freezer are pretty empty until we go shopping so beefburgers with mash and beans should be do-able !

dinner - veggie lasagne (assuming the fridge has been restocked)


dinner - bacon and lentil stew


lunch - tacos

dinner - a Newfoundland recipe - cod with scrunchions (the nearest I'll get is crispy fatty bacon), boiled potatoes and broccoli


dinner - an African dish, chicken or pork palaver (with a spinach, tomato & peanut sauce) with buckwheat


dinner - I'm guessing there will be a fridgeload of leftovers, but if not, chilli con carne & rice

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***

Join in with the weekly meal plan bloghop !

Thursday 29 December 2016

Globecooking recipe : Minced Beef Tagine (Tunisia)

As soon as I hear the word tagine, I think of a Moroccan casserole-style meal, cooked in a dish of the same name. I was unaware that it has a totally different meaning in Tunisia though, where it is a kind of omelette, containing meat and vegetables. It's basically a Spanish omelette Tunisian-style ! We ate ours hot but traditionally it is cut into squares and eaten cold, making it a great picnic or packed lunch food. I made a minced beef one but it can also be made with chicken.

Minced Beef Tagine

ingredients :

2tbsp butter
drizzle of olive oil
3 potatoes
500g minced beef
clove of garlic
2 onions
1/2 red pepper
squeeze of tomato concentrate
1/2tsp smoked paprika
1/2tsp cumin
8 eggs
splash of milk
handful of grated cheese

Chop the potatoes into small cubes (I didn't bother peeling them) and fry on a low heat in a drizzle of olive oil for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the butter, coat all the potatoes and cook for a further ten minutes on a very low heat until they are totally cooked through and nicely browned.

While the potatoes are cooking, gently fry the onions and garlic in a drizzle of olive oil, then add the mince and red peppers. Cook until the meat is totally brown. Drain off any excess liquid.

Squeeze in the tomato puree and the spices. along with a pinch of salt.

Pour the potatoes into the meat and stir it all up.

Scatter over a handful of grated cheese.

Whisk the eggs together in a bowl and add a splash of milk and a pinch of salt. Pour into the pan and cook for 5 minutes until the bottom of the egg has set.

Put under the grill for a further 5 minutes for the top to set.

Eat hot, with salad, or cold, chopped into small squares and stabbed onto cocktail sticks as party food.

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Bye bye #NumNomsAdvent - hello New Year (and new products)

As I told you in a recent post, Juliette was over the moon to receive a surprise #NumNomsAdvent parcel in the post, containing twenty four wrapped-up mystery presents to discover in the run up to Christmas.

Every day was a new discovery, with anything from colouring sheets, scratch and sniff stickers, sweets and popcorn to yogurt pot blind packs or super duper multipacks.

She's building up quite a collection now, with everything from fruit and candy-scented critters to sandwiches, hamburgers and even sushi - I was a bit worried about sniffing that one but luckily it doesn't smell of fish ! They are all very cute and I love the fact that they hide lip balms, motorised Go Go Nums or erasers. (They actually really remind me of my collection of smelly rubbers when I was a kid, so I understand the appeal.) 

The final gift was extra special because it was  a brand new product from Num Noms – the Num Noms Lights.

As well as being cute and nicely fragranced, the Num Noms Lights glow so they're perfect for Christmas ! The new range hit the shops on Boxing Day so if your tween-aged daughters still have some Christmas money to spend, they're sure to get a warm reception.

Disclosure : We received a fabulous #NumNomsAdvent package with a variety of surprise gifts for the run up to Christmas.

My Goodreads 2016 Challenge ... blown out of the water !

I've always been a bookworm but it wasn't until I signed up for the Goodreads reading challenge a few years ago that I realised just how prolific a reader I am ! I always choose 52 books in a year as my target but a book a week still seems extremely ambitious to me. This year once again, I not only hit my target but exceeded it, coming in at 62 books. (It says 61 above because I still have about 50 pages left of my current book but that will be finished by the end of the week.) That's one book every 5.9 days, which I think is very impressive !

I always like to look back over the books I've read so I thought I'd put together a roundup. Click on the book names to read my reviews and, if you've read any of them, please do share your comments below. I always love to compare notes and see what other people thought.












You can also see what I read in 20152014 and 2013

Tuesday 27 December 2016

Book review : In The Woods - Tana French

In The Woods was one of several crime fiction novels that I picked up in a 3-for-£5 promotion at The Works. It was written back in 2007 and was Tana French's debut novel and the first in the Dublin Murder Squad series. I'd already read and reviewed Faithful Place, the third book in the series, several years ago, but each book deals with a different case and often completely different police characters, so they can all be enjoyed as stand-alone novels.

In The Woods deals with the brutal murder of a twelve-year-old girl, Katy Devlin, whose battered body is discovered on an ancient altar, part of an archaeological dig site, that is soon to be turned into a motorway. Her father is leading the protest to move the motorway, which could be why she was targetted but, as in all such cases, her father is also a suspect.

To make things even more complicated, the detectives investigating the case are Cassie Maddox and Rob Ryan ... or Adam as he was known as a child, and he experienced traumatic events of his own in these very same woods, when two of his friends vanished and he was discovered drenched in blood with no recollection of what had happened. Are the two incidents related, or will investigating one help unlock memories of the other?

Despite the slight change of name, I found it hard to believe that nobody would recognise Rob, given the media coverage that the suspicious disappearance of two children would have attracted. I also found that the early part of the novel dragged on, with not much happening for quite some time. I soon realised, however, that the novel is as much about Rob's psychological development and his complicated relationship with Cassie as it is about solving the Katy Devlin case. For the second half of the novel, when the pieces of the puzzle started clicking into place and the pace picked up, I was totally hooked and couldn't wait to find out how things would come together. 

I was slightly disappointed that the original case, featuring Rob and his childhood friends, is never solved or explained, despite his best efforts to jolt his memory back into place, but ultimately, this fits in with his psychological profile - whether in relationships or when he finds himself on the cusp of recovering his memory, Rob's subconscious reaction is to run away. The Katy Devlin case is nicely wrapped up though, with a satisfyingly unexpected and chilling conclusion.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £6.99

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks (28 Mar. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1444758349
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444758344
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.9 x 19.7 cm

#readcookeat recipe : Beef & Vegetables with Almonds (A Long Ways From Home)

If you are starting to feel all turkeyed out and want a change from the Christmas leftovers, or alternatively if you're scratching your head, wondering what to do with the last bit of turkey left in the fridge, this recipe, inspired by Sgt Windflower in Mike Martin's A Long Ways From Home (click through to read my review), could be adapted to use up turkey instead of beef. It was inspired by this extract :

p76 Brown went off with his box of Chinese food for the troops. Windflower went into the restaurant and took a quick look at the dinner buffet, but decided to order some take-out from the menu instead. He knew from past experience that simple was always better when it came to ordering any take-out food. He selected #Combo 3 with an egg roll, beef with vegetables and almonds, sweet and sour chicken balls and chicken fried rice. In twenty minutes, he was back in his room with his food and a large tea from Tim Hortons.

I already made Chicken Fried Rice just before Christmas, which would be another great dish for using up the leftovers.

Beef & Vegetables with Almonds

ingredients :

drizzle of sesame oil or olive oil
2 onions
1 clove of garlic
400g steak/beef chopped into thin strips
2 carrots
1 large courgette
1/2 red pepper
1/2 green pepper
3 mushrooms
1tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1tbsp soy sauce
1tbsp kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
1/2 cup flaked almonds

Heat the oil in a large wok and gently fry the garlic and onion until soft and translucent but not coloured.

Use a potato peeler to cut off thin strips of courgette and carrot. Toss them into the pan and stir fry for 2 minutes.

Add the red and green peppers and cook for a further 3 minutes.

Next to go in is the beef and mushrooms. Cook for 5-8 minutes, depending on how well cooked you like your beef.

I had a rummage through my kitchen cupboard to see what I could find with an Asian flavour and discovered sweet chilli sauce, kecap manis, sesame oil, a stir fry sauce (mainly made of soy sauce with added garlic and Chinese spice), rich hoisin sauce and sticky plum sauce.

If the beef and mushrooms have released too much liquid, drain off the excess. Add a spoonful of this and that, tasting frequently, until you get the balance you desire. I've given you my proportions as a guide but feel free to experiment with whatever is in your cupboards.

Once the meat and veggies are covered in a thick sticky sauce, turn off the heat and scatter over the flaked almonds. Serve immediately with noodles or rice.

If you fancy cooking the books too, head over to the #readcookeat challenge at Chez Maximka.

This is a great way of clearing out the veggies in the fridge, using up leftover cooked meat and finishing off odds and ends of condiments, so I'm adding it to this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Monday 26 December 2016

Madhouse review of the year 2016

Well, what a year it's been ! I always like to take a moment at the end of the year to look back at some of the highlights of the year - the main reason for starting a blog was to keep a record of our special moments to share with family who live far away, so all the important stuff is on here !

January bought a big storm to Dunkirk which left sand dunes on the prom and washed up dead fish, starfish (which we put back in the sea because they were still alive) and sea urchins. We also went on an urban art-spotting escapade in Hastings, including finding a Banksy on the beach wall. The After Eights Challenge was good for a giggle too !


February was a great month for baking, when I pulled off a rather impressive-looking polka dot Swiss roll (if I say so myself !). We had a race against the weather under extremely menacing skies on the Digue des Alliés, the jetty that will soon be featuring in Chistopher Nolan's Dunkirk film later in the year, and rain didn't manage to stop play for the riot of colour that is Dunkirk carnival.

In March, we called in to the circus zoo with the visiting Madhouse grandparents and even got to stroke the zebras. We installed an Irish Fairy Door which was the start of a magical, enchanted journey and the Madhouse kids made me a fabulous cake for Mother's Day.

April brought another fun cookery challenge : creating a Corgi Cake to celebrate the Queen's 90th birthday and Persil encouraged us to get messy. We also found a cool Angry Birds playpark, went for a nature walk along the canals (and ran away when it got boring !) and got up close to the animals at the zoo.

In May, a school trip to Canterbury gave us the chance to find some of the town's hidden gems. Dunkirk started getting a facelift to step back into wartime for Christopher Nolan's film. We went geocaching at the Platier D'Oye nature reserve and discovered the historical and natural treasures on the beach at Oye Plage.

June kicked off the summer fun with the Festijeunes kids' festival (whose highlights were water-gun paint art and pony riding for Pierre), we made a miniature easel for our fairy (out of a couple of pegs) and we got all patriotic with a fruity Union Jack cake.

In July, Pierre fell in love with the hilarious game Seagull Splat, we went bug-hunting, Juliette got her braces off, we went to a medieval fun day and had fun at the Festipark Extreme Sports festival. We also had a fun but slightly spooky visit to Smugglers Adventure in St Clement's Caves in Hastings.

August is always the month we go on holiday - this year to Lanzarote, where the highlights included a submarine safari, Timanfaya volcanic national park and a huge cactus garden. We also made a cool owl-shaped cake and went squirrel-hunting in Alexandra Park in Hastings.

September was back to school but the fun continued nevertheless, with an inflatable sports day in the town square, a display of VW Beetles along the prom and a kite festival at the beach. Pierre also adopted some pet snails !

In October, there was a spooky theme at the zoo, we made a scary graveyard cheesecake with After Eights and Pierre transformed a pizza box into a vampire Minion. We visited a multi-era military camp reenactment and an agricultural fair.

November was a time for setting free our geocaching travelbugs from Lanzarote and we also had fun with the Googly Eyes game. A baking fail turned into some delicious double choc cookie cups.

And finally, December brought festive delights in Dunkirk and Brest and a Father Christmas parade. There were also festive nibbles aplenty, including chocolate mendiants aka reindeer poo, Snowflake Dream Triple Layer Chocolates and an indulgent Macabella Cheesecake.

The ultimate moment of the year (and indeed her entire life so far apparently !) for Sophie was staking out Harry Styles' hotel for an entire month until she finally got to meet him and take a photo with him. Harry was in town filming for Dunkirk so the fans were out in force - I never thought she'd manage it to be honest, so hats off to her for perseverance and sheer willpower ! (You can find out all about it on Sophie's bilingual blog.)

It's time to say goodbye to 2016 - I wonder what 2017 will bring !
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