Tuesday 31 January 2017

The future is a blank page #DesignADiary

There's something very cathartic about throwing out last year's calendar and diary and starting a brand new one in January. Every day is a blank page that you can fill with whatever you like - your hopes, dreams and plans for the coming year. It really gives you the feeling that you are the master of your own destiny and who doesn't like the chance to start all over again with a clean slate ?!

Gel-A-Peel invited us to get creative and join in with their #DesignADiary campaign for the New Year.

We discovered Gel-A-Peel during our pre-Christmas crafting and were impressed to see just how many different materials you can use it on - fabric, glass, wood, plastic, paper, ... 

As its name suggests, you can also make your own jewellery and charms by tracing your design on a plastic sheet, waiting for it to dry then peeling it off. It's so versatile that you can give totally free reign to your creativity and imagination.

After the glittery, girly pinks and purples that we tried last time, our new pack contained funky neon colours.

They were perfect for giving Juliette's diary a really striking, boldly coloured design. All we have to do now is make lots of fun memories to fill the pages !

Disclosure : We received the product in order to take part in the #DesignADiary project.

#readcookeat recipe : No-Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake

I've been making lots of #readcookeat recipes inspired by Sgt Windflower lately, but they have all been savoury ones. You could say I've been saving the best till last because I'm now moving on to the sweet dishes and I knew we'd be in for a treat because Sgt. Windflower certainly loves his desserts ! One of his favourites seems to be Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake, which gets many a mention, including this one :

p13  Windflower finished [the washing-up] in record time and was soon sitting next to Sheila on the couch with half of his dessert, the fabulous chocolate peanut butter cheesecake from the Mug-Up Café, already gone. He barely breathed as he finished it off. 'Mmmm,' was his only response.

Cheesecake is open to so many interpretations so I had a look around online and was tempted by Nigella Lawson's baked peanut butter chocolate cheesecake. Then the kids wanted to go out with the dogs so I decided to go for a quick no-bake option which was totally delicious but really quick and simple to throw together. Sgt Windflower, I salute you !

 No-Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake

ingredients :

3 cups digestive biscuits/Graham crackers/cereal
4tbsp butter
150g cream cheese
1/2 a jar of peanut butter
8tbsp marscapone (or double cream)
4tbsp Greek yogurt
4tbsp icing sugar
1 heaped tbsp chocolate spread
1 bar (200g) milk or dark chocolate

Crush the biscuits with a rolling pin. As someone had eaten all the remaining digestive biscuits that I'd earmarked for making cheesecake, I had to improvise and used up some cereal that the kids weren't eating. I whizzed it in the food processor and added a teaspoon of cinnamon to give it some oomph. Make sure you don't make it too fine - you want a rough crumb.

Melt the butter and mix it into the crumbs. Add a little more if it's too dry.

Line a springform tin with foil and press the crumbs into the base. Don't press then too hard but make sure they are compact enough to stay together.

I had a rummage in the cupboards and found two ends of jars of peanut butter. Both were crunchy which I was dubious about but it worked fine once it was mixed with the other ingredients and still gave a creamy, smooth finish.

Mix the peanut butter into the cream cheese until smooth.

Add the marscapone and Greek yogurt.

Add icing sugar to taste. This also helps thicken it up if it's a bit too runny. 

I had a jar of chocolate spread in the cupboard so I decided to stir some through the mix for a marbled effect.

Don't overstir if you want a pretty pattern !

Spoon over the crumb base and use a spatula to smooth the top.

Break the chocolate into a bowl and melt in the microwave. Go for very short bursts to avoid burning it. Drizzle over the top of the cheesecake.

Leave in the fridge for a few hours to firm up before serving.

Cut into pieces and serve immediately.

It's not the firmest cheesecake I've ever made but it was delicious nevertheless and the kids gobbled it up !

As this is yet another recipe inspired by Mike Martin's Sgt Windflower mystery A Long Ways From Home (click through to read my review), I'm linking this up to the #readcookeat challenge over at Chez Maximka.

This also used up some ends of jars of peanut butter and some cereal that nobody was eating so I'm adding it to this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Link up your recipe of the week

Monday 30 January 2017

Globecooking recipe : Korvapuusti, cinnamon rolls (Finland)

Yesterday, I made  Korvapuusti, one of the recipes from the Finnish-themed Kitchen Trotter box and I have to say, I was underwhelmed. They were OK but very bland and you could hardly detect the cinnamon-flavour at all. I'd already decided that, should I make them again, I'd definitely increase the quantity of cinnamon that the recipe called for. Having had a quick google, I've found a recipe that sounds and looks much nicer, over at My Blue and White Kitchen. Her recipe uses a filling made with butter, sugar and about 2tbsp of cinnamon (as well as cardamom), rather than the measly 1tsp (and no butter or sugar) that my recipe used. It's not just the recipe that is better though - Sini also shows how to get the traditional shape that corresponds perfectly with the name Korvapuusti, which means Slapped Ears ! (Click through to Sini's recipe and look at the pictures - it'll make sense !)

The Kitchen Trotter box provided a sachet of Korvapuusti mix but, once I looked at the list of ingredients, I really couldn't see the point - all it contains is flour, sugar, powdered butter, wheat gluten, salt and a few unnecessary additives such as colouring, wheat enzymes and antioxydants. It would be so easy and more authentic to make it from scratch with flour.

I'll give you the recipe I used, but I recommend you head over to the recipe I linked to above, which looks much tastier and more authentic. I'll be using it then next time I make them for sure !


ingredients :

100g Korvapuusti mix (basically flour - see above)
1 egg
30ml water
1 tsp dried yeast
30g softened or melted butter
1tsp cinnamon (I suggest using more)
50g pearl sugar

Beat the egg and put half aside for later. Add the flour mix, the dried yeast and the water to the bowl.

Knead for fifteen minutes until you get a nice ball of dough. This was incredibly sticky so I added a couple of spoonfuls of flour to help it out.

Eventually, by using a silicon spatula to scrape off the sides, I got a reasonable ball of dough, but it was still very sticky.

Leave for an hour in a warm place with a damp, clean tea-towel over the bowl, for the yeast to work its magic.

Roll the dough out onto a floured surface.

The recipe said to cover the dough with softened or melted butter. As it was cold in the kitchen and my butter was rock hard, I decided to melt it. With hindsight, this was a bad idea. As a filling, it disappeared and it also made the dough even stickier to work with. Definitely use softened butter or even a good margarine/butter spread if you have to.

Sprinkle with cinnamon. In my opinion, 1tsp is not enough so just go with your instinct. I'd also add a sprinkle of sugar. In fact, creaming the butter, sugar and cinnamon together before spreading it on the dough would be even better.

Roll the dough up like a Swiss roll. Try to keep it tight (but mine was too sticky and drowning in melted butter). 

Cut into pieces and lay them, spiral-side up, on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Brush with the remaining beaten egg and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Leave to rise for another hour.

Bake at 180° for 15 minutes. They're best eaten warm.

And I'd say they're even better if you forget the Kitchen Trotter recipe altogether and use the one from My Blue and White Kitchen !

Fancy trying some more Finnish cuisine? How about Joulukinkku (crumbed roast pork) or Lanttulaatikka (mashed swede side dish) ?

The January 2017 Degustabox review

Earlier in the week, the postie dropped off the January Degustabox. So what would be hiding in this month's mystery box of delights? Would it have a healthy eating theme going on for New Year? Without further ado, it was time to find out !

The first thing that I spotted when I peeked in the box was the bags of snacks and sweets, so I didn't immediately think it was a box full of healthy eating options. However, on closer inspection, they are healthier alternatives to the usual crisps and treats, and the rest of the products did confirm my suspicions that this would be heavy on the more health conscious products that many people favour in January after all the festive over-indulgence. Here's the lowdown on this month's products :

Popchips Ridges (Crazy Hot) (£1.99) - we've tried and loved many of the Popchips range and the ridges are particularly nice, with a robust flavour and lovely crunchy texture. These ones were slightly too robust for us though - they weren't kidding when they labelled them crazy hot and they were a bit too full-on for our tastebuds. They are popped, not fried, making them a healthier alternative to crisps, and a serving comes in under 100 calories.

Yushoi Snapea Rice Sticks (Coconut & Chilli) (£1.79) - This is another brand that we've discovered in a past Degustabox. They are a baked snack made with green peas but the lovely airy, crispy texture makes them just as tasty as regular crisps. Last time we tried the Lightly Salted variety. This time, the kids weren't keen on the Coconut & Chilli flavour but the grown-ups liked them.

 Finn Crisp Snacks (Seeds & Sea Salt) (£1.89) - We've tried Finn Crisp Crispbreads before but the Seeds & Sea Salt Snacks are a new addition to the range. They are baked with 100 % wholegrain rye and have a high fibre content (19g per 100g). They have no added fat and they have a satisfyingly crunchy texture. You get the virtuous feeling of eating a healthy snack, but we did find them quite bland so I'd suggest eating them with a dip (which may well counteract the healthier credentials if you're not careful).

Pip's Real Hot Chocolate - What I love about Degustaboxes is discovering brands and products that we've never heard of and would probably never have discovered if they hadn't turned up in a box. Pip's Real Hot Chocolate is one such product - it's a solid chocolate coin, handmade in Wales, that you heat in a pan with cold milk to make delicious, old-fashioned hot chocolate. The Madhouse kids had only ever tasted hot chocolate made from supermarket powdered cocoa so they were very enthusiastic. We got the Classic flavour but looking on their website, they have everything from Black Forest, Orange and Mint to Pure White and Fiery Spice. I know it's too late for this year but this would be a great addition to a Christmas Eve box (which is a tradition that seems to have become massively popular in recent years).

Fruit-tella Strawberry 30% Less Sugar (£1.25) - We all love these chewy, fruity sweets and if it hadn't said so on the pack, we'd never have realised that they contain 30% less sugar. A unanimous hit !

Quinola Mothergrain (£2.49) - Ready cooked organic and fairtrade pearl quinoa with split peas. 100% organic, full of nutrients and can be eaten hot or cold. I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of quinoa, but I do like the simplicity of the ready-to-heat pouch.

Chia shots (2 x 66p) - This is another thing that, like the quinoa, I haven't really bought into. I know it's supposed to be ultra-healthy because they're packed with fibre, omega 3 and protein, but I've never been won over by the various chia products we've tried in the past. Chia Shots can be sprinkled into salads, cereal, muesli, smoothies or baking and here we get a black one and a white one.

Aspire drinks (2 x £1.45) - I wrote a complete review of Aspire Drinks a few years ago. They are supposed to give you a burst of natural, healthy energy from green tea and help with reducing body fat. They are sugar free and calorie free and both the Cranberry and the Mango & Lemonade have a pleasant, refreshing taste. I love them as a healthy and tasty soft drinks option but I'm very sceptical about the energy and weight loss claims.

Natvia (£4.99) - Natvia is a natural sweetener made from stevia and plant nectar and no hidden nasties. It is diabetic friendly and only contains 0.4 calories per serving. You can use it just like sugar, on cereal, in baking and hot drinks. I don't buy sweeteners because they are so expensive but this is a good swap for sugar as you really can't taste the difference.

We are Little's French vanilla-infused coffee (£2.99) - Super high quality Arabica coffee infused with natural Madagascan Bourbon vanilla. I don't drink coffee but I passed this over to Madhouse Daddy who said it was very nice, even though he doesn't usually drink instant coffee. We are Little's call themselves the flavour enthusiasts and I was stunned to see just how many different flavoured coffees they make : Café Amaretto, Chocolate Caramel, Chocolate Orange, Christmas Spirit, Havana Rum, Irish Cream, Spicy Cardamom, Island Coconut, Maple Walnut, Rich Hazelnut, Swiss Chocolate ... They're sure to have a flavour to appeal to your tastes.

 Chosan By Nature Hibiscus drink - I remember drinking hibiscus flavoured juice in Turkey so I was looking forward to trying this. The Fiery Ginger flavour was a bit too full on for us but I'd be interested in trying out the other flavours (pure, mint, mild ginger and baobab). It's low in calories and contains no refined sugar (only coconut sugar is added), it's organic and high in vitamin C and potassium.

Crabbies Alcoholic Ginger Beer (£1.39) - I'm not sure how this fits into the healthy box, especially as many people partake in Dry January (although to be fair, Degustabox don't say that this is supposed to be a healthy box, that's just my assumption given the products and the date !), but I'm not complaining because I love Crabbies. (Another brand that I discovered through Degustabox.) This one has a Scottish Raspberry flavour which is delicious and very refreshing.

 Protein Boost (£1.29) - We got a strawberry one but they are also available in chocolate flavour. Protein is well-known for helping with weight loss because it fills you up for longer and this bottle contains 20g of protein. It tastes very nice and I drank this for breakfast on the way to work. 

The Collective luxury yogurt (£2) - There is a voucher in the box to go and pick this up - I love their yogurts so I'm expecting to love this.

This month's recipe suggestions are for Chia Cranberry Peanut Butter Slice and Chia Mocha, which I probably won't be making because they don't really appeal to me. It's an interesting box, with a few instant hits and several "not sure until we try them" products, which is what a foodie subscription box is all about.

As a Degustabox blogger, I got to sample all of the products that went into this month's boxes but subscribers received a slightly different combination of products depending on their preferences when they signed up.

A subscription to Degustabox costs £12.99 per month including delivery, with each box having a value of much more than that, but the great news is, I have a discount coupon code for you which now gives you a whopping £7 off the price of your first box, so you'll get it for just £5.99 - just enter code 0BS6T at the checkout.

for more information :

Also now on Instagram @DegustaboxUK

Disclosure : We received the box in order to write an honest review. As a Degustabox blogger, I receive all of the products that go into the monthly boxes, but subscribers may not get exactly the same selection.

Sunday 29 January 2017

Giveaway #607 : Win 2 x Phantom Boy on dvd - closed - winners Sheri Darby, Tracy Nixon

13th February 2017 sees the UK DVD release of Phantom Boy, an exciting and touching animated movie from the Academy Award- nominated writers and directors of A Cat In Paris. Directed by Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli, the film can be watched in the original French version with English subtitles, featuring the voice talents of Fred Armisen, Vincent D’Onofrio and Jared Padalecki, but also as an English language version with the voice of Audrey Tautou.

 Set in the shadowy streets and alleyways of New York, the film tells the story of Leo, an 11-year-old boy with a secret. A mysterious illness has transformed him into a phantom boy, able to leave the confines of his body and explore the city as a ghostly apparition. While in the hospital, he befriends Alex, a New York City cop injured while attempting to capture a nefarious gangster who has taken control of the city’s power supply, throwing the metropolis into chaos. Now they must form an extraordinary duo, using Leo’s phantom powers and Alex’s detective work to foil the plot and save New York from destruction.

It has a PG-rating and is a great family film, combining a tender story and an action-packed adventure so it will appeal to everyone. We joked that it was like a cross between The Snowman (when he goes flying above the city and countryside) and a superhero movie like Superman.

Have a look at the trailer to get a feel for the animation :

Genre: Family, Adventure
Language: English / French with English subtitles
R/T: 81 mins (approx.)
RRP: £19.99
Cat no: SODA306
Barcode: 5060238032193

Phantom Boy will be released on 13th February but it is already available for pre-order. I also have two copies of the DVD to give away to lucky Madhouse Family Reviews readers. Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 15/2/17

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook 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 :
Competitions listed on www.ThePrizeFinder.com

Make 2017 Your Year of Adventures, whatever your age !

Climbing This Would Really Be An Adventure

When was the last time you had an adventure ? Ask this question to a child and they'll answer in a heartbeat. Ask a grown-up and he'll probably have to have a very long think before he can come up with anything to say. When you're a kid, you can see adventures everywhere, from building a secret den with a quilt and a couple of chairs to having a picnic in the garden or seeing what the sea has washed up at high tide. Adults tend to think that you have to do something amazing and often expensive for it to count as an adventure, such as travelling, taking part in extreme sports or paying for a unique experience to cross off your bucket list.

I love taking the kids out for mini adventures, usually of the geocaching kind, often with a rough plan of where we're going but very willing to divert or stop off along the way if we discover unexpected interesting things. Take today for example. We took the dogs out for a quick walk along the canal.

Who could have imagined that we'd come across this animal's skull nestling in the grass? I initially told the kids that it probably belonged to a rabbit but, looking at the teeth, I actually think it's more likely to be a cat - eeek ! Pretty grim ... but the kids were fascinated, looking at the teeth and the eye sockets.

Last week, it was a patch of frost that caught their eye and had them throwing it around for a "snowball" fight. They also stopped at every single frozen puddle en route and were in awe of the icicles that they kept finding to snap off and melt in their hands. All tiny adventures that it would have been easy to bypass if we hadn't taken time to stop on our way and seize the moment.

Madhouse Daddy doesn't share our enthusiasm for getting out and about in the subzero temperatures though, so he'd much rather get his adventures on screen, snuggled under a blanket with a bowl of popcorn ! Warner Bros Home Entertainment have helped us have our own adventures once the kids are tucked up in bed (because they're mainly 12 or 15 certificates) by sending us a fab bundle of adventure DVDs

The Hobbit - The Battle of The Five Armies
The last of three epic instalments in director Peter Jackson's prequel to 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy. Set in Middle-Earth 60 years before events in 'The Lord of the Rings', the story follows the adventures of Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who, at the instigation of the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), suddenly finds himself co-opted into joining a company of 13 Dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to help reclaim the lost kingdom of the Lonely Mountain from the clutches of Smaug the dragon (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch). In this film, Bilbo, Thorin and the other Dwarves have unintentionally released Smaug from the Lonely Mountain and endangered the residents of Lake-town. Bilbo has to make a difficult decision when Thorin puts his desire to find the royal jewel Arkenstone before his loyalty to his friends. Meanwhile, Gandalf discovers that the evil Sauron has returned, commanding a horde of Orcs to attack the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo and his friends must fight for their survival as five armies meet in battle. The rest of the cast includes Luke Evans, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly and Christopher Lee.

Blockbuster sci-fi thriller written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a professional thief with a difference: the spoils he goes after are not material objects but the thoughts, dreams and secrets buried in the minds of other people. This rare talent has cost him dear, rendering him a solitary fugitive stripped of everything he ever really cared about. When he is offered a chance for redemption by reversing the process and planting an idea rather than stealing it, he and his team of specialists find themselves pitted against a dangerous enemy that appears to pre-empt their every move. The film won four Academy Awards for its special effects, sound and cinematography.

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock star in this award-winning sci-fi thriller directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Seasoned astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) is on his final mission in space, while medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is making her first outing on the Space Shuttle. While they are engaged in extra-vehicular activity, debris collides into the shuttle, damaging it irreparably. Kowalsky and Stone now find themselves drifting in space with low oxygen supplies and cut off from all communication on Earth. They work together in their attempt to survive but will they make it back to solid ground? The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won seven including Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), Best Director (Cuarón) and Best Original Score (Steven Price), and also picked up the Golden Globe for Best Director and BAFTAs for Best Director and Outstanding British Film.

Pacific Rim
Sci-fi action feature directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro. Gigantic monsters known as Kaiju rise up from the Pacific Ocean and invade Earth. As they rage war, killing millions in the process, the human race defend their planet with the use of special robots called Jaegers which are controlled neurally by their pilots. However, even these magnificent machines have trouble defeating the Kaiju. With their armed forces dwindling, mankind puts its faith in ex-pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and trainee Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). Together they must control an early Jaeger model in one last attempt to save Earth.

Jupiter Ascending
The Wachowskis helm this sci-fi action adventure starring Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum and Eddie Redmayne. In the future it is revealed that humans were not born on Earth but the planet was, in fact, seeded by the royal House of Abrasax, the most powerful alien dynasty, 100,000 years ago. After their mother dies, the Abrasax children and heirs to Earth - Balem (Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth) - compete for their inheritance. When Balem, who currently controls the planet, discovers that Earth-born cleaner Jupiter Jones (Kunis) is also an heir he arranges for her to be killed. With the help of interplanetary warrior Caine Wise (Tatum), Jupiter must face Balem as he plans to harvest the Earth. Can she rise to the challenge? The cast also features Sean Bean as Caine's comrade Stinger and Terry Gilliam in a small role.

300 Rise of An Empire
Sullivan Stapleton, Rodrigo Santoro and Eva Green star in this action film based on Frank Miller's graphic novel 'Xerxes' and set before, during and after the events of '300' (2006). In 480 BC, Athenian General Themistocles (Stapleton) leads the Greek Army in a war against the invasion of King Xerxes I (Santoro), naval commander Artemisia (Green) and their Persian forces. Themistocles allies with the Spartans but they are still outnumbered by Xerxes' men. Who will be victorious? The film was co-written by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad and also stars Lena Headey, Jack O'Connell and Hans Matheson.

Have you enjoyed any great adventures lately, on or off screen ?

Disclosure : We received a bundle of DVDs.
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