Wednesday 31 May 2017

Madhouse recipe : Honey Baked Gammon with Cranberry Salad & Wholegrain Mustard Mayo

Even with a meal plan, sometimes it can be a headache cooking the evening meal after a long day at work when you open the fridge and kitchen cupboard and discover that a vital ingredient is out of stock or past its best. As I recently mentioned, we got to try the Gousto service, which provides you with all of the ingredients for the tasty meals of your choice - and I mean all of them, except for a bit of oil, salt and pepper. Even better news is that they come in exact quantities so there's no measuring and above all, zero food waste. Here's the first of the recipes that we tried.

Honey Baked Gammon with Cranberry Salad & Wholegrain Mustard Mayo

ingredients (for 2) :

1 British baby gammon joint (280g)
1 honey pot (28g)
400g potatoes
2tbsp wholegrain mustard
30g dried cranberries
2 mayonnaise sachets (52ml)
100g corn salad

Boil a kettle. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Heat a dry pan over a high heat and sear the gammon joint on all sides for about 5 minutes. It did look very small to me, but I'm used to cooking big family meals for 5 plus leftovers, and there was just the right amount for two people when it was cooked.

Combine the honey with half of the mustard. Cover the cranberries in boiling water to plump them up a little.

Combine the remaining mustard with the mayonnaise. 

Put the seared gammon joint in a tin foil package, folding up the edges to keep the juices in. Pour the honey mustard mixture over the top and put in the oven for 30-40 minutes. Cut the potatoes into bite sized pieces and put them on a separate baking tray, drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper, then bake until crispy and golden, about 25-30 minutes.

While the meat and potatoes are cooking, wash and dry the salad and put it in a bowl, along with the drained cranberries. Drizzle over a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper then shake it all up.

Leave the gammon to rest for 5 minutes on coming out of the oven, then slice with a sharp knife. Serve with the salad and potatoes, spooning the honey mustard juices from the foil over the meat. Serve the wholegrain mayo on the side.

This was a lovely healthy dish, packed with fresh ingredients, and was really simple to cook and prepare. Top marks to Gousto for this recipe !

If you want to find out more about how a Gousto subscription works, check out my Gousto review.

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

Tuesday 30 May 2017

Heinz [Seriously] Good Sauces review

Hands up if you've been basking in a heatwave for the past few days. We have ! As soon as the sun comes out here, Madhouse Daddy is on Sunday lunch duty as we move away from roast dinners to barbecues. There's something about infusing meat with a natural smokiness that takes it to another level, so we always cook enough for a few meals - sausages, chicken, ribs, pork chops, sometimes steak. There's usually plenty for two lunches and two evening meals, so to avoid boredom, we like to mix up the side dishes and accompanying sauces. 

Heinz recently sent us over some of their [Seriously] Good Sauces to review and they are absolutely perfect for pepping up the leftovers and giving the barbecued meats a fresh new taste.

There are four sauces in the range : 

Creamy Chive Sauce, zingy and creamy with potatoes - this is delicious dolloped on top of a baked potato, but we also love it smeared on bagels then topped with smoked salmon. It contains chives and crème fraîche, which also adds a lovely zingy taste to potato salads. I want to give this a try mixed in with mashed potato and a tin of tuna, coated in breadcrumbs and fried as fish cakes. I think the flavours would work together really well.

Creamy Pepper Sauce, creamy and warming with steak - a classic creamy pepper sauce that is the traditional accompaniment to beef, but also goes nicely with burgers, sausages and chicken.

Creamy Tomato & Garlic Sauce, rich and lively with chicken - this does go really well with chicken, but is also very versatile. It's lovely stirred through pasta with cherry tomatoes, olives and parmesan shavings. If you want to go all retro, it would be lovely in an old-fashioned prawn cocktail too, mixed with prawns and tomato wedges and served over salad.

Creamy Béarnaise, perfect with meats and fish - this is a French classic, containing shallots and tarragon, which is similar to a tartare sauce and goes with pretty much everything, from steak to fish and chicken. It's also great as a dip for veggie sticks or crudités if you want to stay on the French theme !

They all have a rich, creamy taste and we loved every one of them so we'll definitely be buying more of these, especially throughout barbecue season.

Heinz [Seriously] Good Sauces are available from Sainsbury’s and Morrisons with an RRP of £1.99

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

Monday 29 May 2017

Qixels Kingdom Castle Attack review

We first discovered Qixels last year, when we reviewed the Qixels Turbo Dryer, and I've bought several recharge sets since then, so Pierre was delighted to receive the Qixels Kingdom Castle Attack set to review.

We tipped everything out of the box and were impressed with the large number of pieces in the box. As well as the templates and pin boards needed to make the Qixels designs, you get 1000 beads (which sounds a lot but they won't last that long !) and lots of interlocking plastic sections and accessories to create a 3d castle world. 

Pierre was most impressed to discover that it includes a fully working drawbridge.

Like most parents, I started off by studying the enclosed instruction leaflet, which shows you how to assemble the castle.

Meanwhile, Pierre had jumped straight in and was gaily slotting the pieces together. He was quite right - after telling him that he hadn't put certain pieces in the right places, I noticed on the box that it says you can create your own designs. Oops, as you were then ! The pieces are quite tricky to slot into place but once they're in, they've very sturdy and Pierre did eventually manage all by himself.

So, on to the Qixel cubes themselves. If you're unfamiliar with the brand, they are very similar to a square version of Hama Beads, but the great thing is, you don't have to faff about with an iron - you just spray them with water for them to swell and stick together. Juliette said they are like a cross between Hama Beads, Aquabeads and Minecraft, which is a pretty good description !

The pack includes several double sided paper templates - dragon, Viking, ogre, battleaxes, knight, king ... - that you slot under the plastic pin board. You then follow the colours to press matching Qixel beads on top. If you're a Qixels pro, you might have noticed that in our enthusiasm, we forgot something important, but more about that in a moment !

I find they fall over much less frequently than Hama Beads so they are less frustrating. Within a few minutes, our first design was ready to spray with water. Half an hour later, we came back to pull it off the pin board and - oops - realised that in our haste, we'd forgotten to use the second part of the pin board that makes it much easier to remove. I prised it off with a knife but broke it in the process. It can be salvaged by adding extra water to the broken bits but Pierre and Juliette had already moved on to some more designs.

Juliette made a very funky metallic dragon.

Making sure we added the top sheet this time, Pierre made a king.

There is a handly little spray bottle contained in the box which keeps mess to a minimum.

This time, it was a piece of cake removing it from the pin board.

They're fairly fragile, but they're robust enough for you to play with them in the castle, climbing ladders, going across the drawbridge and scaling the towers to steal the flags, as well as battling the ogres and dragons..

There are even clever open squares that allow you to attach accessories to your figures, such as the plastic flames coming out of the dragon's mouth.

It's a lovely kit that combines a fun manual activity, creating the Qixels designs, to hone your fine motor skills, some 3d logic constructing the castle and finally some imaginative play making up stories with them. Plus, once you've finished playing, they look very cool on your bedroom shelf.

Castles and dragons are always a popular choice, but this is just one of the Qixels products available. The award-winning range includes :

Qixels 3D Maker - Once they have mastered the technique of Qixels children can take their designs to the next level with the 3D. There are a variety of 3D characters to create including aliens, bugs and jungle characters. (RRP £24.99)

Theme Packs - There are so many cool designs to create including Dinosaurs, pirates and even monsters! Once created, these pixelated characters can be used as individual toys to play with or make great a bedroom decoration. (RRP £9.99)

Mega Refill Pack – The fun is as endless as your child’s imagination with the Qixels refill pack, the pack includes 1500 cubes including 750 glow in the dark cubes (RRP £12.99)

So many hours of fun to be had, simply make, spray and play! No need for glue or heat so you can let your kids get on with the fun without needing your help (but you do need to keep an eye on younger children so that they don't put them in their mouths).

The Qixels Kingdom Castle Attack Playset has an RRP of £29.99 and is aimed at children aged 4+.

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

Sunday 28 May 2017

New Year Resolutions Review week #21: Found the pause button!

Last week, I lamented that I was running around like a headless chicken and needed to find the pause button for life. This week, I found it, thanks to the fab French tradition of "making the bridge" and taking off the Friday or Monday when a bank holiday falls on a Thursday or Tuesday. Therefore, I had a two day week at work, as I don't work Wednesdays - just what the doctor ordered. It's given me a chance to race through all my marking - just the reports to fill in this week and I can breathe again.

1. Get Fit(bitting) !
Lots of marking invariably means lots of sitting around on my bum so I only hit my 10k step target on two days.

2. Get cooking bookmarked recipes ! 
I finally got around to trying a recipe for cream of tomato soup and was stunned to see that it tasted just like the tinned stuff, minus the hidden nasties. That was it for making bookmarked recipes, but I did also cull a lot in my drafts folder, which is another way of clearing the backlog !

3. Get geocaching !
We went for a long walk at Cap Blanc Nez, on the white cliffs of Calais (and could clearly see the Dover counterparts across the water) so I added a whole series of caches to my GPS before we left. However, when we got there, they hadn't saved properly - grrrr ! I did manage to find three virtual caches though - landmarks where you just needed to answer a question rather than find an actual cache, so I managed to add three to my tally, taking us to 221.

4. Get comping !
No new wins but my £100 John Lewis shopping voucher arrived :)

2017 wins :
January : 4 wins - £20 shopping voucher, Mr Lee's noodles, Ambrosia trifle glasses, set of 5 books
 February : 1 win - tea & personalised mug (prize for Galina)
March - 1 win - a Bear Grylls adventure book
 April - 4 wins - a colouring bundle, And Then We Ran book, Aram book, 6 months supply of Hairburst vitamins
May - £100 shopping voucher

5. Get reading !
Still reading Under A Sardinian Sky by Sara Alexander.

6. Get FLYing !
No - just the minimum this week !

8. Get bloggy housekeeping !
Got sidetracked by family history research so made no more headway with clearing old broken and spammy links. Got my emails down to 57 and draft blogposts down to 394 though (aimed for under 400 so smashed it). That's much more manageable so I'll have to keep on top of them so they don't start rising again.

9. Get French !
STILL waiting to be summoned to the préfecture with Madhouse Daddy.

What about you? Did you set yourself any targets, challenges or new year's resolutions this year? How are they going?

#MySundayphoto #SundaySnap 28/5/17

I've picked up my family history research again - I love looking at the old family photos, trying to work out who is who. Look at the lady at the back in the middle (my great great aunt) - that must be some corset she's wearing. Her waist is tiny !

Sunday SnapOneDad3Girls

Saturday 27 May 2017

Madhouse recipe : Cheesy Tomato Topped Mince

Mince is one of those things that I always have in the freezer because it's so versatile. I use it in all sorts of things - spaghetti bolognese, chilli, lasagne, mince & onion pie, tacos, cottage pie, ... In fact, when I pulled it out of the freezer, I was planning on making cottage pie, but as it was hot, I went for a lighter version, replacing the mashed potato topping with sliced tomatoes covered in cheese. It worked really well and even got the kids gobbling up "hot tomatoes" - they love cold ones but often turn their noses up at hot ones, if they're fresh rather than tinned ! This is a great recipe that you can tweak to incorporate whatever needs using up in the fridge too.

Cheesy Tomato Topped Mince

ingredients :

a drizzle of olive oil
1 pack minced beef (or turkey or quorn or whatever you prefer)
1 onion
1/2 red pepper
a few mushrooms
1 beef stock cube (or gravy granules)
salt, pepper, a dash of worcester sauce
any other veg you want to throw in - I had some leftover peas and carrots
3 tomatoes
dried breadcrumbs
grated cheese

Heat the oil and gently fry the onion and peppers.

Add the minced beef and mushrooms and fry until the beef is totally browned.

Add a little water and some gravy granules or a stock cube.

Throw in any other cooked veg you want to use up. Cook until the sauce has reduced and thickened.

Transfer to an ovenproof dish and lay over slices of fresh tomatoes.

Scatter over a couple of handfuls of dried breadcrumbs and top with grated cheese. Pop in the oven for 15 minutes at 180° until the cheese is melted and the tomatoes are soft.

Serve on its own or with rice or mash on the side.

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Friday 26 May 2017

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 26/5

It will be a busy week, with dental appointments on Monday (for me) and Wednesday (for the kids), plus a school trip to London on Friday if it still goes ahead, given the recent events in Manchester. Can't believe this week will take us into June already ! Must be time to start coming up with some summery recipes, but for now, I want to clear out some jars of sauces and exotic ingredients from the cupboards.


lunch - it's that time of week again ... McDonald's !

dinner - red pepper tapenade tarts with (hopefully) homegrown salad leaves (if the slugs don't get them !)


lunch - probably BBQ, depending on the weather - if not, it'll be roast dinner. Either way, we'll have the Madhouse grandparents over for the day :)

dinner - fridge grazing


dinner - Caribbean pork with a jar of sauce (& red peppers, onions, mushrooms, courgettes), with rice


dinner - smoky BBQ Jamaican marinade in a pouch, with chicken thighs, pork chops or steak, depending on what I find in the freezer, wedges & peas


lunch - chicken breast, cooked with a seasoning sachet (either herbes de Provence infused frying papers or soy & garlic seasoning mix), with regular rice or maybe a simple porcini mushroom & parmesan risotto

dinner - sweet & sour prawns with noodles & Chinese veg


dinner - Chicken biryani


dinner - there's bound to be a fridge full of leftovers to use up - in any case, if the day trip to London isn't cancelled, I'll be leaving home at 5.30 and getting home about 11pm so they can fend for themselves !

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

Join in with the weekly meal plan bloghop !

Love At First Sip - AQUA Carpatica review

The other day, I was standing outside of my workplace in the morning, waiting for the automatic gates to open, when my eye landed on the flower bed next to me. There was a very non-descript bush with dark green foliage that barely deserved a second look, but what caught my eye was that inside each cupped leaf, there was a perfectly round, unadulterated droplet of dew, reflecting the clouds above and looking like diamonds against the velvety surface of the leaves. I was mesmerised by their absolute perfection as they sat in their final resting place or slowly rolled and dripped across the vibrant green backdrop. It bought out my inner poet as I reflected on finding beauty in the simplest of things and how the morning dew is Mother Nature's life-giving elixir of youth, which allows the plants to look so lush and healthy. When I saw the beautiful droplet created by water brand AQUA Carpatica, it brought it all back to me. It's a fabulous representation of all that water is, or at least, should be - natural, pure, untouched by human hand, beautiful, inspiring, simple, ... - all that for a drop of water, which just goes to show how good a job the marketing team have done !

This sense of purity and back-to-basics is further reinforced by the strikingly simple bottles, which show the crystalline water inside. The square ones look more like they contain expensive liquids like perfume or alcohol than water, giving the brand a real sense of luxury and prestige.

But what about the most important thing - the water inside? AQUA Carpatica don't beat about the bush - they call themselves nature’s most perfect mineral water. The first of its kind in the UK, the water is naturally nitrate-free and has the lowest sodium level of any bottled natural mineral water on Earth. I knew that nitrates were often present in tap water, particularly in rural areas, but I didn't realise that they are also a problem in bottled water. AQUA Carpatica explain : "Nitrates are fertilisers and can be traced in almost every bottled water on the market. Found in nature and used in agriculture, they are colourless, odourless and tasteless but are pollutants, and in large quantities can be damaging. Nitrate-free water is particularly important for pregnant women as infants can become seriously ill if exposed to Nitrates. It has also been proven that birth defects are more likely to occur if expectant mothers are exposed to high levels of Nitrates."

Supporting overall health and well-being, AQUA Carpatica present themselves as the ideal water choice for the most demanding health conscious people, pregnant women, organic food lovers and those with active lifestyles. Available in both still and naturally sparkling varieties, it's a little taste of nature in a bottle that is perfect for keeping yourself hydrated throughout the summer and beyond. It is completely unremarkable in taste, which is exactly how it should be !

for more information :

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

Thursday 25 May 2017

In Chocolate Heaven at The Madhouse ! (Cadbury Dairy Milk review)

"OK kids, who wants to help with some reviewing?"
(vague mumbles, distinctly lacking enthusiasm)
"It's for chocolate ..."
"COMING !!! Wait for me !"

I must admit, even I let out a little squeal of excitement when I saw the fabulous selection of Cadbury Dairy Milk bars that we received through the post. Although we've tried lots of them in the past, there were some, such as Whole Nut, that I would never have bought because I was convinced that the kids wouldn't like it - but they proved me completely wrong !

Unsurprisingly, the kids wanted to start with the most exciting sounding one - Dairy Milk Marvellous Creations Jelly Popping Candy. Hiding under the chocolate in this weird and wonderful bar you get chewy jellies, colourful sugar coated chocolate beans and ... wait for it ! ... popping candy ! I know it sounds like a very strange combination but weirdly, it works and you get the extra excitement of not knowing which combination you'll get in each piece. The Madhouse Mini-Testers were squealing "oooh I've got a jelly" or "awww I haven't got any Smarties in this bit" then the popping candy came through and their face was a real picture ! It's certainly too good to reserve for the kids though - the grown-ups loved it too, especially with the crazy paving-type irregular "squares" that mean you can have a big or small piece.
 Next we moved on to Dairy Milk Crunchie Bits which was sure to be a big hit as Crunchie is one of our favourite sweets. This was studded with lots and lots of sweet, crunchy honeycomb pièces that perfectly complemented the smooth, creamy chocolate. As delicious as we expected.
Dairy Milk Daim was another dead cert because we all love Daim. I was worried the Daim flavour would be overpowered by the chocolate but no, it holds its own and both flavours come through. Perfect !
I was hoping to keep the Dairy Milk Caramel hidden until the kids went to bed but it didn't happen. I always pick the caramel keg type chocolates first when we have a box of chocolates and this didn't disappoint in bar form. The oozy, gooey, sweet caramel comes flooding out when you bite into a square ... this is possibly my favourite.
For the traditionalists or those who like a fuss-free, purer chocolate experience, the classic Dairy Milk, Dairy Milk Fruit & Nut and Dairy Milk Whole Nut are all perfectly nice, but I must admit I've been won over by the more original flavours of the newer additions. The kids absolutely loved the crunch and "Nutella flavour" of the Whole Nut bar, much to my surprise.
They were excited to discover Dairy Milk Oreo in both Peanut Butter and Mint flavours, both of which were deemed delicious, although the mint and peanut butter flavours, lovely as they are, do tend to overpower the taste of the Oreo pièces, which we thought was a shame. We made short work of the bars though so it obviously didn't put us off that much !
So basically, we loved the whole lot ! It was an eye-opener as we usually buy the same varieties and this has convinced us to mix things up to add a bit of variety.
What do you prefer? Have you got a favourite bar?
Disclosure : We received the products in order to write an honest review.
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