Wednesday 29 December 2021

December 2021 Degustabox review : Winter Warmers & New Year

So how was Christmas? I hope you all had a good one, whatever the circumstances. We had a quiet Christmas with just the four of us, as things have got trickier for travelling to meet up with the family and I had visions of us getting stuck and not being able to get home ! We ordered in lots of tasty things to eat and, just before the big day, our December Degustabox arrived, providing more food discoveries that the whole family enjoyed sampling.


First up, a very healthy sounding product from Amy's Kitchen, Hearty Organic Quinoa, Kale & Red Lentil Soup (RRP £2.15), which sounds perfect for kicking off the traditional New Year's healthy eating resolution. It is packed with plant power from organic red lentils, quinoa, kale and veggies and is gluten free, vegan and low in fat. This sounds like just the kind of thing Sophie would love, so I've put it aside for her. It's perfect for a quick lunch when she's home alone. Available in major supermarkets.

Vita Coco Choc-o-lot (RRP £3.75) sounds like another product that Sophie will love, as she's dairy-intolerant. It's a chocolate and coconut drink that is dairy-free, vegan and not made from concentrate. This is another healthy option, perfect for the New Year, as it is bursting with vitamin C and contains only 25 calories per 100ml. Available from Sainsbury's, Co op, Holland & Barrett and Waitrose.

Vahdam India Maharaja English Breakfast Black Tea (RRP £1) offers a curated combination of robust, full-bodied and flavourful Assam black teas, packed in a convenient pyramid tea bag. I'm not a tea drinker but ... I can sense a theme beginning here ! ... Sophie will enjoy trying them out.

Aha, this one's not for Sophie, it's for me ! Well, OK, I'll share with everyone ! McVitie's Digestives Seasonal Edition Mince Pie (RRP £1.59) are a lovely festive version of the classic chocolate biscuit. We've enjoyed sampling several of the limited edition versions and it's always nice to detect a new, unusual or surprising flavour coming through. This has a mild mince pie flavour that is perfect for a Yuletide nibble !

Aspall Draught Cyder (RRP £2.20) is a crisp, medium-dry cyder (now I'm wondering what the difference between a cider and a cyder is !), crafted at the original Cyder House, Suffolk. It is a refreshing drink with a definite taste of fresh pressed apples. The "draught" label confused me as I always thought this was applied to cider or beer served from the pumps at a bar, rather than in a bottle, but what do I know ?! I really liked this and I'd definitely buy it again.

Curiously Cinnamon (RRP £2.80) is perfect for the winter, with a festive cinnamon flavour that gives a gentle warming feeling when you eat it. The tongue-tingling crunchy whole grain squares are a great way to start the day ! The kids love the flavour and I love the fact that they're 33% whole grain, a source of calcium and they contain seven vitamins and iron.

Nick's Crunchy Caramel (RRP £1.50) is a tasty snack, made of caramel and almond, covered in smooth milk chocolate. It tastes great, despite being sugar free. It also contains no gluten and no palm oil. I've never seen this brand before but I'll be looking out for it, to see what else they have in the range. (The write-up in the Degustabox mentions sweets and ice cream.) Available at WHSmiths, selected Sainsbury's and on Amazon.


Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil Originale (RRP £5 - other Degustabox subscribers got Classico, which is ideal for grilling, baking or frying) offers a taste of Italy. It is made using 100% olive oil and no additives so you get to appreciate the genuine fruity olive taste. Available on Ocado and Amazon.

Cheddar Cheesies (RRP £1.19 - other Degustaboxers got Gouda Cheesies) are an interesting concept - just cheese, baked until crunchy. They're naturally protein-packed, have no carbs or sugar and are only around 120 calories per serving. The Great Taste Awards 2021 described them as "the very definition of moreish" and I agree - they're very tasty !

Pipers Pitta Chips (RRP 2 x £1.10) are a great new snack, made by farmers, from the company known for their crisps. These crunchy pitta chips combine local, great tasting ingredients with a bespoke baking process. The resulting snack is very tasty. Our favourites were the Cawdor Hills Garlic & Herbs, but the Biggleswade Sweet Chilli & Sour Cream ones were happily munched on too. Available at local farm shops, pubs, Ocado, Waitrose and Sainsbury's.

Rhythm 108 Vegan Hazelnut Chocolate Praline Cookie (RRP £1.49) is a "consciously crafted, deliciously Swiss" moment of pure indulgence. You get a soft blonde Swiss chocolate chip cookie, filled with a creamy hazelnut chocolate praline, then topped with a sprinkle of toasted hazelnuts and even more chocolate chips. It tastes as good as it sounds, but there's more - it's vegan, organic, gluten-free and 27% less sugar. It even comes in home compostable packaging. What's not to like ?! Available at Morrisons, Booths, Planet Organic, on Amazon, Ocado and Rhythm 108.

This month's Product of the Month is Nissin Cup Noodles Soba Japanese Curry (RRP £1.49), which is great if you're looking for a quick meal or for something the kids can prepare by themselves. Ready in just three minutes, it's like a combination of a classic Japanese curry and a vegetarian wok-style dish. You get the sweet taste of aromatic vegetables, the subtle heat of traditional Asian herbs and spices and the incredible aroma of roasted onions. This goes against the idea of it being a vegetarian dish, but it's also perfect for mixing with leftover turkey and vegetables, if you're still using up the remains of Christmas dinner !

The final product in this month's box is Swizzels Chocolate Drumstick (RRP £1). I couldn't get my head around a combination of these two sweets - would the flavour of raspberry and milk lollies work with chocolate? Well, it does actually and I think the addition of real raspberry pieces helps. You get a smooth chocolate bar filled with milk and raspberry fondant and raspberry pieces. Definitely worth a try and it only costs a pound ! Available at Morrisons, Boots, Booths, Planet Organic, Amazon, Ocado and Rhythm 108. 

 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 means you'll get the first box for just £9.99 - enter code PKUFE 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 26 December 2021

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 52

So we made it through Christmas and now we're ready to hit the New Year. Not quite sure what the New Year will bring though as there are some people (scientists) who want to keep kids off a bit longer, while others (politicians) are saying they don't want to prolong the holidays. We'll see ! I'm guessing I'll get a message from our headmistress some time this week so we know what we're doing. Either way, me and Sophie have our third jabs in the first week of January. I'm using up lots of odds and ends from the fridge and freezer and the page numbers relate to the November Sainsbury's Magazine and various other foodie magazine pages that I sat down and worked through. We did a big shop of frozen stuff just before Christmas so we have lots of exciting things to eat for New Year too.


lunch- Mediterranean chicken (seasoning sachet in the cupboard) with rice (& red pepper, courgette, onion in the dish)

dinner - Scalloped potatoes (p90) with added bacon and a side salad


lunch- enchiladas

dinner- Beef & ale stew with rice (or leftover scalloped potatoes)


lunch- Probably leftovers from last night

dinner- meatloaf with pasta (& tomato sauce?)


lunch - Juliette had the idea of heading to a restaurant - well, why not ?! Maybe Buffalo Grill (US classics)

dinner- If anyone's hungry, there should be plenty of leftovers to use up

Friday - New Year's Eve

lunch- hasselback potatoes with steak or beefburgers and coleslaw (yep, Pierre and Sophie will opt for beefburgers, given the choice ! Blooming nutters !)

dinner - we have more nibbly bits in the freezer, followed by ice cream yule log

Saturday - New Year's Day 

lunch- bacon and egg fried rice (for me and Sophie - the others will probably prefer leftovers)

dinner- pork & chorizo stew


lunch- Gremolata smashties (p89 - think extra crispy crushed roast potatoes) with leftover stew if there is some, if not I'll see what meat is in the freezer)

dinner- leftovers or sandwiches or leftover nibbly bits from the freezer

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

Sunday 19 December 2021

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 51

We're on holiday at last - woohoo ! Time to sort out oodles of Christmas shopping (food, not presents !), work out what to watch on Netflix and where to go to soak up some last minute Christmassy atmosphere (maybe one or two of the local Christmas markets ? - not sure yet). I'm currently sat on the sofa, flicking through the November Sainbury's Magazine, deciding which recipes sound good to try. I'm also delving into the kitchen cupboard to see what seasoning sachets have built up in there. This week's plan may be completely ignored as we'll probably buy loads of extras when we hit Picard (a frozen food shop, like the French equivalent of Iceland) but it's better to have a plan to fall back on just in case.


lunch- homemade sausage rolls (p82) with mash & baked beans

dinner - raclette (melted cheese poured over boiled potatoes, salad/tomatoes/gherkins and ham/salami)


lunch- Chicken & chorizo one pot (p112)

dinner- Spiced sweet potato, tomato & coconut curry with rice (p67) (or leftover raclette, probably for Pierre & Juliette)


lunch- spaghetti carbonara

dinner- Creamy mustard chicken & leeks with rice (p72)


lunch - Sticky & sweet BBQ chicken drumsticks (a sachet from the cupboard) with ebly & homemade coleslaw

dinner- Sausages with parsnip & apple mash and cider/onion gravy (p109)

Friday - Christmas Eve

lunch- twice baked potatoes (stuffed with bacon, onion, cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes)

dinner - tonight's the big night for Christmas dinner in France, but we'll stick to the UK tradition and have ours tomorrow. Tonight we'll do a selection of festive party snacks & nibbles to eat in front of the telly :)

Saturday - Christmas Day 

lunch- Christmas lunch - not sure if we're having turkey or chicken yet. It will probably be chicken, as turkeys are not a big thing here and it's hard to find them.

dinner- Crunchy apple, fruit & nut salad (p62) maybe with leftover chicken/turkey if anyone wants it


lunch- Quite probably leftovers - if not chicken (or pork?) fajitas (I have a sachet of Mexican Tomato & Chipotle Tinga in the cupboard, which might make a nice change)

dinner- I think the fridge will probably have lots of nibbly things to munch on and maybe even some turkey

Extra baking projects - Herb & Parmesan Shortbread (p55)

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

Monday 13 December 2021

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 50

We're heading into the last week at school and I'm really looking forward to a chance to chill out for a couple of weeks. Last week, Sophie did a great job of keeping everyone fed while I was in after-school meetings. This week is the same but only on Monday luckily. Some of the meals from last week's plan got bumped in favour of takeaway or alternative dishes, so a couple of things are being relisted on this week's menu. I'm not feeling at all festive yet - the tree and the decorations are up but I just haven't had a chance to take time out and enjoy it all. We have Christmas dinner at school this week (on Thursday) so hopefully that will kick things off. It's Santa hat day on Thursday and Christmas jumper day on Friday at school too, so it's definitely time to start getting into the spirit of things ! Right, here's what's planned for this week.


lunch- canteen for me (leftovers for the kids)

dinner - there will probably be leftovers from yesterday (roast gammon/roast potatoes/carrots/gravy - unless they all got munched at lunchtime) so they can be chopped up and added to pasta or rice for a quick dish


lunch- canteen for me (leftovers for the kids)

dinner- mince & mushrooms/onions with carrots and mash (basically a deconstructed shepherd's pie !)


lunch- chicken burgers, coleslaw (to use up the end of the white cabbage) and rice

dinner- chicken & veg stir fry with noodles


lunch - Christmas lunch at the school canteen (leftovers for the kids)

dinner- pork chops with ebly and ratatouille


lunch- something veggie from the freezer with Sophie

dinner - pasta bake (with tomato, bacon, mushrooms, onions, cheese)


lunch- kids' choice (probably McDonald's)

dinner- spaghetti carbonara


lunch- Hunter's chicken with rice

dinner- leftovers or bacon sandwiches

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

Sunday 12 December 2021

November 2021 Degustabox review : Party & Feeling Festive

Now, I'm not one to panic and it takes a lot to crank up the stress levels here at The Madhouse, but .... it's Christmas in twelve days ! TWELVE DAYS !! That's less than two weeks. Aaaggghhhh ! I suppose it's not too bad - I've got most of the presents organised (I just need to send a box of presents to my mum and dad's and order Sophie's present, but she needs to choose it) and get the Christmas food bought (I will go on a special festive supermarket haul next week). The decorations and the Christmas tree have been up for a couple of weeks already. Yeah, I guess it's under control, we can do this ! The postman dropped off the latest Degustabox a couple of weeks ago, which also helped us to get more organised as it has a Party and Feeling Festive theme. Perfect !

This box contains lots of things that I looked at and thought "ooh, that looks perfect for cooking such and such or for using up the leftovers, perfect for us as a family" but I've never seen any of them in the supermarkets before now. Here's what was in this month's box. Maybe some of them will make their way into your festive cupboards !


Hellmann's Sour Cream & Chive Sauce (RRP £1.70) is a new addition to the extensive Hellmann's range and it sounds absolutely perfect for jazzing up the leftover turkey in sandwiches and salads. That's not all it's good for though - Hellmann's suggest using it in fajitas, nachos, jacket potatoes and burgers. It's also been tried and tested mixed into mashed potatoes, which works really well, and the kids lovely using it in sandwiches or as a dip with crisps, veggie sticks and breadsticks.

The English Provender Co Caramelised Red Onion Chutney (RRP £2) is another perfect ally for adding some zing to leftover turkey, alongside a million other things. This is something that we eat from time to time and I just checked on the blog. We received a jar in a Degustabox back in 2017 and I also reviewed a jar all the way back in 2012. During the upcoming festive season, it is perfect served with a cheeseboard or stirred through casseroles and stews. Definitely one to add to the store cupboard !

Mr Filbert's Sea Salt & Herb Mixed Nuts (RRP £1.50) are very tasty, whether you're grabbing a handful as a snack or serving them alongside Christmas or New Year drinks. The crispy, crunchy nuts - a mixture of peanuts, almonds and cashews - are tossed in sweet basil, oregano and sea salt which really enhance the flavour. Very moreish !

Ines Rosales Sweet Olive Oil Tortas (RRP £2.50) are an interesting Mediterranean snack that I'd never heard of before. Each flaky torta is handmade using natural ingredients and these ones have a tasty orange flavour. They have apparently been Spain's favourite pastry snack since 1910. They can be nibbled on their own, served with tea or coffee or, if you fancy something a little different, combined with cheese. As well as containing no artificial colours or flavours, they are dairy-free and vegan, which may be handy if you're hosting a Christmas meal this year.


Radnor Infusions Unsweetened Raspberry & Black Cherry (RRP £1.50) sounds like the perfect drink for seeing in the New Year if you have healthy New Year's resolutions on the  cards. It is made using sparkling spring water, delicately infused with all-natural flavours and extracts. It's free from sugar, sweeteners and preservatives and is vegan-friendly. The cherry and raspberry flavour is lovely and even better, it's almost calorie-free. What more could you ask for ?!

Knorr Mushroom & Italian Herbs Seasoning (RRP £1.80) is an interesting way to inject great flavour into your dishes while avoiding any added salt. It contains a blend of chilli, paprika, green pepper, smoked paprika powder and sunflower seed oil and it's great for perking up the leftovers or adding extra depth of flavour to anything from risotto and omelette to stir fries or soup. 

This month's Product of the Month, McVitie's The Fully Coated Ones Digestives / Hobnobs (RRP 2 x £1.79) were, needless to say, gobbled up enthusiastically. The idea is pure genius - take a well loved but basically plain biscuit and smother it in chocolate - what's not to like ?!  Each bite offers the perfect combination of delicious crunchy biscuit and even more of McVitie's signature silky-smooth, milk chocolate. Utter perfection.


Menier Salted Caramel Finest Swiss Chocolate (RRP £1.99) is an interesting new product from the brand. After over 200 years producing cooking chocolate, they have branched out into eating chocolate, including this Salted Caramel Chocolate, which is their hero product. Sourced with the finest ingredients, it is very tasty and moreish. I'll definitely be looking at what else they have on offer.

Nairn's Cheese Oatcakes (RRP £1.50) are perfect for finishing off all the leftovers from the festive cheeseboard or even the remnants of the turkey. Like all Nairn's products, they are made with wholegrain oats and only the best, very simple ingredients. Sounds perfect as an antidote to all the rich festive food ! Oats are something of a super-food and they're high in fibre, helping to keep our gut healthy. They're very tasty too and perfect for when you want a light meal or something to nibble on.


Sweet Piquanté Peppers (RRP £3) are crunchy, sweet and tangy, with a definite burst of heat coming through right afterwards. They're great chopped up and added to sandwiches (especially cream cheese or, you guessed it, turkey) and pizzas. You can also serve them whole with pre-dinner drinks, if you don't mind the heat ! 

Passoa (RRP 13 for a full-sized bottle, £1.60 for the mini bottle) is a drink I've often wanted to try, so I jumped at the chance to sample this one ! I love fruity flavoured liqueurs so this passion fruit option appealed to me and ticked all the right boxes. You might like to try it in a Porn Star Martini - 40ml Passoa, 40ml vanilla vodka, 15ml lime juice. Shake and fine strain into a martini glass. Garnish with passion fruit and prosecco shot optional. It can also be mixed with tonic water or champagne (perfect for Christmas and New Year cocktails). I added some orange juice, as it was what we had in the fridge. Verdict - very nice indeed !

 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 means you'll get the first box for just £9.99 - enter code PKUFE 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 5 December 2021

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 49

Sophie's back from her week in Italy, which is good news for me (possibly bad news for her !) as she can take over cooking on the three nights this week that I've got after school meetings - boo ! I've just noticed we're into week 49 - blooming heck, that means Christmas is very nearly here ! I think our plans to come over to England will be scuppered by the new COVID rules - boo hiss ! - so I need to start getting organised for Christmas food too. We've booked our third dose of the COVID jab for the first week of January - not a lot else we can do really anyway. Well, here's a rough plan for this week, but I'm handing over control (and creative input) to Sophie !


lunch- canteen for me (leftovers - probably beef stew - for the kids)

dinner - Sophie's in control - maybe pork chops, rice and veg?


lunch- canteen for me (leftovers for the kids)

dinner- lasagne


lunch- leftover lasagne

dinner- twice baked potatoes (stuffed with onion, mushroom, bacon, beans, cheese)


lunch - I'll be eating with friends (leftovers for the kids)

dinner- Sophie's on chef duty - spaghetti carbonara or bolognese ?


lunch-  leftovers or a Sophie-special :) (only me and her at home)

dinner - Sophie's in the hot seat again - maybe a takeaway? or pizza?


lunch- creamy chicken & mushrooms with pasta

dinner- sweet & sour pork & pineapple with stir fried veg & noodles (or rice, if I fail to find any in the supermarket)


lunch- roast dinner - chicken probably

dinner- smoked sausages with pasta (and whatever else is left in the fridge - mushrooms, peppers, onions?)

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

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