Tuesday 28 February 2023

Degustabox February 2023 review : Home Comforts

This month's Degustabox has arrived and as I unpacked the contents for the first-look photo, my immediate impression was that there are lots of brands that I was familiar with, sometimes from previous Degustaboxes but often from the supermarket shelves. As is often the case with Degustaboxes though, we get to try out new products from well-known brands, as well some brand new or (for me) untried brands, so I was keen to see what we'd think. Let's take a closer look at this month's selection !

My first pick from the box was Aqua Libra (RRP 2 x £1.15), a drink that we got to try out in a previous Degustabox. It is a sparkling water infused with natural fruit flavours and a dash of lemon. In the previous box, we received Blood Orange & Mango and Raspberry & Blackcurrant. In this box, we got Blood Orange & Mango again, alongside the summery, cooling Cucumber, Mint & Lime. There are no sugars, sweeteners or anything artificial in the drinks so they have a crisp, clean taste that would appeal to adults more than children. They're ideal if you want something refreshing to quench your thirst without the overpowering sweetness of many drink options. At just 4 calories a can, it's a great choice if you're watching your waistline.

B.Ink Red Blend 187ml (RRP £2.50) is described as a super-rich and full-bodied wine, with flavours of dark chocolate coated raspberries with gentle oak. This sample size of bottle will not be available for sale but the 750ml bottle is available at ASDA, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsburys, priced at £9. I'm not a huge red wine drinker so I think I'll end up using this in cooking something like a boeuf bourguignon-style beef stew.


Bio & Me Super Seedy & Nutty Gut-Loving Porridge (RRP £1.50) is packed with 14 deliciously diverse plant-based foods and prebiotic fibres. It has no added sugar, is high in fibre and vegan friendly. I scanned the ingredients list and while many of the things listed didn't surprise me (almonds, hazelnuts, coconut, dates, pumpkin seeds, raisins, oats, ...), there were a couple of unexpected additions, including carrot and chicory root. I first offered this to Pierre, who didn't like the crunchiness of the seeds and nuts, so I polished it off and thought it was very nice. The single-serve pot is convenient but if you want a more eco-friendly option, it is also available in a bigger box. Available at Amazon, Boots and on the Bio & Me website.

Zest Vegan Spinach, Mushroom & Ric***a Sauce (RRP £2.99 - other subscribers got Vegan Tomato & Mar***pone Sauce) is a simple way of creating a vegan-friendly option in minutes. Just stir through some pasta and you're good to go ! At Zest, they say that they concentrate on the simple things in life - good food, good times, good vibes. Their products are dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free so everyone can enjoy them. They're perfect for keeping in the cupboard in case you need a quick veggie option for a guest. I passed this on to Sophie who said it was very tasty and incredibly convenient. Available at Ocado, Morrisons and Amazon.


Heinz is a brand that has been about for donkey's years - as it says on the can, it was established in 1869 - but they are still coming up with new products, including these Heinz Beans & Vegan Sausages (RRP £2). I remember eating cans of beans and sausages on toast or with mash when I was a student, so I can understand the appeal of these if you want a veggie or vegan option. The label promises the great taste of Heinz, made from plants.

Another veggie option is Heinz Plant-Based Creamy Tomato Soup (RRP £1.70). I ate this and really enjoyed the taste and texture of the soup. I assumed it was their classic tomato soup with "plant-based" added to the can, but apparently it is a new vegan-friendly option. (I just went to the check and the original, while vegetarian, contains milk, cream and milk proteins.) It's just as lovely as the original version, even as a non-vegan !

Kit Kat Caramel (RRP £1.99 for 9 x 2-finger bars) are a new twist on the well-loved brand. The crispy, crunchy wafer biscuit is covered with a smooth caramel flavoured milk chocolate. Even better, each two-bar Kit Kat only contains 106 calories so you can nibble on them guilt-free ! Very tasty.


Nescafé Azera Americano (RRP £3.60) is a premium barista-inspired instant coffee, giving you the great flavour of a coffee shop-style drink from the comfort of your own home. I'm not a coffee-drinker but I passed this on to a friend who said she loves it.

Simply Roasted Sea Salt (RRP £1.19) are crisps made with a healthier technique, using triple roasting rather than deep frying. This retains the taste, crunch and satisfaction while vastly reducing the calories, fat and salt. At less than 100 calories a pack, they offer a guilt-free way of tucking into your favourite snack. Available at Waitrose, Ocado, WHSmith, Whole Foods Market and on Amazon.


Very Lazy Chilli Boost (RRP £3) is another great time and energy-saving product from the Very Lazy team, that avoids covering your fingers in spicy chilli juice then squealing in pain as you try to get a rogue eyelash out of your eye ! We got the Hot Zingy Chilli Boost but I think we would have preferred the other version that some Degustaboxers got to try, Medium Smokey. It's great for adding to chilli, casseroles, pasta sauce or whatever you want to spice up. I love the fact that you can stir some into an individual portion at the last minute if you have spice-haters in the family. 

Finally, Tilda Vegetable Golden Rice (RRP £1.54) is this month's Product of the Month. I always love to have a couple of pouches of microwavable rice in the cupboard for the kids to use at lunchtime, so I was keen to try out this new flavour. Containing 21% vegetables, the rice contains sweetcorn, peas and carrots so it's a great accompaniment for meat, fish or vegetarian dishes. Two minutes in the microwave or three minutes in a pan and it's ready to devour. I'll definitely be buying some more of this.

 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 February 2023

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 9

Tomorrow I'm back to work and I really don't feel like I've had a fortnight off ! I did manage to finish pretty much everything I had planned though, which was mainly stripping the wallpaper and repainting the walls. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to tidy up and put everything back as it should be though, so this afternoon (hopefully !) will involve carting piles of books back to shelves, putting picture frames back on the walls and throwing the hoover around. We stuck to the menu plan for most of the week, but the girls have been pootling about doing stuff and staying at Sophie's flat so several of the meals ended up just for two, which means they lasted two days for me and Pierre. The recipes that I didn't make will go back on the plan for next week, as I have the ingredients already bought. We loved the Chicken Brunswick Stew, which was actually really simple to make. The Pork Jambalaya was pretty good too but Juliette wasn't keen on the spices. I can't believe we're into March next week. Next job - sort out the patio so we can enjoy the sun ! 


lunch- canteen for me, leftovers for the kids

dinner - pork casserole with pasta


lunch- canteen for me, leftovers for the kids

dinner-  chicken in a pot with lemon & thyme dumplings (Ainsley Harriott, p74) and rice


lunch- chicken and chorizo traybake (with new potatoes)

dinner- pasta carbonara


lunch - lunch with friends, leftovers for the kids

dinner- corned beef & potato pie with beans


lunch- canteen for me, leftovers for the kids

dinner - chicken pie with carrot mash, peas & potatoes (Jamie's 30 minute meals, p90)



lunch- sticky chicken with rice

dinner- steak sarnie & crispy new potatoes (Jamie's 30 minute meals, p200) with salad

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

Tuesday 21 February 2023

Book review : Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six - Lisa Unger

The title of Lisa Unger's latest novel - Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six - sounds vaguely like an Airbnb advert. It's bland, benign, unworrying, appealing to anyone with a busy life who wants a much-needed chance to get away from it all for a while. It settles you into a (false) sense of security, imagining a nice break in the woods, surrounded by birdsong, clean air and the soothing scent of pine.

This was undoubtedly the thinking behind a weekend getaway, booked in a luxury cabin in the woods for a group of friends. High flier Mako has paid for it all and, alongside his wife Liza, they have invited his sister Hannah and her husband Bruce, alongside Hannah's best friend (and Mako's ex/bit on the side, just to add some extra tension), Cricket and her new boyfriend. What could possibly go wrong ?!

Well, quite a lot really, but not in the ways I was expecting ! Bruce and Hannah have a baby daughter and this is the first time that they are leaving her behind for some us-time. Hannah is unsurprisingly ill-at-ease about how her daughter will get on without her. Liza seems on-edge too, so nobody is sure if her sudden migraine is real or just a handy excuse to spend some time alone in her room. Then there's Cricket's boyfriend. Hannah is sure she knows him from somewhere, but where ?

With a severe storm rolling in and the mobile phone signal at best very glitchy, even the hot tub and the private chef aren't enough to have everyone feeling relaxed. What's with the spine-tingling stories of the cabin's past? And the slightly intrusive rental host who has the women feeling unsettled ? Then they have the off feeling that someone is watching them from the woods ...

It's a book that has you nervously nibbling your nails as you proceed, trying to work out who the bad guys are and who are just the hapless victims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of the characters are described in the early chapters as having a character flaw or a personality that leads you to think that they could be a secret serial killer or stalker. The over-anxious mum, the insecure wife, the secretive husband, ... Ultimately, I thought I had it all sorted out in my mind but I was completely wrong !

This is Lisa Unger's twentieth novel so I think I may have to go looking for some more. I did review one other, In The Blood, on my blog and I was surprised to see that that was almost ten years ago - wow ! 

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Legend Press (28 Feb. 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1915643988
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1915643988

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Sunday 19 February 2023

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 8

This week was a busy week but at least I managed to cross a couple of things off my to-do list. The bathroom got completely dejunked and tidied so it looks much better now. I also managed to redecorate the landing, which involved taking all the big heavy books off the book shelf. This meant that I could finally get rid off the totally trashed mat that the dog had half shredded (that was stuck under the heavy bookcase) so that looked instantly better. After stripping the wallpaper and painting the walls (a tougher job than I had imagined!), we sorted through the books and put aside half of them to get rid off. I still have another week's holiday to do the top landing which involves another (but luckily smaller) bookshelf. It looks so much better now that it's done, so I can't wait to finish the rest. Despite everything that got done around the house, we still stayed on plan for most of the week's meals which was pretty amazing ! This week, I've been digging through some of the recipe books that I uncovered on my bookshelf. I may end up falling back on 5 minute pasta and a jar of sauce if I'm knackered after doing the decorating though !


lunch- Super-fast beef hash with jacket potatoes (Jamie's 30 minute meals, p210)

dinner - cashew-stuffed pork chops (p68, Best of America) with pasta


lunch- Jimmy's chicken chompers (Ainsley Harriott, p22) with mash & beans (or leftover pasta)

dinner- chicken Brunswick stew (Best of America, p26) with rice


lunch- chicken pie with carrot mash, peas & potatoes (Jamie's 30 minute meals, p90)

dinner- pork jambalaya (p67, Best of America)


lunch - sounds like a leftovers day to me :)

dinner- hamburgers for the kids, crispy salmon for me (Jamie's 30 minute meals, p191) with coleslaw & potato croquettes


lunch- pasta carbonara

dinner - chicken in a pot with lemon & thyme dumplings (Ainsley Harriott, p74) and boiled potatoes


lunch- I can see us heading into town and grabbing something there

dinner- steak sarnie & crispy new potatoes (Jamies 30 minute meals, p200)


lunch- roast chicken, roast potatoes, veg & gravy

dinner- toast or leftovers (or maybe even homemade soup if we had a whole chicken)

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

Sunday 12 February 2023

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 7

I didn't make a menu plan last week. On Monday, I got home from work, went to check what I was supposed to be cooking for tea and went "oops, I never did my menu plan this week" ! Oh well, we survived with going rogue for a week ! This week, we're on holiday - yippee ! It's not going to be restful though as I have loads to do around the house (dejunking, tidying and decorating). We did get our roof fixed - at last ! They replaced the big metal strip across the top of the roof but didn't replace the five tiles that were blown off. Apparently it's all perfectly sealed though. Now I'm getting back on to the insurance for the final bits and I finally had the bill to put in for the repayment - phew ! I've put in for Sophie's ceiling too as the water came through but we can repaint that ourselves. This week's menu plan may be totally abandoned as I'll be busy doing stuff around the house and also, because it's Juliette's birthday - 18 years old. Blimey ! She's gone off to Sophie's and they're going to Brussels for the day to visit the Van Gogh Experience and the Lego museum. I'm pretty sure there's a night out planned too ! I always like to have something planned though as it makes it easier when I go shopping. Here's this week's plan ...


lunch- Cajun chicken with rice (and onions/red peppers/cherry tomatoes)

dinner - beef & noodles


lunch- maybe leftovers, if not beefburger & couscous with mushroom gravy

dinner- pork filet mignon with cream & mushrooms and pasta


lunch- I think there will be leftovers to use up

dinner- chicken casserole (mushrooms, onions, carrots) and mash


lunch - chicken burgers in buns with homemade coleslaw (and homemade chips if the kids are extra hungry)

dinner- paprika pork with rice


lunch- meatball subs (in the leftover burger buns) 


lunch- the fridge should be full of leftovers again

dinner- roast chicken leg in yellow bean sauce (using up things from past Degustaboxes so we'll see what it tastes like !) with rice


lunch- roast chicken, roast potatoes, veg & gravy (or it may end up being a meal out for Juliette's birthday)

dinner- bacon sandwiches

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

Wednesday 1 February 2023

Degustabox January 2023 review : Breakfast & Brunch

January is the season of New Year's resolutions, which, for many people, involve watching what they eat and drink, cutting down on calories, sugar and alcohol. The January Degustabox often has a healthy eating theme but this year, it's all changed. This month's box has a Breakfast & Brunch theme. Sounds very tasty. Let's go and investigate what's in the box !


Dorset Cereals Simply Delicious Muesli (RRP £3.39) offers a tasty way to start the day and it's relatively healthy as it also contains no added sugar, is high in fibre and vegan-friendly. This muesli contains juicy dates, seeds and crunchy brazils, which add some nice texture and flavour. Lovely for breakfast, topped with milk or yogurt.

Hip Oat Milk Chocolate (RRP £1.50) is a plant-based, plastic-free chocolate brand that I'd never heard of before. According to the information on the card, Hip chocolate was born out of a desire to to eat high-quality, tasty, creamy vegan chocolate, produced in an ethical and planet friendly way without compromising on taste. This Salted Caramel bar was a big hit with the whole family, especially when you add in the eco-friendly feel-good factor.

Fitbakes Millionaire Cake (RRP £1.50) is a fluffy vanilla sponge, covered with a layer of sugar-free caramel (is that even a thing ?!) and milk chocolate. As well as being low in sugar (90% less than regular snacks), it is high in protein so I passed this over to Pierre, who is trying to build up his muscles through sport and eating more protein. He declared it delicious and I have to say, as a snack under 100 calories, I was impressed. It's also a vegetarian-friendly option.


Hellmann's Vegan Mayo (RRP £2.60) is the vegan-friendly version of the popular mayonnaise. I have a jar in the fridge, bought by Sophie, alongside the regular mayo that I usually buy and I always grab it by accident and forget that it's the vegan version. The taste and texture taste identical to me so it's an easy swap if you want to switch to a plant-based option.

Leon Mango'ed Ketchup (RRP £2.65) is this month's Product of the Month. Created using cumin, mango and sun-dried tomatoes, this is the renamed version of the old Tomango Ketchup. Sadly our bottle smashed in transit so we couldn't try it. Well, I admit, I did dip a finger in it and was impressed !

Human Nature Hot Jalapeño & Lime Flavour Lentil Sticks (RRP £2) are a vegan-friendly,  protein-rich snack (each pack contains 13g of protein) that promises to help the planet as for each pack sold, a tree is planted. Made with red lentils, onions, lemon, spices and real jalapeños, they are very hot - too hot for me ! I passed them on to Pierre as they have a lot of protein in them and he enjoys dipping them in cream cheese to cool them down ! Also available are Smoky BBQ Flavour Pea Rings and Caramelised Onion Flavour Pea Rings.

Knorr Chicken Stock Pots (RRP £1.65) are great for tossing into the slow cooker or a casserole to add a boost of flavour. They are gluten-free and made using sustainably sourced ingredients. They are so quick and simple to use, they're perfect for midweek meals when you're short on time and the rich flavour is delicious.


Swizzels Scrumptious Sweets (RRP £1.90) are a great variety pack full of family favourites - Love Hearts, Parma Violets, Refreshers, Fizzers, Lollies and newly reformulated Drumstick Lollies, which mean that Scrumptious Sweets can now join the brand's already extensive vegan range. All our favourites - yum !

Moma Oat Barista (RRP £1.90) is a carefully crafted oat drink that pairs perfectly with coffee. It is made in the UK with British oats and is fortified with vitamins D3, B2 and B12. Fully foamable and non splitting, it is not made from concentrate.

Another product from the same brand, Moma Jumbo Oat Porridge (RRP £1.15) is a gluten-free, vegan-friendly breakfast or snack option. Just add hot water, stir, wait for 3-5 minutes then it's ready to enjoy. The almond butter and salted caramel flavour is delicious and it's such a quick and simple tummy filler, perfect for the cold weather.

Ryvita Currant Seed & Oat Fruit Crunch (RRP £1.99) is a lovely option for snack-time or a light lunch. Just top with chocolate spread, yogurt, honey, jam or fruit then tuck in ! Despite its sweet flavour, the Madhouse kids have even been known to top it with chicken ham and declare it delicious ! We all love the crunchy texture.

 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.
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