Wednesday 27 December 2023

Degustabox December 2023 review

Just before Christmas, we had an early moment of excitement when the postie dropped off the December Degustabox. What would be hiding inside? Winter warmers, festive nibbles or maybe some completely new and unexpected things to finish the year in style? Well, this year's box didn't have a specified theme so it offered a little bit of everything.

Starting off with the Product of the Month, we discovered two tins of Heinz soup (RRP 2 x £1.70), which are always perfect as a quick warming lunch or evening meal in autumn and winter. The French Onion Soup is a variety I have never tried, despite really enjoying the flavour of homemade French Onion Soup, and this tin didn't disappoint, offering the rich flavour of onions, perked up with a hint of red wine. This is delicious topped with a slice or two of grilled bread topped with cheese. The Spicy Parsnip Soup was another new variety to me and I really enjoyed it. The sweetness of the parsnip flavour is given a little boost with the addition of a warming spice combination of red pepper and chilli. The soups are quick and simple to warm up, on the stove or in the microwave, and contain no artificial colours or preservatives. They are also low in fat, low in sugar and vegetarian, so they are ideal for tying in with meat-free or healthy meal plans in the New Year. Available in Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons, ASDA and Ocado.

Alpen Delight (RRP 2 x 59p) is a new brand of snack bars that offer the perfect balance of healthy and tasty. Each bar is made with creamy rolled oats, wholegrain wheat flakes and crispy rice, blended with added extras and covered in smooth chocolate. We got the Raspberry Rocky Road and Chocolate Caramel & Shortbread varieties which were both a big hit here at The Madhouse. Each bar is high in fibre, contains 92 calories and contains a third less fat than most traditional cereal bars, making it a great compromise if you're looking to improve your food choices in the New Year. Available in all major supermarkets.


Dr Will's Sweet Mango Sriracha (RRP £3.50) is one of a range of all-natural condiments that were sent out in this month's Degustabox. Other subscribers got Tomato Ketchup, Bacon Ketchup, BBQ Sauce or Vegan Mayo, which I would have preferred as I find Sriracha too spicy. The whole range offers "more flavour, less sugar" and is made up of store-cupboard basics with no added sugar and nothing ultra-processed. Available in Tesco, Waitrose, Ocado, Co-op, Selfridges, Whole Food Markets and more !

Eisberg Sparkling Rose Alcohol-Free Wine (RRP £4) is a vegan-friendly option for New Year's Eve that has the added advantage of being lower in calories. Eisberg starts off as a regular wine before having the alcohol gently removed, which quite probably explains why it tastes just like drinking normal wine. Available in Tesco, Morrisons, Co-op, Ocado and Amazon.

Get More Vits Multivitamin Squash (RRP £2.50) is a delicious fruity squash that is perfect for the whole family to enjoy. We got Summer Fruits, which we really enjoyed, while other subscribers got Orange, Mango and Passionfruit. The squash contains 20% fruit juice, no added sugar and, as an extra benefit, each serving contains 50% of your daily dose of vitamins, including vitamin D. Available in Tesco and ASDA.


Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Granola Barista Edition (RRP £3) is a granola variety made for coffee lovers, which I am unfortunately not. Alongside milk chocolate curls and sliced almonds, the granola is infused with an aromatic coffee flavour. The crunchy nut granola is great for breakfast and offers a high-fibre option that contains no artificial colours and flavours.

Tony's Chocolonely Littl' Bits (RRP £3) is a different way to enjoy the brand's delicious best-selling bar. Crunchy caramel and buttery cookie bits are covered in a thick layer of creamy milk chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt. Your tongue goes through all the different flavour experiences, from creamy and chocolatey to salty. Utterly delicious and simple to share amongst the whole family in the practical sharing bag. Available in all major supermarket chains.

Knorr Beef Gravy Pots (RRP £2.25) is a quick and simple way of producing a rich and flavourful gravy that tastes like it's been made from scratch. Just fling one in a gravy boat, top with boiling water and stir for a few minutes until it melts. That's it ! Also great for adding to casseroles to create a tasty sauce for red meat dishes. They are made with quality ingredients and slowly simmered meat juices which provide a delicious and authentic flavour. Available in Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury's and Ocado.

Maggi Chicken Flavour Noodles (RRP £2) are perfect for providing a quick and simple lunch or snack option for ever-hungry teens (Pierre, I am looking at you !), but are also great for using up leftover turkey and vegetables in a simple stir fry. They are low in saturated fat and suitable for vegetarians (as long as you leave out the turkey trimmings!). All you need is some boiling water and three minutes and they are ready to eat. I find that noodles are a great way of getting vegetables into the kids without any complaints, as well as making a nice change to the usual rice, pasta or potatoes. Available in ASDA, Iceland, B&M, Poundland and Lidl.

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.

Monday 18 December 2023

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

Our menu plan got thrown off track last week as Juliette was home for the weekend and made a lovely lasagne, then we tucked into raclette on Sunday (boiled potatoes, hams and salami, covered with melted raclette cheese). It's a classic French dish and was appreciated by everyone. We also bought some steaks from the reduced section which weren't on the plan either. We're into our final menu plan of the week now as we'll be visiting family over Christmas and New Year. Christmas still seems miles away but it'll be here very soon. I hope you all have a lovely Christmas and see you at the start of January.


lunch-leftover lasagne

dinner - leftover raclette


lunch- sausages, mash and beans

dinner- meatballs, pasta & ratatouille


lunch- leftover meatballs with couscous & tomato sauce

dinner- spicy pork with lentils and rice


lunch- school canteen for me, Pierre can use up leftovers 

dinner- sweet & sour chicken & veg with noodles


lunch- pasta carbonara

dinner - leftovers or Deliveroo

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

Sunday 10 December 2023

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

We made some headway with the roof repairs this week. I found a new roofer who actually showed up as arranged on Friday morning. He explained that the metal strip across the top of the roof which should be totally flat is all buckled up and lifts up like waves which explains the leaks. I'm just awaiting his quote now then he can come back and do the work. He needs to replace the whole metal strip again apparently. One of the meals from last week is being reposted this week as I forgot when I was writing up the menu plan that we'd be going to visit Sophie in Lille for a Christmas dinner and a trip to the Christmas market.


dinner - baked potatoes with bacon, cheese, onions, cream


lunch- chicken, chorizo and chickpeas tagine with couscous

dinner- leftovers


lunch- fish, rice and peas

dinner- Somerset Pork Casserole with boiled potatoes


lunch- school canteen for me, Pierre can use up leftovers 

dinner- chicken satay with rice


lunch- Provençal chicken with ebly

dinner - pasta carbonara


lunch- Deliveroo

dinner- meatloaf, mash and green beans


lunch- roast dinner

dinner- leftovers or cheese on toast

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

Friday 8 December 2023

Children's book review : A Friend for Christmas - Mike Martin

If you're a regular reader of my blog, the chances are you might have pricked up your ears at the mention of the name Mike Martin. He's been featured on my blog many times for his numerous works of fiction in the Sgt Windflower series, as well as many tasty Canadian-style recipes in my #readcookeat posts inspired by the foodie mentions in his novels. If that's got you interested, I highly recommend going to check out the recipe for Newfoundland Molasses Raisin Bread. Winston Windflower loves it and so do I !

This time though, I'm here to tell you about another of Mike Martin's new releases. In the run up to the festive season, he has turned to a younger audience, releasing two children's books with a Christmassy theme, The Christmas Beaver and, the one that we reviewed, A Friend For Christmas.

The story introduces us to a big bunny family living in a warren under a big city, made up of Robbie Rabbit, his wife Rowena and their nine offspring whose names all start with R, making it great fun to read out loud at bedtime. (Can I just point out that, as an adult, I learned something in this book. Baby rabbits are called kits or kittens. How did I get to age 50 without ever even realising that I didn't know that !)

The rabbits are getting ready for winter when they receive a surprise visit from an unexpected animal - Whisperer, a big grey cat. Robbie is initially scared of the cat, a natural enemy to the rabbit family, but the cat seems to want to be friends. Should Robbie trust him? As it is Christmas, a time for peace on earth and good will to all men (and animals), Robbie sets his doubts aside and everyone has a lovely time, enjoying the spirit of trust, acceptance and friendship.

It's a lovely tale, putting the focus on important human values, that I could imagine Sgt Windflower telling his daughters Amelia Louise and Stella at bedtime. A special mention goes out to the illustrator, Sri Lankan Shey Kolee, whose beautiful artwork really brings the story to life. Definitely one to share with the kids or the grandkids in the run up to Christmas.

RRP : £12.14

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Mezzo Publications (25 Oct. 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 36 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1777131472
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1777131470
  • Reading age ‏ : ‎ 5 - 10 years
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 20.32 x 0.23 x 25.4 cm 


Disclosure : We received a review copy of the book.

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Wines of Spain & Portugal Puzzle review

We're into December which means that Christmas shopping has hit the top of everyone's festive to-do lists. While some people are pretty easy to buy for - kids always love toys, teenagers love techie stuff, women love perfume and beauty products, ... - some people are trickier. Trying to find gift ideas for male relatives, whether that be husbands, fathers or fathers-in-law, always seems more complicated to me. Aftershave, DVDs and T-shirts are some popular gift ideas, but if you're looking for something completely different and more original, how about one of these alcohol-themed puzzles from Puzzle Cru?

The puzzles are designed to represent the various regions around the world that are renowned for wine or whisky. We received the Wines of Spain & Portugal puzzle which gives a great deal of insight into the Iberian Peninsular. Showing everything from Portugal's windswept west coast to the sun-drenched shores of the Spanish Costas, the puzzle highlights towns, popular tourist sites and food and drink options. From crisp Cava to regal Rioja and powerful Port, the Iberian peninsula has it all !

The puzzles also reveal a selection of fish and marine mammals that live in the sea around Spain and Portugal, including sharks and rays. It's an interesting puzzle, offering lots of information about Spain and Portugal that wine-lovers would be interested in, but I can also see this appealing to teenagers learning Spanish at school.

The puzzle pieces are precisely cut and fit together firmly. You could display the finished puzzle in a frame on the wall but if not, there is also a poster in the box. We decided to keep this in the box though, as a helpful guide to fitting the pieces together. The puzzle contains 1000 pieces, making it the perfect size for the whole family to fit together as a team. To make this into an extra special and unique Christmas gift, you could pair it with a bottle of one of the wines featured on the map. 

Other puzzles in the set include Wines of Italy, Wines of France and Whiskies of Scotland.

RRP : £16.19 (currently £15.29)

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

Sunday 3 December 2023

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 48

As I started writing this week's menu plan, I read the round-up that I wrote last week, saying that the roofers were coming to fix the roof on Monday. Well the rotten gits never turned up and have failed to reply to any of the phone messages, texts and emails that I have sent them since. Back to the drawing board, I guess. I'll have to look for another roofer tomorrow. Nothing is simple ! We did put the Christmas tree up last weekend though so at least the house looks nice and cheerful. Here's what we're eating this week.


lunch- battered fish, rice and peas

dinner - Provençal chicken, mash and green beans


lunch- smoked sausages, lentils and rice

dinner- baked potatoes with bacon, onions and beans


lunch- pasta with bacon and tomato sauce

dinner- chilli con carne with rice


lunch- school canteen for me, Pierre can use up leftovers 

dinner- chicken paupiettes with boiled potatoes, carrots and gravy


lunch- the remaining chicken paupiettes with rice and sweetcorn

dinner - spare ribs, potato wedgesand coleslaw


lunch- spaghetti bolognese

dinner- pizza or Deliveroo


lunch- chicken, chorizo and chickpeas tagine with couscous

dinner- leftovers

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

Friday 1 December 2023

New Exclusive Steenbergs Sabrina Ghayour Spice Blends review

Since setting up in 2003, Steenbergs Organic have been busy sourcing and packing the best organic spices, herbs and teas from all over the world. In those two decades, they have become one of the leaders in Fairtrade spices and also blend spices and herbs to their own recipes, creating a range of organic seasonings. Two thirds of the people who work at Steenbergs (including the management team) are women, but that's not the only thing that makes them special. They are completely focused on organic and ethical trading, knowing down to the region and often the exact one-hectare farm who grew the spices or herbs that they sell. Since 2020,they have also been carbon neutral.

However, being a fabulous ethical and ecological company is no good if the products that they deal in are nothing special. Luckily, Steenbergs have a great reputation there too and I have used several products from their extensive range in my cooking, enjoying their rich and authentic flavours in my numerous globe-cooking adventures.

Steenbergs recently teamed up with award-winning Middle Eastern chef Sabrina Ghayour to produce three unique spice blends to complement her delicious recipes and add a little Middle Eastern magic into everyday cooking. This new launch ties in with the publication of Sabrina’s seventh cookbook, Flavour, published by Aster, which is a brand-new collection of simple, delicious, crowd-pleasing recipes which can be tailored to all tastes and budgets.

 Encapsulating Sabrina’s passion for flavour, the new spice blends have been hand blended to Sabrina’s own recipes. As soon as I flipped off the lids of the jars, the scent tantalised my nostrils and had me mentally wandering through the busy, hectic souks that we visited on our holidays to Tunisia and Turkey. They really reminded me of the spices we brought back from those trips, in plain plastic bags and often tossed together seemingly randomly by the enthusiastic stallholders. They would happily tell us that the spices would be perfect for couscous or tagines, rubbed onto meat and poultry or just tossed into soups and stews. Basically, they would be good for everything and we were never disappointed.

The first spice blend is called Flavour Blend and it is a mix of cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne, lime powder and cracked black pepper. It was love at first fragrant sniff as far as I was concerned and instantly brought back memories of lamb tagines enjoyed in exotic lands. Sabrina explains, “This earthy blend of spices is simply perfect for roasted meats, root vegetables and squashes and not forgetting, the perfect combination for kebabs such as shawarmas, koftas and red meat kebabs.” I think this would be a great spice blend for dishes such as Bastilla, Kefta Meatball Tagine and Lamb Tagine.

 Persiana Blend appears on the cover of Sabrina’s now iconic debut cookbook Persiana, released in 2014, and was originally created for one of Sabrina’s signature dishes from the book, the slow-roasted spice-perfumed lamb. It contains rose petals, sumac, lime powder, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, garlic powder and cayenne. It is perfect for roasted meats, grills, root vegetables and squashes but also great with game, poultry and oily fish and seafood too. You can see tiny specks of rose petals in the blend which I was slightly unsure of to begin with, but this actually gives a really fragrant and authentic hit to Middle Eastern dishes. This can be used to give a flavour hit to a variety of dishes including Jewelled Persian Rice with Pomegranates, Walnuts and Parsley, Chermoula Spiced Carrots or Bulgur Pilavi

 Bazaar blend is a fabulously versatile blend of oregano, paprika, Spanish citrus pepper, ginger and garlic powder. It can be used for anything from simply coating meat and fish for roasting or pan-frying to salads, rice dishes, hummus and even flatbreads. This would be perfect for Turkish-inspired Salmon with Pomegranate Molasses and Sumac, Chicken Tava and Güveç.

The great thing about these spice blends though is that you don't need a specific recipe to try them out. You could scatter some over mashed potatoes or roast potatoes before popping them in the oven, into soups and stews or over chicken or meatballs before putting them on to cook. Top tips, recipe ideas and inspiration for using the spice blends will be featuring on both Steenbergs and Sabrina Ghayour socials and on the Steenbergs website.

  The spice jars will be available for sale individually (RRP £2.75 or £3) but also as a complete set of three, beautifully packaged in a jute bag with a card and ribbon, all ready for Christmas gifting and costing £9.50.

 Available to purchase from 

Disclosure : I received the spice blends in order to share my honest review.
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