Friday, 28 October 2016

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 28/10

As I said on last week's menu plan, last week was all about tried and tested family faves that didn't need complicated recipes, whereas this week's are the more exotic bookmarked ones that I've never tried before. By preparing both menu plans in advance, that gave me some leeway to swap between the two, depending on time and enthusiasm !


lunch - toad in the hole with mash and carrots

dinner - Tunisian tagine - but it's nothing like a Moroccan tagine, this one is more like a Spanish omelette


lunch - probably the usual roast, or possibly raclette for a change - boiled potatoes with ham and smoked meats and cheese that you melt in little individual trays

dinner - smorging aka fridge grazing


lunch - mei fun, a Singapore-inspired dish of stir-fried noodles, chicken and veggies

dinner - chiftele, Romanian chicken meatballs with buckwheat and veggies and a sauce - possibly tomato or cream based


lunch - taco ranch chicken

dinner - bunny chow, South African curry


lunch - Sri Lankan prawns (or beefburgers for Sophie and Pierre, who don't like them) with rice and crunchy stir-fried veg

dinner - a dish all the way from Uzbekistan, lamb plov, with rice


dinner - slow cooker chicken casserole


dinner - focaccia tart

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

Join in with the #MealplanMonday bloghop :

Book review : Lily's House - Cassandra Parkin

Lily's House is an enchanting, quirky and often surprising tale of unconditional love between a grandmother and granddaughter. By the time the book begins, Lily has passed away, leaving her house to her granddaughter Jen, despite their rocky past, but she is still the most endearing and striking character in the book, as well as the guiding light for her granddaughter and great-granddaughter. She is a determined and and kind-hearted woman, intent on influencing the destinies of those she loves, even from beyond the grave.

As a little girl, Jen adored her grandmother and always secretly harboured a notion that she was a witch : she certainly dabbled in the healing powers of plants and seemed to have second sight, or at least an uncanny ability to know what was going on even when she was miles away. This gift seems to have been passed down to Jen too, but she muses that maybe it is just the natural consequence of a mother's (and grandmother's) fierce love and need to protect.

Jen travels down to Cornwall with her tween-aged daughter with the desire to sort out her estranged grandmother's estate as quickly as possible then sell up and go back to her struggling musician husband Daniel with the much needed money in the bank. The pair clearly have an intense, fusional relationship but Daniel soon comes across as overly needy and possibly even controlling. There was no love lost between Jen's husband and grandmother so his desire for her to wrap things up quickly and profit from the cash seems almost justified, but there is always something that doesn't sit quite right.

However, as the story advances, and the author tosses nuggets of information into the narrative that change your whole perception of a character, the reader is constantly wrong-footed. One example is when we learn, quite a few chapters in, that Jen is deaf. Suddenly, her husband's over-protectiveness seems more coherent and reasonable. I felt slightly duped by the author at times, when she revealed an important piece of information that would have changed our outlook from the offset, but in the later chapters, it actually made more sense and gave the unfolding plot more impact.

The surprising and rather chilling climax leaves you wondering if it was morally the right outcome, but in no doubt whatsoever that it was all done with the best of intentions. I'd certainly rather have Lily, and even Jen, fighting in my corner than against me !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press (15 Oct. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785079344
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785079344
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm

Disclosure : I received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Madhouse recipe : Creamy Cauliflower Soup

The first time I saw Soupe Du Barry  on the menu at the school canteen, I had no idea what it was. When I discovered that it was cauliflower soup, I wrinkled up my nose - I like cauliflower cheese but I wasn't keen on the idea of it in a soup. However, I tasted it and actually thought it was very nice. As I had half a cauliflower in the fridge after making cauliflower, carrot & potato cheese earlier in the week, I decided to give it a go at home.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

ingredients :

half a cauliflower
3tbsp butter
3tbsp flour
450ml milk
100ml crème fraîche
salt, pepper, mild curry powder (optional)

First boil the cauliflower for ten minutes and drain. You might want to keep the cooking water to add to the soup if it's too thick.

Put the butter in the now empty pan and melt it over a low heat. Stir in the flour to make a roux. 

Pour in the milk and bring to the boil, stirring continually, until you have a smooth white sauce. Put the cauliflower back in the pan and whizz with a stick blender.

Add the cream and seasonings. You could add a touch of curry powder or alternatively stir in some grated cheese or cheese triangles. Add water if it's too thick.

It's a bit bland but it made a nice change to our usual Mexican tomato/bean and vegetable soups. It's also a very frugal meal and a great way of using up leftover cauliflower, whether cooked or raw. It would work with a mixture of cauliflower and other veg, such as leeks, broccoli or potato too.

Adding to the #KitchenClearout linky because it used up my cauliflower.

Are you Britain's most fruitful family ? Share your life hacks and win £1,000 !

Family time is precious, but with parents often exhausted at the end of a working day and children focused on gadgets, we often forget to spend just five minutes together. Nature’s Finest is on a mission to find and champion families who use simple solutions or life hacks to ensure time is spent together, through the campaign ‘Britain’s Most Fruitful Family’.

Run through the brand's Facebook page, the campaign is asking families to send in the life hacks that help them to spend more time together as a family, encouraging others to try the same and embrace a fruit-ful lifestyle.

The campaign will run from 24th October through to 28th November and the winning family with the best life hack will receive £1,000 worth of Sainsbury’s vouchers – ideal just before Christmas when food shopping bills get bigger.

Nature’s Finest themselves offer a wide range of convenient potted fruit, which helps make eating fruit on the go or at home a simple and easy task. This is just one way of gaining an extra few minutes in the day (enough to read a bedtime story or play a quick game of snap).

Here are some of the Madhouse Family's top hacks for a fruit-ful life :

Banish mealtime madness ! Start menu-planning so you always know in advance what you'll be having for tea, then there's no last-minute rummaging in the freezer, panicking about what you can use that doesn't need defrosting, while you could be helping the kids with their homework or chatting about their day.

Even better, use a slow cooker. Throw the meat and vegetables in it when you have a few minutes first thing in the morning or straight after lunch, then let it simmer away all afternoon so you have nothing to do at all during the after-school/work rush except put on your slippers, plonk yourself on the sofa and catch up with everyone's day.

Micro-cleaning sessions. If you spend 5 minutes wiping down the work surfaces, emptying the recycling bin and sorting out the post while you wait for the kettle to boil, you won't have to spend half of the weekend doing it all in one go when you could be going out for a walk with the kids or taking them to the park.

A screen-free hour every day. Banish all screens - phones, tablets, laptops and TV - and spend an hour each day doing whatever the kids want - baking cupcakes, playing a board game, messy play, walking the dogs ... it doesn't matter what you do, as long as you're spending quality time together and enjoying each other's company.

Think you can do better? Make sure you enter Nature's Finest's #FruitfulFamilies competition and feel free to share your top tips in the comments here too.

Disclosure : We received some Nature's Finest products.

Giveaway #593 : Win a £50 hamper of Elizabeth Shaw chocolates - closing date 11/11

When the clocks go back on the 30th October, we all gain an extra hour, and Elizabeth Shaw Chocolates have launched a lovely campaign that focuses on thoughtfulness and consideration and encourages people to utilise this extra time to make thoughtful gestures. Little things can make a big difference to someone’s day, for example calling an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, taking your neighbour’s dog for a walk or giving a stranger spare change.

This is more about good deeds and kind gestures that don't necessarily cost money but can really have an impact on brightening someone's day. I asked the Madhouse kids to help me think of ways to spread a little kindness and I was touched by some of their ideas.

With Christmas on the way, they mentioned children in hospitals or those who don't have enough money to buy lots of Christmas gifts, so we are going through the toy cupboards, finding puzzles, books and games that are still in good condition but that they aren't very interested in any more, which we are taking to a collection point in a local toy store.

Similarly, we've been adding an extra item or two to the shopping trolley to put in the food collection points - it doesn't have to be expensive things, a big bag of pasta or rice can cost pennies.

Something we already did was visiting a lonely old lady who lives on the corner of our street. As well as popping in for a chat, the Madhouse kids have been drawing pictures for her and taking along some of our homemade bakes, which always puts a smile on her face.

We've been looking out for the wildlife in the garden too, hanging up fat balls for the birds and creating an insect hotel for the creepy crawlies.

With it being half term, I've also been trying to reduce the stress levels of parents when their kids are having a meltdown, giving up my seat on the bus or letting them go through the tills before me if their child is starting to cry or play up. Their gratitude is palpable !

Elizabeth Shaw also sent me through a lovely selection of their chocolates, so I've been generously sharing it in the staffroom at work. You'd be amazed at how many squeals of excitement a box of chocolates on the table in the staff room with a "help yourself !" note stuck on them can produce, and it makes a nice change to the usual complaining at break time !

To help spread even more happiness, Elizabeth Shaw have very kindly offered to send a £50 hamper full of delicious chocolates to one lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. The hamper includes;
Dark Chocolate Cappuccino flutes
Dark Chocolate Lemon flutes
Dark Chocolate Mint Flutes
Dark Chocolate Orange Flutes
Milk Chocolate Amaretto Flutes
Dark Chocolate Mint Crisps
Milk Chocolate Mint Crisps
Milk Chocolate Orange Crisps
Milk Chocolate Salted Caramel Crisps
Milk Chocolate Almond Bites
Milk Chocolate Cappuccino Bites
Dark Chocolate Raspberry Bites
Dark and Milk Chocolate Mint Collection
Orange Merry Christmas Mini Gift – includes orange flutes and bites
Mint Merry Christmas Mini Gift – includes mint flutes and bites

Fill in your entries via the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 11/11/16

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 :

Enter Welly Foods Puddle of the Year photo comp - big prizes plus bonus £50 cash prize for one of my readers

Competitions listed on

A week of Naturally Tasty meals courtesy of Knorr ! (review)

I love cooking from scratch and I have a very well stocked spice rack that I love dipping into like an artist's palette, blending flavours and colours until I have the perfect combination to tickle my tastebuds (or set them on fire, depending on my mood !). However, I also have a full-time job and three kids to look after, so I'm not averse to using cooking aids when I'm in a rush. I was delighted to receive a fabulous package from Knorr, containing a beautiful red cast iron cooking pot, some herbs and spices, a grow-your-own herb garden and some sachets of their new Naturally Tasty range of packet mixes.

There are six recipes, which offer a nice mixture of family favourites and more exotic dishes : Chilli Con Carne, Lasagne, Spaghetti Bolognese, Tuna Napolitana, Moroccan Chicken and Beef Tagine.

As the name suggests, these new recipe mixes contain all of the taste but none of the hidden nasties. They are made with real vegetables, with a variety of aromatic herbs, spices and seasonings, to allow you to create authentic, great tasting meals that are quick and easy to prepare. The range contains no artificial colours, flavours and preservatives, as well as being free from MSG, HVO and HVP. 

For added convenience, the labels on the Naturally Tasty Range are easy to read and understand, with ingredients lists containing nothing that you wouldn't find in the average kitchen store cupboard.

When you see the vibrant natural colours of the spices, it makes you wonder why people ever bother using artificial colours.

We've been road-testing the new range this week and they all got a big thumbs-up from the whole family. One of our favourites has been the Chilli Con Carne, which surprised me because I usually think the kids won't like it because it's too spicy. The Naturally Tasty blend is packed with flavour but has very little chilli kick, so it even had Pierre wolfing it down and asking for seconds.

The Beef Tagine was another big hit, and as I made it with rump steak rather than stewing steak, it was ready in half an hour. This is definitely a huge bonus when I rush in late from work and need something quick on the table. You can pack in the veggies too - the recipe suggestion recommends courgettes but I added onions, mushrooms and red peppers too. A quick sprinkle of flaked almonds on top and you have a dish that looks and tastes like you've been slaving over it for hours when it only takes about half an hour from start to finish !

Pierre had great fun helping me put together a lasagne with a difference - when I went to the cupboard to find the lasagne sheets, I discovered that there were none left. Oops !

 But we have learnt that lasagne is just as delicious when made with regular pasta, and also much easier to assemble, as there is no risk of having undercooked pasta sheets when you take it out of the oven ! I used another shortcut in this recipe - a sachet of Knorr Cheese Sauce, which again made it possible to have the meal ready in about half an hour.

Knorr Naturally Tasty makes four servings per pack (but we've managed to get five generous servings out of each pack - I've just thrown in a few extra vegetables), has an RRP of 89p and is available at retailers nationwide, including Tesco, Asda, Ocado, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. The whole range gets the Madhouse seal of approval !

Disclosure : We received a package of goodies, including the new Naturally Tasty range of sachets.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Ravensburger 3d puzzle Lighthouse Night Edition

Ravensburger recently sent us through another of their 3d puzzles to review and we couldn't wait to put it together. You may remember our reviews for some of their other 3d products - the Unicorn Vase, Vanity Box and Jewellery Tree, the Empire State BuildingStatue of LibertyBig BenTower BridgeMedieval HouseEiffel Tower By Night and, most recently, the fabulous Disney Castle. We're getting quite a collection now, but we're always happy to add another one. They're great fun to put together and look fantastic on the shelf when they're finished.

Inside the box, you get a bag of puzzle pieces, along with the moulded plastic shapes that make it look so fantastic and lifelike when it's assembled. For this puzzle, there is a base with a little staircase winding up through some rocks and the top of the lighthouse, complete with working rotating light, just like in a real lighthouse.

There is also an instruction leaflet but we didn't need it at all, as it's a simple round tower shape this time. Some of the 3d puzzles are much more complex.

Given the shape of the puzzle, this one didn't have any hinged pieces. Instead, the plastic pieces are all slightly curved.

As usual, they are all numbered with an arrow to show which way the pieces join up. This makes it a doddle to put them together.

In fact, it was so simple that 7-year-old Pierre assembled the whole thing all by himself.

We worked as a team, with me sifting through the pieces and lining them up in groups of ten in numerical order, then Pierre putting them all in place.

The whole thing took less than an hour to complete and once the plastic embellishments are slotted into place, it looks fantastic.

There are lots of little details on the puzzle which really bring it to life, such as the windows, bench and lifebuoy. (The boat didn't come with the puzzle - Juliette added it.)

This puzzle is one of the "by night" collection so it still has a trick left up its sleeve to impress you - a fully working rotating LED light. We initially thought that it was broken or faulty because it didn't work when we switched it on, but there are actually three AA batteries to insert - two on one side and one on the other, which we missed at first.

There is an on-off switch so you could even use this as a funky nightlight in your child's room.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £24.99

Disclosure : We received the product from Ravensburger Testers Lounge, in order to write an honest review. Sign up for news of their future tests.

Halloween recipe : Spider cupcakes

If you want a cute rather than scary or gruesome Halloween treat to bake with the kids, these spider cupcakes from Rachel's are perfect. We had great fun making - and eating ! - them. Pierre did all the decorating himself, and, as you can see from his face, he was very pleased with the end result !

Spider cupcakes

Ingredients for Cakes

 100g plain chocolate
 150g unsalted butter, softened
 150g caster sugar
 20g cocoa, sifted
 3 eggs, beaten
 125g self raising flour
1 ½tsp baking powder
 2 tbsp Rachel’s Greek Style natural yogurt

Ingredients for Frosting

4tbsp golden syrup
80ml double cream
 100g milk chocolate
100g plain chocolate
3tbsp Rachel’s Greek Style natural yogurt

Ingredients for Decoration

 Chocolate sugar strands/sprinkles (optional)
Smarties or similar sweets (for the eyes)
 Liquorice laces or Catherine wheels for the legs

Makes: 12 cakes

First job, melt the chocolate (and try to keep your mini-helper's fingers out of the bowl !). This chocolate doesn't get another mention in the official recipe provided by Rachel's so I just added it to the mix at the same time as the yogurt.

Cream together the butter and sugar.

Add the eggs and cocoa then the flour and baking powder.

Pour in the creamy Rachel's Greek style yogurt and the melted chocolate.

Give it all a good mix and pour into silicon muffin tins. Bake for 20 minutes until risen and firm to touch. Leave to cool.

Meanwhile in a small bowl, gently heat the icing ingredients (except the yogurt). Either do this in a microwave, on medium power, or over a pan of simmering water, until the chocolate has melted. Leave to cool then add the yogurt. The frosting should be soft but not runny.

Use sweets to decorate (we don't like licorice so used fizzy bootlaces for the legs instead).

For more recipe ideas, head over to

Disclosure : We received some Rachel's vouchers to buy yogurt for the recipe.

Halloween crafting : Our Pizza Box Minions Vampire

As it's the school holidays, I'd been promising Pierre that we would do some crafting and sure enough, right from the moment he got up on day one of the holidays, that's what he wanted to do. I always have a #KitchenClearout every time I'm on holiday, but I decided that a #CraftsCupboardClearout was long overdue. Looking at all the bottles of paint that we found, I was right !

We happened to have a frozen pizza box sitting on top of the bin waiting to be recycled and as I looked at the shape, I had an idea. It looked just like a Minion with a vampire cape !

Luckily, the Madhouse kids shared my creative vision and before long, it was taking shape.

 We added some teeth, a star and some cotton wool hair and he was complete. Pierre thinks it's hilarious that from the back, he still looks just like a piza box !

 Happy Halloween !