Monday, 23 April 2018

#readcookeat recipe : Lamb Tagine (Court of Lions)

Jane Johnson's Court Of Lions (click through for my review) is a book set in Granada, in both modern and past times, following the trials and tribulations of the last Muslim sultans as they were ousted by the Spanish Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. I have already recreated a Spanish dish that was mentioned in the book - Piquillos Rellenos or Spanish stuffed peppers - but I was also tempted by the mentions of Moroccan and Tunisian style dishes.

p415 After dinner that night - a tagine of chicken with olives and preserved lemon that Abdou had managed to throw together as the sisters talked and talked - Jess took Kate's passport out of her bag and slid it across the table to her twin.

This is a dish that I discovered in Morocco and I've already shared the recipe here : Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons.

I read with great interest the description of another tagine, which cleverly combines influences of Morocco and Spain.

p215 "Lamb tagine," Khadija pronounced. "A classic Berber dish, but with a few Andalusian additions."
She handed Kate a plate and cutlery, then dealt out heaped spoonfuls till Kate had to protest about the limits of her appetite. She was, she noticed, the only one thus honoured : all the others used their flatbreads and fingers to delve into the tagine, selecting their mouthfuls deftly and without spilling a morsel. A neat trick if you could manage it,  but she was glad to have her spoon and fork. Among the tomatoes, peppers and onions and the browned chunks of lamb, Kate found garbanzo beans, apricots, almonds and the hard-boiled eggs Salka had been shelling. The spices were less easy to identify. Chilli seared along her tongue, but its edge had been gentled with cumin and something sweeter - not cinnamon, but something similar that held a faint taste of flowers and honey. And was that saffron that gave the onions their golden glow?

I didn't have garbanzo beans so I replaced them with chickpeas, which are a common ingredient in Moroccan and Tunisian tagines. I rarely cook with lamb - it's an expensive meat and the Madhouse kids aren't that keen on red meat - but I bought some slices of lamb, rather than a big half shoulder, and, mixed in with all the other ingredients and spices, they agreed that it was tasty and made a nice change. They weren't keen on the apricots though - although they like them cold, they didn't like them hot. I thought they added a lovely sweetness and softness to the dish though.

Lamb Tagine

ingredients :

2 onions
1 clove of garlic
drizzle of olive oil
300g lamb, chopped into chunks
salt, pepper
1tsp ras el hanout
1/2tsp cinnamon
1/2tsp ginger
1/2tsp cumin
1/2tsp coriander
1/2 red pepper
1/2 green pepper
1/2 yellow pepper
tin of whole plum tomatoes
1tbsp tomato puree
handful of dried apricots
1/2 large tin of chickpeas
handful of flaked almonds

Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the onions and garlic over a low heat until soft but not browned.

Add the chunks of lamb and increase the heat so that the meat is seared on all sides. Season with salt and pepper. You can throw in all the spices at this point or after the tomatoes, whatever you prefer. I usually add them to the meat, so that they form a slight crust, then taste and add extra spices if necessary once the sauce has reduced, just before serving. It's better to add extra later than be too heavy handed at the start and regret how spicy it is !

Add the chopped peppers - you can use red, green or yellow, whatever you prefer. I opted for a mixture as I like the splash of colour that it adds to the dish.

Add a tin of tomatoes and break them up slightly with a knife. Give it all a good stir.

Toss in the apricots and make sure they are submerged in the sauce so that they will go nice and soft.

Finally, throw in the chickpeas and leave to simmer for 20 minutes, adding extra liquid during the cooking process if necessary.

Once the sauce has thickened, taste and adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle over some flaked almonds just before serving.  I realised at this point that I'd left out the boiled eggs that were mentioned in the book - feel free to add those too ! Serve with couscous and flatbread - you can choose whether to eat with a knife and fork or your fingers !

Adding to the #readcookeat linky over at Chez Maximka.

Adding to the #KitchenClearout linky as I used up some ends of bags of dried apricots and flaked almonds, as well as peppers from the fridge.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Book review : The Man On The Middle Floor - Elizabeth S Moore

Nick, Karen and Tam live totally separate lives in an unremarkable three-apartment house in the suburbs of London. None of them are cast in a very positive light. Tam is spiralling into a never-ending cycle of drowning his sorrows in whisky and having meaningless sex after losing his beloved job as a policeman. Karen has sacrificed everything in life, including her marriage and children, in her constant search for recognition and glory as a doctor and researcher on autism. Nick is an anxious young man with Asperger's who needs routine and his own personal space to function. He soon becomes Karen's pet project and the neighbours' lives collide with spectacular and far-reaching consequences.

The book features two murders (or you could even say three, but only two are human) but it is not crime fiction in the traditional sense because the reader witnesses the killings and knows who the perpetrator is, so it is more a case of watching him get dragged deeper into trouble and waiting for him to get caught.

All three of the characters have skewed moral compasses and dubious values, but they have all also been dealt a pretty bad hand in life which didn't help them get off to a good start and find the right balance. They do start making headway on their journeys to a better place and healthier self-awareness, but events quickly spiral out of control until there can be no happy ending.

Although she can be condemned for neglecting her children and husband, Karen is right to wonder about how society can best understand and help to meet the needs of people with autism. Her well-meaning attempts are catastrophically off-the-mark though and she makes things even worse - this is quite possibly supposed to be a comment on how society at large deals with the issue. Nick did seem to be too much of a classic text-book case to be wholly realistic, although I admit that I am no expert, and the extra layer of autism in Karen's own son seemed superfluous and unrealistic - however blinded she is by her job, I'm sure, as an expert in her field if not as a mother, she would have picked up on the signs, especially since, as a reader, I did way before the big reveal.

The basic plot is chillingly realistic though and throws up a lot of unanswerable questions about blame, guilt and responsibility. It's a gripping read that will be perfect for book clubs as I'm sure opinions on the different characters will be divided.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: RedDoor Publishing Ltd (12 April 2018)
  • ISBN-10: 1910453544
  • ISBN-13: 978-1910453544

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Fab freebies of the week 21/4

Welcome to the weekend and another round-up of this week's best UK freebies. Hope you find something to take your fancy. :)


In return for filling out their survey, Eat Natural will send you a bar from their new ‘bars with benefits’ range to say thank you. (For mums & mums-to-be.)

Now, the Mail’s stepping up its war on plastic with The Great Plastic Pick Up. We’ve joined forces with Keep Britain Tidy to encourage communities, schools, families and individuals to come together from May 11 to 13 to clear rubbish from our streets, beaches and beauty spots. Sign up and request 3 rolls of litter bags.

Fancy trying our crisp, clean, unsweetened bubbles? We simply infuse water with Nature’s ingredients and add some sparkle. Aqua Libra has no sugar, no sweeteners, nothing artificial and only 3 calories per can. Enter your details and we’ll send three free cans to the 1800 lucky winners who will be selected at random.

Use code FREELIQUID for a free Cougar 24hr liquid lipstick (you may have to pay for shipping, I did get a totally free one from their facebook page before Christmas though)

See how Purina® DentaLife® helps your dog's dental health with a free sample

Register to receive a FREE 100ml sample of Colgate Plax Cool Mint Mouthwash!
It's too easy! All you have to do is sign up and answer a short survey about your oral healthcare routine to be eligible to receive 1 out of 1000 samples!

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

Friday, 20 April 2018

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #17

Last week was fun, shepherding the Norwegian teachers around and working on a common lesson plan, but hectic, as it was my first week back at work, which is why this week's plan is being written in the evening rather than ready to go live first thing this morning. The great news is, our two week holiday now begins - yay ! It's been a mini heatwave here for the last couple of days, but temperatures will be dropping by ten degrees next week apparently so I may hold off on planning salads for a while !


lunch - The French grandparents will be here for a special church service for all the people who died last month (including Madhouse Daddy) so I'll let them decide

dinner - see lunch - we may end up going out somewhere


lunch - not sure if the grandparents will still be here or if they'll have left before lunch, but roast chicken and spuds with all the trimmings would work either way

dinner - bacon sandwiches - they were on the menu last week but never got made so I'm still craving one !


lunch - cheese & bacon quiche with salad, coleslaw & cherry tomatoes

dinner - cheesy veg bake with leftover spicy sausages


lunch - battered fish with rice/chick peas/tomatoes

dinner - beef or chicken stir fry with veggies and noodles


lunch - I picked up some hot dog buns and I have sausages in the freezer, either with frozen potato balls or potato salad and probably some more coleslaw to use up the white cabbage (I might fling some apple in there too, to mix things up !)

dinner - moussaka


lunch - spanakopita - a cheesy bacon and spinach filo pastry dish. That's the second Greek-inspired meal this week - it must be the soaring temperatures inspiring me !

dinner - Joker day - using up the leftovers in the fridge (or, if there aren't any, pasta with a jar of sauce that's taking up space in the cupboard)


lunch - beefburgers with pasta or rice and ratatouille

 dinner - chicken casserole with green beans and mash

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

Join in with the weekly meal plan bloghop !

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Celebrating National Pet Month with L.O.L Surprise Pets (review)

Did you know that April is National Pet Month? The lovely people at L.O.L Surprise did because they sent us a fabulous animal-themed package, containing chocolate paw print lollies, some cool cookie cutters and a  L.O.L Surprise Pet.

These Series 3 L.O.L Surprise Pets look just like the other L.O.L Surprise balls in the range, except they are yellow with a paw print design on the packaging.

You can tell from the blurry photo how eager Juliette was to get stripping off the layers. No time to hang about here setting up the perfect shot !

As with the usual LOL Surprise balls, the first layer revealed a sticker with an enigma to give you a clue about the identity of the doll or pet hiding inside. Juliette thought it was very funny that it was Friday 13th when she opened the ball and that date was part of the clue ! How's that for a freaky coincidence ?!

While Juliette continued gaily stripping off the layers of plastic, I had a quick look at the collector's guide inside the ball. There are lots of cats and dogs, as well as a couple of other animals that look like rabbits and guinea pigs or mice (actually, looking at the names, they must be hamsters), which follow the same concept of groups as the  L.O.L Surprise dolls, including the ultra rare Glitterati.

Back to Juliette, who by now had uncovered four little bags, as well as the usual sticker sheet.

The inside of the ball can be used as a little play area or bath tub, so that you can discover which water surprise your pet will have - will it wee, spit, cry or change colour?

Enough suspense - time to rip open those bags and discover the treasures inside !

We found a poop scoop, water bottle and accessory (little Polaroid type camera) to go with the two stickers, taking our number of surprises up to five. As with regular LOL Surprise dolls, there are seven surprises to reveal so what's left?

Well, obviously, the main event - the cute little critter itself ! We got a bunny called Jitter Critter, which is one of the Fancy ones.

The final element to look at is the litter tray, filled with a squishy Super Sand type material. You can use the lid to imprint a LOL Surprise logo and little paw prints in it.

Juliette starting scraping away with the poop scoop and - aha, here's the final surprise !

A necklace ! You can squish the sand back together and mould it in or out of the litter tray for extra playability.

Any LOL Surprise fan will be over the moon to add cute animal friends to their collection and we particularly liked the added surprise of digging for treasure in the litter tray. (Not something I would recommend in real life though !)

Series 3 includes 36 pets to collect and they're guaranteed to make any LOL Surprise fan very happy.

for more information :

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

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Kids' dvd review : Ferdinand

This week saw the release on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD of animated movie Ferdinand, which is inspired by the classic book “The Story of Ferdinand”, written by Mungo Leaf all the way back in 1936.

Ferdinand, voiced by John Cena (Trainwreck, Daddy’s Home) is a big bull but certainly not a big bully. In fact, you could even go so far as to say he is adora-bull ! His heart is as big as his bulky body, and, even if he gets teased mercilessly for it, he prefers friendship and smelling flowers to fighting and aggressivity. Mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home, but he rallies together a misfit team for the ultimate adventure and proves that you can’t judge a bull by its cover.

From Blue Sky Studios and director Carlos Sadanha (Rio, Ice Age), Ferdinand is an uplifting and often funny family-oriented movie. It does have its darker moments, with references to bull-fighting and the "chop shop" that may upset sensitive children, but ultimately it's a heartwarming story with great life lessons about avoiding violence, looking out for your friends and having the courage to not conform. Parents can have fun trying to recognise the all-star cast that includes John Cena, Kate McKinnon, David Tennant, Sally Philips, Gina Rodriguez, Anthony Anderson and many more, as well as picking up on some of the innuendoes that go straight over the kids' heads.

FERDINAND races onto Digital Download on 10th April and on 4K Ultra HDTM, Blu-ray™ and DVD on 16th April!

○ “Ferdinand’s Guide to Healthy Living” with John Cena
○ “A Goat’s Guide to Life”
○ “Ferdinand’s Team Supreme”
○ “Spain Through Ferdinand’s Eyes”
○ “Confessions of a Bull-loving Horse”
○ “Creating the Land of Ferdinand”
○ “Anatomy of a Scene: The Bull Run”
○ “Learn to Dance with Ferdinand”
○ “Ferdinand’s Do-It-Yourself Flower Garden”
○ “Creating a Remarka-Bull Song”
 “Home” Music Video
 Art of Ferdinand Gallery

Disclosure : We received a review copy of the dvd.

Monday, 16 April 2018

#readcookeat recipe : Shrimp and Macaroni Casserole (A Tangled Web)

As I mentioned last week, I browsed through my bookmarked recipes when I was menu planning and Sgt. Windflower came to the rescue with not just one but two great family-friendly dishes for us to try. After being inspired by a recipe for pan-fried fish with bacon, I tried my hand at recreating another dish with a seafood twist. Winston, the kind-hearted Mountie in Mike Martin's Sgt. Windflower series, loves his food, so he has already provided us with lots of dishes to try, from decadent desserts (especially cheesecake) and tasty mains. Here's the quote from the latest book, A Tangled Web (click through for my review), which inspired our delicious dinner :

p14 : Sheila had made a large plate of assorted cheese and crackers. There was some pepper Brie, Five Counties cheese and one of Windflower’s special choices, a Stilton with mango pieces. Plus, she had a cold bottle of Black Horse beer for him.

“This is perfect,” said Windflower as Lady, hoping to gather up any lost crumbs, carefully watched him place a large Stilton-topped cracker into his mouth. Windflower gave her a piece of the next cracker. While she was pleased with that morsel, she held out eternal hope for more. Finally, he shooed her away from the snacks on the side table, and she slumped into a mini-depression near the fireplace.

Sheila sipped on a glass of soda water and watched as Windflower neatly demolished the rest of the cheese and crackers.

“I didn’t think you were hungry,” said Sheila.

“Automatic response,” said Windflower. “I don’t think I ate anything after breakfast.”

“I’ll get you a plate from the oven,” she said as she headed back into the kitchen.

Sheila returned with a plate overflowing with steaming pasta and shrimp.

“Oh, my God,” said Windflower as he took a few small bites from his still-too-hot-to-eat dinner. “This is fabulous.”

“It’s not much, a shrimp and macaroni casserole. It’s easy to make and great for leftovers. That’s assuming you don’t eat it all tonight.”

Windflower smiled at her in response and continued to pluck out fat, juicy shrimps so that he could dip them back in the melted cheese. Sheila knew better than to expect conversation while he was eating, so she turned on the TV to check the news. Of course, the first thing she and Windflower saw was the Amber Alert notice flash across their screen.

 As usual, after taking note of the dish being devoured by Winston, I turned to google to see if this is a specific recipe, or if I could just go completely free-style with it. I did find a Shrimp & Macaroni Casserole Recipe on the Taste of Home website, which I used as a guide.

Looking in the fridge, I found two chunks of cheese - edam and mimolette - that needed using up, so I decided to try melting them in cream, rather than using my usual cheese sauce (starting with a roux made from butter and flour mixed into milk before adding cheese) and it was delicious. Juliette loves mac & cheese and she also loves prawns so she was in seventh heaven !

 Shrimp and Macaroni Casserole

ingredients :

cheese (I used up some edam and mimolette, as well as grated cheddar)
20cl single cream
shrimps or prawns, cooked and peeled
salt, pepper, oregano

Preheat the oven to 180°. Cook the macaroni in salted water, drain and set aside. 

Gently heat the cream until it starts to bubble. Throw in the cheese, chopped into chunks.

The chunks stayed semi-firm so I added a handful of grated cheddar that melted into the cream. It started off stringy but keep cooking and stirring and it sorts itself out. Add a little extra cream or milk if it is too thick. Season with salt, pepper and oregano.

Add the drained macaroni to the pot and stir through the sauce.

Time to stir through the shrimp. I initially planned on using big king prawns but there was some cooked, peeled shrimp on offer at the supermarket so I opted for that instead.

Transfer to an ovenproof dish. Scatter over some parmesan.

Bake for 15 minutes or so until the top is golden and bubbly. Serve with salad or broccoli. 

Juliette, who is a huge mac and cheese fan, said this was even better than usual - the ooziest, creamiest mac & cheese she's ever tasted !

Adding to the #readcookeat linky over at Chez Maximka.

Also adding to the #KitchenClearout linky as it used up odds and ends of cheese.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Fab freebies of the week 14/4

Last week, freebies were a bit thin on the ground and I predicted a bumper week this week to make up for it. I was right - it's raining freebies this week ! Enjoy :)


Zoflora have 100 bottles of their Very Berry disinfectant to give away

On Origins facebook page :Who else is seriously crushing on Glow-Co-Nuts™ right now? If you haven't tried it, get to your local Origins counter for a free sample...on your marks, get set, GLOW!

Sopost have a Caudalie offer (but the chances are, they'll all be gone by the time you read this !)

Sopost also have a John Frieda sample set available - get in quick !

Bag yourself a free can of our Jameson, Ginger & Lime. You're Welcome! Simply enter your details and your can will be on its way to your home.

Crew Clothing have 100 polo shirts up for grabs

Just fill in the form to sign up for the Rush newsletter and get your free sample of L'Oreal Serie Expert Magnesium Silver Shampoo.

One for your doggy : Never tried Duncan's Deli before? Just fill in your details below and we'll send you out a treat size bag absolutely free!

Head over to British Gas rewards section and grab one of 10,000 Wilbur the Penguin soft toys

Refilling your water bottle for free rather than buying a single-use plastic bottle is eco-friendly, economical and you can work towards a great freebie into the bargain - Get our free app Refill to find businesses local to you that support our cause and will happily refill any water bottle you have handy. With over 1600 Refill stations across the UK refilling has never been easier (and friendlier!). You can also earn points each time you refill to get a free water bottle and more.

Innocent have 30,000 seed growing kits up for grabs

The Insiders is launching a campaign that lets you really discover the power of Pearl Drops. They're looking for 750 lucky Insiders to take part in this campaign and get to know Pearl Drops whitening toothpaste, and all its benefits.


Can you do something wild every day throughout June? That’s 30 simple, fun and exciting Random Acts of Wildness. We're giving you a free pack of goodies to help you plan your wild month, plus lots of ideas from your Wildlife Trust to inspire you to stay wild all throughout June (and beyond!). To get your free 30 Days Wild pack, which includes a wallchart, a poster, an interactive booklet and some stickers to help you go wild, just select who is taking part and take the next step!

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Giveaway #677 : Win an award-winning Bshirt for breastfeeding mums - closing date 28/4

When a press release landed in my inbox recently for ethical breastfeeding clothing brand The Bshirt and their award-winning ‘Lift The Flap’ tops, I felt all nostalgic. I absolutely respect every mum's choice to breast or bottle feed their baby, but I have to say, those precious moments of absolute intimacy and special bonding with a newborn (and not-so-newborn, as I kept going for well over a year each time) remain some of my favourite memories of each of the Madhouse kids. That said, breastfeeding in public is always tricky, which is why The Bshirt looks so fantastic - the perfect combination of funky and functional.

The Bshirt is delighted to announce the launch of their award-winning ‘Lift The Flap’ tops on innovative shopping destination site for mums, NINERY. The online portal dedicated to providing mums and mums-to-be with must have clothing and accessories is a hub of ideas and inspiration. Brimming with unique fashion forward finds, The Bshirt joins leading brands and will be available from April 2018.

Stylish and empowering, The Bshirt can be worn on its own or as a vest top under clothes, to help make breastfeeding even more fashionable. Co-founded by two Devon based mumpreneurs, the Bshirt ‘Lift the Flap’ range of breastfeeding tops are all made from organic cotton, feeling super soft and easy to wear.

Co-founders Lisa and Philippa commented ahead of the launch: “We are huge fans of NINERY and are thrilled about the first Bshirt collection launching on the site this spring. The Bshirt is so much more than just a top, helping new mums to breastfeed with confidence by empowering women to breastfeed wearing their favourite fashions. The launch is an exciting step for us to be able share our breastfeed with confidence message with even more mums.”

NINERY founder, Penny Harrison said: "I am so thrilled that our customers can now find the Bshirt collection for sale at NINERY. I've been keen to work with Philippa and Lisa right from the beginning as their brilliant Lift the Flap top is exactly the kind of product I had in mind when creating the concept of my marketplace site.”

Penny continued: “I am passionate about bringing together lots of independent, stylish brands for mums and mums-to-be all at one contemporary shopping site, so women don't have to spend hours trawling online. I hope that as many mums as possible can discover exciting breastfeeding fashion options at NINERY and we're really proud that the Bshirt is joining us on our journey."

A social venture launched in March 2017, Bshirt co-founders Lisa and Philippa are passionate about improving breastfeeding rates in the UK and enabling women to breastfeed confidently for as long as they wish. The UK currently has some of the worst breastfeeding rates in the world and both the NHS and Unicef list embarrassment at feeding in public as a major barrier to breastfeeding.

The Bshirt has seen amazing results from customer surveys, with 83% of saying they feel more confident feeding in front of others while wearing their Bshirts. The team is also thrilled to have just been announced as a Gold winner in the MadeForMums Awards 2018, within the Breastfeeding accessory category.

Browse the full range available and find your perfect outfit pairings for any occasion this season, To find out more information on The Bshirt and wider collection, visit

Bshirt, Lift the Flap, £25.39 (Two for £41.39) including delivery

Available in sizes 8 – 18

Colours - white/ black/ grey/ navy / plum

I am delighted to have a Bshirt to give away to one lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. (I'll send the winner's email over to the company to arrange size/colour choices.) Fill in your entries via the rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 28/4/18

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. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. The winners' personal contact information will be passed on to the PR / Brand responsible and used only for delivery of their prize. 

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