Tuesday, 21 April 2015

John Deere Monster Treads Shake & Sounds Tractor review

Pierre's face says it all ! He was very excited to receive a huge John Deere tractor toy to review. It's from the Monster Treads range and judging by the size of those wheels, they weren't kidding !

Pierre was fascinated by the chunky tyres and had great fun pushing it around the table, rolling it over any obstacles he came across !

He wanted to open the doors to look inside the cab but they don't open so he had to peer inside instead ! It does have a lift-up engine cover though, which is perfect for any would-be mechanics.

But the biggest surprise was about to be discovered ...

Get ready ... !


Aha, the name makes more sense now !

Pierre has been happily playing with it indoors but it is made of very robust plastic and would definitely put up with outdoor play too. I could see this as a great addition to a sandpit or a back garden over the summer months.

It requires 3 x AAA batteries but the great news is, they come ready installed. It is designed for children aged 3-8, but even Madhouse Daddy and Grandad couldn't resist having a play when they thought nobody was looking !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £19.99

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

Family Fever

Monday, 20 April 2015

Madhouse recipe : Mexican Spiced Black Bean and Pepper Stew

Last week, an innocuous-looking package landed on the doormat. As soon as I broke the seal on the envelope, I knew what was inside because the fragrance wafting out mentally transported me to the wonderfully aromatic spice markets that we visited in Turkey. 

 Inside the envelope was a beautiful drawstring pouch from Spice Kitchen, containing 8 fabulous spice blends using approximately 35 different whole spices. Each blend comes in a resealable 20 gram packet and the selection promises to send your taste buds to the four corners of the Earth. As a keen globe-cooker, I was delighted to discover :

Garam Masala (India / Pakistan) - contains cloves, star anise, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander seeds, cumin and ginger

Sri Lankan Curry Powder - contains basmati rice, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, cassia bark, fenugreek seeds, cloves, cardamon, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, kashmiri chilli & turmeric

Panch Phoron (Bengal) - contains cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds and fennel seeds

Mexican Spice Blend - contains cornflour, cumin seeds, paprika, oregano, chilli powder, garlic powder, salt, sugar, onion powder and cayenne pepper

Jerk Spice Blend (Jamaica) - contains cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, parsley, sugar, salt, paprika, all spice, black peppercorns, nutmeg and cinnamon

Chinese Spice Blend - contains liquorice, star anise, cassia, szechuan peppers, black cardamon, orange peel and cloves

Ras El Hanout (North Africa / Morocco) - contains cloves, mace, star anise, cayenne pepper, allspice, cardamon, black peppercorns, sugar, cinnamon, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, ginger, nutmeg. paprika, salt and turmeric

Baharat (Middle East) - contains cloves, black pepper, cumin seeds, nutmeg, paprika, cardamon & cinnamon

It says a lot about my cooking style that I already had quite a few of these on my spice rack (baharat, ras el hanout, jerk, Mexican, garam masala and Chinese) but no two spice blends are ever the same so I was still keen to try them out and get my tastebuds tingling.

As I had some black beans to use up, I decided to try out the Mexican Spice Blend first. When I hear the words Mexican cuisine, I automatically think of intense chilli heat but when I sniffed the contents of the little bag, I could detect a wonderful richness of earthy smokiness. Hmmm, perfect for a hearty, warming, rustic stew.

Mexican Spiced Black Bean and Pepper Stew

ingredients :

200g black beans, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
2 large onions
2 large cloves of garlic
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 orange pepper (or green pepper)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
2tbsp tomato puree
2tsp Mexican Spice Blend

Roughly chop and fry the onion and garlic in a little olive oil over a low heat, to allow the onions to caramelise and release their flavour and sweetness.

Deseed the peppers and chop them into fairly large chunks. Add to the pot and cook for a further 5 minutes. Sprinkle over the spices and stir to combine.

Add the tinned tomatoes (in an ideal world, I would have oven-roasted some cherry tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar but the kids eat cherry tomatoes like sweets so there are never any left in the fridge when I want them !) and black beans. Top up with water (the beans will soak up a lot so be prepared to add more as needed) and simmer for about 45 minutes until the beans are tooth tender.

Stir in the tomato puree and adjust the seasoning, adding extra spice if it needs a bit more kick. We decided to eat this as a rustic stew rather than a smooth soup but you could use a stick blender to liquidise it if you wanted. Serve with crusty bread.

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! *** 

McVitie's Sweeet Friends (and Sweeet Biscuits !)

We received a lovely surprise parcel in the post last week - a handy McVitie's shopping bag stuffed with some McVitie's Digestives AND Chocolate Digestives (yum !), along with two cuddly friends.

Sophie was the first person to lay eyes on the cute cuddly toys. "Ooooh can I have this one, he's such a cute puppy ? Oh no, I can't choose, the cat is sweet too - can I have both ?!" Just goes to show, you're never too old to fall in love with a cuddly toy !

Although she was equally taken with the biscuits when she saw those too !

If you're saying aaaaah too, never fear - you can get your hands on one of the cuddly friends too, with a bit of luck ! Until July 2015, the Sweeet Friends on-pack promotion gives consumers a one-in-ten chance of winning either the Chocolate Digestives Kitten, the Digestives Puppy, the BN Owl or the Jaffa Cakes Tarsier. The promotion will be featured on 35 million packs across nine core McVitie's sweeet biscuit and cake products. To find out if you're a winner, text the unique on-pack code from special promotional packs, or check out the various 'no purchase necessary' options on McVitie's website, social media and media promotions.

Which one is your favourite? I have a soft spot for the puppy, even if I think he bears more than a passing resemblance to Basil Brush !

Disclosure : We received the toys and biscuits as a surprise in the post. I was under no obligation to blog about them.

Vita Coco Kids coconut water drinks review

Vita Coco Kids recently got in touch to ask us if we'd like to try out some of their drinks. They also wanted to reveal the results of their new research that shows that, following all the recent news focusing on the amount of sugar children have in their daily diet, parents admit to feeling confused and wanting clearer guidelines on what is an acceptable level of sugar in children's drinks. According to their findings :

60% of parents are left unsure of what is an acceptable level of sugar when it comes to drinks

Almost 80% want clearer, more realistic guidelines to help them

More than 70% of parents now see drinks such as smoothies or juices as a treat rather than a daily drink, with many saying they only give their children these types of drinks on holidays, weekends and at birthday parties

In response to the research, Vita Coco Kids have been working with nutritionist Amanda Hamilton to launch The Sugar Maze - a simple set of guidelines to help parents make an easy and informed decision on what children should drink and what is deemed a treat.

As well as providing top tips to help overhaul your kids' liquid intake, the Sugar Maze gives the low down on the good, the bad and the ugly of kids' drinks. Unsurprisingly, the Every Day Every Which Way top level features good old-fashioned water, but you could try jazzing it up with sugar-free fruit juice or squash, slices of fruit or even herbs. The good, healthy hydration category features milk and anything with less than 5% sugar (water, milk, unsweetened fruit or vegetable juices and milk based drinks) making it school compliant. The OK, rethink your drink category contains flavoured milk, fizzy drinks, fruit juices, smoothies and fresh vegetable juice, which need to be monitored because they can contain lots of hidden sugar. Finally, the Stop ! Never Ever level, represented as the dregs of the glass, are high caffeine drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and fruit juice drinks.

So where do you think Vita Coco Kids comes in? Well, we were impressed to learn that they are school compliant, making them perfect for lunchboxes, and contain around 50% less sugar and calories than other leading UK chilled kids juices and smoothies. Vita Coco Kids was created to give children a great tasting, lower sugar drink alternative with the added benefits of hydrating coconut water. The coconut water comes from young green coconuts (never from concentrate) and is blended with natural fruit flavourings and water. It also contains naturally occurring potassium to help keep little monkeys energised and hydrated ! A 180ml serving contains 9g of sugar and 40 calories.

Vita Coco Kids comes in two fruity flavours, classic Apple & Blackcurrant and tropical Mango & Pineapple, and we've been trying them both out. The verdict was that they are both delicious, although all three of the Madhouse Kids preferred the mango and pineapple ones.

They taste just as sweet and fruity as their sugar-packed rivals so I love the fact that they are an equally appealing, healthier option. Our only slight niggle is that it's very fiddly to get the straw into the hole, particularly for the younger monkeys.

Pierre is under the weather at the moment and, as he's got a high temperature, I've been trying to keep his fluids up. While he's been turning his nose up at water, squash or fruit juice, the Vita Coco Kids pouches seem to be hitting the spot every time !

They are quite pricey - at £2.99 for 4 x 180ml, they are a lot more expensive than many other kids' drinks on the market, but I would be prepared to pay a bit more for a healthier option. You can also get a £1 off voucher on their Facebook page at the moment (14,000 coupons available on first come first served basis so don't hang about !)

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £2.99 for 4 x 180ml

for more information : www.vitacocokids.com/uk

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

Cra-Z-Sand Deluxe Play Set review

Character Options recently sent us through one of their brand new products to review - the Cra-Z-Sand Deluxe Play Set.

Cra-Z-Sand is described as an amazing modelling compound that 'comes to life' in kids' hands and expands in contact with the air. It never dries out and it is non toxic and anti-bacterial. You can mould it into different shapes or press it together with your hands and it will hold its shape. If you've ever played with Moon Sand before, it feels very similar.

Inside the box, we found a 1.5lb (700g) bag of purple Cra-Z-Sand (it comes in various colours, including a natural sand colour), a plastic tray and four tools - a roller, a knife, a scoop and a scraper. Given the picture on the box and the fact that this is called a Deluxe Play Set, I was surprised to see that there weren't any moulds included - on closer inspection, this is written on the front of the box but it didn't leap out at me. Luckily, we had lots of moulds already anyway.

It has a lovely texture to play with and Pierre and Juliette had great fun squishing it into mountains, then rolling it out flat again, over and over again. It's a weird texture because when you squash it together, it feels like soft Playdoh, but you can also run it through your fingers like real sand.

It works well with moulds too and holds it shape without crumbling, even if you pick up your creations to move them around.

It's marketed as being mess free and I did find that the Cra-Z-Sand that fell on to the table stayed clumped together and was easy to wipe back into the tray. Unlike regular sand, it is easy to hoover up off the floor too and it doesn't stick to clothing or hands.

All in all, we thought it was great. The only improvements that I would make are providing a couple of moulds in the box and also creating a lid for the tray so that it can be put away cleanly. I left the sand and accessories in the tray and put the whole thing in a large freezer bag before putting it back into the box, because I thought trying to get the sand back into the little resealable plastic bag it came in would have been a nightmare. You could also use an empty ice cream tub to store the sand in, but then it wouldn't fit back in the box. With hindsight, we could have squished it all into a ball before popping it back into the little bag - doh !

When I went to check the RRP of the kit, I had a quick look at some of the other reviews, as I always like to compare notes and see what other people thought of the products we try out. As it's a new product in the UK, the only reviews I could see are on American sites and they almost all complain about it having a very strong, chemical smell. I can only assume they've changed the formula because ours didn't smell of anything at all.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £19.99

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

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Giveaway #474 : Win a Heroes of the City prize pack - closing date 4/5

I've told you about Heroes of the City before - Pierre was delighted to review some of the Heroes of the City toys and books last year (click through to read our review) and he also loves watching the DVD.

What we love most about Heroes of the City is that it shows the real life heroes in everyday life rather than imaginary superheroes. Paulie Police Car and Fiona Fire Engine, along with the other rescue vehicles, are great role models for young children and the show's motto "Friendship and Cooperation - Everyone Can Be A Hero" reinforces this message.

 We've recently discovered the Heroes of the City Youtube channel which offers a whopping 6 hours of full episodes to enjoy, as well as a few short films for toddlers. It's a great way to keep the kids occupied in the car on the ipad on long journeys or, as each episode only lasts about 13 minutes, to entertain them while you make a phone call or get dinner ready.

But that's not all that the Youtube channel has to offer. We were delighted to discover a series of Kids Crafting tutorials featuring none other than Calamity Crow, the accident-prone feathered friend from the series. He's always getting things wrong and making mistakes in the series so it was lovely to see him presented in a positive light as the star of the show. The Kids Crafting Show is packed with simple ideas for things to make using household objects like toilet roll tubes, paper plates and tissue paper - all things that you're already likely to have in the crafts box. Pierre has shown me all the ones he wants to make during the next holidays !

Calamity Crow also has a starring role in the Calamity Crow Sketch & Guess videos which show a picture being drawn and you have to try and guess what it is before it is complete. This reminded us of Mister Maker and the Madhouse kids had great fun, watching them together to see who could find the answers the quickest !

One of the things that the Madhouse kids noticed - possibly because of their bilingual upbringing - is that the people talking in some of the videos have an accent. The programme was created in Sweden and has been translated into a multitude of languages and the Madhouse kids loved the fact that the Youtube channel also gives you the chance of discovering the show in 18 different languages !

Heroes of the City have kindly offered to send a prize pack comprising a T-shirt, a DVD with episodes from season 2 and a die cast car to one lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 4/5/15

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook, twitter 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 a week, 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 !

Other giveaways you may be interested in :

Giveaway #473 : Win a world map mural worth up to £250 including postage - closing date 1/5

Giveaway #468 : Win a Tree Fu Tom - Tom Saves The Day DVD - closing date 20/4

Globecooking recipe : Baleadas (Honduras)

Baleadas are a traditional Honduran dish but it seems that there are about a zillion different recipes. You need flour tortillas, some kind of beans (traditionally refried) and the rest is up to you - you can add any combination of guacamole, ricotta, feta, chorizo, eggs (fried or scrambled), tomatoes, peppers, hot sauce ... the list is endless ! The version we tried was delicious and used only things I had in my kitchen cupboard but you could adapt it to suit what you have.


ingredients :

flour tortillas
1 onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large chorizo, diced
1 tin chopped tomatoes
salt, pepper, lime juice
250g black beans, soaked overnight and rinsed

extra toppings :

guacamole (1 avocado, lemon juice, mayonnaise, garlic)
coleslaw (white cabbage, 1 large carrot, mayonnaise, ricotta, lemon juice, salt)
eggs (can be fried or scrambled)

Chop and fry the onion, garlic and chorizo.

Add the black beans and the tin of tomatoes (you may need to add some extra water during cooking to prevent sticking) and simmer for 45 minutes until the beans are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed. (Ours were still al dente which was fine.) With hindsight, I think next time I'd cook the beans and tomatoes separate to the chorizo/onion and add them at the end of cooking so that the chorizo retains its colour, texture and flavour. Turn off the heat and season to taste with salt, pepper and lime juice.

While that's cooking, prepare some coleslaw. Finely slice some white cabbage and carrot and mix with mayonnaise (or a mixture of mayonnaise and ricotta). Season with minced garlic, salt and lemon juice.

Whizz up some guacamole too - mash up the flesh of an avocado, season with salt, lemon juice and a shake of chilli then mix in a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise.

Lay everything out on the table and put the tortillas in the microwave or oven to warm. Fry or scramble some eggs.

Take each tortilla and smear with guacamole in the middle. Top with the black bean mixture, dot with feta and lay a fried egg on top.

Fold over the edges and serve with a side of coleslaw. I attempted to eat these with my hands, like fajitas, then decided a knife and fork were better suited ! They're delicious and make a great alternative to fajitas - the kids are never keen on the spicy filling of fajitas so I think they'd prefer these. The remaining black bean mixture will be made into soup tomorrow night.

I googled these afterwards to see how authentic they are and Wikipedia has a photo of a homemade baleadas that is literally filled with a smear of refried beans and some sour cream - you really can make them as simple or complicated as you want.

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! *** 

This recipe was designed to use up the leftover tortillas from the Zingy Cod and Mango Tortillas earlier in the week so I'll add it to the #KitchenClearout linkie.

Fancy having a rummage in your kitchen cupboard to see what needs using up? Join in with the April #KitchenClearout linkie !

Sunday weigh-in : Couch to 6k !!

Last week, I pushed the boundaries on my Wii Fit by upping from my usual 10 minute 2km endurance run to a 20 minute 4km run. This week, I decided to add another 5 minutes, to hit the 5km target that the Couch to 5k programme targets - the programme that I had every intention of following then never found the time/motivation. The Wii Fit only allows you to increase by 10 minute increments so I selected 30 minutes, expecting to drop out whenever I hit 5km and I managed to keep on until the end, hitting almost 6km (5.9km). I was very impressed at keeping up a run/jog for 30 minutes without stopping so I want to make this a regular thing - I wanted to do it again on Friday, my other half day off, but ended up looking after a poorly daughter. Oh well !

Foodwise, it's been pretty good - I watched what I ate while allowing a few treats and had a couple of SlimFast shakes instead of meals when the canteen looked decidedly unhealthy.

This week, I only lost 300g but that was enough to get down into the 85 point somethings (just !) - very motivating because I've been stuck in the 86's for far too long ! My steps have been pretty phenomenal this week too, expect for at the end when the kids were sick.

Positives of the week

- I managed to complete the 30 minute 6km Wii run without stopping, which I was hugely impressed with !

My steps were also very impressive this week : Sunday 19,169 steps (13km), Monday 16,218 steps (11km), Tuesday 13,175 steps (9km), Wednesday 27,898 steps (19km - of which 6km is the Wii Fit run), Thursday 14,242 steps (10km), Friday 13,628 steps (9km), Saturday 6,104 steps (4km) - that's a grand total of 110,434 steps and 75km (46.6 miles). That'll help with my #walk1000miles challenge ! I can't believe how far I walk in a week as most of this is just regular day to day stuff. It's pretty telling that the only day I never hit my target is Saturday because Madhouse Daddy is around so we go everywhere by car.

Current targets 

Last week's target : Try to complete 2 x 20 minute wii fit runs. Now that I have a new laptop that doesn't keep overheating, start listening to the slimpod again. (almost done, sick children took priority at the end of the week)

This week's targets : Do 2 x 30 minute Wii Fit runs. Stay in the 85's.

Short-term targets 21kg to lose sounds a lot but breaking it down, aiming for 1kg a week, that's only about 5 months - plenty of time for heading off to Turkey in August !

first target, get my "weight to lose" badge down into the 40's (it's currently on 51lb) (done),
 second goal - get back to 85.9kg, my pre-xmas weight (done )
third goal : get my "kg lost" badge back into double figures 
fourth goal : get my "weight loss" badge higher than my "still to go" badge
fifth goal : get back into my (smallest) bright blue jeans comfortably
sixth goal : get back to 77kg - my lowest weight since my pregnancies

Longer-term targets :  Hit my target weight of 68kg. 

STILL TO GO : 16.9kg

Feel free to add your weightloss posts to my weekly linkie - it's great to see how everyone else has been getting on and give each other support and encouragement. You can even grab the linkie code and add it to your own blog if you like. :)

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