Friday, 9 December 2016

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 9/12

Into the last week at school before the holidays - yay ! There's Juliette's parent-teacher evening on Monday though - awwww ! Winter warmers are what's called for so I'm looking through bookmarked posts and digging into my Tunisian-themed Kitchen Trotter box.


lunch - our traditional weekly trip to McDonald's to ease into the weekend

dinner - foccacia tart or a quiche of some description


lunch - the classic roast dinner with all the trimmings - probably chicken or pork

dinner - Mechouia Blankit, a Tunisian take on bruschetta - grilled bread topped with cheese, olives, marinated vegetables and boiled egg.


dinner - tinned soup if we get home late - if not, spaghetti carbonara


dinner - Ethiopian lentil stew


lunch chakchouka - spicy merguez sausages (or I might use chipolatas), onions, peppers and tomatoes with raw eggs broken into the dish to cook in the hot sauce

dinner - rolled cod with spinach, with a rosemary potato gratin


dinner - Tunisian tagine (minced beef mixed into a sort of omelette - sounds weird but I'll give it a go !)


dinner - chorba (Tunisian soup)

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

Join in with the weekly meal plan bloghop !

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Madhouse recipe : Creamy Chicken & Chorizo with a Peruvian Kick

For the past couple of weeks, the Madhouse kids have been monopolising my computer - Pierre has developed a passion for playing Super Farm and Juliette has started video-chatting with her schoolfriends on facebook. This has been playing havoc with my menu planning because I can't get online to check what I had planned to make and/or the recipes, so when I found myself with a defrosted pack of chicken breasts and no idea what I was supposed to be doing with them, I opened my cupboards and decided to wing it !

I discovered a pack of Capsicana Chilli & Lemon Peruvian Cook Sauce which sounded interesting, but as it had a medium heat rating, I was pretty sure the kids wouldn't like it. I therefore went for a creamy option for the kids, then added the cooking sauce at the last minute for a spicier option for the grown-ups. Both were actually very nice and used just a few store cupboard basics.

Creamy Chicken & Chorizo with a Peruvian Kick

ingredients :

drizzle of olive oil
a pack of chicken breasts
2 onions
a clove of garlic
3 mushrooms
1/2 a red pepper
1/2 a tub of thick crème fraîche
1/2 a mild chorizo
salt, pepper, garlic granules
1/2 a pouch of Peruvian Chilli & Lemon Cook Sauce (optional)

Start off by gently frying the onions and garlic in the oil.

Chop the chicken into bite-sized chunks and add to the pan. Season with salt, pepper and garlic granules.

When the chicken is cooked through, add the red pepper and mushrooms and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes, until they are cooked but the red pepper retains a little crunch.

Add the chorizo and the cream. (You could add the chorizo earlier in the cooking process, if you don't mind it making the dish spicier by releasing its fat.) Give it all a good stir and heat through, stirring, until it is piping hot.

I also had some leftover pre-baked potatoes to use up. (I always throw some large potatoes into the bottom of the oven when I cook the Sunday roast so I have a midweek dinner already sorted for Monday or Tuesday.) I chopped them into wedges and tossed them in olive oil and rosemary rock salt before putting them in a large pan and leaving them to go golden brown and slightly crispy on the outside. I added a spoonful of butter for the last five minutes for extra flavour and colour.

This was the kids' creamy version. 

And once they were all served, I stirred the Peruvian sauce through the rest and reheated it for a few minutes for the spicier version. Both were a big hit !

 Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky as it used up baked potatoes, a pouch of cooking sauce and a half-tub of crème fraîche, as well as various odds and ends from the fridge !

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Revisiting Tunisia with Kitchen Trotter this month

This month's Kitchen Trotter destination is Tunisia, a country we have already visited in real life (we went to Zarzis, just next to Djerba, in 2012 - click through to see our photos) so we already knew some of the recipes. It won't be any hardship to revisit them though as they are things that the whole family enjoyed eating.

A bag of soft figs (I remember eating fresh figs, warm from the sun, on holiday, that were so ripe they split open as soon as you picked them up) and frik, a type of couscous made from barley. There should also have been some dates but they were left out of the parcel by accident so they'll be arriving separately.

There were three jars in this box - Berber harissa, a spicy red sauce made from crushed chillis, garlic and spices; mechouia salad, a mixture of grilled marinated vegetables; and a tin of ground caraway, which has a fragrance reminiscent of citrus fruit and aniseed.

After a Tunisian feast, it's time to recreate the hammam with this exfoliating kessa glove and a bar of Baraka Black Seed Oil soap.

On to the all important recipes : 

Mechouia Blankit, which look like a Tunisian take on bruschetta - grilled bread topped with cheese, olives, marinated vegetables and boiled egg.

Merguez (spicy sausage) chakchouka, a dish that we first discovered in Morocco, that I blogged about here, and have since made on a number of occasions.

Chorba frik, a rich soup of lamb, barley and vegetables, to warm your heart and soul. 

Makrout, a date stuffed Tunisian biscuit

These look like some great winter warmers that the whole family will enjoy. I'll be back to share the recipes with you very soon.

The festive appeal of Gel-A-Peel #CraftChristmas

As you can see in the background, here at The Madhouse, the Christmas tree is now up and the countdown to the festivities has well and truly begun. That invariably seems to involve vast amounts of baking and crafting ! Juliette was therefore over the moon to get her hands on a box of Gel-A-Peel to put through its paces.

Inside the box, there were three pink and purple sparkly gel pens with a variety of tips. It reminded us of a cross between glitter glue pens and a piping bag for icing !

Each of the tips gives a different finish - you can choose between round tip, star tip, rake tip, spike effect and, if you're feeling really creative, rainbow effect.

In our box, there was also a selection of accessories to create unique pieces of jewellery - some hair clips, necklace and earring fasteners, as well as the all important design sheets and the plastic sheet that you lay over your chosen design as a template, before squirting on the Gel-a-peel, leaving it to set, then, as the name suggests, peeling it off.

The Gel-A-Peel website shows you all sorts of designs that you can recreate, or you can just let your imagination go wild and come up with your own designs.

As we're into the run-up to Christmas, Gel-A-Peel sent us through a selection of Christmassy items to decorate - a fabric Christmas stocking, a cardboard stocking tree ornament and a polystyrene star - which highlights the range of materials that you can use as a creative base for your artwork.

Within seconds, Juliette was off. There are no complicated instructions to read - it really is a case of selecting and attaching a tip then squeezing it out of the tube. Juliette started with a hairclip and, even though this was her first ever attempt, she quite successfully achieved the scalloped effect that she wanted.

Pierre was equally impressed and wanted to join in too, so I found some more accessories that he could decorate. He's only seven but found it just as easy to use with no input from me (apart from pulling off the stoppers the first time we used the pens, because they were stuck in tight).

It was great to find an activity that the kids could get on with all by themselves, after what had turned out to be a very busy day sorting out the decorations and wrapping presents !

Juliette also wanted to test the peel-off qualities so she started making a bracelet, using one of the designs in the box. It's actually a lot less fiddly than it looks, although she did stop halfway, deciding to let the first part dry out before starting the next part, because she was worried about smudging it with her hand and messing up all her hard work.

The kids had great fun and made some very cute designs that will have pride of place on the Christmas tree. 

The only very slight fail of the whole session was from me - I decided to wash the tips in hot soapy water before the gel set hard. Big mistake - I got covered in a gooey, sticky, greasy residue that was hard to get off my hands. After reading the instructions, I noticed that you're supposed to let it set hard and then use the little plastic scraper to clear out the tips. That definitely sounds easier and above all cleaner !

If you have crafty kids, they'd definitely love to find a pack of Gel-A-Peel in their Christmas stockings, but the design possibilities are numerous and intricate enough that I think it would also appeal to teens and even grown-ups.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Madhouse recipe : Brie with fruit and nuts en croute

Madhouse Daddy and Juliette are both big fans of stinky French cheeses, so when I saw a wedge of Brie in the reduced-to-clear section of the supermarket, I threw it in my shopping basket. For some reason, nobody ate it though, so a week later, when I saw this recipe for Brie en Croute on the Food Network website, I thought it would be a great way of using it up. The original recipe used caramelised walnuts but I used up some odds and ends from the cupboards.

 It would have been great but for some reason, my brie didn't melt - it would have been much better with camembert, raclette or reblochon, which all melt to create a gooey ooziness that would have been perfect. If you click through to the original recipe, you'll see that that's what their brie did too - maybe there was a problem with mine ! The flavours worked well together but it was a bit dry and needed the creaminess of melted cheese.

Brie with fruit and nuts en croute

ingredients :

a sheet ready-made puff pastry
1 brie
a handful of dried fruit and nuts (I used a mix of almonds, pumpkin seeds, soya beans and cranberries)
a little milk to brush

Lay the puff pastry out in an ovenproof dish. I was a bit heavy-handed when brushing with the milk and the pastry stuck like glue to the foil so with hindsight, I wouldn't put it on foil - just use a greased baking sheet or dish.

Because my brie was a wedge shape that would have been very uneven inside the pastry, I chopped it into vaguely equal sized chunks.

Scatter over a good handful of fruit and nuts - use whatever you have, to add some crunch and sweetness to contrast with the (what should have been) salty, creamy cheese.

This was I used which worked well, but it was just a case of whatever was in the cupboard.

Fold the edges of the pastry to the middle, press together to seal and brush with milk.

Bake at 180° for half an hour until the pastry is golden brown and cooked through.

The texture was disappointing but the flavours worked well and it was a great way of using up odds and ends.

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Christmas gift inspiration for the women in your life, whatever their age


These two pictures pretty much sum up our Sunday afternoon at The Madhouse. First we put up the Christmas tree, then I unearthed all the things I've been squirreling away since the summer as Christmas gifts. I got through almost three rolls of wrapping paper but I won in the end ! Some of the things in the pile were products that we had been sent to review or that had caught my eye but I wasn't sure who would be the lucky recipient - I realised that they would appeal just as much to Juliette (aged 11) as Sophie (15) or even me (ahem ... 44), making them the ultimate Christmas gifts for sisters, girlfriends, aunties or even work colleagues in the office secret Santa when you're short on inspiration !

You can't go wrong with nice smellies and beauty products, but these ones from Beauty Kitchen are extra cool because you get to make them yourself. Part craft kit, part science lesson, part pampering treat but 100% fun, whatever your age !

Stuffed inside the Create Your Own Bath Bombs jar (which can easily be recycled after use, to store nail varnish, make up or maybe your loose change for whenever a me-time kitty is needed !) is everything you need to make 300g of fizzy bathtime treats : 2 x bath bomb moulds, citric acid, sodium bicarb, chill me essential oil, cranberry seeds & wild flower seeds. There are detailed instructions and the kit contains 100% natural ingredients. RRP : was £20, now £12.

If you haven't got a bath, or if you just want mistletoe-ready kissable lips, you might prefer the Create Your Own Lip Balms kit, which comes in a can that looks just like a tin of soup and contains the material to make four lip balms : Moisturisinig Cocoa Butter, Moistuising Beeswax, Shimmer Mica Powder, 4 Lip Balm Tins, 4 Lip Balm Labels, mini spatula and instructions. (You need to add sunflower oil.) Just like all the other Beauty Kitchen products, they are 100% natural with no parabens, no sulphates, no synthetic fragrance, no this, no that, no the other ... ! (RRP : was £15, now £10)

If you get in very quick, both of these products can currently be won on the Beauty Kitchen facebook page but the winners will be announced today so don't hang about !

If you have a wannabe pop star in your midst or someone who'd like to get the party started with their friends before a night out, the Lucky Voice Karaoke Kit (RRP £50) is sure to be a big hit. It will transform your home computer into the ultimate karaoke machine, giving you access to thousands of songs or even ready-made playlists. It is also easy to use (no midnight assembling for tired parents here) - simply connect the laptop and speakers to the kit, create an account and get singing.

You can use it on your laptop, play it from your tablet, or sing off your phone. Lucky Voice have created the ultimate karaoke app for iPhone and iPad, which is free to download from the app store with a 14-day free trial which leads to a £1.49/week subscription fee.

After a phenomenally successful year, Pokemon has won over a whole new generation of fans, both old and young. Anyone with a smartphone, tablet or device that is constantly running out of juice will love one of these Pokemon Power Banks (RRP £14.99). It has a 5,000 mAh lithium polymer battery, is suitable to charge all USB devices and has a 50% precharge straight from the box. It also has safe protection against short circuit and temperature-detection software, as well as a 4-LED battery indicator. Available at Asda, Argos, Tesco, HMV, Smyths Toys, Harrods. Hamleys and Dixons.

If you want the perfect feel-good Christmas 'tail', look no further than Fiona Harrison’s debut novel, A Pug Like Percy. Percy is homeless, abandoned by his owner at an animal rescue centre on a cold winter’s night, so when he finds a loving new home with Gail and her family, his deepest wish is that this time, it’s forever. Gail, on the other hand, hopes that Percy will be the little miracle her family so desperately needs to bring happiness back into their home. But as Gail and her husband, Simon, struggle to cope with their young daughter Jenny’s frequent trips to hospital, the strain on the family causes the couple to increasingly communicate through arguments. As Christmas nears and the family reach breaking point, Percy must use all his canine wiles to show them what they could lose. Is Percy the furry friend they’ve all been waiting for?

The story focuses on a young couple coping with their daughter’s dilated cardiomyopathy and it’s a story that brings a sense of hope to any family dealing with sick children, especially in the build up to Christmas. In writing this book, Fiona worked closely with Great Ormond Street, hearing personal stories from families who are dealing with their child’s sickness every day, those for whom the hospital is like a second home, and learning how families and staff try to make like as normal as possible for the child. What Fiona was really keen to portray in the book was that dilated cardiomyopathy is not a death sentence, there is hope, and during the build up to Christmas, this is a really important message for families that will not experience it in the traditional way we imagine. 

Staying on the animal theme, if you want something quirky that is perfect for ramping up the cosiness (or hygge, if you've jumped on the new buzzword !) of your home this winter, with a surprising twist, Pyropets are the answer ! Pyropets are a collection of cute geometric animal shaped candles with metal skeletons hiding inside. The idea came to Icelandic designer Thorunn Arnadottir one Christmas when she saw a forlorn Santa Claus candle with his head half melted away. She wondered how she could elevate this common-place ritual sacrifice into a true theatre of the macabre.

Strike a match and watch Pyropets transform from charming backyard animals to brooding, macabre skeletons with fire in their eyes. Creepy? Just slightly. Delightful? Definitely. You can choose between cats (£24), rabbits (£20), birds (£12) and the perfectly seasonal reindeer (£25), as well as mini versions without skeletons. Just one word of advice - stand them on a large plate to catch the melting wax before lighting them.

Let's hear it for the girls ! Which of your female friends or relatives would like one of these ?

Disclosure : I received the products in order to write an honest review.