Thursday, 22 March 2018

Book review : The Killing Hour - Lisa Gardner

I love crime fiction but I do tend to find that a lot of novels end up resembling each other and frequently guess the outcome long before the end. Not so with Lisa Gardner. I've read a few of her books already, including Live To Tell and The Neighbour (click through for the reviews), and every time, she's had me on the edge of my seat, so I snapped up another of her books, The Killing Hour, when I spotted it in the £2 section at The Works.

The book follows feisty but fragile trainee FBI agent Kimberly Quincy, who stumbles across a dead body at the Quantico campus. As the body looks uncannily like her own dead sister, Kimberly, along with Special Agent Mac McCormack from Georgia, dodges the Feds, ignores the fact that neither of them have any jurisdiction and sets off to track down the killer.

Mac has spent several years trying to outsmart a ruthless serial killer called the Eco Killer and he's convinced that this latest body is one of his victims. The Eco Killer's calling card is that he kidnaps young women in pairs, kills one and uses her body as a macabre treasure hunt clue, furnished with objects that can be pieced together to find the location of the second victim, abandoned in extreme temperatures and harsh terrain, goading the police to find her before it's too late.

It's an original plotline and the writing is chilling and full of suspense. Kimberly is a complex and endearing character - her budding romance with Mac and tentative bridge building with her father lead me to believe that she will have been picked up in subsequent novels, which I will have to investigate because I really like her as a character with great potential.

If you want a book that will have your nerves jangling and your heart thudding, look no further !

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (4 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1409117421
  • ISBN-13: 978-1409117421
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2.8 x 19.7 cm

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Choc On Choc Melt & Make Chocolate Egg Heads review

It was only a few weeks ago but, with the sad events here at The Madhouse, it seems like a lifetime ago that the kids had fun trying out the Choc On Choc Melt & Make Chocolate Egg Heads kit.

Inside the box, you get a big bag of Belgian chocolate chips, some sweets for decorating your egg heads and a plastic mould to make four half eggs.

The back of the box has simple instructions with very few words and lots of pictures so that even young children can get involved and understand what they have to do.

Pierre tried out the paper chef's hat but decided it was playing havoc with his trendy new haircut so he soon took it off ! After a quick glance at the instructions, he was off, pouring the chocolate chips into a bowl, ready to melt them in the microwave (or bain marie if you prefer).

The instructions suggest lining the moulds with a little oil to give them a glossy finish and make it easier to get them out without breaking them. We did find that this made it hard for the chocolate to "stick" all the way up to the top of the moulds though, as it had a tendency to slide down and pool in the bottom. As you can see, we weren't overly worried about getting a clean, professional finish though, so this wasn't a problem.

We put them in the fridge for half an hour to set and they came out as in the picture on the left. You need to remelt the chocolate in the bowl and add another layer, put it in the fridge then repeat so you have a triple layer of chocolate that covers the whole mould fairly evenly. I took the picture on the right just before pressing them out because I had visions of a Masterchef-style disaster in the making with broken eggs.

Well, it was fairly successful. As you can see, we got three halves because one broke, but that's not a problem because you just remelt the chocolate and start all over again. The surface isn't smooth and glossy but we were happy enough with it.

As there are three Madhouse kids and only four half egg moulds, we made more so that we would have enough for one each. There were plenty of chocolate chips to achieve this without scrimping.

The instructions suggest warming a baking tray (we used a plate in the microwave) so that you can lay the edges of the egg halves briefly on it to melt them and stick them together. This worked well, but you have to move fast or the heat from your fingers starts melting the chocolate of the eggs. We had just enough chocolate left to use as "glue" to stick on the sweets as funny faces. 

The kids all had great fun making them ... and eating them. They were proud of their creations and we've kept the moulds so that we can make more.

RRP : £12 (10% off for first order if you sign up to their newsletter)

for more information :

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

Sunday, 18 March 2018

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #12

We may be grieving but we still need to eat, so I'm trying to think up simple comfort food and the kids' faves to tempt us to eat. 


lunch - The traditional Burger King visit - well, we swapped to McDonalds and did it by bus but we managed to cling to our routine. I think it helps.

dinner - a Madhouse Daddy creation - "salad without salad". Juliette's choice. Tomatoes, cucumber, bacon bits, cheese, olives, chicken ham, a hard-boiled egg, ... and lettuce for those who want it.


lunch - we have a pack of raclette cheese left over from a couple of weeks ago, so raclette it is. (Boiled potatoes, tomatoes, cured meats, melted cheese.) It will bring back memories of Madhouse Daddy burning a hole in the plastic table cloth last year !

dinner - smoked salmon on bread (or leftover pasta if the kids prefer)


lunch - New Zealand bacon & egg pie with coleslaw, carrot salad & potato salad

dinner - chicken, veg & noodle stir fry


lunch - macaroni cheese

dinner - leftovers


lunch - steak, rice & peas

dinner - sausage rolls, mash & beans


lunch - chilli con carne & rice

dinner - cheesy veg bake


lunch - fishfingers or salmon burgers with chips & ratatouille

 dinner - spaghetti carbonara

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

Join in with the weekly meal plan bloghop !

#MySundayphoto #SundaySnap 17/3/18 RIP Madhouse Daddy

You may have noticed a distinct lack of blogging from us lately - here's why. RIP Madhouse Daddy. Taken from us way too soon (age 46) and way too suddenly. We all miss you.

OneDad3GirlsSunday Snap

Friday, 9 March 2018

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #11

I came up with a cracking menu plan last week, full of exotic bookmarked recipes, then one of Sophie's friends came to stay from Monday to Thursday and I thought she might not want to try weird and wonderful dishes so I went for safer options. This week's plan is therefore mainly the things I ended up making last week, and I'll mix and match with the recipes that didn't get made last week. Confused ? I will be !


lunch - The traditional Burger King visit

dinner - leek, bacon & potato soup


lunch - roast dinner - chicken probably

dinner - chicken & veg soup


dinner - crunchy chicken with mash and carrots


dinner - cottage pie


lunch - beefburgers, Actifry chips & ratatouille

dinner - tacos


dinner - grilled salmon, creamy spinach & rice


 dinner - spaghetti carbonara

***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 March 2018

Madhouse diaries : Frosty half-term fun

January and February in and around Dunkirk means carnival (or carnaval, as they say here) so we started off the holidays with a quick wander to take in the sights and sounds of the "bandes". It's always a riot of colour with hundreds of tall umbrellas and unique costumes, embellished with feather boas, tiny bells and little teddy bears nestled in amongst the fake flowers and long feathers on the traditional hats.

The musicians, with big drums, tin whistles, trumpets and trombones are all dressed in yellow oilskins, as a nod to the origins of the carnival - it was originally a big celebration before the fishermen headed off to catch herring in the dangerous waters around Iceland, so they had a big send off in case they didn't make it back home again. This is also the reason why the mayor throws plastic-wrapped kippers from the balcony of the town hall.

Pierre found the best place to see (and keep out of the way of the crowds) was on Sophie's shoulders. I love the way he's hanging on to her forehead for dear life !

After the crowds, we decided to head to the wide open spaces of the beach. We had a watery sun and gorgeous blue skies but it was blimming cold.

 Pierre was most impressed to see that the showers (for cleaning the sand off your feet in the summer months) had frozen solid.

We continued our walk through the sculpture gardens of the LAAC, the modern art museum.

 Pierre went running up the hill to look at the world war II bunker (which is covered over with grass on one side but still visible at the back) and had some fun with shadow play.

Juliette was more interested in breaking the ice around the edges of the pond - don't fall in !

When we reached the big lake, there were lots of older kids and dads cracking off great sheets of ice and pulling them out of the water with sticks.

Pierre and Juliette joined in with throwing pieces of ice on the ground to shatter like glass and thought this was great fun.

They had a go with their own sticks but it was harder than it looked. I think Pierre looks like a garden gnome fishing in this photo !

When it got too cold and we felt like our fingers were going to drop off, we headed for home.

After watching endless reports of Snowmageddon across the UK, the Madhouse kids finally got a little bit of the white stuff to play in. This was the extent of our snow though and it only lasted one day.

Just enough to make a few snow balls before it melted !

Globecooking recipe : Peanut Butter Soup (Ghana)

ghana peanut butter soup

The very first book that I read in 2018 was Outcasts United by Warren St John, a non-fiction book that tells the story of a group of refugees from various countries around the world, trying to settle into a new life in small-town America, helped along by their relentless and passionate Jordanian soccer coach, Luma Mufleh. (Click through to read my review.)

While many of the mothers in the story are out working one or multiple jobs to try and get their new life on track, the kids are often left to keep house and feed the rest of the family, so there were several mentions of traditional foods from the various countries that they come from. This one immediately caught my eye.

p135 Kanue's role was to cook and keep the apartment. After classes each day at a public school called Avondale Middle, he went home and got to work making African food from recipes he'd learned from Grandma : beans and spicy stews of spinach and cassava leaves, which he poured over rice, and his favourite, peanut butter soup.

The idea of putting peanut butter into a soup sounded very strange to me, and I had visions of something very gloopy, oily and cloying. However, after googling it, I discovered that it is the national dish of Ghana, so surely a whole nation can't be wrong ! There are several versions available, many involving chicken, some as vegetarian options, with butternut squash, sweet potato or spinach. My original plan was to use up the leftover chicken after the Sunday roast, but we ended up eating raclette instead (a French dish consisting of potatoes, cured meats and oodles of melted cheese), so I went for a veggie version instead. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the end result.

 Peanut Butter Soup

ingredients :

drizzle of olive oil
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
1 sweet potato
spinach, fresh or frozen
(optional : chicken, cooked or raw)
1 chicken stock cube
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
2 heaped tbsp peanut butter
salt, pepper, chilli flakes
ground peanuts (to serve - optional)

Start by peeling and dicing the sweet potato into small cubes.

Fry the onions and garlic in the olive oil until they start to go translucent and soft, but don't go brown. If using fresh chicken, you could add it at this point. 

Add the sweet potato to the pot and cook for five minutes or so, stirring regularly.

Cover with boiling water and stir in the stock cube.

Cook for about 10 minutes until the sweet potato is soft but not mushy.

Add some spinach to the pot - I used frozen as I had some that needed using up, but fresh would be good too, or you can substitute for kale. Another common ingredient in American versions is Collard Greens and I'm sure they have an alternative green vegetable in Ghana/Africa so just use whatever you have to hand.

Stir through a tin of chopped tomatoes and heat through until the spinach is wilted and, if using frozen, completely defrosted. If using up leftover cooked chicken, add it now.

OK, here goes - time to dollop in the peanut butter. I had smooth but you could opt for crunchy instead if you prefer.

Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, for a few minutes until the peanut butter has melted and gone creamy. Taste and season with salt, pepper and chilli flakes.

I had a bag of ground peanuts in the cupboard so I sprinkled some on top of each bowl after serving.

It's a rich, creamy and surprisingly tasty soup, and all the different flavours blend and work together really well. The Madhouse kids were intrigued and wanted to try it, despite not being at all keen on spinach and sweet potatoes. Bonus !

Adding to the #readcookeat linky over at Chez Maximka.

Also adding to the #KitchenClearout linky as it used up some frozen spinach that had been lurking in the freezer for ages, along with a jar of peanut butter that had all the oil separating from it and the end of a bag of ground peanuts.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Giveaway #672 : Win a Cindy Lass Tiger Lily Needlepoint Kit - closed - winner Sarah Austin

In our hectic modern day lives, sometimes we need to take time out to rest our ever-cluttered, chattering minds and relax. Stitching with needlepoint is the perfect way to focus the mind, bringing with it a feeling of calm and satisfaction upon completion. Now renowned artist Cindy Lass brings her original, beautiful works of art to life with Cindy Lass Needlepoint.

Cindy Lass believes passionately that painting should come straight from the heart. A self-taught artist, she has been painting for more than 20 years and has acquired a huge fan base of admiring art lovers, including celebrities such as Sir Elton John, George Michael and Victoria and David Beckham. Her famous painting of The Queen’s Corgis now hangs in The Queen’s private quarters at Buckingham Palace and her tribute to Anne Frank, Everyone Has The Right To Blossom, hung at The Anne Frank House Amsterdam from 2010, and is now part of the immersive exhibit Anne at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

Cindy’s Celebrity Pawtraits saw her painting the dogs and cats of international stars including Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley MacLaine, Brad Pitt, Geri Halliwell, Bill and Hilary Clinton, Heidi Klum, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall. Her inspirational All Our Hearts Beat As One project brought together people from all walks of life, from fashion designers to sporting stars, via actors, TV personalities and musicians, including, Emma Thompson, Cate Blanchett, Bruno Tonioli, Simon Cowell, Iron Maiden’s Dave Murray, Meg Matthews, Mary McCartney, Sinitta and many more. Her projects have helped many charitable causes including Battersea Dogs Home, Elton John’s AIDS Foundation and The Heart Cell Foundation.

Cindy Lass Needlepoint kits make the perfect gift for a loved one or a gift to yourself. It gives us the chance to own a piece of Cindy Lass’s art from the heart, her world of colour that will soothe the soul and bring us joy. These beautiful artworks handpicked by Cindy Lass would make the ideal Mother’s Day or Easter gift, or are perfect for Spring or just to bring brightness and warm the soul. They are all available in charted or printed formats for beginners and experts alike.

Here's what Cindy said about the Needlepoint range : ‘My art is my passion, and now it’s time to share this with you. I want my art to be accessible, I want to take away the snobbery and bring back the fun of connecting with the energy of the painting. As such I have chosen a number of my favourite paintings for the launch of Cindy Lass Needlepoint. Each has its own story, each has its own energy... you really do not need any special skills to make my kits! Just the intent to take time out for yourself and connect to your heart for a moment in time. I hope you enjoy stitching and creating the designs as much as I enjoyed painting them.’
Stitch from the Heart x
Cindy xxx



These beautiful floral designs are created from the show Celebrity Flowers which involved a host of stars including Sir Elton John, George Michael, Dame Shirley Bassey, Emma Thompson and Paul Bettany sharing their favourite flower with Cindy Lass. Sweet Wonders was based on George Michael’s favourite flower the orchid also known as the sweet wonders of life. Tiger Lily
was actor Paul Bettany’s favourite flower.


This powerful, colourful painting was created to launch All Our Hearts Beat As One. The heartbeat is a very important sound and vibration.


As an admirer of golf Cindy saw Jack Nicklaus play and decided for the first time to paint people – this is bold and fun sporting portrait.


During his presidency Socks was the treasured cat of Bill Clinton and his family, this wonderful painting was part of Cindy’s Celebrity Pawtraits Series.


In time for Her Majesty’s 80th Birthday, Cindy painted this striking, colourful picture of The Queen’s beloved corgis and dorgis. The painting hangs in her private apartments.


Hank was the beloved pet of Charlie Sheen & Denise Richards and a beautiful French Bulldog

I'm delighted to have a Cindy Lass Tiger Lily Needlepoint Kit to give away to one lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries via the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 21/3/18

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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