Thursday, 24 April 2014

The BritMums #GreatBritishHome Challenge

BritMums have partnered up with Victoria Plumb (love that name !), the inspiration centre for bathroom style and design, to ask the question: What does your home say about you? Well, one look around the scruffy walls with bits of ripped wallpaper and the odd faint scribble mark says all you need to know about The Madhouse - it's a well-used family home that needs updating now that the kids have grown up a bit and hopefully stopped wrecking the joint ! I have plans - I just need to find the time to put them into action, starting with removing the stair gate (which is there for the dogs more than the kids now !) and repapering or painting the hallway and upstairs landing.

We were invited to take the  #GreatBritishHome “What’s Your Celebrity Home Style” quiz, to see what our home is saying about us and maybe giving us some celeb-inspired ideas for giving our home a makeover.

Well, apparently, we're Mr & Mrs Quirky Cool, most like Jess or Nick from New Girl. That's a programme I've never seen so I can't comment on how well we correspond but the Quirky Cool label sounds about right. We have very eclectic tastes, with souvenirs from our trips abroads sitting side by side with the kids' arty creations and things inherited from Madhouse Daddy's gran !

The description says : "Kind of quirky, a bit cool and a little bit geek chic, you love mixing and matching vintage finds with home comforts. Your essentials are a big leather sofa, large table and lots of bright accessories. You would just love to live in a large, airy loft or warehouse apartment. You don’t have much time to cook and call on the Pizza guy quite a bit. You love nothing better than a gossipy night in front of the television with friends, a take-out and plenty of wine and beer."

I actually totally agree with that except for the never having time to cook and calling on the pizza guy bit. Last year we threw out the old sofa and bought a (fake) leather suite - 2 three-seater settees and two arm chairs so there's plenty of space to chill out. We do also have a large dining table that is used for everything from eating to crafts and homework and we also like bright colours - our living room walls are deep red and the bedroom has yellow walls with lilac cupboards, so they're spot on there too.


As I mentioned, the hallway is my priority at the moment. We still had the old computer table, despite not having a desktop computer any more, so it just got used as a dumping zone for paperwork and assorted family junk. 

I wanted to throw that out and get in a proper table that could be used for homework, as well as looking a bit prettier. I think the "quirky cool" label fits in quite well because it's already showcasing a random selection of our "pretty things" !

According to the quiz, my must-have item is a vintage gold mirror to channel Jess. Well, it looks like they got that right too, although this one came home from Tunisia rather than being old (and I still don't know how we managed to get it home in the suitcase in one piece !).

Disclosure : This post is an entry for the #GreatBritishHome Challenge sponsored by Victoria Plumb, a source of quality bathrooms for every type of home. Take its “What’s Your Celebrity Home Style?” quiz to discover what your home says about you.

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Ella's Kitchen Big Baking Book review

Ella's Kitchen recently sent us through a fabulous yellow-themed box of baking goodies, in celebration of the launch of their new Big Baking Book - The Yellow One. As well as the yellow book, we received a yellow baking mat, a yellow mixing bowl, a yellow spatula and some flour and baking powder. We'll be trying out one of the recipes today so I'll be sure to report back and tell you how we got on.

As with all of Ella’s Kitchen products, the aim of the book is to encourage healthy eating habits, by showing kids that healthy food can not only be really tasty but a lot of fun too.

The recipes are accompanied by brightly coloured, appealing photos of not only the food but also the cute mini chefs.

The book contains over 100 recipes that the whole family will enjoy making and eating together. It focuses on baking but that doesn't just mean cakes - there are chapters for Seriously Scrummy Snacks (anyone for Fold-Me Fiesta Puffs or Superhero Raisin Buns?), Lovely Lunches (Eggy Flowerpot Bread and Totally Thai Fishcakes caught my eye), Tasty Teatime (the Sticky Banana Tarte Tatin and Oodles of Pear Strudel look particularly lovely), Fab Family Dinners (hmmm Taste of the Sun Chicken Slice, Punchy Fish & Pesto Parcels or Spinach & Sweet Potato Dumpling Bake maybe?), It's Party Time! (the Scrummy Salmon Tarts and Dizzy Beef Pies leapt out at the Madhouse Mini-testers) and Fun Outdoors (Pass The Chicken Parcels, Traffic Light Quiche and Snappy Pesto Breadsticks will be coming soon, to a picnic near us!).

It's more than just a cookery book though - there are also a few pages outlining crafts activities for the kids to get involved in. The Madhouse Mini-testers also spotted a fizzing volcano activity that they want to try !

The back of the book also offers a sticker sheet so that you can give your seal of approval and highlight your favourite bakes to come back to.

The only hard thing is going to be deciding which recipe to try out first !

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £14.99

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Hamlyn (2 April 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0600628752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0600628750
  • Product Dimensions: 26.4 x 19.8 x 2 cm

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

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Madhouse recipe : Bacon-wrapped Chicken Parcels

Looking for something quick and simple but slightly different and exciting for lunch yesterday, I came across these Filling Melts from Tesco in the fridge. They come in three flavours - Three Cheese, Bacon, Caramelised Onion & Blue Cheese or Sundried Tomato, Basil & Feta - and they're 2 for £2 so won't break the bank. (You could make your own flavoured butter though, maybe using this recipe for lemon, parsley & pepper butter that I tried for the Santa Maria challenge.)

It's a dead easy, two step recipe. Place the butter/melt in the middle of a turkey or chicken breast fillet and fold over the sides.

Turn 90° and wrap a slice of bacon around it the other way to seal in all the goodness.

Put them in a roasting tin and bake for 20 minutes at 180°. The bacon keeps the chicken lovely and moist and the filling oozes out like a chicken Kiev when you slice into it. They really look the business and are deceptively simple to make.

Disclosure : We received a selection of Tesco Chilled Ingredients, including the Filling Melts, in order to write an honest review. I'll be telling you more about them in an upcoming review.

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Madhouse recipe : Thai Noodle Soup #seizetheflavour

Soreen Chocolate Mega Loaf review

It's Easter which means it was the perfect time for Soreen to bring back their Soreen Chocolate Mega Loaf. Now, the first time I tried chocolate Soreen when the concept was trialled last year, I must admit I wasn't sure what I'd think - I love chocolate and malt loaf but a combination of the two? Well, if you have any doubts, you can put them aside - it's delicious and totally moreish. (You can read our original review here.)

As the concept was such a hit with consumers (including me!), the loaf is brought back from time to time for limited periods (Morrisons had the honour of nabbing the exclusive March/April timeslot). It has an amazingly low £1 price tag which is great value because it's a whopper - that's a lot of squidge for a quid !

We love ours spread with a little butter or even just as it is, hacked off the loaf, but if you really want to get your taste buds tingling, you can enjoy it smothered with vanilla ice cream and lashings of chocolate sauce for the perfect alternative to chocolate cake or with creamy custard or thick double cream. If you’re feeling a bit naughty, grill a slice of this scrumptious Chocolate Mega Loaf and cover it in toffee sauce or you can melt marshmallows on top of it and sprinkle even more chocolate buttons for a sumptuous pudding.

We also discovered that it is utterly fabulous, totally decadent and totally NOT diet-friendly if you smother it with lashings of Rodda's Clotted Cream and slices of banana too.

The Chocolate Mega Loaf will be available in regular three week periods throughout the year so keep an eye on your favourite supermarket shelves to see when it pops up.

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

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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Disney Infinity Phineas & Ferb Toy Box pack review

Just in time for the Easter holidays, we were over the moon to receive the Disney Infinity Starter Pack for the Wii, along with the brand new Phineas & Ferb Toy Box pack that was launched at the start of the month.

We knew a bit about the game because the Madhouse Mini-testers have wanted one ever since its release. It's a bit like Skylanders in that you use real-world toy figures representing various characters from Disney and Pixar films along with a device called the Infinity Base and transport them into the virtual game worlds of Monsters University, the Incredibles, Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lone Ranger and Toy Story, as well as into a giant Toy Box.

The starter pack comes with the game, the Disney Infinity Base and three figures: Mr. Incredible, Jack Sparrow and Sulley, which open up the play sets for Monsters University, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Incredibles. You also get a Power Disc. The Phineas & Ferb Toy Box pack contains Phineas and Agent P figures, as well as Phineas and Ferb Texture Set and Skydome Power Discs, but they don't open up a new play set in the Story Book mode - they only work in Toy Box mode.

After starting out in the Toy Box area, discovering the different characters and switching over the figures, Juliette decided to start playing the Story Book mode and work her way through the adventure.

She set off as Jack Sparrow and had great fun running around, completing mini missions, climbing up towers, jumping across gaps, sliding down cables, breaking open chests and killing baddies (but there's absolutely no blood and guts or scariness involved).

Her face says it all - she's been having a whale of a time (and if you get totally stuck, you can google "disney infinity walkthrough" and watch other people playing it on youtube to help you out before you pull your hair out !).

The Phineas & Ferb Toy Box Pack allows you to embark on secret spy missions and defeat enemies with Agent P’s flying fedora or Phineas’ baseball blaster and tuck n’ roll moves. Both character figures are accompanied by their own unique adventures so in the Phineas adventure, players are set into a giant pinball machine and challenged to create a play field where they can destroy waves of oncoming robots and in the Agent P adventure, players participate in a top-down adventure with side-scrolling elements that pay homage to old school arcade games.

The Phineas and Ferb Toy Box Pack also includes two new power discs to give players’ Toy Boxes a makeover. The “Tri-State Area Terrain” Texture Set and the “Danville Sky” Sky Theme provides well-known location backgrounds from the show, including the Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated building and a small waterslide park invented in one of the cartoon's episodes.

As we're playing on the Wii, two-player mode is only available in Toy Box mode, not Story Book mode, which is a real shame. That's apparently down to the space limitations of the Wii platform though and multiplayer mode IS available on other consoles. Another limitation that is quite disappointing is that each character can only play within its own world, so you can't transport Jack Sparrow to Monsters University for example (which could be quite funny). Other add on characters, including Phineas and Ferb, can only be played with in Toy Box mode. As long as you are aware of these restrictions when you buy it, it's a great game though and one that will be keeping the Madhouse Mini-testers amused for quite some time to come.

star rating : 4.5/5

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

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Madhouse diaries : Our first foray into geocaching

After seeing Elaine at Fun As A Gran talking about her family having a fab time geocaching, I decided to go and have another look online. The idea really appeals to me but, the last time I looked a few years ago, there were hardly any caches in France and certainly none near us. It has really taken off though because there were absolutely loads around us this time so I signed us up and we headed off on our first ever geocaching adventure today. We don't have a handheld GPS or a smartphone so I just noted down the instructions and looked up the locations on google maps before setting off. Our first cache site was located at one of the war memorials in Dunkirk.

The hints had said that we had to find a cosy place for a baby bird so we were delighted to finally spot this after walking around the statue twice !

Pierre's face was a real picture when he got to discover the first treasure !

I think I was just as excited as the kids to be honest !

We proudly filled in the log (and I'll go and add it online in a minute).

There was a tiny magnet in the box so we took that and left a heart-shaped keyring in its place. The kids had scurried around the house looking for little treasures to leave before we left ! We popped it back in its place and headed off for our second cache.

This bridge was the next site and I was convinced it would be on or around the big wooden chair that you can just spot on the right bank.

As we wandered across the bridge, we spotted a few engraved padlocks that had been attached - this one was our favourite : a double heart-shaped padlock with Marcus & Sophie forever inscribed on it. 

There were quite a few people sitting around on the chair so we headed just to the side, along towards the bank of the canal. I spotted a sign and had a quick look - bingo !

Now this one had a logbook but no surprises inside - awww maybe someone not playing the game properly? - but we put one of our little toys inside anyway. We filled in the log book again and popped it back in its place.

We went looking for another one at the statue of Jean Bart in the main town square but didn't manage to find it. This was in the middle of a busy market though so we'll come back another day when it's quieter. And we failed to find the fourth one too but it's next to the theatre which has been totally renovated so I think the cache markers may be non-existent now or have moved.

We'll definitely be having another go though - it was great fun ! I'm already looking into buying a handheld GPS to make things easier !

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Madhouse diaries : Lake-side !

Bahlsen Pick Up! review

You may remember my recent giveaway for Pick Up!, the newest biscuit from Bahlsen. Well, they kindly sent some through to The Madhouse for us to try out too. Pick Up! is described as "a mouth-watering slab of thick milk chocolate sandwiched between two crisp biscuits". To be perfectly honest, that sounded nice but not hugely original to me.

We were actually really impressed though. The biscuit part reminds me a bit of Rich Tea biscuits. They are quite plain and not overly sweet which is the absolutely perfect complement to the sweet milk chocolate nestling inside.

They weren't kidding when they mentioned a slab of chocolate either. The chocolate filling is real solid chocolate, not the fake chocolatey paste that you get inside some biscuits. We love the fact that having the chocolate on the inside avoids getting chocolatey fingers when you eat them and also means you can take your time, lingering over every delectable mouthful, rather than scoffing it quickly before it melts all over your hands !

Each bar contains 143 calories which isn't too bad because one is enough to fight any hunger pangs or sugar cravings you may have.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £1.69 for 5 x 28g

for more information :

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

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Santa Maria First Taste Kit - Steak and Chips

As I told you last week (when I took part in the Santa Maria Canapé Challenge), Santa Maria, a brand new range of Herbs and Spices, is launching this week. In honour of the occasion, they created a selection of First Taste Kits - First Aid Kits but for your food - to showcase the ease with which the new Herbs and Spices range can transform an everyday dish into a flavour sensation. If you watch the video below, you can see what was in our kit for Steak and Chips.

Time to move into the kitchen !

Here are the two Santa Maria products from the box - Tellicherry Black Pepper on the left and Rock & Sea Salt on the right.

First I made the herby butter by mashing together 100g softened butter, 100g finely chopped parsley, 1 small garlic clove, zest of 1 lemon and 5 tsp black pepper.

Next, the steak gets the Santa Maria treatment too, with a generous sprinkling of Tellicherry Black Pepper and the Rock & Sea Salt. 

I decided to go for oven-baked wedges rather than chips, and tossed the potato slices in a little olive oil before shaking on plenty of Tellicherry Black Pepper and the Rock & Sea Salt, along with some of the Chips Perfect Shake Seasoning that I told you about last week.

A hot pan with a drizzle of olive oil and a knob of butter is the only other thing that is needed. Time to sizzle the steaks for a few minutes on each side.

Add a simple side salad of lettuce of cucumber and you're ready to go. The herby butter on top of the steak was a lovely touch and one that I'll definitely use again.

Santa Maria wanted to showcase the ease with which the new Herbs and Spices range can transform an everyday dish into a flavour sensation. Mission accomplished, without a doubt !

Disclosure : I received a First Taste Kit from Santa Maria in order to write an honest review.

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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Skips CrossWord and CrossMaths Books review

In France, there is a huge market for educational "cahiers de vacances" or summer holiday activity books. You can get them for every single school year in primary and secondary education and you have the choice of one subject or a quick overview of the whole year. We sometimes buy them, not because we're pushy parents but because the kids ask for them, but they usually do a few pages then get bored and find better things to do ! I must admit, I always think it's a bit of a shame making the kids sit down and do vast quantities of homework over the summer, and I'm a teacher myself ! When Skips got in touch and asked if we'd like to try out some of their educational activity books focusing on English and maths, I was keen to see what we'd think. They describe them as "innovative activity books for spending quality time together, having fun and learning school stuff without the pain and frustration sometimes experienced". Sounds perfect.

Well, I think this photo says it all. Juliette, just out of bed, still in her onesie, eagerly clutching her Skips book and a pen, working her way through the puzzles then coming and showing them to me with a big smile on her face AND SHE DOESN'T LIKE MATHS ! Despite following the school curriculum and being highly educational, making Juliette reuse all the skills that she's been practising (and sometimes struggling with) at school, the crossword puzzles manage to stay fun and motivating. If you ask Juliette, she's playing, not learning, which is absolutely ideal.

We got some KS1 and KS2 books, as well as Year 7, which both of the girls have been happily working through, but little brother Pierre wanted to get involved too so Juliette let him trace over the numbers and count the dots in some of the earlier puzzles, which he was very proud to do.

Each puzzle focuses on a different skill and they get harder as you work through the book, gaining in confidence. The KS1 Crossmaths book, for example, contains three chapters. In chapter 1, you practise adding, subtracting, one more or one less and number lines up to 30. Chapter 2 focuses on tens and units, 2/10/5 more or less, ranking numbers, odd and even numbers, money and time. Each chapter ends with a test and chapter 3 contains five practice crosswords that mix up everything you've used in the book.

The bright colours are really appealing to little learners and, for extra motivation, there are gold stars and "well done" stickers for you to put at the bottom of successfully completed pages.

I picked up Juliette's book for writing this review and was amazed to see how many of the pages are already complete. On several pages, she's put wrong answers then crossed them out and corrected them as she realises she's made a mistake due to an interlocking answer, so it's a great tool for making your kids work out where they've gone wrong and solve the problem all by themselves. If you're not great at maths youself, you get all the answers at the back of the book too.

You can view some of the worksheets for yourself over on the Skips website and there's a nouns crossword that you can print to try out. Skips suggest doing about half an hour a day and we've got into a routine of doing a page before bed (or at another quiet moment in the day) but the girls are also working their way through all by themselves with no encouragement or help from me. Even better than seeing them have fun while learning is seeing them gain in confidence. Juliette said to me the other day that she's "not very good" at maths at school but she can manage to get all the answers right in her CrossMaths book - I pointed out that she's using exactly the same exercises as at school, just in a different format so she must be good at maths. Her shy little smile showed that the positive message got through and for that alone, I'd definitely suggest buying these books !

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £7.99

for more information :

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

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