Tuesday, 28 July 2015

A Special Delivery from Swizzels Matlow (review)

You've probably noticed by now that I currently have a giveaway running with five lovely Retro Sweet Hampers up for grabs - if you haven't, head over there quick sharp because it's the last couple of days to enter ! Swizzels Matlow kindly sent us our very own hamper to drool over review and there was much excitement when it arrived. This is the exact same type of hamper that you can win, except ours was personalised.

Once we'd unpacked everything and done a bit of a stocktake, here was the contents :
3 x Rainbow Drops
2 x Fun Gums Fun Mix
2 x Fun Gums Juicy Lips
4 x Drumsticks lollipops
5 x fruity lollipops
9 x sherbert lollipops
3 x Parma Violets
6 x Fizzers
7 x Refreshers bars (3 flavours)
2 x Double Dips

I never liked the Rainbow Drops much as a kid but the Madhouse kids love them and I think they'd be great in cornflake cakes or as cupcake toppings. There are some of my childhood faves in there though, in particular the Refreshers, Drumstick lollies and Double Dips. It's a nice selection for a whole family to share (unless I get there first !).

Don't forget they currently have a site-wide 20% off code that runs until the end of July - just enter lovejuly20 at the checkout. The Retro Sweet Hamper retails at £9.99 non-personalised, £12.99 personalised (with a choice of messages such as Sorry, Marry Me, I Love You, Congrats, ...).

Head over to http://shop.lovehearts.com/ if you want to buy one and make sure your name is in the draw for my giveaway too !

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

Picture book review : My Stinky New School - Rebecca Elliott

School's out for the summer, but for some, thoughts are already turning to the start of September when they will be going to school for the first time or starting at a new school. It's one of the big milestone moments in a child's life and can be a source of great stress and apprehension. My Stinky New School is a lovely book with lovely vibrantly-coloured illustrations to help put little worry-worts' minds at rest.

Toby is about to start at a new school and he's not looking forward to it one bit - it looks very formidable (in his mind anyway) and stinks of horrible things like pigeon poop and ogres' armpits !

It's nothing like the schools his little sister  and brother go to that smell of rainbows, chocolate, bananas and sunshine. It was interesting to compare the two pictures and see the contrast between light/dark, happy/scary, lots of people/all alone. Pierre also loved pointing out the things in the pictures as I read the words ... pigeon poop got an especially big giggle !

 Toby's first day isn't as bad as he expects. He's sad that he can't find any new friends - only spacemen, pirates and mermaids to play with in the school playground - until his mum comes to pick him up and points out that they are all his new friends after all.

It's a fun and reassuring book to share with any child who is slightly apprenhensive about the new school year awaiting them at the end of the holidays. It's a great way of getting children to open up about the way they are feeling and share any doubts and fears that they may have by relating to Toby.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £9.99

  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Lion Children's Books (19 Jun. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745965016
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745965017
  • Product Dimensions: 26.8 x 1 x 22.4 cm

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

Giveaway #496 : Win children’s swimming equipment from Swimshop - closing date 18/8

We're just getting ready to jet off for a (hopefully !) fabulous sun and fun-filled fortnight in Turkey and we'll be spending a fair share of our time in and around the pool. This year's mission is to get Pierre more confident in the water and hopefully swimming unaided (or just with armbands) by the end of our trip because at the moment, he still wants the security of a rubber ring. It may sound ambitious but if we spend 3 hours a day in the pool for ten days (assuming we'll be going out on a few excursions), we'll easily cover the 25 hours of lessons that it is estimated that children require to swim confidently a distance of 25 metres. Primary schools are only offered 18 hours of swimming lessons per child a year, so any help we can give him can only be beneficial.

A recent study found that 57% of children between 7-11 years old cannot swim. In a bid to change this, Swimshop are running a ‘Save a Life, Learn to Swim’ campaign and they have come up with some fun swimming games that you can do as a family to increase your child’s confidence in the water. You can download them for free on the Swimshop website.

Swimshop have also kindly offered to send a set of arm bands and a float to two lucky Madhouse Family Reviews readers. You can choose between the Steve Shark Grey Float and the Polly Fish Pink Float and armbands are available in either age 1-3 or age 3-12. To be in with a chance of winning, fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below.

Prizes provided by the Learn to Swim campaign sponsors Swimshop, swimming costumes and equipment online.

UK only. Closing date : 18/8/15

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 !

#KitchenClearout store cupboard hacks

The #KitchenClearout linkie has really taken off this month - it seems that we're all busy looking through our kitchen cupboards for half-used packets and jars that we can use up in interesting and tasty ways ! These recipes landed in my inbox this week and they look like great #KitchenClearout ideas too.


Complaining when it is too hot, then moaning when it’s suddenly back to the grey and the rain – these are great British traditions. For many years this has been the British approach to summer - it is never quite what we expect. In honour of this, we have rounded up some Great British Summer recipes that use kitchen cupboard favourites in ways as unexpected as a sudden shower…

Summer salad dressing with a difference

Bringing together salty with sweet, mellow with tangy to create a culinary contrast is now a well-established gastronomic trick. The best thing about it is that it’s so simple to achieve, just like this salad dressing recipe by Lyon’s Golden Syrup. We’ve been stocking our cupboards with Golden Syrup for over 130 years but resourceful Brits can always find a new way to use old favourites!

For this and other Lyons Golden Syrup recipes visit: http://www.lylesgoldensyrup.com/recipe/tangy-salad-dressing/

Sweet summer ice cream with a twist : Horlicks Ice Cream

The recipe, created by Paul Harley, is the perfect blending of refreshing raspberries with smooth oats– and malty Horlicks, for a summer dessert with a twist. Adding Horlicks to ice-cream might be a novel idea but Horlicks itself is older than your nan; at over 140 years old it is even older than the teabag!

For this and other Horlicks recipes visit: http://www.horlicks.co.uk/recipes/desserts/ice-cream

Sunny Sunday brunch

Whilst the fry up remains a popular British classic, a feast for lazy sun-drenched weekends, breakfast foods have diversified in recent years. Perfect for a Sunday brunch, this is a different approach to a poached egg – topping crumpets off with Marmite and mushrooms! You might never have used Marmite like this before, even though it has been around for over 110 years!

For this and other Marmite recipes visit: http://www.marmite.co.uk/marmite-poached-egg

Hands up if you're brave enough to try out any of these !

Fancy having a look to see what's lurking in the back of your larder? Join in with this month's #KitchenClearout linkie !

Monday, 27 July 2015

The World of Popagami - Origami Animal Fun review

How much fun can you have with a piece of paper? Well, the answer is, quite a lot, if you're talking about Popagami ! 

Inside the pack, you get oodles of printed sheets (24 to be precise), ready to be folded and "popped" (by blowing them up) into cute origami animal heads. If you're a total novice when it comes to paper-folding, the instruction book shows you everything you need to know.

There are lots of different designs available but they all use the same technique so once you've got it mastered, you'll be able to create them in seconds.

You have the choice between cute cartoon-style animals, more realistic illustrations or even a photo-design.

There is also a black and white option which you can phototcopy and colour in to make your own totally unique model. This would be a great activity for a kids party.

The instruction book shows you all the different Popagami characters and gives their names, which is a nice touch - there's Gilly the Giraffe, Jack the Rabbit, Rivets the Robot, Buckaroo the Horse, ...

Inside the book there are also smaller Popagami designs that you can cut out and fold into finger puppet sized creation (finger popettes ?!).

Madhouse Nanny is a bit of an origami expert (compared to the rest of us anyway !) so we made sure we got the Popagami out to play with when the Madhouse grandparents visited. She had a quick look at the intructions and said "oh, it's just the basic water bomb design" - um, OK, if you say so !

Sure enough, she was off, folding the sheet this way and that then blowing into it so that it popped out into a 3D figure.

The meerkat one is really effective. (We just needed to snip his ears off.)

But the illustrated designs look great too.

It's a lovely wet-weather activity and is also a great for long train/plane/car journeys or for taking on holiday because it takes up very little space and doesn't need anything, except for nimble fingers !

If you like the idea and want to give it a go, you can try out some of the free downloads on the Popagami website - I love the stars and stripes Betsy design that they released for Independence day.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £7.99 for the combo pack containing the book with 24 Popagami sheets, but you can buy just the book, just the Popette pack or even individual designs

for more information : www.popagami.com

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

Globecooking recipe : Homemade Rice-a-roni (USA)

Earlier in the year, we discovered Rice-a-Roni, one of the products in my hamper of American products. It's a flavoured blend of rice and vermicelli and the Madhouse kids absolutely loved it. One of my American online friends told me that's it's easy enough to make yourself.

Just take equal measures of rice and vermicelli - or you can break regular spaghetti into tiny pieces - and brown them for a couple of minutes in some melted butter. I planned on breaking up spaghetti then saw some tiny pasta letters in Lidl so I thought I'd give them a go as it would be quicker.

Once they start going brown, add plenty of chicken stock (or any other stock you may wish to use) and bring to the boil.

Add whatever seasoning you want - something with dehydrated vegetables in it like instant soup would be good but I didn't have any of that. I did find a seasoning sachet that went with some Spicy Singapore Stir Fry Noodles that I didn't use so I put that in.

After about 8 minutes, the water had been absorbed so I put on a lid and left it to finish cooking in its own steam.

The Madhouse kids weren't totally bowled over - they said it was nice but not as nice as the packet version - but I think it depends entirely on the seasoning you use. They weren't totally convinced by the one I used - "it tastes like something from the Chinese restaurant" - but I'm not sure how I'd manage to recreate the broccoli au gratin flavour that they loved last time. They did love picking letters out as they ate though so I'd say it's a work in progress ! I'll try adding other spices and see if I can find some dried onion flakes to add even more flavour (or I could possibly just fry off a finely diced onion in the butter before throwing in the rice and vermicelli).

Let me know if you have any better ideas !

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

Cookbook review : The Ultimate Sandwich - Jonas Cramby

I often tend to think of a sandwich as a bit of a cop-out when it comes to mealtimes. If you can't be bothered to cook or nobody is really hungry enough for a full meal, a sandwich can be a good standby, but it's not usually very exciting - depending on what's in the fridge, in our house it will usually be ham, cheese, tomato and cucumber, or maybe tuna and mayonnaise if you're lucky, all probably sandwiched between bland supermarket bread (unless I've been organised enough to bring out the bread machine). Jonas Cranby is the same - he hates the fact that the word sandwich often equates to plastic wrapped breads with mayo-drenched filling and wilted lettuce, tough dry ciabatta with lumpy margarine, rolled up slices of pre-cut cheese and a standard tomato or dry and boring bread with no substance.

The Ultimate Sandwich is the result of his treks around the world, looking for the ultimate sandwich highs and it's amazing to see just how many exotic takes on the humble sandwich there are. 

The book starts with some totally simple and instantly recognisable sandwiches, taken to their most sublime form that you can aspire to recreate. There's nothing pretentious or complicated about Grilled Cheese with Tomato Soup, a BLT or a Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich. The difference here is that the author shows you how to make your own versions of store-cupboard (and sandwich) staples such as Nutella, peanut butter, grape jelly, ketchup, mayonnaise or even mustard - something I'd never have thought of making from scratch.

You can't make a great sandwich without great bread and the book also gives you the recipes needed for the different types of bread - pain de mie, brioche, steamed rolls, Sicilian loaf, breakfast muffins, baguettes and the amazing-looking Marble Rye that you can see here, which is apparently a classic Jewish caraway-scented rye bread that I absolutely want to make.

As I'm a huge fan of globe-cooking, I love the exotic versions of sandwiches that I'd never heard of before : Bulgogi Bao (from Korea), Muffuletta (a Sicilian-influenced creation from New York's French Quarter), Torta Ahogada (or "drowned sandwich" from Mexico), Thit Heo Banh Mi (from Vietnam), Medianoche (from Cuba) ...

Others are American classics that I've heard of but never tried because I've never really known what they are : Meatball Hero, Lobster Roll, Eggplant Parm, Grilled Shrimp Po'boy, Fried Chicken Scones, Pastrami on Rye ...

The book finishes up with some sandwich dessert options such as ice cream sandwiches - there's a banana bread ice cream sandwich that sounds particularly nice.

I'll definitely never write off sandwiches as boring food ever again and I'm looking forward to trying out some of the more exotic recipe ideas. I'm not sure I'll go as far as making my own mustard and Nutella, but that's the beauty of the book - you can make everything from scratch or mix and match with shop-bought ingredients.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £14.99

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Pavilion Books (11 Jun. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1909815845
  • ISBN-13: 978-1909815841
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 20.3 x 22.9 cm

Disclosure : I received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.

Every raincloud has a silver lining (hayfever relief)

This photo was taken yesterday. It would appear that summer has been rained off before it even really began. While most people are sighing sadly or grumbling into their cornflakes, there is one group of people who can see a huge advantage to this situation : hayfever sufferers. As temperatures soar, so does the pollen count unfortunately, and I know first-hand how thoroughly miserable it can be to have a red raw nose, itchy sore eyes and constantly streaming nose and eyes day in day out.

I smiled as I read a recent report from Boots Pharmaceuticals mentioning ‘insneezia’ – a term that I'd never heard of that refers to the insomnia-esque impact of night time hayfever symptoms. I've often noticed that my hayfever kicks off at bedtime but I always thought it was because my hair had dried after my after-work shower designed to wash off and dampen down the pollen. It usually ends up with a severely blocked nose which leads to snoring/breathing through my mouth which in turn leads to Madhouse Daddy shoving me in the back because he can't sleep !

 Dr Peter Burt, Aerobiologist at the University of Greenwich explains the causes: “Hayfever sufferers may find that their symptoms get worse during the evening. This is because pollen rises into the lower atmosphere throughout the day and begins to fall back to the ground as the temperature drops - exposing hayfever sufferers to a higher level of pollen in the evening compared to earlier on in the day. Higher pollen levels in the evening can also be because some flowers release pollen later in the day - meaning pollen levels increase with this burst and remain higher during the evening and overnight.”
Rain Shower
Photo credit : https://www.flickr.com/photos/demandaj/7520798224/

This part made me laugh out loud : "It seems desperate Brits will go to all sorts of lengths to try and stop hayfever from hampering their slumber with one in five (22%) admitting to sleeping with tissues up their nose and 4% resorting to putting their heads in the freezer to try and relieve symptoms." I don't go this far, although I can understand the temptation !

Boots have some simpler solutions available fortunately. Angela Chalmers Boots UK Pharmacist comments: “Falling pollen at night doesn’t have to get in the way of a good night’s sleep if you take steps to keep your hayfever symptoms in check before your head hits the pillow. Most one-a-day anti-histamines are usually a 24 hour dose, so taking your daily dose at least 3 hours before you go to bed may help reduce symptoms throughout the night. Additionally, consider using a barrier nasal spray before bed, which can be more effective at treating more severe hayfever symptoms, as they create protective lining in the nasal passage reducing the inhalation of the allergens that are responsible for hayfever.”

No273 13 Oct 2009 Sneeze
Photo credit : https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcfarlandmo/with/4014611539/

Five hacks that only hayfever sufferers know…

1. Wearing sunglasses after sun down… not because you think you’re a celeb, but because you’re protecting your eyes from pesky pollen
2. Covering that summer BBQ in chilli and Tabasco sauce isn’t just to spice things up... it’s a discreet way to help unblock your nose
3. Hanging laundry inside - even when the sun is shining… that’s because you don’t want pollen infused bedding
4. The smell of freshly cut grass isn’t how you know it’s time to retire your winter wardrobe… glistening petroleum jelly under your nose to keep pollen away is your marker that summer is here
5. Wearing waterproof mascara with no pool in sight… a guaranteed way to avoid panda eyes when your eyes start streaming.

 I received a Boots Pharmaceuticals Allergy Barrier Nasal Spray (RRP £8.99) to try out. It is a clinically proven, non-drowsy nasal powder spray that delivers fast, effective protection against hayfever and other airborne allergens. It is suitable for children over 18 months old and adults, including pregnant women, which is great news because you can't take anithistamines when you are pregnant or breastfeeding. I have definitely been breathing more easily - although the rain has helped too !

Other hayfever-busting allies that Boots Pharmaceuticals have in their arsenal - One-a-Day Allergy Relief Tablets (10mg, £7.69, 30 day supply), Allergy Relief Eye Drops (10ml, £5.39), Irritated Eyes Eye Mist (10ml, £11.99) 

Disclosure : I received a Boots Pharmaceuticals Allergy Barrier Nasal Spray to ease my hayfever pain !

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Globecooking recipe : Gado Gado (Indonesia)

Gado gado is a big salad with lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, potatoes and eggs. The only thing that makes it the slightest bit exotic is the sweet peanut sauce that is totally moreish.

This used three ingredients from my Indonesian-themed Kitchen Trotter box : Combava leaves, kecap manis and gado gado mix. (If you want to make your own sauce from scratch, check out Jamie Oliver's recipe here.)

Gado Gado

ingredients :

iceberg lettuce
boiled eggs

for the sauce :
80ml water
2 combava leaves
2 bay leaves
80g gado gado mix
2tbsp kecap manis

Pile the iceberg lettuce leaves on top of each other and cut into fine slices.

Peel the potatoes and boil them for about 10-15 minutes until soft and cooked through. Hard-boil the eggs for 9 minutes.

Finely slice the tomato and cucumber.

This is where the gado gado sauce comes to the fore - the powder has a gorgeous peanut smell.

Put the water in a pan with the bay leaves and combava leaves. Fold them a few times to release the citrus flavour. As soon as it starts to boil, add the gado gado mix and stir. Heat until it's thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the kecap manis.

Pile the lettuce on a plate, scatter over the cucumber, tomatoes and radishes (which I left out because I don't like them). Cut the cooled eggs into wedges and arrange around the plate.

Place a pile of diced cooled potato in the middle and drizzle the gado gado sauce all over the plate.

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

If you fancy trying more Indonesian cuisine, how about Mie Goreng?

Uncle Ben's Rice & Grains review

Did you know that ...

There are roughly 120 known varieties of quinoa - which is a great source of protein, fibre and minerals, and is gluten free.
Pearl wheat is also known as wheat berries.
Contrary to the name, wild rice isn’t actually a member of the rice family – it’s a grain producing grass.

No? Neither did I, which is probably why I've never really experimented with them much, because I'm never sure what to do with them or how to eat them.

Uncle Ben's have just taken all of the hassle out of the equation though, by launching  a new range of wholesome, great-tasting Rice & Grain varieties that blend the goodness of wholegrain rice with added grains such as quinoa, wild rice or pearl wheat. Like the microwavable rice that we often buy, the pouches can be prepared in just two minutes in the microwave.

The Rice & Grains Range is made up of five varieties : Wholegrain & Quinoa, Pearl Wheat, Quinoa and Wholegrain, Wholegrain & Quinoa Tomato and Basil, 5 Whole Grains and Rice Medley.

We started off with the Rice Medley, because I thought it would be the smallest change compared to what we usually eat. Everyone ate what was on their plate and nobody noticed that I'd switched to a healthier version.

I was slightly less confident about the reaction the quinoa varieties would get, mainly because someone who will remain nameless had pointed out that the picture on the pouch looks just like maggots, something I'm extremely squeamish about ! I'm pleased to say that it looks much less maggoty in real life (!) and this was a surprise hit, with a slightly nutty taste that packs in more flavour than plain rice.

‘Super grains’ have soared in popularity in recent years, with much being written about their health benefits. Quinoa for example, is one of the only grains that provides all nine essential amino acids making it a complete protein. Uncle Ben's new range is a simple and convenient way of introducing them to family mealtimes and we'll definitely be buying them again. Anything that can be sneaked in as a healthier choice with nobody noticing has to be a good thing !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £1.99 for 220g

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