Saturday, 28 May 2016

Giveaway #563 : Win a Mega Model Airplane book - closing date 11/6

You may remember earlier this month, we reviewed the fabulous Mega Model Airplane book from Carlton Kids. (Click through to read my review.)

It ended up being a multi-generational project with Pierre, Madhouse Daddy and Madhouse Grandad all getting involved !

The thick laminated press-out sheets are fairly easy to slot together to create an enormous Beechcraft Staggerwing measuring 58cm in length with a whopping 70cm wingspan. You also get a guidebook with information about the plane and the history of aviation, as well as the instructions for putting the model together.

Carlton Kids have kindly offered to send one copy of the book, worth £14.99, to one lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Just fill in your entries in the Raffecopter widget below to go in the draw.

UK only. Closing date : 11/6/16

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 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 !

Fab freebies of the week 28/5

See that little picture up there? Know what that means? Yep, I'm back in the 21st century and I actually have a sensible internet connection back - woohoo ! I've been flat out at work this week though, finishing off all my marking and reports before a 3-day school trip to London next week, so I haven't had much time to hunt out freebies. Hopefully life will calm down a bit after that because it's been manic for the past few weeks ! Anyway, enjoy this week's selection of fab free stuff. Hope you spot something that takes your fancy.

Proctor & Gamble have launched a new website called Victoria that looks like it will be a great place for freebies and giveaways

Get ready for Open Farm Sunday next week on 5th June

The first 1000 people to sign up can grab a free snackpack of Hogbites salami

Offer from Forces War Records : As a tribute to the men and women who served on HMS ships during the Battle of Jutland on 31st May 1916, we’re giving you FREE access to 300,000 WW1 Navy specific records 28 - 31 May ONLY!

@SnowPawUK Can you help us out? Please fill out our #Survey and like this tweet to receive a free gift!

Request a free copy of The Economist (they'll phone you up to see if you want to subscribe but you can just say no)

Trnd have a new project for Brut men's deodorant

@scousescene Get a free #Uber ride up to £15 in major UK Cities. Sign up with the code SCOUSESCENE

Also on the travel theme, National Express are having a summer flash sale : For a limited time only, we're offering 10,000 £1 fares for travel between some of our top UK destinations. But hurry, once they're gone, they're gone...

Request a free sample bundle of Zaggora health foods

Grab a sample of Comme des Garçons Floriental perfume

Receive a free sample of our Wild Chaga Extract and compare the taste to your daily coffee.

Sign up for a free sample of Lelo condoms

@NailsWrap Have you tried Jamberry Nail wraps yet? Want a free sample? Message name and UK address and I will post one to you!

You can get a free full sized sample of TeaPigs tea here but read the t&c's carefully because it looks like you'll get lots of spammy emails from their partners afterwards !

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

You may also like to enter my current giveaways :

Friday, 27 May 2016

Book review : Deadly Deceit - Jean Harrod

Deadly Deceit is the second book in Jean Harrod's Diplomatic Crime Series, but don't let that put you off - it's still a cracking read as a stand-alone novel, although the numerous references to past events have made me want to go back and read the first one to find out what I've missed.

When British diplomat Jess Turner arrives in the Turks and Caicos Islands of the Caribbean on a temporary assignment, she soon discovers that there is a darker side lurking beneath the paradisiacal beaches and lagoon that the tourists see. The opening scenes of migrants drowning on the nearby reefs and, even more horrifying, one mum having her baby ripped from her arms when she makes it to the shoreline, have already hinted that the locals may not be as friendly as they would appear to outsiders, but when the island's officials start meeting tragic and suspicious ends, Jess starts to fear for her own life. The inner circle of the Governor's friends and colleagues, who she needs to liaise with in her official capacity as his replacement, appear to be an eccentric and possibly untrustworthy bunch. On top of that, there are disquieting rumblings about voodoo practices in the camp of the illegal immigrants from Haiti and, if that wasn't enough to be dealing with, even the natural elements conspire against Jess, sending a potentially deadly tropical storm her way. With her partner back in England going AWOL so she hasn't even got a shoulder to cry on on the phone, it's just as well a friendly face from the past (and the previous tome) puts in an appearance in the form of Aussie cop and all-round good guy, DI Tom Sangster. The two have an obvious attraction for each other but it's left smouldering on the backburner, presumably waiting to be developed in a future novel.

I loved the exotic location of the Caribbean and its picture postcard views of perfection, contrasting with the less desirable parts of island life that the tourists don't usually encounter, such as the migrants, voodoo and tropical storms. Jean Harrod's personal experience as a diplomat adds realism to the plot, even if some of the characters did seem a bit too good (or bad) to be true, as totally ruthless villains or angelic heroes, whereas I like my literary heroes and antiheroes to be a more convincing mixture of both. Sangster in particular appears to be one of those Hollywoodian heroes who can be shot at fifty times and fall down a cliff without receiving as much as a scratch ! The plot is fast paced and the constant mood of tension and menace had me gripped, so I couldn't wait to race through to the end and find out how it would all unravel.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: York Authors Coffee Shop (16 Jun. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0992997143
  • ISBN-13: 978-0992997144
  • Product Dimensions: 15 x 2.2 x 21 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book in order to share my honest and objective opinion.

Madhouse recipe : Black Pudding Stuffed Potatoes

A few months ago, I won a selection of MacSween haggis products, including this pack of Chocolate & Chilli Black Pudding. I'm a bit squeamish about black pudding - it is made with blood after all ! - so it's been sitting in the freezer ever since. I finally decided to get brave but I knew that the kids wouldn't want to try it, so I made a black pudding-free version for them (the Mexican stuffed potatoes that I shared yesterday) then added black pudding to the grown-up version.

Now, there's just no way of making black pudding look appetising when it's cooking. It looked like coal and I thought I'd turned it into charcoal but it was just the colour of the blood sausage coming through. This one has a slightly sweet topnote coming through from the chocolate and a slight chilli kick but the main flavour is the earthiness of the black pudding.

I chopped it into pieces and added it to the Mexican stuffed potatoes filling, along with the red, green and yellow peppers, kidney beans, bacon, onions and potatoes.

I used this filling to restuff the potatoes before popping them back under the grill for ten minutes to fully reheat.

Well, I'm still far from the world's biggest black pudding fan but mixing it in with the other ingredients made it a lot more palatable. Black pudding is starting to be hailed as a superfood, because it contains lots of iron, but also zinc, protein, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Do you like black pudding? If so, how do you eat yours?

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky because it was about time I found a recipe to use the black pudding !

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 27/5

This will only be half a menu plan as I'll be on a school trip from Monday to Wednesday inclusive so Madhouse Daddy and the kids will have to fend for themselves !


lunch - probably McDonalds before we go and pick up the girls' new glasses

dinner -  I think I'll give minestrone soup a go


lunch - roast dinner or BBQ depending on the weather

dinner - leftover soup or smoked salmon bagels


dinner - London day 1


dinner - London day 2


dinner - London day 3


dinner - spaghetti carbonara because it fills hungry tummies fast and I'll probably be totally knackered after the trip, followed by a long day at work


dinner - fishfingers, rice and sweetcorn because I need another no-brainer to finish off a busy week !

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

Meal Planning Monday

Want to see what everyone else is eating ? Head over to Meal Planning Monday at Mrs M's blog !

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Don't fry for me Argentina ! This month's Kitchen Trotter destination

This month's Kitchen Trotter box has just arrived and we're back in South America, this time discovering the cuisine of Argentina. I loved the Peruvian and Colombian boxes, so I'm hoping Argentina will be just as tasty.

My little extra for being an ambassador got us off to a great start - a Mango Mojito mix. That sounds just what I'll need after next week's three day school trip to London !

The big bag of herba maté looks intriguing - maté is a common drink in Argentina for all ages.

Two jars with very different contents - chimichurri sauce, to give a spicy kick to meat, and dulce de leche, which is an iconic Argentinian product apparently.

As well as the jar of dulce de leche, there is also a pack of alfajores stuffed with dulce de leche which sounds like the Argentinian version of Wagon Wheels, that I haven't eaten since I was a kid !

Dulce de Batata is a sort of sweet potato jam or jelly, traditionally eaten with cheese or in a tart.

Ground chilli is the most commonly used spice in Argentina apparently and this month's gadget is a metal straw, traditionally used in Argentina for drinking maté.

So on to the recipes.

The starter is Locro, a potato, meat and vegetable stew (which sounds more like a main course to me).

Humitas with a twist - a creamy , cheesy corn and butternut squash dish.

Dulce de leche for dessert sounds rather tempting but also a bit daunting because I've seen many a fondant fail on Masterchef !

As a second dessert, there is a Dulce de Batata tart called Pasta Frola, to be served with a glass of maté.

It all sounds rather delicious but it will have to wait util I'm back from my London school trip.

Madhouse recipe : Mexican stuffed potatoes

We love Twice-Baked Potatoes (or Fully Loaded Potato Skins if I'm trying to make them sound extra cool !) here at The Madhouse, firstly because they're the ultimate comfort food and secondly because they can be prepared in advance, making my life easier when I get home from work. As I had half a can of red kidney beans in the fridge, I decided to have a play around with the filling and came up with this Mexican-inspired twist on my usual recipe. It's a great way of sneaking extra veg onto your kids' plates without them noticing !

 Mexican stuffed potatoes

1 baked potato per person (or half depending on their size)
salt, pepper, butter
300g bacon lardons
1/3 red pepper
1/3 green pepper
1/3 yellow pepper
2 onions
1/2 large can of red kidney beans, drained
1tsp chilli powder (optional)
grated cheese

Put the bacon lardons (or chopped bacon) and onions in a large pan and cook until the bacon releases its fat. Usually I drain it off but for this recipe, you need to keep it in to make the potato filling rich and creamy.

Add the peppers and keep cooking until the bacon is fully cooked and the veggies are soft but still retain some crunch.

Add the red kidney beans and a shake or chilli powder, if you want to spice things up.

Spoon the potato flesh out of the skins into the pan. Place the empty skins in an ovenproof dish. (Leave about 1cm of flesh all over to prevent the skins from ripping.)

Season with salt and pepper and add extra butter if needed. Roughly mash the potato pieces with a fork until you get the desired consistency - I wanted mine to stay lumpy but you could make a smooth mash before adding it to the pan, if you prefer.

Use the potato mixture to stuff the skins. (I challenge you to not eat a few spoonfuls while you're doing this !)

Sprinkle with grated cheese and pop under the grill for 10 minutes until piping hot.

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky because it used up half a tin of red kidney beans that were feeling sorry for themselves in the fridge.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Pom Pom Wow! Deluxe Dip & Creation Station review

There's a huge wave of nostalgia crashing over The Madhouse at the moment with us discovering (or rediscovering for me) several of the iconic toys from my childhood, such as Mr Frosty and Spirograph. Pom poms were another thing that I used to love making as a kid - all you needed was a bit of cardboard and the odds and ends of balls of wool that always seemed to be hanging around then (I even remember my nan unpicking home-knitted jumpers and wrapping the wool around the back of the chair to reuse it in another project - does anybody ever do that these days ?!). When I received an email asking if we'd like to review a Pom Pom Wow! Deluxe Dip & Creation Station, I couldn't wait to see how such a simple activity could have been give a funky revamp.

We always love craft kits that come with loads of little odds and ends that we can get creative with, so we were in our element here. The Deluxe Dip & Creation Station set contains : 75 Pom Poms, 85 Adhesive dots, 1 x adhesive roll dispenser, 1 x glitter glue pen, 2 x markers, 1 x paintbrush, 4 x watercolours, 4 x stamper pads, 1 x pipette, 1 x blotting cloth, removable trays and an instruction leaflet. (Plus we got a few extra bits for the purpose of the review.)

The carry/storage case is ideal for keeping everything in one place once it's all out of the little bags. I wish all toys came with a built in storage case like this.

Everything has its own specific space so it's easy to find everything you need and keep it all looking neat and tidy.

The little pellets reminded me of a cross between a licorice allsort and a cigarette filter ! It's actually lots of little pieces of wool squeezed into an outer plastic case that slides off to reveal a ready made pompom that just needs fluffing up.

Now the Creation Station really comes into its own and the fun really starts. You can let your imagination and creativity go wild using the stamper pads and water colours to dye your pellets or the glitter glue and felt tips to add extra sparkle or colour to the edges, then you just add a glue dot, stick it to wherever you want it and pull off the casing to reveal your finished design.

You can stick them to any flat surface and pretty much any material so you can accessorise anything from shoes and bags to books, mirrors, picture frames, bedroom doors (you could write out your name in pompoms !) or on the end of a pencil, like we did. Now, I definitely don't want to give your kids a very bad idea but there will even be a Pom Pom Wow! Car going round the country covered in pom poms ! I can see these becoming hugely popular because they're so simple to make and each design will end up totally unique.

Pom Pom Wow! are taking over UKMumsTV from 28th May and there will be a Twitter Frenzy on Tuesday 31st May from 5pm to 6.30pm @ukmumstv with prizes to be won.

For more information and inspiration, head over to PomPomWOWUK on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

RRP : £29.99

Available in all large toyshops (The Entertainer, Toys R Us, Smyths) or online at

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

Giveaway #562 : Win a Euro 2016 Activity & Colouring Book - closing date 8/6

Euro 2016 is on the way and if you have a footie-mad son or daughter, I have the perfect giveaway for you.

You may have seen our review of the  Euro 2016 Activity & Colouring Book last week. It's a full colour, 16 page book packed with football-themed activities such as colouring, drawing, dot-to-dot, spot the diference, wordsearch, etc, with the added bonus of over 100 stickers. It has a RRP of £4.99 and is guaranteed to keep your kids (and their dads !) busy while they're waiting for the matches to kick off.

If you'd like to get your hands on the book, I have one copy to give away to a lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 8/6/16

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 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 !

You may also like to enter my other giveaways :

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Madhouse diaries : Hunting out Canterbury's hidden gems

As you may have noticed on this week's #MySundayPhoto post, last week I took part in a class trip to Canterbury, a medieval town that I love because it has the perfect blend of beautiful buildings and great shopping so it keeps everyone happy.

By the time we arrived, it was about 11am and the kids were already starving so we headed straight over to Greyfriars Gardens where they devoured their packed lunches. This little oasis of calm is tucked away down the end of Stour Street, almost opposite the famous Weavers' House (that you can see in the top photo - more about that in a moment).

Walking over the little bridge into the park, I pointed out a common architectural feature in Canterbury - houses that are built spanning the River Stour with archways that boats can pass through.

On the other side of the bridge, we spotted some punts, which is one way of exploring the river.

Coming out of the park we passed by the Canterbury Heritage Museum which looks worth a visit.

Just a few metres further down the road is an unassuming black door in the wall which leads into Greyfriars, an old Franciscan friary that was the first one to be set up in England in the 1200's.

There are also Blackfriars and Whitefriars in Canterbury and the Greyfriars didn't actually wear grey, according to our river guide. They grey referred to the drab brown outfits that the friars wore because they had taken a vow of poverty, unlike the Blackfriars who did wear black, the second most prized colour at the time (after purple which was reserved for royalty) which was a sign of their wealth and power.

Even the kids were impressed by this beautiful wisteria plant, but mainly because they were convinced there was a secret prison hiding in there, rather than a locked gate into the neighbouring primary school !

The only remaining building is the Greyfriars Chapel, which is still used for services by the Anglican Franciscans.

We got a closer look at the river passing under the house and discovered that it is full of eels - they can grow up to two metres long in the winter apparently.

The friars still work in the gardens so sometimes, the door is locked and you're not allowed in.

As we wandered back down to the High Street, this old Rolls Royce arrived for a wedding, which had all the kids oohing and aahing and asking if they could take photos. The driver looked very chuffed with all the attention and admiring glances !

In amongst all the high street stores are some remarkable buildings, including the Eastbridge Hospital (apparently not a hospital at all - it refers to hospitality because pilgrims to the cathedral could stay there for free for up to three nights) and the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in the picture above, which is the central museum, library and art gallery.

The most impressive building in Canterbury is obviously the cathedral though, so we headed down to Christ Church Gate.

I love the details, from the carved angels and huge blue statue of Christ ...

... to the heraldic shields along the top of the door.

You have to pay to visit the cathedral now but the people at the ticket office are usually quite happy for you to stick your head through to take a quick snap.

I loved the look of this old-fashioned looking ice cream van parked opposite the cathedral gate, but not the prices - £2 for a single, £3.50 for a double and a whopping £4.50 for a triple scoop, which sounded like daylight robbery to me !

By now it was time for us to go on our Historic River Cruise, so we headed back to The Old Weavers' House. According to the sign on the wall, this house dates back to 1500 but our guide told us that this is only half true. While the inside is that old, the black timber and white colouring was added on in Victorian times.

It's still beautiful though and we were happy to take in the view while waiting for our boats to be free.

Being rowed along the river taking in the beautiful scenery is really calming and the guides have some great stories to tell, with the perfect blend of factual information and light-hearted banter.

The kids were more interested in spotting the baby pigeons and ducklings than listening to the historic commentary though !

It seemed quite strange passing underneath the houses and the guides have a spooky sixth sense, knowing exactly when to duck their heads or stop the boats just before bashing into a wall without even turning round !

We went past the Marlowe Theatre with its huge face sculpture.

Our hilarious guide James even demonstrated walking the boat through one of the low tunnels, to show how children were used to carry huge slabs of stone along the rivers during the construction of the cathedral !

By now it was time to say goodbye to the beautiful scenery and let the kids loose in the High Street for a little bit of souvenir hunting.

Dragons and Fairy Dust