Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Madhouse recipe : Tomato salad, two ways


If you try to eat what's in season, the chances are you're tucking into lots of juicy fresh tomatoes at the moment, but did you know that this week is British Tomato Week? I always try to buy local produce from farmers' markets because it helps cut down on my carbon footprint, but choosing British fruit and veggies instead of foreign counterparts also helps our economy and our British farmers so it's a win-win situation. Another bonus is that tomatoes are a good source of Vitamins A, C and E and the antioxidant lycopene, and studies have shown that ripe British tomatoes have a considerably higher lycopene content than their imported long-life variety counterparts. To get the most out of your tomatoes, they should always be stored at room temperature, as refrigeration is detrimental to their flavour.

Yesterday I shared a quick and simple recipe for cream of tomato soup, which tasted surprisingly like the tinned variety but with the added bonus of knowing exactly what went into it. Today, I have a couple of different versions of tomato salad to share with you that are perfect as a side dish when you're having a barbecue.


Cherry Tomato Salad

Ultra simple but bursting with fresh flavours - chop cherry tomatoes into quarters, scatter over some fresh chopped basil and drizzle in a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. Stir to evenly coat the tomatoes, add a couple of whole basil leaves to decorate and serve at room temperature.

If you want something more complex, here's a suggestion from British Tomatoes.


Three Tomato Salad with Avocado & Bacon

This gorgeous platter of tomatoes uses a trio of British favourites – classic, cherry and baby plum – with sliced avocado and crispy bacon, dressed with a wholegrain mustard, cider vinegar and olive oil dressing. Yum!

Serves 2-4
 Prep time: 15min 
Cook time: 5min

ingredients ;

6 British Classic Tomatoes, sliced
12 British Cherry Tomatoes, halved
12 British Baby Plum Tomatoes
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted and peeled
6 rashers streaky bacon
A few basil leaves

Dressing:
3tbsp olive oil
2tbsp cider vinegar
1tbsp wholegrain mustard
Pinch of sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Preheat the grill.

2 Share the slices of classic tomato between 2 serving plates, or arrange them on 1 large platter. Scatter the cherry tomato halves and baby plum tomatoes on top.

3 Slice the avocado neatly, and arrange on top of the tomatoes. Put the rashers of bacon onto the grill pan and grill until crispy.

4 While the bacon is cooking, make the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, cider vinegar and wholegrain mustard. Season with a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper.

5 Snip the bacon rashers over the tomatoes, then serve, sprinkled with the dressing and a few basil leaves.

Cook’s tip: Choose your own favourite British tomatoes for this wonderful salad – try a combination of Beef, Large Vine, Classic, Baby Plum or Cherry – just aim to choose 3 varieties with a size or shape variation.

Do you have a favourite recipe for tomato salad?

Brilliant bathroom buys for tweens, teens and the young-at-heart (review roundup)


Although the weather doesn't seem too sure about what it wants to do at the moment, there is no doubt that summer is definitely on the way so now is the time to stock up on sun cream. Sun Sense recently offered samples on twitter and sent us through a selection of their sun protection to try out, with everything from Daily Face (SPF50+ with invisible tint finish), Ultra (SPF50+ for the family), Kids (for young delicate skin) and Sensitive. Make sure you always have some in your handbag, changing bag or glovebox so you don't get caught short when the sun comes out unexpectedly !


The Madhouse kids are obsessed with pinching my lip balms so, when we received a selection of  Amber House's Candy Crush lip balms to review, I knew that I wouldn't get a look-in ! They come in four tasty flavours inspired by the game : Lemonade Lake, Peppermint Palace, Chocolate Mountains and Bubblegum Bridge. The kids loved the packaging and allusions to the game, but also the fun flavours and the creamy texture that is easy to apply. Did you know it's National Smile Month this month (15th May - 15th June) ? Now there's a good excuse for giving your lips some TLC ! They're available at Primark.


Now, the sun has barely started putting in an appearance (and even then it's on-off), but I've already spotted teens and tweens at the park in shorts and vest tops. Depending on the age of your daughters, this may be the first year they start feeling uncomfortable about having hairy legs so it could be a good time to give them a little chat about the options they have, if they're so inclined. We received a Dorco Eve razor to put through its paces and, although it doesn't look all that impressive when it comes out of the box (I thought it looked a bit chunky and basic), it actually gives a really close and comfortable shave with no nicks or razor burn. It features six blades split into a unique ‘double blade’ format to contour to your body shape, a moisturising band with Aloe, Vitamin E and Lavender that calms and protects even the most sensitive skin and an innovative brush finger to massage the body and raise hair follicles for a closer, smoother shave. For more info, head over to Razors by Dorco. (RRP £4.90 for 3)


On the subject of baring skin that has been covered up for the best part of a year, you might like to invest in a tube of Superdrug's new own branded Scar Gel (RRP £14.99 for 19g), which can offer scar reduction caused by troublesome acne, burns, skin irritations and even surgery. Scars can affect both the body and mind, and while over time they can often fade in colour and become generally less sensitive, the healing process can be lengthy. Scarring usually develops within the first few months after the injury, peaks around 6 months and will usually resolve or mature in 12-18 months. The gel treatment helps to make existing scar tissue flatter, softer, more elastic and less visible, whilst also helping to reduce pain in the area. It can also reduce the formation of new scars. 


We all loved the name of Good Bubble's Bish Bash Bosh! hair and body wash (£3.69 for 250ml) that we were sent to try. The brand came to light in 2014 after the founder secured backing from Dragons' Den. Pierre was most impressed to see that it contains extract of dragon fruit (which he automatically assumes comes from a real dragon's lair somewhere, where intrepid botanists have gone to steal it away to make shampoo and shower gel !). While that may not be true (sadly!), all Good Bubble products are free from artificial colours, sulfates, parabens and PEG, as well as using 98% naturally derived ingredients. We love the moisturising properties that nourish young children's sensitive skin, the fragrance and the no tears formula.


Meanwhile, Sophie was delighted to give her make-up bag an overhaul with this fabulous selection of implements from QVS Beauty. I was not really all that surprised to learn that only 61% of women clean their make-up brushes once a month, but with bacteria, dirt and grime lingering on them, they're a breeding ground for all sorts of nasties. With everything from emery boards, fake lashes, nail trimmers, make-up brushes, brow and lash groomers, and a whole lot more, and prices starting at £5, it's definitely a great time to get spring cleaning in your makeup supplies. I personally recommend replacing your emery boards first - it wasn't until I swapped over to new ones that I realised just how worn and useless my old ones were ! Available from ASDA and Tesco

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

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Super Stretchy Fun With Mini Stretch Armstrong (review)


Just one look at Stretch Armstrong was all it took for the Madhouse kids to be in fits of giggles. Pierre thought it was hilarious that he was wearing nothing but a pair of skimpy pants and the girls couldn't stop laughing because they thought he looked like Donald Trump. Well, yes, I can see a passing resemblance - I think it's the hair and the orange hue of his skin !


This is a Mini Stretch Armstrong measuring 7 inches, but don't be fooled by his smaller size - he has the strongest formula yet and is just as stretchy as the bigger version, so these new action figures can be stretched again and again, but always return to their original shape. The packaging promises that he can be stretched to seven times his original size so it was time to put it to the test.
.

Grabbing an arm and a leg each, it was time to streeeeeeetch ... and he certainly did, before pinging back to his original shape ! I was convinced he'd end up ripping apart but he does seem very resilient. You can wrap his arms around his body or even tie him up in knots. The kids had great fun with him but it's strangely soothing using him as a stress toy too - who needs fidget spinners ?!



This is just one of a new range of stretchy toys from Character Options, who also brought back the iconic Vac-Man and villainous Stretch Monster, plus Stretch’s friend the Octopus and super stretchy dog Fetch, as well as Scooby Doo.

recommended age range : 5+

RRP : £9.99

for more information : www.character-online.com


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

Madhouse recipe : Cream of tomato soup


This is so quick and simple to make and tastes just like the tinned version - same flavour, same texture - but you have the added feel-good factor of knowing there's nothing artificial lurking in it.

Cream of tomato soup

ingredients :

drizzle of olive oil
1 onion
3 tomatoes
salt, pepper, garlic salt, smoked paprika
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tins water
15cl crème fraîche
fresh basil leaves, chopped and a couple whole to serve
parmesan shavings, to serve


Heat the oil in a large pan and gently fry the onion until it softens and starts to go transparent.


Add the fresh tomatoes and the seasonings and continue to fry.


Keep cooking until the tomatoes go soft and mushy - about 5 minutes. Stir frequently so it doesn't stick or burn.


Add the tinned tomatoes and the water and simmer for 10 minutes until most of the water has evaporated.


The liquid should be just above the level of the tomatoes and onions.


Turn off the heat and blitz with a stick blender.


Drizzle over the crème fraîche and stir through.


Stir through some chopped fresh basil - I added 1tbsp dried basil too for extra oomph.


Scatter over some shavings of parmesan and a couple of whole basil leaves and serve.

Don't forget a chunk of crusty bread to mop up the last bits, or if you prefer, a cheese toastie to dip in it !

Monday, 22 May 2017

Disney Crossy Road toys review


At the weekend, we took the kids to a free Gaming Festival in the town square, which had several marquees filled with computer and arcade games from various generations. While the Street Fighter tournament on a huge video screen was popular, the part that was teeming with the most people (of all ages I might add !) was the retro-gaming tent, which had dozens of old-fashioned pinball machines and arcade games, as well as a selection of old fashioned games consoles like the first Playstation and Sega games. 


I rediscovered the joy of playing some of the oh-so-simple but totally addictive games like Frogger, which just involved jumping a more-or-less amphibian shaped blob across a road, dodging cars and lorries. Little did I know that this simple concept from my youth had been given a modern makeover in 2014 in the Crossy Road game, which had in turn created a spin-off game in 2016 called Disney Crossy Road. 


The game features a whole host of Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck, as well as characters from numerous Disney franchises such as The Lion King, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph and Pixar's Toy Story and Inside Out. In total, the game features over 440 characters, with secret characters like Mortimer from the Mickey & Friends franchise and Lenny from the first Toy Story movie.


Character Options have now unveiled a range of pixelated mini figures and plush toys to collect, swap and play with, based on characters from the popular game. There are already 40+ characters to collect, including Mickey and friends, Toy Story, Big Hero 6 and Lion King, meaning your child will have great fun hunting for their next character. I've no doubt further characters will be added at a later date too.


 Each character comes with its own rarity status, ranging from rare, epic, secret, legendary and limited edition. With prices starting at £2.99 for 2 x Mystery Figures, they will be a great pocket money purchase that kids can buy with their own money.


They remind me of a cross between Minecraft and Disney and I love the retro feel. The Disney Crossy Road toys target a 6-11 year old audience, but, as with most Disney films and merchandise, they will appeal to fans of both sexes and all ages, from young children right up to adults.


My favourites are the mini figures, which can be bought in four packs for £9.99, including one mystery figurine, and blind packs containing two figures for £2.99. The plush figures retail at £9.99. If you're intrigued about the figures and want to see some great unboxing videos, head over to the Moose website to see what they found in their packs.

I sense a new collectible craze on the way !

for more information : https://www.character-online.com/

Crossy Road items are available to purchase at:
Tesco
Asda
Toys R Us
Smyths
Argos



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

New Year Resolutions Review week #20: Phew, where's the pause button?


Sometimes I wish life had a pause button ! I seem to be running around like a headless chicken, but my to-do list isn't getting any shorter. We're into the final weeks of the school term so I'm doing my last assessments and assignments so every time I clear my backlog of marking, I get another load. I know the end is in sight but at the moment, I can't see the wood for the trees. Luckily, we have a four day weekend next week so I'll have time to catch up but this last week has been a non-stop whirlwind. I don't feel like I achieved much, but let's have a look. (You can tell what the week's been like as this is going out on Monday rather than the usual Saturday or Sunday !)

1. Get Fit(bitting) !
It wasn't just an impression that I was running around all week. I hit my 10k step target every day at work, with daily figures anywhere from 10-15,000 steps. This weekend, I only got 5271 on Saturday and 2900 on Sunday which looks like a lazy weekend but it's actually the total opposite. I was stuck inside with piles of marking when I'd much rather have been out geocaching or exploring with the kids !


2. Get cooking bookmarked recipes ! 
I made Pineapple Bissap, a drink from my Cameroonian Kitchen Trotter box, and a Chechen soup for the #FoodForThought challenge. I also made a Turkish dish, Chicken Tava, so it's been a very cosmopolitan week foodwise!

3. Get geocaching !
Nope - not this week. I've been enjoying seeing comments from other people finding my caches though.

4. Get comping !
Last week, I put out a call for the comping fairy and she must have heard me because I got a lovely email telling me I'd won a £100 shopping voucher from Britmums for my Elastoplast blogpost - yay !

2017 wins :
January : 4 wins - £20 shopping voucher, Mr Lee's noodles, Ambrosia trifle glasses, set of 5 books
 February : 1 win - tea & personalised mug (prize for Galina)
March - 1 win - a Bear Grylls adventure book
 April - 4 wins - a colouring bundle, And Then We Ran book, Aram book, 6 months supply of Hairburst vitamins
May - £100 shopping voucher


5. Get reading !
 My reviews went live for The Lies Within by Jane Isaac and The Overlook by Michael Connelly which I finished the week before. I'm now reading Under A Sardinian Sky by Sara Alexander.

6. Get FLYing !
The kids have been keeping their rooms under control and I've invented a new game - they set off their fidget spinners and keep tidying until they stop. It seems to be working for the moment, until the novelty wears off !

8. Get bloggy housekeeping !
The worst thing about having a blog is that, in terms of housekeeping, you often take one step forwards followed by at least one if not two steps back. My average pageviews always used to be steady at around 1000 per day, then they dropped to about half that last summer and I discovered I'd been hit with a google penalty so I'd stopped showing up in search listings. I started blogging way back in 2009 when follow/no-follow links were unheard of, so all my original links were by default follow. I went through and cleared out all the follow links up to 2010 then put in a reconsideration request and was cleared. So my stats slowly but surely climbed back up to their original level. Last week, they suddenly dropped to half of that again and, digging around a bit, I discovered there was a google algorithm update called Fred which targeted spammy links. So I've picked back up where I left off and am going back through old posts from 2011 onwards, removing dead and broken links, spammy links that slipped through in comments in the early days when I was less vigilant/more gullible and swapping over follow links to no-follow. It's a boring and soul-destroying job but it'll be worth it in the end. I've done a couple of hundred pages over the weekend and my stats are slightly up already, but this could be a coincidence.

I also set myself two targets - getting my emails down to 200 from 226 - I'm now on 227 so at least I kept on top of new ones - and I wanted to get my draft posts down to 400 from 483 (by deleting now irrelevant posts or bookmarked recipes for ingredients that I no longer have). I got down to 408, which isn't bad, as I got sidetracked by clearing broken/spammy links.


9. Get French !
Still waiting to be summoned to the préfecture with Madhouse Daddy.

What about you? Did you set yourself any targets, challenges or new year's resolutions this year? How are they going?

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Globecooking recipe : Pineapple bissap (Cameroon)


Bissap, made with dried hibiscus flowers, is considered to be a natural energy drink and it is hugely popular in Cameroon. It's simple to make and creates a refreshing, zingy drink that would be perfect for sipping through a straw with lots of ice on a hot summer's day.


My Cameroon-themed Kitchen Trotter box contained a bag of dried white hibiscus flowers, which I've already used for making Hibiscus & Almond Cakes.

Pineapple bissap 

ingredients : 

50g dried hibiscus flowers
1/2 a fresh pineapple
1 litre of water
sugar to taste


Cut the skin off the pineapple then cut into chunks. Put in a large pan with the dried hibiscus flowers and the water and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer for 40 minutes.


Pass the whole lot through a sieve. Press down on the pineapple and hibiscus flowers to get as much juice out as possible. Stir in sugar to taste and leave to cool. Chill in the fridge and serve over ice, with a chunk of pineapple on the side.

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

Want to try some more Cameroonian cuisine? How about :

A paws up for Purina Bakers from Vicky & Didou (review)


For the past couple of weeks, Vicky and Didou, the Madhouse pooches, have been testing Purina Bakers and it's fair to say, they approve ! 


Having signed up to be a tester on The Insiders campaign (which I told you about on my Fab Freebies of the Week roundup, so make sure you head over to have a look to make sure you don't miss out on future campaigns !), we were excited to receive confirmation that we'd been selected and even more so when the postie dropped off this amazing package, containing wet food, dry food and, for good measure, a bag of doggie treats. Cue lots of waggy tails and sniffing of the box !


We started off trialling the dry food, as it is what the Madhouse mutts are most used to eating. As soon as I opened the bag, both dogs took great interest, sniffing, wagging their tails and licking their lips.


We were trialling the Small Dog variety,  labelled as "Little Bites for Little Mouths", made with chicken and country vegetables. The range has recently been overhauled so it now contains no added  artificial colours, flavours, or preservatives


As well as being made up of smaller sized morsels, the Small Dog variety is nutritionally designed especially for smaller breeds. On the Purina website, they explain : "Smaller dogs have little tummies to fill, but they’ve also got different nutritional needs when compared with their larger cousins. In fact, small dogs have super-fast metabolisms and often burn twice the amount of calories than larger dogs. That’s why it’s important that your dog has the right diet to fuel his metabolism and help keep him bursting with energy."


I was impressed with the packaging that is easy to open, with a fuss-free rip off piece that makes a handy pouring spout and, even better, can be resealed - perfect for keeping out inquisitive or greedy doggy noses !


Speaking of which, Didou was starting to whine because he wanted to get straight on with the taste testing !


I've always read that you shouldn't just switch the type of food that your dog eats - you should mix progressively increasing proportions of the new food in with their old food to avoid upset tummies. The Madhouse dogs made me laugh though because they carefully sorted through, flinging out the old food all over the floor and gobbling up all of the Purina Bakers food !



I think Vicky's face says it all - it was so tasty, she had to lick her lips to catch any last morsels !


After gobbling up the whole bowlful (which they don't usually do with their regular food), they came back looking at me excitedly for more food ! I decided to compromise and give them a few of the Allsorts treats, rather than another dinner. I love the way the treats look a bit like human licorice allsorts but with a doggy makeover !



Before I'd even opened the bag, both dogs were excitedly sniffing it !


Again, they both absolutely loved them ! Having seen what's in them, I can understand why - they are flavoured with chicken, lamb, and beef and each shape contains essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6, which help support healthy skin and a glossy coat. They also have added antioxidants and vitamins to help support good health, and protein. 


We've yet to try the wet food but one thing I have already noticed is that the resealable tubs will be perfect for recycling as geocaching containers when they're empty and washed out ! The dogs are already total converts to the brand and I love seeing them looking bright eyes and waggy tailed every time I fill their bowls !


Disclosure : We received the products as part of an Insider campaign, in order to share and collect feedback and share money off vouchers with friends.