Friday, 30 September 2016

Streeeeetchy-dooby-doo ! Stretch Scooby Doo toy (review)

It's hard to believe that everyone's favourite great dane was first brought to life all the way back in 1969, but, almost half a century later, the loveable scaredy cat (or should that be scaredy dog?!) is still just as popular with the modern generations. If you have a Scooby fan, young or old, in your midst, they're bound to love the giant Stretch Scooby that we recently received to review.

He has been well reproduced, with all the classic features of the cartoon character, including the goofy grin, wiggly eyebrows and dog collar. We all love the kooky expression on his face, which is how I would imagine him to look if he was really being pulled every which way and tied up in knots !

He is fully stretchable so you can pull on his arms or legs to totally pull him out of shape - apparently you really can tie him up in knots too, but we didn't try this !

The packaging boldly states that he can be stretched to three times his original size and my sister certainly put him to the test ! Kids will enjoy stretching him too but you really need an adult's or older sibling's help to stretch him to full length because you need strong arm muscles ! Alternatively, two younger children can pull an arm and leg each in a tug-of-war but be prepared to end up falling on the floor when one lets go !

Unbelievably, after all that crazy stretchy, he just pings straight back into shape, faster than you can say Scooby-Dooby-Doo. (Incidentally, did you know he got his name from a Frank Sinatra lyric? It began as the doo-be-doo-be-doo in Strangers in the Night !)

If you're being organised this year and are already looking around for Christmas gift ideas, especially for hard-to-buy-for teen boys or young adults, he's sure to be a big hit. Forget pulling a cracker after Christmas dinner, this year pull a Scooby instead !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £19.99

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

Madeleine Shaw recipe : Turkey Schnitzel with Parsnip/Sweet Potato Chips

You may remember a few weeks ago, I tried out of one of the recipes that health coach and best-selling cookery writer, Madeleine Shaw, had created in partnership with British Turkey : Spiced Turkey Curry with Spinach, Peas and Cauliflower Rice. Here at The Madhouse, we love turkey, both for the taste and the fact that it is so quick to cook after a busy day at work, but Madeleine Shaw is also promoting the health benefits of cooking with turkey, which is a lean and versatile protein, to those looking to live a healthy lifestyle. This time we tried out Turkey Schnitzel with Sweet Potato Chips (the original recipe was for parsnips, but I had a sweet potato to use up) and it was a huge hit with the whole family.

Turkey Schnitzel with Parsnip/Sweet Potato Chips

Serves 2


250g parsnips, peeled (or 1 sweet potato)
3 tbsp coconut oil or butter
1 egg
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp of thyme
50g buckwheat flour, rice flour or ground almonds
70g porridge oats
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 British turkey steaks
salt and pepper
100g of rocket

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Cut the parsnips/sweet potato into thin slices. Melt 3 tablespoons of coconut oil or butter in a roasting tin, and toss the parsnips in this with a good grind of salt and pepper. Roast them in the oven until golden brown, flipping them over halfway through the cooking time. They will cook in 15–20 minutes, depending on your chip size. (Just time to head off on the school run which is why I forgot to take a photo of this step !)

Put the flour or ground almonds in a bowl. Whisk the egg in another bowl. 

Put the oats, lemon zest and juice, thyme, smoked paprika, garlic and parsley in the food processor with a big pinch of salt and some pepper. Blitz for 3–4 minutes, or until broken down in to breadcrumb size. Pour this mixture into a third bowl and set aside. (I used some Ready Brek which was in the cupboard - as it is made of very fine oats, I just poured them straight into a bowl with the seasonings.)

Grab the turkey steaks, bash with a rolling pin until they are just under 1cm thick. Season with salt and pepper, coat in the flour or ground almonds, then dip them into the egg mix, and finally dip them into the oat crumbs.

Heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.

Cook the turkey schnitzels for 4 minutes on each side until golden-brown and cooked through.

As I was cooking for a family of five, I made them in batches and kept them warm in the oven with the sweet potato chips as I cooked the others.

Repeat with the other turkey schnitzels and serve with the parsnip fries and some rocket. I served ours with half sweet potato chips and half potato chips, along with a bowl of salad and some cherry tomatoes on the table. There were clean plates all round - and Pierre was convinced that I had purposely made his turkey into a dinosaur shape, even though it was a pure fluke !

Turkey Schnitzel with Parsnip Chips per serving:
674kcals, 23g fat, 15.5g saturated fat, 53g protein, 10g fibre, 58g carbohydrate, 7g sugar, 0.3g salt

I've just received Madeleine Shaw's Ready Steady Glow recipe book, which promises Fresh, Fast Food Designed For Real Life. That sounds right up our street !

Disclosure : We received the cookery book and a shopping voucher to cover the cost of ingredients.

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 30/9

I sat down to this week's menu plan with a clean slate for once - no blogger cookery challenges to fit in, no Kitchen Trotter box that has just arrived with a new exotic foodie destination to discover (although there is one on the way - I'm keeping an eye out for the postie !) so it's a time for old family faves and a look through my extensive collection of bookmarked recipes to try. I think there will definitely be an autumnal theme going on though as the temperatures have plummeted lately and it starting to feel damp in the mornings.


lunch - probably McDonalds as it's a nice way of easing into the weekend and it's turned into a tradition :)

dinner - homemade soup and if I can be bothered to drag out the bread machine, homemade bread too


lunch - probably a roast dinner- chicken or pork are usually the go-to options

dinner - cheese on toast or leftover soup


dinner - a pie made with the leftover chicken (or pork), roast potatoes and any veggies, plus some chopped sausages if it needs padding out, and a side order of veg of some shape or form ... peas and carrots if I can't think of anything more exciting !


dinner - tartiflette - baked potato wedges topped with bacon, onions and a whole stinky reblochon cheese - French autumn comfort food at it's finest (and a special request from Sophie)


lunch -Salisbury steak with root veg mash, baked tomatoes and maybe pepper sauce

dinner - salmon with risotto and broccoli (and a curry sauce on the side)


dinner - cottage pie because it got bumped off the menu last week - made on my Wednesday afternoon off, if I'm organised so it's ready to throw in the oven when I get home from work


dinner - Day off ! I always end up having one day a week where the fridge is overflowing with leftovers and I don't need to cook, so I'll go for a dead easy spag bol if needed, but it'll probably be leftovers !

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

Join in with the #MealPlanningMonday bloghop :

Thursday, 29 September 2016

#readcookeat recipe : Apple jalousie (The Advent Killer)

Crime fiction isn't generally the best genre for finding foodie references in, but while reading The Advent Killer by Alastair Gunn (click through to read my review), there was one dish mentioned that caught my eye. The lead detective's rather overbearing mother phones her, wittering on about her arrangements for Christmas dinner with the family :

p113 'Antonia, it's your mother. There are only three days until Christmas and I'm having a complete nightmare with the dinner. No sooner do I finish the nut strudel than Auntie Irene's on the phone, telling me how last year at Sylvia's they had homemade Apple Jalousie. So now I have to make some, but your father's tried every shop in Bushey High Street and none of them has even heard of vanilla beans. Anyway, if you could just find somewhere to buy ...'

I'd never heard of Apple Jalousie so I headed off to google it. I found lots of recipes, including this one for apple brown-butter jalousie, but I was a bit disappointed because it's basically a cross between apple strudel and apple pie, or an oversized apple puff.

I did have three sad wrinkly apples that needed using up though, so I decided to recreate it.

Apple and Golden Syrup Jalousie

ingredients :

3 apples
1 ready-made puff pastry sheet
a squeeze of golden syrup
a little milk or egg wash

Peel and core the apples.

Chop them into chunks.

Put in a saucepan with a small amount of water (just enough to cover the bottom) and stew for about ten minutes until soft but not mushy and the liquid has all disappeared. Add a squeeze of golden syrup and leave to cool.

Lay out the puff pastry and put the apple in the middle third.

Fold the two edges in (about 2cm) to stop the apple splurging out, then fold both flaps to the centre. Press firmly all the way around the edges to seal and cut slits across the top.

Brush with a little milk or egg wash, place on a baking sheet and bake at 180° for 20 minutes until golden brown and puffed up.

Serve a slice, still warm, with cream or ice cream for extra indulgence. 

Apparently it was very nice - I didn't get a look in because the kids polished off the whole lot !!

Fancy cooking the books ? Join in with the #readcookeat challenge at Chez Maximka.

Linking up with the #KitchenClearout linky because it used up my wrinkly apples !

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

I am the walrus - jujube-jube ! (Abakus Jujube fruit review)

When Abakus got in touch and asked if I'd like to try out some of their jujube products, I replied with a very enthusiastic yes. I always love discovering new foodie treats that invariably deliver new flavours and textures to play around with, as snacks or in cooking. I also immediately started singing "I am the eggman, I am the walrus, jujube-jube" which is what I always thought the words to the famous Beatles song were. It turns out that it is actually "Goo goo g'joob" which could mean anything from the noise walruses make to a reference to a James Joyce quote to (my favourite hairbrained theory) a translation of "Living is easy with eyes closed" in Inuit (because the Inuit see the walrus as a symbol of death, Paul is the walrus, and - as the conspiracists all know - Paul is dead !). I suspect it actually means nothing at all, and relates more to the consumption of numerous class-A drugs by John Lennon when he wrote the lyrics, but there you go !

Anyway, back to the jujube fruit ! I'd never seen or tasted them before so I had no idea what to expect. They look a bit like giant dried cranberries so I was expecting a tart flavour when I popped one in my mouth. My instant reaction was "hmm they taste like dates", which was confirmed when I took a closer look at the pack and discovered that they are also known as red dates.

They have an unusual but not unpleasant spongy texture, a bit like dried apple, and the whole family enjoyed snacking on them, either popping the whole fruit or the ring-shaped slices in their mouths. It's not all about the taste though. Jujube fruit are being hailed as a new superfood, because they are packed with phytonutrients and high in antioxidants. They also have sedative properties to help calm the mind and are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat anxiety and insomnia.

Jujube is also available in powder form and can be used as a natural sweetener in cooking, baking, smoothies etc.

Abakus kindly sent me through some recipes to try out too, and they show how versatile jujube is. You can use it in both sweet and savoury recipes, such as Revitalising Jujube & Broccoli Stir Fry, Jujube & Oat Gluten-Free Superfood Muffins, Refreshing Jujube Spinach Salad or Nourishing Jujube Tea. I've also been scattering them on top of my morning muesli/granola and overnight oats, for an extra burst of vitamins to start the day.

All of the jujube products are vegan-friendly, gluten-free and dairy-free, with no additives and no added sugar. They will be stocked at Wholefoods and a number of health food shops in the UK from September.

RRP : £1.80 per pouch, whether whole fruit, slices or powder

for more information :

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

Shimmer 'n' Sparkle Sew Crazy Sewing Machine review

Juliette loves crafts and manual activities but she's yet to take an interest in needlework, which is a real shame, as I used to spend hours doing cross stitch and patchwork, so I have a huge stash of material and threads waiting for her when the urge takes her. When the opportunity arose to review the Shimmer 'n' Sparkle Sew Crazy Sewing Machine from Character Options, I thought she might like it and I was quite right - she got really excited when she laid eyes on the box !

Unpacking the box, we discovered the main sewing machine unit, a foot pedal (just like real, grown-up sewing machines, so it's a nice touch), 2 small pieces of material and a storage box with 3 spools of thread, 4 needles and a pattern sheet. The sewing machine requires 4 x AA batteries which aren't included, but it can also be used with a mains adapter, which, sadly, isn't included either - luckily we had one kicking around in a drawer (from a remote-controlled car charger, I think) which worked perfectly. I'd definitely invest in an adapter if you haven't got one because it would be really frustrating for the batteries to run out mid-project because you'd have to turn the sewing machine upside down to change them.

It comes pre-threaded which is great news, because you're ready to get started immediately. Unfortunately, the thread tensioner (the purple knob) was really tight so the thread didn't flow freely and quickly snapped, meaning that we had to rethread the needle. Luckily, the Madhouse grandparents were visiting, and Madhouse Nanny knows all about sewing machines so she knew what to do. I'd have been a bit lost because there aren't many instructions and the ones that are there are a bit confusing if you're a total novice.

The sewing machine has a safety guard which is a brilliant idea for protecting little fingers from the needle and eyes, if the needle should snap and ping off (which happens sometimes with proper machines, apparently). However, this feature makes it very tricky to rethread the needle because you have to unscrew it with a screwdriver, rethread, then screw it back on.

I couldn't work out where the thread was supposed to go but Madhouse Nanny stepped in and soon had it back up and running again ... until the thread snapped again just a few minutes later and we had to start all over again ! In the end, we decided to leave the safety guard off while we got to grips with it because it was too frustrating to keep unscrewing and screwing it back on, but this did mean that Juliette was under close supervision and constantly reminded to keep her fingers out of the way. 

She soon started to get the hang of it, although the thread did still snap as it got stuck in the tensioner or tangle up a few times. I'm sure as we practise more, this will happen less and less though so I've put the safety guard back on, as it's a great way of keeping little fingers safe.

The sewing machine has two speed settings and can be operated using either the foot pedal or a button. Just like a full sized machine, the Shimmer and Sparkle sewing machine has a double stitch, winding mechanism to top up new bobbins. I had no idea what this meant but Madhouse Nanny nodded knowingly when I read it out !

With a little bit of trial and error, Juliette soon had the machine sewing a perfectly straight line - oh ok, make that a very wobbly line ! - but she was still very impressed.

The sewing machine is designed for children aged 5-11, which I would say is a bit on the low side. Juliette is 11 and still needed a lot of adult supervision and intervention, mainly when things went wrong with the thread, so it's not something you'd be able to give them and let them get on with it by themselves. I'd say it would appeal to girls aged 8-15 as it doesn't look at all babyish. Some minimal knowledge of how a grown-up sewing machine works (or a visiting nanny with some !) is also a huge bonus and will avoid endless amounts of frustration !

Juliette was really proud when she started sewing complete lines with no problems and was over-the-moon to have completed her first project within a few minutes.

What did she make? A little quilt for Pierre's house fairy friend ! Aww top marks for big sister duties there !

It's a fun piece of equipment that has a lot of potential, but be prepared for a few teething problems as you get to grips with it. To really make the most of it, I would definitely find or buy an adapter to use with it instead of batteries, and start off by checking out some of the tutorials on youtube so you can see how it all works and how to rethread it. There aren't many videos specifically relating to this model yet, because it's a new product, but I'm sure that will change soon, and even watching a tutorial with a different brand will give you an idea of how to get started if you're an absolute beginner.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £29.99

See the whole range at

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

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Num Noms Wacky Bakers challenge

If you have a pre-teen or tween-aged daughter, you can't have failed to be swept up by Num Noms mania ! Trying to explain them to the uninitiated is sightly complicated (especially as Juliette taught me everything I know and it wasn't easy to follow !). Basically they are cute, stackable creatures representing different food items that smell nice, can be lip glosses, motorised toys, erasers or stampers

The idea is you pick a Nom - the base (lipgloss, eraser, etc) - and a Num (the hollow topper) and stack them to create a weird and wacky flavour combination. Some are sweet and some are savoury so you can get as wild and crazy as you want !

Num Noms challenged us to use the characters as inspiration for some real life wacky baking and sent us through a few recipe suggestions to start us off. We discovered Num Noms Yog Yog, with vanilla yogurt, blueberries and honeycomb pieces, inspired by Caramelly Go-Go, Mary Mulberry and Nilla Swirl.

Num Noms Deconstructed Ice Lolly, with bubblegum ice lolly, frozen banana and blueberries, inspired by Mary Mulberry, Betsy Bubblegum and Choco Nana.

And Num Noms Lemonade, with red grapefruit, orange and lemon, inspired by Lemon Burst, Orange Swirl and Pinkie Lemonade.

I told Juliette about the Num Noms Wacky Bakers challenge, and she thought it sounded great fun. She dashed off to grab her Num Noms and we looked around the kitchen to see what we had that could represent them. We found Creamy Pop (yogurt), Nana Pop (banana), Kiwi Freezie (kiwi fruit), OJ Pop (orange juice) and Wild Berry Freezie (dried wonder berries), that all sounded promising.

Juliette set to work,peeling and chopping up the fruit.

Closely watched by her Num Noms friends !

Our first creation was Creamy Froo-yo (fruity yogurt), inspired by Creamy Pop (yogurt), Nana Pop (banana) and Wild Berry Freezie (dried wonder berries).

We also made Num Noms Fruit Salad - a mixture of Nana Pop (banana), Wild Berry Freezie (dried wonder berries), Kiwi Freezie (kiwi fruit) and OJ Pop (orange juice).

This would actually be a really good way of encouraging picky eaters to try more fruit and it would certainly make school lunchboxes more magical, if you popped in the corresponding Num Noms to go with the fruit of the day !

Disclosure : We received some Num Noms in order to take part in the challenge.
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