Monday, 21 April 2014

Madhouse recipe : Thai Noodle Soup #seizetheflavour

This was my first attempt at experimenting with Thai flavours by myself, without relying on a ready-made jar or paste, and we were really pleased with the results. It would be a great way of using up leftover roast chicken too and would work well with prawns.

 Thai Noodle Soup

ingredients :

2 carrots, grated
3 spring onions, chopped very fine
1/4 red pepper, chopped very fine
6 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in water for several hours beforehand and sliced
200g noodles
1 litre stock (I used a Knorr Chicken Stock Pot)
2 star anise
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
lemon juice
Perfect Shake Thai 7 Spice
fresh coconut milk
fish sauce
soy sauce
1 Mixed Chillies Knorr Flavour Pot

Put the stock on to boil. When it reaches boiling point, add all the whole spices and the Perfect Shake Thai seasoning and leave to simmer for 1/2 hour for the flavours to develop.

Remove the whole spices and add the vegetables, mushrooms and noodles.

Time to juggle with the lemon juice, sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, coconut milk and chilli until you get the perfect balance. Start by adding the Chilli Flavour Pot and stirring until it is melted then 1 glass of the fresh coconut milk, then 1tbsp of each of the other ingredients (lemon juice, sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce) in turn, adjusting until you get the right balance of sweet, salty, spicy and sour.

Leave to simmer until the vegetables and noodles are cooked. I used the Dukan Konjac Shirataki noodles which took literally seconds but check the packet instructions. Leave to simmer for 10 minutes for the flavours to infuse.

Disclosure : I received a Knorr Flavour Pot Mystery Box to experiment with. Follow the #seizetheflavour hastag @UnileverKitchen to see everybody else's Mystery Box Masterpieces.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Madhouse recipe : Mac & cheese with Spinach & Bacon

Knorr Flavour Pots Mystery Box challenge

In honour of their new new Flavour Pots, Knorr recently hosted a Blogger Chef's Table event. They asked if I'd like to go along to try out the pots, which come in five flavours : Mixed Chillies, Curry, Mixed Herbs, Garlic and Peppercorn. Although I couldn't make it to the event, they kindly sent me the whole range so that I could get inventive at home instead.

They are very similar to the Stock Pots and Gravy Pots - they are little tubs of herb and spice-packed paste mixed with a little oil that you add to whatever you are cooking to unleash a fantastic instant hit of intense flavour.

They also sent through a fabulous selection of fresh ingredients for us to get inventive with, including some very exciting things like okra and fennel (that I've never cooked before), a fresh coconut (the kids had apparently never seen one before !) and a whole host of more traditional things like red, green and yellow peppers, chickpeas, pineapple, anchovies, chocolate  and kale. Hmmm that's a very interesting mixture !

I'll be sharing my Mystery Box Masterpieces with you and if you want to see how other people have risen to the challenge of "seizing the flavour in your meals" with Knorr Flavour Pots, you can search for the hashtag #seizetheflavour @UnileverKitchen.

I have the recipe of my first culinary experiment, Thai Noodle Soup, using the Chilli Flavour Pot coming right up. 

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

PG Tips Green, Herbal & Fruit Tea Party

PG tips have just launched a new range of fruit, herbal and green teas, and they sent a lovely hamper to the Madhouse so that we could try them all out.

The range comprises a whopping ten flavours so we were spoilt for choice. In the Green Tea category, you have the choice between Pure Green, Vibrant Mandarin Orange, Fragrant Jasmine, Zesty Lemon and Juicy Raspberry. The Fruit and Herbal Teas come in Delicate Camomile, Fresh Peppermint, Juicy Red Berries, Smooth Red Bush & Vanilla and Aromatic Spices & Mint.

We decided to have a bit of a (chimps?!) tea party when the Madhouse grandparents visited for Easter and got all of the different flavours out for everyone to try. We don't go for delicate tea cups here at The Madhouse, we just have a rather large collection of mismatched but much loved mugs ! (That's Madhouse Grandad peeking out behind my carefully constructed tea pyramid, if you're wondering !)

Even the kids wanted to get involved in the tea tasting !

We were delighted to discover that the pyramind-shaped tea bags (designed to give the tea room to infuse, not just to look snazzy !) have a picture of the cheeky PG Tips monkey attached to them.

After lots of slurping and debating, the Madhouse jury designated its top three.

Zesty Lemon - very soothing and reminiscent of Lemsip so definitely one to make you feel better when you have a cold or a sore throat.

Juicy Raspberry Green Tea - a lovely feel-good fruity fragrance.

And Juicy Red Berries Herbal Infusion - another refreshing fruity blend.

Overall, the kids preferred the fruit and herbal infusions to the green tea ones, which is great news as they are caffeine free and definitely a healthier alternative to sugar packed soft drinks. The green tea range offers some lovely delicate flavours, as well as the health benefits of green tea, that are great for unwinding at the end of a long day. The fact that there are ten varieties available means that you are bound to find one that you like and you could even buy several to suit your different moods - camomile to destress, peppermint after a meal, mandarin to perk you up, red fruit for a moment of indulgence ... I'll be experimenting with making strong fruity tea then sweetening and chilling it as iced tea for a lovely refreshing summer drink too.

The whole range is now available in all major supermarkets.

RRP : £1.19 for the herbal & fruit range, £1.29 for the green tea range (each pack contains 20 tea bags)

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.
Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Dukan Konjac Shirataki Noodles review

I was recently asked if I'd like to try out Dukan Shirataki noodles which contain zero carbs, are gluten-free and contain virtually ZERO calories! Well, to be perfectly honest, that sounded far too good to be true, but I was intrigued so I said that I'd be happy to give them a go.

I wasn't really sure what to expect but Shirataki noodles are thin, low carb, translucent,traditional Japanese noodles. They are made from yam flour, which comes from the roots of the yam-like Konjac plant grown in Japan and China. In texture, they remind me of the rice vermicelli that we used in our Saigon Summer Rolls and Pork & Veg Spring Rolls. These ones come in brine so you need to drain and rinse them before using them. They have a slightly unpleasant fishy smell but I tasted one straight from the pack and it actually tastes of absolutely nothing. As they have a totally neutral taste, they can be used with any sauce you desire, although Asian flavours would work best in my opinion.

I was amazed when I saw the nutritional information on the pack. 200g - that's the whole pack which is plenty for 2 or 3 people - contains 19.2 calories ! They also contain 4.4g of fibre which is probably why they're quite filling.

I used them in some Thai noodle soup which worked really well, although I couldn't decide whether I should use a fork or a spoon to eat it ! I'll share the recipe with you tomorrow. The noodles took literally seconds to warm through, although I left it to simmer for half an hour for the flavours to develop. I wasn't sure if the noodles would go soggy but they didn't change texture at all. They would also be great with sweet and sour chicken or other Chinese or Thai dishes.

I'm trying to lose weight but tend to avoid diet-foods as I prefer to eat "real food" that the whole family enjoys but in sensible portions. My husband ate this soup though and had no qualms about the noodles at all - I didn't tell him about them before serving them ! They're a great low-calorie (or almost no calorie) replacement for regular noodles or instead of rice without losing on taste or texture that I'd be happy to serve to the whole family.

If you're following the Dukan diet, these can be eaten with no limits at all stages of the programme.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £3.30 for 200g

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

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Sunday weigh-in : A stride in the right direction !

Ocado pocket money toys review

Ocado recently sent us through a selection of goodies from their pocket money toys range. We were impressed with the variety of products, appealing to all ages, and also the prices. These are great as everyday boredom busters or cheap treats that won't break the bank, but they're also perfect for party bags. We received :
Alien Reusable Foil Stickers/Creepy Crawlies Reusable Stickers - 99p (buy one get one free)
Bog Eyed Bug - £3
Dinosaur Bubbles - £1
Fairy Wand and Tiara - £2.50
Finger Frightener - 75p
Finger Spy - £1
Fresh Metal 3 inch Car - £1.50
Polystyrene Glider Plane - £1
Wikki Stix Rainbox Pack - £3
Wild World Safari Figures - £4.99
Wooden Racing Car - £4

Pierre was instantly intrigued and came for a good old nosey in the box !

He loved the finger frightener - I remember these from my own childhood !

Juliette loved the bog eyed bug which feels funny when you walk it through through your hands - I think this would make a great stress toy !

Then they both disappeared and went very quiet. When I went to see what they were up to, they were reenacting the circus zoo that we'd visited with the World Safari Figures !

To help your youngsters' pocket money stretch even further, there are currently lots of 3-for-2 offers across the range, valid until the 30th April

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

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Cadbury Mini Eggs Easter recipes created by Frances Quinn

Suteki! Mega Stencil Station review

An exciting delivery from Italy !

Last week, an email came in through Foodies100 from Marina Colonna, who produces and bottles extra virgin olive oils and citrus oils from her own olive groves on her family estate in southern Italy. She offered to send me through some samples of her oils and gave me a link to a video to give me a feel for her products. It's ten minutes long but I found it fascinating to see how the olives are harvested (by hand !) and turned into oil. You can have a look for yourselves right here :

Aaah I can almost hear the cicadas singing and smell the limoncello !

But enough dreaming of balmy summer days ... I fired off an email and put it to the back of my mind, thinking there was no way anything would arrive before Easter, so I was stunned when this lovely selection arrived yesterday. I'll be trying them out in recipes over the next few weeks but I wanted to give you a sneak preview.

They look fabulous, all lined up behind the hob on my worktop with their different colours and I'm totally spoilt for choice. Which one shall I try first?

COLONNA PEPERONCINO - “Merken” smoked chilli pepper from Chile is mixed with locally produced chilli pepper and infused in the newly produced Colonna extra virgin olive oil. It is a warm yellow colour with a hint of red and is ideal for anyone who enjoys a slightly peppery taste. Ideal for use on pasta with chilli and garlic, on pasta dishes with tomato or drizzled on bean soups, vegetables and to spice up your favourite dishes.

ROSAOLIVA - Extra virgin olive oil and natural rose aroma. Ideal for rose risotto, the preparation of recipes with prawns, cod and other similar fish as well as in cheesecake, crumble cake and chocolates.

MUSTARD - Extra virgin olive oil and natural aroma of mustard. Ideal for the preparation of steak and other meat dishes and as an ingredient in vinaigrette sauces and dips.

GINGER - Extra virgin olive oil and fresh root ginger. Fine, fresh root ginger from the Far East is milled with our own olives. This unusual union creates a remarkable spicy flavored oil. This oil is excellent for all Asian cookery, curries and rice dishes, as well as for lentil soups and to dress steamed vegetables, smoked meats and fish and it is just perfect with roast meats too.

AROMATICO - Extra virgin olive oil and cardamom seeds. One of our latest creations, this is a blend of olives and toasted cardamom seeds which together yield a delicately scented oil that is equally suited to savory and sweet dishes. Perfect to dress curried rice, steamed vegetables, raw fish, casseroles, bean soups and other pulses. Also great for the preparation of biscuits and cakes.

MIRTO - Extra virgin olive oil and myrtle berries. Fresh myrtle berries from the farm are crushed with the estate’s olives, which yields an oil with a gentle flavour. Ideal for cooking game and roast meat in general.

ARANCIO - Extra virgin olive oil and organic oranges. The delicate flavor of Sicilian oranges pervades this olive oil, created in the estate’s own mill by simultaneously crushing freshly picked olives and oranges.
Golden yellow with a warm perfume of orange, this oil is ideal to marinate raw fish, as a dressing for exotic salads, grilled fish and summer pasta dishes as well as in the preparation of game and other strong flavoured meats and naturally in biscuits and cakes.

BERGAMIA - Extra virgin olive oil and organic bergamot. Following the method that has become a company tradition, Calabrian bergamot are crushed with the estate’s olives onsite to flavor this slightly bitter, though fragrant citrus oil. We suggest using this oil as a dressing for raw fish carpaccio, pumpkin soup, pasta with clams or with fish roe and shell fish salads. It is also ideal for risotto with bergamot, to marinate shellfish as well as in the preparation of dishes using game, baked fish and naturally in crêpes, biscuits and sorbets.

MANDARINO - Extra virgin olive oil and organic mandarins. Milled on the estate together with our own olives, the warm sweet aroma of mandarins is released each time the bottle is opened. Excellent in exotic salads and to marinate raw, smoked and shell fish. It is also ideal in making sweet pastry, in biscuits and cakes.

GRANVERDE - Extra virgin olive oil and organic lemons. Selected estate olives are milled together with the peel of organic lemons to recreate a time-honored Colonna family recipe. Especially suitable for fish, as a marinade for shell fish, raw and smoked fish as well as a dressing for cured and dried meats. It is also excellent as a dip, on steamed vegetables and on pasta. This oil can also be used in the preparation of dishes
with white meat and baked fish.

COLONNA EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL - I can also try the unflavoured oil to see what I think.

I'll definitely be trying some of the infused oils in cakes and biscuits but I'll be looking for inspiration for the others so share your bright ideas with me in the comments !

for more information :

Disclosure : I received the products in order to write an honest review. Verdict on the way when I've had a play in the kitchen !

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Elizabeth Shaw Flute Selection Easter Egg review

Sunday weigh-in : A stride in the right direction !

This week, things just seemed to come together. The phone's repaired and the bathroom plumbing's working again which means I could catch up with the washing which in turn meant I could get rid of the piles of dirty clothes in the bedrooms and start having a clearout. I have a major dejunk planned for the next fortnight as I'm on holiday, so maybe releasing the clutter from the house is having a positive influence in other areas because I didn't really do much this week but I still racked up a loss !

I was delighted to stay in the 83's this week and even more delighted to see that I'm into the 82's today - 82.9kg. A whole kilo off last week :)

Positives of the week

- I managed to squeeze in two endurance jogs on the Wii Fit (2 x 2km) this week. It's a start !

- We have lots of long walks planned for the holidays :)

- After being stuck in the 84's for ages, I hit the 83's last week and the 82's this week - let's hope this pattern continues ! :)

- Last week's badges said 39lb to go and 22lb lost - this week it's 37lb to go and 24lb left to lose. Not too far until the left to lose one takes over the weight loss one ! My ticker struggled to get into double figures but is now up to 11kg lost :)

Current targets 

Last week's target :Get back into routine of listening to SlimPod and using the Wii Fit. Aim for a 1kg loss. (DONE!)

This week's targets : Stay in the 82's. Avoid the Easter chocolates ! Fit in exercise, whether that be long walks or the Wii fit.

Short-term targets : I have a new pair of bright blue target jeans to fit into ! (Done but I want them to be a bit looser.)

Longer-term targets : Get back to the 70-somethings. Get my badges back to "weight lost" being more than "left to lose"

STILL TO GO : 14.9kg

Feel free to add your weightloss posts to my weekly linkie - it's great to see how everyone else has been getting on and give each other support and encouragement. You can even grab the linkie code and add it to your own blog if you like. :)

Wobbles Wednesday

You might also like to join in with the #WobblesWednesday link-up over at AutismMumma

Created by MyFitnessPal - Free Calorie Counter

 MyFitnessPal - Nutrition Facts For Foods

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Madhouse recipe : Mac & cheese with Spinach & Bacon

Macaroni Cheese is something I always used to eat as a kid but it never sounds as exotic as the American version Mac and Cheese. Even Madhouse Daddy raves about the Kraft Mac and Cheese from a packet that he used to eat in the States when he was an au pair, so I decided to adapt a recipe I'd seen for American-style Mac & Cheese and add bacon and spinach.

Mac & Cheese with Spinach & Bacon

serves 6

ingredients :

500g  macaroni
3tbsp butter
3tbsp flour
1tbsp mustard powder
3 cups (720ml) milk
2 onions (1/2 cup)
1 bayleaf
1/2 tsp paprika
330g cheddar
1tsp salt
1 cup (150g) dried breadcrumbs
200g bacon lardons, cooked
150g spinach (fresh or frozen)

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water until just cooked. Drain and reserve.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the mustard and flour and mix until well blended and lump-free. Add the milk, onions, spinach, paprika and bay leaf. Cook on a low heat (just simmering) for 10 minutes, whisking until smooth. Take off the heat and remove the bay leaf.

Mix in 3/4 of the cheddar and the bacon and season with salt and pepper. Pour over the macaroni and mix well. Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar.

In a frying pan, toast the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the dish.

Put in the oven for 30 minutes and leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

You can add any extra ingredients you want to jazz things up : ham, chicken breast, chorizo or leftover cooked vegetables. The bacon and spinach combination worked really well though and the addition of crunchy breadcrumbs was a nice touch.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Madhouse recipe : Salmon & Spinach Puff-Pastry Parcels

Elizabeth Shaw Flute Selection Easter Egg review

When you're a kid, Easter treats absolutely must be egg-shaped or they just don't count. When you get older, you start wondering if it wouldn't be better value to buy regular bars of chocolates or whether a more traditional box of chocolates wouldn't offer a more gourmet choice of flavours. Well, with their new Flute Selection Easter Egg, Elizabeth Shaw have covered all bases.

As well as a lovely-sized  milk chocolate Easter egg, you also get two full sized boxes of their dark chocolate orange and milk amaretto flutes. These are utterly delicious and remind me of of a posh version of Matchmakers. They're ideal for nibbling on when you want a small chocolate fix (especially if you haven't got the willpower not to scoff your way through the entire egg !) or for serving with coffee at the end of a meal.

The Flute Selection Easter Egg is brand new for 2014 but Elizabeth Shaw proudly explain that they have been creating luxurious chocolates since 1881, never compromising on the quality of ingredients and sourcing a very specific blend of cocoa from the Côte d'Ivoire.

If you fancy trying the flutes, I have some great news for you - Telegraph readers can pick up a free box of Elizabeth Shaw chocolate flutes from more than 1,500 Tesco Express stores nationwide, with the newspaper this Sunday, April 20, 2014. That's got to be worth the price of the newspaper !

Happy Easter !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £10 (for 385g)

Available at Sainsbury’s and Ocado

for more information :

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

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Cadbury Mini Eggs Easter recipes created by Frances Quinn

Fab freebies of the week 19/4/14

Have a lovely Easter weekend and enjoy this week's freebie roundup.:)

For a free sample of Krinklies new construction toy, head over to their website

Smyths toy shops have a free Easter egg hunt today - call in from 10-4 to claim your free chocolatey treat. Details here

free box of Elizabeth Shaw chocolate flutes from more than 1,500 Tesco Express stores nationwide, with the newspaper this Sunday, April 20, 2014 - details here

Amazon are offering a £2 voucher for their app store

Tesco's are having their annual online Easter egg hunt too and they have 300,000 Malteaser Choc bunnies up for grabs

Talking of competitions with good odds, ASDA have 1700 bull-shaped Colman's gravy boats to give away.

Pilot have 1500 pens up for grabs on their Facebook page

And Mirenesse have 1000 lip-plumping glosses on their facebook page

Digiarty are giving away WinX DVD Ripper for free (until May 10th - usually $59.99)

Riversol will send you skincare samples for filling in their survey

Take the Tempur Mattress Challenge instore and get a free travel pillow (worth £60)

Too late for the Facebook chat but you might still be able to request skincare samples from Green People

‏@teaindiauk So nice to hear everyone is loving their delicious free #chai #sample packs! Claim yours here

Ancestry UK are offering free access to World War 1 records this weekend

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time.

You may also like to enter my giveaways :

Giveaway #382 : Win a Kids 'Tweedy Rabbit' Easter Bunny Sewing Kit - closing date 29/4