Sunday, 5 July 2015

Welcome to the dark side ! (Magic Blackout Blind review)

As I was born and brought up in England, I love waking up to the sun streaming in through the windows on a summer's morning, inviting me to get up and get outside and have some fun. As Madhouse Daddy was born and brought up in France, where all houses have shutters so people sleep in absolute darkness, he, on the other hand, always grumbles when we go on holiday because he wakes up too early and can't get to sleep because of the light coming in through the curtains. Well, this could well be the solution : the Magic Blackout Blind, a temporary window covering that’s guaranteed to completely block out all the light, even at a window’s edges. Although I tend to roll my eyes at Madhouse Daddy's grumbling, research has apparently shown that sleeping in total darkness ensures a good night’s sleep and is much healthier for people, whatever their age, so I guess I'll have to admit defeat on this one !

The Magic Blackout Blinds come as perforated sheets (so that they're easy to rip off) on a roll. Each roll comprises 10 x A1 sheets (60cm by 80cm), which can be overlapped to cover larger windows or cut to size for smaller ones. It’s quick and easy to use as the sheets cling using static, so no adhesive is needed and it leaves no nasty marks on windows. What’s more, each of the 10 sheets can be reused up to 100 times.

They really are easy to put in place and they can be peeled off and stuck back in place within seconds. I remember many times when the Madhouse kids were small and we wanted to put them down for a nap but didn't want to use the noisy rolling blinds in case it woke them up - this would be a great alternative.

They've been an absolute Godsend for blocking out the sun which always goes straight in my eyes when I'm watching the TV in the evening. As it sets, I can move the blind along so that it's always in exactly the right place without pulling the curtains to shut out all the light, which seems a shame.

The Magic Blackout Blind also works as an instant blackboard for children to chalk on, because it sticks to walls as well as windows. 

Pierre got busy personalising his blind before putting it on his window to keep the bedroom cool during the heatwave by blocking out some of the sunshine.

The Magic Blackout Blind has also got the thumbs up from gamers and home movie enthusiasts, as it allows them to create the perfect darkened environment. Owners of aquariums also love it, as a Magic Blackout Blind creates a background that makes the colour of fish really stand out.

star rating : 4.5/5

Available online at, a single roll costs £30 or a twin pack costs £49.

Also available at Jo Jo Maman Bebe, Great Little Trading Company, NCT shop, Ryman Stationery, Argos and Amazon.

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

Madhouse recipe : No-bake marscapone cheesecake

Holyart, an online e-commerce for religious and natural products made by a number of monasteries, recently got in touch and asked if I'd like to try out some of their foodie products. They are based in Italy but sell all over the world and they sent me two of their products to try out: a jar of "Limoni E Mapo", lemon and tangelo marmalade made by the discalced Carmelites of San Remo in Italy, which is produced according to ancient recipes and artisanal methods, and extra bitter cocoa powder, produced by the trappist monks of the Frattocchie monastery using traditional recipes and 100% natural ingredients.

The cocoa powder is as bitter as it sounds and the lemon and tangelo marmalade is gorgeously fresh and fruity but also very tart, so I decided I needed to incorporate them into a sweet dessert recipe (although I want to try the marmalade in a glaze on pork or chicken too). As it's been really hot lately, I've been trying lots of no-bake recipes so this marscapone cheesecake was ideal. It's quick and simple to put together and is really refreshing at the end of a meal.

No-bake marscapone cheesecake


5 digestive biscuits
40g butter
250g marscapone
80g sugar
squeeze of lemon juice

topping 1 :  lemon and tangelo marmalade

topping 2 : 1 banana + extra bitter cocoa powder + crushed pasteli (sesame/honey biscuits)

Put the biscuits in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin.

Melt the butter in the microwave and mix in the biscuit crumbs.

Press into the bottom of individual ramekins and put in the fridge to chill.

Gently fold the sugar and lemon juice into the marscapone with a spatula.

Spoon the marscapone mixture on top of the biscuit bases then dollop a tablespoonful of lemon and tangelo marmalade on top.

These were my favourites because they are really fresh, fruity and zesty.

For the second option, I placed slices of banana in the ramekins then sprinkled cocoa powder and crushed pasteli on top. (Pasteli are the sesame/honey biscuits that I had in my Greek-themed Kitchen Trotter box.)

The kids loved these ones and the different flavours and textures all balanced perfectly - soft sweet banana, crunchy sweet honey/sesame biscuit, bitter cocoa powder, cold smooth marscapone ...

This is such a quick dessert - it takes all of ten minutes to throw together - but it looks and tastes really special.

Disclosure : I received the marmalade and cocoa powder in order to write an honest review and use them in a recipe.

#silentSunday #mySundayphoto #SundaySnap 5/7/15

I couldn't decide which one to use so you get both !

Sunday SnapOneDad3Girls

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Magic Whiteboard Reusable Whiteboard Books review

Blackboards, whiteboards and magic slates have always been popular toys for kids - I played with them in my own childhood back in the seventies and all three of the Madhouse kids have played or are still playing with them. There's something slightly addictive about writing or drawing then rubbing it all out and being able to start all over again with a clean slate. Dragons' Den winners Magic Whiteboard have taken this idea and transformed it into a range of A5 and A4-sized reusable whiteboard notebooks for children.

They can be used with any dry marker pens and are easy to wipe clean with a cloth, tissue or pencil eraser (or fingers, as is often the case with Pierre !). The great thing about them is, they don't smudge when you close them.

There are various formats available - plain white, ruled with margin, handwriting, manuscript (for music), squared/gridded (for maths) ... They even do branded ones for businesses.

Pierre has been having great fun writing little messages and copying words from around the house - although he obviously needs a bit more practice to stay on the lines ! I was surprised to see that big sisters Juliette and Sophie have also been asking to use them, so they obviously appeal to all ages.

Even more innovative is their wipeable and reusable colouring book, which is unlike anything I've ever seen. 

When I saw that it only contained eight pages (like the writing books, but they also come in 40 page versions), I wasn't sure that that would be enough to keep Pierre entertained, but the fact that you can wipe them clean and start all over again as many times as you want means that that's plenty to keep you going.

You can use dry marker pens or dry erase crayons (in other words, wax crayons) which are both easy to wipe clean. The wax crayons don't work that well in terms of coverage - they were good enough for Pierre but the girls wanted a more precise and neat effect so they were slightly less impressed - so I'll be looking into buying some more coloured marker pens, because at the moment they only have a choice of blue, black or red.

We were impressed with the concept though and I'll definitely be adopting the notebooks instead of rough paper when doing homework. It saves on waste paper and also makes it easier to correct mistakes rather than scribbling out and rewriting words or numbers several times which makes them hard to read. They're also great for games like Pictionary or keeping score at Scrabble, or even for quick games like noughts and crosses and hangman - I'll be popping them in the Trunki to keep the kids entertained at the airport this summer !

If you're looking at this thinking that they'd be great to use at school, you'd be right too. Even better news is that Magic Whiteboard will be giving away free classroom packs from September - click through to find out more.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £2.49-£2.99 for the writing books, £1.99 for the colouring book

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

Madhouse recipe : Sweet & Spicy Chicken, Leek & Potato Pasties

I love making pasties - just grab a pack of readymade puff pastry, fill in with whatever's in the fridge, slam it in the oven and you're good to go! I've already tried a few different options - sausagemeat pasties, Christmas pasties, British Ploughman's Pasties, ... - but these Sweet & Spicy Chicken, Leek & Potato Pasties were a stroke of genius, partly because they tasted great and partly because they did a fab job of using up various condiments that had been lingering in the fridge !

This was the starting point - some leftover boiled potatoes and roast chicken. Time to get inventive !

Sweet & Spicy Chicken, Leek & Potato Pasties

ingredients :
(serves 4)

1 pack of readymade puff pastry
leftover boiled potatoes
leftover roast chicken
1 leek
drizzle of olive oil
4tbsp spicy BBQ sauce
4tbsp Maille Honey Mustard
garlic salt, lime pepper

Heat the oil in a frying pan and gently cook the leek for a few minutes.Finely dice the potato and chicken and add to the pan. Cook until warmed through and nicely browned. Turn off the heat and dollop on the honey mustard and BBQ sauce.

Season and stir until everything is nicely combined. Taste and adjust seasoning or add more BBQ sauce/mustard as needed.

Cut the puff pastry into four.

Split the filling between them. Fold the edges over to meet in the middle and crimp to seal.

Brush with a little milk and pop in the oven for 20-30 minutes at 180° until the pastry is cooked and golden brown. Serve hot or cold.

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

Fab freebies of the week 4/7/15

I'm now on holiday for the whole summer which means I should have more time for hunting out exclusive freebies to share with you - this week's roundup seems to be a bumper crop, so that starts us off nicely !


If you want a last minute day out, you can get free tickets to the Allergy & Free From Show (today and tomorrow)

Even if you can't make it, you may want to sign up : "Become one of our special #FreeFromer friends to receive freebies and offers from us, our partners and exhibitors! Sign up today" (scroll halfway down the page)

On UKMumsTV : Following the launch of The Ugglys Pet Shop this Spring, we’ve decided we want to see your outrageous pet pics! Does your dog have a strange marking, or do you own a parrot with a peculiar beak? Send your pictures to and the first 50 will receive a poster and two samples of The Ugglys Pet Shop characters.

Enter your email address and click submit to be entered into a prize draw to win £1000 worth of shopping vouchers! Then pull the lever down for your chance to win one of 500 £5 Bernard Matthews vouchers which they will be giving out every day for 100 days!

Free can of Tropical Red Bull if you manage to spot three cans in the picture

Get a free punnet of Picota cherries in your Sainsbury's online shop with code FRPCTCHRRES at the checkout

You can claim a Huggies Pull Up sample along with a Disney sticker reward chart

If you haven't signed up yet, I recommend the Tesco Home Panels site - I've just been accepted to trial a pair of men's shorts and over the past few months, I've also had a T-shirt and a couple of men's shirts too. You just need to answer a quick survey after receiving the item and wearing it for a few weeks. (If you do sign up, can you put Cheryl Pasquier/ in the "where did you hear about us?"/"through a friend" section - I'll get extra points though I actually have no idea what they relate to !)

Twisted Twee print personalised gifts and, when they get it wrong, they give the offending articles away on Facebook once a week - always worth a look. I nabbed a "Laa's side" one yesterday, ust missing out on a "PP's side" one which would have been perfect for Pierre !

Estée Lauder are offering a free 10-day foundation sample for you and a friend - "Take away your 10 day sample. Free. We're inviting you and a friend to join us at our #DoubleConfidence event now. Simply fill in your email address to download your voucher and visit us at your nearest counter to redeem." (Scroll 3/4 of the way down the page.)

Qwiddle, a free online piggybank for children, are giving readers the chance to win a 16GB iPad Mini and the first 1,000 competition entries will receive a £5 credit into their child’s Qwiddle account when they sign-up! Use code LSM01

Sugar and Crumbs ‏@SugarandCrumbs Jun 24 Attention all Cake Bakers - try our fabulous flavours with a FREE sample. Call us on 0161 3935056 or DM us. One try and you'll be hooked :-)

MuscleTea ‏@MuscleTea_UK Jun 29 Right now you can order a FREE MuscleTea Alpha-Blend Sample -

Woohoo! It's one week until National Piña Colada Day! To celebrate we're giving you a free Piña Colada in any of our participating bars  around the UK on 10th or 11th July!!

There are 175,000 UltraLift Challenge 14-day trial sample packs (14 x 1.5ml UltraLift Complete Beauty Day Cream sachets and a wrinkle reader).

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 giveaways :

Giveaway #489 : Win a summer fun prize pack - closing date 14/7

Giveaway #488 : Win a bundle of Minions books - closing date 10/7

Friday, 3 July 2015

#readcookeat recipe : Onion Tart (The Silent Hours)

Last month, I read The Silent Hours by Cesca Major (click through to read my review). The book is set in wartime France so food was in short supply. I did find a few foodie mentions though, that I noted down as I was reading :

p34 " 'Papa hates it when I eat in the street, but I'm starving,' she explains, removing a latticed apple strudel  entirely from the bag, tearing it in half and holding one out for me." Now this had me salivating, but I've already made apple strudel so I moved on to the next foodie mention.

The next food references came in a poignant letter home from the front lines, with a soldier reminiscing about his mum's home cooking that he misses. (p38) "As for me , I shall continue to daydream of Mother's rillettes de boeuf and the lemon soufflé like air that melts the moment it is in the mouth. I'm practically slobbering over this letter now. I think we've all become quite obsessed, continually talking about food and drink. It seems everyone's mother makes the best meat course in France." I've eaten rillettes de porc, kind of like a cross between pulled pork and pâté, but I'd never thought of making my own. I think they'd be quite complicated and time consuming to make. Soufflé is something that I've never dared to try because everyone always says they're hard to pull off - maybe I will try one day, but not today !

Now this was a hot contender for my #readcookeat recipe choice. (p73) "Have they been talking about me? Have I done something wrong? I rack my brains to think of something I might have done that could get me into trouble. Was it from a couple of days ago when I pinched Eléonore for taking the last of the clafoutis? She squealed and ran off at the time but, knowing her, she probably ran weeping to Maman with more stories of how I'd done her harm." Ahhh clafoutis - the perfect summer dessert. Fresh fruit, often ripe cherries, dropped into a custard tart and baked until they sink. Hmmmm. I'll definitely come back to this one.

But this is what I ultimately decided to recreate because it's the perfect no-fuss meal when it's too hot to cook anything complicated or time consuming. (p31) "We eat onion tartlets balanced on newspaper in our laps, and have grenadine with water from a flask Maman passes back.The tartlets are freshly baked and satisfactory but I prefer our normal hot meal." Perfect during this heatwave !

Onion Tart

ingredients :

1 pack of ready-made puff pastry
8 onions
a knob of butter and a drizzle of olive oil
a pinch of salt, pepper and thyme
goat's cheese

First, grab a pack of tissues and get peeling and chopping onions ! About 4-5 big ones or 8 smallish ones should do it.

Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan and add a drizzle of olive oil so it doesn't burn. Toss in the onions and reduce the heat.

Now, patience is a virtue. Leave to cook gently on a low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time, until they are lovely and soft and starting to caramelise. Letting them sweat and cook slowly really draws out their sweetness.

Line a pie dish with the puff pastry. Pour in the onions. Add a generous sprinkle of thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Arrange slices of goat's cheese on top and pop in the oven at 180° for about 20 minutes until the pastry is cooked and nicely golden brown and the cheese has started to melt.

Serve warm with buttery boiled potatoes and vegetables or cold with salad. Or eat them off your lap in the back of the car to really get into the spirit of the novel !

Fancy cooking the books? Join in with the #readcookeat linkie over at Chez Maximka

Madhouse recipe : Giant cookie to share

When I saw the idea of a  Pizzookie or One Pan Cookie - basically a giant cookie to share - on French foodie blog Les Gourmands {Disent} d'Amélie, I thought we definitely needed to give it a go here at The Madhouse. Here's how we got on.

Giant cookie to share

ingredients :

100 g butter
1 pinch salt
130g sugar (preferably  light brown)
1 egg
200g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Smarties (or chocolate chips or nuts or whatever else takes your fancy really !)

Melt the butter directly in the frying pan that you will be using for your cookie.

Turn off the heat and mix in the sugar. Leave to cool for a few minutes then mix in the egg. (If you don't leave it to cool, it will scramble !)

Add the flour, baking powder and salt and blend together with a spatula.

Press it out to cover the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with Smarties.

Lots and lots of Smarties !

Bake in the oven at 180° for 15 minutes.

Leave to cool in the pan.

Cut into wedges and serve. I was worried it might stick or crumble but the slices came out really easily. The kids thought it was great fun to have a giant cookie to share. I did find it slightly drier than normal cookies though, maybe because of the longer cooking time.