Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Revisiting Tunisia with Kitchen Trotter this month

This month's Kitchen Trotter destination is Tunisia, a country we have already visited in real life (we went to Zarzis, just next to Djerba, in 2012 - click through to see our photos) so we already knew some of the recipes. It won't be any hardship to revisit them though as they are things that the whole family enjoyed eating.

A bag of soft figs (I remember eating fresh figs, warm from the sun, on holiday, that were so ripe they split open as soon as you picked them up) and frik, a type of couscous made from barley. There should also have been some dates but they were left out of the parcel by accident so they'll be arriving separately.

There were three jars in this box - Berber harissa, a spicy red sauce made from crushed chillis, garlic and spices; mechouia salad, a mixture of grilled marinated vegetables; and a tin of ground caraway, which has a fragrance reminiscent of citrus fruit and aniseed.

After a Tunisian feast, it's time to recreate the hammam with this exfoliating kessa glove and a bar of Baraka Black Seed Oil soap.

On to the all important recipes : 

Mechouia Blankit, which look like a Tunisian take on bruschetta - grilled bread topped with cheese, olives, marinated vegetables and boiled egg.

Merguez (spicy sausage) chakchouka, a dish that we first discovered in Morocco, that I blogged about here, and have since made on a number of occasions.

Chorba frik, a rich soup of lamb, barley and vegetables, to warm your heart and soul. 

Makrout, a date stuffed Tunisian biscuit

These look like some great winter warmers that the whole family will enjoy. I'll be back to share the recipes with you very soon.

The festive appeal of Gel-A-Peel #CraftChristmas

As you can see in the background, here at The Madhouse, the Christmas tree is now up and the countdown to the festivities has well and truly begun. That invariably seems to involve vast amounts of baking and crafting ! Juliette was therefore over the moon to get her hands on a box of Gel-A-Peel to put through its paces.

Inside the box, there were three pink and purple sparkly gel pens with a variety of tips. It reminded us of a cross between glitter glue pens and a piping bag for icing !

Each of the tips gives a different finish - you can choose between round tip, star tip, rake tip, spike effect and, if you're feeling really creative, rainbow effect.

In our box, there was also a selection of accessories to create unique pieces of jewellery - some hair clips, necklace and earring fasteners, as well as the all important design sheets and the plastic sheet that you lay over your chosen design as a template, before squirting on the Gel-a-peel, leaving it to set, then, as the name suggests, peeling it off.

The Gel-A-Peel website shows you all sorts of designs that you can recreate, or you can just let your imagination go wild and come up with your own designs.

As we're into the run-up to Christmas, Gel-A-Peel sent us through a selection of Christmassy items to decorate - a fabric Christmas stocking, a cardboard stocking tree ornament and a polystyrene star - which highlights the range of materials that you can use as a creative base for your artwork.

Within seconds, Juliette was off. There are no complicated instructions to read - it really is a case of selecting and attaching a tip then squeezing it out of the tube. Juliette started with a hairclip and, even though this was her first ever attempt, she quite successfully achieved the scalloped effect that she wanted.

Pierre was equally impressed and wanted to join in too, so I found some more accessories that he could decorate. He's only seven but found it just as easy to use with no input from me (apart from pulling off the stoppers the first time we used the pens, because they were stuck in tight).

It was great to find an activity that the kids could get on with all by themselves, after what had turned out to be a very busy day sorting out the decorations and wrapping presents !

Juliette also wanted to test the peel-off qualities so she started making a bracelet, using one of the designs in the box. It's actually a lot less fiddly than it looks, although she did stop halfway, deciding to let the first part dry out before starting the next part, because she was worried about smudging it with her hand and messing up all her hard work.

The kids had great fun and made some very cute designs that will have pride of place on the Christmas tree. 

The only very slight fail of the whole session was from me - I decided to wash the tips in hot soapy water before the gel set hard. Big mistake - I got covered in a gooey, sticky, greasy residue that was hard to get off my hands. After reading the instructions, I noticed that you're supposed to let it set hard and then use the little plastic scraper to clear out the tips. That definitely sounds easier and above all cleaner !

If you have crafty kids, they'd definitely love to find a pack of Gel-A-Peel in their Christmas stockings, but the design possibilities are numerous and intricate enough that I think it would also appeal to teens and even grown-ups.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Madhouse recipe : Brie with fruit and nuts en croute

Madhouse Daddy and Juliette are both big fans of stinky French cheeses, so when I saw a wedge of Brie in the reduced-to-clear section of the supermarket, I threw it in my shopping basket. For some reason, nobody ate it though, so a week later, when I saw this recipe for Brie en Croute on the Food Network website, I thought it would be a great way of using it up. The original recipe used caramelised walnuts but I used up some odds and ends from the cupboards.

 It would have been great but for some reason, my brie didn't melt - it would have been much better with camembert, raclette or reblochon, which all melt to create a gooey ooziness that would have been perfect. If you click through to the original recipe, you'll see that that's what their brie did too - maybe there was a problem with mine ! The flavours worked well together but it was a bit dry and needed the creaminess of melted cheese.

Brie with fruit and nuts en croute

ingredients :

a sheet ready-made puff pastry
1 brie
a handful of dried fruit and nuts (I used a mix of almonds, pumpkin seeds, soya beans and cranberries)
a little milk to brush

Lay the puff pastry out in an ovenproof dish. I was a bit heavy-handed when brushing with the milk and the pastry stuck like glue to the foil so with hindsight, I wouldn't put it on foil - just use a greased baking sheet or dish.

Because my brie was a wedge shape that would have been very uneven inside the pastry, I chopped it into vaguely equal sized chunks.

Scatter over a good handful of fruit and nuts - use whatever you have, to add some crunch and sweetness to contrast with the (what should have been) salty, creamy cheese.

This was I used which worked well, but it was just a case of whatever was in the cupboard.

Fold the edges of the pastry to the middle, press together to seal and brush with milk.

Bake at 180° for half an hour until the pastry is golden brown and cooked through.

The texture was disappointing but the flavours worked well and it was a great way of using up odds and ends.

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Christmas gift inspiration for the women in your life, whatever their age


These two pictures pretty much sum up our Sunday afternoon at The Madhouse. First we put up the Christmas tree, then I unearthed all the things I've been squirreling away since the summer as Christmas gifts. I got through almost three rolls of wrapping paper but I won in the end ! Some of the things in the pile were products that we had been sent to review or that had caught my eye but I wasn't sure who would be the lucky recipient - I realised that they would appeal just as much to Juliette (aged 11) as Sophie (15) or even me (ahem ... 44), making them the ultimate Christmas gifts for sisters, girlfriends, aunties or even work colleagues in the office secret Santa when you're short on inspiration !

You can't go wrong with nice smellies and beauty products, but these ones from Beauty Kitchen are extra cool because you get to make them yourself. Part craft kit, part science lesson, part pampering treat but 100% fun, whatever your age !

Stuffed inside the Create Your Own Bath Bombs jar (which can easily be recycled after use, to store nail varnish, make up or maybe your loose change for whenever a me-time kitty is needed !) is everything you need to make 300g of fizzy bathtime treats : 2 x bath bomb moulds, citric acid, sodium bicarb, chill me essential oil, cranberry seeds & wild flower seeds. There are detailed instructions and the kit contains 100% natural ingredients. RRP : was £20, now £12.

If you haven't got a bath, or if you just want mistletoe-ready kissable lips, you might prefer the Create Your Own Lip Balms kit, which comes in a can that looks just like a tin of soup and contains the material to make four lip balms : Moisturisinig Cocoa Butter, Moistuising Beeswax, Shimmer Mica Powder, 4 Lip Balm Tins, 4 Lip Balm Labels, mini spatula and instructions. (You need to add sunflower oil.) Just like all the other Beauty Kitchen products, they are 100% natural with no parabens, no sulphates, no synthetic fragrance, no this, no that, no the other ... ! (RRP : was £15, now £10)

If you get in very quick, both of these products can currently be won on the Beauty Kitchen facebook page but the winners will be announced today so don't hang about !

If you have a wannabe pop star in your midst or someone who'd like to get the party started with their friends before a night out, the Lucky Voice Karaoke Kit (RRP £50) is sure to be a big hit. It will transform your home computer into the ultimate karaoke machine, giving you access to thousands of songs or even ready-made playlists. It is also easy to use (no midnight assembling for tired parents here) - simply connect the laptop and speakers to the kit, create an account and get singing.

You can use it on your laptop, play it from your tablet, or sing off your phone. Lucky Voice have created the ultimate karaoke app for iPhone and iPad, which is free to download from the app store with a 14-day free trial which leads to a £1.49/week subscription fee.

After a phenomenally successful year, Pokemon has won over a whole new generation of fans, both old and young. Anyone with a smartphone, tablet or device that is constantly running out of juice will love one of these Pokemon Power Banks (RRP £14.99). It has a 5,000 mAh lithium polymer battery, is suitable to charge all USB devices and has a 50% precharge straight from the box. It also has safe protection against short circuit and temperature-detection software, as well as a 4-LED battery indicator. Available at Asda, Argos, Tesco, HMV, Smyths Toys, Harrods. Hamleys and Dixons.

If you want the perfect feel-good Christmas 'tail', look no further than Fiona Harrison’s debut novel, A Pug Like Percy. Percy is homeless, abandoned by his owner at an animal rescue centre on a cold winter’s night, so when he finds a loving new home with Gail and her family, his deepest wish is that this time, it’s forever. Gail, on the other hand, hopes that Percy will be the little miracle her family so desperately needs to bring happiness back into their home. But as Gail and her husband, Simon, struggle to cope with their young daughter Jenny’s frequent trips to hospital, the strain on the family causes the couple to increasingly communicate through arguments. As Christmas nears and the family reach breaking point, Percy must use all his canine wiles to show them what they could lose. Is Percy the furry friend they’ve all been waiting for?

The story focuses on a young couple coping with their daughter’s dilated cardiomyopathy and it’s a story that brings a sense of hope to any family dealing with sick children, especially in the build up to Christmas. In writing this book, Fiona worked closely with Great Ormond Street, hearing personal stories from families who are dealing with their child’s sickness every day, those for whom the hospital is like a second home, and learning how families and staff try to make like as normal as possible for the child. What Fiona was really keen to portray in the book was that dilated cardiomyopathy is not a death sentence, there is hope, and during the build up to Christmas, this is a really important message for families that will not experience it in the traditional way we imagine. 

Staying on the animal theme, if you want something quirky that is perfect for ramping up the cosiness (or hygge, if you've jumped on the new buzzword !) of your home this winter, with a surprising twist, Pyropets are the answer ! Pyropets are a collection of cute geometric animal shaped candles with metal skeletons hiding inside. The idea came to Icelandic designer Thorunn Arnadottir one Christmas when she saw a forlorn Santa Claus candle with his head half melted away. She wondered how she could elevate this common-place ritual sacrifice into a true theatre of the macabre.

Strike a match and watch Pyropets transform from charming backyard animals to brooding, macabre skeletons with fire in their eyes. Creepy? Just slightly. Delightful? Definitely. You can choose between cats (£24), rabbits (£20), birds (£12) and the perfectly seasonal reindeer (£25), as well as mini versions without skeletons. Just one word of advice - stand them on a large plate to catch the melting wax before lighting them.

Let's hear it for the girls ! Which of your female friends or relatives would like one of these ?

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

Monday, 5 December 2016

How was your lunch today ? Tasty ? Delicious ?

Conversation about food has never been so popular, with almost a third of people (30%) admitting to sharing food pictures on social media. On average, we send at least one food-related text or message to friends and family every single day. New research has revealed that we now think, plan and talk about food for more than 16 hours a week on average (that’s almost six years of our adult lives), putting it on par with the nation’s favourite topic of conversation, the weather. Despite this, when it comes to complimenting the chef, ‘delicious’, ‘tasty’ and ‘nice’ are still top of our vocabulary, with most Britons using only six different words to describe meals each week.

To expand this limited list, Sainsbury’s has recruited linguist Susie Dent to add a little flavour to the nation’s foodie vocabulary, unveiling ‘The Taste Dictionary: 101 ways to describe each mouthful’. The dictionary includes a plethora of words to inspire the nation when describing some of their best-loved foods. I love the sound of ‘neptunian’ (meaning: carrying the strong flavour of the sea), ‘fire-fanged’ (meaning: Having a scorched appearance or taste) and ‘lickerous’ (meaning: sweet and tempting) and will definitely have to try using them out in an upcoming recipe post !

This got me going through some of my most recent recipe posts and deciding which words would be best-suited to them. My Filipino dish, Binagoongan Talong, was both acetous (vinegary in taste) and piscose (fishy in taste), despite being a pork-based recipe.

The decadent Macabella Cheesecake was claggy (clotted and sticky in texture) but decidedly lickerous (sweet and tempting).

Spanish-style Lemon, Rosemary & Paprika Chicken and Potatoes was conflagrant (inducing a peppery or hot sensation) and hogo (Highly flavoured or seasoned, from the French 'haut goût'). Actually, as a dual nationality English/French family, we found this last one totally ridiculous and couldn't figure out how it was supposed to be pronounced, so I could never use it in a serious conversation, because it makes me sound like someone out of Allo Allo !

The Sainsbury’s Taste Dictionary has been created as a limited run of books and is available to download as a PDF. Join the conversation and share your favourite words on Instagram or Twitter using @SainsburysNews and #TasteDictionary. 

Disclosure : I received a shopping voucher to get my creative culinary and linguistic juices flowing !

The final Bake Box for 2016 (and forever *sniff*) (review)

The latest Bake Box has arrived but it is a bit bittersweet this time around because the company have announced that they are ceasing the Bake Box scheme, so this will the last ever Bake Box they send out. Awww. I've had great fun over the past year trying out the recipes and techniques and have come up with some really beautiful creations that I never thought I'd manage to pull off.

The theme of this month's box is perfect for the time of year : Snowflakes and Stars. Oooh I detect a glittering array of festive bakes not far off !

I discovered lots of festive themed bakeware inside the box - some snowflake plunger cutters, a set of star cookie cutters, jolly Santa & snowman cutters and embossers, mini star cases and a silicone star-shaped mould.

We're all really excited about making these festive bakes and I love the fact that there are recipes to suit all levels. The kids will love helping to make and decorate the Snowflake Dreams, Gingerbread Wreath, Fun Festive Biscuits and Star Christmas Cake, but I'll need maximum concentration to pull of the show-stopping Winter Sparkle Cake (everyone out of the kitchen !) and even the Syllabub Star Cups look a bit fiddly. Bake Box always nudges me just outside of my comfort zone though, which is fabulous, because I always come away feeling more confident and acquire new baking skills.

Check out my reviews of the earlier boxes to see the Spots & StripesTeddy Bears' Picnic, Flower Power and I Love New York Bake Boxes. There was also a Springtime in Paris box that I didn't review. They are all currently available on the Bake Box website, priced at £14.99 (£17.98 including shipping). If you have a keen baker in your midst, they would make an absolutely wonderful Christmas present.

for more information :

Disclosure : I received the box for free in order to write an honest review. I'll be sharing my attempts at recreating the bakes over the coming weeks.