Wednesday, 25 April 2018

#KitchenClearout recipe : Poutine-style chicken & potatoes

I'm on holiday and that usually means I turn to my baking cupboard for a huge clearout, using up ends of packets and seeing what is lurking right at the back. For some reason, this time I decided to tackle the fridge. After a huge stocktake and dejunk of all the half-used condiments and assorted jars, I got out all the leftovers and decided to throw them all together and see what happened. It was actually quite successful ! We'd been to a restaurant with the visiting French grandparents earlier in the week and I opted for a Canadian dish called poutine - their version was made with pulled pork in gravy and BBQ sauce, with chips mixed in and cheese melted on top. That was my inspiration for using up the leftovers from Sunday lunch (and whatever else was in the fridge !).

After a good rummage, I had : 2 roast chicken thighs, 1 ready-cooked smoked chicken thigh, some chips from the chippy - the kids have jumped on board the zero food waste bandwagon and won't throw anything away now ! - some roast potatoes and carrots, as well as some gravy. I also had the end of a bag of grated cheese and some puff pastry offcuts.

 Poutine-style chicken & potatoes

ingredients :

leftover cooked chicken
leftover cooked carrots
leftover cooked roast potatoes
leftover cooked chips
BBQ sauce
offcuts of puff pastry (just because they were there and needed using up !)
grated cheese

Chop the chicken into chunks and put it in an oven-proof dish. Add the carrots, a good squeeze of smoky BBQ sauce and gravy and give it a stir. Scatter over the offcuts of puff pastry (if you happen to have any to hand - I wouldn't add them specially !) and put in the oven at 180° for half an hour while you prepare the potatoes.

Chop the roast potatoes into thick slices and rissole in a large frying pan until they start going golden and crispy. Don't move them about too often, to allow the brown crust to develop. After 10-15 minutes, when they are getting nicely browned, add the chips. Cook for a further 5 minutes until they are heated through and crispy.

Season with salt and pepper. Scatter over the grated cheese and heat for a couple more minutes until it has melted. If you let the cheese melt through to the bottom of the frying pan, it will make a lovely layer of crispy cheese.

Serve the cheesy potatoes then pour the chicken mixture on top.

The kids did say that it looked like a pile of sick, but they wolfed it down all the same ! Tummy fill 1, land fill 0 :)

If you want to see a recipe for a more authentic poutine, you might like my Poutine AKA Posh Cheesy Chips & Gravy post.

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Madhouse Diaries : Making Edible Slime

Juliette and Pierre have been obsessed with making slime for months now : fluffy slime, gooey slime, crunchy slime, you name it, they've tried it. Well, there was one type of slime they hadn't tried until this week : edible slime. Pierre has been excitedly showing me videos on youtube about all the different sorts of edible slime you can make and started making a note of all the different lists of ingredients in a little book : Recettes - Slime Comestible (Recipes - Edible Slime). Seeing how seriously he was taking it, I couldn't say no, could I ?!

OK, recipe 1. Take some jelly type sweets and melt them in the microwave.

Mix in icing sugar and a tiny amount of oil to stop it sticking.

 Hmmmm not very convincing as it stayed quite hard. More like modelling clay than slime. But it tasted nice !

OK, attempt number 2. Starting off with mini marshmallows.

Melt them in the microwave and mix in icing sugar.

Supposed to make fluffy slime. Well, it sort of worked because the marshmallows puffed up but it went all hard and breakable when they'd cooled down again.

Next recipe, using gelatine sweets. Melt them in the microwave.

 Add icing sugar and keep on mixing until it starts to change texture. Add a tiny amount of oil if it's too sticky in the bowl.

I was getting bored by now and wandered off but I was summoned back to the kitchen with excited squeals of "Mum, it's working" ! I have to admit, this one was quite impressive (if you're a slime fan) because it genuinely does look and feel like slime and it tastes nice - but I've told them not to eat too much because there are vast amounts of sugar in all of these edible slime concoctions, plus they're sticky so they'll rot your teeth !

Not to mention the fact that's it not very clean to keep squishing it through your fingers before eating it !

Pierre wanted to try one final recipe, using a jar of marshmallow fluff, mixed in with icing sugar and oil. As you can see, it was a total failure but I did get a good laugh out of it !

As I'm on holiday this week, I'm on a concerted effort to clear out the baking cupboard and this was a great project for doing that. I used up a bag of Pina Colada flavoured icing sugar that nobody liked much, some mini marshmallows that had gone hard and a jar of fluff that was lurking in the back of the cupboard, so I'm adding it to this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Monday, 23 April 2018

#readcookeat recipe : Lamb Tagine (Court of Lions)

Jane Johnson's Court Of Lions (click through for my review) is a book set in Granada, in both modern and past times, following the trials and tribulations of the last Muslim sultans as they were ousted by the Spanish Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella. I have already recreated a Spanish dish that was mentioned in the book - Piquillos Rellenos or Spanish stuffed peppers - but I was also tempted by the mentions of Moroccan and Tunisian style dishes.

p415 After dinner that night - a tagine of chicken with olives and preserved lemon that Abdou had managed to throw together as the sisters talked and talked - Jess took Kate's passport out of her bag and slid it across the table to her twin.

This is a dish that I discovered in Morocco and I've already shared the recipe here : Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons.

I read with great interest the description of another tagine, which cleverly combines influences of Morocco and Spain.

p215 "Lamb tagine," Khadija pronounced. "A classic Berber dish, but with a few Andalusian additions."
She handed Kate a plate and cutlery, then dealt out heaped spoonfuls till Kate had to protest about the limits of her appetite. She was, she noticed, the only one thus honoured : all the others used their flatbreads and fingers to delve into the tagine, selecting their mouthfuls deftly and without spilling a morsel. A neat trick if you could manage it,  but she was glad to have her spoon and fork. Among the tomatoes, peppers and onions and the browned chunks of lamb, Kate found garbanzo beans, apricots, almonds and the hard-boiled eggs Salka had been shelling. The spices were less easy to identify. Chilli seared along her tongue, but its edge had been gentled with cumin and something sweeter - not cinnamon, but something similar that held a faint taste of flowers and honey. And was that saffron that gave the onions their golden glow?

I didn't have garbanzo beans so I replaced them with chickpeas, which are a common ingredient in Moroccan and Tunisian tagines. I rarely cook with lamb - it's an expensive meat and the Madhouse kids aren't that keen on red meat - but I bought some slices of lamb, rather than a big half shoulder, and, mixed in with all the other ingredients and spices, they agreed that it was tasty and made a nice change. They weren't keen on the apricots though - although they like them cold, they didn't like them hot. I thought they added a lovely sweetness and softness to the dish though.

Lamb Tagine

ingredients :

2 onions
1 clove of garlic
drizzle of olive oil
300g lamb, chopped into chunks
salt, pepper
1tsp ras el hanout
1/2tsp cinnamon
1/2tsp ginger
1/2tsp cumin
1/2tsp coriander
1/2 red pepper
1/2 green pepper
1/2 yellow pepper
tin of whole plum tomatoes
1tbsp tomato puree
handful of dried apricots
1/2 large tin of chickpeas
handful of flaked almonds

Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the onions and garlic over a low heat until soft but not browned.

Add the chunks of lamb and increase the heat so that the meat is seared on all sides. Season with salt and pepper. You can throw in all the spices at this point or after the tomatoes, whatever you prefer. I usually add them to the meat, so that they form a slight crust, then taste and add extra spices if necessary once the sauce has reduced, just before serving. It's better to add extra later than be too heavy handed at the start and regret how spicy it is !

Add the chopped peppers - you can use red, green or yellow, whatever you prefer. I opted for a mixture as I like the splash of colour that it adds to the dish.

Add a tin of tomatoes and break them up slightly with a knife. Give it all a good stir.

Toss in the apricots and make sure they are submerged in the sauce so that they will go nice and soft.

Finally, throw in the chickpeas and leave to simmer for 20 minutes, adding extra liquid during the cooking process if necessary.

Once the sauce has thickened, taste and adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle over some flaked almonds just before serving.  I realised at this point that I'd left out the boiled eggs that were mentioned in the book - feel free to add those too ! Serve with couscous and flatbread - you can choose whether to eat with a knife and fork or your fingers !

Adding to the #readcookeat linky over at Chez Maximka.

Adding to the #KitchenClearout linky as I used up some ends of bags of dried apricots and flaked almonds, as well as peppers from the fridge.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Book review : The Man On The Middle Floor - Elizabeth S Moore

Nick, Karen and Tam live totally separate lives in an unremarkable three-apartment house in the suburbs of London. None of them are cast in a very positive light. Tam is spiralling into a never-ending cycle of drowning his sorrows in whisky and having meaningless sex after losing his beloved job as a policeman. Karen has sacrificed everything in life, including her marriage and children, in her constant search for recognition and glory as a doctor and researcher on autism. Nick is an anxious young man with Asperger's who needs routine and his own personal space to function. He soon becomes Karen's pet project and the neighbours' lives collide with spectacular and far-reaching consequences.

The book features two murders (or you could even say three, but only two are human) but it is not crime fiction in the traditional sense because the reader witnesses the killings and knows who the perpetrator is, so it is more a case of watching him get dragged deeper into trouble and waiting for him to get caught.

All three of the characters have skewed moral compasses and dubious values, but they have all also been dealt a pretty bad hand in life which didn't help them get off to a good start and find the right balance. They do start making headway on their journeys to a better place and healthier self-awareness, but events quickly spiral out of control until there can be no happy ending.

Although she can be condemned for neglecting her children and husband, Karen is right to wonder about how society can best understand and help to meet the needs of people with autism. Her well-meaning attempts are catastrophically off-the-mark though and she makes things even worse - this is quite possibly supposed to be a comment on how society at large deals with the issue. Nick did seem to be too much of a classic text-book case to be wholly realistic, although I admit that I am no expert, and the extra layer of autism in Karen's own son seemed superfluous and unrealistic - however blinded she is by her job, I'm sure, as an expert in her field if not as a mother, she would have picked up on the signs, especially since, as a reader, I did way before the big reveal.

The basic plot is chillingly realistic though and throws up a lot of unanswerable questions about blame, guilt and responsibility. It's a gripping read that will be perfect for book clubs as I'm sure opinions on the different characters will be divided.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: RedDoor Publishing Ltd (12 April 2018)
  • ISBN-10: 1910453544
  • ISBN-13: 978-1910453544

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Fab freebies of the week 21/4

Welcome to the weekend and another round-up of this week's best UK freebies. Hope you find something to take your fancy. :)


In return for filling out their survey, Eat Natural will send you a bar from their new ‘bars with benefits’ range to say thank you. (For mums & mums-to-be.)

Now, the Mail’s stepping up its war on plastic with The Great Plastic Pick Up. We’ve joined forces with Keep Britain Tidy to encourage communities, schools, families and individuals to come together from May 11 to 13 to clear rubbish from our streets, beaches and beauty spots. Sign up and request 3 rolls of litter bags.

Fancy trying our crisp, clean, unsweetened bubbles? We simply infuse water with Nature’s ingredients and add some sparkle. Aqua Libra has no sugar, no sweeteners, nothing artificial and only 3 calories per can. Enter your details and we’ll send three free cans to the 1800 lucky winners who will be selected at random.

Use code FREELIQUID for a free Cougar 24hr liquid lipstick (you may have to pay for shipping, I did get a totally free one from their facebook page before Christmas though)

See how Purina® DentaLife® helps your dog's dental health with a free sample

Register to receive a FREE 100ml sample of Colgate Plax Cool Mint Mouthwash!
It's too easy! All you have to do is sign up and answer a short survey about your oral healthcare routine to be eligible to receive 1 out of 1000 samples!

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.

Friday, 20 April 2018

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #17

Last week was fun, shepherding the Norwegian teachers around and working on a common lesson plan, but hectic, as it was my first week back at work, which is why this week's plan is being written in the evening rather than ready to go live first thing this morning. The great news is, our two week holiday now begins - yay ! It's been a mini heatwave here for the last couple of days, but temperatures will be dropping by ten degrees next week apparently so I may hold off on planning salads for a while !


lunch - The French grandparents will be here for a special church service for all the people who died last month (including Madhouse Daddy) so I'll let them decide

dinner - see lunch - we may end up going out somewhere


lunch - not sure if the grandparents will still be here or if they'll have left before lunch, but roast chicken and spuds with all the trimmings would work either way

dinner - bacon sandwiches - they were on the menu last week but never got made so I'm still craving one !


lunch - cheese & bacon quiche with salad, coleslaw & cherry tomatoes

dinner - cheesy veg bake with leftover spicy sausages


lunch - battered fish with rice/chick peas/tomatoes

dinner - beef or chicken stir fry with veggies and noodles


lunch - I picked up some hot dog buns and I have sausages in the freezer, either with frozen potato balls or potato salad and probably some more coleslaw to use up the white cabbage (I might fling some apple in there too, to mix things up !)

dinner - moussaka


lunch - spanakopita - a cheesy bacon and spinach filo pastry dish. That's the second Greek-inspired meal this week - it must be the soaring temperatures inspiring me !

dinner - Joker day - using up the leftovers in the fridge (or, if there aren't any, pasta with a jar of sauce that's taking up space in the cupboard)


lunch - beefburgers with pasta or rice and ratatouille

 dinner - chicken casserole with green beans and mash

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

Join in with the weekly meal plan bloghop !

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Celebrating National Pet Month with L.O.L Surprise Pets (review)

Did you know that April is National Pet Month? The lovely people at L.O.L Surprise did because they sent us a fabulous animal-themed package, containing chocolate paw print lollies, some cool cookie cutters and a  L.O.L Surprise Pet.

These Series 3 L.O.L Surprise Pets look just like the other L.O.L Surprise balls in the range, except they are yellow with a paw print design on the packaging.

You can tell from the blurry photo how eager Juliette was to get stripping off the layers. No time to hang about here setting up the perfect shot !

As with the usual LOL Surprise balls, the first layer revealed a sticker with an enigma to give you a clue about the identity of the doll or pet hiding inside. Juliette thought it was very funny that it was Friday 13th when she opened the ball and that date was part of the clue ! How's that for a freaky coincidence ?!

While Juliette continued gaily stripping off the layers of plastic, I had a quick look at the collector's guide inside the ball. There are lots of cats and dogs, as well as a couple of other animals that look like rabbits and guinea pigs or mice (actually, looking at the names, they must be hamsters), which follow the same concept of groups as the  L.O.L Surprise dolls, including the ultra rare Glitterati.

Back to Juliette, who by now had uncovered four little bags, as well as the usual sticker sheet.

The inside of the ball can be used as a little play area or bath tub, so that you can discover which water surprise your pet will have - will it wee, spit, cry or change colour?

Enough suspense - time to rip open those bags and discover the treasures inside !

We found a poop scoop, water bottle and accessory (little Polaroid type camera) to go with the two stickers, taking our number of surprises up to five. As with regular LOL Surprise dolls, there are seven surprises to reveal so what's left?

Well, obviously, the main event - the cute little critter itself ! We got a bunny called Jitter Critter, which is one of the Fancy ones.

The final element to look at is the litter tray, filled with a squishy Super Sand type material. You can use the lid to imprint a LOL Surprise logo and little paw prints in it.

Juliette starting scraping away with the poop scoop and - aha, here's the final surprise !

A necklace ! You can squish the sand back together and mould it in or out of the litter tray for extra playability.

Any LOL Surprise fan will be over the moon to add cute animal friends to their collection and we particularly liked the added surprise of digging for treasure in the litter tray. (Not something I would recommend in real life though !)

Series 3 includes 36 pets to collect and they're guaranteed to make any LOL Surprise fan very happy.

for more information :

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