Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Ainsley Harriott Spice Sensation Cous Cous Recipe Review

Cous cous goes through phases of being fashionable to eat - it can be eaten as it comes but it's much better livened up a bit with a boost of flavours!

We were sent a pack of Ainsley Harriott Spice Sensation Cous Cous - the instructions on the packet are really simple to follow and it's great as a stand alone side dish or as part of a salad... but we decided to try something different.  We made cous cous stuffed peppers with garlic and shallots with minted lamb kebabs and garlic bread.... yum yum!

The recipe is simple - cut the peppers in half lengthways (1 each for a main course or one between two for a starter or snack), remove the seeds and drizzle a little olive oil into each one.  Add crushed garlic and shallots/red onion/onion which ever you prefer (or have in the fridge!).  We used shallots and garlic - 2 shallots and 2 cloves of garlic to serve 4.

Place on a baking sheet in a pre-heated oven (Gas 6) for about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, make the cous cous as per the packet instructions.  Finely chop a couple of mushrooms and grate about 100g of cheese.  After the first 20 minutes in the oven, remove the tray, add a couple of pieces of mushroom to each pepper and spoonful or 2 of cous cous.  Return to the oven for about 15 minutes then top with cheese and bake for a further 5 minutes.

Serve with lamb kebabs (local butcher.... yummy!) and garlic bread... or whatever takes your fancy!  We all ate this as a family - little ones included.  My 5 year old actually prefers cous cous to rice - but pasta still reigns as his all time favourite food!

We had some cous cous left which we mixed with some left over mushrooms and ate cold with a salad the following day... I like the flavour just as much cold as warm and so this makes a great packed lunch option for work or school/college.

Cous cous is a healthy alternative to rice or pasta.  It is amongst the healthiest grain-based products widely available.  When comparing to pasta, it has a lower glycemic index figure (25% lower in fact), contains twice as much riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and folate and four times as much thiamine and pantothenic acid.  It has the same amount of protein in as pasta but exceeds the amount of protein in white rice.  Also, cous cous has a 1% fat-to-calorie ratio compared to 3% for white rice and 5% for pasta.  Source - Wikipedia.

You can flavour plain cous cous with basically anything, but the ready flavoured packs from Ainsley Harriott are ideal as the flavour combinations are great and versatile with different meats and/or vegetables.  Choose from Roasted Vegetable, Spice Sensation, Wild Mushroom, Chilli, Aromatic Thai Style, Moroccan Medley, Sundried Tomato & Garlic or Lemon, Mint & Parsley.

Keep up to date with recipe ideas and new products by liking the Ainsley Harriott Foods Facebook page here.

From my family's point of view, cous cous is here to stay and with the variety of flavours on offer, there's no reason to be bored of eating the same thing week in, week out!  Replace your pasta or rice once a week to try something new!


Monday, 30 July 2012

Play To Z Sensory Tales - "We're Riding on a Caravan" Review

I first came across Play To Z at the Christmas in July event that I attended earlier in the month and was immediately drawn to the Sensory Tales packs.  Their display was full of interesting sensory toys aimed at developing the child's sensory needs.  In the Sensory Tales packs, you get a lovely written and colourful book in a well-made sack along with accessories and trinkets in the theme of the story.

We received the Sensory Tale pack "We're Riding on a Caravan" to review and one week into the school holidays, it has been read repeatedly and in various places!  Snuggled on the couch all together, in bed as a bedtime story and in a "den" of dining chairs and blankets in the dining room!  In the pack you get the story book, coconut shells for the clippity-clop of hooves, "diamonds" (big and small!), cinnamon sticks, silk purse, silk worm cocoons, a soft plush camel and 2 wooden camels. 

The story is written as a rhyme which I think helps to engage the children better whilst listening and learning as it strikes up a memory of what comes next - why else do we "sing" our times tables!  The language used in the main text was easy enough for my 8 year old to read and the repeated chorus on each page encouraged my 5 year old to join in too. The useful map near to the end of the book helped to visualise the journey that the story is based around - the adventures along the way are described in language simple enough for children to understand but still expanding their knowledge.

The artefacts in the pack were used during the story telling and also as a start point for other discussions.  We used the pack in a family situation but I think they would be fantastic to use in a nursery or child-minder setting too.  You also get an Activity Booklet to help you extend the learning with your children.  It covers areas such as numeracy, literacy, arts/crafts, RE, seasons and time.  This would be valuable in lesson planning but we also used it to further discussions with both of my children.

My niece came to visit and so out came the Sensory Tales pack - my children had fun showing her the story and taking turns with the sounds effects and actions.  It was nice to sit back and observe them explaining the reasons behind the journey and using their own creativity to expland on the story themselves.  We also went the extra mile and made our own "desert" with sand from the beach!  It was contained within a cardboard tray to avoid an indoor sandpit! 

There are 7 other tales in the series - I especially like the look of "Babushka", a unusual Christmas adventure which will take me back to my primary school days when my younger sister played the part of Babushka in the alternative Nativity play that year!

The packs retail at £45.00 - for a reusable and well-made gift with excellent educational sensory resources, this is a reasonably priced investment for any family or nursery, especially to use for valuable family time, time and time again.

Pop over to the Play To Z Facebook page here and keep up with the fantastic products they have available!

Also as a side point, both of my children struggled with pronouncing the word "caravan", saying instead "cavaran" but after reading the story combined with the rhyme, they now can successfully say "CARAVAN"!

Friday, 27 July 2012

Olympics & Paralympics 2012

There is always so much hype surrounding the Olympic Games, so I thought I'd introduce you all to someone very important for the Paralympic Games... say "Hello" to Mandeville - the mascot for the Paralympic Games 2012.  He's a cute and cuddly figure who represents the ethos of the Paralympic Games.

Each Paralympic and Olympic Games has a mascot, everyone knows that, right?  But I was amazed to find out that the mascot is usually an animal native to the area or a human figure representing the cultural heritage of the host country.  I must say that I haven't seen many of these characters wandering around the UK recently!  But, there are important symbols coming through the mascot.  The head shape represents the 3 colours of the Paralympic Games symbol, the taxi light on it's forehead represents the London Black Taxis and the wristband on the right wrist is a personal best timer to help keep track of performance.
Paralympic Symbol

Whilst typing this tonight, I'm watching the fantastic opening ceremony of the Olympics and Paralympics and I must say that I'm proud to support Team GB... we saw the Olympic flame pass through a local town back in May which feels ages ago and tonight's ceremony concludes the journey of the flame and it is a great celebration of everything British.

No doubt I'll be writing again about the Olympics and Paralympics over the next few weeks - I'm not extremely "sporty" but enjoy watching the heats and finals with my children - it shows them how hard work and determination can pay off.  The variety of events and ages of competitors makes it interesting too.  This year, we are going to find all of the countries (if we can!) on our world map as they achieve their medals - quick geography lesson and fun at the same time!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Naked Wines Competition - Value £60!!

As the weather has brightened up and everyone's smiling again, here's another reason to smile.  Up for grabs we have a £60 voucher to be used at Naked Wines.

Naked Wines, you might ask... well, Naked Wines is an online wine retailer that invests in independant winemakers, to get delicious wines at preferential prices.

With the winning voucher, for example, you can get this Summer Sizzlers Mixed Case of wine for just £42.38 - that's 12 bottles of wine great for summer entertaining for just over £3.50 a bottle!

Just enter the Rafflecopter competition below... and good luck!

The terms and conditions set by Naked Wines are detailed below:
  • Voucher must be claimed before 30/09/2012.
  •  For UK residents aged 18 or over.
  • Cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer.
  • Your voucher is valid against your first order of £99.99 or more.
  • Delivery (Next Day only £4.99 as standard) and any additional spend on wine, will be charged to your credit or debit card.
  • Full terms and conditions are available on our website at www.nakedwines.com.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

School Sport's Day Take 3 and 8th Birthday Fun!

Well, after a very wet "Summer" term at school, we finally admitted defeat and held the event yesterday in a local sport's hall!  The morning was still a great success and all of the children thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  The obstacle race is always a hit along with the nursery class' pram race!  The older children really enjoy the competitiveness but sometimes, I'm sure the little ones are confused as to why everyone has come to watch them do PE!

The cake and coffee stall went down a treat, as always raising much needed funds for the school events throughout the year.  After all, who can resist a lovely coffee and cake with the added bonus of helping the children in the process!

Then today, we have the excitement of my daughter's 8th birthday!  An early morning wake-up call of an excited newly-8 years old sister was too much for my son... "leave me alone, I'm tired!" were his first words to her this morning... but was equally excited when he realised it was the last day of school and it's time for the "big" holidays!

As a treat for my daughter's class we've done a little tea party for the class to celebrate her birthday and the last day of term... not just cake this time - we do encourage a balanced diet, not just cake!

 We're off to the Legoland Discovery Centre tomorrow so watch this space for the photo's of a Lego tour of Great Britain!  But first, birthday meal out for Charlotte tonight... her choice, Chinese mmmmm :)

Organix Mighty Meals & Snacks Review

We were sent a bumper box of Organix goodies - my children were excited to see what they had been sent to review and felt very important to be part of the process!

We passed the Tasty Beef Stew and Dumplings to a "toddler-neighbour" who I'm sure will update us in the next couple of days... but my children were thrilled to share and try the other goodies!

Jack's favourite was the Raisins & Chopped Apricots fruit bag - he loves anything fruity and these are ideal for packed lunches or the morning fruit snack at school.  The addition of apricots rather than just raisins and/or sultanas makes a nice change and adds different flavours to our children's diets.

Charlotte was torn betweeen 2 as her favourite... the Mini Cheese Crackers and the Mini Gingerbread Men.  Again, both great for packed lunches and picnics on days out (eaten in the car with the weather we're having at the moment!).

They also liked the Cheese & Herb Puffs but weren't so keen on the Veg & Oat Bar nor the Raspberry & Apple Fruit Bar.  They both said they didn't like the "feel of it" - for younger children, I think the texture would be just right but my youngest is 5 and has a wide ranging diet of basically everything and he just wasn't keen!

Organix products are all organically produced and come with the Organix No Junk Promise... their products contain no hidden nasties; just simple ingredients full of goodness.  More and more so recently, there is increasing hype about organic foods... is it better for you, your children, the planet, the future???  Deep down, we all want to do what's best for our children and their future so with great tasting snacks like these, you can be rest assured that you are doing your best and your children can still enjoy snacks they love to share!

Have a look at the Organix website here - you can also visit their Facebook page here.

These are all readily available in supermarkets - look out for them on the shelves.  With wishful thinking, I'm stocking up for those summer day trips we have planned... Plan B is to have lots of Living Room picnics!!!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Pre-School Toys Bundle Giveaway!

Following the Christmas In July event that I attended last week, I have a bundle of pre-school toys for one of you lucky guys to win!

Courtesey of vTech Baby, Tolo Toys, Halilit and Play To Z I have a selection of toys great for keeping your little one occupied whilst the weather is less than great!

We have up for grabs a fantastic vTech Toot-Toot Drivers cement mixer truck, with sounds and lights, a cute little squeaky penguin from Tolo Toys, a Handy Bells percussion instrument from Halilit and a Treasure Trove Stone Hoop from Play To Z. 

The vTech Toot-Toot Drivers range is a great range of toys for both boys and girls - it is suitable for ages 12+ months.  The developmental benefits include motor skills development, sensory development and creates imaginative play.  Even though my youngest is now 5 years old, he would still love playing with this!

The lovely little penguin from Tolo Toys is a cute character which again promotes imaginative play and is designed with safety and durability in mind.  There are no painted surfaces on the penguin, so the quality standard will remain high thoughout it's play time life!  Tolo Toys also help to promote the idea of cause and effect with sounds (squeak-squeak, click-click!) being produced as a result of the actions and movements the child makes.  It is suitable for ages 1-5 years old.

The Handy Bells are a child-friendly percussion instrument which will introduce your child to the joy of music making.  It will foster creativity, is a means for self-expression and develop imagination.  The Handy Bells are suitable for age 24+ months.

Last but by no means least, the Treasure Trove Stone Hoop from Play To Z is a simple but fantastic additional to your toy box.  It can be used alone or part of your Treasure Basket playtimes, encouraging creativity and supports children's play in a multitude of ways.

These all make great stocking fillers for your little ones - thinking ahead to Christmas 2012 now!

Watch out for more Christmas toy's reviews over the next few weeks as I compile my Christmas 2012 wish list.

Complete the Rafflecopter entry below for your chance to win... Good Luck! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 9 July 2012

Easiest Tea Bread Recipe - Ever!

Here's the recipe for yesterday's Silent Sunday photograph...

Tea Bread - serves 6-8, depending on how thick you like your slices!

1 mug of cold tea (no milk)
225g mixed dried fruit - sultanas, raisins, currants, mixed peel - any combination of!
225g self raising flour
125g caster sugar
1 large egg, beaten
2 tbsp orange maramalade

  1. Place the fruit in a small bowl and pour the tea over the top.  Soak overnight or until the fruit swells (I soaked the fruit for about 4 hours and that was OK).
  2. Grease a 675g loaf tin and preheat the oven to Gas 4.
  3. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl; then pour in the fruit and any left over tea.  Stir thoroughly.
  4. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for about 1 hour and 10 mins... check after 1 hour and then every 5 minutes until the top is nicely browned and a skewer when inserted comes out clean.
  5. Allow to cool slightly before removing from the tin.
  6. Job done!
This is really easy to make and the preparation is quick too - so long as you have planned ahead with the "fruit-soaking"!  It also keeps really well and is actually better after about 2 days of storage so don't eat it all really quickly (or double up and bake 2 loaves).  You can see from the photo that it's quite a moist cake as it's full of fruit.

You can serve it sliced on it's own or with butter... after about 1 week (if it lasts that long!) it also makes great bread and butter pudding.

As a variation to the recipe, I also use different teas.  The recipe calls for normal English tea, but I have used fruit teas, Earl Grey, Assam teas, etc... just to give a slight twist to the flavour!

It's enjoyed by all in my family and a good cake to have in "stock" for unexpected visitors.  It's low in fat and a great way to get some fruit into your little one's tums!

The recipe is adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe - have a look at the other great recipes on her site here.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Bottle Top Review

I came across these groovy little things at a market a while back... I was drawn in by the neon colours and impulsively bought 4.  What on earth are they, you might ask... well I'm still not 100% of the correct name but "bottle tops for cans" is the closest and best description I can think of!
They cleverly "snap" on top of any standard drinks can providing a resealable top that keeps the fizz in and the wasps out!  I don't often drink a full can in one go (and nor do my children!) and so these are ideal for use in the home or on journeys in the car or on the train.  So long as the top is tightened like a normal drinks bottle, they are completely spill-proof and are reusable so will last indefinitely!

These are definitely the invention that you don't think you need until you own one (or 4!).  I have done a bit of digging around and they are easily available in the USA but on British soil, eBay seems to be the best place to get your hands on them!

They were definitely a great impluse buy and now I'm looking forward to a summer full of picnics and days out.. once the sun decides to grace us with it's presence once more!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Discovery Mexican BBQ Fajita Recipe Kit Review

Thanks to the guys over at Discovery, we had the chance to sample the new Mexican BBQ Fajita kit.  The kit includes the spice mix, sour cream and plain flour tortilla wraps so the only ingredients you need to add are the chicken, peppers and onions.

When shopping, watch out for the new packaging on the shelf.... using 15% less cardboard than the older design is better for our planet!  My husband nearly popped to the shop to buy wraps as he didn't believe they were in the pack, but trust me they are!

The spice mix is a mild, family friendly one - I love food with a bit of a kick - this has a good flavour but not too hot for younger children to enjoy.  It was easy to make - no lengthy marinating time so a quick decision tea is possible!  Including preparation, it took about 25 minutes from start to finish - enough time for a quick read of the newspaper in peace whilst the children changed out of their school uniforms (and the potatoes steamed!).

We had the Mexican BBQ fajitas with a green side salad and home-grown baby new potatoes (the onions we used were home-grown too!).  Four clean plates shows that it was enjoyed by all 4 of us and was a great Friday evening meal! As the kit itself is vegetarian and vegan friendly, you can substitute the meat for more vegetables and/or lentils to make a great tasting vegetarian dish too.

This is great addition to the range and I look forward to the next new ideas coming up!

Pop over to the Discovery Facebook page and give them a wave... there you can keep up to date with new products and, of course, their Freebie Friday giveaways!

"Christmas in July" 2012

Last Tuesday I went to my first PR event - Christmas in July 2012.  I made the epic journey starting at 4am with two of my friends; fellow bloggers Really Rachel and Missing Sleep.  As well as viewing and testing the new toys available on the market for Christmas 2012, we were also helping to judge the UKMums.tv mums choice awards.

True to my name I enjoyed sampling the multitude of cupcakes on offer with each display being sponsored by a different toy or PR company.  We also had ice cream with lots of different toppings and of course, Christmas Cake!

We thought that we would have lighter bags on the way home, having eaten our stash of goodies on the journey down to London, but receiving a goody bag full of exciting toys at the event meant that we were more laden down on the way home than we expected!

The toys on display from all traders were great - from pocket money toys up to "main" present toys, involving educational and traditional games to electronic and state of the art gagets!

Gifts for boys included GO Mini Stunt Launcher from Golden Bear Toys.  Each Mini has it's own characteristics unique to that model - wheelies, skids and spins are all part of the fun.  They do not need batteries which stops the TV remote constantly being devoid of batteries when needed in an emergency!  I also liked the new HEXBUG designs - the scarab beetle moves fantastically speedily and is so much fun to watch as the bugs explore the environment around them.

The girl's stands were just as exciting as the boy's ones - a new range of Bratz dolls named Bratzillaz (MGA Entertainment) seemed a favourite to me, along with the Novi Stars dolls; each one having it's own unique feature... bubblegum smelling or glitter-filled to name just two!  I also liked the Orbeez Soothing Spa from Character Options - a relaxing foot spa for tweens to pamper themselves (and their Mum's - hopefully!).

There were lots of creative play options too - with all the rainy days we are having, wet weather play is sure to be a hit over the summer as well as for Christmas!  Wooky Entertainment have some great girly craft products; also I was especially impressed with a range of games from Scotchi.  Although the packaging and instructions are in English, the actual game pieces have no written words on them and so can be used bi-lingually.  As a bi-lingual Welsh/English family, these games are great to develop language skills for both my children and myself as a Welsh learner.

There were plenty of pre-school gifts on display... I liked the Stacking Hoops from Play To Z Ltd.  As I have no pre-schoolers in my home any longer, I would gladly borrow one or two to enjoy playing with their toys and games!  They also have sensory tales packs which are able to used by older children to help develop their imaginative and creative play.  I loved the ethics and background behind the Play To Z Ltd range of toys; you can read more about their research here.

With a little time before our train home, I made a quick detour to King's Cross Platform 9 3/4 for a photo opportunity... 

Keep an eye out over the next few weeks for some reviews of fantastic products for Christmas 2012 and there will be some giveaways too!  I can't wait for Christmas now!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Nestle Cheerios "Grab 2 Go" Packs Review

We were sent a new concept in Cheerios products - "Grab 2 Go" packs are portion sized bags of delicious Cheerios perfect for packed lunches (school and work!), picnics and also for a quick snack on the go at any time of the day!  Living "out in the sticks" any journey is quite often a long one... our nearest "big" shops are an hour and a half away so these are great as a snack in the car for the kids (and me!).  They would also be good to pop into an overnight case for a quick trip away; better than carrying a normal-sized cereal box around with you!

They come in a multipack of 5 - the magic number for packed lunches... 5 school/work days = 5 packets in a multipack, perfect!  As more and more schools (quite rightly!) are promoting healthy lunchboxes, these are an ideal snack to replace sweeties and savoury snacks much higher in fat than Cheerios.  And, of course, they carry the usual wholegrain guarantee that Cheerios are proud of!  The 25g packs are just the right size for a snack.

The new packaging certainly does solve the problem of a trail of Cheerios where my son has sneaked a handful from the packet and is wandering around munching them one by one!  It's like a scene from "Hansel and Gretel"... at least I can always find him!

To keep up to date with new Cheerios products and news about existing products, pop over to the Cheerios UK Facebook page and say "Hello!".