Friday 30 May 2014

Another birthday....

We have a huge family really, there are 9 of us, so birthdays come along pretty often. Today is the turn of my partner, and we were out today at a fabulous picnic organised by Roberts Bakery (more about that later), so yesterday was a baking day.

I made a simple sponge (weigh your eggs, take the same quantity of sugar and butter and cream together, add the eggs, add the same quantity of self raising flour, 20 minutes in the oven at 180C), but I used dark brown sugar and golden caster sugar and added plain chocolate chunks because these are things he really likes.

Then I let 3 of the children loose to decorate of our 16 year olds is quite the artist, so she decided she wanted to 'draw' her Father, our 14 year old girl wanted to make chocolate whipped cream (add 1 teaspoon of liquid chocolate syrup such as Choc Shot or 1 teaspoon each of cocoa and sugar per 100g), and our 4 year old boy wanted plenty of sprinkles......

Job's a goodun....

And I bought him a lovely Game Of Thrones t-shirt for his birthday with absolutely no idea that the print on the front completely gives away what happens in the book he's only just started - doh!

Thankfully he has forgiven me....although I'll never live it down!

Casa Costello

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Not Sky Diving with Chicago Town Take Away Pizzas

Chicago Town recently invited me to an amazing day out to promote their Take Away Pizza range - and it included a sky dive! With great regret (and a bit of relief) I had to turn down the sky dive because I have a shonky leg, however they offered to supply pizza for my family by way of commiseration.

Our local big Morrisons had 4 varieties of Chicago Town Take Away Pizza - so we got them all....and as we had everyone together at tea time today we decided tonight was the night.

Chicago Town Take Away Pizza Range Review

The pizzas are all very different.

Chicken & Bacon Melt with a rising crust 
Cheese & Tomato with a rising crust
Pepperoni Plus with a tomato sauce stuffed crust
Limited Edition BBQ Sizzler with a BBQ sauce stuffed crust

Chicago Town Take Away Pizza Range Review Lots of toppings

I was really impressed with the level of topping. 
When I make pizzas myself I doubt I actually put that much on! 

Time for the taste test with my panel of discerning, pizza-loving testers....

And the verdict?

Every speck was eaten. A table full of clean plates. When you're feeding so many, knowing that everyone has eaten plenty and is feeling full and happy is a win. They all really loved the pizzas. Here are a few comments..

5yo - "Try this, it's beautiful. It has stuffed crust!" (re the Pepperoni Plus).
14yo - "I like them, but I prefer cheese stuffed crust"
42yo - "This BBQ pizza is gorgeous. The sauce stuffing is lovely"
16yo - "Lots of cheese!"
42yo - "Why isn't the cheese one stuffed crust too? The veggies have a raw deal" (stuffed crust cheese is available in the range, but wasn't at our supermarket).

EVERYONE thought that they were really tasty and felt that they were a more expensive product. The amount of toppings and the way they were so well spread across the pizzas was brilliant.

I was really impressed with how well they cooked. With some frozen pizzas by the time the middle is cooked, the outer edge has begun to darken and you have some burnt cheese - not at all with these. The rising crusts were impressive, very fluffy and light. It's no wonder they were voted no.1 against Dominoes.

These are big pizzas - around 630-650g - which is almost double some other frozen pizzas. They retail around £3.80-£4.00 each, so actually offer incredibly good value, and substantially cheaper than ordering or collecting a take away. We'll definitely be buying them again. 

We were sent vouchers to buy our pizzas

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Let's Bake ~ Children's Cook Book from Orion Books Review and Recipes

Let's Bake by Cathryn Dresser from Orion Books Recipe Book review

Let's Bake is a lovely fat cookbook written by Cathryn Dresser, the 2012 Great British Bake Off contestant. Aimed at new young bakers to work with an adult, or in our case a teenager, it has 52 easy and interesting recipes and is full of hints about how to do the basics, and tips to improve your baking.

We decided to make something savoury and something sweet, and we started out with Cheese And Marmite Helter-Skelters (page30) from the Spring section of the book.

Let's Bake by Cathryn Dresser from Orion Books chese and marmite twists Recipe review

Ingredients (makes 12)

2 tablespoons Marmite
15g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon plain flour for dusting
1 x 375g pack of ready rolled puff pastry
150g cheddar cheese, grated

My small boys don't like the taste or smell of Marmite and refused point blank to include it. I didn't want to just make Cheese, so we substituted our Marmite with tomato puree.


Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas Mark 6
Line baking trays with parchment

With an adult, melt the Marmite and butter in a small saucepan over a low heat until runny. Leave to cool for a minute or two. Meanwhile, lightly dust your surface with flour and lay out the pastry sheet.

Using a pastry brush, spread the butter mixture all over the pastry, then sprinkle cheese over the top 2/3.

Fold the non-cheesy bit of the pastry up so that it covers 1/2 the cheesy section, then fold the last 1/3 over the top so you have a neatly-folded rectangle of pastry.

Let's Bake by Cathryn Dresser from Orion Books Baking with kids review

Roll out the pastry again so that you have a rectangle roughly the same size you started with.

Cut the pastry into 6 equal strips and then cut each of those in half, so you have 12 long, pointy triangles. Take each of the triangles in turn and twist from the pointy end.

Put your twisted pastry on the prepared baking tray and ask an adult to put it in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes until golden.

Let's Bake by Cathryn Dresser from Orion Books Cheese And Marmite Helter Skelters Recipe review

They may not look beautiful, but they were exceedingly popular with my entire family - in fact we make another batch for tea so that everyone could have 2 more - and it only takes 10 minutes.

I really do feel the opportunity for letting your children explore with this recipe is huge. We added a little garlic to some of the later ones, and I think I can convince them to try adding some herbs to some next time - and maybe even some Marmite....

The sweet recipe we chose to try was Cat's Cookies (page 190) from the Winter section of the book.

Let's Bake by Cathryn Dresser from Orion Books Cat's Cookies Recipe review


150g unsalted butter, softened
75g soft light brown sugar
75g caster sugar
25g dark soft brown sugar
1 medium free-range egg
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
200g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
100g plain chocolate chips
100g milk chocolate chips


Line 2 baking trays with parchment. Preheat the oven to 190C/170Fan/Gas Mark 5

Beat together the butter and the sugars in a large bowl using a wooden spoon or electric hand-held mixer.

Add the egg and vanilla and stir. Then add the flour and mix thoroughly. Finally add the chocolate chips and stir through. The mixture should be sticky and not too stiff. Put the dough in the fridge for 10 minutes to make it easier to work with.

Spoon heaped tablespoons of the mixture onto your trays and flatten with your hand or the back of a spoon. Your cookies will flatten more and spread while they are baking, so leave plenty of room between them.

Ask an adult (or teenager) to help you put the cookies into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. They will look pale in the middle and golden around the edges.

Give the cookies a minute or two on the tray to harden before transferring to a cooling rack. Use a palette knife to move them while they're warm or they'll bend and break.

Cat's Cookies finished from Let's Bake by Cathryn Dresser

The cookies looked really pale - these were the darkest of ours - but don't be tempted to leave them in the oven any longer because they are cooked just right. They're really tasty, crammed full of chocolate chips and the biscuit itself is just the right levels of chewy, crispy and melt-in-the-mouth.

It was incredibly quick for my children to make these recipes following the book themselves, I didn't need to interfere or explain anything - all the information they needed was there.

I thought this looked interesting before it arrived, and I'm not disappointed. The recipes are really varied, but very appealing to children and should encourage a love of cooking and understanding what goes into food. I really like this book and we'll be using it again before very long....sorry, THEY'LL be using it again before long....

Let's Bake by Cathryn Dresser is published by Orion Books and has a recommended retail price of £12.99. It's a full-colour hardback book with over 220 pages and an absolutely ideal purchase for a new young baker. Highly recommended.

I was sent Cathryn Dresser's 'Let's Bake' by Orion Books for review.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Sea Lions And Other Animals At Knowsley Safari Park

We went to Knowsley Safari Park (between Liverpool and Warrington)  a little while ago and took part in one of their Family Workshops - my blog post is here. It makes a fantastic day out, we had a brilliant time, yet we didn't even go on the safari drive.

As well as driving around the park visiting all of the wild animals, and having to make the decision whether or not you drive through the monkey enclosure, Knowsley has lots of other interesting animals to discover.

During our Family Workshop we fed the bats, meercats and giraffes, but we also saw lots more and didn't get a chance to tell you about it, so here are the insects, snakes and reptiles, birds, hogs and sea lions.

Sing My Name Personalised Children's Gifts

Sing My Name are a company that have been around since 2003, so I'm stunned I haven't heard of them before. They sell several different products personalised with your child's name - in song!

Recommended for children aged from birth to around 6 years, Sing My Name have literally thousands of names to choose from, and even though both of my younger children have names that are traditional but not common, they were both included on the list.

Sing My Name Personalised Children's gifts review

We were sent a personalised alarm clock and a personalised CD. I was a bit unsure as to just how cheesy this was going to be, but it's actually really well done. The songs are fun and well sung, and not grating like some children's music.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Cadbury Dairy Milk Marvellous Mix-Ups

If someone offers you chocolate to review - why would you ever say no? Cadbury's asked if we were interested in trying their new Dairy Milk Marvellous Mix-Ups and (for the kids you understand) I said yes.

My favourite thing about all of this, even better than the gorgeous bright wrappers, is that the whole lot is vegetarian. Yep - safe for veggies. My 3 veggie kids can eat their fair share.

The first we tried are the Cadbury Dairy Milk Marvellous Mix-Ups With Maynards. They were a hit. The large buttons are caramel filled, which is gorgeous, but most were squished and so you got sticky fingers. It was worth it though. The mini-~Fudge were a really nice touch.

Next Marvellous Mix-Ups With OREO. Again, a definite hit. These looked less appealing because the OREOs leave dust all over everything, but it doesn't affect eating. I didn't like these as much as the Maynards, but at least 3 of the children preferred them. Favourite part was the pebbles - they were fought over.

Last, but not least, the Marvellous Creations Cadbury Dairy Milk Banana Caramel Crisp.

This was really much nicer than I even expected. I like banana, so I was expecting to like it, but thought it would be banana flavoured chocolate. Actually it's chocolate with crispy bits, soft caramel pieces and banana sweets - they taste like the soft chewy bananas you get in a 10p mix, and it's lovely. A firm hit.

All of the packaging is resealable with those little stickers, and the chocolate bar wrapper is pull apart - it's really handy and stops little bits of rubbish and litter.

We're impressed and all of these were a hit all round. Really tasty and delicious. The Marvellous Mix-Ups retail at around £2.00 a bag, and the Marvellous Creations bars are around £2.50 (including from Cadbury's website). Prices vary - the most expensive I've seen today is £3.69, so be careful where you shop.

Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary

Friday 23 May 2014

LEGO DUPLO Big Farm Giveaway

The LEGO DUPLO How Do You Play Facebook competition is now over, and the lucky winners are on their way to Billund, but I still have 1 more prize left to give away - and this is the big one!

The LEGO DUPLO Big Farm set 10525 is a huge play set that contains everything you need to introduce your child to a whole new world of construction.

Recommended for children aged 2-5 the Big Farm has 121 pieces, including 3 farm buildings, figures, animals, a buildable tractor and a whole host of accessories.

Children learn best with familiar items, and with this set they can learn about animals, colours, families, homes and jobs as well as practice a host of other skills including building, creating and story-telling. It's perfect to encourage the imagination and keep your child occupied for hours on end.

The Big Farm retails at £49.99 and is available from The LEGO Shop - where you can collect VIP points towards discounted and free LEGO!

As I have to pay postage the giveaway is UK only, my apologies to everyone else. Entry to the giveaway is by rafflecopter form below. If you aren't sure how rafflecopter works, there's a 52 second video here.

If you haven't already entered my other LEGO DUPLO Creative Cakes Set giveaway - you can find it here. 

Entries can be gained by completing the tasks within the rafflecopter form. Each extra task completed gives you extra entries.  Please read the additional terms and conditions at the bottom of the rafflecopter form. This giveaway will end at midnight Friday 20th June when the timer will end and no more entries will be allowed.

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

I was sent the DUPLO Big Farm by DUPLO as a thank you for being on the jury panel for the How Do You Play competition. I don't feel it will get full use here, so I'm giving it away to one of my readers. 

Lifeproof nuud Phone Case Review (And Comparison With Lifeproof fre Phone Case)

Have you ever dropped your phone? Spilt coffee on it? Tried to use it in the pouring rain? Done that thing where you take it out of your pocket and don't have it held securely and can only watch in horror as it skitters across the floor? I know I have....

Almost 6 months ago I reviewed the LifeProof fre phone case and now I have the opportunity to review the new Lifeproof nuud phone case, and even compare the two.

Lifeproof nuud phone case for Samsung Galaxy S3 review

Like the fre case, the nuud is waterproof, shockproof, snowproof and dirtproof. It exceeeds military specifications and should protect your phone from a drop of  up to 2 metres.

I can confirm mine's been dropped many times since I first put it in the fre case, and there's not a scratch anywhere. It's also been used in the pouring rain and even in a pool, and the case has been as good as it's word.

LifeProof nuud Phone Case review rubber seals waterproofing dustproofing

What makes the nuud case  so new and different is that it has no built in screen protector. This case is the first to have screenless technology and uses the phone's own glass screen, alongside the specially shaped rubber seals built into the case, to form a tight vaccuum seal which will dustproof and waterproof the phone.

 Inside the box, along with the 2 part case are an optional screen protector, a dust removal cloth and a shaped insert so that you can test the case underwater.

Obviously it had to be tested, this meant putting together the 2 [parts of the case. I have to say this was really tricky! I found the nuud case much harder to clip shut than my previous fre case and spent 10 minutes panicking about breaking it. I couldn't get the final corner to snap closed at first at all and ended up taking it on and off a few times.

In the end I found it much easier to fasten shut the bottom end of the case first, then the top, followed by checking the edges were both tight. Then the water test...30 minutes submerged.

Lifeproof phone case submersion test

It may have only been an inch under water, rather than the 2 metres that it's safe for, but it performed excellently, and after my experiences with the LifeProof fre case over the last 6 months, I had every faith.

Lifeproof nuud phone case review waterproof test

I'm really impressed. I like it better than the fre case because this removes the one minor gripe that I've found - the fre case screen protector seems to attract mystery grease inside, which collects together and every couple of months you need to remove the case and wipe it inside. I think it's something you'll always have with a screen protector that isn't actually attached directly to the screen.

nuud case/fre case with built-in screen protector
The Lifeproof nuud seal works really well. I'd trust it entirely. You can see it's very different to the seals on the fre, with a much deeper profile.

Lifeproof phone case review fre and nuud compare
nuud with black rubber seal/fre with yellow rubber seal
Overall I think the Lifeproof nuud case is excellent. It's attractive, incredibly strong and does exactly as it promises. I'm certain I'd have broken my phone by now, and I have dropped it in water, which could have been the death of it alone. I feel confident passing my phone over to my 4 year old occasionally to play LEGO Fire Stations or just leaving it on the table where all of my children are likely to spill or put things on it or knock it onto the floor.

As with the fre case you are limited to what chargers will fit into the port, but the original Samsung charger fits just fine, it's mainly cranked and a few generic cheap chargers that are an issue.

The screen protector was easy to apply well and feels lovely.  It's very sensitive and I've no problems using my touch screen. It's very thick compared to any other screen protector I've used, so hopefully it will give good protection, but only time will tell me that. I prefer it to the fre's built in screen protector, but I imagine it will need replacing more often as dust will inevitably get underneath it.

There's absolutely no loss of performance, sound or camera picture quality that I have noticed, and I was pleased to find when I removed the fre case that my phone looked immaculate and brand new - there wasn't any grit in there scratching it while in use.

The Lifeproof nuud phone case is currently available in various sizes to fit the iPad, iPod, iPhone and Samsung Galaxy. My case for the Samsung Galaxy S3 retails at around £40-50, which isn't cheap, but is substantially cheaper than a new phone or screen and comparable to 1 year's insurance.

For further information and to explore the full range of LifeProof cases visit: Lifeproof
LifeProof cases are available to purchase at, John Lewis and Carphone Warehouse.

I was sent my phone case for review.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Algy's Amazing Adventures At Sea from Orion Children's Books (Early Reader)

Algy's Amazing Adventures At Sea is a new book in the Orion Early Readers. Written by Kaye Umansky and illustrated by Richard Watson, this is a Red Band book suitable for children who are beginning to read independently and who can work out more words for themselves.

The story follows Algy, a little boy who has a secret. There is another world behind a loose plank at the back of Algy's shed.

Algy, his friend Cherry and her little brother Brad go on adventures in the secret world inside the shed. This time they find the sea!

They also find some angry pirates, and their adventure has a little peril and a lot of humour but in the end all is well and everyone is happy.

This is a great book for a new reader. The text is really well-spaced out, and repetitive enough that it doesn't intimidate my 5 1/2 year old. There are a new and tricky words, but they're repeated to reinforce them immediately and so my son at least wasn't put off at all. The storyline is interesting and intriguing, and really keeps you wondering what's going to happen next.

The illustrations in Algy's Amazing Adventures At Sea are really nicely done. The pirates look quite terrifying at first, especially the Captain with his hairy nostrils, and the faces are very expressive. There is good use of bright colour, which works really well with the sea, sky and sand.

This is a 'proper' book, with 62 pages split into 6 easy chapters, so your child doesn't feel obliged to try and read it all at once,and if they're new to longer texts, they can continue to feel a sense of progression and achievement.

My boys liked this book a lot, and so do I. The ending was a real surprise - we think we know what's bothering the Pirate Captain, but we're wrong. It's a nice, clever twist.

Algy's Amazing Adventures At Sea is published by Orion Books and has an RRP of £ 4.99. 

We've reviewed several Early Readers in the Blue Band (for reading together) and the Red Band (the next step in reading). All of my children's book reviews can be found on this page

We were sent our copy of this book for review.