Behind the Scenes at the Food Banks – How we can REALLY help

behind the scenes at the food banks

There seems to have been a lot of talk this year about food banks. This is a good thing, yet not so good at the same time. Last week, I was asked by Oxfam and Unilever, if I would like to visit behind the scenes at a local food bank to see exactly how they operate. I have a deep interest in food banks – My mum volunteers a couple of times a week at our St Helens branch, but yet I still believed there was things I could learn.

So off to Crosby Food Bank I went, met by Kelly from Oxfam (More information below about Oxfam’s relationship with the food banks), Linda from the Trussell Trust (Who oversee the food banks across the North-West) and Jan who works for Crosby Food Bank. Crosby is a Liverpool based Food Bank, one of the newer food banks at around 1 year old, based inside Crosby Town Hall. Donations can be dropped off at the desk in the Town Hall, but there is a separate side entrance for people using Food Bank facilities.

This is one word that I heard over and over … the dignity of people using the food banks is paramount. No-one should be made to feel worthless or embarrassed about needing the help and this was such a strong message at Crosby. The food bank reception area is a lovely, clean, welcoming area – Seating and tables so people can come in for a much needed chat. This is definitely more than just a place where people are handed their food and left to it. The staff at Crosby recognise that for a lot of people, it takes guts to accept that they need help and even to cross the threshold of a food bank is a big thing.

weighing foodbank

Anyone can find themselves in the position of needing a Food Bank
This really struck me. I heard stories of normal families who lose a job through a short term illness, whose transport breaks down and leads to the loss of a job, who simply have a run of bad luck – These are often families where they are working but the wage rate may not be considered a ‘living wage’. Zero hours contracts, companies that are struggling themselves … the stories of benefit claimants and people not wanting to work, are simply just hyped up by the media.

I heard about a family who always shopped on a Friday. The wife was a stay-at-home mum with very young children. The husband decided one Friday that he wanted to leave and just disappeared. Just like that, a family desperate for help with nothing to eat.

seating area food bank

Support Agencies
We talked a lot about not just fixing the problem in the short-term. Crosby Food Bank are very lucky to have the Citizens Advice Bureau hold sessions there each week. Appointments can be made on Thursdays … already they are seeing that people are starting to feel more positive, are being helped to take steps to make improvements.

toiletries food bank

Its not just about donating Chocolate Advent Calendars
You may have heard about Jason Manford kindly tweeting to his 1M+ followers to all take advent calendars down to their local food banks. People have been so generous and they have arrived in their hundreds. The problem is though that sometimes there is a shortage of ‘real’ food to provide meals.

We tend to go through our cupboards and look for tins … chickpeas are a favourite to be donated. The volunteers at the Food Banks stress that it is a balance of nutritious foods that they need though to be able to provide balanced meals for families.

Ask your Local Food Bank how you can help
The best help we can give is to ring our food banks before starting a collection – there may be shortages of particular items (Toiletries such as sanitary items men’s toiletries and toilet rolls are often overlooked – We heard horrific stories of families knocking on their neighbour’s doors asking for newspaper to use as toilet roll).

Sometimes, its not necessarily food at a certain time that is needed … My local FB quite often needs time from volunteers to help sort out donations. Harvest festivals from school are amazing but overwhelming for the volunteers. One brilliant idea from a local school was each child to bring only one item with a 50p sellotaped to the top!

cereal food banks

Is it in date?
Goes back to the dignity of users again … they will not be given out of date items. I have heard of one tin that was found to go out of date in 1989!

People in need still like to give themselves
I saw Shower Gels that were wrapped as gifts ready to give out. Quite often people using Food Banks have children at school who still want to give their teachers a gift at the end of term. All about making them feel part of the community and not allowing their children to stand out as needy.

I particularly loved the selection of Christmas Cards on display – People are free to take some cards to write to others. Such a small thing but massive in maintaining dignity and self-esteem.

rice pudding food banks

People are directed to food banks – they don’t just turn up
To use a food bank, a person or family needs to be signposted from a support agency such as a Health Visitor. 3 voucher per year can be issued – Each voucher supplies 3 days worth of food per person/couple/family. This is nothing! Vouchers can be transferred across food banks if transport makes it impossible to get to another food bank.

Oxfam are not just about sorting out crises overseas, there is very much a home strand to their support … They help out both short term for both mad made and natural disasters, but also want to help long term to prevent the need for the emergency support. This falls into one of their 3 priorities, Emergency Aid, Development & Creating change for the future. For more information about the work of Oxfam visit their website.

There are also other organisation such as Unilever getting involved with the fight against poverty – Unilever have launched the #cleanaplate project this Christmas aiming to minimise food waste. I’m definitely in support of this doing our own little steps such as trying to get the children to empty their plates, not cooking portions of rice and paste big enough to feed the street. For more information on Unilever’s work against food poverty and their relationship with Oxfam visit here

I’d like to finish with some more facts that I found out about food banks last week:
* In the first 1/2 of 2014 over 175,000 children were given 3 days of food in UK food banks
* 500,000 people across the UK will use food banks this year
* 74,000 across the North-West will use Food Banks making it the busiest region in the country
* Approx 2000-2500 people will use Crosby Food Banks this year

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Littlest Pet Shop Kingdom Reviews

hasbro littlest pet shop toy review

Littlest Pet Shop toys came into our lives a couple of years ago with our eldest, Millie. A gift from her Auntie at Christmas, it was played with but never one of the massive favourites. I was asked a couple of weeks ago if my girls would be interested in trying out a new selection from the Littlest Pet Shop range. I have to say they have come a long way in those 2 years – I believe toys need a period of time to settle in, to see if they really are a winner, but so far they are doing quite well.

We were sent Blythe’s Bedroom and the Spa Style Scene along with a selection of figures and accessories. The bedroom alone contains at least 95 tiny pieces for personalising the look of your set. RRP £29.99 Age 6+.
The Spa Scene is RRP £14.99 and 6+.

assembly littlest pet shop

Violet (age 8) needed some assistance with the setting up of the Bedroom as there is quite a lot of assembly. This will depend on the individual child, how easy they find it. If you have a Lego lover, like my Millie then they will LOVE this bit. I loved the neatness of everything having a place and a slot to go in. There was scope for imagination though – Children can decide where to put the many tiny flowers that decorate inside and outside of the bedroom. There are also plenty of stickers so their imagination can go wild.

tara littlest pet shop review

While the ‘rooms’ were being set up, Tara busied herself by playing with the individual characters – I was amazed by how long they kept her interest. Who knew that putting earrings on and off a toy dog could keep a 3yo occupied for so long?! Obviously, I had to keep an eye on her as the pieces were absolutely tiny and she is only 3 but she loved it.

characters littlest pet shop

Being a bit of a tidy freak (when I get chance), I loved that the toys interlock – We put the Spa Scene directly on top of Blythe’s Bedroom.

What we liked:
* I liked Violet’s sense of achievement when she grasped the instructions about how to assemble the toy – She was slightly frustrated at first until she ‘got it’.
* The amount of decorations to design the bedroom how Violet wanted it.
* The quality of the toy – The connections seem really secure, the walls are not too flimsy either.

Time will tell how much the girls play with these sets – Tara has been found a few times having a play and Violet enjoyed telling her Dad how everything went together and what bits are for what.

opening our littlest pet shop Violet was rather pleased with her parcel – Ignore the 12yo to the side. She is obviously thrilled (in a 12 year old way!)

Disclosure: Sponsored Post – All opinions are my own (and Violet’s!)

The Snowman & Snowdog Grotto – Trafford Centre

snowman snowdog trafford centre

There’s something very magical about going to see Santa with your children. This is my 12th Christmas as a Mum and each year, we try to visit a different grotto. I’m not sure Santa recognises us at each event – I suspect that it might not ALWAYS be the ‘real’ Father Christmas ;-)

We were lucky enough to be invited to The Snowman and Snowdog Grotto in Barton Square, Trafford Centre last Sunday so off we trooped. I need to apologise at this point for the less than brilliant photos – We forgot the big camera, something to do with us having to set out at 7am to go to synchro training first.

santa's grotto trafford centre

You arrive at The Snowman Grotto to be met by one of the Elves (at least I think they were elves). Our slot was 12pm but there were a lot of other families milling about trying to book in (You book in at the main Trafford Centre Customer Service desk). The Elves were so patient and friendly – it would have driven me potty having to explain that they were fully booked until 4.30pm to so many people. An A frame board explaining which slot was next and how to register would have saved them so much hassle.

trafford centre elves

About 10 minutes before your time, you go in and queue inside – Another Elf welcomes you and gets the children all excited about Christmas – At this point you are given a gift of some Reindeer food for Christmas Eve (Anyone else got more reindeer food than real food in their house at the moment?).

Inside the grotto is a living room where an actor creates the atmosphere, telling the story of the Snowman and Snowdog with the aid of a massive video screen. Children sit on the floor and adults on benches. The younger kids were enthralled and its not too long (about 10-15 mins) for anyone who feels a little bit old (Your 12 year old for example!)

santa trafford centre

I thought this was going to be it but then the magic continues with a visit to Santa – At this point my children decide to ask for a real life monkey and 2 hamsters – Has anyone else heard that Santa isn’t doing livestock this year?! Santa was lovely and his room is great – complete with yet another friendly Elf!

You can have your picture taken with Santa and then go to choose your print if you like it.

santa's living room

After the Grotto experience, the fun can continue with a ride on the traditional carousel and plenty of other little stalls – Kangaroo Burger anyone?

To finish the afternoon, we tucked into a huge Cadwalladers’ Ice-Cream Sundae and a huge Mocha! The experience was so much better than we thought it was going to be – Our girls were really pleased with their gifts from Santa (who incidentally agreed with me that perhaps a real life monkey might not be possible this year but a cuddly one might be better still!)

carousel trafford centre

Christmas Recipes Round Up – #FoodieFriday

Its getting exciting now – Less than 3 weeks to go before the BIG DAY. I’ve still got tons to get sorted but can’t help my mind wandering to Christmas Food (to be fair, my mind is never that far away from food!)

This week’s #FoodieFriday them is all things CHRISTMAS – In fact we are going to be keeping the linky open for the next MONTH! Yes, you’ve got ages to be able to link up as many Christmas inspired recipe as you like. Whether they are savoury, baking, cakes, veggies or using up leftovers – they are all welcome here. The linky will remain open until Thursday 1st January 2015.

To celebrate I have compiled a list of my most favourite Christmas recipes that I have shared over the past couple of years – no surprise that they are mostly sweet – I do eat the odd sprout but don’t seem to have blogged about them.

christmas recipe roundup

In addition to the most recent recipes for Christmas Tree Cupcakes and Marzipan Puppy Chow, We also have one of my most favourite recipes ever – My Lemon Curd & Amaretto Trifle. The photo might be rubbish but the taste was magnificent – Definitely on the list to be made again this year.

I’m waiting impatiently for the children to break up from school so we can crack on with the real Christmas baking – Over the past year, I’ve really worked on my relationship with yeast so am much more confident about getting a light and airy Stollen – Even if it is rather flat like last years’ it will still be delicious!

stollen recipe no candied peel

My panforte will no doubt be making an appearance at the annual Costello Christmas party – I think last year we had a competition between my Auntie Linda’s panforte and mine. Couldn’t possibly tell you who won!

panforte recipe

Of course, we need the obligatory savoury recipe, my Oven Baked Turkey, Chestnut, Bacon & Prosecco Risotto – This was perfect on New Year’s Eve last year.

turkey, chestnut, oven risotto

If you run out of time or get unexpected guests, my Celebration popcorn is a perfect quick make!

white chocolate marshmallow pecan nuts sweet popcorn

Brilliant response to last week’s #FoodieFriday – There were some truly creative recipes and foodie posts.

I’ve picked 3 favourites to highlight …

foodie friday roundup

From left to right:
Spanakopita from In the Kid’s Kitchen – I love how this went down a treat with her children and everyone couldn’t help staring at her fussiest loving it. Every parent’s dream!
Seasonal Spanish Persimmon Jelly from All About You – So pretty – Any guests should be honoured to receive some of this.
First Apple Pie from Mami Tales – complete with a beautiful story of teaching her little one how to make an apple pie. A legacy that will last a lifetime.

Best of luck with all of your Christmas baking and cooking – I’m sure I’ll be sharing a few more in the next 3 weeks but in the meantime, feel free to add yours to the linky below. There is no theme – Just anything that is remotely Christmassy. Please add the badge to your post and if you could link back to Casa Costello and Romanian Mum, that would be fantastic. Old posts are fine as long as they contain the link. If you are inspired to do your own Christmas Foodie roundup, you are welcome to include it too!

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Walkers Deli Crisps – Grown Up Crisps & Caramelised Onion & Garlic Dip

walker's deli crisps

Crisps are definitely my go to snack when hungry and no energy. You know when people say they couldn’t live without bread or cheese, well my saviour is crisps every time (and maybe cake but that’s a post for another day!).

Walkers Deli crisps have brought out a new range of crisps specifically aimed at Grown Ups and have asked me to taste test them – Oh the trauma! NB Kids are quite welcome to eat them too, if they can prise them out of my hand. The crisps come in 3 varieties, Classic Potato Chips, Pita Chips and the more hearty Tortilla Chip. The flavours have taken inspiration from European markets which are ever so popular at the moment:

walker's deli pita chips

Potato Chips:
Cornish Mature Cheddar
Wiltshire Cured Ham, mature cheddar & farmhouse chutney
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena – Went down superbly well as an after school snack for us 4 girls curled up on the sofa. Lovely balsamic aftertaste.
Flame Grilled Spanish Chorizo with Roasted Onion

Tortilla Chips
Anglesey Sea Salt with Cracked Black Pepper – Sadly we didn’t eat these in Anglesey but happily they were just as lovely in St Helens!
Roasted Red Chilli with Mediterranean Sundried Tomato

Pita Chips
Roasted Garlic with Mediterranean Herbs
Roasted Red pepper with English Tomato

caramelised onion garlic dip

Now there’s an unwritten rule in our house that you can’t eat Chilli crisps without a good dip. My favourite combination is Caramelised Onion & Garlic Dip which went perfectly with the Walker’s Roasted Red Chilli Tortilla Chips with Mediterranean Sundried Tomato. The dip may not look that attractive but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it and all that …

1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 White Onion – Finely Chopped
1/2 Celery Stick – Finely Chopped
1/4 tsp Crushed Garlic
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
Twist of Black Pepper
1 small tub Natural Greek Yogurt

In a small frying pan, heat the oil and add the celery and the onion and sweat for 10-12 minutes until completely soft and starting to brown
Add the Worcestershire Sauce and the garlic and stir through. Continue sweating for another 2 minutes.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
When completely cool, mix together well with the Yogurt and the black pepper.
Best eaten within 2 days – Keep in the fridge.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our tasting sessions of the Walker’s Range – The Pita Chips are really chunky so you feel like you’ve had a good snack. As I type, I’m snacking on Wiltshire Cured Ham Potato Chips – The things I do for this blog!

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Christmas Cupcakes – Bake of the Week

christmas tree cupcakes with a hidden surprise inside

I’ve enjoyed having a play with some Christmas Cupcakes this week. I’d forgotten how time consuming they can be though – and how quickly they get demolished in our house. These are batch 2 – The first lot got eaten before having their pictures taken, when I was out. Cardinal sin in the world of food blogging but amazing that it hasn’t happened before now with 3 kids!

I wanted to make something a little more challenging than ordinary Christmas cupcakes so made secret hidden stars inside of them – I did start with hidden Christmas Trees but didn’t fancy a green inside to my cupcakes and didn’t like that the Christmas design wasn’t really clear enough. I’m quite happy with the stars though – I used one of the kids old star cutters that isn’t that sharp on the edges so reckon that if you used a better cutter, the design would be even sharper.

How to bake a surprise star inside cupcakes

I was set a challenge by the Cake Decorating Store to come up with a Christmas cupcake design. Me being me, couldn’t leave it at just one design – after all, who wants just plain old trees? You must have a Santa too!(Santa cake toppers supplied by the Cake Decorating Store)

santa cupcakes

And so onto how to make the Christmas Tree Cupcakes with a surprise hidden inside.

I used my usual vanilla cupcake recipe. Line cupcake trays with cupcake cases and preheat the oven to 180C.

I took approximately 1/4 of the mix out and coloured it red with gel food colour.

Spread it out on a lined baking tray to a depth of about 5mm and bake at 180C for 3-4 minutes.

how to bake shapes inside cupcakes

AS soon as it comes out of the oven, cut out stars using a cutter. Press 2 stars together for the correct depth.

Spoon 1tsp of the plain cake mix into the bottom of each case then add the star.

Spoon the rest of the plain cake mix around and on top of the stars – make sure the star doesn’t fall over.

Bake at 180C for 18-20 minutes.

When cool, spread a thin layer of white frosting over the cupcake. (I used ready made frosting from the Cake Decorating Store)

Roll out a cone of marzipan and stick on top of the cupcake.

marzipan christmas trees

Colour some more frosting a pale green colour, and put in a piping bag. It doesn’t really matter what nozzle you use as long as it is fairly thin with a serrated edge.

Pipe little peaks from the top of the cone down, working evenly and leaving some peaks sticking quite proud.

Sprinkle over with tiny Christmas coloured sugar balls immediately before the frosting sets.


Bake of the Week Round UP

I know I’ve said it before, but I am absolutely gob smacked by how many wonderful bakers take part in Bake of the Week – I am so grateful for each and every one of you. We are almost up to 300 posts on our Pinterest board which is phenomenal. Thank You!

Because there were so many entries over the 2 weeks, I am stretching my own rules and choosing 3 featured bakes.

Olive, tomato & Herb Bread tree

My first is carrying on the Tree theme and is this wonderful Olive, Tomato & Herb Christmas Tree from Tales from the Kitchen Shed. What a fantastic idea for arranging and baking bread. On the blog, there is also a sweet version of this tree. Just wow!

choux cygnets

My next featured bake is from a baker that has 5 bakes entered into this week’s Bake of the Week, ET Speaks From Home – This lady knows how to work hard! Her Choux Cygnets are beautiful and so delicate. I’m also very jealous that she has been baking with Brendan of GNNO fame recently!

And I couldn’t leave this cute Owl Cake out. So simple yet really effective from Green Gourmet Giraffe

owl birthday cake

The linky is now open for your next Bakes of the Week – I’m catching up on all the comments and sharing of the posts at last! Please place the badge somewhere on your post to let people know you are one of the B of the W team. I comment, Pin, Tweet and Share on Google+ all entries. There is no theme, anything that you bake can be included.

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Walnut Crusted Cod with Spicy Puy Lentils #HealthyTreats with Rennie

walnut crusted cod spicy puy lentils

Contrary to popular belief, we don’t eat cake EVERy day in our house. We do try to have a mix of good, healthy & nutritious food – especially this week in the run up to the National Synchro competition, when 50% are suffering with sore throats!

I have been asked to share a favourite #HealthyTreat recipe by Rennie. One in which contains as many natural ingredients as possible. When I think about eating healthily, I automatically want to make the food as tasty as possible – The last thing I want is for my mind to start thinking ‘diet’ and therefore ‘hungry’. I’m actually sharing 2 of my tastiest meals both of which contain spice for the ultimate in taste explosion.

I’m a big believer that what we eat past massively to how we feel. If I sense my girls are a bit ‘inside out’, out come the good, healthy recipes. I’m convinced that children’s behaviours and sleep are hugely affected by what they have eaten.

Walnut Crusted Cod with Spicy Puy Lentils

Serves 3-5
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 45 minutes
Total time 1 hour
Allergy Fish
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish
Misc Child Friendly, Serve Hot
Spicy Puy lentils jam packed full of vegetables served with a crunchy walnut crusted baked cod fillet


  • 3-4 Cod Fillets (Depending on size of fillets - Sometimes we get 5 small fillets out of this recipe)
  • 50g Walnuts (Crushed)
  • 2 tablespoons Wholemeal Breadcrumbs
  • 8 Basil Leaves (Finely Chopped)
  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • 200g Puy Lentils (Rinsed in cold water and drained)
  • 600ml Vegetable Stock
  • 1 Red Pepper (Chopped into small diced cubes)
  • 2 Sticks of Celery (Chopped into small cubes)
  • 1 Red Chilli (Finely Chopped)
  • 5 Small Tomatoes (Chopped into small chunks - No need to deseed)
  • 1 juice Lemon


Walnut Crusted Cod
Preheat the oven to 180C and line an oven tray with parchment paper.
Mix the Walnuts, Breadcrumbs and half of the basil leaves in a small bowl. Add a grind of black pepper.
Add the Olive Oil and stir through until the nut mixture is covered with the oil - It will still be crumbly
Press the nut mixture firmly on top of the Cod and bake for 35 minutes - the nut mixture should be just starting to turn golden and the cod still flaky
Spicy Lentils
Add the puy lentils to a pan (no lid needed) and pour over the stock. Bring to a slow boil and simmer for 25 minutes - They should be soft but still have a slight crunch texture
Add the celery to the lentils and allow to cook for a further 3-4 minutes. Add the pepper & chilli and continue cooking
Just before you are ready to serve, add the tomatoes and basil and stir through until heated
Serve in a bowl with the Cod on top and add the lemon juice at the last minute

My other #HealthyTreat recipe I want to share is one of my beloved soups – Just because you are trying to eat healthily doesn’t mean you need to eat watery soups. I get the illusion of a creamy soup by adding coconut milk which makes for some healthy luxury. Again, I add spice with a whole chilli (half if you want it very mild) and some cumin, which is my spice of the moment!

Spicy Cumin Sweet Potato Soup

Serves 4
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 24 minutes
Total time 34 minutes
Meal type Lunch, Snack, Soup
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
Creamy Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash soup with a kick of chilli and cumin


  • 3 Large Sweet Potatoes (Peeled and chopped into cubes)
  • 200g Butternut Squash (Peeled and chopped into cubes)
  • 1 stick Celery (Chopped)
  • 1 Red Chilli (Finely Chopped)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cumin powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Veg Stock Powder
  • 500ml Water
  • 1 tin Coconut Milk
  • Pepper & Parsley to garnish


I use my soup maker to make this speedy soup however it is just as easy to make in a pan. Soften the veg, add the spices and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes. Blend using an electric whisk and finally add the coconut milk!


Put the Sweet Potato, Butternut Squash, Chilli, Cumin powder, Celery, Stock & Water into your soup maker and cook on a smooth setting
Add the coconut milk at the end of cooking and either stir or whizz together to make sure fully combined
Serve immediately with a sprinkling of black pepper, sprig of parsley for decoration and some fresh crusty wholemeal bread

spicy cumin sweet potato soup

This post has been supported by Rennie®, but all thoughts are my own. I was reimbursed for any ingredients used in the making of this recipe. The recipe is an original CasaCostello recipe. I am entering the Walnut Crusted Cod recipe into a competition to win a variety of prizes offered by Rennie.

Joining in with Emily’s Recipe of the Week and Honest Mum’s Tasty Tuesdays and Supergoldenbakes’s Cook,Blog,Share

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Dairy Diary & Fantastic Food for Less Cookbook Giveaway

dairy diary giveaway

Dairy Diary definitely takes me back to my youth – I remember the milkman turning up in December with our copy of the next year’s diary. In fact, I could blame the milkman for starting my obsession with stationery and cookbooks!

When I was asked if I would like a copy of the 2015 Diary Diary and the accompanying cookbook, Fantastic Food for Less, I was keen. We sadly don’t have a milkman any more (We tried for a while but ours was really unreliable as he went to Florida 4 times a year!)

A hardback diary with a spiral spine – There are 3-4 recipes for every month making it jam packed with foodie ideas. The recipe suggestions are well balanced – plenty of simple ones with easy to find ingredients and not too long instructions.

dairy diary inside

The front of the diary is full of useful information – there’s even a pattern for knitting your own bunny if you’re looking for something to keep you occupied in 2015 (other than reading Casa Costello obviously!) It contains the usual conversion charts, important dates and anniversaries but also really good stuff too – like Grilling times for fish and what different oven temps are used for.

knit a bunny pattern

The diary is a week to 2 pages with plenty of writing room (there’s even enough room for a family that has a synchronised swimmer!). The memorable dates stickers are a novel idea for the uber organised.

cookbook giveaway

As if all those recipes weren’t enough, I also have a copy of Fantastic Food for Less – A cookbook about Less Waste, Less Cost, More Taste. Perfect for a family – plenty of simple recipes that look delicious. All with a handy QR code that you can scan to bring up an ingredients list – genius! The photography in the book is clear and inviting with many including a handy Cook’s Tip for alternative ways of producing the dish. A brilliant book!

family cookbook giveaway

I’ve got one copy of the Dairy Diary and Fantastic Food for Less Cookbook to give away to a lucky reader. To enter, complete the rafflecopter instructions below – As usual, don’t forget to leave a comment at the bottom of this post rather than on the widget itself.

Open to UK readers only and competition closes at 11.59pm on 20th December. I will do my best to try to get your prize to you before the start of 2016! Best of Luck x

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Degustabox Review – Foodies’ Surprise Box of Delights

degustabox surprise food parcel

I love knowing that I’m going to get a treat – who doesn’t like nice surprises? I’m working with Degustabox for the next couple of months to help promote their secret food boxes. Each month, recipients get a selection of food – the intrigue is that you never know what you will get.

I received my first box a couple of weeks ago for the October batch. I really wasn’t sure what to expect (and secretly hoped I wouldn’t get a load of rubbish to fill my already bulging cupboards!) Here’s what I got:

sweet chilli dipping sauce

Blue Dragon Original Sweet Chilli Sauce – I can’t tell you how many bottles of this, we will get through this Christmas.

What we do with it: Dips for all manner of battered nibbles, spring rolls, prawn crackers and even my coconut battered prawns

degustabox products

Solo Toasted Marshmallow Creme

What we do with it: I can feel another Battenburg coming on with this as the filling – Or maybe just straight off a spoon!

Jelly Belly Jellybeans

What we do with it: Apart from the most obvious game of guess the flavour, these make cracking speedy cupcake decorations or even all over a frosted cake.

Kelloggs’ Special K Barbeque Cracker Crisps

The Salt & Vinegar flavour packs of these are my most favourite low fat alternatives to crisps ever! I don’t feel cheated or am left wanting more (probably because the bags are huge). The barbecue flavour are just as strong and flavourful – perfect snack for after my 5 mile walk next week!

Alpha Bites Bear Cereal

What we do with them: Mini boxes of cereal are perfect for caravanning or even making more Puppy Chow

dr oetker chocolate

Dr Oetker 90% Dark Chocolate – Would you just look at the shine on the cake pictured on the packet? This is going to make an amazing chocolate cake this weekend!

Dr Oetker Dark Cocoa Powder – I love that this packet contains 3 small sachets. I always have cocoa powder in the cupboard but its not an ingredient I use great quantities of – Great that this will keep fresh instead of a huge tub.


Enhance Apple & Blackcurrant juice for adding to water – Millie has already snaffled this for school – There’s not a Year 8 without one apparently!

Paws Strawberry & Apple pieces – These disappeared in record fast time. They are known as sweets in our house which suits me as they are so much healthier than other sweet alternatives.

Get Buzzing – Orignal Nutty Energy bar – I’m not normally a fan of anything ‘energy’ but these bars really are delicious and now I have a mild addiction to walking, I feel all virtuous when I eat one after exercise. What has happened to me?

pasquier brioche

Brioche Pasquier‘s Pain au lait with chocolate chips and Sliced Brioche Loaf – Its like the box was made especially for us. We go through mountains of brioche on Sunday mornings to and fro from synchro training.

What we do with it: The sliced brioche is fabulous for chocolate bread & butter pudding or even Eggy Bread with a sweet cinnamon twist.

bengal meal kit

Bengal Meal Kit

What we do with it: I believe any food box should contain an element of stretching yourself/ trying something new – I’ve never tried a curry kit like this one from Bengal Meal Kit but relish the thought of it. I love the packaging which displays the oil and spices so clearly.

Degustabox is very simple to set up – To find out more about registering please visit their website
The normal price per box is £12.99 including delivery with a promise of containing around double the value of products (Around 12-14 items in each box).

Casa Costello readers are entitled to a £3 discount when ordering their first Degustabox with this code:


Let me know if you try out Degustabox and what you do with your products!

Marzipan Puppy Chow/Christmas Crack Recipe – Foodie Friday

Please Note: Not to be shared with dogs!

marzipan puppy chow

I have no idea why this sort of snack is called Puppy Chow – All I know is that it is delicious and very addictive. I have numerous combinations of Puppy Chow – The original version should contain peanut butter but I much prefer my almond version.

Perfect for when you have guests over Christmas but make sure you make double! The idea for puppy chow originates in the US and uses Chex cereal – These look like Shreddies but are not malted. I find that Golden Grahams taste just right. There is no need to be exact in your weighing of the ingredients – This recipe is meant to be fun, quick and easy and different with every delightful mouthful!

Marzipan Puppy Chow

Serves 4-6
Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 5 minutes
Total time 10 minutes
Meal type Snack
Misc Child Friendly, Serve Cold
Occasion Barbecue, Birthday Party, Casual Party
Almond Puppy Chow snack recipe with toasted marzipan


  • 3 cups Cereal such as Golden Grahams
  • 150g Milk Chocolate
  • 50g Flaked Almonds
  • 100g Marzipan (Lightly toasted under the grill for 2 minutes until just turning golden)
  • 100g Icing Sugar


Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water - Remove from the heat when runny
Add the cereal and nuts to the chocolate and mix through
Chop the toasted marzipan into tiny cubes and mix through into the chocolate cereal mix
Pour the icing sugar into a large strong food bag
Add the chocolate cereal and shake until all cereal/nuts/marzipan are covered by the icing sugar
Serve immediately

Very quiet week last week for Foodie Friday – don’t forget that even if it isn’t Friday any more, the link is still open until the next Thursday evening. For Otilia’s week we have these 3 entries:

foodie friday

From left to right :
Melt in the Mouth Churros from Truly Madly Kids. I’ve made Churros and know how hard they can be to keep their shape so massive well done!
Slow Cooked Beef in Red Wine Sauce from Dragons and Fairy Dust. Cor! How inviting does this look?
And last but not least this delicious looking Marinated Flank Steak Recipe from Broward Saves

The linky for this week is now open – I’m going to be sharing like mad so you will all be sick of seeing me. The theme is a super easy one …SWEET!! Yes all things sweet, cakes, chocolates, sauces, dips, sugarcraft – Remember you don’t have to include a recipe – just a post (or more than one!) about sweet food is fine. As usual, all entries will be commented, tweeted, pinned and shared on Google+. Here is the badge to include in your post – Feel free to spread the word about Foodie Friday. Otilia will be back next Friday to do the roundup and open a new theme.

Casa Costello
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I’m joining in with the following: Emily’s Recipe of the Week, SupergoldenBakes’ Cook,Blog,Share