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

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Note

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!

Directions

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

tasty tuesdays honest mum

#CookBlogShare

recipe-of-the-week

Win A Perfect Night In with Sainsbury’s

lego blocks

My younger self would despair if she could see how much I enjoy a rare night in now. I used to work with plenty of mothers who used to talk about what made their perfect night in. I swore I would never stay in, if there was the chance of a good night out. Well, guess what? 3 kids later and 5 trips to Manchester every week plus numerous other after school activities, I crave my home and my sofa.

The 2 nights that I tend to stay in are a Friday and a Sunday. Dermot works early on a Saturday, so we are not exactly wild. I do love the company of my kids, but like most parents LOVE that moment when they all go quiet and snuggle down for the night.

So what do we do? Prepare to be thrilled bored rigid …

The Entertainment:

Pre-Kids Bedtime … Its all about the Lego and Building Blocks … probably last week’s X Factor – Yep it really does take us 5-6 days to catch up!

Post-Kids Bedtime … Casualty of course (Has anyone else watched it right from the beginning?) and MasterChef Professionals (Marcus Waring is actually growing on me)

 

The Outfits:

Onesies for the girls obviously! I haven’t succumbed to owning a onesie yet so PJs it is. (Told you we are riveting!) How cute are these little wee slippers though?

onesie

She’s having a great night – Can’t you tell?

The Food:

The lazier, the better – Sorry, if you were hoping for an exotic home cooked meal – this is not the post for you! We’re talking ready meal & more often than not, there will be dips – A recent favourite is my Chocolate Orange Dip (recipe coming soon)…

  gin cointreau cocktail

The Drink

Hot Chocolate for my girls, Gin Cocktail for me & Mr C …

Gin Cointreau Cocktail

  •  1 Tbsp Cointreau
  • 2 Tbsp Gin
  • Cloudy Lemonade – Filled until 1cm from the top of the glass
  • 1 Tbsp Mandarin Sorbet
  • 3 Cocktail Cherries

Directions: Add the spirits to the bottom of a tall wine glass, Fill up with lemonade then add the sorbet. Allow to melt slightly and drop 3 cocktail cherries into the glass – They taste amazing once the drink has gone.

Sainsbury’s are offering one lucky household the chance to win their own perfect night in. Here’s what you could win:

  • A 40″ HDTV
  • £250 Sainsbury’s vouchers
  • Sainsbury’s Top 10 bestselling DVDs

Its super simple to enter – All you have to do is visit http://www.sainsburysbank.co.uk/money-matters/perfect-night-in-prize-draw.shtml and describe your perfect night in. Go for it everyone – Its a fantastic prize.

Terms & Conditions Apply – Entries close this Friday 14th November. The winner will be chosen at random by Sainsbury’s on Monday 17th November.

This is a sponsored post – I was commissioned by Sainsbury’s to highlight this competition and received payment for the post.

Autumn Picnics with #Vitapicnics

I’m going to let you into a secret – There’s a place I know. Its rather perfect. Don’t tell everyone – They’ll all want to go. If you’re thinking of setting out on an autumn picnic over the half term – you may want to think about going.

hell's mouth

Let me tell you about Hell’s Mouth (No, not the hole in my face that talks a bit too much – That’s a completely different type of Hell’s Mouth) A wonderful beach just near Abersoch – I’ve probably told you about it before. Perfect for surfing, perfect for walking, perfect for picnicking – Which is why I’m telling you about it.

vita coco kids

Vita Coco Kids have a campaign running this autumn to keep us picnicking. Just because the weather is a bit fresher doesn’t mean to say we can’t eat al fresco anymore. I’m all in favour of this idea and have been for years – We do outdoor day trips all year round – We are your forever optimistic picnickers – There’s not much a good coat and an umbrella can’t protect against.

Vita Coco want me to tell you all about our favourite picnic spot but shhh! remember to keep it quiet!

Let me introduce you to Hell’s Mouth …

FREE car park – This is a perfect spot for surfers so will spot some brilliant camper vans and maybe the odd half naked man getting into a wetsuit. Its a cross we all have to bear! Even better there is a tea van so if you finish your flask – there’s always a top up!

car park hell's mouth

There’s a sandy walk (about 200m) down to the beach – Good exercise but not too far and you are nicely warm by the time you reach the beach. Perfectly safe to let the kids walk on ahead.

walking to the beach

There’s plenty of waves for the active type – Disclaimer: This is Dermot and not me!

deem surfing abersoch

There’s even peace and tranquility (Maybe not if you take your 3 kids)

surf board beach wales

We don’t live on the doorstep of Abersoch – in fact, we have a good 2 1/2 hour drive to get there but it is well worth it. We quite often set out mid morning on a Sunday and don’t get back until late evening. We take an almighty picnic but it soen’t stop us devouring the chippy at Conwy on the way back.

Disclosure: We were sent a fabulous picnic set to encourage us to talk about our favourite picnic spot. Vita Coco Kids is fruit-flavoured Coconut Water using natural flavours, containing on average 20% less sugar and calories than other fruit juice drinks. I tested the drinks out on the kids without telling them that they were new and they went down really well. My 3yo loved the mango & pineapple flavour (Apple & blackcurrant flavour also available)

#MorningWin with Belvita

belVita #morningwin

Ah, mornings – don’t we all just love them? Here’s how they go in our house …

If we wake before 8.30
If the uniform is not dirty.

If the ham is still in date,
making lunch won’t make us late.

If we find shoes, left and right,
If the kids don’t start to fight.

If all homework is completed,
properly saved, and not deleted.

If the kids get out of bed,
shouted once, not seeing red.

If belVita’s in the tin,
we have what’s called a #MorningWin!

This post is an entry for #MorningWin Linky Challenge sponsored by Belvita Breakfast. Learn more at http://bit.ly/belVitaUK

#morningwin belvita
This is Violet ‘enjoying’ a belVita – Seriously. she is – you want to see how grumpy she normally looks in a morning!

We were sent some BelVita to test as part of our entry into this competition – We tried 3 flavours, Apricot, Hazelnut & Choc Chip. I had no trouble getting my girls to taste test them – in fact they were devastated when we ran out. Vi’s favourite is the Choc Chip (See pictured – She just hasn’t told her face! She is so not a morning person). My fave by far are the Hazelnut belVita’s – perfect for dashing off on that school run! Even better dipped in a brew!

No-Cheese Smoked Haddock Omelette – Cage Free Eggs from Sainsburys

no cheese smoked haddock omelette

I first started getting concerned with what eggs I used when I was at the peak of Aardvark Cakes’ wedding season. It wasn’t unusual to use 70+ eggs. I just couldn’t bring myself to use eggs from caged hens although they were significantly cheaper. Slowly more and more customers were asking if I used free-range eggs and it was such a relief to be able to say yes. I searched everywhere for decent priced free-range eggs and found them at my local farm shop.

A few years on and it seems the world has caught up. It more unusual to see eggs from caged hens now but I will admit to not knowing what sort of eggs are used in ready made products that I have bought. Sainsburys are very proud that they are the first major retailer to use cage free eggs as ingredients in all of their own brand products. I really like this declaration – Makes me feel more confident about what I’m buying. Does that mean I’m really grown up? ;-)

Sainsburys have produced a rather cute (and short) video to celebrate all their products containing cage free eggs here.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t share a recipe while I’m on the subject of eggs. Miss Millie has been continuing with her Food Tech lessons at High School. We’ve moved on from Hot Drinks and are now onto proper food. Last week it was omelette – A cold, floppy, rather undercooked omelette arrived home at 3PM. I couldn’t possibly say if it went straight in the bin but a couple of days later, I showed Millie the joy of a properly cooked, tasty omelette.

 

No Cheese Smoked Haddock Omelette

Serves 1
Prep time 3 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 13 minutes
Allergy Egg, Fish
Meal type Breakfast, Lunch, Main Dish, Snack
Misc Child Friendly, Serve Hot
Super tasty Smoked Haddock omelette with a cheese free interior

Ingredients

  • 2 Eggs
  • 150ml Milk (+ 2 extra tablespoons)
  • 3 tablespoons Oil
  • 1 Shallot (Chopped finely)
  • 1 Small Smoked Haddock Fillet
  • 1 teaspoon Dried Parsley

Directions

In a jug, whisk together the eggs and the 2 tablespoon of milk. Season with S & P.
In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and sauté the shallot until transparent and soft
Add the Haddock, remaining milk and dried parsley. Put the lid on the pan and cook for approx 3-4 minutes until the haddock is just cooked and flaky. Remove the fish and the majority of the onions from the pan.
In a frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and add the egg/milk mixture. Spread the mixture as far around the pan as possible and heat until it just starts to bubble - DO NOT STIR!
Use a spatula to lift the edges of the omelette
Add the haddock/onion mixture to one half of the omelette.
Flip over the other half and turn the heat off immediately.
Eat straightaway - I serve with something green!

 

Disclosure: I was asked to share a recipe that I make using eggs and given voucher to cover the cost of the ingredients.

 

Cherishing Family Milestone Moments with Fairy

family cuddles

Super Soft Cuddles

I like to think I don’t take any of my children’s milestones for granted. Everyone always says how quickly time goes by and that you will never get those childhood years back (I’m never quite sure how to take that!) Parents of teenagers are quick to tell me that the toddlers years are the best – I can’t comment yet as we have 43 weeks left until we have a teenager in the house!)

I will admit though that the last 12 years have just flown – I’m wanting to grab hold of my littlies and slow life down. We have less than a year until Miss T goes to school so for this year we have one in High School, One in Primary School and One at nursery – Family planning at its best. Eh?

Tara 2nd birthday

Fairy are running a campaign at the moment to encourage us to make the most of our precious family moments. They have produced a short video that’ll make you gulp! For anyone whose child has ever had a special teddy, this is for you …

We are rearranging our photos in the living room and have been having a potter through our collection – There’s nothing like seeing pics of your kids to realise how quickly the time has passed. I’m vowing to take more pictures over the next few years – and maybe be on a few myself! As we’ve gone through the photos its been lovely to see how often the girls have impromptu cuddles themselves – Long may they continue!

Seems like yesterday!

Seems like yesterday!

Disclosure: I was asked to feature the Fairy video and write about special family time. I was sent some Fairy products to compensate for my time.

Kids go Free over the Summer with CBeebies Magazine

cbeebies kids go free offers

There is much excitement in Casa Costello tonight – tomorrow sees us trooping off to Alton Towers for the day courtesy of CBeebies Magazine. I’m solo parenting (with a little help from my niece) as Mr C has got to work, but looking forward to it nonetheless.

Little Miss T, Violet and I are attending an event prior to going into the main theme park, hosted by CBeebies Magazine – CBeebies Magazine has come up with the genius offer to giveaway free child tickets to major kids attractions in the UK over the summer. I can honestly say that ‘Operation Keep The Kids Entertained Over Summer’ is in full swing here – every night, my 3 ask where we are off to tomorrow? We’ve had to have a couple of home days this week as we have been struck by the Bug of Doom but fingers crossed all that is over!

Every issue of CBeebies Magazine from now until 7th October will have 2 tokens for kids to go free at selected locations: See below for more details – there’s massive savings to be had! The magazine only costs £2.99 to buy!

• Issue 410 (30th July) – Chessington World of Adventures – Save £68 (£34 per ticket)
• Issue 411 (13th Aug) – Alton Towers Resort inc. CBeebies Land – Save £86.40 (£43.20 per ticket)
• Issue 412 (27th Aug) – Warwick Castle – Save £39.60 (£19.80 per ticket)
• Issue 413 (10th Sept) – Legoland and Legoland Discovery Centre – Save £82.80 (£41.40 per ticket)
• Issue 414 (24th Sept) – Sealife Centres and Seal sanctuaries – Save £39 (£19.50 per ticket)

Some terms & conditions apply

So that’s it for now – I’ll feed back how we got on at Alton Towers. We’re due to meet one of the CBeebies characters tomorrow … Tara would love it to be Topsy & Tim (whoever they are!). I think Vi would like Nina (with or without her neurons) and I wouldn’t complain at Mr Bloom (as long as he’s scrubbed his nails!). Knowing my luck it’ll be Tree Fu Tom! ;-)

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Homemade Ice Lollies: Peach Melba Smoothies – Center Parcs Family Blogger Challenge

  cooking with kids smoothies

The last in my monthly Center Parcs Family Blogger Challenges – Its been a brilliant experience making blog about various challenges and being involved with the Center Parcs crew. This month’s challenge was just up my street – We had to get in the kitchen, with the kids and come up with some Homemade Ice Lollies. I chose to make Smoothies – Always on the lookout for ways to increase the girl’s fruit intake. Both Violet & me really dislike bananas which feature in about 99% of shop bought smoothies – This is why homemade smoothies suit us so well.

If you can’t wait for these to freeze, these are great as chilled pots of smoothy goodness – even better served with ice-cream! I followed the lead from Center Parcs’ own Ice Lolly expert, Deb Rogerson (yes, there is actually such a job!) and sprinkled some hundreds and thousands in the base of the mould before freezing. Deb does suggest for maximum impact, dipping the tip into white chocolate after freezing then straight into hundreds & thousands. Her other Ice Lolly tips can be found on the Center parks website.

Peach Melba Smoothies

Serves 8
Dietary Vegan, Vegetarian
Meal type Snack
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable
Occasion Barbecue, Birthday Party
Great way to increase children's fruit intake. Fabulous for those of us who crave banana free smoothies! These are more filling than you think, you only need small moulds.

Ingredients

  • 5 Peaches
  • 1 Punnet Raspberries
  • 2 tablespoons Honey
  • 2 tablespoons Icing Sugar

Optional

  • Hundreds & Thousands to decorate

Directions

peach raspberry smoothies
Wash and Chop the peaches (No need to remove skin) and blitz in a food processor until smooth
making homemade smoothies
Add the raspberries and honey and sprinkle in the icing sugar and blitz until all combined
decorating homemade smoothies
In the bottom of each ice lolly mould, sprinkle approx 1/2 tsp of hundreds and thousands
Add the mixture to the moulds and freeze overnight

no banana smoothies peach raspberry

‘I’m a Center Parcs Family Blogger and have visited Whinfell village with my family. If you want to enter to win a place as a wildcard winner just go to the challenge page to find out how bit.ly/1url80d’

Linking up with A Mummy Too’s Recipe of the Week

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Chocolate Piñata Cake

piñata birthday cake

EDIT: The story behind the Chocolate Piñata Cake …Maybe not the neatest or best decorated cake I’ve ever made but certainly one of the quickest. I’d made the cakes on Friday morning (2 shallow and one deep in case you are interested) then I had 15 minutes to decorate on the Friday afternoon before we went out to celebrate Millie turning 12. It was at this point I discovered I had no icing-sugar – so I used powdered Fondant Icing (I’m thinking its nearly the same) to make the buttercream.

I cut out a circle in the middle of the deep middle tier and poured the chocolates in – Warning! This type of cake used LOADS of sweets. I used 2 packs of Mint Aero Bubbles, 2 packs of maltesers, 1 pack of Chocolate M& Ms and 2 packs of White Chocolate Buttons. To decorate around the outside I used Maltesers, More White Chocolate Buttons and a packet of Jelly Babies. This is not the cake for dieters!

Next time I make a Piñata cake, I will think more about the outside decoration but for such a quick cake, I’m rather chuffed!

There’s still some left in the fridge – want some?