When Casa Costello visited Center Parcs, Whinfell

Family Holidays at Center Parcs

We are well known for a our love of holidays and equally well known for our love of Center Parcs. Even before we became Center Parcs Family Bloggers, we had spent several holidays both at Whinfell and Sherwood Firest. We were in no doubt that we would thoroughly enjoy our recent break but it was even better than we expected. Having 3 children of wide age ranges sometimes poses difficulties in what we can do all together but CP caters for us perfectly.

We got up to all sorts! I’ve made a short video of just some of the stuff we got up to …

Hair Braiding
This was number one on the girl’s lists of things to do. There was much discussion about which colours to have. The braids have lasted well over a week after we have got home (We are now experts on hiding the braids during school hours!)

Ten Pin Bowling
We weren’t quite sure how a 3 year old would get on but she loved it! She was so excited when we got in – the atmosphere with the blue lighting is fab. We had the sides up and could use the trolley to help Tara even more (To be honest, I could have done with a bit of help too!)

Bikes
They say you never forget how to ride a bike – It may be try but it didn’t stop me being awfully wobbly. All good entertainment for the girls (and the other holiday makers!) Tara had a truck which was brilliant for putting all our swimming kit in … and a minion!

Eating
There’s no excuse for going hungry at Center Parcs – I’ll be sharing another video of all the eateries we visited very soon.

Swimming
Well, we wouldn’t be us without a pool, would we? The girls spent HOURS on the rides … and I went on them too!! Mega brownies points for me. You could literally spend your whole holiday in the water park – its toasty and warm and there’s always something different to do. I think Me & Derm were the only people to be drinking tea in there though! You can take the people out of Ireland but …

After 10+ visits to Center Parcs, we’ve come across some of the more hidden activities that you may not know about. Here’s our tips for some of the extra treats you can find…

  • Free Children’s Disco – Every night in the Bowling Bar at 6Pm
  • The Swimming Pool is much quieter after 5Pm – Fabulous for evening swims when they dim the lights and no queues for the rides
  • Free WiFi in the main complexes
  • Later Opening hours in the shop – Open til 8PM most nights now
  • Most restaurants provide colouring kits for the children. Most also have play areas in them.
  • Hidden play area above Cafe Rouge (You’ll be amazed!)
  • Toilets have steps for toddlers- Its the simple things that work best.
  • Hair Diffusers in the Accommodation – The ONLY place I have ever known to provide this!
  • Straighteners available for £1 a go in the Swimming Paradise (You can’t have 3 girls without thinking about hair … a lot!)
  • Cash Free wrist bands that can be used in the Swimming Paradise – also serve as your locker key and your lodge key. Amazing!
  • Bowling – You can say which people you want the bars on and which you don’t. And also change your mind half way through if you find out that you aren’t very good.

I could go on and on, but really I think you should just find out for yourselves. For more information about Activities at Center Parcs visit the website. One of the massive bonuses for me is that Whinfell don’t have frogs (massive phobia!). We’ve already talked about going back next year sometime.

I’ve got tons more to talk about our trip but for now, we would like to say a huge thank you to the team at Center Parcs.

 

Knorr Gravy Pots Review and the Ultimate Yorkshire Pudding Recipe

ready made gravy pots

There’s one meal that I can guarantee my 3 girls will devour in silence – A Sunday Dinner/Sunday Roast (whatever you call it they still eat it!) Whether we go out to eat on a Sunday (not very often) or cook a meal here (not that often either sadly), its always a success. We always end up asking ourselves why we don’t do it more often.

I was lucky enough to be send a complete Sunday Roast a couple of weeks ago, in order to taste test Knorr Gravy Pots. Knorr Gravy Pots have been awarded Product of the Year in the Gravy and Stock Category (who knew there was such a thing?!) I had completely forgotten it was coming, so it was a lovely surprise to get back from a day of synchro to this. Dinners always taste so much better when you’ve not had to do the shopping?

beef sunday roast

Well, what can I say about the gravy pots themselves? I have used them before when we were in France (they are amazing for when you are camping!) so I wasn’t expecting to notice too much difference between the Knorr Pots and our usual gravy. But there was! There was a definite stronger taste – even the kids were surprised. Violet and Tara couldn’t get enough of it – I have seriously seldom seen either of them enjoy something so much (and it wasn’t just the novelty of the new gravy boat!)

So a massive thumbs up from us!! We were sent 3 types of gravy pots to try and used the Beef Gravy Pots for this meal. Violet has already put her order in for Toad in the Hole later this week so I will be putting the Onion Gravy Pot to the test.

Of course, no Sunday dinner would be complete without yorkshire puddings. All my 3 love them and I’m proud to say I’ve somewhat perfected the technique of them over the past 12 months. Its true the trick really is to get the oil (vegetable oil in my case) as hot as can be before you pour the batter in but equally you need to make sure you don’t overfill the tins. Whenever I see a recipe that serves 12 mini yorkshire puddings, I mostly tend to get at least 20 out of it. There is nothing worse than stodgy batter left at the bottom of your yorkshire!

Ingredients:

140g plain flour
pinch of salt
4 eggs
210g milk
1 tsp vegetable oil for each pudding

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 220C until it comes to temp – Don’t be tempted to start cooking before it is hot enough
  • Measure out 1 tsp of vegetable oil into each ‘hole’ of a muffin tin tray – As said earlier, I normally get at least 20 puddings out of the mix
  • Place in the oven for at least 5-10 mins until blistering hot – You will need to have your pudding mix ready to pour in, so don’t get the oil out of the oven until the very last minute
  • In a large bowl, put the flour and the salt
  • Whisk the eggs and whisk into the flour – it may go lumpy but don’t panic
  • Whisk the milk in until all the lumps have vanished
  • Pour into a jug – its so much easier to divide equally into the muffin pan
  • You only need at most 1cm of batter at the bottom of each pan
  • Place in the oven for 25 minutes (I’d check after 20 if you can see through your oven door – whatever you do, do NOT open before 20 minutes is up)
  • When they are golden and crispy, remove and take out of the tin as soon as possible.
  • Eat and enjoy!

best yorkshire pudding recipe

Disclosure: I was sent the Gravy Pots for review purposes, I was given free reign on what to write and all opinions are my own (and my kids)
More details of Knorr Gravy Pots can be found here

Jersey Black Butter Review & La Mare Chocolate Giveaway

peach apple compote sweet vol-au-vents

When I was asked by the people from Jersey Tourism and Travel Service, if I’d like to test some of their local food, I was very intrigued. I’d never heard of Jersey Black Butter before but it sounded so mysterious. I loved the thought of trying something so different and that there were so many options for how it could be used.

Jersey Black Butter is a described as a conserve of apples, cider jelly and spices – In short, I’d describe it as the taste of Christmas in a jar. The most obvious use I could find for it, was as a jam spread on toast. I even thought about spreading it on a victoria sponge, and getting a ‘cheats’ Christmas cake.

I used the Jersey Black Butter in a peach & apple compote mixed with cream, inside a vol-au-vent and it was absolutely delicious. Don’t know about you but I always feel rather brave when I eat a sweet vol-au-vent – I’m strictly addicted to mushroom vol-au-vents (and also it would appear, addicted to the 80′s!) I urge you to give it a go!

For more details of how to get Jersey Black Butter and other products local to Jersey, visit La Mare Wine Estates.

dark milk white chocolate truffles

I have a box of 16 truffles from the Premier Truffle Selection RRP £15.19 to giveaway. These contain dark, milk and white luxury truffle chocolates.Just follow the Rafflecopter instructions below to enter – The giveaway ends on Friday 31st January.

I also have details of another promotion running to win a 2 night break in Jersey – All you have to do is visit the Jersey Facebook page and share your memories of Jersey – Be quick though, this competition only runs until Friday 17th January.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

East India Tea Company – Afternoon Tea Hampers

afternoon tea hampers tea biscuits

I’m well known for my love of a good brew – I’m seldom seen without a cup in my hand. What better to accompany a good cuppa than a biscuit?

When the East India Company sent me some First Estate Assam tea and Butter Shortbread biscuits to review – they got the right person. These are part of the selection that you get when you order one of East India Tea Company’s Time Stops for Tea Hamper. Afternoon Tea seems to be the craze that doesn’t appear to go away. It’s great for me as tons of my mates love supping tea and nibbling on goodies. This hamper is available for £40 and contains the AFirst Estate Assam Tea, Butter Shortbread biscuits with Clotted Cream, Strawberry & Pepper Jam & Strawberries enrobed in White Chocolate.

Don’t you just love my new glass teapot? I ordered it as a Christmas present to myself – I couldn’t possibly review tea without a new flashy teapot to put it in! Just big enough for 2 good cups and looks gorgeous too.

The Assam tea itself is a strong, black loose leaf brew – I would normally put 2 teaspoons of tea leaves in a pot for 2 but this definitely only needs one. They really swell up and you can even top up with hot water for another brew – Most cost effective. I’ve been brought up on tea leaves as opposed to tea bags so I reckon this is definitely a tea my Mum will approve of. I’m thinking of making some tea biscuits this week to see how the strong flavour relates to cooking.

The Butter Shortbread with Clotted Cream biscuits were divine – A good 2-biter but small enough to be able to be dunked (I’m sorry I cannot pretend I’m too posh to dunk!) Beautiful strong, buttery flavour that copes well with the strong taste of the tea.

The Time Stops for Tea Hamper is just one in a wide range of hampers available from the East India Company

Disclosure: I was sent the tea and biscuits as part of a review – All my opinions are my own as I was given free reign what to write. Many Thanks to the East India Company.

Winter Hands and New Babies – with Dettol

how to stop hands from getting sore chapped

I was set the task by the good people at Dettol to come up with some tips of how to look after your hands. Its due to get a lot colder shortly and from my experience, hands soon start to suffer.

Before I had babies, I didn’t appreciate how many times you end up washing your hands and the effects of chapped skin – I had the lot … cracked fingers, bleeding knuckles, red raw skin. By the time daughters 2 and 3 came along, I was a bit wiser. Aswell as making sure I used moisturising hand wash, I had a few other tricks that I followed:

  • Handcream – Have some by every sink. This was from my mum – I argued that I didn’t have time to allow it to sink in, but looking back she was right. Even if its only on for a second, it does some good.
  • One Handed Jobs – Yes, I’m serious – There are some jobs that only need one hand and therefore only one hand needs to be washed. Believe me, if your hands are that sore, you go for the one handed tasks … i.e. Getting washing out of the washing basket, wiping surfaces down
  • The Order of Events – There’s some jobs that you can do before others – I used to Empty the washing machine, peel potatoes and then feed the cat – all with one hand wash. I’m not suggesting you skip hand washing if its something that need clean hands for i.e. cooking, washing the baby, just that even one less hand wash a day can help.
  • Accept Help – If someone visits and asks the immortal question, ‘Can I do anything to help?’-  Let them! Let them wash their hands instead of you.
  • Before you go out – Last job = Put your hand cream on and put your gloves over the top. I’m going to pretend that not everyone is like me and forgets something EVERY SINGLE TIME!
  • Bedtime – Last job of the day, hand cream on before lights out. Aren’t we hot in our house? (and obviously everyone has hand cream next to their bed?!)

Disclosure: I received no payment for this post, although Dettol did send me some E45 Handwash and a beautiful gift. All the tips are my own! Thank you to Dettol.

Acer Iconia A1 Tablet – Review

There’s one day in particular that starts Christmas off for me – The Sunday in December that Sports Personality of the Year is on. Its been that way for years, I remember watching it when I was young with my Mum & Dad, starting to feel all Christmassy. This Sunday was THAT day in our house. We didn’t move too far, had a chinese takeaway for our evening meal and settled down to watch our programme. We couldn’t forget the girls though, and chose Sunday evening to present them with a brand new Acer Iconia A1 tablet that we have been sent to review.

acer iconia tablet product review

I will admit to hearing about ‘Android’ devices and not knowing exactly what they were – I now know that they are basically devices that aren’t Apple. The girls were delighted when they were presented with the Acer (and worryingly, not a bit perturbed that they were being given such a big treat the week before Christmas). I didn’t get much time to play with the tablet myself on Sunday and thought it would be more complicated to get used to than it actually was. Set up was easy and registering with Acer and Google very straightforward (You can use an existing Google account) Violet was incredible on it though, she picked it up and just whizzed away with it. Finding Google and playing on it straightaway. We have always been an Apple family, so I was very intrigued how the girls found an Android.

Once you have found the Play Store (where you buy or download the Apps from) you are well away. There is a huge array of free Apps – My kids aren’t that spoilt, I’m not about to start paying for Apps the week before Christmas.

The Tablet itself is 7.59 inches and the screen is billed as being ideal for using one-handed. I particularly like that it feel slightly chunkier than the IPad mini, which with 3 children using it gives me faith that it might last. One element that I really like is the vibration when you press a key. The Home key is really easy to find and the system has been easy to navigate so far. (If in doubt, ask a 7 year old – they do it without thinking)

One point that has puzzled me is the charger that we got with the tablet. It is a European plug fitting with a USB cable – We have got an old Samsung phone charger which bizarrely fits. We have had to charge it once already but I have to say the kids have been hammering it watching videos.

tablet review

What the kids think…

Millie aged 11: ‘Think it really good mum, I like it’

Violet aged 7: ‘I think I’ll have this as my own’ Nice try, Vi!

Tara aged 2: ‘I want it!! Me watch Ben & Holly!’

Acer Iconia A1 Tablets are available for around the £150 price bracket – We received our free of charge for review purposes. All opinions are our own genuine feelings. More information/reviews can be found on the Acer Website.

A Day out with Oven Pride at Cheshire Cookery School

oven cleaning products

I’m incredibly lucky to have 2 full sized ovens – When we had our kitchen refurbished that was my main request. We had got to the point where we could only eat meals that didn’t involve the oven as there was always a cake in it. 10 years later, I still reckon that was one of our most successful decisions. Sometimes we have not just the 2 ovens going but the oven part of the microwave too. But with most things there is a downside – 2 ovens means 2 lots of cleaning.

I have heard people go on about how easy cleaning your oven with Oven Pride is but didn’t quite believe it. When I was invited to attend a demonstration day with Oven Pride at Cheshire Cookery School, I jumped at the chance.

how oven pride works

We were to have a demo of how Oven Pride works, followed by a cookery lesson – with childcare provided. What’s not to like?
I did think as we started the demo, ‘yeh, right, convince me’ but oh my goodness, that stuff is amazing!

You really do just have to pop your oven trays/shelves in the bags provided and leave overnight, rinse them and ta-da! Miracles have happened. The actual cleaning of the oven is slightly more complex but even that is super easy – wearing gloves, you just need to spread the other half of the Oven Pride mixture (you’ve used one half cleaning the shelves) around and again, leave overnight for the magic to happen. Full directions for use are available over at the Oven Pride website.

cookery schools north west

We were then treated to a cookery demonstration by Kurt, the chef from the Cheshire Cookery School, then had a go by ourselves. I tend to think there is a little patch of heaven somewhere that has training kitchens in – I know that’s where I’ll head! We made Tuscan Mediterranean Bean Stew with Meatballs and a super quick recipe for bread (mine has tarragon in it, hence the green bits).

Tara had a wonderful day too – It was the first time she had been looked after by people other than family members and I was a little nervous how she would find me walking away from her. She was very shy but there was no need to worry – Everyone at Cheshire Cookery School was so friendly that she soon settled. Happy girl = Happy Helen!

At the end of the day, we were given a fabulous goodie bag full of Oven Pride and other cleaning products (even Tara was given a gift). Even better, we were given 2 LOTS of OVEN PRIDE! How did they know I had 2 ovens that need doing? They are on ‘the list’ to be done before Christmas. Watch this Space! Thanks to everyone at Oven Pride and Cheshire Cookery School – We had a fantastic day!

Makie Doll Review

making a personalised doll

We have a house full of dolls here. They get a hammering as Violet and Tara in particular are doll mad. When we hear about a doll that is slightly different, we want to hear more. We’ve had the dolls that pretend to eat, perform bodily function and that we can’t stop crying (It eventually resulted in us taking the batteries out!)

We were asked a few weeks ago if we were interested in reviewing Makie Dolls. They are described as the ‘World’s first and only 3D printed toy’. To be honest that didn’t mean much to me – in short, you design your own doll, order it and your doll is created in the ‘MAkieLab’ using a 3D printer.
Our doll took us only 8 minutes to create – we have sent it off and are waiting the 2 weeks until delivery now.

We have made a short video about what your Makie Doll box has inside and how we found the ordering and design process. We really loved it – it was good fun for Millie and Violet to do together – once again it is really handy having an 11 year old around, a slightly younger child may need a tiny bit of adult help. (I bet you can’t stop yourself having a go!)

More information about the Makie Doll:

  • Dolls can be designed and ordered via www.makie.me
  • Our Makie Doll Gift Box is worth £69 – We received the Gift Box (and will receive the doll) free for review purposes.
  • Dolls are CE-Marked and EU-certified safe for children aged 3+

The 5 Stages of Chocolate Enjoyment -Tesco Christmas Chocolates – Review

I’d like to introduce you to the 5 stages of eating chocolate. We were lucky enough to be sent some of the Christmas range of chocolates from Tesco last week and its safe to say, my gang enjoyed their treats a LOT! We invited Nanna round who was only too glad to help out with the testing – Hope she likes her photos!

Tesco Christmas Chocolates

We were sent the Chokablok Cherry Merry Christmas – A Black Forest Gateuax flavour dark chocolate with white chocolate decorations. I loved the dried cherries and the biscuity chunks on the top – I thought they added to the lovely dark chocolate.

2.theunwrapping

The girls look intrigued – they have been waiting for this moment for a few days. The bar of chocolate has been sat on the dining room table tempting them.

chocolate gifts

My mum’s expression might be a little exaggerated but she certainly loved the chocolate.

4.the trance

Considering Millie freaked out a bit when she found out she was testing dark chocolate, she certainly enjoyed it. She kept saying that she wasn’t keen on dark chocolate but still managed to munch her way through it.

5.thechocolateface

The face says it all – Tara thoroughly enjoyed it!

We were also sent Milk Chocolate Gingerbread Stars from the Tesco Collection range. (£4 for 100g) 8 milk chocolate stars with a white chocolate drizzle and gingerbread crumbled on top. The taste of these was a very rich chocolate (Tesco chocolates are created by the same chocolatiers as Harrods and Hotel Chocolat so they are good stuff). The ginger taste was very subtle but the crunch from the biscuits was a lovely contrast to the smooth chocolate. Great small gift for someone – I’m thinking School Crossing Patrol? Postman?

John Lewis Christmas Hampers – Review

christmas hampers

I’ve always had a ‘thing’ for hampers. We used to make my Grandma a hamper each Christmas – She was in her 80′s so didn’t want too many rich items. I’ve always wanted a hamper of our own and have been tempted many times but always chickened out at the last moment. I’ll never forget how much I enjoyed shopping around for stuff to put in Grandma’s hamper and wrapping the box to put everything in.

A couple of weeks ago though, I came down on a Saturday morning to find the postman at the door with a HUGE box in his hand. Inside it was my very own hamper from John Lewis.

No, I’m sorry, you don’t seem to have grasped how big a deal this is … MY VERY OWN HAMPER FROM JOHN LEWIS!! My life is complete (ish)

I knew I was getting a few items from John Lewis Christmas Hamper Range but never in a million years expected so much and in such a lovely white basket. Apparently the items have been handpicked for me – Blimey, they must know me well. There was absolutely nothing I didn’t fancy – oh and the kids were a bit made up too!

christmas food hampers

So what did we get?

A selection of teas from The Lawn – Rose Tea and English Breakfast Tea leaves in special presentation jars. These smell absolutely delicious – I’m hinting big style for new teapot and tea strainer for Christmas. Turns out, I am actually my mother! Priced at £8 per 75g jar these are a lovely present for a tea lover.

Caramel Twist Marshmallows – The smell of these hit as soon as I opened the packaging of the hamper. They are not overly caramel-ey when you eat them but they are so nice. No sickly aftertaste but I am feeling rather full as I have demolished 1/3rd of the pack while I’m typing. £4 for 200g with an Aug 2014 Best Before.

Chocolate Christmas Bear & Snowmen collection – The description on these is to pop into a stocking and sweeten up someone’s Christmas morning – so that’s exactly what we are going to do. There’s 5 which is super handy for us – we’ll think of you when we are munching and seeing what Santa has brought. £4.50 for 5 which is a real indulgence for us but they are a good size and smell fantastic.

john lewis champagne chocolates

Holdsworth Champagne Chocolate Selection- Oh my goodness, these are true luxury. The pink champagne explosion is my favourite but to be fair any of the 12 are amazing. All individually presented with different wrappers and some small decorations. £14 for a real special occasion. I only wish we had some of these when we went over to Galway for my 40th and were happily swigging on pink champagne then.

john lewis online hamper

Decorate Your Own Gingerbread Men – Including six gingerbread men and 4 tubes of icing. Do I have to let the kids join in? £4.50. I’m so tempted to but the ‘Decorate your Own Gingerbread Village’ to accompany them. Again great Best Before of July 2014.

Snowmen Cookies – You get tons in this bag – they do get a little bashed due to only being in cellophane packaging but somehow this makes them seem even more appealing. They don’t look too artificial and perfect. £4 for 190g.

We also got 4 x individually wrapped iced Gingerbread Cookies – I’m a bit of a know-it-all when it comes to iced cookies but even I have to admit these look brilliant. Nice and thick and very neat decoration.

almond mince pies, iced biscuits, chocolate covered pretzels

Chocolate Covered Pretzels – Where wet these a few weeks ago when I was searching everywhere for pretzels to go with my caramel sauce?. Part of the Best of British range £7 for 150g. Great present for a teacher if you are looking for something slightly different.

Chocolate Covered Hazlenuts – One of my favourite things about this time of year is the abundance of nuts around. These are definitely a treat for the grown-ups – would get anyone through the big wrap! Delicious. Coated in Dark, Milk and White Chocolate £6.50 for 200g.

And last but not least, my favourite of all – Cottage Delight Mini Mince Pies with Almond Topping. I might have squealed when I lifted these out of the hamper. 9 (it actually says 12 on the website) mince pies for £6 with a date of spring 2014. Yum!

So thank you very much, John Lewis – I will never forget my hamper.

Disclosure: I received all these goods for review purposes at no cost to me – All the opinions are my own though. I really did love each and every item.