Thursday, 8 June 2017

Father's Day sorted! Eating at Prezzo & a Sugru kit for the 'difficult' dad

It has been a busy time. As the academic term concludes my inhouse contracting work is over and I am back working from home. I am currently writing an article on branding for SMEs and looking for more writing opportunities. So this blog is a refreshing oasis where I can leave business at the door...

This post is an entry for the BritMums #PrezzoLaFamiglia Challenge, sponsored by Prezzo

Family dining - Prezzo style

With Father's Day approaching, it was really lovely to be offered a chance to sample a family menu at Prezzo. I am Italian by origin and grew up in a restaurant run by my grandmother so I do have high expectations... I had tried Prezzo before with work colleagues, if going to an Italian restaurant I usually order pizza as I can make pasta at home (and my British partner can after stealing my recipes). We do not eat pasta often because Michael is a meat and two veg man and he is the cook in our household to the surprise of friends and family.

Prezzo Cambridge is located by Magdalene College near the waterside. It was not a sunny evening so it looks a bit glum in the picture but it's a lovely location. When we arrived, Michela got stuck into the kid's activities, printed on the children's menu.



This is a very clever thing to do as children are not as patient as adults so keeping them occupied when you order and wait for the food makes for a relaxed family table. We are not the sort of parents who let their child ran around the restaurant hassling other customers or making a huge amount of noise... so if she is busy we can ditch our supervision role. We were sent a voucher to try La Famiglia sharing dish.


The voucher entitled us to a starter of garlic bread, soft drinks, La Famiglia sharing pasta bowl and ice creams. My partner went a la carte drinkwise and ordered the Peroni beer, I had Panna still water (not many restaurants in the UK serve it) and my daughter chose Sprite. Here are Michela and Michael stucking into the garlic breads, which were more like pizza. My daughter was not as keen, the issue is the added ingredient of caramelised onion. She does not mind fried onions now she is older but the overpowering sweet taste of those onions put her off. I liked the variation but I agree there was too much onion on it, which had a kind of chutney, jammy appearance. But moving onto the main thing.... the huge bowl of yummy pasta! There was general consensus here that it was al dente, with generous amounts of meaty Bolognese sauce. We are a family of three but I think it would serve four or even five. It is bigger than it looks in the photo. We were defeated by it...



Michela brushed up on her fork skills. She is half Italian, but we do not have pasta often enough - as I said the cook is British. But of course the highlight has to be the ice cream... There is a choice of chocolate, vanilla or strawberry - we ordered one of each.
Here are the ice creams in their dinky bowls. Michela is taking her reviewer's job very seriously, savouring slowly with her spoon. Our spoons visited all the flavours. Personally I think chocolate came top. Michela thinks that the strawberry flavour tastes like Chewits.




During our meal the service was attentive and friendly. Here is our main waiter, Ziko, who posed with us. Michela thinks he is very nice.




 Father's Day... what to give to a 'difficult' man?



Michael is the man who has everything, with few hobbies... a right nightmare to buy presents for. I give him a cheque at Xmas so he can buy what he wants. For the other occasions we go out to a restaurant or we buy him funny gifts. We have already tested Sugru and he liked it, so I was delighted to receive this Sugru kit. Retailing at £10 online and at high street retailers, it is perfect for the Father who likes to fix things. The kit comes with an idea booklet to stir those creative/practical juices...

For those who do not know Sugru, it is mouldable glue - available in many colours - that turns into rubber. It bonds with wood, glass, metal and ceramic. Some people even used it to fix waterproof shoes.... It is also electrical insulated...


Sunday, 16 April 2017

Happy Easter with my own Pandan chiffon cake recipe

Pandan cake recipe below!

I just love chiffon cake and have managed to work out a recipe that has not too many eggs and works well with ingredients you can buy in the UK. Here it is...

Happy Easter!

If you want to avoid cracking, you have to handle it very carefully when you put it upside down to cool. Better still, use a ring cake pan.

I love this cake, it's so soft, like a sponge, so light and the amounts of fat and sugar are not high.



Pandan chiffon cake


Ingredients:
3 egg yolks
50 g sugar
75 ml vegetable oil 
70 ml coconut cream (you can make it with dried grated coconut)
100 g cake flour
3/4 tsp of pandan paste 
1.5g salt (optional)
½ tsp of vanilla essence
1 tsp baking powder

For the meringue mixture:
3 egg whites
50 g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp of cream of tartar


Heat the oven to 170 C degrees, gas mark 3. 
In a small bowl, mix the baking powder and flour. Set aside.

Make the meringue by beating egg whites and tartar with an electric whisk. Add sugar gradually.

Beat egg yolks, add sugar and continue until they reach a pale yellow colour.

Add coconut cream, oil, vanilla, pandan paste. Combine the flour gradually and stir with a wooden spoon. Fold the meringue into the green mixture carefully.

Put into a greased tall ring cake pan, around 23cm diameter (this is the best shape, as you can see in the picture, if you use another type of cake tin you risk cracking)... Bake for 55 or 60 minutes. 

Place a sheet of foil on the shelf above the cake, a nifty tip I learned online but remove it for the last 10 minutes. When cooked, you need to turn the cake upside down. You can use the neck of a bottle to cool it without ruining its surface (it is rather sticky when warm).


Cool for an hour and the cake will detach neatly from the tin. Use a serrated knife for cutting the cake.



Friday, 14 April 2017

What is success?



I wrote an article on LinkedIn summing up my careers so far (marketing and journalism) as fruit of persistence, willingness to learn new skills and not listening to negative people. It has not been easy as English is not my first language and have encountered discrimination as a woman and foreigner. But one has to soldier on because otherwise you go nowhere...

I have been battling with SAD for a few years, seasonal depression, and keeping busy helped me. I had a horrible year where RSI took away one of my coping mechanisms, gardening. I am back to my old self now and accepting that ageing is happening but I am still a fighter and won't accept ageism in the workplace. I am encountering this in marketing and did encounter it in journalism only aged 37.

I think I am successful, despite the dark moments when I doubt myself or succumb to negative vibes from other people, which are getting rarer because I have learnt the hard way that you must please yourself first - trying to please everyone does not work.

This does not mean being selfish, it's making yourself more secure so you can then help and support others. I still do a good amount of volunteer work and do turn down paid work to continue doing it because I have realised that it makes me happy. So for me success is to have finally achieved a level of financial comfort (not being rich) that allows me to work and volunteer, learn and improve myself.

Learning makes me happy too, so what if I have too many skills in some people's eyes? I enjoy the challenge of mastering something new and if you cannot get it, you are narrow minded and I do not care about your opinions any more. Find another victim to pour your jealousy and bitterness on - and that is very true in the workplace too. If you are miserable, keep it for yourself and don't ruin it for others. I have had enough of being a nice mouse, I might be small but I have teeth.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Homemade pizza, what is not to like?


The last slice of my homemade pizza


Yesterday I invited a vegetarian mum and her little girl, who goes to the same school as my daughter for dinner. They are vegetarian so I thought of making pizza and fritters. The savoury fritters were such a pretty starter with the vine tomatoes in the middle (sorry, I forgot to take a pic as I was busy serving). 

The pizza was very tasty, again, I did not take a photo of the lush platter but here is the leftover slice that is going into a lucky girl's lunchbox tomorrow. I do this pizza a lot because it's also tasty cold and perfect for taking to events, especially those with kids. So below is my recipe for the pizza. I have got a feeling I posted a recipe of the fritters before (rice fritters and spinach fritters), if not I will share the recipe again.

First of all, I have a shocking confession to make, actually two. I use a breadmaker to make the dough and I use cheddar to accompany the mozzarella, sometimes I just do cheddar and blue cheese... the sacrilege of it!

If you do not have a breadmaker, here is the recipe for the dough:

1 cup of water (use a cup or if you like numbers, a cup is 4oz
1 tbsp of melted butter (I actually use extra virgin olive oil... shush...)
2 tbsp of sugar
1 tsp of salt
2 3/4 cups of white bread flour
1 tsp of dried fast action yeast

Mix these in a bowl, knead and let to rise covered with a cloth or oiled clingfilm. I even prepared the day before, stuck it in the fridge and made the pizza the day after.

For the sauce, boil some chopped toms from a tin to let the water evaporate, add 1 or 2 tsp of sugar to get rid of acidity. Yes, shock horror, sugar.


To make the pizza, oil the baking tin (the thinner, the better) the spread the dough to cover its base. With a spoon cover the base with the thickened tomato sauce. Add cheese/s grated or cut into thin slices. Sprinkle some mixed herbs on top. Bake in warmed oven for 20 minutes at gas mark 6, 200C.

Get the pizza out and enjoy! If the cheese is not melted, leave in the oven for a bit longer. Also ensure the base is cooked underneath. A soggy bottom is just yucky!


Friday, 13 January 2017

How to make snow ice cream or granita


Snow ice cream





This recipe, tried and tested back in 2010 when we had massive snow fall, will make four generous cups of ice cream. 


125ml of milk
60g of sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups of fluffy snow (preferably not compact if you do not want it slushy like in the pic - a cup is about 4oz)


Mix milk, vanilla and sugar in a bowl or jug, then slowly spoon in the snow, stirring carefully. Enjoy! My photo shows a slushy mixture as the snow I used was a bit compact, but it was tasty. 

In Italy we have a simpler version of snow ice cream, just get the snow in a cup with a metal spoon, add lemon juice and sprinkle with sugar to your taste. It's just like a fluffy, lovely granita from the sky....


Thursday, 22 December 2016

Festive wishes from me

Pics from Creative Commons...


No snow, so these pics are not recent. Happy Xmas!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Merry Xmas PLUS two festive recipes, 1 sweet, 1 savoury!

Ready, steady, bake!




This elf was helpful as I had to roast and shell
 lots of hazelnuts for this recipe. I paid him in kind
and the recipe's credit of course!
Hello, Thank you for sticking around as I have not posted
much this year. Lately I have been working four days a week and volunteering in the community on the 5th so it has been busy. My volunteering commitments included manning the blog for a community garden (http://emptycommongarden.blogspot.co.uk/) and its members' list, doing careers fairs for kids and teens (media and marketing), looking after Spanish and Italian newcomers for a University organisation (http://www.nvs.admin.cam.ac.uk/) and other bits and pieces (daughter's school, community talks, storytelling, etc). So my blogs have suffered. But I am off work now until January so here are two festive recipes to cheer us all up!

This is a festive treat for Santa and friends... the brownish top
 is not cinnamon but a dusting of mild chilly powder...






























Festive bites & Elf on the Shelf's hazelnut brownies  

(Yes, he also wanted the recipe's credit, the little bugger)

Chocolatey & Nutty
O Come All Ye Faithful!



Festive Bites
I used the transparent cup from my breadmaker (see pic above, it's behind the blue bowl), a cup is about 4oz. Here we go...

2 cups of plain flour
1tbsp baking powder
2tsp mild child powder (extra for dusting if you wish)
2tsp mixed herbs
2tsp poppy seeds
1/2tsp salt
50g of butter
2tbsp olive oil
1 cup of grated cheddar (or more if you like)
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan (optional)
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to gas mark 6 (200 degrees). In a bowl mix flour, baking powder, chilli powder, herbs, seeds and salt. Add butter and oil. Mix with your fingers until you get the consistency of bread crumbs. Stir in cheese and milk.

Turn dough on floured surface (I use a big IKEA plastic tray as I dislike messy surfaces). Roll or pat your dough then use cookie cutters to make shapes. If the dough dries when you re-roll it, sprinkle a bit of water and knead it a bit. Or you can add a bit of oil if not sticky enough.

Place your shapes on a tray (I use baking paper on the tray). Bake until golden (about 13-15 minutes). Serve warm. Using a tea colander, dust your bites with mild chilli powder as it looks very festive... (bright red not brown as in my pic).


Hazelnut Brownies à la Elf
Still using the breadmaker's cup (washed of course) for measurements...

11/4 cups of plain flour (you can also use self-raising if you like)
1/2tsp salt
45g of butter (it won't hurt if it's 50g)
50g of good quality dark chocolate (more if you want it very chocolatey)
100g of marshmallows
3tbsp of good quality cocoa powder
2 cups of white sugar (or brown if you are pernicky)
1tbsp of vanilla extract
100g of hazelnuts (roasted, shelled and chopped - more if you want it very nutty!)
5 eggs

Preheat oven at gas 4 or 180 degrees. In a big bowl, mix flour and salt. In a decent pan (not the ones where stuff sticks) melt butter, chocolate and marshmallows, stirring so it's smooth. Remove pan from heat, stir in cocoa powder, sugar and vanilla. 

Beat the eggs well in a separate bowl. Add the chocolate and butter mixture to the flour mixture. Add the nuts. Stir in beaten eggs and combine. Spread the mixture in the baking tin (you can line it with baking paper if you like). Bake for 30 minutes and check with a toothpick. If you do not want any gooey inside, bake for further 10 minutes.


Happy Xmas everybody! 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Volunteering to improve your career prospects and your wellbeing

Pic: Geralt, Pixabay
Readers of this blog will know that I have had good and bad experiences volunteering - some people are as awful as corporate sharks... but I wrote this article on LinkedIn about the personal benefits and would like to offer it here as a positive example of what you can achieve... it is not just about the fuzzy feeling inside when you help a cause.

You can read it here. Please share your opinions and like if you  appreciate it. I would love to feature your experiences on the blog... let me know.


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Toyota Travelogue 2016 part 2

On 24 August we reached Castagnole Lanze, in Piedmont. We had the car checked and it was fine, great relief! Just water from the aircon, not oil or anything nasty, as mentioned in Part I. Castagnole Lanze is a small village, the nearest town are Asti and Alba, both medieval and worth a visit. They are famous for wine (Barolo, Asti spumante), good food (including the famous white truffle) and two different Palios in the autumn (horses in Asti, donkeys in Alba). Castagnole has two annual street celebrations: the Spring one dedicated to new wine and good food and the summer one with street concerts attracting major names in Italian music (folk and pop). We stay at my parent's house in the centre of the new part of the village but visit the old part which has an amazing Baroque church. However, the major attraction for Michela was my godmother's beautiful new cat, whose mum is a ginger moggy and the dad is unknown but certainly a pedigree one. You can see it in action below.



In Italy I saw all my school friends as we celebrated our Leva, a gathering that starts at 18 (last time I did it) then continues at 25, 30, 35, 40, etc.... We celebrated with this big champagne bottle with firework at a dancing and eating restaurant and on Sunday I got this cute posy before the special Mass given by our Professor of Religion in secondary school. The summer street celebrations also include a fairground and it's Michela's favourite time of year. I saw parts of the street concerts as we needed to keep an eye on Michela who tried all the rides... Soon we were back on the Mont Cenis, where we visited the beautiful church and the Alpine garden. There is also a museum.

Next stop was Annecy, a beautiful town with a lake, famous for the inventor of safety matches and the colour in fireworks. We went on a boat tour of the lake and Michela was asked if she wanted to pilot the boat, I had to say yes on her behalf as she was a bit shy about but then enjoyed it a lot judging by the mini pump fist when she told this to her dad, who is not keen on boats. 


We had dinner at Les Tables, which I have reviewed on TripAdvisor because it had a very nice kid menu and a very affordable Savoyard menu for adults. If you love cheese, I recommend it. The kid meal included ice cream served in a plastic cow, which Michela has kept to use as storage for rubbers.



Chambery was once Italian and capital of the Savoie, a small kingdom with a king (the King of Italy and his family were exiled after 1945 for their complicity with Fascism). There is great looking castle and it's a pity we did not go to see it as the admission charge is small.

On to Troyes, which is a great city if you like half-timbered buildings, narrow medieval streets and Champagne! Back in the Champagne region, where the food is excellent. We always go to the same restaurant as it has delicious food and menus in English (not a tourist trap, don't let the translated menus blind you). Troyes has a pretty good covered market, if you fancy buying your lunch or dinner.

    



Last stop is Calais, which has been in the news a lot because of the migrants' problem. Last year we did not venture in town but this year we did and it was back to normal. Two years ago we went and the shopping centre look terrible with many empty units, there were also many young male migrants roaming the streets and looking very unhappy, which is understandable but a bit frightening when you visit places with a young child. This year the bookshop had reopened and there were less empty units. The streets look more lively. Let's hope that this situation is resolved, UK charities have been set up to relieve the immigrants' plight with donations of food and items for families. Calais has an amazing townhall with a Rodin statue and wonderful gardens. This year the theme was Oriental gardens, hence the red sticks and the pagoda and small pond at the front. We had dinner at the modest hotel we stay at because the restaurant is so great.... This year we booked and got a table overlooking the beach walk, which is full of playgrounds, mostly free.





The last day it was a sunny day and as Michael and Michela enjoyed a lie-in I went to the beach and it was wonderful, so empty and natural... It was around 8am on a Sunday. Just me and a few birds, the sea had retracted a long way. Then two walkers appeared, too good a morning to miss out! We were back in England a few hours later.



Friday, 9 September 2016

Personality tests, why are they so fascinating? Introducing Personality Perfect

Take your test by clicking here

I was commissioned to write a review of a new PersonalityMatch app called Personality Perfect, launched in June 2016, which you can download for free here (App store for Apple) and here (Google Play for android). Like many, I always have a go at any personality quiz that I find on Facebook or other social media channels, I have even created some quizzes for fun. 

As with other apps, there is a free level and a premium zone but if you want to try before you buy, the free level gives you a good taster of what you pay for. The Personality Perfect app stays in touch with you and I have got a couple of follows-up after the test, which was fine as it reminded me of other things I could do. Sometimes apps do pester you to continue playing, but this one was lower key, I would have not minded an extra email after those, maybe two weeks down the line. I am saying this with my marketing hat on but also as a user. There are so many distractions online that a weekly or fortnightly reminder is not unwelcome. I also appreciated receiving articles about my profile, which focused on growing my confidence levels and on conversation skills.

I was surprised by the result as I don't see myself as a leader, but the character traits are spot on. So what does a premium account of PersonalityMatch offers? Instead of a summary, you get a 21 page in-depth profile, listing strengths and weaknesses, covering life and love, career choices (aka which jobs are suited to your personality) and... drumrolls... how to unlock your potential. So for instance, with my profile I'd discover how to grab those leadership skills and forge ahead!

I have saved the best bit for last, the point of difference... you do not have to do it on your own! Dutch entrepreneur Johan Hagenbeuk built in a social element which is easy as 1,2.3:
1. you take the free personality test
2. invite a friend to do the same
3. let the app match your results.

So if you feel you want to share this experience with friends, colleagues, family, you can!

There is a 14-Day Money-Back Guarantee and you can see samples of what you'd get if you click the link in your personalised email.