Learning to cook Italian – with Bookings for you & Giovannini Enterprises

I love Italy.  The people, the scenery, the culture and also, the food!

If I was asked to choose one type of cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, without a doubt, Italian is what I would choose.

Sadly I’ve only been to Italy twice. Once to Sicily (Zak our middle one was 1.5 years old at the time and he screamed for the ENTIRE time we were queuing at for our flight at the airport. It was hideous. People looked like they wanted to exterminate us and we haven’t managed to get back on an aeroplane with him since) and once to Venice when I took Mr Knutts for his ‘milestone’ birthday. (Note to husband – when it is my ‘milestone birthday’, I would quite like to go back. Hint, hint). It’s such an enormous country, varied in landscape and cuisine as you travel, and there is so much to explore but, as yet, it is a country relatively unexplored for me which I definitely need to remedy over the coming years.

Before Christmas, I was approached by the truly lovely Jo Mackay, owner of Bookings for You. Jo asked if I would like to attend an Italian cooking masterclass which would be hosted by herself and led by the Giovannini family who hail from Volterra, Italy. I couldn’t say yes quick enough. The thought of gorging myself on pasta and cheese all day was as exciting as being told the news that Tom Hardy was to be reading CBeebies bedtime stories (such a hardship having to watch that with Ben…ahem). I digress. In summary, I was very excited.

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About Bookings for You

Bookings for You was started in 2011 by Jo Mackay. Not only is Jo a savvy superstar business woman, and she is honestly lovely with it, she is also a mum. I’m in awe of what Jo has achieved with her company in a short space of time whilst juggling being a parent. After studying History at the University of Edinburgh, Jo Mackay joined the sales and marketing team at Procter & Gamble. In 2006, Jo and her family purchased a holiday home on Lake Maggiore in Italy. Jo quickly developed a passion for all things Italian and a few years later, Bookings For You was founded. The company initially focused on offering holiday villas and apartments in the Italian Lakes but Bookings For You quickly spread their travel wings and in 2011 expanded their portfolio to include villas and apartments in Tuscany and Umbria. Further expansion followed soon after, with villas now available to rent in Lazio, Florence, Le Marche and Puglia. In 2017, the company crossed the border and launched a range of villas to rent in France and Monaco.

Bookings For You now have over 300 holiday villas and apartments for guests to choose from, catering for a variety of budgets, tastes and party size. The Bookings For You team have personally visited every property on the site and can advise you on everything, from travel arrangements to where to eat in the evening.
Bookings For You is not a typical ‘9 to 5’ business. Recognising that planning a holiday doesn’t fit within normal office hours, Jo personally aims to be contactable every day of the week, both during the day and in the evening. She will do her best to answer any question you might have about any aspect of your holiday. If she doesn’t know the answer, rest assured she will do the research to find it out!
If you have time to have a peek on the Bookings for You website, I defy anyone to not want to immediately book a holiday there and then.  The properties are utterly stunning…
 Villa Le Capanne, Volterra. Image from Giovannini Enterprises.


About Giovannini Enterprises and Villa le Capanne

Giovannini Enterprises is a family run business based in Volterra, Italy.  Founded by Giancarlo and his wife, Fabiola, and now run by his son Dario and daughter in law, Vera. This family have a real passion for Italy, their village of Volterra, tradition and authenticity.

Italian cooking

Giancarlo started out in the industry by working in the family pastry shop, Dolceria Del Corso. Many years later, the Giovannini family have expanded from these humble beginnings to what they are today, a successful and busy Enterprise business. They still own the pastry shop which you can visit should you be lucky enough to visit Volterra, and they also have a holiday complex, Villa del Corso, which is used for holidays and weddings. Finally, they also have a catering company. The Giovannini family really were entrepreneurs from the off.

The pastry shop, and Giancarlo himself, are famous for their signature Italian Cake, Millefoglie. Their customers say it is unique, fragrant, crisp and delicate in flavour. For weddings, the cake itself is created and brought to life on scene, directly in front of the guests. They get to see first hand, how the cake is assembled, watching the mastermind Giancarlo create a cake unique to the beautiful couple. The biggest wow factor is the cake itself, unlike anything you have tried before, it is truly melt in your mouth delicious. Honestly, I got to sample this cake and I can honestly tell you it’s like nothing I’ve had before. Ever. I just wish I lived closer so I could have some every week…

Giancarlo at work at a wedding. Image from Giovianni Enterprises.


I set off for the Italian cooking masterclass, on a crisp winters morning, to Haslemere, deep in the Surrey Countryside. It’s a beautiful part of the country – full of sleepy little villages and rolling hills.

Upon arriving at the most incredible house I’ve ever set foot in, I was greeted by Jo from Bookings for You (have I mentioned how lovely she is?) and offered coffee and cake. Yep, cake for breakfast – from that point onwards I knew it was going to be a good day. I have to just mention, the cakes were baked by Miranda Gore-Browne who was a finalist in the first ever series of the Great British Bake Off – she was also at the Masterclass for the day. I’m really not ashamed to say I was a little starstruck and I left at the end of the day very cross with myself that I didn’t get a cheeky little selfie with her. She was so lovely, bubbly and really down to earth – it made an already wonderful day even more wonderful! If you’re interested, Miranda has a kitchen school and does seasonal cooking classes as well as other workshops. You can find out more about this by visiting her website, here.

The Giovannini family were already busy prepping for the workshop and the smells coming from the kitchen were already amazing. Fresh herbs and garlic. Utterly delicious.

The menu for the day was;

Tomato and Basil Bruschetta

Chicken liver Crostini

Slow roasted Wild Boar with black olives

Homemade Ravioli with spinach and ricotta filling and a homemade cherry tomato sauce

(Vegetarian option was Aubergine with Mozzarella and Tomatoes)

Pici pasta with herbs and pecorino

Tiramisu

…and finally…

The show-stopping Millefoglie cake by Giancarlo himself.

Wow. What a menu!

Each dish was prepared whilst we watched and I truly wish computers could portray smell because it really did smell incredible.

Here are some interesting tips and points I took away from the day…

When making Tomato Brushetta, brush the toasted ciabatta with a cut garlic clove. Just a couple of strokes downwards to flavour the bread. It really makes so much difference.

When slow roasting a tough piece of meat, Wild Boar leg is one of these cuts of meat, pierce holes in it and stuff lard into the cuts. The lard melts when cooking and it helps tenderise the meat.

When Giancarlo was making the Wild Boar, he chopped all the fresh herbs and garlic by hand (you can use a processor but he prefers to do it by hand). Once they were finely chopped he seasoned them all REALLY well. Lots of salt and lots of black pepper. I was quite shocked at how much he put on them but when I tasted the roast boar at the end, it was to die for. I can’t describe it to you but trust me, it was amazing. The herb/garlic mixture was mixed with pork fat and then pushed into the cuts made in the meat. This is what helped give it it’s flavour.

The Giovannini family’s Tiramisu contained, shock horror, no alcohol, but it tasted divine. They just quickly dipped the lady finger sponges in espresso and layered them up. No Tia Maria in sight.

Fresh herbs will always taste better than dried ones. Fact. Fresh anything for that matter. The Giovannini family are passionate believers in having fresh, authentic ingredients. Each dish was really simple to make and there weren’t any complicated processes to follow. You really can recreate them in your own home (if you can find Wild Boar that is).

When making the cherry tomato sauce, leave the tomatoes to cook down and don’t blitz the sauce until it resembles Dolmio (I’m pretty sure the Giovannini family would consider Dolmio a swear word). All that was put in the pan to make this sauce was a load of cherry tomatoes, garlic, Basil, salt and pepper. That’s it. That said, the family bought their own tomatoes over from Italy with them and I have to agree that their taste superior to British grown ones. I should hazard a guess the lack of sunshine in good old Blighty is to blame for that one.

Food made with love and passion and care, always tastes delicious. I will remind my children of this when they are telling me what I’ve given them for dinner is disgusting…

I can’t tell you how much fun I had at the Masterclass. I met some lovely people and bloggers, I ate myself into a food coma and I learnt some really useful skills and tips to take away with me.

If you’re looking for a bit of sun and a holiday to remember, do check out Bookings for You. Jo is truly a lovely lady who cares so much about her customers and her business. You will get a service that is second to none and a holiday to remember for all the right reasons.

Thanks again Jo, I had a wonderful time.

Ciao.x

Disclosure: I was offered a place at an Italian Cooking masterclass in return for this review. All words, thoughts and opinions are my own.



Food and Wine holidays with Bookings for You

Did someone say food?

And wine?

And holiday?

In the same sentence?

Yes indeed I did.

If those three things sound as appealing to you as they did to me, have a read of this article for some inspiration!

bookings for you holiday company logo

A few weeks ago I was contacted to see if I would like to attend an Italian cookery class courtesy of Bookings for You. I replied with much excitement and said I would love to, arranged for my lovely mum to have the mini monster for me and counted down the days to the event like a child waiting for Christmas Day. I’m very much a home cook (various different dishes with mince, rice and pasta) so the prospect of learning from a pro how to cook authentic italian cuisine was a really exciting, for me and my poor family!

Sadly however, a few days before the event, a very close friend of my parents unexpectedly passed away and the funeral ended up being on the same day as my cookery course. The husband was, as always, very busy with work and he couldn’t get the day off so I ended up having no childcare for the mini monster that day and I had to cancel attending. I was sad to let people down, but I was even more sad for my parents who had lost their lovely friend. Grab life by the horns and enjoy it folks.

Despite not being able to attend, I still wanted to share with you all some info on Bookings for You and to show you what they can offer so, here you go!


Bookings For You offer more than 300 holiday rental villas and apartments in the Italian lakes, Tuscany, Umbria, Le Marche, Puglia, the Amalfi Coast and Lazio, and are starting to expand further into France and Croatia. The company’s founder, owner and mum of 2, Jo Mackay – yes, Jo is literally Superwoman – is justifiably very proud of the excellent customer service provided by Bookings For You and because of this, the company has won several awards,. A real testament to her hard work. Sadly I didn’t get to meet Jo, but she was been beyond lovely about me having to cancel my attendance at the cookery school just a week before it was due to happen and from chatting to her via email, I can tell she is really passionate about what she does. As a busy mum-of -two, Jo completely understands what families want from a holiday and whether you are travelling as a large group of adults, or (luckily for you) just as a couple, she can find the perfect property and help take the stress out of potential nightmare that is holiday planning.

One of the newset additions to the many properties offered by Bookings For You is; 

Palazzo Tronconi

Image courtesy of Palazzo Tronconi

Palazzo Tronconi, is set in a picture postcard, medieval italian village called Arce in the Lazio region of Italy (I might have giggled at the village name because of my terrible knowledge of the beautiful italian language – I’m truly very childish – but it is pronounced Ar-che if you were wondering). Palazzo Tronconi is just over an hour’s drive from beautiful Rome and it boasts ten double rooms on a Bed and Breakfast basis. The owner, Marco Marrocco, is really passionate about food and wine and he shares his passion for local culture and produce with his guests by running cookery lessons, wine tastings, wine tours, and cultural and culinary day trips during their stay. Trips and experiences are tailored to the guests’ requirements, and cooking classes are available for children as well as adults which I think is wonderful. What a great way to get the kids involved in learning about how their food is made, where it comes from and to get them to try new things.

Palazzo Tronconi makes it’s very own wine and olive oil. The wine they produce is ‘biodynamic wine’ (called Fregallae) which is completely chemical free and sets it apart from most other wine producers. You can go on a wine tasting tour as part of your stay at Palazzo Tronconi and you can buy their wine here.

The cookery school event was hosted at Jo’s beautiful home in the Surrey countryside and the chef’s from Palazzo Tronconi (as well as Marco the owner) came over from Italy with suitcases full of produce to cook up an authentic Italian storm for the day.

The menu for the day at the cookery school was;

Creamed cod fishcakes with Avezzano potatoes, dusted with Pontecorvo peppers

A classic carbonara of rigatoni with Caserta black pig and anconetana eggs

Black pig stew from Caserta cooked in Zitore wine

Kaiser pears cooked in Mocevò wine with a scent of organic Italian lemons

Doesn’t that all sound delicious?!

From what I have seen online, everyone had a great time and they all look like they cooked up a storm. It made me hungry just looking at the photos!

Image courtesy of Jo Mackay

I was truly very upset that I couldn’t attend Jo’s cookery school event (carbonara just so happens to be my favourite italian pasta dish) but I was really grateful that she posted me a goodie bag with some lovely italian produce in it, as well as a bottle of Palazzo Tronconi Olive Oil so I didn’t completely miss out. I will be sure to serve the olive oil with some good bread as a special treat when we have friends over for dinner in the near future, I can’t wait to try it!

Package holidays to Palazzo Tronconi include transfers from Rome airport and are incredibly reasonably priced from €700 per person for three nights. For full details, and to see the other properties available, visit the Bookings For You website

Thanks once again to Jo for being so understanding and for including me in the fun, even though I couldn’t attend.

I’m off to scour the Bookings for You website and bombard the husband with links to some of the villas that have caught my eye.

#hopeful


Follow Bookings for You on Social Media

www.facebook.com/bookingsforyou
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 Disclosure: I was offered the chance to attend a cookery event with Bookings for You in return for this post. All words, thoughts and opinions are my own.



The Summer that was… (2016)

So, Autumn is officially here.

The leaves are starting to change colour and fall (yay for crunchy leaf walks, nay for loads of leaves rotting in my garden that I need to pick up and really can’t be arsed with).

As a little memento of our summer, I have compiled some of our photos into a slideshow to look back on.

You don’t have to bore yourself rigid watching it (it’s like when you’re being made to look at someone else’s holidays photos and you have to pretend to be really interested when, in actual fact, you’re wishing for a power cut to make it stop and would rather have a gynecological exam than look at anymore bloody photos…) I just wanted to have a keepsake on my blog to look back on when I am old and wishing I had a toddler who still crapped on my carpet at home. What am I saying, that’ll never happen but you know what I mean. I moan about them (lots) but I do love them, I don’t always like them, but I always love them.

So here’s my Summer 2016 Montage…

It’s only 10 hours long.

Sorry.

Not sorry.

😉

Gems.x




The Book Corner: A review of, Spot Goes on Holiday

Image from funwithspot.com

Growing up in the 1980’s, I was a HUGE fan of the Spot ‘lift the flap’ books and watching the animated version on TV.

Written by Eric Hill over 35 years ago, Spot has become a firm family favourite all over the world. The books have been published in over 50 languages and are now also available in sign language and Braille editions.

His toddler-like behaviour, getting up to mischief and exploring the world around him resonated with children and parents alike, making him the superstar pup he is today.

I vividly remember sitting with my Nan at her house and her reading the book, “Where’s Spot?” to me as I sipped a cup of warm Ribena and chomped on a packet of Quavers (we only ever got a treat like Quaver’s at my Nan’s house…). In fact, when I think of Spot, more often than not, I think of my Mum and my Nan. Precious memories.

The novelty of having a flap to lift on a page, to encourage you to investigate and find out what was hiding behind it, was always so much fun. I was a very careful child and I always ensured I was gentle with my books. I liked things ‘just so’ and that’s something that hasn’t really changed. My youngest cousin however, well, she was a bit different. When she came along, I can recall one of the flaps getting ripped out of the book and having to be stuck back in with sticky tape. I was very upset, she thought it was funny. I still love her though and I suppose I will let her off now after over 20 years… 😉

Teaching children how to handle books is a very important life skill in my opinion. To be careful with the pages, to treat the book gently, to learn the fine motor skills required to turn the delicate pages over without tearing them. A life the flap book is another, fun way of teaching the children how to do this.


When I was offered an opportunity to review a re-release of a Spot ‘lift the flap book’, I jumped at the chance.

We don’t actually have any Spot books (all my childhood ones are lost somewhere in the abyss of my parents loft) so I took this as a wonderful opportunity to pass my childhood love of these books on to my youngest boy, Ben. He’s 2.5 and the perfect age to enjoy a Spot story.

The book we were sent was, Spot goes on Holiday. Again, this is a book I remember well from my childhood and it’s delivery was timely as were were due to go off to Wales on a Camping holiday that same week. Perfect! It would help explain to Ben what we were going to do and what he might see on our trip to the Welsh seaside.

Every night that week, me and Ben sat down together at bedtime and read the book. He loved it as much as I recall loving it.

We also ended up taking the book with us camping as a bedtime read because he loved it so much and he even recognised some of the pictures in the book from our own days out.

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He turned the pages carefully, he was excited to see what was hiding under the flaps on each page and was actively seeking out the part on the page where the flap might be after just a couple of pages. He was repeating the names of things back to me as I said them and he also began pointing at Spot and saying his name on each page when he found him. It was just adorable.

The story lines are simple, the characters are lovable, the illustrations are really colourful and child-friendly and there is a kindness about the books that I can’t quite explain but I know is there. Like seeing a friendly face, someone familiar, someone you know.

The book simply tells the story of Spot being told he is going to the beach for the day by his Mum and Dad. It shows them getting ready for their day out and it also shows what adventures Spot has at the beach. Ben thought it was really funny when Spot took the wrong persons towel near the end, this part has him giggling his head off most nights at the moment, accompanied by some mummy sound effects of a disgruntled hippo of course 😉

 I cannot recommend the Spot books enough if you have a little one. I would hazard a guess and say any child up to the age of 5 or so would love these books, and then, even once they are 6 or so and reading for themselves, I am sure they will still enjoy it to a certain extent. My middle one did, because the books are fairly simple language with bold print, he was more than capable of reading it to his little brother by himself. He then prompted his little brother to lift the flaps, to seek out the characters in the pages and loved sharing the story with him and was really proud of himself afterwards for being able to do that on his own.


 

Colouring Sheets

Image from funwithspot.com

 

Spot has had a bit of a rejuvenation online too and now has his own website!

We didn’t have that in the 1980’s! 😉

You can find the link to the new website here.

Once on there, you are able to download and print off some Spot colouring sheets, play a dressing up Spot game and find out more about the world’s most lovable puppy! My middle one loved playing the online game and we took some of the colouring sheets away camping with us.

If you are local to Cheltenham, UK, there is a Spot event being held at the Cheltenham festival in October 2016. Details can be found here.


 *Competition time*

If you would like to get your hands on your own Spot ‘Lift the Flap’ book, just enter my competition!

All you need to do is enter this Rafflecopter!

Competition closes Friday 19th August.

Winner will be announced on Saturday 20th August on my Facebook page so do swing by to check out if it was you who won!

I will then be in contact to organise sending the prize to you.

Spot says good luck! Woof!

contact-us

Image from funwithspot.com

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Do follow me over on Facebook to see if you’ve won!




Wales 2016: Day 2 – “A prick on the posterior…”

We woke up to sunshine on day 2…

Today was the only ‘full’ family day we would all have together, as the next day would be taken up with our men abandoning us to visit Bike Park Wales.

We had a yummy breakfast of bacon and egg sarnies but there was one major issue with breakfast…

The Wasps.

The yellow jacket clad tossers were out in force at our campsite and I was as pissed off with them as a TOWIE cast member is when they run out of teeth whitener.

Luckily, our friends had bought a tennis bat type, wasp torture, contraption which had electric rods running across it. It was called, ‘The Exterminator’ – *terminator voice*.

Basically, you press a button when you are near a wasp, this electrifies the metal rods and you electrocute the wasp. Pleasant eh?!

Now, I promise you I would never use this thing on anything other than Wasps and Mosquitoes, but my word it was therapeutic.

“Buzzzzzzzzz”, you would hear one next to your ear as you’re about to sip your cup of tea.

“Buzzzzzz”. You’ll swat it as a warning that this invasion of space is unacceptable.

It goes away, then two seconds later, it’s back again. But this time, with a couple of his mates as backup.

“Buzzzzzzz”, in my ear again causing me to spill some tea.

Line crossed.

Patience exhausted.

Right you little bastards, it’s time to meet your maker.

“Where’s the bat?” I announce in my best, ‘it’s on like Donkey Kong’, ‘I mean business’, voice.

I am handed ‘The Exterminator’ and I push the button on it to begin, ‘Operation Wasp Wack’.

I chase the little shits with the bat and feel a sense of sadistic joy when one sparks off the bat and dies. Then I get his mate, and then another one. Everyone has a go with the bat of extermination over the course of the holiday to try and rid us of the stripey flying feckers, as well as my friend setting up a wasp trap using an old juice bottle and some neat squash as bait. It did the trick, but the exterminator was definitely required to try and keep on top of things.

Anyhow, after feeling rather pleased with ourselves that we were staying on top of the wasp invasion, we must’ve let our guard slip.

My other half was sat down, a little bit forwards on his camping chair and must have had his shorts revealing his bottom a bit at the top, you know, like when you have that pair of jeans on that are really comfy but your butt does a David Copperfield and escapes out of them whenever you bend over. That.

#halfmoon

He sits there chatting then all of a sudden…

“Argh! Shit! I’ve been stung!”

He leaps off his camping chair (I’ve never seen him move so fast. No really, I haven’t…) and holds his left buttock.

“It got me! The little f*cker got me!!!!”

Me, hand on mouth, stifling a mixture of a hysterical laugh and a concerned face, offers to take a peek and see how bad the damage is. The things we do for love…

He reveals a rather red butt cheek and is wincing in agony, in between swearing. I wet some kitchen towel and tell him to put it on there and I check he’s feeling ok because he hasn’t ever been stung by anything up until this point in his life. Luckily for us all, it turns out he’s not allergic to wasp stings and it just left him with a bit of a prick on his posterior, a dent in his male ego and a red mark on his butt cheek.

Major crisis averted, but now I am faced with an even more grumpy than usual husband for the day.

After the excitement of the wasp sting, it was decided that we would go out for the day and back to a beach we went to the previous year, it was a stunner to be fair, called Rhossilli Bay. It is an enormous beach which stretches out below you when you look at it from the clifftops above, a sight to behold. The only trouble is…getting down to it. Oh, and then back up again…

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I took this photo from the top of the path which you have to walk down.

My husband decided it would be a good idea to hire the kids some wet-suits and body boards, and himself a surf board for the day, which is lovely, except we had to get that stuff, plus the usual beach crap, down to the beach.

We loaded the kids up as much as we could and then loaded ourselves up like mules. I also had to walk the toddler down so needed at least one free hand to help steady the miniature drunkard.

It took about 10 minutes to walk down but it is totally worth it once you are there. (Do bear this in mind if you have pushchairs or wheelchairs as access with these is not currently available).

Miles of golden sand, hills that appear to roll into the sea, shipwrecks on the beach, caves to explore, rock pools to investigate, waves to surf and play in, it’s the perfect beach base for the day. Oh, apart from the walk down and up…did I mention that?! 😉

(Note: If you’re a national trust member, you can park in the car park there free of charge).

We spend the day, once again, scoffing crap picnic food, paddling, surfing, body boarding (sadly not me however, I was on toddler watch), sandcastle building, rock pool swimming and cave exploring. Fun was had by all and even my husband, King Itchy Butt, had a nice day.

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After finishing at the beach, involving me and my friends husband having to do two, yes two, journeys up the cliffs so we could return the hire kit before closing time before returning back down to collect our own gubbins to take back home, we reward ourselves with an ice cream.

I have to tell you all this Ice Cream man was THE BEST ice cream man I have EVER seen. The guy had a kind of tardis Ice Cream van and, you name it, he had it. Ice lollies, ice creams, slushies, ice cream sundaes, the whole lot. He was epic and I was as excited as the kids were.

I plumped for a Turkish delight Ice Cream Sundae, my husband went for a chocolate orange sundae and the kids all went for a e-number filled bubblegum sundae offering.

Nom, nom, nom. The stuff of seaside holiday dreams people.

“Honey! Get my fat pants out! I’m having ice cream!”

We head to a pub for a quick drink before then going back to the campsite to do a BBQ. We do the usual sausages and burgers and then we get the big guns out…Marshmallows.

The kids, ok, and the adults, loved toasting the marshmallows over the hot coals. There’s something truly happiness inducing and brilliant about a toasted marshmallow.

Smiles all round.

That, followed by hot chocolates at sunset, are what childhood memories are made of in my eyes.

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Bedtime comes around again, and after the saga of the night before, my husband goes in with the angelically peaceful sleeper (our middle one) and I get the toddler for the night. The husband appears all smug that we have swapped kids, in the hope that he will get a super night’s sleep. Turns out, karma is a bitch and on top of his pricked bottom, he had a terrible night because our normally well behaved middle one had a bit of a restless night and windmilled himself around their air bed for the night. Oopsie… 😉

The toddler however, slept like a, well, baby! Whoop!

#mummyforthewinagain

Tune in for day 3 tomorrow…

Gems.x