Tutti a Tavola a Mangiare! (or why Lidia Bastianich is super cool)

Ciao Readers!

Today I return to one of my favorite dual pastimes – watching cooking shows and then getting off the couch, compelled to cook what I just watched the TV chef cook (and as an added bonus, traveling to Italy vicariously).  If you’ll recall, I talked about this in a previous post, when I made Nigella’s yummy lemon almond cake back in our little kitchen in Florence.  Well, it happened again today, with Italian chef Lidia Bastianich and her nonna’s (grandma’s) apple cake.  One minute I’m spending a lazy Sunday watching previously recorded cooking shows, the next I’m in the kitchen mixing while Steve peels apples.  And yes, totally worth it!  So simple, but apple-y and crunchy and YUM!  (It didn’t dawn on me until we’d eaten most of it to try and take a photo, below; after looking at a real food blogger’s blog today, I realize my food staging photo skills need some serious work – it is way more delicious than it looks in my photo.)

Now, here’s the thing about Lidia and her show – they are on PBS.  No fancy “Iron Stadium,” no one getting “chopped,” no timer counting down, no celebrity judges and basically no hoopla.  Just Lidia, and sometimes a grandma or granddaughter cooking simple family recipes.  Maybe I’m just old-fashioned (i.e. old), but I still really like the plain old cooking shows on PBS (did you notice I used the word “old” 3 times on one sentence – ack!).  While I love trying to figure out what I’d cook from the ingredients on Chopped (black garlic, bull testicles and gummy worms anyone?), I am sure I’ve actually learned more about cooking from Julia, the gang on America’s Test Kitchen and Lidia. Lidia just makes good food!

Not only do I know she makes good food because my mouth waters when I watch her show, or because whenever I cook recipes from her show they come out yummy, but we’ve actually eaten at her restaurant Becco in New York (photos below).  Now I know that she was not personally there cooking, but it is her restaurant (and her son’s).  Funny, but despite the wonderful pastas and seafood dishes we had, the simplest thing left the biggest impression and it is something I have been replicating to this day – fresh grated lemon zest on your appetizer bowl of olives.  Try it!  You’ll be amazed at how such a little thing has such a big impact on taste.  Anyone who is responsible for teaching me something I will do forever or filling our lazy Sunday with delicious apple cake is super cool in my book!

If you haven’t seen her show, the title of this post is what she always says at the end of the show –  everyone to the table to eat!  Actually, there is one piece of cake left…..

Thanks for reading!

Easy Yummy Lemon Almond Cake (and why I miss my kitchen)

Ciao Readers!

Today I am going to share a delicious lemon almond cake I recently baked (well, figuratively speaking).  A couple of weeks ago we were watching Nigella’s cooking show and the cake she was baking looked so good I had to immediately get off the sofa and go in the kitchen and bake it.  While this used to be an almost weekly occurrence back in Albuquerque (seeing something on a cooking show and then getting up to cook/bake it), this was the first time since arriving in Italy that I’ve tried it here.  The reasons being that back in Albuquerque, unlike here, 1) I had a pantry full of ingredients, 2) I had a kitchen in which I was inspired to cook, and, most importantly, 3) I could turn the oven on without fear of tripping the breakers (which happens here if the oven and anything else is on at the same time). (And, well, maybe also because I watched more t.v….)

In any case, the reason this cake is so delicious is because instead of flour, its base is entirely almond meal and polenta, and in addition to lemon zest in the cake, it is soaked after baking in fresh lemon syrup.  YUM!!!   While I didn’t have almond meal on hand, I did have almonds (and a hand immersion blender); and while not exactly “polenta,”  I still had an entire bag of corn meal I had bought at Vivi Market (foolishly thinking I would make my own corn tortillas).  I cannot say enough about how delicious this very easy to make cake comes out (recipe here); try it and impress your friends with a scrumptious Italy-inspired creation!  While I tried to plate it all fancy-like, the photo doesn’t do its flavor justice:

lemon almond cake

This photo is actually from the second time I baked the cake (today as I write, probably two weeks ago as you read).  I decided to bake the cake today, but forgot and started a load of laundry.  I have no idea why, especially since the machines here are tiny (it’s next to the stove, pictured), but it takes at least 2 hours for a load to finish.  I have to admit, I was feeling a little grumpy for those 2 hours – I am still having a hard time getting used to (and understanding why) our little “easy bake oven” takes up so much electricity that everything else has to be off in order to turn it on.  It’s weird – it takes more electricity than the washer, than the air-conditioner unit, and even than my hair dryer.  And it’s tiny – and all the coils don’t heat up (which all adds to why it’s not much fun to cook here).  Since I’m on a roll venting about my current kitchen – the counter space is also tiny and most of the cabinet space is too high to reach (and while the counter looks like granite or nice synthetic granite, it’s plastic).  The stove top is so small I had to take the back/lid off in order to fit more than one pan on at a time (still can’t fit 3 pans on at a time).  And, while intellectually I understand that these are small complaints and people all over the world would kill for my current kitchen and the food therein, I’m only human and that thought does not change the fact that I get bummed out cooking here:

present kitchen

On the other hand, this is a kitchen in which I am inspired to (and have, and will again) cook up a storm:


So, I suppose today’s lessons are 1) appreciate what you have when you have it, and 2) Nigella bakes good cake!  Have a nice weekend!

Cucinare Con Ale (Cooking show)

Today I take a break from the profound to take a diversion and write about my favorite cooking show here – “Cucinare Con Ale.”

As you may know (or have figured out from the focus of much of my writing), I consider myself a foodie.  The Food Network and Cooking Channel are two of my favorite guilty pleasures (oh, and Bravo’s “Top Chef”).  The other is “House Hunter’s International” (big surprise).  I have found the equivalent of Italy’s combined HGN and Food Network – “Real Time.”  They play dubbed re-runs of Top Chef, lots of Gordon Ramsey and Cake Boss-based shows, and some of their own cooking (and cooking competition) shows.  (On a culturally embarrassing side-note, there is also a station that plays “Jersey Shore” reruns nearly round the clock).  My favorite cooking show is “Cucinare Con Ale” – I would say it’s like the first, more mellow, cooking show Guy Fieri did. Ale has a great personality, has fun cooking and is easy to follow.  I have actually learned a lot (of Italian cooking tips) and can follow most of the Italian – I think watching things I have a natural proclivity towards (food), or familiarity with (such as “Friends” dubbed), helps me with the language.  Here is a little taste of the show…some photos and a link to a clip making bruschetta…


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