Food TV

What with all the traveling around Italy, Austria, and Slovakia, yet another blog post day has come around and I haven’t had a chance to cook something interesting enough to share.  Instead, I thought I’d share another round-up of sorts.  This time I’ll be sharing my favorite food-related television shows rather than recipes!  There are some shows I find very inspiring, and others that I think are just plain entertaining to watch.  Here are my top five food-related shows, in no particular order.

Food Network’s no-longer-airing show Ace of Cakes is the first food show I feel in love with.  In the show, Duff Goldman and his Baltimore-based Charm City Cakes team create custom cakes in all shapes and sizes.  Instead of the subplot of the giant Italian family that features in TLC’s similar show Cake Boss, Duff is a “bad boy” and his employees are totally quirky, and all seem to be best friends as well as co-workers.  Special episodes included making cakes for the Superbowl, a Harry Potter movie premiere, and the Baltimore Zoo.

Another Food Network classic that I love is (you guessed it) Good Eats.  Host Alton Brown talks through the chemistry of food, not just how to make things.  Gimmicks that will totally draw you in are sock puppet yeast, a “food agent” (like an agent for an actor/actress), and plenty of silly plotlines.  It’s educational and entertaining!

Ok, for now we’ll just keep going with my Food Network favorites.  This one is actually still on TV so should you be so lucky to have cable, you can tune in…whenever it’s on next: Chopped.  Chopped is a food competition show where four professional (but not celebrity) chefs compete in three rounds of challenges to see who is the most skilled and creative in the kitchen.  At the beginning of each round, the chefs receive baskets of mystery ingredients that must be included in their dish.  Each chef’s basket is exactly the same.  Part of the fun is trying to decide what you would do if you received those ingredients!  Here, go make dessert with ladyfingers, baby fennel, almond paste, and root beer jelly beans.

There are also two BBC shows make my top five list.  First: The Great British Bake-Off.  In this competition, contestants compete to be crowned with the title of “Britain’s Best Amateur Baker.”  Over a series of several weeks, they work to prove their skills in various types of baking, like breads, pastries, and pies.  For each category, the contestant must make a signature dish, a show-stopper, and follow a brand-new recipe which is then judged blind by judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.  This is a great show for being inspired to try new baked goods and there’s a bit of culinary history thrown in as well.

Lastly, another BBC show, this one off-the-air.  This series combines two of my favorite things: cooking and history.  In the series The Supersizers Go… and The Supersizers Eat… (I guess they are technically different shows, but really, they’re the same) food critic Giles Coren and comedian/broadcaster Sue Perkins go “back in time” to experience Britain’s culinary history.  They spend a week exploring different eras, from Rome to the 1980s.  While they also wear period clothes and attempt activities from that era, the focus is all on the food.  It’s great for a laugh while still getting in your food fix.

What are your favorite food-related TV shows?  I’d love to know!

Impressions of Venice

My thoughts on Venice, after three and a half days in the city.

Reader, I hope you don’t mind that instead of a recipe instead you’re getting a post about travel.  I’m sorry.  I just haven’t had my act together in the kitchen what with the traveling.  I actually took a class on travel writing my freshman year of college so now I guess I’m getting the chance to put everything I “learned” to good use.

I mentioned on Wednesday that while I had spent the day in Padua, I was writing the post from Venice.  I spent three and a half days/four nights in La Serenissima (The Most Serene, one of Venice’s nicknames).  There are so many guides to Venice, I just want to say I’m not trying to make this a full on travel guide.  But I do hope that what I write here helps anyone who is planning a trip, or who is just interested in the city.

During my senior year of college (which ended almost a year ago!) I took two advanced Italian Renaissance art history courses.  They were so interesting and made me really want to go to Venice, even though before I had thought of it as mostly a very touristy city.  Which it is, completely.  It seemed like there were equal numbers of Italian-, English-, German-, and French-speakers there, not to mention the smaller numbers of Chinese and Japanese tourists.  But it’s also a city which has a rich history and culture, and both of those are fully on display.

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The city of Venice was a republic in it’s own right which lasted about 1100 years, ending in 1797.  Because of this, the city doesn’t feel Italian.  There are no scooters rushing by, the architecture is different from both what you’d find in Rome or other places in Northern Italy, and it’s not particularly well known for its food.

The main sights are, as mentioned, crowded with tourists.  Walking through the church of San Marco is like, I don’t know, waiting for a ride at Disneyland.  Everyone is packed tight, you can hardly turn to crane your neck which is what you really need to do to take in the church’s interior.  But there are pockets of quiet, lots of campi (squares) just off the beaten path are empty with sunny church steps perfect for sitting on with a book or a cone of gelato.  The gelato is probably the best thing you can eat in Venice–my favorite was tiramisu flavored from some bakery that didn’t have its name in an obvious place.

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It’s so easy to get lost in Venice, having a map is a must.  Because so many people are tourists, blatantly checking your map is acceptable.  But getting lost in Venice is nice, too, because you end up away from the crowds and get to see a bit of the “real” Venice.

The architecture is what might be called “eclecticism” by an art historian.  The majority of the buildings seem to date from the 16th or 17th centuries, when Venice was still a far-reaching republic.  Its ties to distant places can be found in the architecture, with classical elements symbolizing a relationship with mainland Italy and the Renaissance, Gothic elements tying it to Northern Europe, and elements of Byzantine and Islamic architecture signifying the connection with the Byzantine and later Ottoman Empires.  When you’re in Venice, don’t forget to look up and take in all the windows and cornices, as they are just as interesting as the shop windows.

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Venice is a city of canals, even more so (in my opinion) than Amsterdam.  In Amsterdam there are still streets where you can bike or take a tram.  Not so in Venice.  Public transportation means taking the ACTV Waterbus, which is only really necessary to go to the outlying islands.  At €7 ,00 one way it’s too expensive for anything else.

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Speaking of prices, Venice is a pricey city.  It was my splurge vacation, and I didn’t even splurge that much.  The cheapest way to eat is to grab a sandwich or pizza from a snack bar displaying such things in the window.  There are many options, though most have prosciutto/speck/salami (things I don’t like).  One thing I would recommend is to have a spinach and ricotta-filled focaccia, sort of a Venetian version of spanakopita.

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As for seeing the sights, I really enjoyed myself but was also completely overwhelmed because there is just so much.  I think my favorite things were the Accademia (which houses so many stellar pieces of Venetian Renaissance art), the church of San Zaccaria (more wonderful art, but only €1,50 to visit the nave and chapel), seeing the Piazza and Piazzetta San Marco (which felt like stepping into an art history textbook), and taking in all the architecture on just regular houses.  By the time I got to the islands of Burano and Murano, I mostly wanted to just sit and read, though I did enjoy seeing lace and glass making demonstrations.  I was really looking forward to visiting the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, but one of the Titian altarpieces wasn’t on display (and the copy in its place was much too small) so I felt a bit deflated about that.  However, I do have to say that the Giovanni Bellini altarpiece in the Frari is also great, though I had forgotten about it.

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San Zaccaria

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Giovanni Bellini altarpiece in San Zaccaria

All in all, I enjoyed myself.  I traveled alone, which has its advantages and disadvantages.  I’d like to go back someday, but with friends or family, as certain experiences are better shared.  I wouldn’t go back to any of the Civic Museums except maybe the Palazzo Ducale, but I’d certainly return to the places mentioned above.

Oh, and by the way, I’ve started a new category for my posts specifically about travel.  You can find those here.  Or you can go here, where I’ve tagged all my posts that mention travel but aren’t necessarily entirely about traveling.  Please let me know in the comments if you like reading about traveling, as that will determine how often I interrupt the usual stories of culinary exploits with travel!

An Afternoon in Padua

Join me as I spend an afternoon exploring Padua, Italy!

So, Reader, as you might be able to surmise from the title of this post, I have no recipe for you today.  Nothing about food, even.  As I mentioned last week, I’m now on Easter break and doing some traveling–I’m writing this from a Renaissance palazzo turned hostel in Venice with the highest ceilings ever.  I will be completely shameless in saying that my goal in going to Padua for an afternoon was to see pretty art, and other than that I had no expectations.

After being in Venice since Sunday, going to a city with solid ground underfoot and actual vehicles was a bit of a shock.  Padua (Padova, in Italian)  is a small university city, and very clearly so.  The majority of the people I saw were in their early- to mid-twenties, and there were not many tourists.  The tourists I saw were mostly older couples, and I never saw/heard any other Americans.  It’s a bit off the beaten track, but if you’re into early Italian Renaissance art, it’s definitely a must, just for an afternoon.  Come join me for an afternoon in Padua!

11:12 Board train in Venice, loaded with book, snack, journal, waterbottle, camera, and jacket, all the tourist essentials.

11:42 Arrive in Padua.  Look around the train station for a map, see no obvious maps, so leave the station and head south (the direction of the old city center and pretty things).

12:10 Wander in circles looking for the civic museum’s information center, where you are supposed to pick up your ticket for the Scrovegni Chapel and Civic Museums that you booked online last week.

12:25 Realize you walked past the information center twice but didn’t notice it because of some construction going on.  Pick up ticket, and decide it is lunchtime.

12:45ish Stumble across a market hall in a gorgeous building and an open air fruit and veggie market.

1:00 Decide to buy what is essentially a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich because the price is right and nothing else is jumping out at you.  Compensate for boring sandwich choice by buying a small carton of fragoline–wild strawberries.

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1:20ish After following brown signs since you don’t have a map or a plan, arrive at the cathedral and baptistery.  Discover that the cathedral is only open mornings and evenings but decide to visit the baptistery.

1:21ish Are very glad you decided to spend a few Euros on the baptistery because the frescoes inside are fantastic.

1:45 Leave the baptistery and wander around eating your strawberries.  Realize you’ve eaten all but the most squished ones and figure it might be time to check out one of the museums included in the ticket you picked up earlier.

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2:25 Visit the Decorative Arts Museum in the Palazzo Zuckermann.  Eavesdrop on the conversations of the German-speaking tourists who entered the museum just before you.

4:00 Leave the Palazzo Zuckermann and buy a cookie as a snack to eat while you sit in the sun, giving your eyes a break from studying things.

5:00 Enter the waiting room of the Scrovegni Chapel.

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5:15 Enter the Scrovegni Chapel.  Don’t know where to look.  Try to remember things about Giotto from AP Art History in 2008-2009.

5:35 Leave the chapel, hit the bathroom and gift shop, and then visit the church next door.

6:00 Head away from the town center to St. Anthony’s, where you are hoping to see a Donatello altarpiece.

6:25 Arrive at St. Anthony’s.  Again, don’t know where to look.  Look at just about everything except the Donatello altarpiece because that’s hard to see since the nave is mostly blocked off for people to pray, which plenty of people (monks, nuns, and laypeople alike) are doing.  Make a mental note to look up St. Anthony of Padua when you get back to the hostel, since apparently he was a big deal and you just walked by his fancy tomb.

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7:00ish Feet sore from being walked on all day, make your way back to the train station.

8:00 Hop on the regional express back to Venice!

The Liebster Award

A few weeks ago Haley of If You Give A Blonde A Kitchen nominated me for the Liebster Award.  First of all, thanks Haley!  Reader, you should go check out her blog if you’ve never been.  She shares great photos and entertaining stories along with all her lovely recipes.  I’m glad someone thinks my blog is award-worthy, even if it’s only in cyberspace and not, you know, a Newbery Medal.

I’ve seen the Liebster Award floating around the Internet and while the rules seem pretty simple, they also aren’t concrete enough for my inner perfectionist.  As part of receiving the award, I have to in turn nominate some of my favorite bloggers.  But there are no specific criteria.   How do I decide who to nominate?  So much pressure.  However, I think the main idea is to give some kudos and show appreciation for fellow bloggers with smaller followings, so here goes!

My nominees:

  1. Anne of Books Baking Blogging
  2. Lauren of Tuppershare
  3. Kelsey of Roast Potatoes For.
  4. Erin of Erin Made This
  5. Anje of Kitchen Historic

The other part of the award involves asking and answering questions to get to know a little more about your fellow bloggers.  Haley asked some great questions (plus one that I, um, strongly dislike).

  • Who’s your favorite celebrity chef or food personality?  Back when Ace of Cakes was on I would have said the whole Ace of Cakes team (particularly Duff and Geoff) but now that it’s off the air and Duff’s new shows aren’t as entertaining, I’ve got to go with Alton Brown.  Which you may know already from reading this blog.  He knows all the things.
  • If you were to go on any reality TV program, what would it be and why?  I think this counts as reality TV…BBC and PBS do these shows where they send people “back in time” for a few months.  Past shows have included Victorian House (first one I ever saw), Frontier House, Colonial House (for which my mom wanted to apply but didn’t sadface), Tudor Monastery Farm, etc…I would want to be on a show like that!  Or The Great British Bake-Off.
  • Who is your biggest blog supporter? (This can be a family member, friend, or fellow blogger).  Hands down, my mom.  She told me to start a food blog years before I actually did.
  • If you could spend one day anywhere in the world, where would it be?  I’m lucky enough to have done a lot of traveling but high on my list of places I want to visit, and also on my list of places I’m unlikely to visit anytime soon, is India.
  • How many other people’s blog posts do you read on average, per day?  On average probably about 5 or 10.  I’ve never actually counted.  Now I’m curious.
  • What is your favorite holiday and why?  THANKSGIVING!  So much food, so much family.  Sure, the holiday may have some less-than-savory origins, but the intention is right.  Plus, what’s not to love about 20+ people crowding into my grandparent’s kitchen?
  • Who is your hero?  This question.  I never have an answer for it.
  • One food ingredient you can’t live without?  Vanilla extract.  And mine is all gone.  I don’t know what I’m going to do.
  • How did you choose the name for your blog?  I thought about it for a few days.  I’m still not convinced that it’s the perfect name, but it’s the best that I could come up with at the time…
  • Cats or dogs?  Cats.  Though at home my family has both a cat and a dog.  The cat is named Peter Quince.  You get brownie points if you can tell me where that name comes from without using Google.  If you want real brownies and not just the points, you have to make your own, though.

And now, my questions!  Like many people do, I’m stealing some of Haley’s questions…and since I mostly follow food blogs, lots of these are food related!

  • If you were to go on any reality TV program, what would it be and why?
  • Best vacation you ever took?
  • Favorite and/or most influential book you ever read?
  • Chocolate or vanilla?
  • Favorite social media platform?  Why?
  • What food are you craving right now?  
  • How did you choose the name for your blog?
  • Earliest memory in the kitchen?
  • One food ingredient you can’t live without?
  • Biggest kitchen disaster?

Looking forward to reading all your answers, and have a wonderful Sunday!

5-Minute Artisan Bread

My experience with the popular 5-minute no-knead artisan bread recipe was such a success!  Chewy, flavorful bread with hardly any work!

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If you’ve ever look for a bread recipe online, you’ve probably come across some version of this no-knead bread.  Most versions call for the loaf to be baked in a Dutch oven, which I don’t have.  However, as I looked for more bread recipes to add to my collection a few weeks ago, I came across a few recipes that did not suggest baking in a Dutch oven!  I traced them back to the original, the “basic” Artisan Bread in Five Minutes.

Now, if you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I’m not afraid of spending time and effort on making bread.  Most of the bread recipes I’ve shared involve kneading, and I actually enjoy it–getting to feel the dough change–but sometimes short-cuts are great.  Especially when they actually are short-cuts, and aren’t just pretending to be.  I guess this isn’t really a short-cut, as it involves letting the dough sit, but if you plan in advance than this is certainly a quicker way to pop some homemade bread in the oven!

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Though I know following a recipe exactly is not at all necessary, even when working with finicky yeast, I stuck pretty close to the original.  I did halve the recipe, as the original uses six and a half cups of flour.  Even for dough that can be stored for up to two weeks, I didn’t think I would use that much.

So, with my half recipe I made two decent-sized (9 inch? 10 inch?) oblong loaves.  The first loaf I made right away and the second I made after I finished the first, five days later.  I liked the second loaf better–it had more flavor and more air holes which I think are essential to any type of bread that’s being called “artisan.”  Loaf #2 sat in the fridge for five days, so I can’t vouch for the alleged two-week storage period but I can safely say that after five days you will have a wonderful loaf!

 

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After five days in the fridge…so many air bubble!

5-Minute Artisan Bread

From Artisan Bread in Five

Ingredients

  • 1/2 T active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 T salt

This will make two loaves like the ones in the photo above.  Go to the original for more about sizing loaves.

Instructions

Place yeast, water, and salt in a very large bowl (or large tub or clean spaghetti pot).  Immediately add the flour and stir to combine.

Cover the container but make sure there is room for the gases being produced to escape, i.e. set the lid of the pot off-kilter.  Let the dough sit for about two hours.  It should rise to at least double and then begin to settle.  Do not punch down the dough.

After the two hour rise, you can use the dough.  Or, store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

When ready to make dough, sprinkle some flour over the top of the dough (to keep your hands cleaner) and divide the dough in two.  Tidy into the desired shape and let the dough rest on a floured surface or parchment paper for about an hour.

In the meantime, heat your oven to 450ºF.  If you have a pizza stone or cast iron pizza pan, place it in the center of the oven as it heats.  If not, just bake on a regular baking sheet (which is what I did).  Make sure you have a rack in the lower half of the oven as well.

After the dough sits for an hour, slash the loaf and place it on the stone or baking sheet in the oven .  Fill a metal cake pan (not glass!) with hot water and place on the lower rack of the oven, closing the door quickly.  This will produce steam and help with the development of a crust.  Bake about 30 minutes until golden brown and hollow-sounding.

Posted to Manic Monday and Happiness is Homemade!

Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Eggs

The best part of my Easter is Reese’s Eggs…making your own is so simple and involves just three ingredients.  Chocolate+peanut butter forever!

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Taxes, TA extensions, and summer classes, oh my!  I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with all three (having lived three different places in 2013 and had three different jobs taxes means are no fun, I can’t decide if I want to stay in Austria, and I’m in the process of signing up for summer classes) so THANK GOODNESS Easter break is coming up soon.  Austria, being a Catholic country, gives schools one-and-a-half or two weeks off for Easter.  While what I’m really looking forward to is not having to think about all those things starting on Sunday, it does mean that I’ve got to sort out at least taxes and the extension before I take off for Italy and Vienna.

I’ve been offered an extension in a new city for the 2014-2015 school year but I’m itching a bit to do something different and I don’t know if moving to another city will offer that.  I really like some of my classes, some are just meh, and there is one that drives me crazy.  If I end up not liking my schools/fellow/teacher/students next year I know I won’t have any fun.  In theory, you should have fun at your job, right?  I go back and forth all the time about extending my TA-ship for another year.  That, along with making sure my taxes are in order (I think they are.  Maybe.) makes me really frustrated.

The kitchen and I get along well and while I’m not the type of person to “eat my feelings,” I do feel comfortable there and like I don’t have to think about anything.  Good thing it’s almost Easter and making a copycat version of my favorite Easter candy is totally acceptable.  I am a firm believer that your cannot go wrong with the chocolate and peanut butter combination, so Reese’s have always been a favorite store-bought candy of mine.  And, like most things, they just seem so much more exciting when they come in cute shapes.

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There are tons of copycat Reese’s eggs out there.  Lots of them include butter or milk or vanilla and…I don’t even know.  Things that I think are unnecessary.  I hope I don’t offend anyone by saying that, especially if you just posted a similar recipe on your blog.  All you need to make delicious chocolate-peanut butter egg-shaped treats a la Reese’s is chocolate, peanut butter, and powdered sugar.  Three things.  Plus some chopped roasted peanuts for topping, should you desire.  Seriously, these are so simple.  Make them for the chocolate-peanut butter lover in your life.  Make them on Easter instead (or in addition) to dyeing eggs!  See what other shapes you can make!  Bunnies?  Flowers?

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Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Eggs

Makes 4 very large or 6 more normal sized eggs…or even more small eggs

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup peanut butter (I used way over-priced Skippy)
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 3.5 oz chocolate, chopped (mine was 55% cacao)
  • optional: chopped roasted peanuts for decorating

Instructions

Line a large plate or tray with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, mix together the peanut butter and powdered sugar until thoroughly combined.  Add a little more peanut butter if is seems too dry, a little more powdered sugar if it’s too sticky or wet.  Dusting your hands with powdered sugar, shape spoonfuls of the mixture into eggs.  Reese’s eggs are usually flat, as so were mine, but do whatever you desire.  Place on the plate or try and freeze for about 25 minutes.

As the 25 minutes draw to a close, melt your chocolate in a double boiler, being careful that no water gets into the chocolate.  Working quickly, coat each egg thoroughly in the melted chocolate.  I think it’s easiest to place the egg in and flip with a fork.  Let some of the excess chocolate drip off (while you hold the egg over the bowl!) then replace on the parchment lined sheet.  Sprinkle with chopped nuts, if desired.  Repeat with all eggs.  Let cool before eating.

You will probably have some chocolate left over, I suggest covering peanuts in it or dipping pretzels, cookies, or graham crackers in it.

I would store these in the fridge just to be safe, though they’ll be fine in Easter baskets for a few hours.  If they last that long.

Posted to Full Plate Thursday, Manic Monday, and Happiness is Homemade!