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Eating with Lidia (Well . . . sort of)
I’m not a very good schmoozer. It wears me out. I’m not much of a gawker either. I will go out of my way to get a book autographed by a writer I respect. And I do have a special interest in people who cook well, too.
I’ve run into a few food celebs at QVC when we’ve met off-stage, plus I’ve seen several at the Housewares Show.
But I’ve never met Lidia Bastianich. She strikes me as an honest cook, who makes food from her heart, despite having become a name in the cooking world. Somehow she’s managed to still keep one foot firmly in her Italian family’s cooking tradition, while translating it into manageable instructions for the rest of us.
I really began paying attention to her when Chef Bonne, my food-stylist at QVC (who’s worked close-up with many major cooking stars) talked about her with awe. In fact, Bonne was recently asked, “Who has been your biggest inspiration in the culinary world?” She didn’t hesitate:
“Really, really, does anyone that knows me have to ask that question? One word for you: LIDIA. Her love, respect and knowledge of food is truly inspirational. Her reverence for educating people about food through art, history and tradition is remarkable. With all the culinary trends, she shows that there’s just no substitute for fresh ingredients, proven technique, and a good wooden spoon.”
A funny thing happened this last week. Merle and I were in Pittsburgh at a convention, and we were eating dinner at a good seafood place when an acquaintance walked by. She swung back and said, “Did you know that there’s a restaurant here in town owned by some well-known cook. . . I think it’s called ‘Lidia’s.’”
“Do you mean Lidia Bastianich?” I asked, suddenly not so interested in my red snapper.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But you should find out.”
I must not be as subtle about my passions as I imagine I am. The minute I had a chance to Google “Lidia’s in Pittsburgh,” I discovered that the Cooking Great had two restaurants outside New York—one in Pittsburgh and one in Kansas City.
So Merle and I went exploring the next evening and found “Lidia’s Pittsburgh Italy”—a warehouse with grand windows overlooking one of the city’s rivers. Eating around us were high-school kids, couples, groups of friends, three-generation families. This is not a snooty atmosphere, built as a worship site to an out-of-reach chef.
We were comfortable and relaxed as we settled into our Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Braised Greens and Grilled Peaches (me) and Scallopine of Chicken Breast with Roasted Lemon, Capers, and Olives (Merle).
Too bad we were too full for dessert. And, no, I didn’t get an autograph. The Woman was not in the house. But her spirit was!
Here’s a nod to Lidia’s Dessert Menu which offers sorbets. Note this recipe’s Italian ingredient, too.
from “Fresh from Central Market” Cookbook, pg. 187
Makes about 1 quart sorbet
Prep Time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Cooling Time: 2 hours
Freezing Time: about 3 hours
2 lbs. rhubarb
1 cup water
1 cup raw sugar
¼ cup honey
zest from 1 orange
2 tsp. fresh ginger, grated, optional*
3 Tbsp. Aperol, an Italian aperitif
1. Cut rhubarb into ½”-thick pieces.
2. Place rhubarb, water, sugar, honey, orange zest, and, if you wish, ginger in a heavy medium-sized saucepan.
3. Bring to boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 5 minutes, or until rhubarb is tender and cooked through.
4. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
5. Puree cooked rhubarb mixture and Aperol in blender or food processor until smooth.
6. Chill mixture thoroughly.
7. Freeze in ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.
*Note: Since ginger has a bold taste, you may want to reduce the amount called for, or eliminate it if you are doubtful about it.
1. Let sorbet soften 15-20 minutes before serving.
2. Crumbled cookies, especially Italian almond macaroons, are great go-alongs with this recipe.