Wednesday, December 30, 2009

playing with my toys......

Cold day yesterday, some threats of rain and (oh, boy) even snow not far away.  The perfect day to play with my "toys", the slow cooker and all of its accessories.  Today, I'm recreating a mulligatawny from my favorite nearby take-out.  An invention of the British, I'm told, mulligatawny is traditionally made with chicken and "curry powder", another British invention....and depending upon who's making it, it can be delicious.  This one's a veggie version and I'm impressed with the way it is turning out.  Very, very good...such that the neighbors are lining up at the door with bowls in their hands in eager anticipation.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tenzo kyokun: instructions for the cook

Just watched "How to Cook Your Life", the documentary on Ed Brown, Zen priest and cook, who first gained notoriety for his role as cook at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Big Sur.  Interesting.   According to Japanese Zen tradition, the head cook at a monastic community is known as the "tenzo", and his is considered to be one of six key positions in the community responsible for the spiritual awakening of the community members.  The following are some words of wisdom imparted to the cook:

"Strengthen your resolve and work whole-heartedly to surpass the monks of old and be even more thorough than those who have come before you. Do this by trying to make as fine a soup for a few cents as the ancients could make a coarse broth for the same amount."

Good advice, and timely in today's economy. Fine soup for a few cents, eh?   Let's see what I can cook up that fits the bill!  

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My new favorite slow cooker

So....with the Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker "put to bed" and due in the stores in March or April, I've turned my attention to another slow cooker book.  I'm trying to create recipes from simple ingredients with a minimum of prep time, but that still qualify as being something special and that don't involve the use of canned cream of mushroom soup.  And I've found new, favorite "tool":  the All Clad slow cooker with an anodized aluminum insert.  Anyone who has read my previous slow cooker books knows that I've always been a big fan of using inexpensive slow cookers that can be found at places like Home Depot, Walmart, Target and their ilk, but I'm changing my tune.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that Melissa Palmer at All Clad sent me the "latest model" in which to test my recipes, but I didn't expect to fall in love!  One of the perks of the All Clad is that the anodized aluminum insert is designed for use on the stovetop as well as in the slow cooker.  This cuts short the complaints I hear from people about having to use too many pots.  I've taken to browning onions and garlic, for instance, right on the top of the stove, then moving the insert into its casing and finishing the dish in the slow cooker.  Very convenient, but with an added and unexpected perk:  the cleanup is amazing.  The insert is probably the easiest piece of cookware I've ever cleaned.  I have to work a little harder at the stainless steel casing because, well, it is after all, stainless steel.

If you can afford to splurge and you do a lot of slow cooking, I'd spring for this one!  And if not, I'd still be happy with the inexpensive slow cookers from one of those big stores because they do the job....just not with quite the same panache as the shiny, slick new All Clad.

Monday, December 21, 2009

holiday treats

S'nearly Christmas and I awoke this morning with a new resolve:  next year I'm going to throw a party featuring some stuff that is actually healthy.  Stuff that will feel like a treat, but that won't leave you groaning on overload and lumbering home like a cow.  Come to think of it, I went to a press reception at the Grand Del Mar the other night and they had exactly the kind of stuff I'm talking about, stationed at intervals around their beautiful spa.  Small station with freshly made hummus and raw veggies.  Now that's healthy, right?  'Nother station with beautifully fresh sushi.  'Nother station with nuts and artisan cheeses.  (The way I figure, artisan cheeses don't count as calories, right?)  'Nother station with drinks and sparkling water (hellooo...this should be an automatic at every party...good water....not everyone wants to slosh around in the sauce).  And oops....a station with the real "goods" mousse, raspberry laced panna cotta, and good ol' chocolate chippers.   I'll add some kind of soup from the slow cooker, perhaps my new favorite, Asian Black Bean.  Yessir, next year'll be different.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

and now on

Finally figured out how to connect my to my author page.  Although past posts will only be reflected on my blogspot and not on amazon, everything from here on in will be on amazon!  Just in time to promote the latest of my slowcooker books:  The Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker, due in the bookstores in March. 

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gram: My Portuguese Heritage

My precious grandmother, Elvira Rose Gomes, died a few years ago at age 105.  Born in the late 1800's, my grandmother graced three centuries with her presence, and made a loving and indelible mark on my life.  Her father and mother were immigrants from the Azores Islands, and at an early age, her industrious father set up a dairy farm and a barber shop in California's Central Valley.  He became prosperous and treated his wife and daughters with great respect.  Each summer he would send them to San Francisco to escape the heat of the Central Valley.  My grandmother loved to recount that her sister's favorite "first meal" upon their arrival each year in San Francisco was two dozen fresh oysters.  Grandmother attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in an age when most young women (especially those of Portuguese descent) married early and started their families.  During her lifetime, she traveled the western world, collecting books, stories and interesting people, many of whom remained in contact with her until they died. (Gram was unquestionably the last to go.)  It was my grandmother who introduced me to fine food, making sure I dined at some of San Francisco's finest restaurants while I was still a young girl.  The opera, the ballet and the symphony were regular venues for the two of us.  (As she grew older, she became quite adept at quietly nodding off during the best of performances.  I always felt I had done Gram proud when I nodded off during a performance of Aida, complete with live elephants, at the baths of Caracalla in Rome.)  The two of us would often go to Fishermen's Warf, buy a crab, some sourdough bread and an avocado, and sit on the lawn in front of Ghiradelli Square to feast.  Tea on her beautiful collection of Limoges cups was always a special treat and a moment to pause and chat.  My grandmother, like Auntie Mame, offered an education that no one else in my family could have given me.  And though the last few years of her life were difficult, I will always carry her essence in my heart.   Grandmother was not especially adept at cooking (there were a million things she would rather do), she made a few dishes that became family favorites.  One was her Portuguese Chicken Soup pieced together from leftover turkey carcass, rice, celery and tomato, spiced with cumin.
Another was her "tagliarini", thrown together from ground beef, fettucine, black olives, tomato sauce and wine (or Jack Daniels if she was out of wine).  And then there was her Portuguese Kale and Potato Soup, classic that has sustained Portuguese peasants for centuries.  I believe the true classic was made without the addition of any meat, as much of the time, the poor lived without meat, but I have found that most contemporary recipes call for the addition of linguiça, a very spicey, delicious Portuguese sausage.  Since it is Christmas time and I am thinking of Gram while listening to Charlie Brown Christmas music (Gram liked jazz musician, Vince Guaraldi, as do I), I thought I'd pen a simple version of the recipe.  Add the linguiça or not, as you see fit.  Personally, I'd rather let the pig see another Christmas.
1/2 lb linguica sauce, cut into rounds
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound spuds, cut into 1 inch pieces
6 cups water
1 lb kale, leaves thinly sliced (in chiffonade)

If you are using linguiça, brown it in a skillet.  Remove the linguiça from the pan and drain it on paper towels.  Brown the onion in the fat from the linguiça.  (If you are planning on giving the pig a break, brown the onion in olive oil!)  Place the browned onion, linguiça if you are using it, garlic, potatoes and water in a Dutch oven or even a slow cooker and cook until the potato pieces are tender.  Add the kale and salt and pepper to taste only at the last and continue cooking for just a few minutes.  Mash a few of the spuds to thicken the soup.  Drizzle with a few tablespoons of fruity olive oil and serve.  Serve with the requisite crusty rustic bread and butter.  And oh, a glass of dry rosé for Elvira Rose.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The raw and the cooked......and the passing of Claude Levi Strauss

Ok, so I haven't been keeping up with my resolve to post daily.  Partly because at this point, it doesn't look like anybody has yet discovered my blog.....but perhaps I flatter myself.  Maybe they have....and that's the problem!

In any event, I think the observation of the day comes from renown French anthropologist,  Claude Levi Strauss, who passed this week at 100 years of age.  Levi Strauss studied primitive peoples around the world, including cannibal tribes in the South Pacific.  After studying numerous cannibal clans, he observed that for some reason, cannibals tend to boil their friends, while they roast their enemies.  Make of it what you will.......

Friday, October 30, 2009

cooking at the "man spa"......

Gotta admit to having a great morning.  Went to the chiropractor's this morning.  Dr. Avi
is a wonderful, young, talented, ex-ice hockey playing jock and there are times when being
in his office is sort of like hanging out in a men's locker room.  Love listening to the conversation
when no one realizes you're in the massage chair in the inner office.  But this morning was the best.  There were 3 or 4 guys in the office when I walked in, sitting around and chatting with each other.  The fun started when I heard one of the guys say that his wife asked him if we was going to Dr. Avi's "man spa" again today.  I chuckled to myself because the term "man spa" hit the nail on the head.  Guys relaxing, talking, and all the while, getting the kinks taken out of their backs, necks, legs, and heads.  The chatter took a decidedly interesting turn when a man's voice, unknown to me, started talking about his marinara sauce.  He had a Brooklyn accent, and was recounting in some detail his love for simplicity, and his recreation of his Sicilian mother's Sunday dinner marinara sauce.  Nothing but the basics:  crushed tomatoes, garlic, salt, basil and olive oil.  All cooked for hours while the family went to Mass and eaten when they returned home.  There were at least three other male voices chiming in with enthusiastic "yeahs" or personal variations on the simple theme of marinara sauce.   After about 20 minutes or so, I strolled out of the massage room and asked if anyone had tried knitting.  The doctor turned on me.  "What do you think we are!" he snapped.  The Sicilian said he knew a bit about sewing, but that knitting was out of his league.  And another one of them offered the opinion that cooking was seductive and demonstrated a man's more sensual, passionate nature, whereas knitting was for sissies.  I asked what kind of tomatoes the Sicilian recommended and he replied that you could try some fancy San Marzano's, but that he personally always followed his mother's lead:  Progresso crushed tomatoes.  Said you can't beat 'em.  And who am I to argue.  All I know is I'm going home to try the simple marinara sauce from the man spa in the slow cooker and I'll let you know how it turns out.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Do what they say.....

Well, Steve Heimoff (, whose wine blog I read regularly, says Tom Wark ( whose wine blog I read often, says that you gotta blog daily if you want people to check out your blog.  What the heck.  I'm the new kid on the block when it comes to blogging, so I guess I'd better try it out and see what happens.

My newest book, the Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker (Ten Speed Press), comes out in March, and as winter approaches (ok, as much "winter" as we ever get in southern California), I've started work on book #6, a slow cooker soups book.  Perfect timing.  Last night was a simple little potato, onion and cream soup that I loved.  It's great to get up in the morning, look around at what's in the fridge or the garden, and figure out how you might make a soup out of it.

I remember standing in front of the Vitamix demonstration counter at Costco a few months ago, looking for all the world like Gomer Pyle, USMC, with my mouth open, muttering "gawwwllly" as the lady wearing the attractive hair net shoved a whole carrot, a tomato, some garlic with the skin still on, a celery stalk, a jalapeno pepper, some onion and a piece of avocado into the blender and churned it into "soup" in about two seconds.  Nothing cooked, nothing chopped, just a bunch a stuff all mooshed up into what actually turned out to be pretty good.  (I kept thinking of Lucy and the Vita-meta-vegamint commercial.)
And then, wouldn't you know it, I bought the tune of more money than I care to divulge at the moment.

All in the interests of producing a good soup.  (BTW, I went into Costco again last week and the same lady was making a sorbet out of cucumbers and melons in the Vitamix.  Still damned good.)

It's no wonder that I'm on a soup quest here.  Let's see what I can come up with.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

New Gourmet Slow Cooker Blog

Hi, my name is Lynn Alley and I'm the author of three books on slow cooking, The Gourmet Slow Cooker (Ten Speed Press 2003), The Gourmet Slow Cooker Volume II (Ten Speed Press 2005), and the new, soon-to-be-published Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker (Ten Speed Press 2009).  I also contribute regularly to the Wine Spectator online and have written for many food and wine publications over the years.  I thought I'd use this space to post some recipes, some pics, and some ideas on all sorts of subjects related to food and wine.