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.