Asparagus Soup

We are finally getting our winter storms here – as I write in the first week of March it’s finally raining. Much needed raining!  But previous bouts of warmer weather have brought some spring produce to market earlier than usual, and just in time to add welcomed variety from winter greens.  Imagine my delight in seeing local asparagus make their appearance over the last couple weeks!


Except it’s still cold outside.  As in record-low-temperatures-cold.  So I’ve used my earliest asparagus purchases to make this warming soup with a hint of spring to come.


I have been a longtime fan of Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks blog and now several cookbooks.  Her appreciation for using fresh, seasonal ingredients; and simple but imaginative preparations speaks to my sensibilities.  It’s a bonus she’s based in San Francisco, so when she posts seasonal recipes, I can enjoy the same bounty at the same time.


Cilantro-Mint Chutney Freezes Perfectly. You’ll appreciate how convenient they are to have at hand!

Her “Simple Asparagus Soup” recipe uses green curry paste for the punch of flavor.  I’m a fan of her version, and I encourage you to try it out.  Jarred Thai-style green curry paste is widely available in most grocery markets, and you’ll save the time it takes to make the cilantro mint chutney.  Oh wait – you can make a scratch Thai-style green curry paste too!  Silly me…


Speaking of scratch-made:  the cilantro-mint chutney – I hope you’ll give it a try, even though prepared versions are also available.  It comes together in a jiffy, with all the heavy-lifting done by the blender.  You may recall I also use it in my bhel puri chopped salad.  I’m known to fold a defrosted pod, or two, into hot steamed rice for a fun change.  Delicious and adds a glorious green hue!


You’ll see I’m serving the asparagus soup with a stack of pappadam (poppadum), Indian lentil wafers.  I confess to purchasing prepared wafers from Vik’s Market in Berkeley, and only roasting them to crisp them up.  One of these days I may take on making them from scratch, as they are a family favorite.  Oh yes, and topped with my cilantro-mint chutney…

Asparagus Soup

Adapted from Heidi Swanson, 101 Cookbooks

Makes about 6 cups


  • 2 tablespoons ghee, or unsalted butter, or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/ 2 cup white onion, chopped
  • 1/ 2 pound new potatoes, finely diced
  • 1-2 tablespoons cilantro-mint chutney, or to taste. Recipe below.
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into pieces 1/ 2” long
  • 1 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1-1/ 2 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
  • 1-1/ 4 cup water, or to cover
  • 1 lemon

Fancy toppings:  chopped chives, green onion, shallots, grated hard-boiled egg, croutons, toasted seeds or nuts, yogurt, etc.


  1. Cook the ghee/butter/olive oil and onion over medium-high heat in a large soup pan (of at least 3 to 4 quart capacity). Stir until the onion is well coated and sauté a few minutes until the onion becomes translucent. Stir in the potatoes and cook about 10 minutes, until completely tender.  Add a splash of water to help speed the process.
  2. Add the cilantro-mint chutney and cook another minute. Add the coconut milk, water and salt.  Bring to a simmer and add the asparagus.  Cook about 2-3 minutes until the asparagus is just tender.
  3. Use a hand, immersion blender or counter-top blender and blend until the soup is completely smooth. If using a hand, immersion blender, you will be glad for extra height in your soup pot.  There’s a bit of splashing that goes on, and it’s nice to keep it in the pot!

Taste and tweak:  Add more water if a thinner consistency is desired.  Taste for salt and seasonings, add a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten the flavors.

Add a flourish of toppings as desired.

Cilantro-Mint Chutney

Makes about 2 cups

  • 2 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
  • 1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, or other green chile; to taste
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons fresh ginger root, grated or minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh garlic, grated or minced
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon sea salt, to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons of water, as needed to desired consistency

Thoroughly rinse the cilantro and mint leaves.  Spin or pat dry.  Place the leaves in the jar of a blender, then add all remaining ingredients, except the water.  Blitz and whir until the chutney is smooth.  Add water as needed to reach the desired consistency.  Optional:  Stir in up to 1/ 2 cup of plain yogurt just before serving if desired.

Tip:  This chutney freezes perfectly.  I fill silicone mini-muffin molds and, after freezing, store them to use as needed.  Once you have these gems on hand, you’ll find countless ways to use them.

Walnut Cookies – Happy Chinese New Year

Oakland, CA Chinatown

Celebrations for Lunar New Year begin on February 16, 2018.  Commonly known as Chinese New Year, this Year of the Dog marks the 4,715th Chinese Year.


Chinese New Year Dragon Dancers

I always enjoy the celebrations and festivities surrounding Chinese New Year, and appreciate they go on for a couple of weeks!  In addition to family gatherings, there is always a big party in San Francisco where all the stops are pulled, and we celebrate with music, dancing dragons, fortune telling, food and drink.  Oh my!


My family commonly share sweet treats during new year celebrations.  While almond cookies may be more familiar, walnut cookies are also traditional as walnuts symbolize happiness of the entire family.


For my take on these cookies, I add a bit of orange zest.  Oranges symbolize a wish for good fortune and are the dessert of many Chinese celebratory meals.  Who can argue with the delicious pairing of walnuts and oranges, happiness and good fortune?!


I won’t lie to you:  making these cookies takes some patience.  Forming the dough into balls and pressing them into shape is a bit fussy.  Make these when you have the leisure to fiddle with the dough. Whilst in the right frame of mind, I enjoy the simple handwork and let myself ponder thoughts large and small.


I promise you will be rewarded with delectably crispy, crunchy cookies for any occasion.

Walnut Cookies

Adapted from The China Cookbook by Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan

Makes about 30 cookies, 2” rounds


  • 1/ 2 cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature and very squishy
  • 1/ 4 cup (2 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 1/ 4 cup (2 oz.) light brown sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten and divided for use in the dough and to glaze the tops of the cookies
  • Finely grated zest of one large orange, about 1 – 2 teaspoons
  • 1 and 7/ 8 cup (8 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/ 8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/ 2 cup lightly toasted walnuts, finely chopped; plus 30 pieces to decorate


  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, use a hand mixer and beat the butter and sugars together until smooth and light. Start the mixer on a lower speed, then increase the speed to medium-high to achieve a fluffy texture.  Stop to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add 2 tablespoons of the beaten egg and mix until fully blended.
  3. Add half the flour mixture into the wet mixture and stir until mostly combined. Add the remaining half of the flour and combine thoroughly.  Stir in the finely chopped walnuts and form into a thick dough.  Pat the dough into a 1-inch thick disk, wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap; and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
  4. Arrange a baking rack in the middle position of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F.
  5. Divide the dough into about 30 portions. Roll each portion into a ball between your palms and flatten slightly into a small round cookie.  Top each cookie with a walnut piece.  Space about 1-inch apart on a cookie sheet.  These do not spread much during baking.
  6. Lightly brush a bit of the remaining beaten egg over the top of each cookie, taking care to not let it drip down to the cookie sheet.
  7. Bake at 350°F. for 18 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and bake an additional 12 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before cooling completely on a wire rack.

A note about toasting walnuts:  I measured out 3/4 cup of walnuts and toasted these in a 350*F oven for about 8 minutes.  I chopped them finely after toasting.  As the walnuts were fairly large, I sorted pieces about the size of 1/8th of a shelled walnut for decorating the tops of each cookie.

Finely Chopped Walnuts — Resist chopping them in a food processor

Winter Salad with Walnut Dressing

Say Hay Farms’ Chicories – Farmers Market Gems

Deep in the midst of winter we’re enjoying plenty of hearty fare – stews and soups, braises and beans.  But I also appreciate a lighter side dish, with a salad boasting the flavors of winter.  And, dare I say, a nice change up from roasted vegetables.


A version of this salad has been making it onto our dining table for the past several weeks, and to high praise no matter how I vary the components. I have made versions using only chicories, only lacinato kale (aka Tuscan or dinosaur kale), a mix of both with some Little Gem lettuces.  The original recipe called for radishes and celery, which is also delicious.


You might also switch out the walnuts for hazelnuts (aka filberts) or pistachios for a new twist.  And by all means, omit the step of toasting if you prefer to consume your nutmeats in their raw state.  This is a salad, so substitute freely!


Fortunately for us in the Bay Area, we are blessed with numerous farmers markets, with farmers bringing in a wide variety of unique salad greens, including chicories, even in the dark of winter months.  This makes for interesting tastes and textures, and a distinct difference from the salads of summer.


If you are a fan of chicories, you might also want to try this salad of chicory with Asian pear, and a ginger-honey vinaigrette.


Safety tip:

I find it easy enough to slice the fresh, raw beets thinly with my all-purpose chef’s knife.  To better stabilize the beet whilst slicing, I leave about 1-inch of the stalk above the beet root to use as a handle.  This allows for firm, steady control without much movement from the beet as you slice as thinly as possible.


Winter Salad with Walnut Dressing

Adapted from Bon Appétit, December 2015


  • 1 cup walnut pieces
  • 2 oil packed anchovy fillets, drained, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/ 4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sherry or white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest, finely grated
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 heads of winter greens such as chicories, torn into bite-sized pieces; or 1 bunch of kale or young collard greens; thinly sliced
  • 1/ 2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 medium beets, about 2” diameter, thinly sliced on a mandoline or coarsely grated on a box grater
  • 3 Mandarin oranges, or similar small seedless citrus; peeled and sectioned


Preheat oven to 350 °F.  Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally until they begin to barely darken, about 8 – 10 minutes.  Take care to not over brown, it happens quickly! Set aside to cool.  Divide evenly, setting aside 1/ 2 cup walnut pieces to toss into the salad.


Pulse anchovies, garlic, olive oil and remaining 1/ 2 cup walnut pieces in a food processor to a coarse puree.  Stir in mustard, honey, vinegar, lemon zest, and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper.


Toss greens, parsley, and beets in a large bowl with one-third to one-half of the dressing.  Add walnuts and Mandarin orange sections and toss again.  Drizzle additional dressing over the top if needed.


Store any remaining dressing in the refrigerator, for up to a few days.

Lemon Marmalade Cake

Zest the lemon peel before juicing

My publisher made a request for an orange loaf cake – he has a fond food memory of a cake his mother baked; redolent with orange in every bite, including on top of the cake.  So off to my collection of classic cookbooks I went, Fannie Farmer, James Beard, Joy of Cooking, etc; in search of a recipe that matched his recollection.  An online search yielded Melissa Clark’s Orange Marmalade Cake, that turned out a very orange-y, moist cake.  It’s always a risk to recreate a childhood food memory, lest it disappoint, so I diverged a bit with this lemon version of the cake.  It is darn tasty in its own right, and no one has refused a proffered slice to date.


These special cakes are perfect to serve when guests stop by, or for gift-giving that will surely please.  Their bright lemon-y-ness adds a fresh note to pair nicely with a “cuppa” of your choosing.


Marmalade chockfull with flavorful rind

When I shared this cake with neighbors, I was asked if I had made the marmalade from my garden’s lemons.  I had not, but appreciated the thought for a future project!  You will want to use a marmalade that is well made, meaning chockfull of lemon rind for this cake.  The results will suffer if you use a marmalade that is more pectin/jelly than rind.


I happened to have a jar of divine Meyer lemon marmalade from the Clif Family Kitchen in Napa Valley, procured during a recent visit to their St. Helena winery.  They produce mouth-watering preserves from fruits grown on their farm, and recently received recognition when their preserves were listed on “Oprah’s Favorite Things 2017” list.


If you are in the St. Helena area, I highly recommend a visit to Clif Family Winery.  I had a wonderful time there with friends tasting wines and having lunch from their Bruschetteria food truck.  Their retail shop carries their now famous preserves, along with other custom offerings.  I came away with preserves, olive oil, candied nuts, spices and, oh yes — wine.


If you cannot find lemon marmalade, using orange marmalade as the cake is originally conceived, is sure to please.  There is also a video of Melissa Clark preparing her cake, a bonus for those appreciating a refresher on techniques and tips.

Lemon Marmalade Cake

Adapted from Melissa Clark’s Orange Marmalade Cake


  • 2/3 cup lemon marmalade, divided
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened; plus 1/ 2 tablespoon for the glaze, and more for greasing the pan(s)
  • 1/ 2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1-1/ 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/ 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/ 8 cup confectioners’ (powdered) sugar


  1. Position an oven rack into the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350  Butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan, or use three mini loaf pans, approximately 3 x 6-inch size. Coarsely chop any extra-large pieces of peel in the marmalade.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat together softened butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy; about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each until well incorporated.  Beat in 1/ 3 cup marmalade and the lemon juice.  Using a spatula, gently fold in the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar-egg mixture by hand, until no traces of flour show.
  4. Scrape batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake until the surface of the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean; about 35 minutes for mini-pans or 50-55 minutes for one large pan.
  5. Remove from oven and transfer pan(s) to a wire rack. Cool 10 minutes, turn cake out of pans and place on a rack right-side up.  Place a rimmed baking sheet under the rack to catch any dripping glaze.
  6. Heat remaining 1/ 3 cup marmalade in a small pan over low heat until melted; whisk in confectioners’ sugar and 1/ 2 tablespoon of butter until smooth. Slather warm glaze over the top of the cake(s), allowing some to drizzle down the sides.  Cool completely before serving.

Note:  As with many cakes, this one will have the tenderest crumb if eaten on the day it is baked.  Next day the crumb is firmer, and the lemon-y-ness is both richer and mellower.  It’s all good!