Category Archives: Spring

Fresh Herbs and Garlic Cream Cheese Spread

Is it just me, or did September fly by?  I must have been ecstatic last month, (“Time flies when you’re having fun…”).  So it’s with a bit of a rush that I prepare this month’s Piedmont Pantry column for The Piedmont Post, because I blinked and my deadline is nigh.

 

As it turns out, this recipe is a nice metaphor for making the best when time is of the essence.  Surely you may find yourself in a similar position – the need to pull something together quickly to serve, with ingredients you may already have on hand; or are easy to gather.

 

High impact with minimal effort – there’s much to love about this easy, homemade cheese spread.  It’s always a crowd pleaser, slathered on sliced baguette, crackers or a variety of vegetables.  Best of all, it takes only a few minutes of chopping and mixing from start to finish.

 

The instructions say to refrigerate it for a couple of hours before serving to allow for the flavors to fully develop.  Truth be told, it’s perfectly delicious as soon as it’s made – as you will notice when cleaning up the bowl.

 

Cream cheese is a refrigerator staple in many homes, including ours.  Here we’re fond of cream cheese and smoked salmon on a bagel or toast.  An unopened package of cream cheese will last several months in the ‘fridge.  So why not keep it on hand?

 

I have a small herb garden, in pots, in our back yard.  It’s easy-peasy for me to head out and snip away as needed.  Bits and pieces from your garden or refrigerator are fine here.

 

This recipe is flexible.  Mix and match the herbs to suit your taste or availability at hand.  Try using other soft, spreadable cheeses such as fromage blanc, chèvre, or ricotta.

 

And it’s scalable.  Make only a fraction of the recipe to use up a bit of cream cheese you have, or multiply it for a crowd.  Soon you will be whipping up your own versions on instinct, with no recipe required.

 

Bonus:  This cheese spread is also delicious on pasta.  Boil pasta to desired doneness.  Drain, reserving at least 1/ 2 cup of the boiling liquid.  Add cheese spread to taste and mix until evenly distributed.  A few splashes of the reserved pasta water will help loosen up the sauce and make for a luscious coating on the pasta.  Serve with a generous scattering of grated Parmesan cheese and flourish of more fresh herbs.

 

Fresh Herbs & Garlic Cream Cheese Spread

Makes about 1 cup

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 – 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh herbs, finely chopped (Basil, marjoram, and thyme; alone or in combination, are all delicious.)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, start with about 1/ 4 teaspoon each

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium mixing bowl and blend well until they are smooth. This can be done by hand, or with an electric mixer or food processor.  Fold in the garlic and herbs.  Taste and season with salt and pepper to your preference.
  2. Transfer to serving bowl or ramekins, cover and chill in the refrigerator for several hours; up to 2 days.
  3. Serve with sliced breads, crackers, sliced vegetables – whatever you like. It will soften up at room temperature, making it not only spreadable, but “dip-able” with a sturdy celery or carrot stick.

Slather-Worthy

 

Few and fresh ingredients

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Spicy Chicken Kebabs

Spices in yogurt for the marinade. Adjust to suit your palate,

Spices in yogurt for the marinade. Adjust to suit your palate,

     It’s time to get the grill going!  We’ve got birthdays and Father’s Day cookouts planned at our house – and I’m hoping for a few fog-less evenings so we can enjoy a dinner al fresco.  (Warm nights are not guaranteed here in the Bay Area.  In fact, it’s a treat for it to be warm enough to enjoy a back yard dinner!)

     Kebabs are ideal for summer grilling – they cook up quickly, leaving more time to relax and enjoy your meal with family and friends.  Plus they fancy up the plate making meal time more fun and festive.

     This marinade includes several ingredients, mostly spices.  As always, I encourage you to adjust the seasonings to suit your taste buds.  If in a hurry, use about one tablespoon of a prepared spice blend or curry powder for an even quicker fix.  And by all means, switch up the spices for different flavor profiles – the possibilities are limitless.Indian Spices in Yogurt Mixed

     I’ve included yogurt as the primary vehicle to tenderize the chicken.  You could also use buttermilk.  And if you’re dis-inclined toward dairy, substitute with 1/ 2 cup of white wine.  Honestly, it’s all good!

     These kebabs will grill up nicely on an indoor grill pan too, or even under the broiler.  The bit of dried chipotle chile brings a subtle hint of smoke along with it’s tingly heat.

 

A few advance tips:

  • I prefer chicken thigh pieces over breast pieces for their deeper flavor and juicy texture.  They are also more forgiving when cooking them…i.e. less apt to dry out.  Use breast meat if you insist; the kebabs will be tasty, and to your preference.
  • Cut the chicken into similarly sized pieces for even cooking. A medium-sized chicken thigh should yield about six pieces.
  • Longer marinating time means more flavor.
  • Resist adding too many vegetables to a meat-focused kebob. For a kebob-fest meal, you’re better off preparing separate skewers of seasoned vegetables and grilling them accordingly, to preferred doneness.

Bonus tip:  Dessert kabobs are a thing too!  Think of grilling skewered chunks of firm ripe peaches, nectarines, strawberries, cantaloupes, etc.  It’s a tiny step in a new direction…glaze with a favorite fruit preserve or marmalade that’s thinned with a bit of lemon juice, water; and a splash of a fruity brandy or eau de vie.  Oh yeah, we are indeed cooking with gas!

Rows of Spicy Chicken Kebabs_Close

Spicy Chicken Kebabs

Makes  four, 10-inch long kebabs

 

  • 1-1/ 2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, cut into about 1-1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 bunch green onions, cleaned and cut into 1-1/2-inch lengths

Marinade:

  • 1/ 2 cup whole milk, plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
  • 1/ 2 teaspoons each of ground ginger, coriander, salt and freshly ground black pepper; or to taste
  • 1/ 2 – 1 teaspoon ground guajillo chile pepper, to taste
  • 1/ 4 – 1/ 2 teaspoons dried chipotle chile powder, to taste (You can substitute with chipotle in adobo if you have it.)
  • 1/ 4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Mix the spices into the yogurt, lemon juice, and olive oil in a medium bowl until well blended. Add the chicken pieces and fold through the spicy yogurt mixture until the chicken pieces are coated on all sides.  Cover and set aside in the refrigerator at least one hour, up to overnight.
  1. Whilst the grill is heating up, skewer the chicken and green onion pieces onto a metal or bamboo skewers. If using bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them in water for at least an hour before use.  This helps prevent the exposed ends from burning during the grilling.
  1. Grill over medium heat for about 6 – 7 minutes, then flip over to cook the over side until chicken is cooked through, another 6 – 7 minutes. Cooking times will vary based upon the thickness of the chicken and how tightly the pieces are packed onto the skewer.
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French Yogurt Cake with Lemon and Rosemary

Lots of Lemons!

Lots of lemons at this neighbor’s house!

     A walk around my neighborhood tells a tale of bumper crop lemons.  I am only seeing front yards, and they are laden with lemons!  This quick loaf cake recipe uses only the lemon rind, leaving you with options for using the juice.  I suggest making lemonade, to serve along with this cake, and setting out a lovely Mother’s Day brunch table.

     I hope you find the combination of lemon and rosemary in a cake appealing.  It may be a new cake combo to you, and if so, you may well be delighted with their subtle pairing here.  I use a mild, “buttery” olive oil for another intriguing layer of flavor.  As you might imagine, the resulting cake is fragrant, light, moist, and tender.

     Oil-based cakes stay moist for days.  And left overnight, the lemon and rosemary become more flavorful.  I mention this to say this is good for making in advance.  Once it’s served, it’ll go fast in any case.  It certainly does at my house!

     Speaking of Mother’s Day, coming up this weekend, this recipe is easily made by novice bakers.  A bit of measuring, mincing and whisking and you’ve got a top-notch gift for Mom, or Grandma, or Auntie, or a cherished friend.

Happy combination of sugar, lemon and rosemary

Happy combination of sugar, lemon and rosemary

A few advance tips:

  • Pre-measure the 3/4 cup of yogurt and bring it to room temperature before you begin mixing the ingredients. The eggs should also be at room temperature.
  • Use a quality olive oil that boasts a “buttery” taste. Save a “grassy” or “peppery” olive oil for another time.
  • This cake is perfectly delicious without the rosemary, so feel free to take baby steps with adding it. But I promise, if you enjoy rosemary, it does bring a taste sensation to desserts.

 

French Yogurt Cake w-Lemon & Rosemary v2

French Yogurt Cake with Lemon and Rosemary

Adapted from Andrew Knowlton/Bon Appétit

 

Ingredients

 

  • 1-1/ 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3/ 4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh rosemary, to taste
  • 3/ 4 cup whole milk, plain yogurt
  • 1/ 2 cup olive oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/ 2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional (include if using a lesser amount of rosemary)
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar for the topping, “Turbinado” raw cane sugar is a good choice

 

Preparation

 

  1. Lightly coat an 8-1/ 2” x 4-1/ 4” loaf pan with olive oil. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.  Dust with flour, tapping out any excess.  Set aside.
  1. Position an oven rack to the lower third position. Preheat oven to 350*F.
  1. Whisk 1-1/ 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/ 2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Using your fingers, rub 3/ 4 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest in a large bowl until sugar is moist. Stir in the minced rosemary.
  1. Add 3/ 4 cup whole milk yogurt, 1/ 2 cup olive oil, 2 large eggs, and 1/ 2 teaspoon vanilla extract; whisk to blend.
  1. Fold in dry ingredients just to blend. Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth the top. Sprinkle the top evenly with the course sugar.
  1. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50-55 minutes.
  1. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert onto rack; let cool completely before slicing.
Sprinkled with Coarse Sugar 2

Coarse sugar sprinkled atop makes for a bit of crunch

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Paula Wolfert’s Mint and Egg Salad

Fresh mint, and easy-to-grow!

Fresh mint, and easy-to-grow!

     Paula Wolfert is a culinary icon, and one I admire greatly.  You’ve seen her inspired recipes from me before, as her focus has been flavors of the Mediterranean; a climate much like ours here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Paula has been a long-time resident of Sonoma County, so many of her ingredients, originally discovered during her travels in the Mediterranean, also capitalize on our bountiful, local harvests.

     This latest cookbook of Paula’s recipes, Unforgettable:  The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life by Berkeley-ite, Emily Thelin, is a compilation of Paula’s previous recipes.  Moreover, it is a heartfelt biography of Paula’s journeys in travel and life.  It is an interesting read, and generous in photos of Paula, her past travels, and the amazing recipes.

Pastured eggs from Capay Valley

     Out of so many recipes, I chose this simple egg salad.  It’s spring now, and this salad is a light, fresh bite of the season.  Fresh mint abounds in my backyard.  It is paired aptly with spring onions (scallions) and grated eggs for a sophisticated combination that’s simple to prepare.

     Please give this a try with mint, even if you haven’t thought to use this much mint with eggs.  If you must, substitute some flat-leaf parsley for some of the mint.  Or take it in a slightly new direction and use tender, spring watercress.  It will be different, still delicious.

     In addition to enjoying this recipe as a first course, you might also want to serve it up on your favorite crusty bread, or planks of sliced cucumber.

Mint & Egg Salad Plated 1

Mint and Egg Salad

Adapted from Unforgettable:  The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life

Serves 4 as a light, first course

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 to 2 cups slivered mint leaves, depending on the intensity of the mint
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions, white and green parts
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons mild red pepper flakes, preferably Marash (substitute piment d’esplette)
  • Juice of 1/ 2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Boil the eggs: Put the eggs in a saucepan and cover with water to cover by one inch and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  When the water boils, turn off the heat and set a timer for 8 minutes.  After 8 minutes, drain the hot water and run cool water over the eggs to prevent further cooking.  Peel the eggs and set aside.
  1. Assemble the salad: Using the large holes of a box grater, and working over a large bowl, grate the eggs.  Add the mint, green onions and red pepper flakes; mix well.  In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice to taste; then drizzle over the egg mixture.  Toss to coat lightly and evenly.  Season with salt.
  1. Serve immediately at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Note:  It’s easy to upsize this recipe.  The number of eggs in it will provide a clear indication of portions.  Make more, you will be glad you did!

Grating eggs results in crazy-light textured salad

Grating eggs results in crazy-light textured salad

From Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert's Renegade Life

From Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life

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