Category Archives: Summer

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.

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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!

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Thai-Style Stir-Fried Beef and Vegetables

Thai Basil

Sometimes that one-pound package of ground beef is begging for an inspired use.  It just sits there, daring me to come up with something slightly out of the norm to give it a sense of higher value.


I worked this up for a quick, weeknight meal with ingredients pretty much on hand.  It works with a variety of vegetables, although including Asian eggplant and Thai basil will increase its authenticity factor – should that matter to you.  Me?  I just want it to taste good.


The farmers at my local farmers market are still bringing in zucchini, eggplants, chiles and basil.  But the harvests are dwindling to a trickle now that we’re into autumn harvests.  Now is the time to give this a try, while these ingredients remain readily available.  I hope you can see the flexibility of this recipe and the wide variety of ingredients you can use.

So Many Eggplant Varieties!


A few advance tips:

Do not fret if you do not have Thai basil.  The dish will be delicious using whatever fresh basil you have.  Try adding fresh mint leaves to the basil for an interesting switch up.


The seeds and membrane of the jalapenos are where the most “heat” lives.  Remove these before mincing if taming the heat is important to you.  Also, wear gloves when handling spicy chiles, and avoid touching anywhere near your eyes if there has been any chile contact with your hands.


Fish sauce is a key ingredient for Southeast Asian cooking.  If you enjoy Thai, Vietnamese and similar cuisines, I highly recommend stocking fish sauce along with soy sauce.  Red Boat, the brand I use, has a 250-ml bottle that’s a good introduction to their product.  A little goes a long way.


Thai-Style Stir-Fried Beef and Vegetables


  • 1 pound ground beef (substitute any ground meat or crumbled, firm tofu, as you prefer)
  • 1 pound zucchini and/or eggplant, diced into 1/ 3” cubes (about 2-3 medium zucchini and/or Asian eggplant); about 3+ cups
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, Thai basil if you have them; plus extra leaves for finishing
  • 1/ 2 cup onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced; about 3 – 4 large cloves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, serrano or Thai chile, minced; or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce, or to taste (I use Red Boat brand)
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons soy sauce, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • Fresh lime wedges
  • 2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil for stir-frying
  • Whole lettuce leaves for serving, such as Bibb or similar pliable leaf variety


  1. Heat a large, heavy skillet (or wok) over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and let heat until it begins to “shimmer”.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, and chile (the “aromatics”); and stir-fry for just about one minute. Add the ground beef in several pieces and begin breaking it up in the pan with a spatula or wooden spoon.  The goal is to have crumbles of cooked beef that’s well-incorporated with the aromatics.  Remove the cooked beef and aromatics to a plate and set aside.
  3. Add the second 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan and let it heat up over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and/or eggplant, stir-frying occasionally until lightly browned and nearly cooked through, about 5 – 8 minutes.
  4. Add the cooked beef mixture back into the pan; then add the fish sauce, soy sauce, and black pepper. Stir-fry to mix well, then lastly add the fresh basil leaves and give it a final stir to incorporate them.
  5. Remove from heat and serve in lettuce leaves or with steamed rice. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and include lime wedges for a fresh spritz of acidity to liven things up.

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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


  • 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


  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.



Few and fresh ingredients

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