Soups, Salads, Sauces and Snacks

Cold Asparagus Soup


cold asparagus soup with crunchy coins

A smooth puree, accented with tender-crisp asparagus coins. Just the thing for these oxymoronic hot spring days, when it’s officially asparagus season but experientially August. We’ve stopped cutting but I see there’s still reasonably local asparagus in the stores. Read More…


That’s potato chip as in “ can’t eat just one, ” and cheese dollars is because my version of this killer pastry – first cousin to the ever-popular cheese straw – is a bit bigger than a silver dollar. Please note I say “my” advisedly; in versions too numerous to fully research, this recipe has been around for years. But having just served them to a bunch of highly appreciative cheese dollar virgins I know there are still plenty of people who can use to hear the good news.

Insofar as it’s good. Like potato chips, cheese dollars are a symphony of sins: white flour, high fat cheese, butter and salt. Also nuts. However, there is also a secret ingredient that – if you have a good imagination – mitigates the damage.

Actually, I doubt the inclusion of Rice Krispies does much to reduce the calorie load (sorry, Carol). What it does is make cheese dollars crunchy in a distressingly addictive way, especially if you use the real thing. As a veteran of oatmeal cookies I once assumed generic crisp rice cereal would be just as good. It isn’t.


¾ pound sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

6 ounces ( 1 ½ sticks) butter

2 ½ cups all purpose flour, mixed with1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, ½ teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon paprika and ½ teaspoon salt

1 heaping cup chopped walnuts. Pecans are traditional but that’s probably because the root recipe is (almost surely) southern.

2 cups Rice Krispies

optional: about ½ cup tiny cubes of super-aged Gouda

1. Let the cheddar and butter soften in a large shallow mixing bowl, then mix briefly; you just need an even combination, not a uniform paste.

2. Work in the flour mixture, then the nuts. Stop here if you want to freeze the dough or refrigerate it for longer than a few hours.

3. Add the cereal ( and Gouda); it’s okay to knead it in with your hands but try not to work the dough any more than necessary. Form into walnut sized balls and place 2 inches apart on parchment paper lined baking sheets. Flatten the balls with floured fork tines. It would be nice if you could give these the refrigerator cookie treatment, but slice and bake doesn’t work. Too crumbly.

4. Bake at 350 until light gold, anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes, reversing the sheets halfway through the baking. Cool on wire racks and store airtight.

The pumpkin pie came to light while I was cruising around looking for early cheese dollar recipes. It’s hand-written in the front of my copy of The Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery, published in 1949 by Wm. H. Wise & Co. Inc. , of New York.

A nifty book, btw, over 1200 pages of definitions and recipes, most of the latter from what might be called parties with an agenda: the National Dairy Council, the California Prune Marketing Program, the American Meat Institute. But the huge acknowledgements list also includes the US Army Quartermasters Corps, the American Limoges China Corporation and – I burn to know, I truly do – the American Badminton Association.

So of course then what about the origin of Mamie’s recipe and starting to try to track THAT down when the slippery slope aspect became clear and I went out to divide the overgrown Salvia transylvanica.


All those large leaves belong to the salvia. The yellow flower with blue stems and columbinelike leaves is Thalictrum flavuum glaucum and this one has rather fallen over; the plants are about 5 feet tall and vulnerable to wind.


Exactly transcribed from the handwritten version.

Three beaten egg yolks, ¾ cup brown sugar, 1 ½ cups cooked pumpkin, ½ cup milk ½ tsp. salt, 1 tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. nutmeg.
Combine above ingredients and cook in double boiler until thick, stirring constantly. Soak 1 envelope gelatine in cold water and stir into hot mixture. Chill until fairly set. Beat 3 egg whites and ¼ cup granulated sugar, then beat until stiff. Fold into gelatine mixture. Pour into baked pie shell and chill until set. Garnish with whipped cream. Makes 1 big or 8 individual pies.

I wish she’d written her name in the book, but she didn’t. And she may have gotten it second hand herself. Although it appears to be a first printing , one of the handwritten recipes is for a “TV mix” quite similar to the mid-’60s version favored by my mother. That said, my mother’s didn’t include bacon drippings, which can sometimes be an indicator of (comparative) earliness.

Harvest Minestrone

and a great deal else in a minute (famous last words). For now, the recipes for an omnium-gatherum vegetable soup and a freezer friendly pesto as promised to everyone at MaineFare!

Incipient minestrone, partly gathered from my garden but not all of it because I don’t grow kale, potatoes, shell beans or carrots.


This is a very general guideline; as long as you start with the flavored broth, include both starchy and delicate vegetables and use enough of them to make the soup hearty without turning it into stew, you’re in business.

Classic recipes include pasta or rice and I used to too. But now I don’t, because flexibility trumps the tiny gain in convenience you get from freezing the soup “complete.” There’s usually leftover cooked pasta or rice lying around in the fridge and when there isn’t we just use more good bread – French or Italian, generally – which IS always lying around and may be the most delicious choice anyway.

For about 12 main dish ( large ) servings:

1/3 pound lean salt pork or fatty bacon, cut in 1 inch chunks

3 large cloves garlic

½ loosely-piled cup flat-leaf parsley, leaves and tender stems

grated zest of 1 lemon

1 large onion, cut in small dice

3 quarts water – quality matters. Use filtered if your tap is chlorinated

3-4 cups root vegetables, cut in roughly ¾ inch chunks. Carrots and potatoes mostly, some parsnip and/or turnip if you like but not too much as both of these are rather aggressive.

2 cups fresh shell beans

½ cup celery in medium slices. Not thin. Not chunks.

2 cups firm summer squash, crookneck or small zucchini, cut in roughly ½ inch slices . Halve the squash the long way first if they’re more than about an inch thick.

1 ½ cups snap beans ( Romanos are lovely if you can find them) cut in 1 inch lengths.

3 cups ripe tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped

About 3 cups chopped kale or savoy cabbage

A good sized handful each chopped Italian parsley and basil

1. Chop pork, garlic and the half-cup parsley until it looks like hamburger – the processor is fastest ( if you don’t have to wash it by hand).

2. Put the olive oil in a heavy kettle over low heat, add the pork mixture and lemon rind and cook, stirring, until most of the pork fat is released. Add the onion and keep cooking until it is wilted and starting to turn gold.

3. Add the water and bring to a boil. Put in the root vegetables and shell beans, adjust the heat so the liquid just simmers and cook until the vegetables are about half done – no longer crisp but still somewhat tooth-resistant, 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Add celery, squash, snap beans and tomatoes and cook until the roots are tender and the snap beans are al dente, about 20 minutes more.

5. Now the kale and cooking until it’s tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the herbs. Let them wilt, then taste and adjust the salt.

6. Serve with pesto – your own, pistachio (scroll down to find it) or Toasted Almond (below), a better choice for freezing. Freshly grated Parmesan is traditional but if you have good local hard cheese why not experiment? You can also skip the cheese entirely or switch it 180 for an entirely new taste treat. Sprinkle some small chunks of young mozzarella over the hot soup as soon as you ladle it into the bowls. It should be somewhere between soft and melted when everyone starts eating.

Note: this produces a soup that’s just barely done, on the theory that it is going to be frozen, which softens things, then reheated, which softens them some more. If you’re planning to eat it right away, cook until the kale is almost falling apart before you add the herbs.


As usual, quantities are just guidelines. Even more than usual, actually, given the difficulty of measuring fresh leaves and the enormous variability of fresh herbs. The goal is to have a fairly even mixture of almond and parsley flavors, with a strong accent of basil and a mild accent of garlic.

To make lots of this for freezing, make multiple batches; the processor heats up the pesto if you ask it to grind too much. The multiples go very fast since you don’t have to wash the processor between them.

For a scant cup, about 8 servings depending on what you’re doing with it:

1/3 cup toasted almonds. (see note about skins)

2 medium sized cloves of garlic – use large if it’s hardneck.

1/3 cup olive oil

2 loosely packed cups chopped Italian parsley, leaves and tender stems.

1 loosely packed cup basil leaves

2 or 3 leaves of sorrel or a squeeze of lemon

pinch of salt

1. Put almonds and garlic in a processor and grind, scraping down the sides from time to time, until you have fine meal. Add about a third of the oil and a teaspoon of water and grind again until you have a paste – it won’t be smooth, but it will be cohesive.

2. Add the herbs (lemon juice) and salt and about a tablespoon of water. Grind to puree. Add the remaining oil and puree again. The pesto should have the texture of thick mayonnaise. If it’s still too solid, add water in very small amounts until it’s right. The more water you add, the more beautiful the color will be. Try not to get too carried away.

Note: The most delicious way to make this is to toast the almonds in their skins; dump them into boiling water; simmer for about 3 minutes, then leave them in the hot water while you work with small batches at a time, pinching the skins off. The boiling not only loosens the skins but also softens the nuts so they grind to a smoother paste. This is not fast work.

In theory, you could buy blanched almonds, toast them, then just give them a brief swim to soften, but blanched almonds – including those hotsy totsy Marcona almonds – don’t taste as good as almonds in the skins. Must be something about the industrial blanching process. I just use the toasted almonds and leave it at that. (If you soften the almonds in their skins and then try to grind them without peeling, the skins don’t grind smoothly with the nuts).

Asparagus Soup – and a Peony Revealed

The asparagus soup is below. But first, a word from our peony. Having extolled the early one while whining that it is very magenta and then showing nothing but a bud with an illustrative ant , it seems only fair to display a flower. Bill took this picture at my request, both because I was in Maine at the time and because he is a better photographer.

Bill Bakaitis

The ( neglected ) asparagus part.

It never fails. You read a recipe for asparagus and no matter what kind of recipe it is: steamed, grilled, stir-fried, whatever, you will be instructed to break off the tough ends and ” save them for soup.”

End of story. Nobody ever tells you how to make this kind of asparagus soup. And you know if you’ve ever tried it that soups that are not asparagus soup are not improved by having a few asparagus ends thrown in.

So. The following recipe is made – primarily – from tough asparagus ends. It’s easy, inexpensive and delicious hot or cold. Because asparagus ends are tough and stringy even after they’ve been cooked to death, you do have to use a food mill to get a velvety puree, but that’s the price of frugality. If you want to just throw it into a processor, you have to use tender asparagus (see note at end of the post).

Cream of Asparagus Soup

1 ½ pounds of asparagus ( roughly 2 bunches) is usually enough to make 4 servings of soup and 4 servings of asparagus-as-veg. , but the recipe works with whatever quantity you’ve got.


sweet onion such as Vidalia

basmati or other flavorful white rice

heavy cream, preferably not ultra pasteurized although at this point that’s wishful thinking in a lot of places

1. Break the asparagus spears where they break naturally and set the tough ends aside. Divide the tender ends into 2 piles, one a little more than twice as big as the other. Refrigerate the larger pile until you want it for vegetable purposes. Chop the smaller pile into 1 inch chunks and set aside.

2. Trim off and discard any really hard white ends of the tough ends. Chop the remainder into ½ inch chunks and measure into a large saucepan.

3. Add 1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion, 1 ½ tablespoons rice, and 2 cups water per cup of ends.

4. Cover and cook over low heat until the vegetables are soft and the rice is fully cooked, about 40 minutes. Add the chopped tender asparagus, recover the pan and cook until vegetables are very soft and the rice is a fluffy mush, about 20 minutes more.

5. Put the whole works through a food mill into a clean saucepan ( for hot soup) or a heatproof bowl (for cold). Stir in 1/3 cup cream for each cup of asparagus ends. Reheat the hot. Chill the cold. Taste. Add salt as needed. That’s it.

Bill Bakaitis

Who wants to look at a picture of a bowl of cream soup? Suffice it to say it’s celadon with darker speckles and always reminds me of this lovely image from Elizabeth David:
” … soups delicately coloured like summer dresses, coral, ivory, or pale green…”
(French Provincial Cooking, British Penguin edition 1973)

Curling of the sort in the picture is caused by damage to the spear as it was emerging from the ground. Usually , a cutworm tried and failed to sever it but sometimes you nicked it with your knife while harvesting an adjacent spear.

To make the soup using a processor or blender: Follow the proportions in the recipe, using tender asparagus uppers instead of ends. The only thing that changes is timing: Cook the onions and rice in the water for 20 minutes or so before adding the first batch of chopped asparagus. After that, it’s exactly the same except a processor is marginally easier to wash than a food mill and takes less manual effort to employ.

Tips on Choosing, Storing, Preparing and Growing Asparagus are here.

Bright Salad

Our bright lights chard is still going strong in the cold room, and last time I went shopping the commercial stuff looked pretty good ( for a change), so if you have become tired of cabbage, consider

Rainbow Slaw

Every measurement in this so-called recipe is “about,” “to taste,” “use what you’ve got,” ” fiddle,” because all three of the vegetables vary enormously in sweetness and flavor-strength. Plus it would be a shame not to enjoy it just because you were almost out of celery and didn’t realize it until a half-hour before dinner.

For 6 servings

Toss 1 ½ cups each julienned celery, fennel, and rainbow chard stems with a dressing of

¼ cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt

let it sit about 5 minutes, then taste and adjust.

At this point, you’ll have a very light, clear-flavored salad that goes well with almost everything, especially winter’s rich brown braises and stews. To jazz it up, add finely-minced jalapeno and coarsely-chopped cilantro. Shreds of Peking duck from the Chinese grocery are a nice addition, if you happen to have it ( either the duck or the grocery) handy.

Basil Time

No denying – in fact no escaping – it’s basil and tomato season. The combo is everywhere, at every level of splendor. Amazingly, even in August there are restaurants awash in styrofoam agribusiness tomatoes, leathery, soap-flavored basil     and mozzarella the texture of something vulcanized, but in most cases you can count on getting something pretty good,   and often you get something pretty great: a combination of dead ripe, sweet home grown tomato and tender young sun-kissed basil, one of gastronomy’s finest pairings, an all time winner   –

just not all the time, dammit!

Let’s consider giving it a rest, and not only because this marvy duo is less than fun when it shows up for the 10th time in a week. Time apart is also a boon to the tomatoes, which always end up playing second fiddle to their minty/musky   friend.

But that doesn’t mean basil should be neglected, not when it’s so good with snap beans, summer squash, grilled fish , pasta – pesto! (recipe follows)  – and if you are feeling nouvelle, nectarines.

Basil that’s ready to cut back right now. ( 3 or 4  days ago, actually) .See below for details.

* Harvesting. It’s best to gather basil at the end of the day. Flavor is strongest and sweetest then, and evening-cut stems last longer. Just be sure to get out there before the dew falls; wet leaves muck up recipes and rot fast in storage.

* Storing. Basil and the refrigerator are not friends; the cold turns the leaves black in very short order. It does pay to keep the stems in water, and since there’s nothing like having the inspiration right in front of you when you’re cooking, I usually keep a bouquet of  basil (along with other tender herbs such as parsley, dill, summer savory, and cilantro) in a jar of water near the prep area. Just strip all leaves that would be below the water line before you submerge the stems; change the water daily; and keep the jar out of the sun.

* Plant maintenance and multiplication. Basil gets grassy flavored and leathery as soon as it starts forming flowers. It also stops making green growth. So don’t let it bloom.

As soon as you see the slightest indication that flower stems are about to start, cut plants back, at least 2 or 3 branches down and even farther is better. Pruned plants will rebound quickly, sending out tender stems and tender leaves. As a plus, pruned-off stems with several leaf nodes can often be persuaded to send out roots.

Choose stems that do not have flowers. Store in jars of water as described above. Pot ’em up when roots are about ½ inch long and you’ll have plenty of young plants to tide you over the swing season (frosty nights; warm days; pots of basil in the sun, sheltered from frost by the porch roof). Be warned that if you root stems that have flower nodes you will not have young plants. You’ll have new old plants, which will promptly make tough flowering stems instead of tender growth.

(from The Modern Country Cook )

This is actually more a pistachio sauce with basil than anything that could legitimately be called pesto, but it’s a nice change from the usual, for which everyone already has a favorite recipe. I used to be of the opinion that this mixture did not freeze well but I’ve changed my mind – it’s fine. Just be sure to wrap air-tight and freeze in small quantities.

For   about 1 ½ cups, 4 to 6 servings:

1 large clove of garlic, minced fine
3 tbl. freshly grated Parmesan
4 oz. unsalted , shelled roasted pistachios
2 lightly packed cups basil leaves
1/3 to ½ cup light cream ( or ¼ cup whipping cream and some milk)

Put the garlic , cheese and nuts in a food processor and grind until the nut chunks are a bit smaller than those in chunky peanut butter. Add basil, stir to get it under the blades and grind again, freeing the leaves with a knife from time to time, until you have a homogenous paste. Whirr in enough dairy to turn the sauce the consistency of mayo. Salt to taste that’s it.

BLT: Summer in a Sandwich

You have to grow the lettuce in the shade (of the tomato plants, for instance) but other than that, August and September are glory time for one of the greatest food items ever assembled, that lunch of lunches, the BLT.

Can’t really say there’s only one recipe. Say rather there’s only one correct set of components .

One ingredient here is a ringer – can you spot it? Read on.

A Proper BLT:

the Bacon: Local pork. No nitrates. Put slices in a single layer in a heavy cast-iron skillet . Cook slowly, turning often, until most of the fat is rendered and the bacon is well-browned and crisp. Drain. Save fat for cornbread, fried green tomatoes and other baconfat-needy items.

( For a while there I was doing the bacon in the microwave, sandwiching it between unbleached paper towels according to micro directions. It got very crisp and was notably ungreasy, but all that lovely bacon fat was lost and the crispness of the bacon was an oddly dry, industrial crispness reminiscent of fake bacon bits. )

the Lettuce: Preferably from the garden. Crisp but not agribusiness-romaine crisp; it has to play well with others while adding a light, fresh note to the ensemble.

the Tomatoes: Ripe on the edge of falling apart but not falling over it. The ones in the picture are, clockwise from top: Aunt Ruby’s German Green, one of the sweetest heirlooms available; Japanese Trifele, a high-yielding, deep-flavored “black” ; and the unfortunately-named Sophie’s Choice, a new, supposedly early variety trialed this year and not destined for repeat although it tastes pretty good ( plants are small, low-yielding, and not significantly earlier than main crop tomatoes).

the Mayonnaise: Homemade mayonnaise is all very well, but NOT on a BLT, which should be made with Hellmann’s. period. The jar in the picture contains a version made with lime juice for the Latino market and alas not available everywhere. Good though.

And thus we come to the ringer,
the Bread: That’s a ciabatta in the picture and it did make a tasty sandwich, but a naturally-leavened bread full of big holes in the European style is not right for a BLT. What’s wanted is old fashioned Pullman bread, aka pain de mie, the bread that got debased into wonderbread. Properly made, the square, soft-crusted loaf has a very tight, even crumb and just a tiny touch of sweetness to go with the blended flavors of milk and yeasted wheat.

A Fool For Dandelions

I’m seldom out ahead of the pack, but I did get fooled before April 1st. On the most recent podcast , to be exact, when Dean sidetracked my passionate defense of home cooking into a celebration of dandelions.

Well, okay. Not the best argument for home cooking. But a GREAT example of great food close to home. Dandelions are everywhere, first green of the season. They’re delicious (like endive, only more so) and almost obscenely good for you : tons of vitamin A, quantities of B complex, C, and D, plus iron, potassium, and zinc.

To say nothing of absolutely free,

BULLETIN: Just looked out at the feeder. The goldfinches are golden again, drab winter plumage all gone.


This is the way I learned to love them when I was a kid in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Italians have other ideas, which will be addressed another time.

For about 4 to 6 side dish servings or dinner for 2

A good sized heap – half a brown paper grocery bag full – of young dandelions ( see below) or other bitter greens, washed and coarsely chopped

½ pound bacon

1/3 cup cider vinegar

1/3 cup water

3 or 4 tablespoons brown sugar

Several turns of the pepper mill

A bit of minced garlic is not authentic but is tasty

2 hardboiled eggs

1. Let the greens come to room temperature in a large, heatproof bowl. Cook the bacon in a heavy skillet over low heat until very crisp.

2. Set the bacon aside to drain and pour off all but about 1/3 cup of the bacon fat. Put the pan aside, off the heat. Crumble the bacon and slice the eggs thinly.

3. Add the vinegar, water, sugar , pepper (and garlic) to the skillet and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When sugar is dissolved, bring dressing to a rolling boil and pour it over the greens. Toss thoroughly. Garnish with bacon and hard egg and serve.

(If the season is almost over and the greens are on the serious side, cook them briefly in the dressing … just until wilted.)

To Harvest and Clean Dandelions:

Size doesn’t matter – the older the root, the larger the rosette of leaves – but youth is crucial: go for plants with small, tight flowerbuds buried in the center. Once buds start swelling, greens turn bitter and tough.

Cut the rosette at ground level. Discard any discolored leaves and trim off the dirt-covered base before dropping the rest in your bag or basket.

Separate leaves and chop coarsely, then dump in a large bowl of cool water. Swish ’em around, then lift into a colander. Discard sandy water in bowl. Repeat until no more sand comes out. It almost always takes 3 passes and often takes more .

(Taste a leaf, bearing in mind that the dressing will gentle them quite a bit. If they still seem mindbendingly bitter, let them soak in cool water for an hour or two). Drain so they’re not sopping wet but don’t worry about drying them.

Deer-defense, Squirrels and a soup trick for Sue

Today is mostly a pair of creature features – deer vs. daylilies and squirrel counting comin’ right up. But first, a spoonful of recipe rescue at the request of my good friend Sue,

She called the other night in a panic –

“Is there anything you can add to make something less hot? ” Turns out she was making a big deal cioppino for a whole bunch of spice averse friends and she’d overdone the hot pepper flakes.

And this in spite of using far less than the recipe called for. Well, there isn’t anything you can add (except a great deal more of everything else). All she could do was make a quick batch of rice for people to pour their hot hot stew on top of. That and pass a bowl of sour cream, which is a horrible idea from the culinary standpoint but at least could keep people from starving. And please don’t write to say why not pasta – it doesn’t mitigate heat the way rice does.

In future, I suggested, take about a third of a cup of broth out and add the small amount of pepper to that. Then add the seasoned broth to the big pot o’ stuff until you like the result. Pause a moment between additions; it takes a while for the heat to disperse, and be sure to KEEP TASTING! This works for anything that might cause problems yet is added in such small quantities it’s easy to overdo. Truffle oil, for example, the most regrettably overused of yesterday’s trendy seasonings.

On to the deer, since I promised last week I’d give some tips for keeping them out of the daylilies.

Tip A number one is fencing. It was fencing before and it’s still fencing, but putting it on the list is sort of cheating because everybody knows it and everybody keeps hoping there’s something else and getting a dog doesn’t count.

So: repellents. Obviously, those that smell bad before they taste bad are better. Most of them keep smelling bad to deer even after they no longer smell bad to you, but it’s a good idea to try ’em out first – in – as they say of cleaning products – an unobtrusive spot.

A few brands with good reviews include: plantskydd , deer off , deer out, liquid fence, and deer chaser, but there are dozens. Those based on dried blood, garlic , rotten eggs, ammonia salts, peppermint , cinnamon or some combination thereof seem to work better than predator urine, probably because it doesn’t take deer long to figure out that the predator is not in the vicinity.

Choose at least 2 kinds and keep switching. Deer can become habituated to almost anything, so the more you can keep ’em off guard, the better. Start making the area repulsive when the scapes start growing, well before the buds develop, then spray the buds. If you have fragrant daylilies , stop when the buds are about half-swollen.

And although you don’t spray it on, don’t forget good old smelly soap: Dial and Irish Spring are favorites. Just put a few chips in a bag of cheesecloth and use a clothespin to attach the bag to a thin bamboo stake. The soap should be slightly above the lily buds. Other strategies to be posted shortly and meanwhile:

Please send me a squirrel count ( Are you seeing more of ’em? Fewer? The same as usual? We are seeing none at all, though I hesitate to jinx things by mentioning it. Our birdfeeders have been overrun, winter and summer, for 15 years – ever since we came to this house – and this winter there are suddenly none. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Rien. I see them out in the world when I’m driving, so they are clearly still here with us on the planet…