Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lemon Rosemary Cut Out Cookies

How do I get through a particularly rough week? Baking and country music. This week's been a doozey, and I thank God for Kenney Chesney and Fine Cooking. Today, I turned to the magazine's recipe for lemon rosemary cut out cookies for solace. It's been perched on (and occasionally blown off) a 6-inch pile of recipes I printed out over the course of the year.

I always have basic baking supplies on-hand, and happened to have a lemon teetering about each time I opened the fridge. I planted rosemary in my plot at the community garden. I plucked several sprigs for the Thanksgiving turkey, but that was before the snow. I was wondering whether this member of the mint family had survived the recent blanketing. When I stopped by the garden, I found the top half of the plant poking through the white surface. The effort of its spindly branches reminded me of Charlie Brown's tree - pure and vulnerable. I stood in wonder, waiting for Linus's enlightened voice to kick in. When the moment passed, I harvested several branches and crunched my way back home.

I found that the best part of this recipe is prepping the rosemary and lemon. The fine mincing that's required leaves the most remarkable fragrance on your fingers. Next time, I'll add a bit more sugar than the recipe calls for. See
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Monday, September 6, 2010

Under a Peach Tree


Serves 4


6 large peaches
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch 

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick butter, chilled
1/4 cup hot water 


Heat the oven to 400. 

Skin and roughly chop the peaches. 

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Coat the peaches with the brown sugar mixture.

Spoon into a 9 x 9 inch glass dish. Cook for 10 minutes. 

While the filling is cooking, place the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor and pulse three times. 

Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes. Layer it over the flour mixture and pulse it until the mixture looks like sand. Add the water. Pulse until the dough is just combined. 

Remove the filling from the oven. 

Increase the oven temperature to 425. 

Spoon batter over cooked peaches. Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes or until crust is golden. 

Serve with vanilla ice cream.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Illinois Sweet Corn

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2010)

One of the most comforting sights for me are the rows upon rows of corn that shoot by when I take the train to southern Illinois. It's probably politically incorrect to admit this. Most of the corn grow in Illinois is subsidized, and ends up as cattle feed or corn syrup. I don't support the subsidies or approve of their impact: the artificially low price of beef and the omnipresence of corn syrup in the American food system.

Yet, I treasure the taste of sweet corn, and believe it's one of the most underappreciated gifts Mother Nature offers this time of year. I love the sandpaper-like feel of the husks and the silky softness of the tassels. After a quick boil, the plump, taut kernels pop in my mouth like perfectly ripened berries. They're sugary and savory. I never add salt or butter. As far as I'm concerned, it just gets in way.

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2010)

At the farmer's market, I carefully pull back the husk and tassels by an inch or so to make sure each ear is fresh. I look for plump kernels. During a recent visit, another shopper told me that smaller ears are more flavorful. She also recommended smelling the tip as part of the freshness test, but I didn't know what scent was the right one.

Anyone know about the smell test?

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2009)


Bring a pot of water to boil. Add enough water to cover the corn.

Add the corn and boil for about 4 minutes.

Remove from heat. Drain water. Cover with cold water to cool.

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mom's Blueberry Cream Cheese Cake


Serves 12 to16


For cake:

For blueberry topping:
1 pound fresh blueberries
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water

For cream cheese frosting:
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
4 ounces of cream cheese


Place a mixing bowl in the refrigerator.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the yellow cake as directed in an 8-inch baking pan or oven safe glass dish. Cool on a wire rack.

Combine the blueberries and sugar in a sauce pan. Add the water. Bring to a boil on high heat, stirring now and again. Lower the heat to medium, and simmer until the juice thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool.

Combine the heavy cream and 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar in the chilled mixing bowl. Beat until the cream forms soft peaks, about 10 minutes.

Beat the cream cheese in another mixing bowl. Carefully fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese.

Spread the cream cheese frosting on the cake. Top with the blueberry sauce.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sour cherries: going, going...


Serves 4 to 6


1 quart fresh sour cherries
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup chopped almonds
8 sheets phyllo dough
1 ounce 70% dark chocolate
Powdered sugar for dusting


Remove the pits and stems from the cherries. Rinse.

Combine the cherries, sugar, cornstarch, and almond extract in a saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring intermittently. Set aside to cool.

Place 2 phyllo sheets on a cutting board and allow them to dry out for 15 minutes. Crumble. Mix into cooled filling.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place 6 sheets of phyllo on a cutting board. Brush one sheet with butter and place it on the cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining sheets, layering the buttered sheets, one over the other on the cookie sheet.

Spoon the cherry filling on stacked sheets vertically, leaving a 3-inch border from the edge. Sprinkle with almonds. Turn the top edge and bottom edge of phyllo sheets down to cover the filling. Roll the phyllo widthwise. Place the rolled phyllo on the cookie sheet, seam side down.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the phyllo turns golden.

Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

Melt the dark chocolate and drizzle it over the strudel. Dust with powdered sugar.

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Red Currant Jelly

The community garden is an Eden in my urban neighborhood. Inside its gates, honey bees hover over flowers, powdered with pollen. Squirrels scurry across tree branches that gardeners wove into fences. Rabbits appear out of nowhere, silent and watchful.

The garden is particularly magical by mid-June. Tiny pale blossoms cover the red currant bushes. Within a week, the blossoms transition into the caps of green berries that dangle from branches in loose strands. By mid-July, the berries ripen into a breathlessly regal red. Somewhat translucent, they pick up the sunlight and glow like the uncut rubies once worn by the Nizams of Hyderabrad.

In some ways, I feel silly harvesting such dazzlingly beautiful fruit to make jelly. The berries seem more fit for the hands of jewelers. (Perhaps that's why pastry chefs across Paris use them to crown tarts and tortes and other masterfully crafted confections.) Are there novel ways to incorporate their tart flavor?


Makes about 3 1/2 cups


2 pounds red currants
1/2 cup water
.5 ounce dry pectin 
3 1/2 cups sugar


Gently wash the berries. Pull them off of their little branches and place in a saucepan. Crush the berries with a potato masher or the bottom of a cup.

Add the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Place a 12 x 12 piece of cheese cloth over a bowl. Using a spoon, place 1/3 of the cooked berries over the cloth. Squeeze the berries to release their juice. Repeat with the rest of the cooked berries.

Pour the juice into a saucepan. Mix in the sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the pectin. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 2 minutes. Carefully remove from heat. Skim off the foam with a spoon.

Cool and transfer to glass jars.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bring on the berries


(Adapted from Bon Appetit)


4 cup fresh strawberries
2/3 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
Whip cream


Sliced the strawberries and toss them in a bowl with the powdered sugar. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Mix the buttermilk, lemon peel, and thyme together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Mix the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Stir in the buttermilk mixture until just blended. Transfer the dough to lightly floured cutting board. Knead gently until the dough just comes together. Do not over mix.

Divide the dough into 10 balls. Transfer them to two baking sheets. Pat gently so they settle in place. Sprinkle with the sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes. Transfer to a cooking rack.

Carefully cut the biscuits with serrated knife. Layer them with whip cream. Add the berries.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tart, tasty rhubarb

Rhubarb Compote


4 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger


Place all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan.  

Cook on medium heat until the rhubarb softens completely, about 5 to 10 minutes. 

Serve on pancakes or toast.  

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mushroom and Chicken Tamale Pie


Serves 8 to 10


For filling
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound white or baby bella mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 pound boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 large scallions, diced
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, diced
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup shredded mild cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese
Minced cilantro to garnish

For topping
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup corn meal
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 large egg


Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons of olive oil in a saute pan on medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until soft. Remove mushrooms from the pan. 

Lower the heat to medium and add the remaining olive oil. Add the chicken, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, and salt. Stir and cook for 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

Toss the mushrooms, chicken, scallions, red peppers, and corn together in a bowl. Layer the mixture in a 9 inch x 13 inch casserole dish. Sprinkle with cheese.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, corn meal, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, canola oil, and egg. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients until just moistened.

Spread over the chicken mixture.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Garnish with cilantro.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010


Soon after I moved to Chicago, I attended a culinary tour along Devon Avenue. Indian retailers began settling on the street in the 80s, and over the years, it's come to resemble a Bombay side street. Toward the end of the tour, a local grocer guided us through his store.  As we passed the freezer section, he pointed to rows of frozen dinners featuring perfectly plated Indian meals.

“Just like mom’s,” he pronounced. 

Unable to help myself, I blurted out, "Not my mom's."

Unfazed, he pulled open the freezer door, picked up two of the sleekly designed packages, and handed them to me.

“You’ve really got to try these.”

After stepping out of the store, I handed the dinners to a woman who have clearly been coveting them.

Growing up in southern Illinois, I envied kids who sat down to Swanson's TV dinners.  I longed for a bite of the All American meals (country fried chicken, oven roasted turkey, salisbury steak) neatly compartmentalized in aluminum trays.  On occasion, my mom made pizza or pigs in a blanket from scratch. When she really let her creative juices go on Valentine's day, we divvied up a heart-shaped meatloaf.  But on most nights, we ate homemade South Indian dishes.  Dinner was one of the few things my mom could recreate from the old country. And, for the most part, the menu like our curfew and the policy on dating, were nonnegotiable. To cope, I created a disdainful jingle, "Rice is for mice..." 

Now when my mom cooks for me, I recognize it as a unique gift. The flavors are pure, not formulaic or masked by preservatives buzzing in the background. More importantly, her dishes possess a human touch forever missing in frozen dinners, including "Home-style" versions.  And If I’m dining by myself, eating her food makes me feel less alone. 

I know I’m not the only one who craves the comfort of home cooking. It becomes abundantly clear when I walk around with my cake carrier. The top is translucent enough to let passersby see the frosted cake nestled inside. I encounter a wide range of reactions from strangers, from shy glances to looks of desperation. The latter are often accompanied by passionate inquiries like, “Did you make that?” or “Is that for me?”  I’ve never sensed such longing in the frozen food aisle. 

So this Valentine’s day, if you’re searching for a unique gift, consider making heart shaped salmon patties for your loved one. They're sure to appreciate your unique human touch.

Heart-shaped Salmon Patties

Makes 6 patties


1-14.75 ounce can Alaskan Pink Salmon
2 large eggs
1/2 cup bread crumbs (preferably panko)
1/4 cup finely minced green onion
1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 

Drain the salmon.  Place it in a bowl and mash with a fork until very flaky.

Beat the eggs and mix with the salmon.  Mix in the remaining ingredients. 

Heat a cast iron skillet to medium high heat.  Coat with 1 teaspoon olive oil.  

Place a heart-shaped cookie cutter on skillet. Spoon some of the salmon mixture into the cookie cutter and press to shape along edges.  Gently remove the cookie cutter.  Cook until the patty browns on the side touching skillet (about 8 minutes).  Carefully flip the patty and cook until the second side browns. Repeat with the rest of the salmon mixture.  

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