Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sweet Cherry-Almond Bars

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)

I recently bumped into a friend at the grocery store who was heading to the farmer's market in Madison, Wisconsin. Gung-ho to hear it, I told her that Madison has the largest producers-only farmer's market in the U.S.

Lifting her eyebrows, she asked, "Really? I thought it would be San Francisco or something."

Jokingly, I responded, "You snotty, snotty East Coaster." We both laughed.

What is it about the Midwest that makes it seem podunk to people from the coasts? During my five plus years out East, I spent a great of time debunking stereotypes about the region. Friends and family living on the West Coast seem to harbor many of the same misconceptions. In fact, when my sister was working on her master’s thesis, an uncle visiting from California actually asked one of her advisers if he liked meat and potatoes. It didn't go over well.

Is it that the region's greatest inventions - the airplane, the skyscraper, the assembly line, the brownie - are so commonplace. Or that the low-key approachability Midwesterners bring to the table seems naive? I really want to know.

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)

On a recent family vacation in Michigan, I had the fortune of enjoying another great contribution from the Midwest: cherries. (Michigan produces more tart cherries than any other state. Its bounty equates to nearly three-fourths of the total annual production). At my sister's suggestion, we stopped at The Cherry Republic in Ann Arbor which has the tastiest dried cherries that I've ever eaten. It also sells chocolate covered cherries, cherry salsa, cherry jam and cherry butter. I smeared so much of cherry butter on the sample crackers that I should have been ashamed. But it has such a comforting homemade flavor that I felt as though I was in my own kitchen. On our way to Grand Haven, we bought a bag of fresh cherries from a local farm stand. We spent the rest of the drive plucking their stems and munching on their sweet flesh.

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)


Makes 16 bars


1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 an egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup roll oats
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1.5 ounces 70% chocolate
1/4 cup almonds
6 ounces cherry butter or jam

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line an 8-inch square pan with tin foil and grease the foil.

In a standing mixer, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Beat in the baking powder, almond extract, and egg.

Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. Add the oats, coconut, almonds, and chocolate. Mix until it's just incorporated.

Press 3/4 of the dough into the baking pan. Top with a layer of cherry butter. Crumble the rest of the cookie dough on top of the cherry butter.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the crumbled dough turns golden brown.

Advance purchase required!
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Friday, July 8, 2011

Arugula and Smoked Salmon Salad

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)

By the end of March, my green-thumbed friends start to formulate their dream garden. Most of them love basil, and even though there's often snow on the ground, wax on about all pesto they plan to blend up. I get caught up in their fervor, and end up planting a seedling or two. But the truth is I'm not a basil groupie, and the mature leaves usually end up on my rabbit's dinner plate.

For me, summer hoopla is about strawberries, sweet corn and

I first tasted arugula in culinary school when Chef Piper laid out a wide variety of greens and directed us to create a signature salad. Like so many Americans, I was used to the flat flavor of iceberg lettuce. When the radish-like zip of arugula filled my mouth, I was captivated. The unremarkable looking green was Indian-American's dream. I've been a devotee ever since that first sampling. In the summer, I become an addict.

Eager for a taste of its peppery punch, I planted a palm full of arugula seeds in mid-April this year. The temperature dipped and the double-leafed seedlings took weeks to appear. I fretted like a young mother. They eventually pushed out of the ground, but took an unusually long time to gain some height. By the time the leaves were mature enough to harvest, soft oak leaf and Simpson leaf lettuce had sprung up in the common area of the community garden. Both pair beautifully with arugula, adding a mild undertone to its zesty flavor and bringing a silky softness to the mix.


Folger's Coffee company used to run a commercial that featured an elderly woman who carried a jar of their crystals where ever she went. My mom used to joke that she would do the same thing in her senior years. Instead of coffee, she brings dry beef curry when she and my dad visit me. It is a beloved dish among many Syrian Christians men in Kerala. I love everything about the dish, especially the chewy chunks of coconut. But I'm conflicted about eating it after befriending so many kindhearted cows in Kerala.
Recognizing this, my mom has started to tote beef curry
and a wedge of smoked salmon to my house. The beef is for my dad and the fish is for me. A few weeks ago, I was pressed for time so I threw a few chunks of the salmon over fresh arugula and some other fresh lettuce. I sprinkled it with a teaspoon or so of red wine vinegar mixed with olive oil. It was a delectable pairing and is now a dinner staple. The salmon adds a bacony chew and a faint taste of the ocean. The red wine vinegar, a slightly boozy tang.
If you pull together this delightfully simple salad, use the best olive oil your money can buy. (A secret...I often find great deals on olive oil and other essential staples in the gourmet food section of Marshall's and TJ Maxx.)

Advance purchase required!
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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gooseberry Pie

SusanPachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)

Producing a gooseberry pie from garden to table is a labor I love. I learned this last week when Pete beckoned us to harvest ripe berries from the community garden. Six of us gathered around the sprawling gooseberry bushes. The pinstriped fruit hung just inside the branches like little lanterns. When I reached in to pluck them, hefty thorns caught my sleeve and clawed at my arm. I popped a berry in my mouth looking for solace and, it made my whole body pucker. The tartness was almost as off-putting as the thorns.

But I kept picking.

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)

When I got home, I removed the "tails" and "tops" of the berries one-by-one. Then I tackled the pie crust. I am the family baker, but my focus has always been on cookies and cakes. I knew if I stumbled with the pie, it would be with the crust. It could shrink or crack or wind up not flaky enough. So I turned to Martha Stewart and America’s Test Kitchen, two of my favorite teachers, for guidance.

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)

This week, I took my gooseberry pie to a work night at the community garden. Earlier in the day, I had smothered a slice of it with whipped cream, unable to fully enjoy it without a bit of taming. The gardeners gobbled the rest of it up without a dollop of dairy proving that there is an avid fan base for tart summer desserts.


Makes a 9-inch pie


For crust

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, cold
1/4 cup iced water

For filing

6 cups gooseberries
2 tablespoons water
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup dried sweetened coconut


Combine the flour, salt and 1 teaspoon sugar in a food processor and pulse for 10 seconds. Layer the dry ingredients with the butter and vegetable shortening and pulse until it forms coarse crumbs.

Pour the mixture into a bowl. Layer it with the iced water and pulse. Continue until the dough just starts to stick together. (If you need more water, add it one tablespoon at a time).

Form the dough into 2 balls. Place each ball on plastic wrap. Flatten into a disk and cover with plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Pull the tails and tops from the berries.

Put the berries and water in a saucepan
. Cook over medium-low heat until the skin of the berries split and they loose their shape, about 15 minutes.

Add the sugar and flour and stir until the filling starts to bubble. Remove from heat.

Layer a cutting board with the flour. Roll one disk of dough into a 12-inch round. Loosely wrap the dough around the rolling pin. Hold it over the pie plate and unwrap it. Tuck the dough into the edges of the pie plate. Cut excess dough from the edges. Roll the other disk into a 12-inch round and lay it on a cookie sheet. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Layer the bottom of the pie crust with coconut. Pour the gooseberry filling over the coconut. Use a flower-shaped cookie cutter to cut flowers from the second layer of dough. Lay it over the gooseberry filling. Trim the excess dough from the edges and pinch the seams together. Cut slits in the top of the dough to allow steam to escape.

Brush the dough with heavy cream and sprinkle it with the remaining sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes or until the crust turns golden brown.

Cool the pie on a baking rack for an hour. Serve with whipped cream (which is apparently optional).

Advance purchase required!
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Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4th Fruit Pizza

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)

In culinary school, I studied under a chocolatier who got his start at La Maison due Chocolat. Chef Graham exposed me to the world of fine chocolate, and my passion for the lovely substance only grew. But in the summer, I try to stay focused on fresh fruit which is so fleeting in the Midwest. (In a weak moment, I may look for a way to combine the two).

Strawberries are slowly disappearing from the farmer's market, and I wanted to give them a proper send off. Thankfully, blueberries and red raspberries are taking their place. There are many ways to celebrate life with these lovely fruits.


Tip: I borrowed a round pizza pan from a friend to bake the cookie crust, but you can also use a regular cookie sheet. If you have extra cookie dough, you can bake a few mini-pizzas or cut out cookies. Also, you can top the pizza with any type of fruit. Next time I'm going to try the recipe with a chocolate cookie crust.

Makes one 16-inch pizza

For cookie crust

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking power
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 small lemon, squeezed and zested
For icing

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon vanilla3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tablespoons milk

For topping


Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)


In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar with a paddle attachment on medium speed. Scrape the butter mixture down from sides of the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Add the lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Beat another 2 minutes.

Add the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.

Gather the dough into a large ball. Wrap it in a large piece of plastic wrap and flatten it until it takes the shape of a large disk.

Refrigerate for 3 hours.

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)

Cover the pizza pan with tin foil.

Lightly flour a cutting board. Roll the dough to 1/4 of an inch thick. Gently  wrap the dough around the rolling pin. Hold the rolling pin over the pizza pan and slowly unroll the dough onto the pan. Press the dough into corners of pan.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until the dough turns light brown along the edges. Place on cooling rack.

In a standing mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated. Add the sugar and milk and beat on low until the sugar is incorporated. Then beat on medium high for about 5 minutes.

When the cookie crust is completely cooled, cover with icing.

Layer with fruit.

Susan Pachikara (COPYRIGHT 2011)
Advance purchase required!
Book your Chicago Food Tour today!
buy tickets at zerve
or call Zerve at (800) 979-3370