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A Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe, with Two Secrets

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I’ve had a hankering to try Heidi‘s recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies with her secret ingredient—mesquite flour—for the longest time. But although the mesquite flour I eventually found encompasses several continents, like I do, it’s not available in the one I live in. So when I went to Texas, which I figured would be the epicenter of mesquite last June, I wandered the well-stocked aisles at Central Market in search of it. And lo and behold, there is was.

Looking at the label, I was surprised to find that it was imported…from Argentina. By a California company. And there I was, in a supermarket in Texas, buying it. Which I then brought back to France.

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And Here’s To You, Mrs. Roberts Son

When Adam asked me to host him on his book tour through cyberspace, the first thing that went through my mind was—“Adam Roberts? Who cares about him?”

Especially when his mom pals around with the big boys…

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Mrs. Roberts and Ben Affleck

My goodness, if Adam pops up one more time in my RSS feeder, I’m going to bop him in that big old schnozola of his. Well, that’s not true. One of the highlights of my days (and nights) is when Adam posts to his fabulous blog, The Amateur Gourmet.

And for those of us who can’t get enough of him popping up in our In boxes and blog feeders, he just released his first book: The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop, and Table Hop like a Pro (Almost), so you can keep Adam in your kitchen, bring him into your bedroom and even take him in the loo with you.

But until I get a restraining order, I’m going to remain his mom, Mrs. Roberts, biggest fan. And I’m so in awe of her that she was featured in The Perfect Scoop (page 73).

Ben had to go shave before leaving to meet his pal Matt, but Mrs. Roberts agreed to stick around and answer my questions. Believe me, even without Ben around, I felt like I’d died and gone to nice-Jewish boy heaven…oy gevalt!

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…with J. Lo and Puff Daddy…

Q: When Adam tossed aside his promising career as a lawyer and came out to you, as a budding gourmand, what was your first reaction?

Mrs. Roberts: “WHAT?!”

That as my first reaction. But then my reaction was that I thought it was great. He’s very creative, a very creative person, and he likes to write. He found an avenue to write and be creative so I was happy.

Q: Boy, my mother was ready to brain me when I tossed aside my promising career as a neurosurgeon to bake cookies. No wonder all those celebrities want to be seen with you.

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Clotilde’s Very Chocolate Cookie Recipe

Triple Chocolate Cookies

I’m glad I’m not the only one around here who experiences what I call “Only in France” moments.

Recently I met up with Clotilde, who writes the popular Chocolate & Zucchini blog, for a drink one afternoon. I ordered a glass of wine and she, a mineral water. Although there was a large, unopened bottle of Badoit sparkling water standing prominently behind the bar, ripe for the taking, the serveuse told us they didn’t have any bottled water.

Of course, neither one of us questioned that. But when she left to fetch our drinks, we both looked at each other, wrinkled up our perplexed faces, then shrugged it off. It’s nice to know the locals find things as curious around here as I do.

Speaking of curious French things, if you’re a regular reader of Chocolate & Zucchini, you’re privy to her charming stories about her life in Paris accompanied by recipes. And you unless you’ve been hiding like a bottle of Badoit behind the bar, you’ve likely heard of her new book: Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen.

Scoop of Chocolate Cookie Dough

Turning the pages and reading about her life in Montmarte is like spending the day with une vraie Parisienne, which seem to be an endless quest of finding the best markets and sourcing ingredients then taking them home and making them into fabulous dinners to share with friends and her lucky neighbors.

Before I met Clotilde, I was certain she was some burly truck-driver from Wisconsin pulling a fast one over on us all.

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Spreadable Tuna Mousse Recipe

In spite of my reputation for serving guests only the finest cuisine I can muster up, I invited a friend for lunch yesterday and thought I could foist my can of salade Niçoise off on her, and I would be efficient and multitask with trying a recipe from a book I just finished.

Her visit, and my can of…um…salad?….presented me the opportunity to try The Spreadable Tuna Mousse from Mediterranean Summer by David Shalleck.

bleeech!

But then I opened the tin, took a look inside, and…”bleech!

Ever the optimist, I dumped my fancy feast in my mortar and pestle anyways.

But the bottom looked even worse than the top—which you’ll just have to trust me on since I felt uneasy subjecting you to photos of both. It was a real Mediterranean bummer and certainly not Nice…or even niçoise-ian by any definition (unless Nice is full of stinky fish sludge, with chunks of greasy vegetables mixed in.)

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The River Cottage Meat Book

I was at my publisher’s office in Berkeley recently (handing out ice cream and sauce to everyone, if you want to know) and on my way out, the main editor handed me a copy of The River Cottage Meat Book.

At the time, I didn’t quite know why he pressed a copy in my hand since it’s not particularly a subject I’m always trying to learn more about. And when I felt the heft of the damn thing, I silently cursed his altruism—It weighed nearly five pounds, which translated to a full 5% of my entire luggage allowance.

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But when I opened the cover, I quickly got over the fact he didn’t hand me a baking book and understood why he chose to give me this one instead.

In the opening pages, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Meat Manifesto contains the most sensible words about how to buy and why we cook meat that I’ve ever read. The design of the book lends itself to the subject, too. Presented like a textbook, The River Cottage Meat Book tells you everything you want to know about every possible kind of meat and poultry. And not only does it tell you, but shows you as well. Eschewing the typical nicely-styled look of most cookbooks, the natural, and sometimes disturbing photos that accompany the text include everything from cows grazing in the fields, to one on its way to meet its maker. And then some.

Instead of being horrified, I was drawn into the subject like I didn’t think I could be. If you’re going to eat meat, you should take responsibility for what you’re doing and Fearnley-Whittingstall presents a rational case for finding a reputable butcher, buying close to home and using what you buy wisely and with purpose.

Although there’s plenty of recipes, the real star of this book is the accompanying text. I’m devouring it for its comprehensive, rational treatise on all aspects of meat preparation and eating. It’s written with care and concern and is the most thorough exploration of the subject I’ve read and I share the chef/author’s well-presented opinions and have been engrossed in it ever since I got it.

In fact, the more I read, the more I realize that it’s well-worth the weight.

Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking

I love whole grains and I love chocolate.

So when I saw this curious Muzzi chocolate bar in a terrific Italian traiteur and grocer, Au Village Italien, I had to add it to my shopping basket. Inside the bar was little bits of puffed farro, or spelt as one would say in English.

(It’s épautre in French, dinkel in German and for the brainiacs out there, it’s triticum dicoccum in Latin.)

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I was curious to taste how the dark Italian chocolate would meet up with the earthy, crispy little bits of whole grains and I was not disappointed. Boy…I took one bite of this and stopped in my tracks.

What a great bar of chocolate!

Speaking of not being disappointed, did you ever correspond with someone online, then meet up with them to find out they’re nothing like you think?

Okay, you don’t need to admit to that.
But I will.

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Fruitcake Bar Recipe (Friendship Bars)

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Maybe this happens to you. Maybe it doesn’t.

You’re invited to a party and as a nice gesture, you bring something along. Being a baker you decide, naturally, to bake something.

So you get to the party, you’re wining and dining, loosening up and enjoying yourself. But when people find out you’ve brought a dessert, they all of the sudden get very interested in you, and what you’ve brought, what’s it called, how you’ve made it, what’s in it, what’s the recipe, etc..etc…

The most difficult was when I brought a Bûche de Noël to a Christmas party, which is a fairly complicated affair involving spongecake, chocolate buttercream, soaking syrup, and lots of crackly meringue mushrooms for decoration. Some nutty woman followed me around all night with a pen and note pad, prodding me for recipe details and I spent the whole night trying to avoid her.

But let’s say you’ve been working on recipes all day, or adding recipes to your blog. So you go to a party and maybe you’d rather just not talk about what you’ve made: After all, don’t they know you have a food blog and a couple of cookbooks where they can get all that information?

(And no, I don’t have a recipe for Bûche de Noël. But thanks for asking…)

Bakers Edge Pan

So my technique for throwing ‘em off the scent is to make up names for things I’ve baked that mean nothing, something innocuous that no one can possibly question what’s inside it. I’ve brought to parties Chocolate Surprise Cake, Mystery Spice Cake and Baked Summertime Fruit Dessert. But you need to be careful since if you pick the wrong name, something like Chocolate Emergency Cake, you’ll have to explain the story behind the moniker ‘emergency’.
And we can’t have that, can we?

Then there’s Friendship Bars, which is the name I often give these Fruitcake Bars.

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Pastry Chef Sherry Yard

With all due respects, the first time I met Sherry Yard, I was squirming in my seat. I was sitting in the originally Spago, in West Hollywood, overlooking the city of Los Angeles. The room was filled with celebrities, but I remember getting special treatment.

I arrived in my best; a well-tailored Italian wool suit that I hoped made me fit in a little better with all the glamorous types seated all around me. It was a great meal, and we were having a wonderful time. But the longer I sat in the stylish chairs, the most uncomfortable I was becoming. It wasn’t that I felt out of place. It was that my rear-end was starting to itch uncontrollably.

I knew that I shouldn’t stand up and engage in an all-out scratch-fest (although nothing would have felt better), but I didn’t know what to do. The longer I sat, the more intense it got. The wool in combination with the padded chairs was driving me nuts!

But soon enough, it was time for dessert, the cavalcade started. Sherry starting bringing out all sorts of wonderful things; tastes of hand-dipped dark chocolates, puckery lemon tartlets, and twists of crackly caramel that were so stunning, all these hot-shot celebrities starting looking at me.

But miraculously, as I started to spoon up and savor all these desserts, the itching subsided and each dessert was more delicious than the next. That was the first time we met and I was charmed at what a genuinely lovely and funny person Sherry is.

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A few years later, Sherry moved over to Wolfgang Puck’s newer Spago restaurant, located a few miles away in swanky Beverly Hills which replaced the original. Since we were pastry-pals, Sherry and I run into each other every now and then over the years; her vivacious personality is infectious and I don’t know anyone who’s more enthusiastic about what she does than Sherry. And if you talked to her for a few minutes, as I recently did, you’d see what I mean…

David: Every time I talk to you there seems to be something new and fabulous going on in your life. After all, being the pastry chef at Spago in Beverly Hills makes you the pastry chef to the stars. Plus you make the dessert for the big Oscar dinner every year.

Who are some of your favorite celebrities that you’ve cooked for?

Sherry: I guess you can say them all, from David Lebovitz to Presidents.

David: Thanks for the flattery, but compared to Madonna and Andy Dick (ick!), I’m a rube. But I loved celebrity-watching and Spago is the best. I one stood next to Shaq O’Neill there and his feet were huge! But your boss is a bit of a celebrity too. You’ve been with Wolfgang Puck for a long time as his executive pastry chef.

How’s it been working with him, and what’s he like as a boss?

Sherry: At the 2000 Bon Appétit Awards, Barbara Fairchild introduced Wolfgang Puck as my boss. His response, with a chuckle, when he walked up to the mike was “Anyone that knows Sherry knows she is my boss!”


David: He’s actually quite funny, and works very hard too, which I think is because he was trained as a chef from a really early age. I also like that he gives ample credit to the chef’s in his restaurants, and they tend to stay with him for a long time.

I love the desserts you make. They’re always so contemporary, with clean, modern tastes yet grounded in traditional pastry techniques. I remember a Concord Grape Gelée that you made, enrobed in dark chocolate that was exceptionally good.

Continue Reading Pastry Chef Sherry Yard…