Category Archives: Chefs

Claudia Fleming’s Honey Madeleines

Dainty madeleines flavored with honey and browned butter.
Dainty madeleines flavored with honey and browned butter.

When my mom suffered a stroke years ago, the only thing she wanted to eat for a long time was — inexplicably — lemon meringue pie.

When my elderly aunt was hospitalized last year, the only food that could comfort her was — surprisingly — madeleines.

Say what you will about the women in my family, but there’s no denying they like their sweets.

I readily admit I take after them, too.

When I would visit my aunt in the hospital, I’d pick up madeleines from a French bakery to take to her for a real treat. Because believe it or not, even though I bake up a storm at home on a regular basis, madeleines were not something I’d ever made.

Wanting to surprise my aunt, I bought madeleine pans this year. I was going to bake her some fresh to deliver in person. But then COVID-19 crushed those plans mercilessly.

As I wait out shelter-in-place until it’s permissible to drive an hour to visit someone her age again, I decided to break in my pans with a madeleine test-run.

I found the perfect recipe in the newly reissued classic cookbook, “The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern” (Random House) of which I received a review copy. The cookbook is by the incomparable Claudia Fleming, the former pastry chef at New York’s landmark Gramercy Tavern.

Originally published in 2001, the book became coveted not only by home-cooks, but top pastry chefs. If the latter prize it so much, you know it’s got to be worth having in your collection, too.

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You Say “Potato,” I Say “Perfection”

Crusty, crispy and divine -- who can resist these semolina-dusted potatoes?
Crusty, crispy and divine — who can resist these semolina-dusted potatoes?

When others shun potatoes, I welcome them with open mouth.

Yes, in this low-carb world, I am the outlier who lusts for spuds.

And when I find a recipe that does them proud, I am beside myself.

Such is the case with “Crispy Semolina Potatoes.”

This insanely good yet simple recipe is by Susan Spungen, a recipe developer, stylist and cookbook author, who is the former food editor at Martha Stewart Living. She was also the food stylist for the film, “Julie & Julia.”

It’s from her newest cookbook, “Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings” (Avery), of which I received a review copy. When Spungen cooks, she likes to break down the prep into stages so that it can be spread out over a day or two. That way, it’s less intimidating, especially if you’re cooking for company.

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Where I’ve Been Getting Take-Out Of Late

Such a treat -- beignets from The Village Pub.
Such a treat — beignets from The Village Pub.

When shelter-in-place first took hold, I took it to heart, cooking all my meals at home from pantry and freezer ingredients, and from grocery deliveries, so I wouldn’t have to venture out needlessly. But wanting to support my local restaurants, I also bought gift cards and donated to GoFundMe campaigns.

As restrictions have lessened, though, I’ve felt more at ease about getting food to-go. I prefer to pick it up myself rather than going through third-party delivery apps that tack on an extra charge to restaurants. Plus, after listening to a highly informative “The Tim Ferris Show” podcast with guest Nick Kokonas, co-owner of Alinea restaurant in Chicago, I also realized I now needed to use those gift cards pronto. Kokonas, who owned a derivatives trading firm for a decade, explained that while the revenue from gift cards help restaurants in the short-term, they remain a debt on their books. Indeed, the worst-case scenario would be for every well-meaning patron who bought a gift card to descend upon that restaurant the first week it reopened to use them when the establishment had no revenue coming in.

So I’m making a point to use those gift cards I purchased in March for food to-go now, and to even order more beyond the card’s amount to give the establishment an extra boost.

Here’s where I’ve picked-up food in recent weeks, paying my own tab.

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Republique’s Fig-Tahini Cookies

These fig-tahini cookies are not only pretty to look at, but have a wondrous chewy texture.
These fig-tahini cookies are not only pretty to look at, but have a wondrous chewy texture.

Mochi, gummi bears, springy noodles, and ideal chocolate chip cookies.

What do they have in common?

A certain chewiness that I can’t resist.

And “Fig-Tahini Cookies” possess that ideal attribute in abundance.

It’s evident not only in the consistency of the cookie, itself, but also in the chopped dried figs hidden throughout.

The recipe is from “Baking at République: Masterful Techniques and Recipes” (Lorena Jones Books, 2019), of which I received a review copy.

The cookbook is by Margarita Manzke, co-owner of Republique restaurant and bakery in Los Angeles. The book, written with former Los Angeles Times food writer Betty Hallock, features all the favorite pastries, cookies, cakes and pies from this fabulous bakery that’s a must-stop whenever my husband and I drive to Los Angeles.

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Maida Heatter’s Chocolate and Peanut Butter Ripples

Made with a chocolate dough and a peanut butter dough, no two look quite exactly alike.
Made with a chocolate dough and a peanut butter dough, no two look exactly alike.

In my household, there is a clear division of labor.

My husband is responsible for mowing our minuscule lawn, unclogging drains, and figuring out which smoke detector in the house is causing that incessant beeping.

Me?

I make sure we always have a stash of home-made cookies on hand.

It’s an important job, and one that I take seriously.

Oh sure, my husband will indulge my whims to bake cookies with ingredients such as cardamom, rose water, chicharrones, corn nuts, or five-spice — as long as I don’t neglect the mandatory chocolate on a regular basis.

That’s why “Chocolate and Peanut Butter Ripples” appealed so much. After all, when I practically have to hide all the mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups from him until after Halloween, I knew this cookie would be right up his alley.

It’s a recipe from “Cookies Are Magic: Classic Cookies, Brownies, Bars, and More.” Have truer words ever been printed?

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