Surprising simplicity in Neiman Marcus recipes


In the late 1940s, Neiman Marcus founder Herbert Marcus Sr. was tired of the food in downtown Dallas restaurants. His eyesight was failing and he had trouble getting out of his office for lunch. So his son, Stanley, arranged for food to be brought into the store. Such was the beginning of food service at the famous department-store chain.

A few years later, when Herbert Marcus died, his son opened the Zodiac Room restaurant in the Dallas store. To mark the 50th anniversary of that event, the company has published a cookbook of more than 150 recipes from its 43 restaurants.

The Neiman Marcus Cookbook: 50 Years of Recipes (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2003, $45) offers a wide range of culinary pleasures, from soups, salads, sandwiches, main courses, cocktails and desserts.

Kevin P. Garvin, vice president of Neiman Marcus Restaurants, and John Harrisson, co-author of numerous cookbooks, give Neiman Marcus fans some of the chain's most famous recipes and let them in on a few secrets. For example, the trademark strawberry butter that adorns Neiman Marcus popovers and monkey bread is really nothing more than a mixture of butter and good-quality strawberry preserves.

In fact, one of the most surprising things about this book is that even though it comes from a chain synonymous with sophistication, many of the recipes are quite simple.

The Sonoma salad, which originated in the chain's San Francisco Fresh Market restaurant, features apples, raisins, candied walnuts, blue cheese and is served over iceberg lettuce. The salad's various flavors and textures are enhanced by a poppy-seed dressing that is blended for 10 minutes with an electric mixer.

The combination of ingredients can be surprising. Cajun seasoning is added to marinara sauce and heavy cream to create the sauce for "jambalaya" pasta, a best seller at the chain's Zodiac restaurant in Atlanta. The sauce is mixed with sausage, shrimp and chicken, then served over spaghetti.

In another recipe, barley and wild rice are mixed together along with scallions and cranberries to serve as a compote for pan-seared scallops.

While these diversions are tasty and interesting, the most famous recipe in the book is one for the chocolate-chip cookie. Despite an urban myth that Neiman Marcus charged a woman $250 for the recipe, the company says it never charged for it. In fact, there wasn't a recipe until the 1990s when the company decided to create one to refute the urban legend.

The cookie that the company developed is a winner, a classic chocolate chip given a bit of pizazz by 1 1/2 teaspoons of instant espresso coffee powder. My family consumed a whole batch in less than two days.

Neiman Marcus Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1 cup light-brown sugar

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Place the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in the work bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds, until the mixture is fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla for 30 seconds longer, until well combined.

In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to the mixture, while beating on slow speed. Beat for about 15 seconds, stir in the chocolate chips and espresso powder and mix for 15 seconds longer.

Prepare a cookie sheet with about 2 tablespoons of shortening (or use a nonstick spray). Using a 1-ounce scoop or a 2-tablespoon measure, drop the cookie dough onto the cookie sheet in dollops about 3 inches apart.

Gently press down on the dough with the back of the spoon to spread out into 2-inch circles. There should be room on the sheet for 6 or 8 cookies at a time.

Transfer to the oven in batches and bake for about 20 minutes or until the cookies are nicely browned around the edges. Bake a little longer for crisper cookies.

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