My worlds of mystery fiction and chocolate collide more often than one would think. I have another blog: Mystery Fanfare, so I combine the two every now and again. Today, I asked Jessica Conant-Park who writes the Gourmet Girl mystery series to guest blog.
Jessica Conant-Park is the co-author of The Gourmet Girl mystery series that she writes with her mother, Susan Conant. The books follow a twenty-something gourmand and are set in the Boston restaurant scene, and blend mystery, humor, romance, chick lit, and food. The fifth in the series, Cook the Books, will be out in Feb/March 2010. She is currently shopping around her first young adult book and working on an outline for a second.
JC-P: I was raised by a chocoholic, so I really can’t be held responsible for my cravings. Whatever side of the nature/nurture argument you take, I was doomed (or blessed?) either way. So I blame my mother. Very Freudian of me, huh? Not only did I likely inherit a genetic predisposition for chocolate, but I grew up watching her order chocolate desserts at restaurants, whip up glorious chocolate mousse, and rifle through Valentine’s Day heart boxes in search of the smooth truffles. Nuts and nougats be damned—she was, and is, a purist.
We spent a few summers in France when I was a teenager and you can imagine the enthusiasm we had for the gorgeous treats in the patisseries. Even my father, who has always claimed he doesn’t care for dessert (liar), was enamored with French offerings. I can’t deny that the fruit tarts were stunning, with rows of expertly sliced, glistening fruit atop luscious custard on buttery crust. Sure. Wonderful. But it’s really hard to pay attention to fruit when there is chocolate present. Chocolate croissants, cakes, mousse, torts, cookies, galettes… All done up with fancy twists and twirls, decorations beyond what you’d find in most American pastry shops. It’s a rough day when your biggest challenge is selecting which chocolate delight is to be yours.
One afternoon in France, my parents and I found ourselves at a small café in rural Burgundy. Being a classic moody, ungrateful teenager, I was in the midst of some idiotic hormonal fit about something. Probably having to do with my boredom at being lugged around Europe with my (eye roll) parents, and forced to look at (ick) art, and castles, and ruins, and landscape. The tragedy. I believe this is the trip during which I bitterly muttered, “You’ve seen one alp, you’ve seen ‘em all.” (My parents later did admit that, in fact, this is rather true. But you see how you react when every two minutes your mother interrupts your reading of “Gone With the Wind” to scream, “Look the alps! Look at the alps!”) So anyway, there we were, all miserably seated at this café while I huddled near tears at my undefined misery. My father had the sense to stay out of things, but my mother was clearly pissed off. Rightfully so, since I suspect I was behaving rather monstrously. But, by the time our gorgeous café had arrived, it was clear that neither of us knew what the hell the fight was about, but it was unclear how to end it.
My mother’s café au lait had come with a wonderful treat: a small, hard chocolate dome filled with rich whipped cream. In what I still consider the most generous act of kindness, my mother insisted that I, her bratty daughter, should have the treat. But I, playing the aggrieved martyr, insisted she should have it. Tears streamed down our faces as we insisted the other was more worthy of this European chocolate…You can imagine the drama. Finally my father insisted that one of us better eat it, or he would.
So we split it. Because chocolate fixes almost everything.
Unlike my mother, I am not a chocolate purist, and love chocolate in, on, around, and under things. So here is my recipe for Seven Layer Bars. Nothing fancy, but that’s one of the things that makes chocolate great: you can dress it up, or play it down, and it’s all good…
Seven Layer Bars
4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 lb. melted butter
1 lb. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 lb. butterscotch chips
1 lb. dark chocolate chips
1 lb. shredded coconut
2 14oz cans condensed milk
Use 8 1/2 x 11 inch baking pan.
Preheat conventional oven to 350 degree.
Spray pan with non-stick spray. Melt butter and mix with graham cracker crumbs. Layer evenly on bottom of pan. Sprinkle the chips evenly over the crumbs. Layer coconut evenly over top of chocolate. Pour condensed milk evenly over top
Place in oven and cook for approximately 30 minutes, until the top is browned (the center should be lighter in color to ensure moistness.)
Author of the Gourmet Girl mystery series
Food Fiction Website