THERE’S ALWAYS AN asterisk on my lists of Seattle’s best cookies. That’s because one of my favorites is actually at Sea-Tac Airport.
It’s the S’mores cookie at Dish D’Lish, the airport cafe created by Kathy Casey. Casey herself is much more than an asterisk; she’s been a star of Seattle’s food scene for decades, sometimes under the radar in her business with husband John Casey, sometimes front and center.
She began her career at 14, cooking for nuns at Christ the King Convent in Seattle. By her 20s, she was one of the city’s first celebrity chefs, listed in Food & Wine magazine’s inaugural “Best New Chefs” in the United States edition, along with Emeril Lagasse.
By 1986, heading the fine-dining kitchen of Fullers in the Seattle Sheraton, she was flying a 30-pound salmon across the country to cook at Craig Claiborne’s Manhattan home.
“She has been called the Madonna of the kitchen, with her gold-and-platinum New Wave hairdo,” Claiborne wrote in The New York Times. “She has also been referred to frequently as one of the finest young chefs in America, a superstar at age 25.”
Then there was legendary local columnist Emmett Watson, who called Casey “a kid of almost supernatural talent” in 1991. The normally crusty columnist wrote that she was a fun, energetic superstar who made the wattage go up when she walked into a room, and that, “She has done more for food life in Seattle than any other person.”
Casey was interested at that point in opening a sit-down restaurant in Seattle, but it never came to pass.
“The only people that got financing then were men,” she told me once. “I finally said, ‘I’m going to do our own thing.’ ”
Keeping her sass and business sense, she went big in another direction: becoming a global restaurant and drinks consultant. She celebrated cocktails, wrote cookbooks (and a column for this newspaper) and generally earned scads of descriptive titles: mixologist, diva, food maven, chef-celeb. She also sold “food t’go-go,” in Casey-speak, at her Dish D’Lish restaurants, formerly at Pike Place Market and Ballard, and now just at the airport. (It’s operated by HMS Host, as is her Rel’Lish Burger Lounge at Sea-Tac.)
“I think of myself as a chief creative officer now,” she said recently.
The S’mores cookie came from her goal to develop “something luxurious and yummy” inspired by a seven-layer bar cookie.
“I love how the marshmallow topping really goos out over the whole top,” she sighed, giving up a home version of the recipe. Be careful when you take them out of the oven, she warns, because the marshmallow is really hot. “Don’t pop one of those in your mouth right away.”
We were talking in gaps between her preparations for Lucky Louie Fish Shack, the new airport quick-serve restaurant she’s opening with business partner Stacy House. Casey was excited about serving wild and sustainable Alaskan fish, about the cast-iron taiyaki machine they’ve installed for fish-shaped waffles — “It’s truly mechanical; it’s not one of those digital wingding things” — and about the unique niches she’s been able to fill in her career.
Her Ballard kitchen still is used for development and testing, among other things, but it seems strange that retail diners have to drive to Sea-Tac to eat her food.
Reading over Watson’s long-ago column, I was struck how he wrote, “Seattle is a city that has its faults, but it’s hard to imagine that it contains a banker dumb enough to turn her down.” Whenever I fly, I’m glad the airport didn’t make the same mistake.
Dish D’Lish S’mores Cookies
Makes 10 jumbo cookies
For the dough:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
¼ cup vegetable shortening
½ cup sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 8-ounce package toffee baking bits
For the topping:
1 cup mini marshmallows
¼ cup sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup graham cracker crumbs
1. To make the dough, in a mixing bowl, cream the butter, shortening, sugars, egg and vanilla extract well. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together in a small bowl. Mix into the butter mixture. Stir in the toffee bits.
2. In a large piece of plastic wrap, roll the dough into a 3-inch-diameter log with flat ends. Wrap well, and refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days.
3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Line 4 or 5 baking sheets with baking parchment (see Chef’s Note, below).
4. While the oven preheats, make the topping. Combine the ingredients in a medium bowl, and mix with a rubber spatula or spoon until the marshmallows are thoroughly coated. The mixture will be very sticky.
5. Cut the chilled dough into 10 equal slices. Place 2 or 3 slices on each prepared baking sheet. (When baked, these cookies spread to about a 5-inch diameter, so bake only 2 or 3 per pan.) In the center of each cookie, place about 1 heaping tablespoon of topping, using it all.
6. Bake the cookies for 18 to 20 minutes, or until just done. Let cool on the baking parchment until totally cooled and easy to remove.
Chef’s Note: If you’re short of baking sheets, place dough slices on additional lengths of baking parchment. When each pan of cookies is baked, remove from the oven, slide the parchment with the baked cookies onto a rack, place the next parchment sheet of dough on the pan and bake.
Recipe courtesy Kathy Casey