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Dorothy Dean Home Cooking Show: Eva Roberts’ love of food comes from childhood

Eva Roberts owns Just American Desserts, a bakery in Spokane Valley where she specializes in wedding cakes and other specialty baked good. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Cheryl-Anne Millsap Marketing correspondent

Eva Roberts is considered the go-to baker for special cakes and desserts in Spokane. As owner of Just American Desserts, she offers high-quality treats for any occasion. She’ll share some insights and offer tips during a cooking demonstration on May 12 at the Dorothy Dean Home Cooking Show.

How did you get where you are today?

I had a passion for cooking and baking at a very early age, working my way through the recipes in my mother’s 1950s Betty Crocker cookbook while in grade school.

As a young wife and mother with no professional training, I answered an ad for a “weekend pastry chef” at Patsy Clark’s. I remember toting a chocolate fudge cake with me to the interview. The general manager loved it and I was hired. I was asked to take over the dessert program a week later. I did everything with the best ingredients and from scratch.

After a few years there, I thought there was demand so, along with my mother and sister, we opened Just American Desserts in 1986.

My mother has since retired and my sister left the business years ago, but I am still doing it after 32 years. I have to say, I love it as much now as I did then.

How did cooking and baking growing up influence you?

My father was career military, and we traveled extensively. I was exposed to so many cultures and cuisines, not only from the unique places we lived, but also other military families from around the United States.

I can remember getting fresh baguettes from the bread truck while we were stationed in France; the beautiful, individually papered desserts in a Tokyo bakery; the size of watermelons in Greece; and a cherished corn cake recipe from a friend of my mother’s whose family was from the South. All these experiences led to my love of food.

What other kinds of food do you love to prepare?

Nothing makes me happier than being in my kitchen cooking and creating. It’s therapy for me.

At home, I love to challenge myself with doing coursed meals paired with wines. Timing and organization is everything: trying to get that steak or piece of salmon cooked perfectly.

I go through phases of certain foods and work on perfecting them. I have been trying to perfect brisket on the Traeger grill, I’ve worked on duplicating Chef Bradley Ogden’s Maytag Blue Cheese Soufflé and experimented with making corned beef hash using Egger’s Better Meats corned beef. Next on my list is Scotch eggs.

What is your dream menu?

I do think each course needs to be balanced; there’s something to be said for acid, sweet, salt and crunch. One of my favorite chefs once said, “I like to highlight that great piece of fish or steak, let it shine: I never add something that will not enhance it, whether a sauce or garnish. Everything on that plate must support the star.” For me, the perfect meal starts with a scallop or Dungeness crab course, followed with some kind of seasonal salad dressed lightly, finishing with an entrée of a perfectly seasoned dry-aged ribeye steak, medium rare, with a roasted vegetable, preferably asparagus.

When dining out, I always at least share a dessert. I really judge a good restaurant by its dessert, it’s the last thing you remember.

Do you have a Dorothy Dean story?

My late mother-in-law, Donnie Roberts, epitomized the gracious Southern hostess and cook. She would have the table set formally, the food ready and calmly share a cocktail with her guests before dinner. She would then, effortlessly, set out all her beautiful food on the sideboard.

Recently, I have been collecting the weekly Dorothy Dean recipes. As I browsed through them, I saw the very recipes for some of my mother-in-law’s favorite dishes. I was instantly transported back in time, and all those wonderful warm memories flooded back. To me it shows that food is more than just food, many times it’s the binder for all the great times we share with family and friends, and the wonderful memories we create.