Mac and Cheese


I went to a conference last week which I had been dreading for weeks.  This is unusual for me–I love that I get the chance to hear about innovations and creativity and what happens when hunches become ideas and then plans and then finally, action.  In short, I love learning and the excitement of applying lessons back in my own work.

Then my son was born.  And the thought of being away from him for more than a day was heartbreaking.  You’d think I was going off to Afghanistan, that’s how dramatic this whole scene unfolded.

When I finally broke the news to him that I was leaving for a few days, it did break our collective hearts–my husband included because he watched this whole conversation unfold while J and I sat on the couch with my boy on my lap, refusing to let go.

“But Mommy, when will you come back?”

“I’ll be back on Wednesday.”

“Is tomorrow Wednesday?

“No, honey.  Tomorrow is Monday.”

So that turned into a lengthy conversation and a lesson about the days of the week, the difference between work and vacation and just because you go on an airplane doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going on vacation. It all ended with an earnest promise in between sniffles, “I’ll be brave.”

It was a long three days barely eased by Face Time.

When I got back, there was a request for Mac and Cheese and then the bigger request, “Don’t go away again, OK?  Me and Daddy were sad because we didn’t have a Mommy in the house.”

So while it’s no substitute for a mommy, the Mac and Cheese like a mommy, brings comfort and warmth to your heart and to your belly.

Inspired by Homeroom, my new favorite restaurant in Oakland, I tried my hand at 3 different kinds: Sriracha Mac which is as awesome as it sounds, English Cheddar Mac with panko and Gruyere Mac trailer style with hotdogs and potato chips–only mine was made with chicken apple sausage. All were incredible.


Bechamel Sauce:

3 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup of shredded cheese (I used 1/2 Gruyere and 1/2 English cheddar)

8 oz of Cavatappi pasta, yields about 6 cups of pasta


Preheat oven to 375.

Over high heat, boil the pasta about 7 minutes for al dente.  Drain.

Microwave milk about  3 to 4 minutes. Set aside.

Heat the butter over medium heat in a separate, heavy-bottomed pot. When the butter has just melted, add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Slowly pour the warm milk, about 1 cup at a time, into the butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly. It will get very thick when you first add the milk, and thinner as you slowly pour in the entire 3 cups. This is normal.

Once all the milk has been added, set the pot back over medium-high heat, and continue to whisk constantly. In the next 2 to 3 minutes the sauce should come together and become silky and thick. Add the salt.


Stir in shredded cheese into the bechamel sauce until melted.  Add the pasta and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is coated in the cheese sauce. Sprinkle Panko bread crumbs (found in most grocery stores) evely on top.  Bake in 375 degree oven until bubbling and brown, about 20-25 minutes.


Cavatappi with its ridges and corkscrew shape is perfect for the sauce to adhere to


Trailer Mac style: Add in 2 chicken apple sausage links or hotdogs, top with crushed potato chips.  Lay’s is the perfect potato chip in life and in mac and cheese.

Sriracha Mac: Add 1-2 tbsp of sriracha and 1/2 – 1 tsp of ginger/garlic paste in your cheese mixture.  This paste is commonly used in Indian cooking and can be made by taking equal amounts (4 oz) of ginger and garlic and 1 tbsp of olive oil and pureeing in a food processor.




Guinness Braised Short Ribs


One of my favorite people on earth is my friend Dorothy. She was one of the first faithful followers of this blog and so I’m thinking that merits at least one post being dedicated to her. Besides that, she’s tall and graceful and never makes me feel like a stubby little hobbit when we walk next to each other. She’s one of the few people who really appreciates my inner dork, the one who just lets me be. Early in our friendship, she once gave me a card that said:

I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was going to blame you.

That’s when I knew we were going to be friends for a very long time.

So when she asked for my recipe for beer braised short ribs this morning, rather than send her an email reply, I’m dedicating this post to her. And by the way, she’s not a Dot or a Dotty, as those nicknames don’t do justice to the presence and grace that is my friend Dorothy.

3 medium onions, cut into wedges
3 to 3-1/2 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
1 bay leaf
12 oz Guinness or any beer you like
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp beef bouillon granules
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cold water

Brown beef short ribs and set aside. This is an additional step, I know and you can probably get away with just putting the raw meat in the crock pot. But I really love the color and the psychological security of eating browned, fried meat so trust me on this one. Brown the meat.

Place onions in a 5-qt. slow cooker; add ribs and bay leaf. Combine the beer, brown sugar, mustard, tomato paste, thyme, bouillon, salt and pepper. Pour over browned meat. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or until meat is tender.

Remove meat and vegetables to a serving platter; keep warm. Discard bay leaf. Skim fat from cooking juices; transfer juices to a small saucepan. Bring liquid to a boil. Combine flour and water until smooth. Gradually stir into the pan. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.


Pumpkin Spice Latte


Fall is quite possibly my favorite season of all.  I’d like to be able to say it’s the crisp autumn air, the sun setting earlier in the evening, and amber colored leaves that line the streets on a windblown day. But it’s really all about the food.

Well, maybe it’s not all about the food…


Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival, 2010

The boys and I usually make an annual pilgrimage to one of our favorite fall destinations:


Apple Hill, Sacramento


Ardenwood Farms, Fremont

Fall food really is the best though.  Apple crisps, pumpkin pies, guinness braised shortribs in the crockpot to ward off chilly nights are what draw me to this season. But because California is in the midst of a drought this year and summer is really just beginning, the only way I realized that fall is now upon us was the first Facebook post on the arrival of the much anticipated Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. I know, I know that sounds a little sad…FB telling me it’s fall.  But FB also told me that there was no pumpkin, and nary a pumpkin pie spice in Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte.  Starbucks listed their ingredients as ‘fall flavors’ among which are cinnamon, caramel ‘food color’ and high fructose corn syrup.  It also costs about as much as a school lunch with way more sugar and roughly the same amount of calories.   With the aid of Pinterest, I decided to make my own with some modifications.


Pumpkin Pie Spice Syrup
1//2 c  canned pumpkin puree
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2-4 T maple syrup
2-4 T agave nectar

1/2 c milk


To make the syrup, combine pumpkin puree, pumpkn pie spice, maple syrup and agave nectar in a medium saucepan over low heat.  Add water to thin the mixture.  The amount of maple syrup and agave nectar can be adjusted to your preference–2T of each for me was not sweet enough so I added more.  Set aside.

Froth milk by shaking it in a tightly sealed mason jar or tupperware for 2 minutes then microwave for 20-30 seconds or until heated through.

Spoon 2 tsp of the pumpkin pie spice syrup nto your coffee and mix until dissolved.  Pour frothy milk on top and sprinkle pumpkin pie spice over the foam top.



Tuscan Egg Crepe


I went to my elementary school reunion this past week-end.  I saw old friends and classmates, many of whom I hadn’t seen in almost 30 years.  It was a great time and I said a bunch of inappropriate things only made possible by the ingestion of copious amounts of my go-to drink, the dirty martini.  “How dirty?” someone asked.  I of course said, “Stripper dirty.” I may have even said something worse.  Oyvey.  Apologies to all in attendance.

Anywhoo, a less than flattering picture of me was taken which showed layers and billowing folds of belly fat.  I will not post it here because, well, you’re probably eating and I don’t want to trouble your digestion with the actual image.  Just picture it in your mind’s eye and trust that it is as unattractive as it sounds.

The Tuscan Egg Crepe is all kinds of delicious and low carb, specifically created by me this morning in response to that horrifying picture.  Crepes are traditionally made with flour, eggs, melted butter and sugar or omit the sugar if a savory crepe is what you’re after.  My version has no flour, no butter and is actually quite simple to make.


Non-stick cooking spray

4 large eggs
2 tablespoon water


Beat egg and water with a fork until well mixed and uniform in consistency.

Heat a small skillet or crepe pan over medium heat until hot.

Spray pan lightly with Pam.

Return the pan to the heat for about 5 seconds then ladle into the pan about 2 tablespoons (or enough to create a thin coating on the pan) of egg mixture. Rotate the pan to evenly distribute the egg mixture. Cook about 2 minutes or until the edges come away from the pan slightly and the bottom is browned. Carefully flip over onto your spatula and then onto the pan to brown the other side.  If your pan is hot enough, it shouldn’t take more than 15 seconds to set.

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That last picture is what happens when you don’t spread the batter out quickly enough.  Remember that these crepes are paper thin and take mere seconds to set so don’t wait too long to tilt the pan and spread the layer out enough so that it covers the bottom.

These really are pretty easy and fast to make and because they have no flour, it is gloriously gluten and carb free.


The filling is inspired by one of my favorite creperies, Crepevine.  It is based on their Tuscan crepe, full of delicious ingredients like chicken, tomatoes, spinach and sliced almonds–savory, healthy, filling and great texture.


1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
1 cup cubed rotisserie chicken, shortcup pro tip: Use Costco chicken and combine dark and white meat for good flavor
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 c. sliced almonds
1/4 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup cheddar or provolone cheese
salt and pepper to taste


Combine first 5 ingredients and saute over lightly oiled pan.  You can add a little water, just enough to moisten your mixture.  You can substitute sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil for the fresh tomatoes.  I opted for 1 cup of the baby san marzanos grown in my backyard for a leaner mixture and without all that oil.  Mix in the cheeses and add salt and pepper to taste.  I chose to add the feta last because I like to bite into a salty feta cheese bit instead of having it completely melted into the mixture.

IMG_0196See the bits of feta still recognizable in this mixture


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It’s best to wrap these when your filling is cold because it’s firm and holds its shape together easier. 


Low Carb Tuscan Egg Crepe–bring on that next reunion.

Panera Baked Egg Souffle


The boys and I have a tradition of going out to breakfast on week-end mornings. I used to be able to sleep way into the morning and leisurely rise from bed around 930-10AM.  Since J was born, my body clock now dictates a wake up time of 6AM, 6:15 if I’m really living it up.  Pru will tell you there are times when I sleep with one eye open–that’s how radically different my sleep patterns are now, post JJ.  Today, we decided to opt for one of our favorite breakfast places Panera and partake of their spinach and bacon breakfast souffle.  What I like most about it is the light and flaky crust housing an eggy, savory mixture of spinach and bacon.  It’s salty and fatty and decadently perfect.  So imagine my horror and sheer disappointment when I stood in line for 20 minutes at the Fremont Panera only to get to the front and be told, “No soufflés for half an hour.”  It’s 10am  and you don’t have soufflés?!?!  That’s like a bartender saying “We’re out of beer!” in the middle of happy hour.

Undaunted, I decided to recreate my own Panera Baked Egg Souffle which I could have at any moment of the day if I wanted, even at the unheard of time of 10AM.

Sausage and Egg Baked Souffle

Recipe adapted from Todd Wilbur’s Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2


4 links Italian sausage-mild or spicy depending on your preference, cooked and crumbled
2 teaspoons minced onion
5 eggs
1 cup of frozen spinach, thawed
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup shredded cheese, whatever you prefer–I used white cheddar
1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
1 sheet of puff pastry dough*
melted butter
¼ cup shredded Asiago cheese



  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Beat 4 eggs. Mix in milk, cheeses and salt. Stir in spinach, onion and cooked sausage.
  • Microwave egg mixture for 30 seconds on high, and then stir.  This is a critical step, so don’t skip.  Repeat 4 to 5 more times or until you have a very runny scrambled egg mixture. This process will tighten up the eggs enough so that the puff pastry won’t sink into the eggs when it’s folded over.
  • Brush melted butter inside four 4-inch baking dishes or ramekins. Line each ramekin with the puff pastry, then spoon equal amounts of egg mixture into each ramekin. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of asiago cheese on top of the egg mixture in each ramekin, and then gently fold the puff pastry over the mixture.
  • Beat the last egg in a small bowl, then brush beaten egg over the top of the puff pastry in each ramekin, then sprinkle with more Asiago cheese.Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until dough is brown. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes, then carefully remove the soufflés from each ramekin and serve hot.

*Original recipe called for Pillsbury Crescent Roll dough but I found after making both versions, that puff pastry closely resembled the texture and flavor of Panera’s.