Ooey, Gooey Mac & Cheese

Fall is definitely on the horizon. Although I'm squeezing out the last breaths of summer, and although the weather in San Diego will get hotter before it gets cooler, I've started craving cinnamon and apples, casseroles and roasted cauliflower. It can't be helped. Autumn is the best season of the year, especially for cuisine.

On another note, do you know what is really wonderful about Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perelman? She makes me feel like I may just cook a recipe as well as she's done. I'm pretty sure that rarely happens, but I'm making my way through her cook book nonetheless. (Highly recommend the Balsamic and Beer-Braised Short Ribs and the Chocolate Raspberry Rugelach. The whole book is worth purchasing, but those are my current faves.) She tackled this New York Times macaroni and cheese recipe with all the talent, humor and wit we've come to expect from her. And, it was good.

Okay, I'll be honest. My husband and daughter thought it was great, but it was far too rich for me. Coming from the woman who can down spoonsful of ganache plus apple pie, ice cream and lemon bars in one sitting, this is saying a lot. I know, what did I expect, right? I don't know. In any case, I would certainly make it again and serve it as a side, not a main, dish. In the words of Serge from Beverly Hills Cop, "Iss good. You should try."

Mac & Cheese a la Smitten Kitchen
Yield: 10-12 side dish-sized servings
1 T butter
1 C cottage cheese
2 C whole milk
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
A pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 t sea or kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 pound elbow pasta, uncooked

Preheat oven to 375°. Using the 1T butter, grease a 9-inch round casserole or baking dish.

In a blender, purée cottage cheese, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg and salt and pepper together. (If you need to add some of the milk for ease of mixing, do so, but reserve at least one cup for mixing in the next step.)

Reserve 1/4 cup grated cheese for topping.

In a large bowl, combine remaining the grated cheese, milk, and the cottage cheese mixture with the uncooked pasta.

Pour into prepared pan, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the dish, stir gently, and sprinkle with the reserved cheese.

Bake uncovered another 30 minutes, until nicely browned. Let cool and serve. 

Baked French Toast

Genetics are an amazing thing. A few weeks ago I reconnected with my beautiful cousin Erin and although it had been 15 years since we'd seen each other, it was as though no time had passed at all. We took our collective kids to Farrell's and the 2 of us danced the birthday songs together and generally made mayhem while aforementioned kids looked away in embarrassment.

The amazing thing is how alike we are. This woman was raised in California's Central Valley while I grew up in Los Angeles. She is a middle child, I'm the oldest. She married and started her family before she was 30: I couldn't get that together until I was almost 40. And yet, we talk similarly - not just the tones, but the words we use. We're built similarly with tallish, athletic frames. And then, there were less obvious connections like that we see things the same way and have like values. We're extroverts who married good, solid men who support and ground us. Maybe it's generational (we're 4 months apart), but our similarities seem to run deeper than that. Some things are genetic, after all.

In any case, Erin and her family were coming to San Diego, so, naturally, I had to bake for them. As they were coming the day they planned to make the 6 hour drive home, I wanted to make sure they were fortified, not just fed. Knowing I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could, not cooking or prepping while they sat waiting, I sought out a recipe for something I could prepare beforehand and enjoy with them. Enter Ree Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman, and her gorgeous recipe for toasty, cinnamony, pudding-y baked french toast. With some applewood smoked bacon, fresh raspberries and whipped cream, this was hearty, delicious and a sweet treat for our little family reunion.
Before we get into the recipe, let me just say that this one will be making return appearances in our lives, especially around the holidays. I can smell this Christmas morning, or any morning when guests are here and I want a low-maintenance, truly delicious breakfast. (In truth, we ate it as dessert with vanilla ice cream, too. I mean, it is essentially bread pudding!) Next time, I plan to add some blueberries or peaches into the mixture before baking to add my own spin. Or, maybe a cup of pureed pumpkin. Oh, the versions are endless!

If you make this one, let me know how you personalized it. As always, enjoy!



Baked French Toast
Yield 8-10 servings

For the Pudding:
1-20oz. loaf brioche
8 whole eggs
2 C whole milk
1/2 C heavy cream
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
2 T vanilla

For the Topping:
1/2 C flour
1/2 C brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t sea salt
1/2 C cold butter, cut into chunks

Whipped cream and fresh berries, for serving

For the Pudding: Grease a 9x13" baking pan with butter and set aside. Cube the bread and drop into the pan.

Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk in the milk, cream, sugars and vanilla. Pour over the bread. Cover the pan tightly and put into the fridge overnight.

For the topping: Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture is pebbly. Store in the fridge until use.

Preheat the oven to 350 and place the pudding on the counter. Sprinkle the topping over and place into the pre-heated oven for 50-60 minutes. Let cool about 15 minutes and spoon out portions, topping with berries and cream.

Oh, la la! A Showstopping Dark Chocolate Tarte

Why does everything sound fancier in French? Eh bien, que faire? C'est vrai et c'est ca.

In any language, everyone needs a go-to, trusted, not-too-much-work-but-exceedingly-fabulous recipe in her repertoire. Because you never know when you might decide at the last minute to invite guests over and they may be people you love, or at least that you'd like to impress. Really, anyone you're inviting into your home deserves to be loved and impressed, non?

This tart from Lori Longbotham's Luscious Chocolate Desserts is one I've made several times, always with delectable results. The first time I made it was for new friends in Richmond (I'm talking to you, Vogeleers and, then, the next day, Goldins!). Then, I made it for a party last holiday season (Kaspers!). When one of Jeremy's best friends from high school and his new wife (go, Durans!) invited us over to their house for dinner for the first time as a married couple, I brought the tarte. And, last weekend, when we had Jeremy's favorite work friend and his gorgeous family (you know who you are, Duncan family) over for dinner, well, you know the rest.

I know I tell you lots of recipes are easy, but this one truly is simple and turns out when you follow the directions. It may be wise to weigh the chocolate to make sure you have the correct amount, but I always fudge a little extra in and it comes out well. The greatest thing about this show-stopper is how unfair the ratio of unbelievably delicious it is against the amount of work it takes, and how very well that works to your advantage.

This recipe comfortably serves 12, is truly rich and needs no other accompaniment than freshly whipped cream. In fact, even when the whipped cream melts in the 85 degree weather, it adds a nice contrast to the dark chocolate. If you're reading my little blog and haven't made anything yet, please make this. Consider it a bonding experience between you and me. I'm sharing my secret weapon recipe with you. Je vous adore. Fo' real!



Lori Longbotham's Perfectly Simple Dark Chocolate Tart(e)
Serves 12

1/2 C powdered sugar
1/4 C toasted walnuts, cooled
3/4 C flour
1/4 C best quality cocoa powder (I used Dagoba this time, but love Valrhona equally well)
1/4 t salt
1/2 C cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 350.

Process the sugar and walnuts in a food processor or blender until the walnuts are finely ground. Add the flour, cocoa and salt and process just until blended. Add the butter and pulse just until the mixture starts to come together. 

Press the dough into the bottom of a 10" tarte pan and prick all over with a fork. 

Bake 15-18 minutes until the crust begins to pull away from the edges of the pan. Let cool while you make the filling. 

14 oz. 60% chocolate, chopped
6 T unsalted butter
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 C sugar
1 t best quality vanilla extract

Cocoa powder for dusting

Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or in a heat proof bowl over simmering water. Remove the bowl from heat and whisk in the sugar and eggs until blended. Whisk in the vanilla. Pour the filling into the warm crust.

Bake 12 minutes or until the filling is set around the edges, but still a bit jiggly in the center. The top of the tart may look blistered. That means you've done it right. 

Remove the tarte from the pan and place on a plate. Dust with cocoa and serve with freshly whipped cream. 
Not the best shot, but you get the idea!

A Job, a Birthday and a Bowl of Cherries

Summer Cherries. My favorite!
“Life, a good life, a great life is about "Why not?" May we never forget it.”
Danielle Steel, Happy Birthday 

Wow. It's Friday at 5:00pm and we have not spoken all week. I miss you!

No recipe this week as I've been doing a lot of prepping and interviewing for Marketing Director positions. Cross your fingers for me! Next week, though, we'll have all kinds of treats so stay tuned.

In other news, I will turn forty four this weekend. Yes, I did just spell that out because, HOLY MOLY! I'm FORTY FOUR. Yowza. Let's see, where did I think I'd be at 44? When I was a teenager, I thought I'd be running a film studio a la Sherry Lansing. In my twenties, I thought I'd be a rockstar yogini like Seane Corn. In my 30s, all I wanted was to become a mother, which, thank you God, I did.

Now that I'm almost halfway through my 40s, naturally and perhaps predictably, all I want to be is ME. Plain old, sugar-loving, Type A, party-throwing, big sister, wife, mommy, daughter, ME. I want to be true to myself. To be vulnerable enough to tell someone when they've hurt me (you know, if I know them). To be strong enough to say no when the request really is too much to take on. To be kind enough to forgive those who trespass against me, especially myself. I want to be a stellar wife to Jeremy and to stay grateful that I get to be Lulu's mom. I want to mend fences and build new ones. But, mostly, I just want to be solid enough in who I am that rather than worry about saying the right thing or doing the right thing become able to say and do something.

My friends reading this will giggle because so much of my life I've seemed confident, even boisterous, but those few of you know that deep beneath that good posture is a little girl who's not so sure of herself. This year, I want to let myself be.

That's all for this week. Please feel free to blame my birthday for any overdoing it this weekend. Enjoy. It's summer! And my 44th birthday (faint).

Much love and many thanks for being on this journey with me.