Macaroni and Cheese… d’best

Tipsy Pig on Chestnut, San Francisco

I clipped this article as soon as it appeared in the Chronicle and right away, just had to make this mac n cheese. Being a mac n cheese lover, I have many macaroni and cheese recipes from such diverse sources as the NY Times, LA Times, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Cookbook, and — Praise the Lord — the Annie’s “Shells and Real Aged Cheddar”box.

This is good stuff and plenty easy to make. Here are my Cook’s Notes:

Dis is good and EZ. Made a half-pound of ditalini pasta with 2 cups of cheese sauce, so I’ve got 4 cups of cheese sauce in the fridge/freezer. Used supermarket cheeses. Ground the cheeses in the Kitchen Aid grinder attachment. That is EZ, ‘cept for the clean-up, but still… Served with baby back ribs and a first course of Cook’s Illustrated Cream of Tomato soup. Plenty LO for lunches. Now I’ll have it at Tipsy Pig, see how mine stood up. [Mine stood up well.]

Tipsy Pig Mac n Cheese served at my house with sausage and mashed squash.

And here, I’ll share Michael Bauer’s article (slightly edited):
Why Tipsy Pig’s macaroni and cheese is so good
by Michael Bauer, San Francisco Chronicle’s restaurant critic Sunday, February 7, 2010

One bite of the macaroni and cheese at the Tipsy Pig, and all other versions I’d tasted through the years slipped from my memory. I had found the best.
Why is this version so much better than others I’ve tasted?
I truly wanted to know so I called chef/co-owner Sam Josi, and he shared the recipe, which we tested in The Chronicle’s kitchen. We discovered several elements or “secrets” that set this recipe apart.

cream, pasta, cheeses, butter, flour

Ditalini pasta: These short pasta tubes, often used in soups, capture more of the creamy, cheesy sauce. Make sure the water used to cook the pasta is “salty like the sea,” otherwise the dish may taste flat.
The cheeses: White cheddar adds a sharper high note, Dutch Gouda lends exceptional creaminess, and Shropshire blue has an orange gold color and a sharp tang. Parmesan, sprinkled on at the end, adds a distinct nutty, salty quality that rounds out the blend.
Bacon fat: Many versions garnish with bacon, but using the fat distributes the flavor throughout.
Timing: It’s important to combine the pasta and sauce just before serving. The sauce is simply tossed with the pasta instead of being baked before serving so the dish tastes extra rich and creamy.
Tipsy Pig, which opened a little more than a year ago in the Marina, serves down-home American food, including first-rate pulled pork sliders and chicken pot pie whose puff pastry dome caps rich gravy filled with chunks of white meat, peas, carrots, turnips and other vegetables.
When Josi was conceiving the menu, he knew that macaroni and cheese would have to be on the menu, so the chef started playing with the classic recipe. He remembers making macaroni and cheese in cooking school with a standard bechamel sauce and wondered why he couldn’t substitute bacon fat for butter. He was chastised for the idea and put it away for another day.
Then years later… he concocted a bacon-infused version of macaroni and cheese in individual containers, but it took too long to heat up. When Tipsy Pig opened, he decided to separate the pasta from the sauce and stir them together at the last minute so the dish would be hot and creamy. The combination of cheeses came about partly by chance because the white Cheddar was being used for burgers and he needed Shropshire for its bright yellow color. He ended up with a combination of four cheeses that taste so good together they should be married for life.
So here’s the recipe. If you don’t feel like making the dish at home, you can always make reservations at Tipsy Pig. Continue reading


And off the grill

Just walk out the door…

Enamored as I am with the ability to walk out onto my terrace and grill, I want to grill EVERYTHING.
I’ve been thinking about meatballs, but that seems like a cool weather thing — not August in the high desert — but loving meatballs as I do, I got some ground beef at the Saturday Farmer’s Market.

Why not do meatballs on the grill? My swell grill pan should make that possible, at least on the no-stick front.

My recipe files produced only one recipe suitable — Marlena Spieler’s Big Meatballs, but those are kind of boring. The others are braised, rather than fried or broiled. Better to adapt something from meatloaf. I spied two major candidates:
K-Paul Cajun Meatloaf and Sam Sifton’s Fancy Meatloaf (NYT) that he made for Nora Ephron.

The very next day the RGJ (Reno Gazette Journal, a pretty good local rag) published “Make It Easy: Meatloaf burgers look ahead to Labor Day”. How’s that for timing? The recipe is eerily similar to K-Paul meatloaf, using cooked onion and green bell peppers, lots of good spices and ketchup. I decided to go with the RGJ version; see what it’s like.

And since I still have some caul fat in the freezer, I’ll just make some of the burgers as crepinettes. I’m using grass fed Angus ground beef from Hole-in-One Ranch and that is very lean, so I substituted 1/4 pound of ground pork for that amount of beef.

Here it is, mixed up and ready to be wrapped.

The meatloaf mixture is a bit loose and moist, but certainly formable. I wrapped 4 burgers and made two plain patties, put them in the refrigerator overnight to rest and get their act together.

The next day, I got the grill going, unwrapped two crepinettes and two plain meatloaf burgers.

Ready for grilling…

I used my grill pan for its non stick qualities. Once the grill was pre-heated, I turned off the center burner and turned the outside burner to medium. They took about 15 minutes to cook to 135°F. Continue reading

"D’oh!" Fork the Noodles

I’ve been cooking a long time, and yet, just last week I learned to Fork the Noodles. “D’oh!” I said, slapping my head just as Homer Simpson does.

Those bundles of noodles, a fork, those noodles in boiling water.

For lunch — usually — I’ll cook up a bundle of noodles to go with a can of soup or a leftover this or that. The Chinese kind that cook in three minutes.

Throw a bundle in a pot of boiling water, break up the bundle so the noodles are loose in the water before you start your timer, so you don’t get clumps. Trouble is, you’re working with boiling water and those bundles of noodles don’t want to break up… they’ll slosh around under your wooden spoon, boiling water sloshes out of the pot and puts out your fire. Bad.

Those noodles and a cheap cooking fork.

One day, I grabbed a cheap cooking fork and speared the noodles with that… holds them in place while I break that bundle with my wooden spoon. “D’oh!” That’s great! What took me so long?

These particular noodles will go with a sliced leftover meatball and a can of Amy’s Tomato Bisque soup. Yum.

Go Do Spaghetti Sauce

[Editor’s Note: Ironically, I was writing this when Eric called his mom to interview her about her handed-down Sugo (The Whole Recipe – Sugo). These sauces are different, but not so much; and both are worth cooking and worth eating… maybe the best two sauces you’ve made.]

I have a “Go To” sauce for spaghetti, been cooking it for years. I got it from Nancy Harmon Jenkins book, The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. (That’s “diet” as in “cusine, the diet of the Mediterranean culture,” not “diet: to lose weight.”)

“Mita Antolini, my Tuscan neighbor, uses this sauce to dress pasta or gnocchi di patate, little potato dumplings, that she makes for Sunday lunch.” [See full recipe at the end.]
— Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Uncharacteristically, I never transcribed this recipe into my computer files. After I made it a few times from the book, I knew it and just cooked it. Anyway, this is how I cooked it last Friday — I call it “go do” because I just go and do it, varying it a bit each time.

celery and spring onions

I rough chopped a few spring onions and tossed them into my mini-food processor — the Breville “Control Grip.”
I chopped some celery from the top of a head, leaves and all and threw that in.

Normally, I would put in a carrot, but I had two small pasilla chilis I got at the farmers market. This will make the sauce a bit “Southwestern”-Italian for a change of pace. [NOTE] (These are actually the dark green poblano chilis, often called pasilla chilis in the US.).

the Breville Control Grip: chopper/processor, motor and immersion blender

So, I fine chopped those in the mini-processor and got them going in olive oil in my skillet over a very low flame. These will need to cook for a while – at least 15 minutes – until beyond soft. Ideally, the vegetables will disappear into the sauce.

Added some white wine and cooked that down to nearly dry.

Sliced two Niman Ranch Spicy Italian Sausages in half lengthwise, cleared a space in the center of the skillet and added a little olive oil, fried those, cut side down, until browned.

Tomatoes: Normally, I use a can of San Marzano tomatoes, but I have these pickled tomatoes that I canned last fall. Why not process those — basil and peppercorns and garlic and all — in the mini-processor, since I have it out.

Added the tomato sauce and some dried Italian Seasoning, and slowly cooked that down, seasoning with salt and pepper. That sauce is good.

the sugo cooks

The Pasta
When I don’t make pasta or buy fresh pasta, I like thin spaghetti, its very comforting to me. Scanning the Barilla shelf in the supermarket, I saw Spaghetti Rigati. Hmmm. Its thin, has ridges to hold sauce, and I’ve never tried it… three good reasons to buy. For just me and Carol, I use a third of a pound of pasta for a meal. I cooked that, tossed it with the sauce, and served.

That’s darned good. Yum. (Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing about it.) I served it with tomato and cucumber salad with fresh mozzarella balls, dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette, and Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant red wine. Yum. Continue reading

The Whole Recipe — Sugo

Sugo alla South Roanoke Apartment Villages Pool

Every family has a few recipes that are ALWAYS served. For us one of those is a spaghetti sauce that was handed down to my mother almost directly from a buonafide Italian grandmother. It was referenced in a very early Eats article on different kinds of tomato sauces, which even has a comment that echos a very important part of this sauce: you add the tomato paste to the onions and garlic in oil and “fry” the paste a bit to caramelize some of the concentrated sugars before adding the wet tomato sauce and plum tomatoes to simmer.

With this communal nature of recipes in mind I thought it would be interesting to learn more about this “handing down” of food knowledge because the process of teaching cooking has always (and continues to be) one of master-and-apprentice. This model is codified in the culinary world where every serious chef has worked their way up from dishwasher to prep to line, but that’s just a reflection of how humans have always learned to cook: watching someone with more skill, and listening to them explain why they are doing it. Since I knew a bit, but not the whole story, about how this family favorite was acquired, I decided to capture the Whole Recipe for anyone who is interested in it, not just the ingredients and preparation.

As you can see in the photo at the top, I made a batch of this over the weekend — a bit for dinner and mostly to freeze for many easy future dinners. I was inspired to make it because I had defrosted our kitchen freezer and found some frozen spare ribs hiding in the drifts of ice in the back, and I was sure they were dried out, but would still be able to flavor a long cooked dish, and pork-on-the-bone is a critical component of this dish, in my opinion. The great thing about using spare ribs in this sauce is that by hour four or five the meat falls off the bone and pretty much melts into the sauce — you don’t really see chunks of meat in your sauce (unless you add it to the end as Carol recommends) — which I’ve learned is one of the characteristics of a classic Italian sugo. Continue reading

my pasta for we two

to make Spaghettini with Crab and Jalapeno


I have made egg noodle pasta many times over 40 years, probably with the same Atlas pasta machine. The recipes have varied as my influences have varied, but now — as a septuagenerian — I’ve settled on a go-to recipe and call it, “my pasta for we two.” After all, its just eggs, flour and a bit of water, but oh, the proportions, quality of ingredients and methods of mixing and kneading can dramatically affect the resulting noodles.

Going back, James Beard, my mentor for most things cooking, taught me to mix with a food processor, to have the eggs at room temperature and the importance of resting the dough. Most of my early pastas are his, using AP flour.

Time passes…

Bill Buford, the author of HEAT and disciple of Mario Batali taught me the mantra, “one egg, one etto.” He explained that one etto is 100 grams of flour, and later modified his mantra to, “one GOOD egg, one etto.”

I start buying eggs from pastured hens; buy me a kitchen scale and time passes…

Thomas McNaughton of flour + water taught a pasta making class at CUESA, and taught me to use “00” flour and a Kitchen Aid mixer.

I buy me a Kitchen Aid mixer, give my food processor away, and time passes.

The Kitchen Aid manual taught me the paddles and hooks and speeds to use in dough-making. Armed with information and dangerous, I got my flour and eggs together and made me some noodles.

For we Two:my_eggs_flour

4 etto (400g) 00 flour or sifted AP flour
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon water

Place eggs, water and flour in the mixer bowl. Attach bowl and flat beater to mixer. Turn to Speed 2 and mix for 30 seconds.
Remove flat beater and attach dough hook. Turn to Speed 2 and knead 2 minutes. Scrape down sides with a spatula as you see fit. After a few sprays of water, the dough should all came up onto the hook. Hand knead dough for 30 seconds to one minute. Cover with a dry towel and let rest 15 minutes before running through Pasta Maker. *Roll through to 7 for fettuccine… 6 is too thick and a bit tough. Continue reading


Polenta with sauce, bean salad

giants v padres

giants v padres

I went to the Giants game Wednesday and around the sixth inning, just after the the sun came out of the fog, texted my sons and sibs: “At the ballpark on a sunny September afternoon with beer and peanuts. Lovely.”

Tom replied, “Stylin’ you R.” True that. And the Giants won behind Timmy and two Beltran home runs, one his 300th career dinger and the ballpark’s 59th Splash Hit.

Home at nearly four. I had planned to do fish chowder or soup or something with the leftover Black Cod, but that would take some thought and energy, and why spoil a perfectly mellow day with that? I’ll just open a package of Fatted Calf Sugo di Carne. They call it, “rich and hearty meat sauce with a bite.” (Made from naturally raised pork and beef, pork broth, organic carrot, celery, onion, garlic, herbs, wine, sea salt and spices.) To me, this is an “emergency sauce” and I like to keep some on hand, in the meat drawer or freezer for just such an occasion. This time, I squeezed out 1/3 of the one pound package. I’ll just portion that over polenta. Again, in the spirit of mellowness, I walked down to Real Food and bought a tube of Food Merchants Organic Polenta. I could probably have made polenta in the time it took to go to Real Food, but I needed milk anyway, so what the hell. Celebrate sloth.

bean salad, polenta slices, lettuce plate

bean salad, polenta slices, lettuce plate

To go with, I have the leftover green bean and tomato dish from yesterday (recipe below). Yesterday, it was served hot to go with ham hash, but today, I’ll make a salad of that mixed with the prim manteca beans from Iacopi Farm I have in the fridge. Continue reading

Not Your Average Beans n Ham

Ham Loaf LO
White Beans with Celery
The cutest Cauliflower you’ve ever seen

b_caulif_detail We were getting ready for the first “regular” night of the San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF54 or “The International”); we had been to Opening Night, Thursday, and it featured a party after with all the food you could eat… much of it good. The International runs for two weeks and most of the films occur before, during or after dinnertime, so we home cooks need to plan ahead… something easy that can be eaten without fuss.

On this night, a Friday, I planned leftover (LO) ham loaf with something. Perusing my ‘to cook’ files on the computer, I came across White Beans with Celery by Martha Rose Shulman who writes Recipes for Health in the New York Times. I thought I had cooked that, but there were no notes to prove it. In any case, I had a half-pound of flageolet beans and a big head of supermarket celery, so I went for it. I got four lovely tiny baby cauliflower from Dirty Girl Produce at the Market and they hadn’t yet found their way into our bellies. Those would be nice as a side dish.

It’s a whole day affair, what with the soaking of the beans, cooking of the beans and baking of the dish, but the active time is scant. Again, plan ahead for this dish:

11am beans in to soak
4pm ready to cook
5pm beans cooked
5:30 beans in oven
6:30 beans on table
8pm leave for Kabuki
9pm Meeks Cutoff (Carol)
9:30 The City Below (Marc)

I cooked the beans in plain water… the flageolets take only about 45 minutes. I hacked 5 cups of celery in about half inch pieces from the top of my head and carefully rinsed them. My time schedule worked just fine as I cooked the celery. That went in the baking dish, a soufflé dish. I lifted the beans from their liquid with a slotted spoon and mixed that together with the celery, mixed in my home made tomato sauce. It took all of the bean cooking water to cover the beans as directed and into the oven it went for an hour. Continue reading

Beans 'n' Eggs

Sunday Breakfast
My waking dream was about breakfast; an egg poached in tomato sauce. But there wasn’t enough left of the nice thick Tuscan Sugo I had made during the week. Keep the egg, substitute baked beans. I’ll have an egg poached in baked beans… Carol usually has a can of Bush’s baked beans in the pantry.

Sunday breakfasts aren’t like other breakfasts. On Sunday, I get up, have a glass of V8 and go someplace beautiful to write in my journal while Carol does her toilette and has her breakfast. Back home, I took a shower, got dressed and looked for a can of beans.

No beans. Dang all. The urge is strong. I need some snacks for the NFL Wild Card games as well, which are about to start. I’ll go to Safeway right now.

In the car at 10am, back in the kitchen at 10:30 with beans, Cheez-It, water, Spicy and regular V8 juices and some nuts. The Chiefs and Ravens are still in the first quarter with no score.
Ready, set, cook.

be_skillet-egg-bread-beansHere we have my Le Creuset cast iron non-stick skillet over a medium-low flame, a square of buttered bread, a Marin Sun Farms egg and that just-purchased can of Bush’s Smokehouse Tradition Grilling Beans.

be_fry_breadPut the bread in the skillet, buttered side down and let it fry a bit.

be_add_beansSpoon some beans into the skillet around the bread.

be_add_eggWhen the beans are nice and bubbly, slide the egg on top of the bread. This was trickier than I expected… the bread wanted to float. I held it down with a tablespoon, slid the egg into the bowl of the spoon and slipped the spoon out. Cover the skillet.

be_cook_eggCook for about two-minutes and cooks up nicely but the yolk remains all nice and runny.

be_eat_beansEat those beans and that egg with the remainder of the bread slice, toasted. That’s just what I dreamed about. Yum.

Chili: A New Year's Meditation

Base Recipe:
For 6 Servings plus leftovers;
(items in parentheses are optional):

(2 lbs. meat)
1 lb. onions
1 to 6 cloves garlic
3 Tablespoons fat
(1 lb. vegetables)
(1 lb. dry beans)
3 to 6 Tablespoons chili powder
(1 to 2 Tablespoons standard spices)
(1 to 2 teaspoons aromatic spices)
2 quarts liquid
(1 to 3 Tablespoons acid)

(starch substrate)
(your favorite condiments)

–Soak beans overnight in plenty of water;

–In a pot big enough to hold everything and then simmer for hours, brown the meat in 2 Tbsp. fat;

–Fry the chili powder and spices (and flour if used as thickener) with the browned meat for about 30 seconds, then set meat/spices aside;

–Add remaining 1 Tbsp. fat to pot and saute the onions over medium heat, scraping the meat/spice fond from the bottom and sides of the pot, until the onions achieve the desired shade of brown;

–Add chopped garlic and any vegetables to sweat until heated through;

–QUICK CHILI: Add soaked beans and liquid and simmer until the beans are cooked (1 to 2 hours);

–FULL CHILI: Add liquid, simmer 2 hours to soften the meat, add soaked beans and continue simmering until beans are done (1 to 2 hours);

–Serve over your favorite starch substrate with your favorite condiments


For many years, on New Year’s Day, following the lead of my Father in some ways but heading in my own direction too, I’ve cooked chili. Lots of chili. I’ve tried many recommended recipes, but over time I’ve figured out that the very best way to do it is to find THE BEST ingredients that could go into a chili, and then create a new recipe around that. This year, in 2010, I made chili verde because we grew tomatillos in our garden and had frozen some at the end of the season; and I made a dark chili using beef heart and home grown beans. Both were outstanding, especially with a splash of Navarro verjus just before serving (see “ACID” below).

Let’s face it, more than almost any other meal, “chili” as a recipe is much more of a concept than a specific dish. Any recipe that ostensibly originates as a one pot dish from the Hispanic Southwest US (chili con carne = meat and pepper stew), yet has famous versions in Cincinnati (without chili powder!), New York, and Los Angeles, is inherently mutable.

That said, it’s still got a specific personality: a stew made in one pot that has meat and/or beans in it, and it should feature the namesake ingredient — Capsicum annuum — in one, several, or all of its glorified forms (sorry Cinci). And that’s pretty simple in concept: fry some meat, add spices, add onions and veg, add stock and beans, let bubble, and you’re done. It being that simple, there are millions of variations, all of them inevitably labeled “The Best…” or “The Ultimate…” or even “Traditional/Original/Authentic…”
Continue reading