Rainbow Valley Farms Cheese Gnocchi with Fresh Peaches & Pulled Pork

Quiessence at The Farm at South Mountain

Quiessence at The Farm at South Mountain

Quiessence at The Farm is a magical place. Hundred year old trees line the property, and it’s as if you’re transformed into another state. A farm literally in the middle of the city.

Quiessence at The Farm Tasting Menu

Quiessence at The Farm Tasting Menu

I was lucky enough to snag a reservation for the last dinner service that Quiessence’s previous chef was cooking. Chef Greg LaPrad has moved to Sonoita and opened his own restaurant in wine country. Before he did, I was able to experience a lovely dinner that included 7 courses, with my favorite being the Rainbow Valley Farmers Cheese Gnocchi with Fresh Peaches from Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek and Pulled Pork from the Meat Shop in Phoenix.

Rainbow Valley Farmers Cheese Gnocchi at Quiessence

Rainbow Valley Farmers Cheese Gnocchi at Quiessence

Usually when you think Gnocci, you think a heavier, sauce filled dish. Just having in Italy, it was a refreshing surprise to eat this lighter take on the pasta. The juices from the peach created a light sauce with the sage and butter.

The best part of the dish is that the gnocchi is made entirely of cheese – there is no potato.

The dish paired perfectly with the Gruet Blanc de Noirs from New Mexico.

Gruet Blanc de Noirs from New Mexico.

Gruet Blanc de Noirs from New Mexico.

Tonight we will be back at Quiessence for it’s soft opening as we experience the new menu, look and creations by Chef Dustin Christofolo (formerly Head Chef of The House at Secret Garden) and Chef Sacha Levine (formerly Sous Chef of Rancho Pinot and FnB).



Mac & Cheese Throwdown 2013 #MNCT2013

Mac & Cheese Throwdown 2013

Mac & Cheese Throwdown 2013

What do I love more than going to dinner and getting mac and cheese? Going to an entire event where my whole meal is mac and cheese! The two fine ladies of Girl Meets Fork Marketing & Media and Diya Marketing put on the Mac & Cheese Throwdown (they also do the Grilled Cheese Throwdown) every year. Every year, I am out of town or have another commitment the day of the events. This year I blocked my calendar and was on that ticket sales link like crispy bread crumbs on my bowl of chz to make sure I got 2 tickets to the always sold out event.

Now it’s your turn! They have some tickets left, so join me on November 17 at 4 pm as we frolic through a night of cheese, booze and full tummies.

Tickets here: http://girlmeetsfork.com/events/mac-cheese-throwdown-2013/

The line up of chefs will be:

Chef Michael O’Dowd, Renegade by MOD
Chef Michael Rusconi, Rusconi’s American Kitchen
Chef John Marchetti, District Kitchen & Wine Bar
Chef Eddie Castillo, AZ Food Crafters
Chef Jeff Caswell, EVO Scottsdale
Chef de Cuisine Richard Garcia, Hotel Valley Ho
Chef Joshua Yazzi-Mclane, 5th and Wine
Chef Kevin Janeski, Tom’s Thumb Market
Chef Nicholas Galakatos, Twisted Rose Winery & Eatery
Pauline Martinez, Owner of Perk Eatery

I am excited because a lot of these restaurants I haven’t been able to make it to yet, so will be a great introduction for me to go back!

Spicy Red Sauce and Tattooed Arms

The agony continues back in the states; missing wandering the streets of Italy, drinking wine from decanters any hour of the day and basking in course upon course of pasta and cheese.

With my husband begging for a glimpse of this bittersweet memory, I decide to treat him to his favorite meal – Baked Eggplant Parmesan. If you would have asked me 3 years ago if I would eat the green, slimy vegetable, I would have scrunched my nose faster then you could finish the question. Alas, for love, I have learned how to cut the vegetable, get most of the goo off, cook it and dress it on a plate for an hour (or usually 10 minutes) of smiles while he devours.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan Recipe

Baked Eggplant Parmesan Recipe

If you have the time, it’s a great meal to fill the house with smells of Italy. What has made the dish even better, is finagling the secret recipe from my husbands’ family for a red, spicy sauce.

Cheese you ask? Only the best fresh mozzarella to complete this dish.

I’ll give you my recipe for baked eggplant, but you’ll have to kill me for the sauce.


  • Large eggplant
  • Salt
  • Italian Bread Crumbs (or breadcrumbs, basil, red pepper, salt, pepper, etc.)
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • Pasta sauce (hint: use fresh garlic and some red pepper please)
  • Slices of mozzarella (I use a whole log from Trader Joes)


Slice the eggplant so you have ¼-in slices of circles. Lay out on paper towels and soak excess water from eggplant for about 20 minutes (more time is better to get crispier).

Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium heat.

Mix breadcrumbs, parmesan, salt and red pepper in one bowl. Beat eggs in another bowl. Lay out more clean paper towels to begin frying.

Dip eggplant slices into the egg, then breadcrumbs and drop into the oil. Cook on each side for about 3 minutes or until a golden brown.

After all pieces are fried, layer a casserole/baking dish with red sauce. Add four eggplants. Top with mozzarella slices, red sauce and another eggplant slice. Continue until all eggplants are in the dish. Layer with leftover mozzarella and sprinkle with parmesan.

Place in oven at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes until the dish is bubbling and the cheese is fully melted, sliding to the sides.

Thank Ashley later.

Pasta the Italian way

We did it. Tied the knot. Hitched the wagon. Took the plunge. Bought the cow. Dropped the anchor. GOT MARRIED.

Now that the crazy families of ours have headed home, we ventured off to our honeymoon. Two weeks in Italy – Rome, Florence & Venice.  I have never been to Europe, but knew that if I never get the chance again I have to go to Italy. Pasta, wine & cheese while roaming the streets and shopping…really, it’s all I need.

Roaming Venice

Roaming Venice

If looking for a shop in Venice to buy meats, cheese & wine for exploring go to this shop.The owner was incredibly nice, giving us samples and even opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate the day. Yes, that is all he needed as an excuse.

If looking for a shop in Venice to buy meats, cheese & wine for exploring go to this shop.The owner was incredibly nice, giving us samples and even opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate the day. Yes, that is all he needed as an excuse.

While you think you cannot go wrong in Italy with food, beware of the tourist traps that have guys standing out herding you in. Even if you’re starving, wait to get off of the beaten path and find a place that is actually about making the food, not just serving tourists. We ate at over 20 places while venturing, but a few cheesy dishes I still cannot get off of my mind.

Lasagna in Florence

Lasagna in Florence

The first comes from a hidden neighborhood restaurant that we were told we had to try. This place was so hidden, not even the cab driver knew where it was. Some family that had recently been to Rome told us we had to go though if we wanted a real Italian meal.

We entered the tiny restaurant and were greeted by an old man eating his dinner. We were being true Americans by trying to be seated before 8 pm, but were starving after exploring all day.

Il Timoniere was a stop on Anthony Bourdain's Rome episdoe

Il Timoniere was a stop on Anthony Bourdain’s Rome episode

“Bourdain,” he asked? Maybe it was the over sized camera and map we were holding, but even so he said it with a smile, unlike many natives would do. We shook our heads yes, and were escorted to a table. Part of what brought us to Il Timoniere was a prior visit from Anthony Bourdain during his No Reservations stint. He proudly pointed to a picture of him and Bourdain on the wall, as he told the chef they had customers and quickly returned to play the episode:


Il Timoniere in Florence

Il Timoniere in Rome, Italy

He didn’t speak a lick of English but we were fine with it. We asked him to bring us anything and everything – we wanted to try it all. He laughed with us as at the episode (his daughter had discrepancies with one of Bourdain’s dinner guests) as the food began to flow.

After alicette fritte (fried anchovies), baked buffalo mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto and endless wine poured from his built in wine barrel (you can see behind Bourdain at about 3:40 mark), we were served the dish we were told to order no matter what.

Fettuccine alla carbonara fiori di zucce. So rich. So perfect.

The pasta done al dente, the egg, the prosciutto, the wilted zucchini flowers,  heaven. The mixture of the egg and zucchini sauce with the freshly grated parmesan snowing over the mound of noodles was exactly what I envisioned when I thought Italian.

Il Timoniere Menu in Rome where Anthony Bourdain ate.

Il Timoniere Menu in Rome where Anthony Bourdain ate.

Fettuccine alla carbonara fiori di zucce from Il Timoniere in Rome

Fettuccine alla carbonara fiori di zucce from Il Timoniere in Rome

Our second experience was in Florence. We had heard that we had to visit the Italian hippy that the celebrities loved to dine with. Ristorante la Giostra a Firenze was in walking distance of our hotel, the perfect night tour of neighborhood domas.

La Giostra in Florence

La Giostra in Florence

La Giostra is covered in photos of Dimitri’s travels (the chef/owner who is rumored to be a Habsburg prince), celebrity friends who have visited the restaurant and eclectic knick nacks covering the crannies. The restaurant is offset by crisp white tables with single candles, plenty of space for food and wine. We were coincidentally sat at a table that had photos of Dimitri on a motorcycle tour through the Grand Canyon. We were also treated with him as our server for the night. We chatted with him about his trip and fell in love with La Giostra before a morsel even touched our lips.


The dimly lit table is your escape for the evening, as they want nothing more than for you to stay as long as you wish, with their motto being “The very slow food…the best!” You start your dinner with a complimentary flute of spumante and primi of crostinis.

Primi of crostinis at La Giostra

Primi of crostinis at La Giostra

Pasta and steak followed, with my first gnocchi dish eaten in Italy.

Each pasta was hand rolled and cut, covered in a melted ricotta and spinach sauce. Gnocchettini alla ricotta spinaci.

Gnocchettini alla ricotta spinaci at La Giostra in Florence

Gnocchettini alla ricotta spinaci at La Giostra in Florence

We left overbearingly full, but filled with a memory of the prince with the metal bangles on his wrists.

I will update this post later with a full list of the restaurants that we ate at and ratings on them if I can get all the Yelp & Foursquare check-ins!

Mac & Cheese Burritos

Mill Avenue took a hard hit when the economy tanked with half the shops and restaurants closing one after another. Over the past couple of years, there has been a decent amount of activity again, with more Mom and Pop types re-opening. Mill Avenue has always been the college nightlife hotspot, but what it has turned into is also a business lunch hideaway and happy hour gathering. 

Whenever we spot a new opening on Mill, our office is on it like Amanda Bynes calling celebs ugly on Twitter. We started noticing the corner by Hippie Gypsy on 6th Street slowly transforming into something that looked like a sun deck and counted the days until we read an article on Phoenix New Times Chow Bella as to what was coming.

We were hesitant to go, because after about the first week the Yelp reviews were more than horrid.  C.A.S.A Sunba was not a 4 star experience by any means, but as I searched the internet for their menu (since they don’t have a website – wtf), had to force everyone to go when I saw the glimpse of gold in the muddy water.

A macaroni and cheese burrito. Yes, you read correctly. It comes in a tortilla with creamy macaroni and sprinkled with a southwest seasoning. I opted in for green chilis (after learning they were not New Mexican, but not canned) and added in shredded pork. For only $6 this bad boy filled me up for lunch with plenty to take back to the office.

CASA Mac and Cheese Burrito

CASA Mac and Cheese Burrito

The restaurant is odd with the new portion mainly outside and then the rest is down the sidewalk at the old Chronic Cantina. The service was alright, but not quick enough for a lunch break, so this filling burrito of queso will have to wait until I need a sobering treat when on Mill.

Steak, Potatoes & Cheese

If you read my initial post on More Chz Plz, you would know that there would come a time when Donovan’s Steak House macaroni & cheese would acquire another mention. Donovan’s is where my love for a thick, juicy filet began but what keeps me coming back is the amazing service.


Donovan's Filet

Donovan’s Filet

Located in the Biltmore area, my bosses love to visit the steak house every few months. They know the staff and General Managers so well that they were given a plaque with their last name for whichever booth they are seated in. Then joins Ashley to the mix, miss little macaroni. My bosses couldn’t understand why I didn’t want a seafood tower and rather a side dish of macaroni.

Donovan's Baked Macaroni

Donovan’s Baked Macaroni

Donovan’s creates the dish from scratch, casserole style. Smoked cheddar, bacon and crusted bread crumbs are all baked and served right out of the oven. Macaroni isn’t the only cheesy dish that I have to order every time I dine though. Another from scratch dish that I crave just writing about are the Au Gratin Potatoes.

I love making Au Gratin at home, so I know how much time goes into making the side dish. The potatoes have to be sliced thick enough so they don’t fall apart after cooking, but thin enough so that they still melt in your mouth. Donovan’s hand layers with plenty of Gruyere cheese and bakes until a perfect golden brown.

Order all of the above and you will have plenty of leftovers for a reminiscent lunch.


Modern Macaroni – Classic Dish

I’m in the PR world and love to attend networking events to keep in touch with other locals in the industry, swap war stories and garner advice. One group that is very active on Facebook decided to have an in-person meet up at Modern Steak, a Fox Restaurant Concept.

Modern Steak was one of the many long-distance date spots that my fiancé and I had before he took the plunge and moved back to Arizona, so it has a special spot in my heart.

Not only do they have great steaks and optional at-your-own-table baked potato bar, but the happy hour menu is phenomenal. So much great food for the price. What is something on this menu, making it relevant for this post, but of course a baked classic macaroni and cheese with smoked cheddar.

Mac and Cheese from Fox Restaurant Concepts

Mac and Cheese from Fox Restaurant Concepts

To me there are many different ways to make macaroni, and Modern Steak had it just how I like it – creamy sauce that slips through your fork with a crunchy top.  Baked in a medium sized metal dish, the macaroni is finished with a crispy brown bread crumb.  The dish is served with a spoon for a reason – even for the cheap price, there were at least 3 of us scooping at the creamy shells.

UPDATE: Since last visiting Modern Steak, the restaurant unexpectedly closed. As we have seen from Sam Fox restaurants that pop up, we can only hope a similar concept with these amazing side dishes appears again soon.


Citizen’s of Macaroni

Seeing old friends is always a refreshing stance during the hurried, work-filled weeks. Catching up on lives that have all changed so much puts into perspective how quickly time passes without a sudden care.

I had been to Citizen Public House before for a Valentine’s dinner with the fiancé. Although, I usually hate set menus, I enjoyed each course; just never made it back to the dim-lit, upscale and cozy pub.

The setting last week was for the well known crafty cocktails, appetizers, and talk about the future.

The Citi-Zen handcrafted cocktail was my drink of choice. Made with Absolut Pear vodka, Domaine de Canton, ginger liqueur, housemade sweet & sour.The best part is the rock candy that doubles as a martini stirrer.

Pork Belly Pastrami with a Brussels sprout sauerkraut, Burrata and Chicken & Waffles made it to the table to share. We couldn’t be satisfied without a couple orders of the Bernie’s Mac and Cheese as well.

Citizen Public House Macaroni and Cheese

Citizen Public House Macaroni and Cheese

Cavatappi is not my favorite pasta, but it was cooked well so no complaints. I couldn’t tell if it was the Emmental as it can become spicy when aged, but the M&C had a bite that I loved. The Gorgonzola and tomato relish gave it the savory component that had us order two more bowls for the table.

We ended the night with the peanut butter dessert and smiles.

After I left, I kept thinking of the rock candy in the Citi-Zen and the elementary science experiments when I had home made. For all of you who never had a rad teacher who showed you how to make rock candy..here’s your rock candy recipe:

Homemade Rock Candy recipe

Homemade Rock Candy recipe


  • 1 cup of water
  • 2-3 cups of white sugar
  • Food coloring
  • Wooden skewers
  • Clothes pins
  • Champagne flutes or a mason jar
  • Pot to boil water


  1. Boil the water and add a quarter cup of sugar until all is dissolved.
  2. Clamp a skewer with a close pin near the top, dip in the simple syrup, then roll in sugar. Place in flute or glass jar to dry.
  3. After cooling the simple syrup add to your flute/mason jar. Then use a generous amount of food coloring to each glass. The more the better for the sugar to catch the color. Make sure the skewer is in the middle of the class and not touching the bottom.
  4. Wait 3-7 days, then break the top of the sugar with a butter knife. Hang it upside down to get excess liquid off. Package for a later day or enjoy!

Cheesy Valentine’s

Prequel: I have a fiancé and he will be mentioned in many of these posts, but as JRS.

Present time: Valentine’s Day. A day for wasting money to prove your love. Don’t take that last sentence as if I don’t love receiving delivered flowers at work. Just a statement that I recognize now that I’m older.

JRS and I had multiple things to celebrate last weekend and decided to have an early Vday dinner at the new Chandler steak house CHoP. It is owned by the same creators of The Living Room and Sushi Room. Walking in, it reminds me of The Keg. Hostess in short FBD, with an immediate view of the simple, modern steakhouse engorged by a large bar. It was super busy so it is evident that South West Chandler needed something of the sort. Long story short, I ordered the mac and cheese even though there were multiple options to accompany my filet, because obviously it’s the right choice. This decision is prior to this blog, so no decent pic to share. #morechzplz rating? It was a four out of five. Not the bees knees best, but definitely good enough to come back for. The tender and perfectly cooked filet next to it may have flawed my judgement.


This dish inspired my day of Valentine’s dinner cooking with the following mac and cheese side to accompany our own filet and lobster meal:

Inspired by the Chandler, AZ steakhouse.

Inspired by the Chandler, AZ steakhouse.

Preparation for two (with plenty of leftovers).

1.5 cups of shell macaroni
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup half-and-half (or more milk)
1.5 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1.5 shredded jalapeno jack cheese for some bite
3/4 cup breadcrumbs

Cook macaroni following package directions. Drain in a colander and rinse with hot water; set aside.

Butter a baking dish. Heat oven to 350°.

In a saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Stir flour into the butter until smooth and bubbly. Stir in the dry mustard, salt, and pepper. Gradually add milk and cream, stirring constantly. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add cheese and continue to cook and stir until melted.

Combine the macaroni and the sauce and pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs and bake for about 25 minutes, or until hot and bubbly and topping is lightly browned.

Second day reheat still magnificent.

More Chz Plz: The inception of a highly caloric blog

Who doesn’t love cheese? From the time I was a toddler my most memorable dishes included the gooey, creamy substance.

Recently I noticed that I have fallen into the habit of craving the ingredient a certain way; paired with macaroni. Previously, it was not a surprise for Ashley to hoard unnecessary amounts of The Blue Box in her kitchen cabinets. Over the past couple of years, an addiction to order macaroni and cheese at Donovan’s steak house (or of the sorts) has become a norm.  One could worry, considering this aging broad is getting married in two months. But, for me, it was a chance to once again spark my writing and share with the those reading my experiences of the most simple, yet comforting food.

This blog will share my experiences from others menu’s with a sprinkle of my own creations at home. Feel free to send tips my way if you think I missed any of the best versions… because you know I will go, try and write.

Posing with Macaroni in Santa Monica, CA

Posing with Macaroni on Santa Monica, CA pier