Have you ever made spaghetti squash? How weird is it when you cut it open, start scooping out its innards, and find that the rumors are true; that it really looks like spaghetti?
Spaghetti Squash is one of the many wonders of food that has always baffled me. How does that little yellow guy naturally shape his squashy interior to resemble pasta? Why isn’t spaghetti squash just one big block o’ squash like other squashes are? Whatever the reason, you’ve got to admit, it’s pretty awesome. Mother nature has a few tricks up her sleeve, no doubt.
Spaghetti squash, like most other squashes, is a nutritious blank canvas just begging to be transformed into something extra special. Lately, on Pinterest, I’ve been seeing folks do just that: they take spaghetti squash and make it into decadent cheese-filled casseroles. We’re talking seriously drool-inducing recipes. The only problem is how fattening and calorie-cramming those dishes are. Isn’t there a way to make a tasty, cheese-tastic squash bake without all that bad-for-you stuff?
I am just about as Polish as they come. People constantly point out my “round polish face,” I’ve been raised on real, homemade potato pancakes, and I have a small tattoo written in Polish. When I was younger, I used to think being Polish was boring. I had friends who were Irish, Scottish, Italian, and even Native American. I felt like Polish was equivalent to a boring white crayon in a box of colorful cultural crayons.
As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized how important is it to embrace who you are. Plus, I learned how awesome it is to be Polish; I mean can you really argue with a culture that’s known for its pierogies? There have been a few times in my life when I was lucky enough to enjoy fresh pierogies, handmade from scratch. It’s not an everyday affair because the pierogi-making process takes quite a bit of time and effort. Unfortunately, the only person willing to do so is my grandmother. God bless her. When you taste one of her tender homemade pierogis fresh from the frying pan, you wonder how you ever went on for so long eating the pasta imposters from the freezer section of the grocery store.
Now, I’m a college student, so the chances of me churning out homemade pierogi any time before summer break are slim to none. So what am I to do when my Polish roots start craving some pierogi? The answer is simple: make Pierogi Casserole.
This dish is a blessing. It lets me have all the goodness of a pierogi in casserole-form. It’s essentially a pierogi that’s been deconstructed, stripped down to its individual elements and put back together to resemble some sort of lasagna. Only this is much better than lasagna. We’re talking a rich, mashed potato filling that’s stuffed with melted cheese, fried onions, and butter then layered with lasagna noodles. So, you’ve got that classic pierogi filling and the pasta shell that cradles it, broken down to exist as a layered casserole. It’s a pan-full of heaven: mounds of cheesy, starchy, buttery goodness. Is it indulgent? Yes. Is it good for you? That’s debatable. No, it’s not great for you physical health, but comfort foods such as this do wonders for the mind.
Grab a plateful of this Polish pierogi dream and treat yourself. The best dishes are worth a bit of over-induglence.
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
Serve with some veggies to balance out the meal.
This recipe is easily doubled to serve a crowd.
Make-ahead dish alert: assemble the casserole earlier in the day, then bake when you’re ready to eat.
You can use a different kind of potato if that’s all you have, but the Yukon Golds are highly recommended. They’re so buttery, tender, and delicious, perfect for this casserole.
Note: You can easily cut down the butter in the mashed potato mixture to 1/2 or 3/4 of a stick.
Check out my video to watch Reese and I whip up this delicious casserole!
8 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into fours
1 medium onion, chopped
4 oz. velveeta cheese, cubed
1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus more for topping
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 pound lasagna noodles
1 1/2 sticks of butter (note: you can cut down the butter used in the mashed potato mixture to 1/2 or 3/4 of a stick if you like)
1/4 cup milk or cream
Preheat oven to 350.
Peel potatoes and chop into quarters. Set them in a large pot and cover with water, allowing it to come to a boil. Boil potatoes until tender, about 30 minutes. While potatoes are boiling, cook pasta according to directions, and once drained mix with two tablespoons of butter. Set aside.
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of butter and saute chopped onion until soft and lightly golden.
Drain potatoes and mash with one stick of butter, garlic, and cheese. Make sure no lumps remain. Add milk to loosen, if desired. Fold in onions.
Spread out 1/2 the pasta in a large baking dish sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, cutting down noodles as necessary. Spread 1/2 the mashed potato mixture over top. Top with the remaining noodles and another layer of mashed potatoes. If desired, top with more cheese and onions. Cover and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. For the last ten minutes of cooking, remove the cover. This is best when served immediately, but still tastes good after being in the fridge for a day or two.
Wagon wheel pasta is really great. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, because up until last night, I hadn’t even fully understood myself. You see, when I make any form of pasta, wheels basically never pop into my mind as an option. I think of penne, fettucine, and orrechiette. Sure, wheels seem fun, but they never quite fall under my pasta-making radar.
About a week ago, while I was grocery shopping, I spotted a box of wagon wheels in the pasta aisle. I could almost see them rolling along in the box as a sudden impulse took over and I thought, “I must do something with wagon wheels.” This realization pestered me like a little voice in my head until, at last, a pastatunity* presented itself. I was dying to make mac and cheese without a recipe for the first time, and I needed the perfect pasta for the job.
Enter the wagon wheels.
I should’ve never doubted these circular little guys. I mean, just look at them; they’re adorable! Simply gazing upon a bowl of these cheesy wheels is enough to put a smile on your face. But if you really want to be spilling over with joy, then you’ve got to eat them too.
I hate saying things like, “This is the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had,” because then you’re just like “yeah, whatever.” Nevertheless, I feel you have a right to know that this is my favorite mac and cheese I’ve tried. I’ve tried countless recipes, and I’ve had some delicious ones no doubt, but I could never quite get it perfect. Turns out, all I had to do was ditch the recipes and cook from my own mind.
I have a special tale for you today, my little cookies, one of marvel and splendor. They say there is a fantastical world where healthy and indulgent come together as one; a place where foods bountiful in nutrition simultaneously provide comfort and pleasure. Every bite boasts an utterly sinful amount of deliciousness, while also giving your body the nutrients that it needs. Imagine a plate of cheese fries filled with all your daily vitamins, or a pepperoni pizza that keeps you free of illness. Delicious and nutritious can at last be together in this wondrous world of food.
It all sounds too good to be true. But this is not myth, my little cookies. This is real.
Well, okay, so maybe not the part about the vitamin-filled french fries or the immunity-boosting pizza, but I would not kid you about being able to have food that is packed with nutrients, but is first and foremost downright delicious. This wasn’t something I really intended when I created this dish. My first concern was making something tasty and comforting. It happens to be pure luck that this Kale & Sweet Potato Pasta with Two Cheeses is both indulgent and nutritious.
Let’s not mince words here; mac and cheese is awesome. I won’t say everyone loves the stuff, but almost everyone does. This is unsurprising when one considers that mac and cheese is merely that: a combination of pasta and cheese, two foods beloved by all. Mac and cheese is purely food for the soul. We don’t eat it to nourish, and we sure as sugar don’t eat it to be fit and trim. We eat mac and cheese because it tastes good and, in turn, it makes us feel good too.
I am on a never-ending journey through all of the mac & cheese variations floating around in the recipe universe. Who knew there was such a plethora of ways to prepare pasta and cheese? You can bake it, make it stove top, build a roux, and don’t even get me started on the different pasta shapes and flavors of cheese available.Will I ever try all of the variations on mac and cheese in existence? Probably not. But if I should find a handful of honestly good recipes in an attempt to do so, then I think I’ve accomplished something.
This 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese is the best I’ve tried to date. Often times, I find homemade mac and cheese to be dried out or not cheesy enough. This mac is neither or those things. The sauce is so creamy dreamy that it takes your tongue to a place of euphoric enjoyment. There is no lack of sauce or even a hint of dryness. It’s luscious and indulgent, with such a creamy sea of sauce that you’ll think you just dived into the Great Comfort Sea.
Another year has brushed passed me just as quickly as a stranger on a busy street. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, with both good and bad memories now in the bank. The very best thing to happen to me in 2011 was the birth of Smart Cookie. I believe my life has truly changed as a result. I’ve been able to take my devoted passion for food and channel it into something that I can share with the world. I can only hope that 2012 will allow me to continue my mission in bigger, tastier ways. I would love for Smart Cookie to continue to grow while I grow as both a chef and a writer. Food and I are bound together in a life-long journey. Hopefully, it will lead to a career that will allow me to share my love for food with the world on an even grander scale than I do now. Regardless of what 2012 brings, I will continue to bring you daily deliciousness. I hope you’ll follow Smart Cookie into the new year & the years to come!
So with that, let us ring in the new year right with my 12 absolute favorite recipes of the year.
I’ve had a lot of spinach artichoke dips in my day. In fact, I’d say I’m a Spinach Artichoke Connoisseur of sorts (it’s a legit title). This classic creamy dip is my go-to appetizer of choice at just about any restaurant. It’s always a bit of a gamble to order though; you never know what you’re going to get.
I’ve had spinach artichoke dip that’s killer and spinach artichoke dip that nearly killed me. Mostly, I’ve had dip that’s average. Generally speaking, it’s hard to make a bad spinach artichoke dip (notice I say “hard;” not “impossible”). I mean, it’s spinach and cheese in a creamy dip. It’s difficult for such a combo to become an epic fail.
But that’s not enough for me. Mediocre doesn’t cut it in my book; I want a spinach artichoke dip that’s supremely delicious, the kind of creamy perfection that would be served at a party in heaven. (Do they party in heaven?)
White Christmas? Psht. What you really need on Christmas day is a pan full of this luscious white mac and cheese. Its cheesy white surface is speckled with fresh parsley like fallen evergreen branches, resembling a wondrous wintery scene.
This mac and cheese is decadently cheesy and creamy thanks to the Fontina’s impeccable melting quality. The mascarpone also lends a hand to make this the creamiest, dreamiest mac ever.
Now, I’ve got a confession for you little cookies. I messed up on my first go-around with this mouth-watering mac. You see, I made it for Thanksgiving and there were too many dishes for our small oven. So, I pre-baked it then tossed it in again later when there was room to warm it up. I wound up cooking it longer than I was supposed to. Bad idea.
The once beautifully smooth and plentiful cheese sauce dried up like a prune. It was like it was never there at all, vanished into thin air (or slurped up by the monster that lives in my oven). No joke; there was no sauce to be seen, just naked penne. My gracious family ate it all the same. Sure, it was dry as a bone, but it had good flavor. However, I was determined to redeem myself.
So, the next night, I completely remade the sauce, poured it over the barren leftover pasta, and baked it for the correct amount of time this time. When I pulled out the bubbling pot of pasta blanketed in a sea of creamy, snow white cheese sauce, I rejoiced. Simultaneously, I kicked myself for not properly following the directions the night before. This was what should’ve been present at my Thanksgiving table, this glorious vessel of smooth and bountiful cheese.
It’s not what you think. I didn’t throw corn kernels into a vat of vanilla pudding. That’s disgusting. You naive corn pudding virgin!
If you’ve had corn pudding before, then you know the name is not to be taken literally (unless you really have eaten corn in pudding; in which case, you’re gross). Corn pudding is sweet, tender corn baked in a thick, custard-like sauce (notice I didn’t say pudding-like). The top and bottom get beautifully caramelized, giving the outside of the pudding a wonderful bite that leads into the creamy corniness beneath. It is sweet, savory, and delicious.