Now that I’ve got that admonition out of the way, here’s the rest of the post…
It’s the holiday season, and we’re really excited to be able to throw a holiday party for friends this year– had to skip 2020, of course. Traditionally we go all out when it comes to food, and this time I was looking for a vegetarian dish– something warm and filling, with a flavor profile that went along with the rest of our (admittedly meat-heavy) spread. I focused my search on caramelized onions (a favorite) and came across a recipe for jumbo pasta shells stuffed with a cheese and onion mixture that sounded right up my alley. The original recipe called for chicken or beef stock, but I replaced it with vegetable stock with no ill effects.
I’ll admit that this is a bit time-consuming– slicing the onions, even with a mandoline, took long enough that my eyes were tearing up a decent bit, and caramelizing them took a full 30 minutes. Once the onions were done, however, the rest of the recipe was pretty simple– just stir up a filling, stuff the cooked pasta shells (boiled while the onions cooked), and whisk together a sauce before putting it all in the oven. I will say that the finished dish– while delicious– is just a tiny bit lacking when it comes to being a main dish. I think it needs a touch more heft to really hold its own, but since I can’t think of anything I’d add, I’ll just plan on using this as a side dish for future dinner parties.
So apparently a year or two ago, this recipe (or a variation thereof) swept the internet with its simplicity and deliciousness, and I just missed it. But I discovered it recently and have promptly added it to my slate of weeknight dinners, because it’s just that easy and just that good. Basically, you chuck a block of feta and some cherry tomatoes into a baking pan, roast them for a bit, then toss in some cooked pasta and basil and you’re basically done.
With a sprinkle of crushed red pepper and some garlic, the finished dish is pretty fantastic, even if it’s not the most attractive thing in the world. The feta is creamy and salty, the tomatoes are bright, and you get an extra kick from the pepper to go along with the slightly sharp garlic (it’s barely cooked so it retains that sharpness). I will totally be making this over and over again!
I used farfalle, but any pasta shape would work pretty well here, I think. Just make sure there’s enough space in your roasting pan to add and toss your pasta, or you lose some of the convenience!
For my daughter’s woodland party I couldn’t *just* do sweets, so I made a few savory themed treats as well– case in point, this hedgehog-shaped cheese ball. Because who doesn’t like cheese?
I went with the standard sliced-almond technique for the spines, and for flavoring I took inspiration from recipe online and used half a package of dried onion soup mix as my main mix-in. With a few other additions for extra kick, it turned out creamy and flavorful, and went well with crackers. As an added bonus, any leftovers can be spread on toast and broiled for a delicious snack, or melted over pasta for a more substantial meal!
I think I may have mentioned before that I love appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. Just love them. My favorite kind of work event is one where they serve drinks and “heavy appetizers” or “passed hors d’oeuvres,” because I know that there’ll be something involving cheese, bacon, or some kind of pastry… sometimes all three. So naturally I like to have a few recipes for similar items in my repertoire for when I want to host my own delicious event.
This particular recipe was born out of the need to come up with something that I could make ahead of time and that would be able to survive for several hours in a hot car before being served at a casual barbecue. That meant most cheese- or meat-based items were out, and any fresh vegetables were similarly not going to work. I decided that the best option was something with puff pastry, and once I noticed the half-empty package of fresh baby spinach slowly wilting in my refrigerator, the decision was made!
Anyway, I also know that I write about way too many of Smitten Kitchen’s recipes, but they always look and sound so amazing on Deb’s blog that I can’t help myself. So you’ll have to forgive me if I post about another one now– a recipe that’s going to become a weeknight staple at my house for sure. I could’ve put off posting about it until I’d had the chance to make a more photogenic version, but it’s so good I knew you’d want to try it ASAP.
Deb calls it a Taco Torte and she adapted it from the Mom 100 Cookbook, but “torte” just sounds too fancy for what is actually a very homely, comforting dish. And it doesn’t just have a bunch of vegetables in it (enabling me to call it “healthy” despite the cheese all over it)– it’s actually vegetarian and full of flavor, making it a great dish to serve to any audience!
I fried up a bunch of bacon last week to make a savory bread pudding (for the record, it was kale/bacon/onion bread pudding and it was amazing), and found myself with almost half a cup of leftover bacon fat. I poured it into a ramekin to chill in the fridge, and set about trying to figure out what I could use it in.
With the advent of chillier weather, biscuits seemed to fit the bill nicely. I decided to substitute chilled bacon fat for butter, and to punch up the flavor with some wilting green onions and some cheddar cheese I found in the fridge. Basically these biscuits were a delicious way to use my leftovers, and they turned out wonderfully!
When I was a kid my dad would occasionally make eggplant for dinner– he’d slice it lengthwise, put some kind of seasoning on the cut side, and roast it in the oven until the insides went all brown and mushy. I thought it looked disgusting. This was not aided by the fact that Dad would tell us that the brown part in the middle was actually a giant worm that lived inside every eggplant and was extra tasty when cooked. Ugh!
That story put me off eggplant for a while, honestly, and while I eventually recovered enough to enjoy eggplant parmesan and Chinese-style eggplant with spicy bean sauce and pork, I never really felt the urge to make eggplant myself.
That being said, when my local farmer’s market had a $1/lb. deal on eggplant, I decided it would be worth a shot to get myself a bagful. After a little digging online, I found this recipe, originally from Giada de Laurentiis but re-blogged by Smitten Kitchen. I tried making it with a few substitutions (canned tomatoes instead of the more expensive freshly roasted cherry tomatoes, omitting the pine nuts because I didn’t have any in my pantry), and it was pretty darned good! I decided to tweak it a little more to make it amazing, and the resulting recipe is something I’m definitely going to put into the rotation.
So I mentioned the post-Christmas brunch we hosted earlier– along with sweets we also had several savory items, including a trio of delicious savory tarts. I was originally only going to make two– cauliflower and onion, and apple and fennel– but ended up having extra cauliflower, onions, and pie crust, and didn’t want to let it go to waste. The tarts didn’t turn out perfectly (cracks in the crusts allowed egg to leak through, making the bottoms soggy), but they were pretty tasty and provided inspiration for future recipes!
Okay, so “Butternut Squash with Gouda” isn’t exactly the most exciting name for this dish, but I couldn’t think of anything better so there it is. Besides, while the name may be boring, the recipe is anything but– it takes a few simple ingredients and combines them into a rich, flavorful, autumn-centric (new word!) dish. You get tender chunks of butternut squash, mixed with sweet and savory caramelized onions, a hint of sage, a creamy strata of gouda cheese, and it’s all topped with a crunchy layer of toasted panko. It would make a fabulous side dish for this year’s Thanksgiving.
So despite the lack of a photo of the finished product (the above picture is pre-baking) this is a really good lasagna recipe. Hot sausage, gooey cheese, just enough spinach to make you feel virtuous… what more could you ask for? Seriously, it’s great, which is why it’s my go-to recipe to bring to new moms and dads who have just come back from the hospital and are too worn out to cook. In fact, I made this one for two friends (and baby makes three!) who are just now emerging from their haze of sleep deprivation and late-night feedings, so I hope they enjoy it! This is also why I don’t have a picture of the cooked dish.
Even if you don’t have a new baby, of course, this is a hearty, delicious dish for autumn and winter dinners. I took a few shortcuts with regard to some steps (jarred sauce is just fine for something like this!), so you could conceivably make this on a weeknight if you started early. I prefer to make it on weekends, though, and take the (ample) leftovers to work for lunch to combat the Monday blues!