Create: Decadent Side Dishes


Nutrition is trending, and my orientation is to nutritious, economical, well-tested, chef-driven but doable-at-home-by-mere-mortals recipes.

Photography by Janet Warlick :: Food Styled by Muriel H. Wilkins


However, as our editor Angela reminded me: A well-timed, once-in-awhile splurge is good for everyone. This is a splurge month. Let’s see – cheese, eggs, butter, cream – now, what are we making? Note: Each of these recipes are over the top with fat, salt and sugar. If this is your month for decadence, go for it. If not, all these recipes will also work with reduced quantities of the butter, eggs, cream, etc. Be sure to log on to for more recipes.

Five Cheese Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Above photo

Our editor’s pick for decadence, this pasta is combined with a formal, cooked béchamel sauce as well as the cheeses. My challenge is how to satisfy traditional cravings with fresh new ideas. So if mac ‘n’ cheese is inviolate on your holiday menus, and you would like to change it up a bit, venture out and try some different cheeses alone or in combination: parmesan, mozzarella, white cheddar, ricotta, Brie, Gruyere, fontina or even Gorgonzola.

  • kosher salt
  • 1 16-ounce package macaroni, cellentani or other curly noodle
  • ¼ pound bacon, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more to butter baking dish
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ cups grated fontina
  • ½ cup crumbled blue cheese
  • ¾ cup grated Gruyere
  • ¾ cup grated white cheddar (Australian)
  • ¾ cup grated parmesan
  • 3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13 inch glass baking dish. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain.

In a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot, sauté the bacon until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Sauté the onion in the bacon drippings until soft. Add the 5 tablespoons butter to the onion mixture. Melt the butter, stirring with a wooden spoon.

Using a whisk, add the flour and stir constantly until well mixed with the fat, making a roux. Whisk in the mustard. Gradually add the milk and cream, whisking constantly. Add the thyme, bay leaf and salt. Let come to a simmer, and stir frequently for 15 minutes.

Strain the hot milk mixture into a metal bowl; discard the solids. Working quickly, mix in 1 cup fontina, blue cheese, ½ cup Gruyere, ½ cup white cheddar, ½ cup Parmesan, the reserved bacon and parsley. Stir until all cheese is melted.

Add the cooked noodles to the cheese mixture to coat. Add the noodle mixture to the prepared baking dish. Mix the remaining cheese and bread crumbs and sprinkle on top of the noodles. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbling and golden brown. Remove from oven; rest for 5 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings.

Via Rick Massa, Food Network


Bourbon Whipped Sweet Potatoes with Five Spice Pecans

Here’s a way to take your sweet potatoes up a notch or two: top them with pecans that combine sweet and spicy to round out the flavor profile. Once you taste the pecans, you won’t miss the marshmallows. I promise.

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and dried
  • 4 tablespoons bourbon
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 medium shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

Bake potatoes until tender, about 50 minutes, at 375 degrees. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel — discard peels — and put the potatoes in a large mixing bowl. While the potatoes are cooling, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the shallot, garlic, rosemary, ginger and pepper and sauté until the shallot is soft and the mixture is fragrant, about 5 minutes. Beat potatoes with bourbon, remaining 2 tablespoons butter and onion mixture. Top with 5 Spice Pecans, recipe below, just before serving.

Yield: 4 portions

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine


Five Spice Pecans

To make these a bit spicier, add a pinch of red pepper flakes when melting the butter. Be sure to crush the flakes a bit to release the flavor and heat.

  • ¼ cup butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 cups pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add brown sugar, water, salt and spices; stir until sugar dissolves. Add nuts to sugar mixture, and cook until syrup thickly coats nuts, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.

Transfer nuts to prepared baking sheets. Bake until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Switch the racks of pecans with each other after 5 minutes. Be sure to watch closely, as it is easy to burn these. Can be made 3 days in advance. Store airtight at room temperature.

Submitted by Teri Thomas, Dallas, Texas


Three Uses for Four Cheeses: Mac ‘n’ Cheese, Risotto or Cannelloni

You can try these four cheeses in your favorite mac ‘n’ cheese recipe, use them in the following four-cheese risotto or to make cauliflower and broccoli cannelloni. Fontina or Gruyere would also work here.


  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 8 ounces shallots, minced
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup grated white cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Monterey jack cheese
  • ¼ cup grated mozzarella
  • Fresh basil leaves, garnish

Bring the stock to a boil into a saucepan. Reduce heat, and simmer. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and cook the shallots for 2 to 3 minutes until softened, but not browned. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, until the rice is well coated with butter.

Add a ladleful of warm stock. Cook gently, stirring until the stock is absorbed. Continue adding the stock, ladle by ladle, until the mixture becomes thick and creamy, and the rice is tender. This will take about 25 minutes.

Just before serving gently mix in the cheeses. Garnish with fresh basil leaves. Serve immediately before cheeses completely melt.

Variation: Just before adding cheese, stir in several tablespoons of sautéed mushrooms and/or a tablespoon of frozen peas that have been defrosted to room temperature.

Adapted from Risotto by Jenny Stacey and Kathryn Hawkins



This simple cauliflower-broccoli combination makes a tasty filling for ravioli, lasagna or cannelloni, or can simply be tossed with pasta or added to your favorite mac n ’cheese. You can add a formal béchamel sauce for decadence — or use the equally decadent faux béchamel that’s included in the recipe.

  • 3 stalks broccoli, stalks peeled
  • 1 medium head cauliflower
  • 3 tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • 7 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon dried chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • salt and black pepper
  • ½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • ¾ cup grated parmesan, divided
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, processed to a smooth puree
  • balsamic vinegar
  • 8 ounces crème fraiche or sour cream
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
  • 8 ounces pasta of choice – cannelloni, lasagna, ravioli, macaroni, etc.

Separate the broccoli and cauliflower into florets. Trim the stalks. Slice the florets and stalks, using the slicer attachment of a food processor, or slice finely by hand. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet with a lid over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add garlic, chili and thyme; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the sliced broccoli and cauliflower, sprinkle over 5 tablespoons of water, and put the lid on the pot. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are very soft, about 15 minutes. Remove the lid to let the watery juices bubble away, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and mash to a rough puree with a potato masher. Add salt and pepper to taste, then spread over a tray to cool quickly and let any excess moisture steam off. Once the mixture is cool, stir in ½ cup parmesan and toasted pine nuts.

The instructions that follow are for cannelloni, but feel free to adapt to your preferred pasta: Prepare the pasta according to the package directions. To stuff the cannelloni, use either a small spoon or a piping bag to push the cooled filling into the tube. You can substitute a plastic zip-close bag with the corner cut off, if you don’t have a piping bag.

Use a 13-inch by 9-inch or equivalent baking dish. Season the tomato puree with salt, pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and spread on the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange the stuffed cannelloni in a single layer on top of the tomato puree. Lay the basil leaves over the cannelloni. Combine the crème fraiche with ¼ cup of the parmesan and the heavy cream and spoon it over the pasta. Add a bit of freshly ground pepper and a drizzle of oil. Bake at 350 degrees until golden and bubbling, about 15 minutes. Garnish with snipped fresh basil leaves and serve hot.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Adapted from Books for Cooks 9, London, England



Alternatively, you might get your macaroni fix by opting for a noodle kugel. Kugels, which came with immigrants from Eastern Europe, were decadent at a time when sugar was dear. All recipes go through iterations — my husband’s grandmother, Sarah, wouldn’t recognize her recipe, which I have adapted to meet this month’s decadence standards. This noodle recipe is a riff on traditional mac ‘n’ cheese; it has noodles and no cheddar cheese, but lots of cream, and sugar.

  • 12 ounces broad egg noodles
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 3 Gala apples, peeled and coarsely grated on large holes of a box grater
  • 1 cup white raisins
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Boil noodles according to package directions. Drain, and put into a large mixing bowl. Pour melted butter over noodles. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs, sour cream, sugar, milk and vanilla. Stir in ricotta, raisins, cinnamon and apples. Pour over noodles; mix well. Lightly butter 9-inch by13-inch baking dish. Pour in the ingredients. At this point you can cover it and refrigerate it unbaked overnight; bake it and reheat it; or bake it and eat it. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. If the top noodles start to get too crisp, cover until done.

Makes a nice accompaniment to roasted pork or chicken, or as part of a brunch buffet.

Yield: 10 servings.

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