I'm a native Texan with a passion for good food and Texas history. Tex-Mex is a way of life for me, and so is baking!
Why do I call it miraculous? Because my husband ate it. “That’s not a miracle!”, you say – unless you know James.
My husband has an aversion bordering on phobia of most things cheese. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, as he’ll eat pizza, cheeseburgers, and cheddar and crackers. But if you put fondue, alfredo, movie theatre nachos – pretty much anything with a cheesy ‘sauce’ in front of him, he turns green around the gills and holds his nose.
On one of our first trips together back to the US after living in England, I made the mistake of having him try Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. You know what I’m talking about – the blue box. He didn’t swallow, he gagged, and from then on, referred to the stuff as ‘The Ming’. If you know a Brit or two, you know that “ming” typically refers to anything that’s dirty and gross. Imagine hearing that every time you want a little bit of mac and cheese!
So now I think you can understand why James eating the mac and cheese in that photo up there is darn miraculous.
We had several friends over for Labor Day weekend, one of whom is vegetarian. Now, I’m Texan. Vegetarian is a foreign enough concept there, in Beef country, that some people actually think it means you don’t eat beef or pork – but that chicken and seafood are fair game. And they look at you funny for just that. Imagine my grandmother’s reaction when she met Natalie and found out that this person doesn’t eat any kind of meat, ever. Heehee!
Originally we were supposed to meet everyone for dinner, and after that everyone would come back to our house to stay for the weekend. Plans changed, we ended up having lunch out, which meant I had to figure out in a hurry what to feed five people dinner with very different food likes and dislikes.
So what’d I do? I opened up Pam Anderson’s Perfect One Dish Dinners. I happened to have everything on hand not only for the Shells and Cheese, but for the pulled chicken sliders Pam recommends as a side pairing too. Add a salad (we did Caesar) and we were good to go! I could keep my vegetarian AND my cheese hating husband happy.
The shells and cheese recipe was stupidly easy, and went together even quicker than my mother’s old standby that used velveeta and milk. I used Cabot Private Stock cheddar cheese, which is the closest to proper English Cheddar we can find in this country (according to James) without paying the imported prices. Plus, anything from Vermont is good.
I think using the Cabot cheese is what really lured James over to the dark side. He has an exception in his cheese rules for a good strong cheddar, and the recipe Pam gives us is not very sauce like – each shell is perfectly cheesy, but not in a goopy way.
Folks, I can’t say enough about this book. I’ve made four recipes from it now, and each one is as good as the last. It really saved me over Labor Day weekend, especially when vegetarian mains are not normally my forte. You should pick it up today.
Pam Anderson’s Shells and Cheese for Everyone
from Perfect One Dish Dinners
1 pound medium sized Pasta Shells (we used whole wheat pasta)
1 pound grated sharp Cheddar Cheese (Use Cabot, you won’t regret it)
1 container (16 oz) Cottage Cheese
1/2 c. finely grated Parmesan
1 container (16 oz) Sour Cream
Freshly ground Black Pepper
1 cup plain dry Bread Crumbs (we used Panko)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Parsley
3 tablespoons Butter, melted
Make sure oven rack is in the lower middle position and heat oven to 350F degrees. Coat 13×9 baking dish or dutch oven (I used my Le Crueset dutch oven) with cooking spray.
Following package directions, cook entire box of pasta until just tender.
Mix cheeses and sour cream in a large bowl. Add the hot pasta and toss to coat thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste and transfer to casserole dish.
Mix bread crumbs, parsley, and butter together in a small bowl, and sprinkle evenly over the shells and cheese. Bake 30-35 minutes until the casserole is bubbly and crumbs are golden brown.