Jeff’s Special “Bacon and Crispy Brussels Sprout Mac and Cheese”

When Jeff came to me with this idea, he had literally no intention of creating a recipe for the blog and was purely concerned about dinner that night. We had a ton of Brussels sprouts to use, three slices of bacon in a forgotten pack, pasta, and a block of Monterey jack cheese, and you would’ve thought he had just found the answer to life’s biggest question when he pronounced that this was what he wanted to make for dinner. Fortunately, it turned out amazing, so I had to share.

You start by quartering the sprouts, dousing them in oil, salt, and pepper and roasting at 425. While those crisp up, cook your pasta according to package instructions and brown up some chopped bacon until crispy. The sauce comes together with some of the rendered bacon fat, a few spoonfuls of flour, milk, and the cheese, plus some seasonings as well.

This dish is simple, comforting, and can be catered towards many different diets depending on the variety of pasta and dairy products you choose to use. Of course, nothing will ever replace the pure indulgence that is bacon fat, real pasta, real cheese, and whole milk, but I’m confident this will be just as amazing if you use a gluten free pasta variety, dairy-free milk, or vegan cheese. I can’t say anything about leaving out the bacon though, that’s a personal matter.

I hope you guys give Jeff’s Spesh a try and post all the photos so he can see how many people love his culinary endeavors- I know I do! If you do make this, don’t forget to tag me @theardentcook on Instagram!


1lb short pasta, such as macaroni, casarecce, or penne

3 slices thick-cut bacon (or more if you have it, Jeff says), diced

1/2 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, cleaned and quartered

2 TBSP reserved bacon fat, or butter

2 TBSP flour

1 cup whole milk

1 cup Monterey jack (or similar) cheese, grated

Olive oil, for greasing

Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 425 and bring a pot of water to a boil.
  2. Clean and halve or quarter Brussels sprouts, depending on their size, and place on a sheet pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast until charred and crispy, about 20 minutes.
  3. Cook the pasta according to package instructions.
  4. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet or saucepan over medium heat, brown bacon until just crispy.
  5. Transfer bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel and remove all but 2 TBSP of bacon fat from the pan.
  6. Whisk in 2 TBSP of flour, stirring constantly until a thick roux forms. Allow the roux to brown for about 2 minutes, being careful not to burn it.
  7. Stir in milk and whisk until the roux dissolves. Add cheese and stir again until it has melted and the sauce is cohesive. Taste for salt and pepper and add accordingly.
  8. Pour cheese sauce over cooked pasta and add in half of the cooked bacon. Fold to combine.
  9. Top pasta with the crispy Brussels sprouts, additional bacon, and fresh cracked black pepper. Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Strawberry & Pineapple Crumble Bars

The more I do this, the more I notice that some of my better recipes are born out of complete chance. Take these bars for example, which were created out of a lack of almond flour. I set out to develop these bars as a gluten-free dessert option, which I have gotten a lot of requests for after releasing my Sour Cream & Cheddar Biscuits and Double Chocolate Scones, both of which are very much not gluten free.

I wanted to incorporate a mix of almond flour and a gluten free one-to-one baking blend, but realized halfway through adding ingredients to my bowl that I only had half the amount of almond flour I had planned on using. Insert: walnuts and a high-speed blender. I just eyeballed the amount of walnut halves I thought would make roughly ½ cup and pulsed them until they resembled coarse flour.

In retrospect, I think any nut flour would work in this recipe, with the exception of coconut flour. Coconut flour is a whole different beast, absorbs liquid at insane rates, and simply won’t work in this recipe. Other than that, feel free to get creative with your nuts in this crust. Macadamia, walnut, almond, maybe even pecan would all probably taste delicious and offer similar effects when combined with the gluten-free flour blend.

As far as fruit filling goes, I personally love the combination of fresh spring strawberries with the pineapple. I happened to have a ton of frozen pineapple and fresh berries that were on the verge of going bad, and the combination ended up being exactly what I was looking for. Sweet, with a hint of tropical, and a little vibrance from the freshly-squeezed lemon…. Yum! This recipe is versatile in that you can use whatever fruit you want, and it can be frozen, fresh, or a mixture of the two. Totally up to you, as long as the amounts remain the same (2.5 cups fruit, total).

In the realm of desserts, this one is pretty healthy, but definitely not shy in the flavor or satisfaction departments. I hope you enjoy this one, and don’t forget to share and tag me @theardentcook on Instagram!


For The Crust:

½ cup almond flour

½ cup ground walnuts (see recipe notes above)

1.5 cup gluten free flour blend (use a cup-for-cup option)

⅓ cup coconut sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp almond extract

11 TBSP butter, cold

½ tsp cinnamon

For The Filling:

1.5 cups strawberries, crushed or cut into smaller pieces

1 cup pineapple, crushed or cut into smaller pieces

¼ cup coconut sugar

4 TBSP fresh lemon juice (about ½ lemon)

1 TBSP gluten free flour blend 


  1. Cube cold butter into ½ in cubes.
  2. Combine almond flour, ground walnuts, gluten free flour blend, coconut sugar, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. Whisk to combine. 
  3. Using your fingers, work butter into the flour mixture until it is broken down and incorporated. The dough will look coarse and crumby. 
  4. Add eggs and fold to combine, creating a moist dough. Gather dough into a ball and cover with a damp paper towel or dish towel. Chill for at least 30 minutes
  5. While the dough chills, make the filling. Combine fruit, coconut sugar, lemon juice, salt, and gluten free flour blend in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  6. Bring filling to a boil, then simmer for another 5-7 minutes, until thickened. Transfer to a  bowl and cool in the fridge while you bake the bottom layer of crust. 
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide chilled dough in half. Using your fingertips, press the first ½ of the dough into the bottom of a 7×11 inch glass baking dish lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 minutes. 
  8. When the first layer of dough is finished baking, add the cooled fruit filling on top. Crumble the remaining ½ of the dough on top of the filling in an even layer. Bake the entire pan for an additional 25-30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and the top is golden brown. 
  9. Let bars cool completely before slicing. Serve as is or with a side of vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

Vegetarian Bolognese

Bolognese is one of my favorite Italian dishes. The creamy, slow-simmered, and caramelized flavors offer the perfect balance of comfort food, elevated. I know that the entire concept of this vegetarian recipe is sort of sacrilegious, in that bolognese is literally a sauce made from meat. But you’ve got to trust me, this recipe is delicious!!

I chose to use white wine in this recipe rather than the traditional red wine. I felt that it really complimented the mushrooms, and overall lends to a more subtle flavor profile that a robust red wine would overtake. If you only have red, it will totally work, so don’t fret. But the white is really great in this case.

The mirepoix, a mixture of onion, celery, and carrot which is a foundational ingredient combo that originated in French cooking, is chopped using a food processor or high-speed blender to mimic the size and texture of ground beef pieces. The same technique applies to the mushrooms. If you don’t have a food-processor or blender, you can definitely achieve a similar texture chopping by hand, although it will take more time.

A few notes about the aromatics- the mirepoix and garlic in this recipe are mandatory in my opinion. You can get away without the bay leaf or nutmeg, however they do add dimension to the recipe, especially the nutmeg! I was the lucky recipient of a hand-me-down fresh nutmeg grinder from my Dad, which is why I call for fresh nutmeg in this recipe. You can find the whole spices at many grocery stores, but you may have better luck at bulk, specialty spice stores. If you find whole nutmeg and don’t have a fancy-dancy grinder like me, you can also grate it on a microplane. Or, just ignore me and use the pre-ground stuff.

This recipe is truly unique, and I really enjoy the mushrooms as a meatless alternative to a classic dish. I hope you love this riff on an old favorite, and if you make it, share your photos and tag me @theardentcook on Instagram!


2 TBSP olive oil, plus more

1 3.5oz container cremini mushrooms 

2 celery stalks

1 medium yellow onion

1 medium carrot

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup dry white wine 

1 6oz can tomato paste

1 Bay leaf 

Fresh nutmeg, a few turns 

2 cups vegetable stock 

⅔ cup heavy cream

⅓ cup pecorino romano, or similar cheese, plus more for serving

Salt and pepper, to taste

1lb short, holed pasta, such as rigatoni or penne, cooked Al dente


  1. Make your mirepoix. In a food processor, pulse celery, onion, and carrot until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl, then pulse mushrooms separately, until they are coarsely chopped, resembling the texture of ground beef. Transfer to another bowl. 
  2. In a Dutch oven or large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. When the oil shimmers, add mushrooms, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute for 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently. When mushrooms appear soft and some of their moisture has evaporated, push them to the outsides of the pot in a circle, leaving space in the middle clear. 
  3. Add mirepoix (celery, onion, and carrot mixture) to the clear space in the center of the mushrooms. Saute mirepoix for 4-5 minutes over the center of the pan, stirring frequently to avoid burning, until onions appear translucent and some of the moisture has sweat out of the mixture. Add garlic and stir for an additional minute. 
  4. Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook for 3 minutes, until some of the liquid has evaporated and it no longer has a pungent alcohol smell. Add entire can of tomato paste and stir to incorporate. 
  5. Add nutmeg, bay leaf, and another pinch of salt and pepper. Then add vegetable stock and heavy cream. Cook on low heat for at least 1.5 hours, if not longer. The liquid will reduce significantly and the sauce will become thicker and richer. Taste as you go and add salt and pepper as desired. 
  6. Once sauce reaches the desired thickness, stir in grated pecorino Romano and another swirl of olive oil. Serve over pasta immediately and enjoy with additional pecorino on top! 

Grain-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Cookie-Bread

I truly had no clue what to title this recipe when I tested it…..correction: I still have no clue. It’s kind of like a giant skillet cookie, but it also reminds me deeply of banana bread laced with creamy peanut butter and melty chocolate. Alas, it’s now called “Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Cookie-Bread.”

Despite the trouble in titling this dessert, I had ABSOLUTELY no trouble devouring it. It comes together in one bowl and can be baked in either your favorite cast-iron skillet or in a 9-inch round cake pan. It’s also super versatile when it comes to the add-ins. I used peanut butter, chocolate chips, and chopped toasted walnuts, but you could really use any combination of nut butters, nuts, dried fruit, or chocolate and it would taste delicious.

Per some requests to create gluten-free recipes, this cookie-bread relies on almond flour as its base. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t sub out any other flour variety in this case, as I found little success testing those. Another *important* note: this cookie-bread was tested using 2 whole eggs as well as 1 egg and 1 egg yolk. The two-egg version yielded a lighter, “bread-y” consistency (similar to banana bread), while the one-egg-one-egg-yolk version was slightly denser and gave off a gooey cookie vibe. Both were delicious, and it’s totally personal preference here. If you’re curious, the difference lies primarily in the fat-to-protein ratio, in that the two-egg version has a higher protein content from the extra egg white, while the egg yolk version has a higher fat content due to removing the egg white (egg yolks are primarily lipids). I love food science, so there’s your lesson for the day. If you wanted to test this protein/fat theory, you could sub the one egg yolk in that version for 1 TBSP of your choice fat (like butter or more coconut oil), and it would likely show similar results. But hey- I didn’t test that out, so don’t quote me.

Anyhow, make this recipe!! It’s honestly healthy enough to eat for breakfast. Or slathered with extra peanut butter, warmed in the microwave, and covered up entirely by a massive scoop of ice cream. But that’s just me.

As always, if you make this recipe, don’t forget to share it and tag me @theardentcook on Instagram!


2 eggs (or 1 egg and 1 egg yolk, see recipe notes above)

2 medium ripe bananas, mashed

⅓ cup salted creamy peanut butter (use natural for best texture)

⅓ cup coconut sugar 

2 TBSP coconut oil or ghee, melted, plus more for greasing pan

1 ¾ cups almond flour

½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

½ – ¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips

⅓ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped 


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9-inch cast-iron skillet or round cake pan with coconut oil.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine mashed bananas, eggs, peanut butter, melted coconut oil, and coconut sugar. Whisk to combine.
  3. Add almond flour, baking soda, and cinnamon, and stir to combine. Batter will be moist but not overly wet or runny.
  4. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts, and pour batter into skillet.
  5. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until middle is set and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cookie-bread comes out clean.
  6. Serve warm with a dollop of extra peanut butter and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!