Baked Pepper Jack Sticks


My feeling towards most savory foods is that, if it doesn’t have cheese, it ain’t good. Of course, this isn’t always true. But you would be hard-pressed to find something that isn’t better with a little bit of cheesy goodness.

In fact, the more cheese, the merrier. I always order extra cheese on my pizza, and yet it never seems to be enough. And my favorite meal ever is my Eggplant Parmigiana because it is loaded, stuffed, and oozing with mounds of endless melty cheese. It’s like a dream come true.

Naturally, for any cheese lover, fried cheese is the bomb. There is perhaps no greater way to experience cheese then breaded in a crispy suit of golden armor and fried until it reaches molten perfection. The standard fried cheese is mozzarella, chosen for its impeccable stringiness and mild flavor. But why not kick things up a notch with some hot and spicy pepper jack?

These Baked Pepper Jack Sticks were born from two things: my love for cheese and my need to use up a block of zesty pepper jack just waiting to come out of the fridge and party. But instead of frying it, I opted for oven-baking which provided the same golden brown crust and gooey interior as frying does, but without all the fatty oil and hassle.  Some of the sticks do bust open while baking, but that’s all part of the fun. In fact I most enjoyed the ones with cheese streaming out the edges; they were extra delicious.DSC_2557

The Panko breading is delightfully crunchy while the pepper jack is creamy and molten with that great spicy kick. If you like a little heat, this is a great change from the traditional mozzarella stick. I’m giving you a one-way ticket to ooey-gooeyville to enjoy an all-expense paid stay at melty resort. Only a fool would pass up a cheese-tastic opportunity like that. So close your eyes and take a deep bite through crispy, golden breading and straight to a sea of spicy pepper jack cheese; let it take you away to cheese heaven.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. These might explode a little while baking, but they’ll still taste fantastic, so don’t sweat it.
  2. Serve with marinara sauce or ranch.
  3. Check out my favorite twist on fried cheese: Fried Eggplant Parmesan Sticks.
  4. You can use regular breadcrumbs too. In fact, they’ll probably hold together a little better.
  5. If you don’t like spice, sub Monterey jack.
  6. You must double coat these or they will not hold together.


Baked Pepper Jack Sticks
By The Smart Cookie Cook


  • 16 oz. pepper jack cheese
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil.
  2. Cut the cheese into strips, about 1 inch wide and 3-4 inches long. Place the flour in a medium bowl, the milk and eggs in another, and the breadcrumbs and salt in a third. Whisk together the milk and eggs. Stir together the breadcrumbs and salt.
  3. Dip each cheese stick into the flour, followed by the milk mixture, and ending with the breadcrumbs. Make sure to entirely coat the cheese in each step. Repeat once more a second coat: flour, milk, breadcrumbs. Place on the baking sheet.
  4. Bake sticks 5 minutes then turn the oven up to broil and cook for another 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown. Enjoy!


Fried Eggplant Parmesan Sticks


“Got any more of those?”

That was the first Mother Cookie said after finishing the freshly fried Eggplant Parmesan Stick I gave to her to taste-test.

And for the rest of the night, as I finished frying the sticks, she incessantly inquired, “Got any more of those?”

That’s how good these babies are; once you try one, you can’t get it off your mind. I lost count of how many I ate throughout the night, which is probably for the better. They were just so heavenly, I couldn’t stay away. I can say without hesitation that these Eggplant Parmesan Sticks are one of the best recipes I have made to-date.

These are essentially darn good mozzarella sticks with eggplant inside. The concept makes perfect sense. Traditional Eggplant Parm is comprised of fried eggplant, marinara, sauce, and mozzarella cheese. So, classic mozzarella sticks are just missing the eggplant. Add that in, and you’ve got handheld eggplant parm. Mind blown.DSC_2503

What results is the most perfectly golden brown, crispy, crunchy breading encasing ooey, gooey fresh mozzarella cheese and tender eggplant that melts in your mouth after frying. Using fresh mozzarella makes a big difference here; it’s the gooiest stuff on the planet, creating the ideal stream of cheese that stretches from the stick when you take that first bite. Send the deep-fried dream for a dunk in some marinara sauce to bring the eggplant parm experience full-circle.

This is life-changing.

Forget what you know about mozzarella sticks; forget what you know about Eggplant Parm. This combines the best of both worlds, creating one of the most delicious finger foods you’ll ever enjoy. I can promise you that you will never eat a mozzarella stick this delicious from a restaurant, and I’ve tried a lot of mozzarella sticks in my day. The flavorful breading with just the right texture, the cooked-to-perfection eggplant, and that slightly sweet, amazing fresh mozzarella cheese are incomparable.

Best of all, don’t worry about battling with the deep fryer. We pan-fry these stove-top!DSC_2528

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Some of these will leak cheese when frying, but don’t worry. There will still be plenty of cheese left in there.
  2. You must use fresh mozzarella to get the full experience. This is not the same as regular mozzarella. The fresh stuff can be bought in the specialty cheese section of your grocery store.
  3. Want the best Eggplant Parmigiana recipe ever? I’ve got it right here.
  4. Leave out the eggplant for the perfect classic mozzarella stick recipe.
  5. This is a great way to get kids to try eggplant. Just tell them they’re eating cheese sticks, and they won’t care.DSC_2463

Eggplant Parmesan Sticks
By The Smart Cookie Cook


  • 1 fresh eggplant, skins removed
  • 20 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups seasoned breadcrumbs
  • Canola or vegetable oil, for frying
  • Marinara sauce, for dipping

Special equipment: toothpicks


  1. Slice the eggplant and mozzarella cheese into about 1-inch wide, 3-inch long sticks, about ½-inch in thickness (you don’t need to be precise; whatever looks like standard cheese stick size to you). Try to keep the cheese and eggplant the same size so they’ll hold together better when frying. Skewer each slice of eggplant together with a slice of cheese using a toothpick (you will remove this after frying).DSC_2466-3DSC_2466DSC_2465-5
  2. Put the flour in one large bowl, the milk and egg in another large bowl, and the breadcrumbs in a third large bowl. Whisk together the milk and egg.
  3. Use the toothpick to help you dip each stick into the flour and coat entirely. Then dunk and coat in the milk/egg mixture, and finally dunk and coat in the breadcrumbs. Repeat once more so that each stick is double coated. I don’t recommend doing a single coat because the cheese will leak through when frying.
  4. Place a large deep skillet over medium-high heat and fill about 1 1/2-inches deep with oil. Let it get good and hot, about 5-10 minutes.
  5. While the oil heats, line a baking sheet with paper towels and preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
  6. Gently place one breaded stick into the oil to test if it’s ready. If it sizzles, you’re good to go. If not, wait a few minutes more. Put about 6 sticks in at once, but no more. If you crowd the pan, the oil’s temperature will drop. If you can, place the sticks cheese side-down first. This will prevent the cheese from leaking later.
  7. Let each stick fry until golden brown then flip and fry the other side until golden brown. Once flipped, you should be able to gently and carefully remove the toothpick to make for easier frying, or you can wait until after it’s completely fried. Be careful not to burn yourself, and watch the pan because each stick will fry at a different rate.
  8. When a stick is good and golden brown on both sides, use tongs or a fork to remove it from the oil and transfer to the prepared baking sheet so the paper towels can soak up the extra oil. If you haven’t already done so, remove the toothpicks. Place finished sticks in the oven to keep warm while you fry the rest of the sticks. Serve with marinara sauce for dipping.DSC_2479

Healthy Cookie: Sweet Potato & Spinach Balls


I have very little self-control when it comes to delicious foods. Whether we’re talking about a basket of fries or a big bowl of mac and cheese, I just can’t put on the brakes. Unfortunately though, this predicament seems to only affect me around unhealthy, indulgent foods. Carrots or spinach? Not so much.

It figures that I have no problem inhaling inhuman quantities of foods that are bad for me, but I never have that problem with healthy stuff. Why can’t it be the other way around? Life is so very cruel. However, I did find an exception, a 100% healthy and good-for-me treat that I can eat dozens of without batting an eyelash: my Sweet Potato & Spinach Balls.DSC_1469-2

Oh man, I lose all self-control around these babies. Luckily, I don’t have to feel guilty gorging ‘em. Made with sweet potatoes, quinoa, fat-free ricotta, spinach, and more, these Sweet Potato & Spinach Balls are jammed-packed with nutrients. They’re hearty and rich in flavor, so they’ll fill you up and give you energy too.

I’ve got to say, these sweet potato-filled cuties are just as addicting as cake pops or chocolate truffles. It ain’t often I pick something healthy over treats like that, but in the case of these Sweet Potato Spinach Balls, I would .They’re chewy, lightly crisped on the outside, and creamy all at once. For something so simple, they are crazy flavorful. Serve them up at a party, give ‘em to the kids as a snack, or make a delicious lunch for yourself. Everybody will love these sweet and savory bites.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Kale would be wonderful in place of spinach.
  2. Try some delicious dip for these balls like marinara sauce or Alfredo sauce.
  3. Got leftovers? Just keep them in the fridge and heat ‘em up when you’re hungry. They taste just as delicious several days later as they did when you first made them.DSC_1429

Sweet Potato & Spinach Balls
By The Smart Cookie Cook


  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa rice blend
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • ¼ cup fat-free ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup egg substitute, like Egg Beaters
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste (I used 3 good shakes)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray liberally with nonstick spray.
  2. Place the sweet potatoes on a microwave-safe plate lined with paper towels. Use a fork to poke holes in the tops of the potatoes. Cook in microwave on high for 6 minutes. Flip potatoes and microwave for another 6-8 minutes, or until tender (stick a knife through the center of the potato to test).  Slice potatoes in half and let cool for a few minutes before removing and discarding skins.
  3. Place the potatoes a large mixing bowl and use a large fork to mash them up. Add all remaining ingredients and thoroughly mix together until all ingredients are evenly distributed. Be sure to break up the chunks of ricotta.
  4. Use your hands to roll tablespoons of potato mixture into balls. Be gentle; the mixture will be soft and sticky. Place balls on the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake 20-30 minutes or until just beginning to brown. They should be sturdy when you poke them. Carefully remove from tray and enjoy.DSC_1475

Mini Cauliflower Crust Broccoli Quiches


The coveted cauliflower crust ain’t just for pizza, my friends. We’re taking it to a whole new level today, expanding cauliflower crusts to the realms of brunch and appetizers. Because here at Smart Cookie, we think and eat outside the box, or in this case, outside the pizza.

My Mini Cauliflower Crust Broccoli Quiches are going to change the way you think about healthy brunch foods. When you go to a brunch, your healthy eating options usually include fruit, water, and maybe a nice floral arrangement. You’d likely see some quiche, but you wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole because regular quiche is several hundred calories per slice.

But guess what? My Cauliflower Crust Quiches will cost you around 200 calories for the ENTIRE RECIPE. Now, unless you have ten stomachs like me, I highly doubt you’ll need the whole recipe to satisfy you, so think of how guiltlessly you can gorge.

You can have as many of these crispy-crusted quiches with their tender filling, fresh basil, and melted mozzarella as you like; they won’t bite you in the butt after (or go straight to your butt, for that matter). They’re darn delicious and surprisingly filling thanks to the protein-packed eggs and fiber-rich crusts.

The magical cauliflower crust does it again!DSC_9555

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Find my classic Cauliflower Pizza Crust recipe here.
  2. My version of the cauliflower crust is much better for you than the majority of other cauliflower crust recipes because they use gobs of mozzarella cheese, which totally defeats the purpose of making it healthier than traditional crusts, and I use fat-free ricotta, a healthier low-cal alternative.
  3. Can’t find the low-fat cheese sticks I used? Sub in a sprinkle of parmesan instead.
  4. I imagine you could make this recipe into a full-sized quiche, but I’ll have to test that and get back to you.
  5. Use fresh basil. The flavor is incomparable. I am the first to admit, I HATE chopping fresh herbs, but once I taste the finale product, I know it was well worth it.DSC_9510

Mini Cauliflower Crust Broccoli Quiches
By The Smart Cookie Cook


For the Crust

  • 1 small head cauliflower, chopped
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tbsp. fat-free ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup Egg Beaters

For the Filling

  • 1/2 cup Egg Beaters
  • 1 bag Green Giant Broccoli Steamers
  • ½ tsp. minced garlic
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 50-calorie light mozzarella cheese stick (like Sargento), pulled into strings and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh basil, for garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a mini muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Place cauliflower in a large microwave-safe dish. Fill halfway with water then cover and microwave until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the cauliflower until it resembles the size and texture of rice. Use papers towels to squeeze dry as much as you can.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix together cauliflower, salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil, ricotta, and Egg Beaters until evenly combined. Make sure you break up the clumps of ricotta well.
  5. Press about a tablespoon of cauliflower mixture into each cup of the muffin tin, shaping it to the cup in an even layer. Bake until set and just starting to brown around the edges, about 15 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, cook broccoli according to packaged direction. Chop or puree in food processor to make smaller if you like.
  7. In a medium bowl, whisk together the Egg Beaters, broccoli, garlic, salt, and parmesan. When the crusts are done prebaking, spoon about 2 tsp. of egg mixture into each crust so that they are 2/3-full. Return to oven and bake for another 10 minutes, or until quiches are puffed and set, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. During the last few minutes of cooking, sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over top and let melt.
  8. Let quiches sit for one minute before using a fork to gently twist and loosen the quiches. Then use the fork and your fingers to carefully transfer the quiches to a plate and serve. Garnish with fresh basil.DSC_9576

Fried Mac & Cheese + How-to Video


The first time I ever tried fried mac and cheese was at a Cheesecake Factory. I knew it would be a sin to see the words “fried” and “mac and cheese” beside one another in some sort of glorious partnership and not order it. It was like Marvel’s The Avengers, assembling history’s greatest heros (and hottest actors); you can’t not go witness such an epic assembly.

Turns out, The Cheesecake Factory makes some stellar FM&C, and by stellar I mean oh-my-god-I-must-be-dreaming-somebody-slap-me-this-is-so-darn-GOOD. If you ever go to Cheesecake Factory, you must get yourself some fried mac and cheese. Period.

With just one bite, my world was changed. I love deep-fried food, wrong and unhealthy as that love may be, and adding to that repertoire gave me joy. From that bite on, I wanted to try making my own at home. I’m the Smart Cookie Cook; I could make my own Fried Mac and Cheese as good as or better than the old CF.DSC_9826

And so, I did. My Fried Mac and Cheese is one of the best things to come out of my kitchen yet, and it is going to rock your culinary world. Why is it so awesome? Because you get my cheesy Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac and Cheese encased in a delicious, crunchy, golden brown breadcrumb shell; That’s like having 360 degrees of breadcrumb topping!

I specifically designed the mac and cheese filling to be extra creamy and saucy so you aren’t overwhelmed by pasta. Instead, there’s tons of molten, gooey cheese and just the right amount of pasta to compliment it. You can make a whole batch of my Mac & Cheese to fry, or even better yet, you can make it for dinner the night before and turn the leftovers into these incredible Fried Mac & Cheeses the next day.

If you’ve not tried Fried Mac & Cheese yet, now is the time. It’s crunchy, deep-fried, creamy, cheesy heaven, and it tastes like a dream come true. Everyone’s favorite comfort food just got a whole lot better.

 A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. As I noted in the recipe, box mac and cheeses (and most other mac and cheese recipes) will not work well for the filling because the sauce dries up a bit while frying, and you’ll wind up with a lot of pasta, and not much cheese. I specifically made my Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac and Cheese for the filling so that it would still be good and saucy after frying.
  2. The seasoned breadcrumbs add a lot of flavor here, so don’t replace them with plain breadcrumbs or Panko.
  3. You can make a whole batch of my Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese for this like I did then chill it before frying, or you can make the mac and cheese for dinner one night, and fry the leftovers the next night. Just cut the frying ingredients in half.
  4. You MUST chill the mac and cheese until firm and solid or these will not hold together.DSC_9827-2

Fried Mac & Cheese
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Yield – about 2 dozen mac & cheese patties, the size of your palm (if you use the whole recipe of Mac  & Cheese)


  • Vegetable or canola oil, for frying
  • 1 batch Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese (recipe follows), chilled for at least 4 hours or overnight
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups seasoned breadcrumbs
  • Salt, for sprinkling
  • Optional: marinara sauce, for dipping

*I do not recommend using another recipe or boxed mac and cheese for this. I specifically designed that mac & cheese to be extra saucy so it won’t dry up when fried and isn’t too heavy on the pasta. Other recipes, and especially boxed mix, are likely to dry up and just be deep-fried noodles.


  1. Make Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese (recipe below). Let come to room temperature then cover and chill in fridge for at least 5 hours or overnight until firm and solid.
  2. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. Line another baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels. Set aside.
  3. Pour oil into a deep frying pan so that it’s 2 inches deep. Bring to medium-high heat.
  4. Meanwhile, put the flour, milk + egg, and breadcrumbs into three separate bowls (one for each). Whisk the egg & milk mixture together.
  5. Take a generous scoop of the chilled mac and cheese (it should be nice and firm) and form into a patty. It should be about the size of your palm. Dip it first in the flour, flipping it so it gets completely covered, then into the milk/egg mixture, and finally the breadcrumbs. You should completely coat the patty with each layer; you should not be able to see any mac and cheese underneath.
  6. Drop one breaded patty into the oil carefully. If it sizzles, proceed to put a few more patties into the oil (about 4 or 5 per batch). If the oil does not sizzle, it’s not hot enough, and you need to wait a few more minutes.
  7. Allow patties to cook until the bottom is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes, then use a spatula to gently flip and let the other side brown. Once both sides of patty are browned and crisp, use a spatula to transfer to the paper towel-lined baking sheet to absorb excess oil. The patties are fragile, so be gentle.Once you have a batch completed, transfer to the aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm while you finish the rest of the fried mac and cheeses.
  8. Sprinkle finished fried mac and cheeses with salt and serve immediately. Dip in marinara sauce, if you’d like.
    Extra Creamy 4-Cheese Mac & Cheese

    • About 12 oz. cavatappi or elbow pasta (use ¾ of a 16-oz. box, it doesn’t have to be exact)
    • 4 tbsp. butter
    • 1 tsp. minced garlic
    • 4 tsp. all-purpose flour
    • 3 – 4 cups heavy cream
    • 1 cup milk
    • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
    • 2 cups shredded Muenster cheese
    • 1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
    • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
    • ½ tsp. salt
    • ½ tsp. hot sauce
    1. In a large pot of salted boiling water over high heat, cook the pasta according to box directions. Drain.
    2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until translucent and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the flour so that it’s free of lumps and let cook for one minute, continuing to whisk.
    3. Whisk in 3 cups cream and all the milk until free of lumps. Cover and let simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Do not boil.
    4. Once sauce is thickened, whisk in all the cheeses, salt, and hot sauce until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Test taste to decide if you’d like any more cheese. If sauce is too thick for your liking, whisk in more cream, ¼ cup at a time.
    5. Turn off heat and immediately fold in pasta until well-coated. Enjoy some for dinner and cover and chill in fridge for frying the next day or cover and chill whole batch in fridge for 4 hours to overnight, until solid and firm. The longer you chill, the better off you’ll be.