By Leslie Kelly
September 16, 2015

Cooking inspiration can hit anywhere, right? I was thunderstruck at my nephew's recent wedding reception. How is it that I've never before had cheesy hash brown casserole? It was on the incredible buffet of down-home comfort food dishes served after the vows and before the cake cutting and some Boot Scootin' Boogie. All the food was fab, but those cheesy hash browns? It was love at first gooey bite.

650 x 465 102672827 hash brown and egg casserole photo by Meredith

As soon as I got home from the wedding weekend, I started the search for a way to recreate that dish. Naturally, Allrecipes has tons of great hash brown options, but I wanted to put my own spin on it. How about a double dose of kind of contrasting cheese? Yes!

Aren't we fortunate to live during a time when you can find something like smoked gouda at the supermarket? That's what I grabbed after work one night, determined to experiment. Using my go-to, very grownup mac-n-cheese recipe from the great food writer Marian Burros, one committed to memory long ago, I swapped out the cooked noodles for the frozen hash browns, blending them into the easy-to-make, hot pepper sauce-spiked cheddar cheese sauce. Then, a mix of equal parts shredded smoked gouda and panko bread crumbs were tossed together in a bowl and piled on top. A beloved Lodge Cast Iron mini casserole pan was a perfect size for a two-person serving, and I love that it's wide and shallow, so there's more surface area for crispy bits to form.

From prep to table, the project took less than an hour, and it disappeared in a flash, served alongside leftover roast chicken. The smoked gouda was really good, but I can't wait to play around with more cheesy combos.