Shamrock Spinach Pesto Pizza + How-to Video

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As you’ll hear me say in today’ video, I ain’t Irish. However, I am a very festive individual, and I love going all out for holidays.

There is an exception, though. In the past, I haven’t given much love to St. Patrick’s Day, which is silly. Just because I don’t normally go all out on St. Patty’s Day doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have some awesome recipes for those of you who do.

Forget the same old corned beef and cabbage; we’re chowing down on pizza this St. Patty’s Day! Not just any old pizza of course, but a Shamrock Spinach Pesto Pizza. From its shamrock shape to its vibrant green color, this pizza is the definition of festive.DSC_1605

I bet you didn’t know pizza could have such Irish pride. And I bet you also didn’t know something so cute could be so easy to make. We start with a store-bought crust then cut out a simple shamrock shape: literally 3 circles stuck together. Then, to make up for the store-bought crust, we make our smooth Spinach-Basil Pesto from scratch. Don’t be afraid! All that means is you toss some fresh spinach, basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil, and a sprinkling of parmesan into the food processor and let it do its thing. You’ll save a ton of money not buying store-bought, plus homemade is so fresh and flavorful.

The only thing better than an adorable shamrock-shaped pizza topped with made-from-scratch robust Spinach-Basil Pesto is topping all that good stuff with ooey, gooey fresh mozzarella cheese. It’s got to be fresh mozz, not the pre-shredded mozzarella. If you’ve never had it, fresh mozz is a whole new world of stringy, mellow mozzarella heaven, creating melty, mile-long ropes of cheese straight out of your dreams.

I don’t know about you, but I’m drooling over this cheesy, flavorful St. Patty’s Day pizza. No need to wait until the actual holiday to make this cutie pie; get in the kitchen now!

A Few tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. You don’t have to make this for St. Patrick’s Day; just shape it like a normal pizza and eat it any time of year.
  2. This pesto is absolutely delicious, and it’s good for more than just pizza. Serve it over pasta instead of the same ol’ marinara, dip bread in it, top grilled chicken with it, and more.
  3. You will have some extra pesto, so try some of the suggestions above to use it up.
  4. If you get a shamrock-shaped cookie cutter, you could make a bunch of mini shamrock pizzas.
  5. Make sure you watch my video for helpful how-to tips.DSC_1577

Shamrock Spinach Pesto Pizza
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 store-bought pizza crust (I used Boboli Thin Crust)
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
  • 3 generous cups fresh spinach
  • 1 2/3-oz. package fresh basil, stems removed
  • ¼ cup walnuts
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 3 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
  • 6 tbsp. olive oil
  • About 12 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Place the crust on a cutting board. Use a toothpick to trace the shamrock shape: draw three circles overlapping in the center and a small stem on the bottom, taking up as much of the crust as you can. Use a sharp knife to carve out the shape. Gently remove excess crust and discard. Carefully transfer crust to an ungreased pizza pan.
  3. Add the garlic, spinach, basil, and walnuts to a food processor. Pulse until the contents are finely chopped. Add the salt, parmesan, and 2 tbsp. of the olive oil. Pulse until well-combined and smooth. Stream in 2 more tablespoons of oil until smooth, and finish with the remaining oil. Pulse until completely smooth. Taste-test to make sure it’s to your liking. It should be smooth and spreadable.
  4. Spread pesto onto the crust, leaving about 1/2-inch space around the edges. You will not need all the pesto; you’ll probably only want 2/3 of it.
  5. Arrange mozzarella slices in an even layer, using more or less to your liking. Fresh mozz goes a long way, so you don’t need to completely bury the pizza.
  6. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Let sit for 2 minutes then slice and enjoy.DSC_1580

David’s Ultimate Mac & Cheese

Thanks to Mother Cookie, I recently discovered the wonderfully delicious world of “In the Kitchen with David,” a segment that airs on QVC on Sundays at 12pm and Wednesdays at 8pm. It features an assortment of kitchen appliances, culinary gadgets, and everything else food-related you can imagine. It’s a foodie’s fun house, one that never fails to enchant me with all the culinary wonders. And then there’s the host, David Venable.

David is the definition of a foodie. Look up “foodie” in the dictionary, and there he’ll be, with his contagious grin spreading ear to ear as he dangles a forkful of his Ultimate Mac & Cheese just out of your reach. David towers at a staggering six-feet-tall, but he’s really just a big goofy teddy bear. He’ll have you smiling in no time with his famous happy dance and one-of-a-kind lines (ex: “It’ll make your tongue fly out of your mouth and hit you in the back of your head!”).

But David’s not just a jolly TV show host; That man loves food, and he knows a thing or two about it. If you don’t believe me, check out his cookbook In the Kitchen with David: Comfort Food that Takes You Home. It’s overflowing with delicious down-home recipes, all of which are perfect for the at-home cook. David himself is a home cook; he’s not pretentious or fancy-shmancy. He just likes to make food that tastes good.

There was no doubt in my mind that the first thing I had to try from of David’s cookbook was his Ultimate Mac & Cheese. Sweet baby Jesus, if you had just seen the photo next to the recipe, that was reason enough alone. But I was also enticed by the five kinds of cheeses. The more, the merrier! That’s the golden rule of mac & cheese.

By now, I must’ve tried at least a hundred mac & cheese recipes. To stand out, David was going to have to bring something spectacular to the dinner table. As expected from a fellow food-loving fool, David definitely did just that. His Ultimate Mac & Cheese is easily the creamiest and cheesiest of them all. It didn’t dry out while baking or suffer a critically uneven sauce-to-pasta ratio like most baked mac & cheeses do. On the contrary, this was overloaded with so much ooey, gooey, creamy cheesy sauce that my mind exploded from cheese-induced euphoria. Alas, my need for cheese has been satisfied!

Step aside, pasta. There’s a new star in town, and its name is 5-Cheese.

David’s Mac, besides being the product of my golden brown, cheese covered dreams, is also wonderfully flavorful. There’s no gimmick like brown butter or truffle oil made by unicorns; this is down-home, rich and gooey mac & cheese made with all the right ingredients. It’s the epitome of comfort food. Not to mention, it would make a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving table.

David, I’m definitely doing a happy dance.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Over-baking is the easiest way to dry out a mac, so make sure you pull it as soon as it’s warm in the middle.
  2. Don’t like David’s cheese choices? Sub in one of your own instead.
  3. Breadcrumbs are optional. They weren’t in David’s original recipe; I just felt the need for a golden brown bed of crunchtasticness (sometimes, I make up words).
  4. For those of you intimidated by roux-making, this is the mac for you. No roux required!
  5. This is a very rich mac & cheese. Don’t complain, just enjoy. Indulging every once and a while is okay!

David’s Ultimate Mac & Cheese
Adapted from “In the Kitchen with David: Comfort Foods That Take You Home”

Yield – 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 lb. cavatappi or penne
  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded Monterey Jack
  • 8 oz. Velveeta, cubed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 3 tbsp. butter, melted

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 4-quart casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add 1 tablespoon of the salt and the pasta and cook until al dente (tender but still firm). Drain and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, heat half-and-half in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Just before it starts to boil, remove from heat.
  4. Whisk the eggs in a bowl, then whisk in 2 cups of the half-and-half (this will keep the eggs from scrambling). Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan and whisk to combine.
  5. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups cheddar, all the mozzarella, 1 cup of Monterey Jack, Velveeta, and parmesan. Add the milk. Put back over medium-low heat and whisk gently until completely smooth. Whisk in garlic powder, onion powder, and remaining 1 tsp. salt and pepper. Do not let boil.
  6. Fold in pasta then pour into baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top. Stir together breadcrumbs and melted butter then sprinkle over pasta. Let bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until golden brown, bubbling, and hot in the center. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.


Video: Why Eating is Better Than Exercising

Eating and exercising are exact opposites. Eating gives you calories (usually against your will), while exercising burns them up (usually also against your will, but you do it anyway to make up for eating). I have never been one of those exercise enthusiast; on the contrary, I’m a die-hard foodie who would much rather burn calories lifting my fork and chewing than walking. I prefer working my tongue muscles to my arm muscles. Even if you love exercise (which never fails to baffle me), you can’t deny that eating is one of the most enjoyable things we do. We don’t do it just because we need food to live; we do it because it’s awesome and food is delicious.

I’m not knockin’ exercise. In fact, I work out every single day. But I’d be lying if I told you I loved exercising as much as my other daily activity: eating. When it comes down to it, there’s no contest. Eating is leaps and bounds better. Asking me which I’d rather do would be like asking a kid if they want candy or asparagus. I’m sorry; I like my food.

However, I will say that it’s my love for food which makes exercise a necessity. You need both essential E’s in your life, no doubt. But I’m not questioning the necessity of eating and exercise; I’m saying that, if given the choice between chowing down on a good cheesy pizza and running on the treadmill, I’m gonna plant my face into a pizza.

…And then I’ll probably throw myself onto the treadmill to burn off some of those calories, but that’s beside the point.

Moral of the story? Eating is better than exercising. If you don’t believe me, allow it to prove it to you in the video below!

Feeling like you need some delicious & healthy recipes to make up for you eating over exercising preference? I’ve got you covered! Here’s a few of my favorites:

  1. 2-Ingredient Chocolate Banana Ice Cream
  2. Avocado Hummus
  3. Cheddar Quinoa Veggie Burgers
  4. Chickpea, Feta, & Spinach Marinara w/ Penne
  5. Guilt-Free Pizza Party
  6. Hearty Black Bean Sweet Potato Veggie Burgers
  7. Light Eggplant Rollantini
  8. Light Summer Pasta Ricotta & Fresh Veggies
  9. Stuffed Sweet Potatoes, 2 Ways
  10. Roasted Eggplant Hummus

Find even more healthy recipes over at the Healthy Cookie Page!


Smart Cookie College Cuisine: Easy Blush Penne Chicken Bake

I don’t normally take requests on Smart Cookie, the main reason being that I have a never-ending list of foodspirations: the recipe ideas I create or stumble upon that I vow to make in the future. My list is always growing, leaving little time for anything else.  However, I was happy to make an exception for a friend of mine who asked for easy, inexpensive recipes she can make at college. She told me she’ll most likely be responsible for the brunt of the cooking in her dorm, but what she didn’t realize is that The Smart Cookie Cook will be there to help.

Without further ado, I would like to introduce you to Smart Cookie College Cuisine: a new series that will feature easy and inexpensive recipes that can be made in your dorm’s kitchen, no sweat. Being in college is hard; the last thing you need to worry about is dinner. This series will take the stress out of collegiate cooking. However, these recipes aren’t just great for undergrads; they’re perfect for easy weeknight meals to feed your family.

lf you’re looking for simple, inexpensive, and downright delectable, Smart Cookie College Cuisine has got you covered.

Since Smart Cookie already provides a plethora of of easy, convenient recipes, I was ready for this challenge. I put my smart cookie brain to work and created this creamy, cheesy Easy Blush Chicken Bake: tender pasta and juicy chicken coated in a rich & creamy parmesan blush sauce, then baked underneath a blanket of melty mozzarella cheese. Sounds fancy, right? Well, don’t be fooled.

Here’s what makes this meal easy, inexpensive, and college cooking appropriate:

  • Store-bought rotisserie chicken saves time and hassle. You don’t have to cook it or fuss with it; it’s ready to eat! Don’t worry; it’s cheap too.
  • The sauce starts with Progresso Recipe Starters Creamy Parmesan Basil, a new product from the soup company. You save time, avoid extra ingredients, and you get a smooth, flavorful sauce out of it.
  • It takes little time to throw together.
  • You can assemble it ahead of time, head off to class, then come back and bake when you’re ready to eat.
  • It’s hearty & filling.

With this recipe, you’ll save time and money. Any level of cook can handle making it, but the results are so impressive that you’ll fool your roommates into thinking you’ve graduated from culinary school. It’s a comforting and hearty baked casserole that will fill you up after a long day of classes.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Got a vegetarian roommate? Leave out the chicken or keep it on the side.
  2. It doesn’t matter if you’re in college or not; this meal is great for any family. It’s hearty, nutritious, and will feed many mouths.
  3. Leave the mozzarella off the top to save calories.
  4. Cut in half if you’re only making this for two. Or make the whole recipe and freeze half.
  5. Serve with garlic bread. Yum!
  6. Buy two chickens when you go grocery shopping and save the extra one for making sandwiches the next day.
  7. You can skip the baking and serve straight from the pot if you’re short on time.
  8. Find Progresso Recipe Starters with the soup.
  9. Multigrain pasta is a bit more expensive, but also more nutritious and hearty. Personally, I think it’s worth it.

Easy Blush Chicken Bake
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Easily serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. penne pasta
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 cans Progresso Recipe Starters Creamy Parmesan Basil
  • 2 cups store-bought marinara sauce
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (omit if you don’t like heat)
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 store-bought rotisserie chicken
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Generously salt the water and add pasta. Cook until al dente, meaning that the pasta is tender but still has a little bite. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9×13-in. baking dish with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  3. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and saute for two minutes. Pour in the Recipe Starters, marinara, salt, and pepper, stirring to combine. Let cook for 5 minutes then add the parmesan cheese. Stir until cheese is melted.
  4. Remove from heat. Stir in pasta and chicken until thoroughly-coated. Pour into prepared baking dish and sprinkle with cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly. Serve immediately.

*Yes, your vegetarian cook made a meal with meat. No, I did not eat the finished product. I did, however, save the chicken until the very end so I could try the pasta & sauce. Plus, my meat-eating parents loved it!


Homemade Tortilla Chips + How-To Video

Crunchy, Hand-held, Irresistible, Perfect Snacks.

What, you didn’t know that’s what CHIPS stands for?

Chips are the pinnacle of snack foods. I’ve yet to see a party where they don’t make an appearance. We love those addicting little devils and the array of flavors they come in. In fact, we can eat bagfuls of them at a time and still not be satisfied (am I the only one who does that?). Even though we’re well aware that once we pop in the first chip we won’t be able to cease, we go for it anyway. That’s love for you.

Out of all the chips out there, tortilla chips are the most versatile. You can dip them into just about anything! They are the vessel of all things dippable; the delivery guy for dips. However, on their own, tortilla chips are not all that great. I mean, how often do you grab a bag of Tostitos and start snacking on naked chips? Plain tortillas just aren’t tempting, right?

Well, that’s partially right, but that fact only applies to store-bought tortilla chips. You see, when you make tortilla chips at home they transform from blank and boring dip-transporters to tasty, crunchtastic stars of the show, good enough to stand on their own. When mine came out of the oven, I couldn’t keep my paws off of them. I didn’t need any dip; they were  tasty enough!

That being said, combining them with dip made them a truly exceptional snack. They’re better tasting, less expensive, and more sturdy when standing up to the dip. It makes me wonder how I ever lived eating store-bought ones for so long. These Homemade Tortilla Chips are crazy crunchy and crispy, adorned with a deliciously golden brown color and sprinkle of salt. They’re darn right addicting, but in the bet possible way. And you only need 3 measly ingredients! In just a few minutes, you can have party-worthy chips you’ll be proud to serve at any get-together(or hoard all to yourself). Go snack happy!

Ready for the easiest snack ever & a major chip upgrade? Then check out the video below!

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Any kind of soft tortilla will do: flour, corn, whole wheat, etc.
  2. Serve with salsa for a fancy yet easy appetizer.
  3. This recipe makes a ton of chips, but if you’re having a big get-together, double it.

Homemade Tortilla Chips
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 17-oz. pack tortillas (I recommend corn, but you can use flour or whole wheat tortillas too!)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • salt, to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Slice the tortillas into little triangles. You can make them bigger or smaller to suit your preference. Lay them out in a single layer on the baking sheet.
  3. Pour the vegetable oil into a small bowl and brush onto the chips in a very light layer. You don’t have to use all the oil. Sprinkle the chips with salt and bake for 5-10 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool. Enjoy!