Super-Sized Sausage & Pepper Calzone

DSC_1224

Alright. Let’s address the elephant in the room.

Yes, there is meat in this calzone. Yes, I am a vegetarian. No, I did not eat it.

But darn, I wanted to. That’s how good it smelled and looked when I pulled it out of the oven. I made it the same night I made the Spinach Artichoke Calzone from yesterday’s post. As you might’ve guessed, the Spinach Artichoke Calzone was my dinner, and this Super-Sized Sausage and Pepper Calzone was for my parents.

It’s a calzone party this week, and this recipe is your invitation to join in. I’ve got a special place in my heart for calzones that developed from buying fresh calzones from Wegmans when I was younger. Those babies were good, but I knew I could make one even better.

I am willing to bet this Super-Sized Sausage & Pepper Calzone is ten times better than anything you could get at a Wegmans or local pizza joint. Not to mention, putting it together is practically just as easy as picking up the phone and ordering delivery, so why not choose the tastier option?

Just look at the size of that thing!DSC_1206-2

This golden brown beauty is oozing with marvelous mounds of creamy 3-cheese filling then stuffed with meaty sausage and sweet, robust peppers. Fresh herbs and garlic give it those beautiful Italian flavors you’d get from any Italian restaurant, but the sheer size of this behemoth and its generous amount of filling make it even better. You won’t believe how flavorful, cheesy, and filling this baby is. It’s a meal made for the hungriest calzone lovers.

Think you know calzones? Not until you try this superhero-sized pocket of goodness. There’s so much good stuff packed into that shell that you’ll be overwhelmed with excitement. Just take it one bite at a time.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Don’t like sausage and/or peppers? This is a very versatile recipe, so switch them out with whatever you like: pepperoni, broccoli, bacon, you name it. Or leave out the sausage and pepper and enjoy a three-cheese calzone.
  2. Watch this baby when it’s baking. The crust goes from done to burnt quickly.
  3. Fresh ingredients are a must. Don’t expect this to compare to restaurant-quality if you use dried herbs.
  4. This giant calzone easily feeds two, but double the recipe to make two behemoths and feed more mouths, if you like.DSC_1267

Super-Sized Sausage & Pepper Calzones
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • Store-bought pizza dough or your favorite recipe
  • 5 tbsp. butter
  • Marinara sauce, for dipping

For the filling

  • 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large red pepper, sliced into thin strips
  • ½ a yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 32-oz. container whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp. fresh chopped oregano
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chopped basil
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray OR place a pizza stone in the oven to preheat.
  2. In a medium skillet over medium heat, cook the sausage until browned. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to soak up excess grease. Meanwhile, in a small pan, bring olive oil to medium heat and cook peppers until tender and slightly browned.
  3. Place all the filling ingredients, including the sausage and peppers, in a large mixing bowl and stir together until thoroughly combined. Make sure all ingredients are evenly distributed.
  4. Flour a working surface and roll out dough into a circle as thin as you can make it without it tearing. Carefully transfer to baking sheet or preheated pizza stone and spread filling out on the top, leaving about 1 -2 inches around the edges plain. Use more or less filling depending on your preference, but you will want more than you think you do; it’s deceiving.
  5. Wrap the edges in aluminum foil, leaving only the center uncovered, and bake 20 – 30 minutes, or until set and starting to brown. Remove foil and bake for another 5 minutes, or until golden brown all around.
  6. Slice and enjoy. Serve with marinara sauce for dipping.

DSC_1194-2


Spinach-Artichoke Calzone

DSC_1155-2

It’s no secret that spinach artichoke dip is one of the most delicious dippable delicacies ever created. Why do you think almost every restaurant has it on their appetizer menus? We Americans gobble the gooey stuff up like it’s our job.

Side note: Another word that needs to be added to the dictionary – dippable.

I’ve got a sublime recipe for Spinach Artichoke Dip that I turn to time and time again. There is just no beating it; I haven’t even found a restaurant that can top it. However, as much as I love me some spinach artichoke dip, I would get sick of it if I ate dip day after day. Luckily, there’s a lot more one can do with the deliciousness of spinach-artichoke dip than serve it in a bowl with chips.

Take this giant, super-stuffed Spinach Artichoke Calzone for example. I get all the flavors and components I adore from my favorite dip in the form of a big, fat, hearty calzone. This baby looks innocent enough on the outside with its golden brown crust, but break in, and oodles of gooey, creamy cheesy filling flow out like lava from an overstuffed volcano. It’s a beautiful site.DSC_1108

The filling is good enough to eat on its own with three kinds of cheese, garlic, onion, spinach, tangy artichokes, and fresh herbs. It tastes just like heavenly spinach artichoke dip, but that ricotta gives it the signature calzone-filling taste and feel. Encased in a crisp crust, it’s like you get your favorite appetizer turned into a full-blown meal. And holy crow, this recipe yields one big, honkin’ calzone, enough for at least two people to stuff their tummies with. But you know what I say, go big or go home!

If you love spinach artichoke dip then you have simply got to try this calzone, no if, ands, or buts about it. Even if you don’t do much cooking, you still don’t have an excuse not to try this because all you have to do is mix some ingredients together in a bowl and stuff it inside store-bought dough. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

Don’t call the pizzeria tonight; this calzone is even better than anything you could get from a restaurant, I guarantee it!DSC_1170-2

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. If you want to use homemade dough, go for it!
  2. Fresh is key: fresh spinach, fresh garlic, fresh herbs. Using those good quality ingredients is what makes this calzone a step-up from what you’d get at a sub-par pizzeria, and it takes the calzone from good to amazing.
  3. If you want more spinach artichoke heaven, try my dip recipe, my Spinach Artichoke Veggie Burgers, or my Spinach Artichoke Nachos.
  4. You have GOT to watch this while cooking. Covering it in aluminum foil will keep it from burning, but once you remove the foil, it browns very quickly. DSC_1080

Spinach Artichoke Calzones
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • Store-bought pizza dough or your favorite recipe
  • Flour, for dusting
  • 5 tbsp. butter, melted
  • marinara sauce, for dipping

For the filling

  • 1 32-oz. container whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup chopped yellow onion or 1 chopped shallot
  • 3 generous cups fresh spinach, stems removed
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed and chopped into small chunks
  • 1 tbsp. fresh chopped oregano
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chopped basil
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush with 2 tbsp. of the melted butter OR place a pizza stone in the oven to preheat.
  2. Place all the filling ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir together until thoroughly combined. Make sure all ingredients are evenly distributed.
  3. Flour a working surface and roll out dough into a circle as thin as you can make it without it tearing. Carefully transfer to baking sheet or preheated pizza stone and spread filling out on the top of half the calzone, leaving about 1 -2 inches at the edge plain. Use more or less filling depending on your preference, but you will want more than you think you do; it’s deceiving.
  4. Fold half the dough over top the filling like you’re making a pierogie or taco and pinch the edges together well. Brush remaining melted butter over top.
  5. Wrap the edges in aluminum foil, leaving only the center uncovered, and bake 20 – 30 minutes, or until set and starting to brown. A knife inserted in the center should feel hot when you pull it out. Remove foil and bake for another 5 minutes, or until golden brown all around.
  6. Slice and enjoy. Serve with marinara sauce for dipping.DSC_1141

 


Hits & Misses in NJ: Mama’s & Lockwood Tavern

pizza

I warned you in last week’s Weekender that details of my grubbing in New Jersey were coming your way this week, and I wasn’t kidding. Yesterday, I told you all about my trip to the Sweet Spot Bake Shoppe, a cupcakery that competed on and won Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. Now, we’ll take a look at two nights and two dinners, most of which was wonderful, but some of, not so much.

On my first night in Jersey, we went to the Lockwood Tavern, a restaurant I apparently frequented as a child, but was too young to remember. My parents recalled Lockwood having wonderful pizza, and where there’s pizza, there’s the Smart Cookie Cook.

Unfortunately, my overall experience wasn’t stellar. Our waitress had an attitude, which she took out on this poor younger bus boy who could not catch a break to save his life. The kid was clearly having a bad night, and when he accidently sent a bowl of dip sailing to the floor, the waitress gave him the death stare to end all death stares. She also snapped at him earlier in the night for unknown reasons. Poor kid.DSC_1888

Now, I can get past an intimidating waitress if my food’s good enough to submerse myself in it entirely. However, the appetizers were subpar. I ordered cheese fries because, in case you didn’t know, I have an unholy obsession with them. The fries themselves were good, but they were blanketed in a plastic layer of bland, lifeless American cheese. Not only was the taste of the cheese off-putting, but that elastic texture was just unnatural. The fries would’ve been so much better with some mozzarella instead.DSC_1916

We also ordered what was Lockwood’s take on the Bloomin’ Onion, and quite frankly, it stunk. The onion showed up to the table limp and lackluster, like a once proud onion that had a piano dropped on top of it. The breading was too thin, and it was flavorless except for an overabundance of black pepper. Worst of all, at least 25% of the breading was undercooked. Not only is that gross, but it’s unsafe.

And we all know the fate of the poor bowl of dipping sauce that came with the onion, may it rest in peace.DSC_1921

Now, here comes the good news: the pizza. As my father perfectly explained, New Jersey is the opposite of CNY when it comes to pizza; you can find a good pizza just about anywhere. I can’t tell you how good it felt to be reunited with the thin-crusted, foldable, buried in gooey cheese pizza I grew up loving. Thank god I can count on even an otherwise subpar restaurant to turn out pizza ten times better than anything I can get at home.DSC_1925

Lockwood’s pizza had a tasty thin crust that barely stood up to the generous mound of melty mozzarella gloriously piled atop a layer of sweet yet zesty marinara. It was the right balance of everything, sliced into big, fat slices that were so substantial I only needed two to fill me up. Usually, I need four (I haven’t been tested yet, but I’m pretty sure I have two stomachs).

I capped the night with some Chocolate Layer Cake, which was tasty, but not the greatest cake I’ve ever had. I believe in only eating things worth eating, meaning that they’re so delicious that you don’t care if you’re overindulging; Unfortunately, this cake wasn’t really worth it. The presentation, however, was beautiful.DSC_1941

Dinner the next night came from my hands-down favorite restaurant of all-time, Mama’s Restaurant & Café Baci, which I’ve reviewed not once, but twice before. It’s that good. Unfortunately, due to uncontrollable circumstances, we had to get take-out rather than eat-in. I was not thrilled because I’m very particular about eating my food hot and fresh, not after it’s been sitting in a container.DSC_5128

Well, Mama’s must know some secrets I don’t know because their take-out was just as wonderful as all the meals I’ve had eating in there. That’s right folks; Mama’s is so amazing that they can stick their heavenly cuisine in containers and have it travel 20 minutes and STILL taste incredible. Are the wizards? Aliens? All of the above? I don’t know, but I don’t care as long as they keep making delicious food.

I ordered their Eggplant Parmesan with their signature Rosa sauce instead of marinara. This Eggplant Parm had a pretty high bar set for it since I inevitably compared it to my favorite recipe for Eggplant Parmigiana. I was concerned Mama’s wouldn’t be able to compete, but they gave my recipe a run for its money.DSC_1947

Mama’s reached near eggplant parm perfection: melt-in-your-mouth eggplant encased in the perfect thickness of crisp, flavorful breading. Then, I almost needed an inhaler when I saw the exhilarating abundance of fresh melted mozzarella cheese burying the eggplant. Seriously, you can barely see the eggplant underneath. It’s too much cheesy bliss to handle!DSC_1943

The Rosa sauce, which I’ve had multiple times from Mama’s, was just wonderful with the Eggplant Parm. It took the dish from great to amazing, giving it an added boost of indulgence (because all that cheese wasn’t indulgent enough). Rosa sauce is creamy, rich, and bursting with the vibrant flavors of sweet tomato and fresh herbs. Side note: they sell the stuff in jars at their restaurant. I’ve got to get me some!

In short, the Eggplant Parmesan was killer, even after enduring the car ride home. It’s a must-try if you go to Mama’s.DSC_1945

We also sampled a trio of appetizers:  Fried Ravioli, Garlic Knots with Mozzarella Cheese, and Onion Rings.

Surprise, surprise; every app was fantastic. The Fried Ravioli was crisp and tasty, the Garlic Knots were slathered in butter and garlic and buried in epic amounts of mozzarella cheese, and the onion rings…oh baby. Those rings sat in a car for 20 minutes, and yet I think they might be the best rings I’ve ever had. Mama’s perfected their beer batter breading. It’s crisp, airy, and not flavorless like so many breadings are. In fact, I probably could’ve eaten the breading without the tender, tangy onion cradled inside because it was that delectable. Don’t judge me.DSC_1949 DSC_1944-2

The only bad part of my Mama’s meal was that they forgot my dessert. We ordered Tiramisu, but alas, there was no Tiramisu to be found. Me being a lover of dessert, I almost cried Tearimisu tears (get it?). Because the rest of the meal was so good, I can let that go, but I was very disappointed.

For the hundredth time, I implore you to get your food-loving butt to Mama’s. You’ll never have another meal like it. All of their food is made with quality ingredients, and I’ve yet to have something there that wasn’t delicious. Plus their menu is HUGE and extensive, with options for any diet needs. Check it out here.

What has been your best and/or worst dining-out experience? What is the one restaurant you love the most? Tell me all about it!


American Pizza

DSC_1739

We all have our ultimate pizza place, the one no other could compare to. We’ll defend it to the end. We’ll cross the country just to eat it. Pizza has that power, my friends.

A while back, I told you about my favorite pizza joint, THE pizza joint: Len & Joe’s. Located in Port Jervis, NY, it’s small, not the most aesthetically-pleasing, and quite quirky, but dang, they make good pizza.DSC_4043

I told you why I loved it: the paper thin crust with crunchy edges, sweet sauce laid down with an easy hand, and what really makes it special: the incomparable, unbelievably gooey sea of cheese flooding the crust. Why is that cheese so crazy creamy, oozing off the corners of every slice? Because it’s American cheese, aka the meltiest stuff on the planet.

Side note: when is spell check going to stop telling me “melty” and “meltiest” aren’t words? Somebody put these in the dictionary already!

Anyway, I know if you’ve never tried it, American cheese on pizza sounds a little weird. Since I literally grew up on the goo-rific pizza, I never once thought to question it until I was describing the pizza to my best friend, and she had this “Uhh I don’t know about American cheese…” look on her face.

Don’t jump to conclusions until you try this heavenly pizza. Since the crust is thin and there’s a light, perfectly-portioned layer of sauce, the cheese is the star here, and it works so wonderfully. You’ve just got to experience it.

Now, I know if you don’t live near Port Jervis, NY then you can’t actually try this pizza, and you’ll never understand how awesome it is. Such is my problem as well because I live a good four hours away. When we’re in the area, we stock up on half-baked pies we can hoard in our freezer and bake whenever we please. But we ate the last one recently, and I was up the creek without a pizza paddle.

Lucky for you and me both, I got my pizza-loving butt in the kitchen and crafted a homemade version of my beloved Len & Joe’s. This American Pizza, named for the U.S.’s signature cheese it’s covered in, is so close to L&J’s pizza, it’s scary.DSC_1725

After our first bites, Mother Cookie and I both agreed the likeness was freaky. My American Pizza has that super thin crust, soft with a good chew in the middle but nice and crisp around the edges. I used just a kiss of sweet sauce and then topped it with a complete coverage of creamy, molten, lava-like American cheese that melts as effortlessly as ice cream under the summer sun. Beautiful, golden toasted brown spots dot the cheese’s surface, just like the ones on L&J’s original pizza. Those are little flavor spots, my friends.

This is one of the best pizzas that will ever come out of your kitchen. There ain’t no pizza joint you can order from tonight that’ll produce anything comparable to this cheese lover’s pie. You have got to try it; it’s life-changing.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. If you want the full effect, you’ve got to make the homemade crust. Store-bought crusts and store-bought dough just don’t compare to homemade (trust me, I’ve tried quite a few), and they won’t yield the thin and crunchy Len & Joe’s-like texture.
  2. I am, however, okay with store-bought sauce as long as you buy good-quality stuff, and not some crap like Ragu. You can tell a good sauce by its ingredient list: you should be able to recognize all the ingredients and sugar should be one of the last things listed, if at all.
  3. I recommend getting the best-quality American cheese you can. If you didn’t know, you can get some awesome American cheese sliced fresh at your grocery store’s deli. It’s SO much better than the pre-packaged stuff like Velveeta or Kraft, and it’ll make this pizza even better.
  4. This cheese goes from perfectly melted and browned to black in no time, so keep an eye on it.
  5. Add any toppings you like.DSC_1650

American Pizza
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 3/4 cup warm water (about 105°F)
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 cup + 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • cornmeal, for sprinkling
  • 1 generous cup GOOD QUALITY store-bought marinara sauce
  • 1/2 lb. good-quality American cheese (from the deli), sliced

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the yeast, sugar and warm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the dough blade, combine the cake flour, all-purpose flour and salt and pulse 3 or 4 times.
  3. Whisk 1 tbsp. of the olive oil into the yeast mixture. With the motor running, slowly add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding more. Pulse the machine 10 to 15 times to knead the dough. The dough should clean the insides of the bowl but will be slightly sticky.
  4. Coat the inside of a large bowl with the remaining 1 tbsp. oil. Dust your hands with flour and remove the dough from the food processor. Form the dough into a ball and place in the bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal in a thin even layer.
  6. Flour your working surface and roll out the dough as thin as you can into a rectangle (obviously, it won’t be perfectly shaped). Carefully transfer the dough to the baking sheet.
  7. Parbake dough for 10-15 minutes, or until set and and just beginning to turn golden. Spread sauce over top then completely cover with a layer of cheese.
  8. Bake for another 10 minutes or until cheese is completely melted and browned on top. let sit for 2 minutes then slice and enjoy.DSC_1707

Shamrock Spinach Pesto Pizza + How-to Video

DSC_1585-2

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