Sometimes people argue that it doesn’t matter what the food looks like as long as it tastes good. I must disagree. It is possible for unattractive food to be delicious, but if said food is made attractive, it will always taste better. This is psychologically proven. We like pretty things. Pretty things taste good. Now, of course there are exceptions here as well, but 99% of the time, visual appeal is directly correlated to how food tastes.
For months, there has been a lone can of Campbell’s Harvest Orange Tomato Soup sulking in my pantry. It was crying out to be eaten, but I just couldn’t conjure up a use for it. It was an impulse buy; I was lured in simply by the fact that it wasn’t the plain old boring tomato soup. It was Harvest Orange Tomato. That sounded so enticing that I neglected to consider what the heck I would do with it once I bought it.
I reached the point where I could no longer stand to stare at that solitary can of soup. I know what you’re thinking: why didn’t you just eat it for lunch one day or something? Because it’s not that simple when you’re a foodie. A can of soup isn’t just a can of soup; it’s a blank canvas waiting to be turned into something special. So I couldn’t just heat it up and spoon it down my gullet; I had to jazz it up.
Let’s be honest: we all get bored with our food sometimes. If we could eat whatever we wanted without gaining a single pound, seeing a spike in our cholesterol level, or having to actually make the food ourselves, then that would be a different story. But that’s not the case. We’re limited by time, money, and the number of notches in our belts.
Eating healthy can seem repetitive at times. Eating vegetarian and healthy can be even worse. I get into these periodic ruts where I eat the same three or four meals for a couple of weeks until, eventually, I cannot take anymore. It comes down to two options: think of something new and delicious to make, or die.
Alright, that’s a little extreme, but isn’t that what it feels like sometimes? Luckily, I was able to brush some dust off the ol’ idea light bulb and come up with something good: Kale and Bean Soup.
In the magical world of food, the littlest tweak can take an ingredient from good to amazing. With a little bit of heat, butter goes from boring and pale to golden brown with deep, nutty flavor. A drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, and a quick roast in the oven turns veggies from limp and plain to tender and flavorful. Caramelizing raw onions morphs them into sweet, buttery, onion gold. When it comes to the magic of cooking, wonders never cease. With just a little bit of love, we can take something we like and transform it into something we love.
One beautiful example of this is roasted garlic. We all like garlic, and that’s why we love roasted garlic. It’s so sweet and delicious, with an intoxicating flavor that permeates through whatever food is lucky enough to be graced by its presence. Roasted garlic has that familiar flavor you love plus a layer of sweet depth that only roasting it can give. There is no better way to describe it than beautiful.
I’ve been racking my brain to discover the perfect way to utilize the potent powers of roasted garlic. When a strong craving for Fettuccine Alfredo hit me, the answer became obvious: Roasted Garlic Alfredo. I love, love, love traditional Alfredo sauce, and I make a pretty mean Alfredo, if I may be so bold as to say so. The only way it could possibly be better is with some wonderful roasted garlic.
This one’s for all the foodies who have ever asked, “Is it socially acceptable to consume mounds of melted cheese and nothing more?” It’s time to fess up; many of us desire to do just that. The good news is, you finally can.
You see, the trick is to be crafty about it. If you melt down a hunk of cheddar and stuff your face into it, you’ll probably get some judgmental looks and sideways glances. However, if you melt together Fontina with olive oil, garlic, and an array of fresh, flavorful herbs, then you’ve got yourself a dip, and dip is 100% accepted by society (…unless it has people it. As Johnny Depp so eloquently points out in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, cannibalism is “frowned upon in most societies”).
This Baked Fontina Dip is delightfully deceiving. It tastes and looks like some fancy fondue, when in all actuality, it’s three simple ingredients melted into cheesy bliss. It doesn’t get much easier than this, nor does it get more indulgent. A dip that’s practically pure cheese is the ultimate way to feed your soul. All you need is a good hunk of bread, and you’re ready to go to town.
If ooey, gooey, melty* cheese sounds good to you, then you can’t pass up this delicious dip. It has tons of flavor from the fresh herbs and garlic, mimicking fondues and dips from the fanciest of Italian restaurants. The best part is, you don’t have to go out to a fancy Italian restaurant to eat it. You don’t even have to exert a significant amount of effort; just pop it in the oven and bake, then get ready to start dipping.
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
I’m going to be honest: you must keep this dip warm in order for it to remain dippable.* When it starts to cool, it immediately begins to re-solidify, like most fondues do. I recommend serving it in a fondue pot or some other heated serving dish. If you don’t have either of these things, then eat fast!
I adore sourdough bread for dipping in this. You could also do Italian bread or veggies. I don’t recommend crackers or chips though because they won’t hold up to the dip.
If you aren’t into the herbs I used, basil or parsley would be delicious substitutions.
This makes A LOT of dip, so I cut it in half for you. Trust me, you’ll be glad. Unless you’re feeding an army, you don’t need all that cheese!
3/4 lb Italian fontina, rind removed and cubed into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Adjust top rack of the oven so that it sits about 5 inches under the broiler unit. Preheat broiler.
Spread cheese out in the bottom of a cast iron pan or casserole dish. Drizzle olive oil over the cheese. Mix together the garlic and herbs in a small bowl and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the cheese. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the top of the cheese.
Bake for 6 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and melted through. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and set it on a heatproof surface – the pan will be hot! Serve immediately with bread for dipping.
*Melty – (adj) Melted; a term often used to describe foods that are ooey gooey.
*Dippable – (adj) Having the ideal texture for dipping.
Just reading the name, you know this pizza means business. “Fully Loaded Double Cheese Pesto Pizza” implies this pizza is packed with toppings, cheese, pesto, and all around awesomeness. Well, it’s no just an implication, my little cookies; it’s fact. This pizza is one-hundred percent loaded with all kinds of good stuff, equating to a symphony of flavors captured within one single slice of heaven (or multiple slices, because let’s be honest, you won’t be able to eat just one).
This is not your ho-hum tomato sauce and cheese pizza. Quite the contrary. It is so filled with flavor that it may knock your right out of your seat. You may want to buckle up before biting in.
Forget red sauce; this baby is slathered in fresh pesto. Pesto is flavorful all on its own thanks to the delicious handy work of basil, garlic, and more. Then we take this perfect pizza sauce and blanket it in two kinds of cheese. First and foremost is the fresh Mozzarella. This stuff is to die for. If you’ve only ever had plain shredded and you’ve yet to give fresh Mozz a try, then now is the time. Its ooey-gooey factor* is off the charts. This heavenly cheese alone would be fantastic, but we take it to the next level with tangy, salty Feta. Hello, flavor!
Cheese and sauce is one out of this world combo, but it’s not good enough for us, my little cookies; we’ve got to load this baby up. So, we employ the talents of juicy diced tomatoes, crisp black olives, and even crunchy walnuts. Nuts on pizza? Yes, you heard me right. Nuts are an awesome addition, not just to baked goods, but to savory dishes as well. They add fantastic crunch in every bite plus a great salty flavor. Between the crunch of the nuts, the crisp of the crust, and the melty, gooey cheese, we’ve got a beautiful rainbow of textures at work. This pizza hits all the right notes.
Why order delivery when you can bake up a pizza ten times as delicious in your own oven? No pizzeria or frozen pizza could achieve the flavor and freshness of this pie. It’s surprisingly quick and easy to make with just a few ingredients, making it a great weeknight meal. The next time you’re craving some crazy cheesy pizza, forget the traditional cheese and pepperoni and give this Fully Loaded Double Cheese Pesto Pizza a go instead.
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
Watch my how-to video below to get tips, tricks, and see firsthand how easy this pizza is to make.
Make the pesto homemade if you really want to get fancy! However, I’ve found you can get some pretty delicious pesto from the grocery store too, so do what works for you.
The same goes for the crust. Make your own dough or buy it pre-made. The key is the cornmeal crusting on the bottom. It creates a crazy crispy bottom like it’s straight from the pizzeria.
Fully Loaded Double Cheese Pesto Pizza
By The Smart Cookie Cook
Pizza dough (store-bought or homemade), at room temperature
Cornmeal, for dusting
¾ cup basil pesto
10 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
4 oz. (about ½ a cup) crumbled feta cheese
½ of a 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano, drained
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 2.25-oz. can sliced black olives, drained
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle a pizza pan with an even layer of cornmeal. Spread dough over top. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until crust begins to set but is not yet browned.
Remove crust from oven. Spread pesto over the crust in an even layer all the way up to the edges.
Lay slices of mozzarella in a single layer on top of pesto, covering the pizza generously but still leaving a good portion of the pesto showing through. Sprinkle feta over top, followed by the tomatoes, then the walnuts. (At this point, you can add the olives too, but I like to wait until after the pizza is cooked, right before serving, so they taste fresh and crisp).
Bake pizza for 10-15 minutes until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted and bubbly. Sprinkle with olives (if you haven’t already) and allow to cool for two minutes before serving. Enjoy!
Ooey-Gooey Factor – (n) A scale measuring how ooey, gooey, and prone to melting a cheese is.
Have you ever been in a healthy food slump? Sometimes, when you make the effort to eat better, you get into a bad habit of eating the same things over and over again. This is a slippery slope, my little cookies, because you eventually become sick of what you’re eating and revert to bad eating habits. When I start to find myself growing tired of the same ol’ same ol’, I know it’s time to branch out. Rather than seeking out delicious but not so nutritious eats, I start searching for new healthy recipes to incorporate into my meals.
Egg beaters are a big part of my diet, especially as a vegetarian. They’re packed with protein, relatively low-calorie, and so good for you. However, if all I do is scramble them with some salt and pepper, it’s easy to get really sick of them really fast. The key is to mix it up, and that is where this Spinach, Feta, & Tomato Egg Wrap comes in.
There was a time years ago when people found comfort in a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup. It was all they knew: a creamy, warm meal that flowed smoothly down their throats, and straight to their hearts. Often, the soup was rounded out with the addition of a grilled cheese sandwich. A simple comfort yes, but it was cheap and it was good.
Little did those people know, they were missing out big time.
The real appeal of canned soup is its convenience; it’s quick, easy, and tasty. All you’ve got to do is pop open a lid and heat it up. But did you know how incredibly easy homemade Creamy Tomato Soup is? All you need is a handful of ingredients to create fresh, flavorful soup in next to no time. You can have this meal on the table in ten minutes, or you can cook it then let it sit over low-heat and eat when you’re ready. It’s a perfect weeknight dinner because it takes so little effort. You practically just pile the ingredients into a pot and call it a day. Let’s be honest; after a long, hard day, you need something hearty and replenishing that won’t diminish whatever small bit of energy you have left to make.
Another year has brushed passed me just as quickly as a stranger on a busy street. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, with both good and bad memories now in the bank. The very best thing to happen to me in 2011 was the birth of Smart Cookie. I believe my life has truly changed as a result. I’ve been able to take my devoted passion for food and channel it into something that I can share with the world. I can only hope that 2012 will allow me to continue my mission in bigger, tastier ways. I would love for Smart Cookie to continue to grow while I grow as both a chef and a writer. Food and I are bound together in a life-long journey. Hopefully, it will lead to a career that will allow me to share my love for food with the world on an even grander scale than I do now. Regardless of what 2012 brings, I will continue to bring you daily deliciousness. I hope you’ll follow Smart Cookie into the new year & the years to come!
So with that, let us ring in the new year right with my 12 absolute favorite recipes of the year.
Have you have had a week from hell? You know, the kind when you have a million deadlines approaching, presentations in every class, you’ve got no car because you got rear-ended, and you’re sick as a dog? I don’t know about you, but when I have weeks like that, my body begs for something cheesy, comforting, and downright indulgent. It is the only kind of fuel powerful enough to keep me from burning out in the face of a turbulent week.
This phenomenon in which hard times call for delicious food is quite common. In fact, we can explain it using psychology:
The brain detects a stressful event. This is called a stressor. (Ex: finals)
The stressor will then elicit a coping response, which is anything I do to try and lessen the stressor’s effects.
In this case, the coping response is to seek out a big bowl of delicious, cheesy, and heartwarming food then eat myself into a coma.
This is what we refer to as “emotion-focused coping.” It doesn’t solve the problem per say, but man, do I feel better after stuffing my face with some indulgent comfort food.
See? The need for food in troubling times is completely logical. So it only then makes sense that when you find yourself fighting in the epic battle that is you vs. the world, you need something truly mouth-watering and sinful to make it through.
Last week, when I was having my own “hell week,” my mind sent me a message: “CHEESE. LOTS. PASTA. NEED NOW.”
See? That’s how bad it was. My mind was so beaten up that it could barely form a coherent sentence. Luckily, I’m pretty good at decoding the language of my own brain, so I jumped right on that. The result was this luscious Blushing Mozzarella Marinara.