TV dinner {Parks and Recreation}

calzone1 If you want to be my friend, you have GOT to watch Parks and Recreation. Or at least pity-laugh at all my Parks & Rec references. This is one of the few shows I've actually watched since its beginning and stuck with... and I still laugh at every episode, old or new. And since the season premiere airs tomorrow on Thursday, September 26 at 8/7c, I had to make a dish to commemorate one of my (dozen) favorite shows. Welcome to the Low-Cal Calzone Zone!

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In Season 4, the ever-adorable Ben Wyatt has a bit of a meltdown. He finds himself unemployed and directionless (like being in your 20's). Instead of moping about, however, he decides to pursue his "hobbies"... claymation and a new restaurant concept he calls, The Low-Cal Calzone Zone. The claymation... turns out to be a dud. The calzone endeavor also proves to be a dud, but it does provide the genius for the second installation of my TV dinners series!

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My "low-cal calzone" is a veggie calzone, inspired by one I've had at the restaurant Marina's on the Square in Murfreesboro, TN (where I went to high school). Marina's is a charming little Italian place in "downtown" Murfreesboro. It's not fancy but so comforting and always hits the spot. Their veggie calzone is stuffed with black olives, spinach, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, and lots of cheese. So basically I decided to recreate it exactly and just call it my own.

I find veggie calzones to be more appealing because they're much lighter and don't make you feel as full or gross after eating them. A great excuse to eat more than one! If you want, you can add to your own calzone whatever your heart desires. That's the beauty of calzones-- they're fairly easy to make and very customizeable.  Plus kids love them because you get to dunk them into tomato sauce! If you prefer, you can even buy your own pizza dough at your local pizzeria (I've even seen it at Trader Joe's), just please don't get the canned Pillsbury stuff.

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With these calzones, I decided to get a little fancy. My coworker-friend Aliza bought me some of the most amazing gifts for my birthday recently, including Maldon smoked sea salt and umami paste. I used the umami paste (basically tomato paste with anchovy, black olives, heaven in a tube) in the filling and sprinkled some smoked sea salt on top of each calzone. It was di-vine! If you can splurge on a few key ingredients, go ahead...

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Lastly, an ode to possibly my favorite Parks & Rec character, TOM HAVERFORD. (Just don't tell Leslie... or Andy... or Ron. Basically anyone except Jerry.)

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Veggie Calzones aka "The Low-Cal Calzone Zone" makes 8 calzones

  • 1 recipe Calzone Dough, recipe follows
  • 1 cup black olives, sliced
  • 1 cup canned artichoke hearts, quartered
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 cup cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup pepper jack cheese
  • 2 tablespoons umami paste (or tomato paste)
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons Maldon smoked sea salt
  • crushed red pepper
  • 1 cup jarred marinara sauce (your favorite brand)

(1)    Preheat the oven to 475°F. (2)    Divide the calzone dough into 8 equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each portion of dough into a 8-inch circle. (3)    On one half of each calzone circle, add about a ¼ cup of spinach, 1 tablespoon each of black olives, artichokes, and mushrooms, and about a teaspoon of umami paste. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of mozzarella cheese and pepper jack over the vegetables. You want to be sure to spread each ingredient evenly over the calzone half but try not to overfill it. (4)    Fold the other half of dough over itself and pinch the edges to seal. Using a fork, crimp the edges of each calzone to ensure complete closure. (5)    In a small bowl, beat the egg with a tablespoon of water. Brush the surface of the calzone with beaten egg, then sprinkle some parmesan cheese, ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder and salt, and crushed red pepper to taste. (6)    Cut two slits into the top of each calzone and bake for 9-10 minutes , or until nice and golden brown. Serve with warm marinara sauce.

Calzone Dough

  • 1 (¼ ounce) envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup warm water (105-110° F)
  • 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

(1)    In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine yeast, sugar, and warm water; stir and let stand for 10 minutes to proof the yeast. After 10 minutes, you should see that the yeast has foamed and bubbled. (If this doesn't happen, say a small prayer and start over cause your yeast is dead.) (2)    Add 1 cup of flour, olive oil, and salt to bowl and beat at low speed, using dough hook attachment for 1 minute. (3)    Gradually add the rest of the flour until the dough begins to leave the sides of the bowl and pull together. (Note: the dough will take on a “shaggy” appearance as the flour is being added.  When enough flour has been added, the dough will look soft and smooth, not wet and sticky or overly dry with a rough surface.) (4)    Increase speed to medium and beat for 5 minutes.  Cover bowl of dough with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place for 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk. (5)    Punch dough down and let stand another 10 minutes.  At this point, the dough is ready to use or can be wrapped up and refrigerated for up to 1 week.

TV dinner {Breaking Bad}

breakfastpizza I came to my Breaking Bad obsession late in the series, around season 4 or so. Way after all the hype had been built with massive critical and audience acclaim. But as any Breaking Bad fan knows, this is actually ideal because there's nothing better than holing yourself up to a Netflix binge weekend with Walter White and Co. Each episode is so full of suspense, so agonizing with fear and turmoil and panic and... well, I hate to use this word but, DRAMA. Not the petty kind where you find yourself consoling one of your girlfriends as she bursts into tears over brunch, but the well-crafted, deliberately timed drama that can only come from good acting and fantastic writing.

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For those of you who have yet to come to the light (of society because seriously, how have you missed this??), we are now 2 episodes into the sixth and final season. Well technically, it's a continuation of season 5 because they split the 16 episodes into two shorter seasons to prolong my state of constant physical distress. Regardless, it's back and oh-HHH-hhhh boy. There are many theories as to what will progress as the finale soon approaches but honestly, I'm not a TV writer. If I were it'd be about much less exciting things like Why I've Stopped Separating My Colors and Whites in the Laundry or How to Avoid Eye Contact with Subway Rats, so I'll leave this to Vince Gilligan.

As a testament to my fan devotion, however, I created a dish inspired by the series (also the first installment of my new culinary venture titled TV dinners). I spent a lot of time deciding what to make for y'all. The obvious choice was a dessert with 'blue meth' aka dyed sugar candy or some Los Pollos Hermanos fried chicken but c'mon, that's for the novice fan. That's when I remembered this little gem from season 3.

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That's right, ROOF PIZZA how could I have forgotten! As a a refresher, during season 3 our friend W.W. is having a bit of family trouble. It happens with meth dealers. Essentially he's been kicked out of the house by his wife, (evil) Skyler and in an attempt to win some favor, Walt comes over with a huge pizza with the hopes of family bonding. Obviously, it doesn't bode well for Walt (or the pizza).

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As my first TV dinner, this pizza is not your ordinary pizza. It's a breakfast pizza. That's right. Breakfast. Pizza. Because if there's one thing the White family can agree upon, it's their love of breakfast (especially Walt Jr. ). In the show, these breakfast scenes of family normalcy often take place after Walt's all-night meth cooking sessions or Mexican border death matches, and really serve as a nice contrast to show just how messed up his life is.

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The only roof this pizza should hit however, is the roof of your mouth. It has all the things you'd find on the White's breakfast table: eggs, coffee, and a little smoky smokiness from the bacon jam. So good yet soooo BAD...

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breakfast pizza based on the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook Makes 2 (12-inch) pizzas

  • ¾ cup lukewarm water
  • ½ teaspoon dry active yeast
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
  • Bacon Jam (recipe below)
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 cups grated mozzarella
  • 6 large eggs
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons minced chives
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, minced

(1) The night before, prepare the dough: Place ¾ cup lukewarm water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Sprinkle in the yeast, stir and let sit for 5 minutes. (2) Add the flour and 1 teaspoon of salt and mix on low for 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 2 minutes, then increase the speed to high and mix until a smooth dough forms, about 2 minutes more. (3) Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, divide into two equal pieces and form each half into a tight ball. Place on a large floured sheet pan, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (4) Two hours before baking, place the dough in a warm spot. While the dough rests, prepare the toppings for the pizza. (5) Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and set a pizza stone on it. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees, 30 minutes before you are ready to bake the pizza. (6) Dip your hands and a ball of dough into the flour. On a lightly floured countertop, pat the dough into a disc with your fingertips, then drape the dough over your fists and carefully stretch it from beneath to form a 12-inch circle. (7) Generously dust the surface of a pizza peel or large inverted sheet pan with flour and place the stretched dough on it. Sprinkle the dough with half of the Parmesan and mozzarella, making sure to leave a ½ inch margin around the edge. Put small dollops of the bacon jam on the dough. Crack 3 eggs over the top and season with salt and pepper. (8) If using a pizza peel, shake the peel slightly to make sure the dough is not sticking. Carefully lift any sections that are sticking and sprinkle a bit more flour underneath, then slide the pizza directly onto the baking stone in one quick forward-and-back motion. (9) Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating after 5 minutes. When the crust is golden, the cheese is melted and the egg yolks are cooked, use the peel to transfer the pizza to a cutting board. (10) Sprinkle half of the parsley, chives, scallions and shallot on top. Let cool for 2 minutes, slice and serve immediately. Prepare the second pizza in the same way.

bacon jam makes about 1 cup from The Delicious Life

  • ½ pound bacon
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar (substitute up to 2 tablespoons with maple syrup to maple bacon jam!)
  • ¼ cup brewed coffee

(1) In a large pot, cook bacon until just starting to brown and crisp at edges. Remove cooked bacon to paper towel-lined plate to cool and drain off grease. Pat with additional paper towels. When cool, chop the bacon into bit-size pieces. (2) Pour off all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat from pot. Turn heat down to medium low. Add onions and garlic, and cook until onions are translucent. Add vinegar, brown sugar, and coffee. Bring to a boil. Add cooked chopped bacon.

If You Are Cooking on Stovetop: (3) Turn down heat to the lowest setting and allow to simmer for about 1½ hours, stirring every few minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and what is left is syrupy. Do not leave the pot unattended because 1. that’s just not safe no matter what and 2. there is a lot of sugar from the onions and well, the sugar, so it can burn easily.  If You Are Using a Crockpot/Slow Cooker:  (3) Pour the contents of the pot into the crockpot. Cook on high for about 3 hours.) [To make the breakfast pizza, STOP at this point. However, if you desire a smoother jam consistency, continue onto Step 4]

(4) Transfer the cooked bacon jam to a food processor. Pulse until you get the consistency of chunky jam. Bacon jam is sticky, sweet, slightly smoky, and a little bit “crunchy” from crisped parts of cooked bacon. Store covered in the refrigerator. I have no idea how long it keeps, but based on my recipe research, it seems like a few weeks. I doubt you will have any left after 3 days.