Cheesy Stuffed Crust Supreme Deep-Dish Pizza

Every so often, I get a kick out of looking at the National Day calendar, which reminds me of the non-official occasions I can choose to celebrate on a given day. For example, yesterday was Talk Like a Pirate Day, but I didn’t mark the occasion because that felt ridiculous.

Perhaps it is a bit of serendipity, or just coincidence (which my husband, Les, does not believe exists) that I discovered today, Sept. 20, is both National Pepperoni Pizza Day and National String Cheese Day. The two seemingly separate “events” are both going to be recognized with this insanely over-the-top deep-dish pizza that we made at our house a full three months ago. Sometimes, in the rush to get something else posted on the blog, I end up putting some delicious thing on the back burner. In this instance, it worked out, because this pizza, which I dubbed “Go Big or Go Home,” happens to be perfect for this day. The toppings included pepperoni, but also sausage, peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and a ton of cheese, and the Chicago-style crust had a circle of string cheese strips enclosed all around the edges.

So much Italian flavor in here and soooo much cheese!

We had been dreaming about a cheesy stuffed crust pizza for a while, but I had a hard time imagining how to keep thick mozzarella sticks secured inside the dough without making a square pie. My solution was to tear the string cheese into strips and then overlap the strings in layers all the way around. Why didn’t that occur to me sooner? It resulted in a perfectly cheesy, ooey-gooey pizza experience, and made it one of the most fun versions of a deep dish that we have made (so far 😉).


Ingredients

1 recipe deep dish pizza dough (see my previous post for Chicago Deep Dish or use your own)

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

5 sticks of mozzarella string cheese, pulled apart into about four strips for each

1 packed cup shredded whole milk mozzarella, divided

1/2 cup cooked Italian sausage (we used a spicy variety)

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped and sauteed

1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped and sauteed

About 20 pieces thinly sliced pepperoni

1/2 can San Marzano tomatoes, drained and squeezed by hand

A few spoonfuls of your favorite prepared pizza sauce

Several shakes of your favorite Italian seasoning blend


Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450° F, with oven rack in center position.
  2. Add olive oil to a 14-inch, deep dish pizza pan and swirl it around. Shape the pizza dough, leaving as much extra dough around the edges as possible.
  3. Arrange the strips of string cheese, overlapped so there is plenty of cheese thickness all the way around the edges of the pizza dough. Gently stretch and pull the edges of dough over the string cheese strips and press to seal it to the base of the dough. Portion half of the shredded mozzarella onto the base and use your hands to press it firmly into the base of the pizza and also to cover the stuffed crust seam.
  4. Layer on the cooked Italian sausage, then the peppers, onions and mushrooms. Arrange slices of pepperoni generously all over the pizza. Scatter the crushed canned tomatoes randomly over the pepperoni, and then drop a few spoons of pizza sauce in-between the tomatoes and spread it lightly.
  5. Sprinkle the pizza, including the dough around the edges, with your favorite Italian seasoning blend. Sprinkle the rest of the shredded mozzarella, along with any remaining strips of string cheese, on top of the pizza.
  6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling. The cheese will be lightly browned and bubbling also. Let the pizza cool in the pan for 8 minutes before transferring it to a pizza tray. We use a large pancake turner and a wide fish spatula to get under the pizza to move it. Alternatively, cut the pizza right in the pan and serve up the wedges.

See? Go big or go home!


Triple Chocolate Cherry Brownie Bowls

There’s dessert for the sake of a sweet tooth, and then there’s DESSERT, as is the case with this ultra-chocolate-y, cherry-infused brownie bowl, packed with “Cherry Garcia” vanilla ice cream, studded with sweet cherries and dark chocolate chunks. Oh, and I almost forgot, the cherry syrup. Over the top? Obviously! But this was a birthday dessert a few weeks ago for my husband, Les, who is himself a little “over the top” crazy about any and all chocolate and cherry combinations. And for such an occasion, during a year that has given us too much to worry about and not enough to celebrate, I went all in.

Well, almost. I did take one easy shortcut and I’m not ashamed to share my little secret with you—I never make brownies from scratch. I have a favorite box brownie mix that meets all my picky ingredient requirements, so why put forth the effort to make it “as good as” theirs, when they already have a product that is a winner every time? Ghirardelli dark chocolate is my go-to, and though the brownies are terrific as directed on the box, I sometimes can’t help but elevate them with my own “extras” to highlight certain aspects of the brownies’ personality. It’s easier than you might expect.

For these birthday brownie bowls, I’ve substituted cherry juice for the water called for on the package instructions, and I’ve added a tablespoon of dark cocoa powder plus a handful each of chocolate chunks and cut up dried cherries. That’s it. The simplest flavor swaps, resulting in the most decadent dessert my hubby could have ever asked for on his birthday (or any other occasion). Luckily, for our ever-expanding pandemic waistlines, it will be another year before we indulge to this degree. But it was kinda worth it. 🙂

Chocolate, cherries, more chocolate, brownie, cherry sauce. What could possibly go wrong?

These brownies are super-sized and shaped like a bowl, exactly right to hold a generous scoop of ice cream (which I did make from scratch, but don’t feel pressured to do so). The special shape is courtesy of a fancy-schmancy pan I bought from King Arthur Baking Company. At $30, it was a bit of a splurge, but in this most ridiculous year, I’ve been willing to invest a bit more in kitchen gadgets and ingredients to make our home meal experiences more memorable. Mark my word, it’ll pay for itself by the time the holidays get here, because I’m already dreaming up other ideas.

The pan has a no-fail nonstick coating. The brownie bowl holds a perfect scoop of ice cream.

If you’re not feeling the love for a special pan to make bowl-shaped brownies, don’t stress about it. Make the brownies in a regular pan according to the mix instructions. You can still swap in the special flavor ingredients and have a spectacular dessert with minimal effort. Remember, stressed spelled backward = desserts, and I’m all about flipping things around! 🙂


Ingredients & Instructions

1 box of your favorite brownie mix (make according to package instructions, but adjust as noted below)

Substitute equal amount of cherry juice for the suggested amount of water

Add 1 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder to the dry mix (Hershey’s special dark will do, and it’s easy to find)

Add 1/2 cup dried dark cherries, cut into smaller pieces (fold in after mixing)

Add 1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks or semi-sweet chocolate chips (fold in after mixing)

Bake as directed on the package, but if you use the King Arthur brownie bowl pan, you’ll want to cut the time in half. My brownies were perfect after 25 minutes.

Fill ‘em up!

Cherry Garcia ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s (or whatever other ice cream rocks your world)

I made my own version of “cherry Garcia,” but we usually purchase the Ben & Jerry’s brand, which is great!

Top ‘em off!

Hot fudge topping, whipped cream, or (if you’re feeling inspired) my quick homemade cherry sauce.

Cherry on top of cherries! This sauce is easy to make and also happens to be excellent on crepes or any kind of ice cream.

Cherry Sauce*:

2 cup frozen dark sweet cherries

2 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. pure vanilla or almond extract (or 1 Tbsp. amaretto liqueur or chocolate liqueur)

1 Tbsp. dark chocolate balsamic vinegar* (optional)

2 Tbsp. corn starch, mixed with 2 Tbsp. ice cold water

Heat a small saucepan over medium heat. Add frozen cherries and sprinkle sugar over the top. Stir and cook until cherries are softened and mixture is reduced and bubbly (about 15 minutes). Add extract or liqueur and stir. Blend corn starch and water until smooth, and slowly drizzle into the cherry sauce, stirring constantly. Allow mixture to come back up to full simmer, and continue to stir as it thickens further. Remove from heat. Use the sauce warm over dessert or keep in refrigerator up to two weeks.

*This time around, I strained the cherries from the sauce because they went into the ice cream. Half of the sauce was drizzled through the ice cream like a ribbon, and the rest was reserved for spooning over the brownie bowls. It was a delicious labor of love!

This one’s for you, my birthday boy! ❤

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Waffled Mac and Cheese—yes, please!

There are “leftovers,” and then there are “planned-overs.” The latter is a concept frequently referenced by my aunt, who is all in favor of planning to have extra portions of a recipe, specifically to be used in something else later on.

This is a planned-over that I’ve tried (and missed) before, but this time, it was a big-time winner. Friends, it’s comfort times two—mac and cheese, waffled!

Go ahead, drool a little. I know you want to make these.

These are easy to make, but obviously, you need to have a waffle maker to make this happen. My first (failed) effort was on a Belgian-style waffle maker—not a great idea, and I’m certain the thick, deeply indented shape contributed to the not-so-fab outcome. For the best texture and even, perfectly crispy edges, go with a standard square-style waffle maker. Mine has a non-stick coating, so pulling the finished waffles off the iron was cheesy-breezy.

To plan ahead for these planned-overs, skip back to my basic mac and cheese recipe, and follow the instructions, but stop after the stove-top stage—no casserole into the oven, or else your mac and cheese waffles will be dry and tough. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the cheese sauce, for decadent drizzling on the finished waffles. Go ahead and bake some of the mac and cheese if you’d like, but hold back enough to make waffles in whatever quantity you wish.

Here, I spread the unbaked portion of mac and cheese evenly into a 9 x 13 glass casserole dish, about 1 inch deep. Cover and chill until you’re ready to dive into this decadence.


Ready to get cooking?

Here’s a quick recap for making my bechamel-based cheese sauce. Use the link to the original recipe for ingredient amounts and detailed descriptions.


Ingredients

Prepared basic mac and cheese, reserve 1/2 cup of the cheese sauce for serving.

1 large egg, beaten with a tablespoon of water

3/4 cup unseasoned panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan or parm-romano blend*

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Reserved cheese sauce

1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half


*Notes

At our house, we always have a 50/50 blend of deli-quality parmesan and romano cheeses. We purchase the cheese in blocks and shred it with the food processor. It beats the daylights out of store-bought parmesan cheese, and we save a good bit of money in the long run.


Instructions

The visual description will probably cover it for you, but written instructions are included below, just in case.

Cut chilled mac and cheese into squares or rectangles, to match the size of your waffle maker sections.

Place the beaten egg into a shallow glass dish. Dip each piece of mac and cheese into the egg wash, using a spoon as necessary to fully drench the mac and cheese with the egg mixture.

Combine panko crumbs, parmesan, salt and pepper in a second shallow glass dish. Dredge the egg washed mac and cheese in the crumb mixture, pressing crumbs into the nooks and crannies to ensure even coating. Transfer coated mac and cheese to a parchment-lined cookie sheet and allow them to rest about 15 minutes.

Preheat the waffle iron to 400° F.

Press additional crumb mixture onto any bare spots on the mac and cheese. Arrange the pieces into the waffle iron, and press to close. Allow them to bake about 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown and lightly crispy on the outside. They should also release easily from the iron.

While the mac and cheese waffles are baking, warm the leftover cheese sauce, whisking in up to 1/3 cup heavy cream or half and half until the sauce is thinner and pourable.

Serve the decadent crispy waffles with a generous drizzle of the cheese sauce.

Too much cheese. Said NO ONE, ever.

We served these as a hearty side to some juicy, quick-brined pork chops and leftover collard greens. But wouldn’t they also look great alongside some southern fried chicken or meatloaf or burgers or—OK, with just about anything? 😊

The only thing better than mac and cheese is WAFFLED mac and cheese!

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