My Grandma’s Banana Pudding

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Happy Fiesta Friday #26, you guys! I am SO honored to be co-hosting this week’s party with the lovely Prudy@ButterBasilandBreadcrumbs. She’s one of my closest blogger buddies and I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather co-host with. I hope most of you guys that are following me are joining in the fun with us- if you’re not, you’re just really missing out. Go ahead and click on the picture link at the bottom to find out how you can link up with us, we’d love to have you. As this is my first time hosting, I wanted to make my contribution to FF a special one and I really think I succeeded with today’s post.

When I shared the recipe for Banana Yogurt Popsicles, I said that it was based upon an original recipe for Southern Style Banana Pudding that my grandma makes for our family, albeit, a more ‘healthier’ version. I received a lot of requests from you guys asking for the real thing, and because I love when people ask me about food, I decided to go ahead and make some for a photoshoot to share on the blog.

I’ve already shares several of my grandmother’s recipes with you guys, but I never really went into any detail about the cook behind this oustanding food that I was blessed enough to grow up with and in turn, learn to make myself. Behind all food is a story and here is no exception. Yesterday I called up my grandma to ask if she’d mind if I shared a bit of her story, and fortunately she said  it was okay. I’d love to share some of the story with you guys, if that’s okay.

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This is my grandmother, Selma Leander Sanders. She’s my mom’s mom and probably one of the strongest, bravest people I’ve ever met. Her smile and laughter are some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. She’s the first of 3 daughters born to Isaac and Lily Mae Haynes 79 years ago in  Carson, Mississippi. Isaac was unique among many African Americans in the Jim Crow South in that he not only owned his own land, but also employed black and white laborers to help work his farm that Selma and her sisters grew up on. I only met him once in my life and by that time he was in his nineties and ailing in health. But my Mom tells me that when he was younger, he was a real riot, always telling funny stories and playing practical jokes. He was a real family man, willing to do any and everything for his children. My great grandmother Lily was very quiet and reserved. She died before I was able to meet her, but my Mom said that she had an uncanny sixth sense about everything. If you were having a bad day, she’d call you and ask if everything was alright. My grandma definitely inherited that from her, she can take one look at me and know whether or not something’ wrong with me or not.

My grandmother attended Alcorn College, where she met my grandfather, Willie John Sanders. (Random fact: my grandfather attended Alcorn at the same time as Medgar Evers; he still has his yearbook and Medgar Ever’s picture is right there. How cool is that?) When they married they, like many Black people in the South at the time, migrated up north where there were more employment opportunities in the car assembly plants.

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After settling in Lansing, MI, my grandparents soon began having children of their own; three daughter to be exact. While my grandpa worked at the GM auto plant, my grandma worked at home as a homemaker and mother to their children. There, she consistently cooked and baked both simple and elaborate foods for her family, that they still rave about to this day.

My grandma’s cooking is the reason why  never had any problems with eating my vegetables growing up as a kid. My grandpa is 80 and she’s 79, and to this day they still keep a vegetable garden in their backyard that we all love to eat from. One of the only foods I could eat every single day for the rest of my life and never get tired of is a bowl of cabbage greens from the garden, with a hunk of her cornbread- literally one of the best things I’ve eaten in my life, hands down.

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My grandma knows how to make stuff that would make both inexperienced and experienced home cooks break out into a sweat. When I first began seriously cooking for myself, it was one of my greatest hopes that I would someday, somehow get proficient enough to be able to pull off her ‘signature dishes’; the foods that we as a family always attribute to Grandma and all look forward to eating whenever we see her. To date, my proudest moments in the kitchen have been when I’ve succeeded when trying out some of her recipes. She’s getting up there in age and there are times when she doesn’t feel as able to make some of the more complicated things that she used to when she was younger. I’m grateful that I’ve taken the initiative to learn how to do these things myself so that the tradition of her food can continue to be enjoyed by our family without exhausting herself. This Banana Pudding is one of her best ‘signature dishes’. I recently made it for the 4th of July and when I took it over to her house for dinner, I received her stamp of approval-which is how I know for sure that I did it right.

The custard is definitely the star of this banana pudding. It’s sweet, smooth and the ‘glue’ that makes the wafers and bananas mold together perfectly. Guys, this stuff is so good, you won’t even have words. You’ll just sit there, shaking your head back and forth as you keep spooning the pudding into your mouth. That’s what everyone at the table was doing when I last made this, and I’m pretty sure that it’s the same thing you’ll be doing too. Even people in my family who don’t really eat bananas love this pudding. I’m super psyched and proud to share this recipe, as well as the inspiration for my cooking at today’s Fiesta Friday- because it all really does start with my grandma.

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My Grandma’s Banana Pudding

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, plus 2 tbsp
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp banana extract
  • 5 large bananas, sliced
  • 22 oz. crushed vanilla wafers, (2 11 oz. boxes)

Directions

1. In a large saucepan, combine evaporated milk, cornstarch, brown sugar and salt over medium high heat, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Mixture will begin to thicken and form a thin foam across the top.

2. As mixture thickens, transition to mixing with a wooden spoon until it is smooth and thickened. Remove from heat and set aside for about 2 minutes.

3. Add 1/2 cup of milk mixture to the egg yolks and whisk together to temper. Pour egg yolk & milk mixture into the saucepan, then add the extracts.

4. Pour custard into a separate container and place in the freezer for about 20 minutes, or until moderately cooled down.

5. To assemble: using a glass trifle dish, punch bowl, or other large container, layer the pudding in this order: 1) crushed vanilla wafers 2) sliced bananas 3)custard. (See notes for layering tips)

6. Once you have finished layering the pudding, cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight until set. Serve with whipped cream.

*Use a spatula to spread the custard evenly

* Don’t worry about the bananas, wafers, or custard covering each other completely; they’ll mold together perfectly when setting up overnight.

 

Oreo Fudge Brownies

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Am I the only person that has weird food quirks? You know, the habitual things you find yourself doing with various foods that you may or may not be slightly embarrassed about? As a cooking addict and food enthusiast, I’ve definitely got my fair share. I’ll tell you guys mine, if you tell me yours, deal? Sweet….and guys? Please don’t judge me.

  • When I eat meat proteins, I always want some kind of sauce to dip it in on the side. Mostly, my favorite combination is barbecue sauce and honey mustard. Quite a lot of it.
  • Ruffles Potato chips dipped in ketchup is one of my oldest and favorite snacks. Don’t knock it til you try it, cause I’m telling you, it’s DELICIOUS!
  • I make it a special point to always eat the crust of my pizza first, then the rest of it.
  • Whenever I eat a burger and fries I take a bite of the burger, then a bite of fries so that I can ‘meld’ the taste of the two foods together in my mouth.

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  • When eating french fries, I sub-consciously pick them up in pairs that are relatively the same size. I don’t know why, or even how I do it, but I always just do.
  • Whenever I eat dessert, I use a small/dainty fork or spoon rather than a normal size.
  • I like my scrambled eggs cooked in sausage grease, to the point where they’re almost rubbery. I can’t STAND soft or runny scrambled eggs. I like mine firm and stained dirty with sausage grease.
  • When I eat bread on the side for dinner, I make sure that I eat it in equal, moderated proportion to the amount of meat and veggies on my plate so that I finish them all at about the same time.

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  •  I like potato salad, but other than application, I cannot eat anything else with mayo or miracle whip in it- not sandwiches, not cole slaw, NOTHING. Even if it’s been scraped off a burger if they get my order wrong in a restaurant or drive thru or something, I won’t eat it. Isn’t that weird?
  • Similarly, I love pizza, but I don’t eat cheese on my burgers, tacos, sandwiches, or much of anything else that features cheese as a chief ingredient- like mac and cheese or cheese sticks or grilled cheese sandwiches. Pizza is the only way I’ll really eat it.
  • When I was younger I used to make sandwiches out of two slices of bread and a stack of crunchy potato chips. That was it- just the bread and chips. And it was delicious. There was just something about the saltiness and crunch of the chips, contrasted with the familiar flavor and softness of bread that I just loved.
  • The smell, taste, and very idea of Ranch dressing makes me gag. I literally have no idea how people can eat that stuff.

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What do food quirks have to do with this post? Well, I’ve got a method for eating Oreos that some may call quirky. I call it brilliant, but that’s just me. I don’t just pick one up and take a bite. That would be doing it wrong. After years of practice, testing and thoughtful consideration that only a kid can dedicate to a chocolate cookie, I’ve reached the conclusion that there is but one correct way to eat an Oreo, and you guys are in luck because I’m willing to share with all of you:

Gently (ever so gently) pry the two cookie halves apart, being careful not to crack them in pieces. Take the ‘clean’ cookie side and eat it in two bites. Then, take the side of the cookie that still has the icing on it, and lick the icing, savoring the taste of it for as long as you can. Keep licking until there is a thin, but still sturdy layer of the icing left on the cookie half. Then, pop the whole thing in your mouth, letting the blend of the icing and cookie flavors meld in a final medley of deliciousness. And that my friends, is how eating an Oreo the right way is done.

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Or you could just eat it however the heck you want. Your choice.

But my way IS  better. Just sayin.

I recently had a weekend at my house where I made a bunch of brownies. Lots of them. Everyone wanted different kinds of brownies and rather than compromise, I just decided to make everyone the kind that they wanted. My twin, Jas asked me for Oreo brownies so I made a pan just for her. I gotta say, I love how they turned out. You would think that since both Oreos and brownies are primarily chocolate that the Oreos would be left tasting boring and one-note, but they’re really not. You can still undeniably pick their flavor out of the brownie, and it really just adds to the complexity of the chocolate-y goodness going on in the brownies, while the vanilla chips give it that complimentary sweetness without being too overpowering. Cookie and Cream lovers are gonna love these brownies, guaranteed.

So you guys…I wasn’t kidding. Tell me your food quirks so I don’t feel like a lame for spilling all my guts to you about mine. Don’t be shy. No shame in our game, right?

P.S., I’m looking to get involved in some additional recipe link up parties. Right now I’m only posting in Fiesta Friday (which is totally awesome in and of itself, I hope you all are participating….you’re crazy if you don’t), but I would like to branch out even further. So if any of you guys are currently participating in other recipe link ups on other days of the week, just let me know in the comment section so I can try to join in. Thanks guys :-)

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Oreo Fudge Brownies

Recipe Adapted from Food Network Magazine

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups crushed Oreo cookies
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips

 Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil, leaving a 2 inch overhang. Coat the foil with cooking spray.

2. Melt 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips and 1 stick butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring. Off the heat, whisk in 3/4 cup each light brown sugar and granulated sugar; cool slightly.

3. Whisk in 4 eggs, one at a time, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in 1 cup flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

4. Fold in the crushed Oreo cookies and white chocolate chips. Spread in the pan. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted 3 inches from center comes out clean, checking frequently towards the end of baking.

Pizza Hut Original Pan Pizza {Copycat Recipe}

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For last week’s Fiesta Friday #24, I wrote a post with faux letter to the CEO of Pizza Hut, Scott Bergren to talk to him about breadsticks. For this week’s Fiesta Friday #25, hosted by  Hilda @Along The Grapevine and Julianna @Foodie On Board, I thought I’d write him another one to talk about…well, what else? Pizza. So, here goes:

Dear Scott,

I really enjoyed our one-sided chat about the awesomeness of Pizza Hut’s breadsticks last week. This week, I thought I’d shift gears and drop you a line (or several) about your favorite subject in the world: pizza. Because after all, pizza makes your world go round, right?

You know when it comes to pizza styles, I’m a pretty flexible girl. At the major chains there’s typically 3 different types: Hand-tossed, Thin n Crispy, and Pan/Deep Dish.

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Last week I admitted that when it came to breadsticks, Domino’s was able to give you guys a run for your money. Now when it comes to pizza, I really can’t say for sure, as I haven’t had Domino’s pizza since they changed (and supposedly) ‘improved’ their recipe. Therefore, I’ll give my opinion based on what I remember their pizza to be like the last time I had some.

I won’t lie, Scott. It’s good. Really, really good. Their dough, as I remember it, is crisp and browned on the outside, yet soft and pillowy on the inside. This is particularly exceptional in the case of Pan Pizza, as I find that sometimes Pan Pizza dough runs the risk of being too heavy and dense. Dominos has succeeded in making their dough thick and sturdy, but light enough so that you’re not chewing a mountain of dough. Dominos also has the option of asking for more or less cheese/sauce when ordering their pizza, which I really like, as not all pizza preferences are created equal. I said it before and I’ll say it again: they’re definitely the ones to be watching out for in this pizza rat race. But then again, my older sister tells me that ever since they ‘improved’ their recipe, the pizza hasn’t been as good as it used to be, so maybe you’ve got nothing to worry about.

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Now, as much ribbing and flack that Little Caesar’s gets for it’s $5 Hot-N-Ready pizza, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I actually really like their square deep-dish, pan pizza. Because those are typically made to order, they  haven’t been sitting around in a hotbox all day, and they taste far fresher than the Hot-N-Readys. Additionally, the square shape makes it so that nearly every piece has that brown, crispy edge on its crust that I think tastes just as good (if not better) than the rest of the pizza. The ratio of sauce to crust is also pretty good as well. Maybe their breadsticks are bit of a miss, but their deep dish pizza is a hit in my book.

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Don’t worry, Scott. Despite both Domino’s and Little Caesar’s pretty good understanding of proper Pan/Deep Dish style pizza, I have to say that Pizza Hut still manages to do it better. The crust is crisp and browned on the outside, without being as greasy as Dominos or Little Caesar’s. I’m a huge fan of your slightly sweeter pizza sauce, as well as the ratio of cheese that you apply. It’s a pizza where the crust is also just as good as the pizza itself, which is rare. That Pan Pizza is a real keeper, which is why I thought that I may give a whack at trying to recreate a version of it myself at home.

Like the breadsticks, this was a lot of fun to make. I decided to follow the recipe and used three of my 9-inch cake pans for my first time because I wanted it to be as aesthetically close to the original as possible. However, in the future I think I may try pressing all of the dough into one large sheet pan and see how that turns out, just to experiment with the recipe. Mine didn’t taste exactly as perfect as Pizza Hut’s, but my family did enjoy it very much. I was especially impressed with the crust- it was perfectly golden brown with a crunchy exterior and a soft inside. I’ve done some research and apparently, the dry milk, as well as the copious amount of oil coating the inside of the cake pans had a lot to do with that. Go figure.

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Before I end this letter, I still have to take you to task on one thing, Scott. It’s been a week one whole week since I last wrote you and expressed my one point of contention and disatisfaction with you guys over the Hut.

The Big New Yorker Pizza. It’s still not back on your menu. I don’t understand the meaning of this. I mean, I thought I made it pretty clear how important a matter this was (and still is) to me. I thought you understood. I thought you cared.

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See that crust? That’s a thing of beauty, there.

As delicious as your Pan Pizza is, New York Style Pizza still rules the roost, Scott. It’s just better. Honest. I said it before, and I said it again: the Big New Yorker was the best thing you had on your menu, and I can guarantee that it’s very sorely missed by not just me, but millions of other Pizza Hut Customers. Think of the all those people, Scott. Think of the children. Haven’t they suffered enough?

I really don’t want to have to start a campaign or petition for this or anything. I’m hoping you’ll be reasonable enough so that it doesn’t have to come to that. Just bring back the Big New Yorker Pizza to Pizza Hut- that’s all I ask. It’s such a small thing that will bring so much happiness – and that’s what it all boils down to at the end of the day, isn’t it Scott?

Jess

*Just to clarify, this IS just a copycat recipe. I don’t own the actual Pizza Hut logo or breadsticks recipe. So don’t sue me ;-)

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Pizza Hut Original Pan Pizza

Recipe Courtesy of Food.com

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

For Sauce:

  • 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil leaves
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1 whole ay leaf
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar

For Dough:

  • 1 1/3 cups warm water (105°)
  • 1/4 cup non-fat powdered milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp granulates sugar
  • 1 (1/4 oz) pkg dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (for dough)
  • 9 oz vegetable oil (3 oz per pan)
  • Butter-flavored cooking spray

Directions

For Sauce (Makes enough for 2 pizzas):

1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sauce starts to boil.

2. Lower heat and simmer covered for 30-45 minutes until sauce reaches desired thickness.

For Dough

1. Put yeast, sugar salt & dry milk in a large bowl.

2. Add water & stir to mix well. Let rest for 2 minutes. Add oil & stir again. Add flour & stir until dough forms & flour is absorbed.

3. Turn onto a flat floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, adding more flour as needed until elastic & no longer sticky.

4. Divide dough into 3 balls. Put 3 oz of oil in 3 9-inch cake pans, making sure it’s spread evenly.

5. Roll out each dough ball into  9 inch circles, place in cake pans.. Spray the outer edge of dough with Pam & cover with plates. Place in warm area and let rise for 1-1/2 hours.

6. Preheat oven to 475°. For each pizza, spoon 1/3 cup pizza sauce on dough & spread to within 1-inch of edge. Sprinkle with desired amount of mozzarella cheese, and add desired toppings.

7. Bake until cheese is bubbling & outer crust is brown, 12-15 minutes.

 

 

It’s Like I’m Meryl Streep…Kinda {Awards Season}

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Oh boy, no matter how much you try to imagine what this is like, it’s just so incredibly thrilling right down your toes.”

- Meryl Streep, on winning the 1983 Best Actress Oscar for “Sophie’s Choice”‘

Okay, okay. I know that winning in Oscar has got to be bigger than this, but I still never get ‘used’to incredible kindness of some of my fellow bloggers that thing of me when making nominations for awards. Lately, I’ve been showered with them, so in order to try and keep track and give credit where credit is due, I thought I would lump them all together in one post.

So that means it’s gonna be pretty long. You’ve been warned.

 Versatile Blogger Award

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Huge thanks to Nancy@FeastingwithFriends for thinking of me when putting out her nominees. First up, some random facts about me:

 

7 Random Facts About Me

  1. My favorite Disney Princess is Belle from “Beauty & the Beast”. I kid you not, I can quote the entire script from that movie in perfect order, from memory line.by.line.
  2. I can’t sleep without a blanket covering me, even during the summer. Even if it’s hot and sticky out, I’m just not going without it.
  3. Riding off the sleep topic above, I have a rare and rather scary thing that happens to me every so often called Sleep Paralysis. It’s where your brain ‘wakes up’ before the rest of your body and for a few minutes (that feel like an eternity) the only thing you can move are your eyes. It’s akin to ‘Locked In Syndrome’, and it sucks. Luckily it doesn’t happen to me all the time-mostly only when I’m not getting enough sleep.
  4. I received my first kiss when I was 6. It wasn’t my idea and I didn’t like it… which could be why the boy who gave it to me received a knee in the bread basket for his efforts.
  5. The only thing that I’ve ever broken on my body is my big toe. Don’t let the size of that bone  fool you: it was the worst pain I’ve been in in my entire life.
  6. I would like to be cremated when I die. It’s pointless to throw my body in a pit to decompose and buy an expensive headstone to mourn a heap of bones. I’m not ‘there’ anymore anyway, so just burn up what’s left and keep it moving. What my family chooses to with my ashes is up to them.
  7. I’m abysmally bad at math. Seriously. It’s straight up embarrassing how terrible I am. I mean, I can add/subtract/multiple/divide, but even certain types of mental math evade me. Sometimes it felt like college math was legit about to give me a nervous breakdown.

My Nominees for Versatile Blogger Award

Alice@CloseEncountersoftheCookingKind

Haley@IfYouGiveaBlondeaKitchen

Lily@LittleSweetBaker

Rai@lovelorettaskitchen

Farianti@mysimpledelights

Anjana@AttheCornerofHappyandHarried

Julie@JuliesFamilyKitchen

Cristina@BourbonandBlueberries

Ngan@NgamMadeIt

Jayeeta@CookingDelight

Sheila@SweetBakedLife

Gretchen@FeedingMy3Sons

Selma@SelmasTable

Karen@RevolutionaryPie

Vidya@TraditionallyModernFood

 Rules to Participate:

1. Thank the person who nominated you
2. Nominate 15 bloggers for the award and let them know.
3. Share 7 facts about yourself

Sunshine Award

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Thanks goes out to Jayeeta@CookingDelight for nominating me for this Award. I’ll be perfectly honest: I was hoping to eventually be nominated for it. Cause it’s pretty. And because I like to think my tiny little blog spreads around some sunshine.

10 Questions to Ask Me

1. What’s your favorite planet in the Solar System?

Uranus, with Neptune a very close second. Ever since my mom bought me that Magic School Bus book and cassette tape set for me (I think I was in the first grade), I’ve always loved Uranus and Neptune. Why? I think they’re the ‘prettiest’ planets…that I can see from a telescope. As gas planets, I’m not sure how they would look if someone could actually be ‘on them’..

2. Who are your favorite Greek God and Goddess?

I developed a mild obsession with Greek mythology when I was in the sixth grade. Remnants of it still remain. Let’s face it, that stuff is better than any cheap soap opera, I’ll tell ya. Having said that, my favorite God and Goddess of Olympus are Hephaestus and Hestia. I always felt sorry for Hephaestus; most of the male Gods are jerks, but Hephaestus is pretty decent. For the most part he’s just an ugly cuckold who makes really beautiful things. And Hestia? She’s the goddess of the family, hearth…and cooking. So that was an easy choice.

3.  What is more difficult; looking into someone’s eyes when you are telling someone how you feel, or looking into someone’s eyes when they are telling you how they feel?

Tough question, but I gotta say it’s harder for me to look at someone while telling them how I feel than it is for me to look at them when they’re telling me. I almost always look away when I’m having a ‘serious conversation’ with someone and I’m doing the talking so the look on their face doesn’t distract me from what I’m trying to say.

4. Pick a favorite: “Goodfellas” or “Casino”?

…C’mon. Seriously? No WAY can I answer that. Both movies are flawless. Both are my faves.

5. What is the scariest scene you remember from a kid’s movie?

In the movie Jumanji starring Robin Williams, there’s a scene at the very beginning when Alan Parrish is sucked into the game board where he’s trapped inside the jungle for the next 20 or so years because the girl that he’s playing with runs out of the house in terror after being chased by deranged bats without rolling the dice and giving him a chance to get out again. That scene literally gave me nightmares for years. To this day, I still haven’t watched the movie “Jumanji” again because of how much it traumatized me as a kid. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. I don’t care. That movie is still was scary to me.

6. What profession have you always admired?

Although I cannot relate to the subjects at all, I’ve always had a large admiration for people that do work involving math and science- specifically chemistry and physics. Maybe it’s because chemistry and physics have a lot to do with what makes the world ‘work’. And maybe it’s because those subjects make me look plain stupid.

7. Who is the most famous person you have ever met?

My celebrity encounters are very few, and depending on who you are, I’m not even sure if they would really be counted as ‘celebrities’ per se. I have met 3 of the original Tuskegee Airmen, and being an African American and Black History buff, that was pretty awesome to me. I met the Christian contemporary singer Jaci Velasquez at a bookstore a while ago….and that’s about it. Celebrities usually don’t come to Lansing (or anywhere near it, actually).

Oh yeah, I also went to a Barack Obama rally back when he was running for president in ’08- so I guess I was in the same room with him: does that count?

My older sister met Coretta Scott King- I wasn’t there, but I’m telling you anyway, because I think that’s pretty awesome.

8. If you could close one fast food chain, due to disgusting food, what would you pick?

Taco Bell- or as I’ve dubbed it, Taco Hell. I haven’t eaten there in over ten years. And I never will again. Someone set fire to it and burn it to the ground forever. Please. I beg of you.

9. What is your favorite kind of cereal?

Depends. If we’re talking about cereal I’m eating with milk or yogurt, then it’s definitely Kashi Go Lean Crunch. If I’m just eating it dry, then it’s Waffle Crisp.

10. If you were directing a movie, who would you cast as your leading man and woman?

Forest Whitaker is in my Top 3 Favorite Male Actors. He’s just outstanding in everything he does. I could watch him act in a paper bag and still be completely enthralled. The Actress is bit trickier; I don’t know if I can narrow it down to just one. However, for the sake of pairing her with Forest Whitaker, I’d say that the favorite actress of mine that I would like to see work with him would be Kate Winslet. Like Forest, Kate has such a wide range. They’d be nice to watch on screen together.

Rules to participate in this award :

1. Include the Sunshine Award icon in your post and/or on your blog
2. Link to the blogger who nominated you
3. Answer 10 questions about yourself
4. Nominate 10 other bloggers to receive the award
5. Link to your nominees and let them know you nominated them
6. Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer

 

Wonderful Team Member Readership Award

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Thanks to Arl@Arl’sWorld for thinking of me in putting out her nominees for this award. I appreciate it. This one’s pretty straightforward- no random, pointless facts about me to read through. I get to just nominate my picks and get along with it:

Prudy@ButterBasilandBreadcrumbs

Alice@CloseEncountersoftheCookingKind

Haley@IfYouGiveaBlondeaKitchen

Lily@LittleSweetBaker

Rai@lovelorettaskitchen

Rules to Participate:

  1. Nominate some deserving bloggers for the award.
  2. Mention the person who gave it to you in your acceptance post.
  3. Don’t forget to include a picture of the Award.

Quintet of Radiance Award

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Thanks again to the lovely Nancy@Feasting with Friends for thinking of me for this awesome award. Thanks Nancy, you make me feel super special. Lucky for you guys, I’m not going to use all 26 letters of the alphabet to describe me-I wouldn’t subject you to that. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you didn’t just quit reading already because of how long this post has gotten. But for those of you who haven’t, I’ll include a handful of letters to go along with the rules of the award:

I is for [I]ntrovert- It may not seem like it online, but in real life, I’m legit one of the most introverted people you’ll ever meet. My only real ‘girlfriends’ are my sisters. I don’t go clubbing. I don’t like parties or large get togethers, and even if I do have to attend one for some reason, I’m going to be the quiet girl that sits in a corner and looks at her phone and talks to no one without being spoken to first. I’m not stuck-up. I don’t think I’m better than everyone else. I’m not a mean person. I’m just an introvert. There’s a huge difference between all that.

L is for[L]oyal-I don’t put myself out there for people in general. If you’re not my family, I’m probably not going to give you the benefit of the doubt right away. There are people I associate with (a fair number of individuals), but then there are people who are my friends (a number I can probably count on barely two hands…maybe even one). However, if somebody is my friend, then they’re my friend. Period. You can trust me. I’m not going to talk about you when you’re not around. I will keep your secrets. I’ve got your back. I’ll even give you money. If you’re my friend, that means that I love you. And I’ll do just about anything for people that I love.

N is for [N]on-Judgmental-One of the things that can really really REALLY get under my skin, are people that are overly judgmental of others. Until you’ve lived a day in someone else’s life, walked a day in their shoes, or been faced with the decisions that they face, you don’t have the right to judge them. What’s true for you may not be true for them. What false for you may not be false for them. No one died and made me God- therefore, so long as they’re not bringing harm to me or anyone else, I can’t judge anyone for the choices and decisions they make. It’s not my place. It just isn’t.

O is for [O]bservant- When you’re an introvert that doesn’t talk very much in public, you’re usually in a position where you’re watching and observing everything that’s going on around you more closely than I think most people do. As such, over the years I’ve become very accustomed to, and good at just watching people and listening to what they say. You can learn a lot about complete strangers by simply listening to what they’re talking about, and seeing what they do. Sometimes I like what I see and hear. Other most times, I can’t really say that I do.

Here are my nominees for the award. The rules are also listed below should they choose to pass it on to others:

Jayeeta@CookingDelight

Sheila@SweetBakedLife

Gretchen@FeedingMy3Sons

Selma@SelmasTable

Karen@RevolutionaryPie

Vidya@TraditionallyModernFood

 Rules to Participate:

  • Display the logo in a post
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and link back
  • Using the alphabet, describe yourself in a word or a phrase
  • Nominate at least few bloggers

Thank you again, to everyone who nominated me for these awards. You guys are the best. Seriously :-)

Jess

Pizza Hut Breadsticks

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Today’s Fiesta Friday post, hosted by  Indu @Indu’s International KitchenSelma @Selma’s Table, and Hilda @Along The Grapevine, will be dedicated to the CEO of Pizza Hut, Scott Bergren. (Yeah, I googled it. So what?)

Dear, Mr. Bergren: (or Scott, can I call you Scott?)

I don’t know anyone that likes to eat pizza just on it’s own. You’ve gotta have something on the side. What I choose to eat on the side depends on where I’m getting my pizza from. All bread sticks are not created equal; if I’m going to pay for them, then I want them to be the bomb.com. If they’re not, I’ll just order the pizza then call it a day. Capisce?

So with that in mind, I’m writing you today to talk about bread sticks. I’m sure you won’t mind the topic of conversation; pizza and bread sticks are your life (literally).

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I’m not gonna lie to you: Dominoes breadsticks are pretty solid. The outer seasoning is somewhat greasy, but it’s still got great flavor. The inside of the bread is soft and tender and the texture has a really nice chew. The marinara sauce is pretty good too. If there’s a special at Domino’s that includes pizza & breadsticks, I would definitely want to get the breadsticks. I’m sure you and all your research strategists sit around and plan how to one up Domino’s from year to year, and when it comes to their breadsticks I can’t say that I blame you.

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Little Caesars. Heh. Here’s the thing: with this place, I feel like you kinda get what you pay for. It’s rather cheap food, and oftentimes it kinda tastes that way too. Their Crazy Bread isn’t terribly bad, but it’s not terribly great either. Number one, the bread is EXTREMELY greasy. There’s not much browning or outer crust to speak of, which is a major  issue for me. The outer seasoning pretty much seems like liquid butter with clumps of dried parmesan cheese. The marinara sauce has decent flavor, but it is pretty thick, which creates a problem when the bread sticks themselves are very thick and chewy- I’m a sauce hog, so I always want more. I have been known to get Crazy bread on it’s own when I want a quick snack to hold me over for a few hours; it’s worth the $1.99 you pay for it, but not much else.

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Having said all that, I have to give you my own personal congratulations on your product: in my opinion, Pizza Hut has the best breadsticks out there, period. Whenever I’ve eaten out at Pizza Hut, I always get a side of breadsticks, whether there’s a special for it or not. The texture of the bread is spot on: soft and chewy on the inside, but it has a perfect browned outer crust that has a balanced crunch when you first bite into it. It’s not too thick and heavy The seasonings are also more complex than just butter and parmesan, although I can taste those too. The sauce is a close second to my love of the breadsticks; it’s not too thick so you don’t run out before you finish the breadsticks and it’s also slightly sweet, which I really like. You guys really nailed it with the breadsticks, Scott. So don’t change a thing.

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I loved your breadsticks so much that I decided to try and make them on my own at home. I was very pleasantly surprised with the result. I understand that because I don’t have the verbatim recipe that Pizza Hut, as well as a commercial pizza oven it won’t be a dead ringer for the original, but I think that what I had was a very very close second. The sauce was pretty close to yours too. In fact, I felt so inspired by the success of the breadsticks, that I thought I’d go one step further and try out an even more ambitious attempt – but that’s for another post.

Oh yeah, and one more thing, Scott. I do have one criticism of you guys over there at The Hut.

You discontinued the single best item you’ve ever had one your menu. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten, period.

The Big New Yorker Pizza.

Whoever it was at Pizza Hut Headquarters that came up with this recipe deserves a  fat promotion. Everything about it was absolutely perfect. It was my pick me once upon a time, Scott. That pizza literally cured one of the worst days I ever had once. I never, ever, ever, ever got tired of it.

Having said all that, I feel that whoever’s decision it was to discontinue The Big New Yorker deserves the sack. (…Unless that happened to be you. I hope that it wasn’t, so that we can still be friends.)

Please do me a solid and bring it back to Pizza Hut, Scott. Nice chat- we should try it again sometime.

Jessica

*Just to clarify, this IS just a copycat recipe. I don’t own the actual Pizza Hut logo or breadsticks recipe. So don’t sue me ;-)

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Pizza Hut Breadsticks

Recipe Courtesy of Savoryreviews.com

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

For Dough:

  • 1 1/3 cups warm water (105°)
  • 1/4 cup non-fat powdered milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp granulates sugar
  • 1 (1/4 oz) pkg dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (for dough)
  • 9 oz vegetable oil (3 oz per pan)

For Breadstick Seasoning

  • 2 tbsp dry parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic salt
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1/2 tbsp dried basil

For Dipping Sauce

  • 1 (15oz) can tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp dry oregano
  • ½ tsp dry basil
  • ½ tsp dry marjoram
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp salt

 Directions

1. Add the dough hook to your stand mixer. Put yeast, sugar, salt, and dry milk in the bowl of your stand mixer. Add water and stir to mix well. Allow to sit for two minutes or until the mixture starts to bubble. Add oil and stir again.

2. Gently add the flour and stir until dough forms and flour is absorbed. Then knead the dough with the dough hook on speed 4, for 5 minutes.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide dough into two balls. You can refrigerate the second dough ball. Pour 4 tbsp of oil into a 9×13 cake pan making sure it is spread evenly

4. Roll out the dough into a 9×13 rectangle. Then place the dough into the 9×13 pan. Cover the pan with a sheet pan and let the dough rest and rise for at least 1½ hours.

5. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. After the dough has risen, cut the dough into 10 equal breadsticks. Lightly spray the top of the breadsticks with butter flavored PAM. Then lightly sprinkle the top of the breadsticks with the breadstick seasoning.

6. Place the breadsticks in the oven for 10-15 minutes. When the breadsticks brown and the edges get crispy, remove the pan from the oven.

7. Then using a spatula remove the breadsticks from the pan. Break the sticks apart at the scored lines and serve with the pizza sauce. While the dough is rising, mix the sauce ingredient together in a sauce pan. Heat with medium heat until the sauce starts to boil, then lower the heat to low. Let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes before using.

 

Rainier Cherry Hand Pies

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It’s July, guys.

Which means that 2014 is halfway over already. How the heck did that even happen?

I swear it was just yesterday that it was February and I was complaining to you all about the ever-falling snow. Now it’s July and it’s…not snowing here in Michigan. Actually, the weather’s kinda hot. As we’re coming upon the Fouth of July (American Independence Day, for my international readers) I’ve been seeing a lot of recipes pop up around the blogs I follow on WordPress and Pinterest that are centered around some kind of grilling or cookout food. Y’know, lots of red, white and blue stuff.

Of course I think of more than just colors when I think of the Fourth of July. For instance….

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I remember all those ‘patriotic’ American anthems that we learned in elementary school and had to sing in choir recitals : The Star Spangled Banner, This Land is Your Land, O Beautiful For Spacious Skies, 50 Nifty United States (yes, I still remember the lyrics to them all.)

It’s been over 10 years since I last watched it, but July 4th always makes me think of the movie/musical “1776″ starring William Daniels (or most people know him, Mr. Feeny from the show Boy Meets World).

You guys ever heard of Christmas in July? I Googled it, and apparently, ir comes from the fact that for countries in the southern hemisphere, winter falls in July. Therefore, in some of these places they’ll actually have Christmas-themed celebrations so that it feels more authentic. I can understand that logic, as I would hate to have to live in a place where it was 90 + degrees in the month of December. After December 25th, I want the cold snow to go away, but before that day comes, I need to at least ‘feel’ like it’s winter time . I think that they may be onto something with this whole Christmas in July thing too because for some reason whenever July comes around, I get my annual “Christmas Itch”, where I start to wish it was Christmas (or at least Thanksgiving) instead of the dead of summer.

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Anyway, back to the food. A little while ago I was contacted by a representative from the website Raise.com. It’s a forum where people are able to purchase giftcards at a discounted price, then sell them back for cash. They’re doing a recipe round up of blogs featuring recipes centered around the Fourth of July/American food, and when I was asked to participate, I agreed.

I decided on doing a dessert for my contribution to the round up, and when I went to the produce section of my grocery store, I saw that there was a sale on cherries. They had the regular red Bing variety, as well as Rainier cherries. I love cherries of all kinds, but Rainiers are my favorite because of the slightly sweeter flavor that they have- plus they’re just gorgeous to look at. When it comes to cherries, you don’t get much more American than cherry pie, right? Well I decided to take that American classic and give it my own twist with these Rainier Cherry hand pies. Hand pies make it easier to share at a barbecue or cookout, and they’re just cute and pretty. I also wanted to throw in another flavor profile, so I added a 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom to the filling to cut the sweetness a tad bit. I was very satisfied with how they turned out, and I’m proud to bring them to this week’s Fiesta Friday #23, (hosted by Margy @La Petite Casserole and Sylvia @Superfoodista) as well as share them with the folks at Raise.com for their July 4th Recipe Round-up (thanks again, Jessica :-))

Have a great holiday weekend, guys!

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Rainier Cherry Hand Pies

Recipe Adapted from Seriouseats.com

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 2 cups, stemmed and pitted Rainier cherries, roughly chopped (approximately 1 pound of cherries)
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons zest and 3 tablespoons juice from about 2 lemons
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • One half recipe of your favorite butter pie crust

 Directions

1. In a medium sauce pan combine cherries, 1/4 cup sugar, and lemon zest. In a small bowl whisk together lemon juice, corn starch, and vanilla. Pour mixture over cherries and stir to incorporate.

2. Heat cherries over medium high heat, stirring frequently until juices come together to form thick sauce. Remove from heat, cover and refrigerate until cool, at least 1 hour.

3. Meanwhile, cut out eight 6-inch squares of parchment paper. Divide pie dough into eight equal balls. On a well floured surface, roll out the dough balls into 5-inch rounds. Place each round on a piece of parchment paper, stacking them together so they don’t stick. Refrigerate pie rounds for 30 minutes to 1 hour to allow them to firm up.

4. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Place 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons cooled cherry filling in the center of each round, then fold in half to enclose and crimp the edges to seal. Brush the outside of the pies with egg and sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons sugar. Make 3 small cuts on the top of the pies to vent. Refrigerate prepared pies for 30 minutes

5. Set rack to the middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Bake pies until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

Banana Yogurt Popsicles

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Whenever summer comes around, I get really nostalgic for my childhood. I know I’m probably not the only one to feel this way, but I feel like summer time was just so much more awesome when I was younger.

Of course, this may have something to do with the fact that it was at a time when I was still in elementary school (and thus on summer vacation), and also was too young to have a job (that has no summer vacation). Still, childhood summertime nostalgia is the best. Here are just a few memories that I have:

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Back when Will Smith was still rapping (and also The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), he came out with a song called “Summertime”. Yes, I still listen to it now every summer. It’s a classic. It never gets old.

Please tell me there’s someone out there that remembers when this commercial used to come on The Disney Channel. It was  back when The Disney Channel was actually good to watch.

I remember when Nick at Nite used to come on after Nickeldeon shows were over late at night. During the summer, there was this special marathon of shows that came on called the Nick at Nite Block Party Summer. Each night featured a different show; the Munsters were on Mondays, I Love Lucy was on Tuesdays, Bewitched was on Wednesdays, I Dream of Jeannie was on Thursdays (I didn’t watch Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie, but I still remember them), and Friday was for The Brady Bunch. It may have seemed weird for a 9 year old to like watching shows that old, but for some reason I was just addicted to the Nick at Nite Block Party Summer.

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Summertime meant that my grandpa would go and buy watermelons from the grocery store at least once a week that we could all eat. I can’t even think of how much watermelon I used to eat. It was a lot, suffice to say.

I remember playing outside when it was hot. Me and my sisters would turn our frisbees upside down and fill them up with grass, weeds, dandelions and other yard waste. We chopped them up together and pretended we were cooking some kind of food dish (no, we didn’t eat it). Then when the sun set and it became cool, we caught fireflies and ate popsicles.

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The popsicles I ate when I was younger were mostly the red, white, and blue Turbo Rocket ones that were mostly just made of sugar and water and turned your tongue and lips different colors. Now that I’m older, I find that my popsicle palate (if that’s even a real thing) has become somewhat more ‘refined’…or just pickier. I still get cravings for popsicles- I just want them to be a little more complex than the ones I was glad to settle for when I was younger.

I’d been meaning to buy popsicle molds for a while now, but they’re just one of those things that you continually walk past in the store telling yourself, “One of these days, I’ll getcha.”

And then you never do. Except this time, I did, if for nothing else, than to make me come up with recipes to use them for this summer. Today’s post is the first of what I hope will be a nice, delicious collection of popsicle recipes.

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This recipe was inspired by one of my favorite recipes: Southern Banana Pudding. I hope to God you guys have had at least one good Southern Banana Pudding in your life. If you haven’t, then you’re really missing out  and I really do feel sorry for you- cause it is that serious. Rest assured, I will be sharing my grandma’s banana pudding recipe on the blog, but for now let’s just stick with these popsicles.

I think that the one thing that turns me off about most standard issue popsicles today is just that they’re either really, really, really, sweet or just really, really, really watered down and bland. I wanted to alleviate both of these problems in my popsicles, especially given that they’re inspired by banana pudding, which shouldn’t be too sweet or watery in and of itself. The yogurt base really gives these a smooth, but robust and creamy taste that’s further enhanced by the mashed bananas. I added the vanilla wafers to the recipe to give them even more texture to compliment the smoothness of the yogurt base and to add to the banana pudding inspiration.

There is one way that this recipe differs from both regular popsicles and Southern Banana Pudding, and that’s that these popsicles are actually healthy so far as ingredients go. They make for a really light, cold and satisfying snack or dessert for the hot summer days that are upon most of us nowadays. They’e also my contribution to this week’s Fiesta Friday #22 hosted by  Prudy@Butter, Basil and Breadcrumbs and Elaine@foodbod. Enjoy , guys :-)

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Banana Yogurt Popsicles

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups vanilla yogurt
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 tsp banana extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup finely crushed vanilla wafers, plus 3 tbsp, divided

Directions

1. Combine all ingredients except for 3 tbsp of crushed vanilla wafers in a bowl.

2. Sprinkle 2 tsp of crushed wafers into the bottom of your popsicle molds.

3. Pour in yogurt and banana mix, leaving a little bit of space in the top of the molds. Sprinkle the remainder of the crushed wafers over the top of the molds. Insert popsicle sticks and cover each mold with aluminum foil.

4. Place in freezer until hardened, a few hours. Remove and enjoy!

(Tip to remove popsicles from plastic molds: run molds underneath hot water or place molds into a bowl of hot water for about a minute. Gently tug on popsicles sticks, the popsicles should come out.)