stuffed cheez-it pizza for the win

earlier this week my older brother kyle sent kari and me a link to a story about pizza hut’s new stuffed cheez-it pizza with the comment “another marketing campaign tailor made for kels!”  well, it couldn’t be more true.  after rapid-reading the article, i fired back the message “i know what i’m having for dinner on tuesday!”  so, when tuesday night did roll around, phillip and i parked in the exclusive pizza hut parking spots to give into the hype.

we enthusiastically ordered the pepperoni stuffed cheez-it pizza and were thankful the cashier was kind and did not laugh too much at the unusual amount of excitement we were showing.  i mean, just look at this face!  cheez-its and pizza – what more could we want?!

phillip and i patiently waited in those bright red chairs, our expectations nearly through the roof.  we had just finished a tornado class at orangetheory and were eager to undo our workout.  about ten minutes later, our order was up, and i squeaked when i saw how cute the box was.  i guess sometimes in life it’s good that simple things can excite us so much.  🙂

we sat down and opened the box to reveal four fresh, piping hot cheez-it pockets.  don’t they look just like the crackers themselves?  the answer is “yes.”

the cheez-its were honestly a little smaller than i expected them to be, and a single order like this is really more of a snack or a side item probably meant to be ordered with something else.  these pictures give you an idea of the scale/size.

phillip and i each started with a bite of just the square, no marinara dipping sauce quite yet.  we chomped, we chewed, we thoughtfully savored, and in the end we decided that pizza hut had truly capture the cheez-it essence.  it isn’t too much cheez-it, it isn’t too much pizza.  it’s an excellent combination of the two.  the edges were crispy but not burned, and bites closer to the center were warm and gooey.

although quite delicious on their own, they are even better with a dollop of the marinara sauce.  it really completes the bite and brings everything together.  as we finished up, we were extremely tempted to order more, as i easily could have eaten a whole box on my own.  somehow we refrained, which was difficult seeing as how i do not know how i’ve been living up until now without these stuffed cheez-it pizza bites in my life.  the good news is that i can definitely have them again.  the bad news it they’re only around for a limited time, so you better hurry and order yourself some before we beat you to it!

cranberry bliss bars

it was an all-starbucks weekend when my mom was in town to help dog-sit my dog nephew rocco and house-sit for my brother while he, kari, and bode were out of town.  things started off with a couple of post-workout pumpkin spice lattes on saturday and continued into that evening when we tried out this copy-cat recipe to make our very own cranberry bliss bars.  they are mom’s favorites during the holiday season, and since they aren’t out just yet for purchase at your local starbucks cafe, we decided we would make our own!

can’t you just hear the Christmas tunes on your radio now?

my mom, the expert on how a cranberry bliss bar should taste, tried them for breakfast this morning and said they were divine.  i bit into a forkful myself and declared the same, even though i’ve never actually had one from a starbucks store!  the chocolate chip chunks combined with the cream cheese frosting and chopped craisins make for a delicious, rich bite that pairs perfectly with some fresh fruit and a steaming cup of coffee.  our only tweaks to the recipe?  more craisins in the batter and some orange zest in the frosting.  oh yes, that is exactly how i will make them next time, and i’m sure that will not be long from now.  🙂  the seasons are changing, and we are ready for all the holiday-themed treats we can get!

breakfast of champions.

the great chicken sandwich debate

okay, folks!  coming to you directly is another social media-driven taste test of the popeye’s chicken sandwich versus the chick-fil-a chicken sandwich.  unless you have been living under a rock the past week, you have seen a reference somewhere in your day-to-day about popeye’s new chicken sandwich and all the talk it’s causing around town.  well, i decided i could not simply sit aside and let the rest of america tell me which they liked better:  i needed to try them for myself!

this past friday after work and a great workout, my big brother kyle so kindly first waited at popeye’s (for 30 minutes) to pick up a couple of their sandwiches and then swung by chick-fil-a to grab their sandwiches and some sides.

to make this taste test as fair as possible, we ordered both sandwiches plain, just chicken and bread, and split them down the middle so that we all (phillip, kyle, kari, and i) would have half of each.

popeye’s on the left, chick-fil-a on the right.

i started with a bite of the all familiar chick-fil-a sandwich, as i hadn’t had one in a while and wanted to re-familiarize myself with that distinct taste.  after doing so, i bit right into the popeye’s sandwich and immediately noted how much crunchier their breading is than cfa’s.  phillip agreed in that regard and also commented that the popeye’s sandwich is, in its own way, somehow lighter yet more buttery than cfa.  i mean, if you look in the photo above, the popeye’s bun is glistening from the ceiling light.  must be all that melted butter goodness!

with all this being said, the cfa sandwich still had plenty going for it, including its signature, somewhat sweet taste – maybe it’s all that peanut oil?  and as i continued to munch through bite by bite, i personally concluded that i could easily see myself craving a popeye’s sandwich in one moment and then a cfa sandwich or nuggets in another.  someone at the dinner table commented that they are “both in the same tier of good” just different, and i don’t think i could agree more.  the popeye’s sandwich is an excellent fried chicken sandwich, while cfa does what it does well with a simple, classic chicken sandwich.

one excellent comment kari made was that the popeye’s sandwich makes her want to go try the popeye’s five bonafide big box to see how the fried chicken itself is.  you know the one, don’t you?  where the popeye’s spokeswoman annie is standing in the street and an oversized popeye’s box drops from the sky?  well, in case you don’t know it, here it is for your viewing pleasure.  🙂

and if you don’t believe us after all this, then read this post that phillip found.  it puts into additional words all you need to know about this 21st century fast food drama.

now, i mentioned that we also grabbed some sides from cfa, which included their classic waffle fries and also their new macaroni and cheese.  yes!  you read that correctly, mac’n’cheese at chick-fil-a!  kyle was the first to try a spoonful and without any hesitation said it was “gangster” and that he wants it “pumped right into his veins.”  that paints quite a picture, doesn’t it?  phillip gave the mac’n’cheese a taste, too, and gave it an “a+” (and a thumbs up).  i agree the mac’n’cheese is creamy and delicious and a fully unhealthy but completely satisfying accompaniment to a meal that, overall, was fun to share with my loved ones.

towards the end of dinner, i asked everyone which of all the dishes would they want for their last bite?  phillip and kari both said the cfa french fries because there’s something irresistible about those thick waffle fries.  kyle said the cfa sandwich.  i myself said the popeye’s sandwich, but what do you know?  my last bites were the mac’n’cheese!  as for my nearly ten-month old nephew bode, he was at the table, too, and enjoyed some vanilla puffs for his last bites.  can’t wait to take him for his first popeye’s before too long!

the impossible whopper

as many of you know, i am a sucker for a good marketing campaign, especially when it comes to food.  i mean, i tried the pizza hut p’zone because of a good commercial they were running, and although not the topic of this post, i’ll save you the trouble now and encourage you not to order the p’zone.  it was bad the first time it came out and is still bad on this re-release.  too much dough and not enough filling!

anyway, i digress slightly.  this post is about the impossible whopper by burger king.  i kid you not when i tell you that, as i am typing, a commercial for the impossible whopper just aired.  it’s like it was fate.  because i did not want to miss out on the alternative-patty craze that seems to be gripping the nation, i asked phillip to stop at burger king on his way home from work last week and pick up a couple of impossible whoppers for us to try now that they are available nationwide.

we unpacked our bag of grub, snapped a few photos, and then started chomping away.

i’ll cut straight to the chase and keep it real with you all.  the look of an impossible whopper is just like that of a regular whopper.  a complete bite (bun, patty, toppings, and all) really tastes just like a burger.  i broke off a little hunk of the patty itself to see how it tasted on its own, and it wasn’t too bad.  it definitely had that flame-grilled taste on the outside, but a plant-based patty just doesn’t have that juicy, savory element that a meat patty has when perfectly cooked.  some things just cannot be recreated.

i’d say if you are interested in the impossible whopper, go get yourself one.  i’m not certain i’ll have it again, but it was fun to give something new a try, and i think it’s pretty cool that a big, popular chain like burger king has a trendy, meatless option for customers who crave it.  up next on my list of things to try include the beyond meat patty this week in our blue apron meal kit and then, if i like that, maybe the beyond meatball marina sub at subway.

Coming to America – Day 2

June 20th

Our mission today was to travel to Cheswick, PA to find Deer Creek Cemetery and the graves of our Grandfather George and Uncle Felix.  We had breakfast at the hotel and set off with an overcast sky.  The scenery was beautiful, so green and so different from the Los Angeles area!  We found the very old cemetery and set out looking for the graves.  Gary had looked up the information, and we knew which sections they were in, or so we thought.  We all got a lot of steps in as we went back and forth, row after row looking at gravestones.

deer creek cemetery.

I personally find old cemeteries very interesting and can wander for hours looking at the headstones and wondering who these people were, what their lives were like, etc.  A lot of the people buried here were born in the mid- to late 1800s.

Kyle and Clark found George Despot’s headstone (1888-1941), and we gathered around.  He died of black lung from working in the coal mines.  It was emotional for Gary and I, remembering our mother had told us and knowing that she had been here when he was buried.

It started lightly raining as we looked for Felix’s grave.  Back and forth, up and down we went in the grass.  We couldn’t find the grave, but our shoes sure got wet!  We finally went to the office, and the groundskeeper looked it up right away, so we followed him in his vehicle to the correct section.  We found Felix’s headstone (1916-1947), who died of a burst appendix, and that of this daughter Judith.  We thought of the stories our mother had told us of her big brother.

Our mother had a younger brother who also came to America; his name was Albert, or Uncle Al as we all called him.  He joined the Navy and ended up settling in San Pedro, CA to work as a fisherman.  After our mother’s dad and brother Felix passed away, she moved out to Long Beach, CA to be near her brother Al.  Our next stop was in memory of him.  We climbed into the van and headed to Oakmont Country Club where Uncle Al had worked as a caddie when he was a kid.  Gary fondly remembers Uncle Al telling stories of working at Oakmont.  A little history for those who don’t follow golf:  the course at Oakmont Country Club, designed in 1903, is one of the most difficult in North America.  It has hosted more combined USGA and PGA championships than any other course in the United States.  We arrived at the guard shack and explained that we just wanted to go to the pro shop and pick up a few souvenirs because Uncle Al had worked here many, many years ago.  The gentleman gave us the once over (being sure we were properly dressed because golf courses can have dress codes) and said we could go in.  What we could see of the golf course was absolutely beautiful as well as the buildings.  We picked up some gifts to take back home and set off.

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Coming to America – Day 1

Hello, my name is Aunt Cindy, and I am Kelsey’s aunt from California.  I am honored and a little scared to be a guest writer on her blog.  I recently flew to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles to meet up with my brother Gary (Kelsey’s dad and a former guest blogger) and my nephews Kyle and Clark for what I have named the “Coming to America” tour.

Our mother Goldie Despot came to America from the then Yugoslavia (now Croatia).  Her father Grgo (George) and Uncle Stipan (Steve) had arrived in America and were working in coal mines outside of Pittsburgh.  George sent for his children one-by-one; my mom Goldie was 11 and traveled by herself on a ship to New York.  She stayed on Ellis Island for several days and was then put on a train to Pittsburgh where her father was to pick her up.  My mother lived at different times with her father in Harmarville and uncle and aunt in Brownsville.  She grew up in these areas, went to school, and learned to speak English without an accent.  She eventually moved to California, married, and had my brothers and me.

My mother took us three kids on a train to Pittsburgh in 1965.  We all have memories of that great adventure.  My mother kept in contact with a few of her friends and cousins in Brownsville, but since she passed in 2001, no one has been in contact with them.  Gary decided he wanted to go back and visit and found a few relatives, so the new adventure began.

Wednesday, June 19th – Arrived in Pittsburgh

Gary and Kelsey drove to Pittsburgh from Atlanta and picked Kyle, Clark, and I up at the airport.  Here are a few photos of Gary and Kelsey’s driving adventure.

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We left the airport in the rented minivan and, thanks to the Neuwirths (friends of the Alabama Andrich family), we were ready to video this awesome sight as we came out of the tunnel into Pittsburgh.

After we checked into our hotel, the Springhill Suites Pittsburgh North Shore, we enjoyed tasty appetizers of crackers with three different flavors of easy cheese and whiskey shots in the boys’ room.

We set out to find something to eat and walked in the light rain to Mullen’s.  We ordered beers and other things to drink.  I spotted a Black and Tan on the menu.  I love a Black and Tan and this one was made with Yuengling Beer, which we on the west coast cannot get.  It was delicious!  Looking at the menu, the Pittsburgh Wrap caught my eye.  The menu said it was the #1 best seller, and I have to agree!  I loved it.  Grilled steak tossed with cheese sauce, coleslaw, and French fries.  My plan was to share it, but only a small portion went to Kelsey for a taste – I ate everything!  I never had French fries on a sandwich but have to say these French fries were not the usual boring fires.  I don’t know what they did, but they were delicious.

Kelsey went with the pierogis (which are filled dumplings of Central and Eastern European origin, made by wrapping unleavened dough around a savory or sweet filling and cooked in boiling water or pan-fried).  Kelsey and I were both looking forward to these, as they are not common in Atlanta or the South Bay area of Los Angeles.  Unfortunately, they were pretty firm without enough butter and, ultimately, very disappointing.  Clark had the chicken wings and enjoyed them very much.

After dinner we were all pretty worn out, so we walked back in the rain to our hotel for a good night’s rest.

national donut day!

recently, phillip and i have been big on celebrating all the national food days, and it would have been a shame if we had gone all day this past friday without celebrating national donut day.  in honor of these delectable, fried dough creations, i’ve decided to highlight some of our favorite donut shops here in the atlanta area.  warning:  this post may cause you to drool.  🙂

since moving to east atlanta late last year, we try to do our best and eat at local restaurants in the area that we cannot find elsewhere.  sure, we could hit up the local dunkin’ for a donut or two, but per suggestion from our eav neighbor lawrence, phillip ventured to happy donuts on friday to snag us a treat.  i was working away on my computer when he returned with a lovely variety that were made even better since it was a buy-one-get-one-free deal for the day.  don’t you just love when that happens?  i promise we did not eat all of these in one sitting, but don’t put it past us!  these donuts are plump and very flavorful.  my favorites include the red velvet, strawberry, boston creme, and maple icing.

another great local spot is the well-known sublime doughnuts.  i could not find a recent picture from our latest visit, but believe me when i say they are one of the favorite spots in town.  if you are in the city, especially on the west side, please go by and stay for a coffee and a donut.  this place will cheer you right on up and also fill you right on up.  🙂

down in fairburn, we love the king’s donuts.  this spot is on the way when we visit phillip’s parents in peachtree city, and if we are in town when they’re open, we almost always make a stop.  again, no pictures because we ate them all before i could snap one, but these donuts are just plain fun.  the other weekend we had one with grape-flavored icing, one with oreo cookie crumbles, and another with frosting and fruity pebbles!  if you’re young at heart or have young ones in your life, i think king’s donuts would be the perfect place to bring them.

last but certainly not least is probably our top spot for donuts:  duck donuts.  duck donuts opened up while we were still living at the condo and was barely a quarter mile from our neighborhood in buckhead.  i stopped in one morning after a workout to see what the buzz was about and became a fan almost instantly.  these made-to-order creations might be smaller than your average donut but are just as worthy of your hard-earned dollars as any of these other establishments.  they have suggested topping/flavor pairings, or you can build your own combination.  we almost always get a beach ball and blueberry pancake and then whatever else tickles our fancy.  they do have seasonal features, so visiting throughout the year is a must!  😀

i most certainly hope you are now craving something sweet, and the best part is you know where you can go to satisfy that craving!  i don’t doubt there are other incredible donut shops in our great state, so please share your personal recommendations.  we just might write about them someday!

national burger day!

last tuesday was national burger day, so after a grueling workout at orangetheory fitness, phillip and i decided it was only right that we join in the celebration.  i pulled up yelp, in search of a burger joint we had not yet tried.  as i scrolled through pages of results, i stumbled upon a burger place that is not only off buford highway (some of atlanta’s best restaurants are off buford highway) but is also inside a chevron gas station!  i asked phillip just how adventurous he was feeling that night, and he kindly obliged my curiosity, especially when i told him this spot has four stars.  so, we pulled out of the lot, drove about ten minutes north, and were ready to give burger baby a chance.

like many of the reviews state, two things are definitely true.  first, you most certainly will miss this place if you are not looking for it.  second, once you do know what you are looking for, things are going to look a little curious.  the signs are a bit beat up and nothing really looks official, but if you can get past that, you’ll find in the left back corner of the store the burger baby counter.  even before we ordered, i immediately knew this adventure and meal would be dedicated to anthony bourdain.  i’m most certain this is the type of place he would want us to try on such an occasion.

as we perused the menus, loads of fresh, delectable “wangs” were being dressed for some customers in front of us.  if i hadn’t come there with the mission of celebrating national burger day, i may have walked out of there with a basket of wings.  guess we’ll just have to come back another time!

it was our turn to order, so we asked the lovely patrice for some help in navigating the menu.  she made a few recommendations, and we ultimately decided on two orders of sliders (four sliders total), one with muenster and the other with swiss, and some french fries.  patrice was kind enough to hook us up with a side cup of parmesan garlic sauce for dipping, a creation she has self-named “patrice’s parm fries.”  spoiler alert – they did not disappoint.

all the burgers and fries are made fresh to order, so while we waited we jammed along to some “wild thoughts” by rihanna along with the lion king on the tv in the background.  doesn’t get much better than that!

along with the sweet tunes, here are other things you need to know about burger baby.  they do accept credit cards, something i mention because sometimes with smaller places that is not the case.  also, there is nowhere to sit and eat here.  there are a couple stools, but those are more for when you’re waiting.  so, definitely plan to eat this in your car (while it’s still hot!) or enjoy it elsewhere.

it wasn’t too long before patrice called out our name for food.  we thanked her for her friendly suggestions and wisher her luck at her birthday dinner later that week.  what can i say?  i can chat it up with just about anyone.  🙂

thumbs up, patrice!

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presidential chicken

as you all know, i’m almost always up for trying a new recipe, and a few weeks ago was one of those nights.  my inspiration was from my dear friend jamie and his fiance caleb.  they have been dabbling in the podcast world and have multiple times mentioned the famous presidential chicken recipe from michigan state university, which is where jamie attended college.  after hearing them describe it as chicken with puff pastry, sour cream, and cream cheese, i demanded a copy of the recipe so that i could try it myself.

so, being the obliging podcast hosts they are, they sent me a link and off i went to kroger to get everything we would need.  as i took over the kitchen with pots and pans and knives and cutting boards, phillip walked in and asked, “what are you making?”

“presidential chicken!” i replied, as if he should have known all along.

he politely said “okay” and left me to my work.

making the stuffing was no big deal, but trying to get the puff pastry looking all nice and on purpose was not as successful.  i may have even ended up with some precious little mini pouches, over there, on the right…oh well!

while these bad boys baked away in the oven, i got to start on the sauce.  now, as i started on the sauce, i found myself confused.  my sauce was not thickening up at all and, with a taste here and there, was quite bland to me.  i double-checked the directions and was doing everything right, but perhaps there’s an msu trick to getting it to thicken properly.  i’ll just have to let one of you show me how it’s done!

eventually the puffs were baked to near-golden perfection.  ah, who doesn’t love a nicely browned, flaky pastry crust?

i plated the chicken up with some broccoli and a little bit of the sauce, but honestly, my sauce wasn’t even necessary (and promptly wound up going down the drain).  those heavenly pouches can stand on their own with piping hot chicken and a creamy, rich sour cream and cream cheese mixture.  this dish is easily one i can see us enjoying time and time again.  🙂

so, if you enjoyed this post, there are two things you need to do:

  1. go get the recipe and enjoy this dish yourself
  2. go listen to jamie and caleb’s podcast

for both, you’ll thank me later.

emerald city bagels

one day in the not so recent past, i had been craving a good bagel.  now, when we lived in buckhead, there were plenty of places around where we could go (and did go) for bagels.  however, we all know that feeling when the same old is the same old and we want to try something new.  as such i searched the internet far and wide for bagels in atlanta and emerald city bagels caught my eye most.  and what do you know?  it’s a pleasant twenty minute walk from our house in east atlanta!

phillip excited about his post-otf bagel.

this darling mother-daughter bagel shop is a charming combination of big city atmosphere and just the right amount of whimsy.  it isn’t too fussy, keeping the focus on what’s most important – those delicious bagels!

without a big line of customers behind us, we walked up to the counter and informed the cashier justin that it was our first time at emerald city and we wanted some recommendations.  thankfully he was also in a chipper mood, so he gladly took some time to give us the lay of the land and also make some personal suggestions.  we didn’t waste any time ordering two coffees, a rosemary sea salt bagel with fig cream cheese, and an everything bagel sandwich with egg, cheese, and pork roll.  yes, go ahead and be jealous.  🙂  with our hot coffees and toasty bagels, we grabbed a couple of seats at the counter inside and got to work.

we’ll start with phillip’s bagel breakfast sandwich with its perfectly cooked egg that oozed out just the right amount.  each bite was super savory between the rich egg and cheese and salty bagel and pork roll.  before i knew it, phillip had scarfed down almost the whole thing!  i somehow snuck a bite of it before it was entirely devoured.

it was time to try the rosemary sea salt bagel with fig cream cheese.  oh.  my.  word.  first, let’s drool for a moment about this incredible cream cheese to bagel ratio.  i mean, i’m definitely on team the-more-cream-cheese-the-better, and this place does it up right.  next, let’s talk about taste.  the fig cream cheese was incredible!  and this is coming from someone who actually likes figs.  they weren’t too much or too little; they were just right.  as for the bagel itself, it was a touch too salty for me and not enough rosemary at all.  don’t get me wrong, i still ate that bagel like it was the last bagel i would ever eat, but if i hadn’t known, i’d think it was just a sea salt bagel with all the big salt flakes everywhere.

likely to no one’s surprise, phillip and i have been back to emerald city bagels each weekend since moving to east atlanta.  and, to ensure we deliver the most to our loyal readers, here’s a list of all the bagel-spread combinations we have enjoyed so far and our ranking of each.

phillip’s rankings:

  1. inverted grilled cheese on rosemary sea salt
  2. everything bagel with egg, cheese, and pork roll
  3. rosemary sea salt bagel with toasted almond and fig cream cheese
  4. plain bagel with garlic herb cream cheese
  5. garlic bagel with plain whipped cream cheese
  6. sea salt olive oil bagel with veggie cream cheese
  7. cinnamon sugar bagel with peanut butter

kelsey’s rankings:

  1. rosemary sea salt bagel with toasted almond and fig cream cheese
  2. inverted grilled cheese on rosemary sea salt
  3. everything bagel with egg, cheese, and pork roll
  4. plain bagel with garlic herb cream cheese
  5. cinnamon sugar bagel with peanut butter
  6. sea salt olive oil bagel with veggie cream cheese
  7. garlic bagel with plain whipped cream cheese

so, if you’re ever in the mood for a killer bagel and some decent company, make the trek south of i-20 and phillip and i will drop whatever we are doing and meet you at emerald city.  after all, there’s a whole world of bagel-spread pairings we have yet to try, and we’d love to try them with you!