old school rectangle pizza

Let me just preface this post by saying: high-end, quality pizza, this is not. This is your deliciously cheesy, tasty, greasy, eat-it-in-shame, so-bad-it’s-good sort of pizza. Don’t dive in expecting chewy, crispy, pillowy crust and high-quality toppings.

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Now that that’s out of the way, this pizza totally brought back the nostalgia in full force. Rectangle pizza was the highlight of my lunch week in elementary school! Everyone looked forward to Pizza Day, even if most of the kids would most certainly go on to enjoy much (MUCH) better pizza. I still look back on this pizza with a certain rose-colored fondness. I know it’s not good quality pizza, but it gets the job done and it brings back happy memories of careless youth. It’s the perfect final post in my back-to-school series, and if you ever had this pizza as a kid, I urge you to make it now. Relish the nostalgia and the grease.

You’re welcome.

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classic soft dinner rolls

I can say with extreme confidence that any kid in any school cafeteria in America ate these rolls growing up. At my school, they were ubiquitous with a tray full of mushy spaghetti that, no matter how gross, everyone still seemed to love.

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Here’s something strange that maybe you witnessed during lunch — kids would hollow out the dinner roll and shove the spaghetti inside it, then devour the whole thing. Somehow, this was a thing. Even kids who went to school in other states knew of this! How did this strange method of spaghetti-eating become widespread knowledge? The world may never know.

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chicken fried steak fingers with country gravy

Did you ever eat something so bad that it was actually good? That would be the perfect way to describe the oddly named “steak fingers” we were served in my elementary school cafeteria. They were really nothing to write home about, and were surely mass-produced and most definitely frozen at some point in their lives. These steak fingers bore little resemblance to their homemade counterpart, real country-style chicken fried steak.

No matter how awful the cafeteria’s steak fingers were, I couldn’t help but adore them. Something about that tasty combination of steak, formerly-crunchy breading with lots of black pepper, served with a big pile of mashed potatoes and gravy was just magic to me.

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For this recipe, I decided to stay true to the cafeteria’s version in shape only, and go the traditional route for everything else. Real, down-home, crispy chicken fried steak with boatloads of creamy, peppery gravy and a heap of mashed potatoes. Can I get a hell yeah?

Hell yeah.

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tart cherry crisp with oaty crumble topping

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It’s now September, which means that most kids have already started school. That means new backpacks, dreaded homework assignments, and the school cafeteria!

Wait… do kids still eat lunch in the cafeteria? The last time I did was probably in 1998, so things may have changed a bit! In the next few weeks, I’ll be bringing you some childhood nostalgia in the form of re-vamped — and dare I say delicious? — recipes from those days of eating from plastic lunch trays with your friends by your side.

There were a few dishes served in my school’s cafeteria that I actually didn’t despise. Of course desserts are always high on the list (they’re also kinda hard to mess up), so it’s no wonder that the cherry crisp served at my school was actually top notch.

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strawberry balsamic + black pepper popsicles

When I think of summertime, I think of popsicles, and when I think of popsicles, I think of my childhood neighbor Eric. My family moved in to the house across the street from Eric’s family when I was 5, and he was the same age as me and my twin sister. I remember standing at the end of our driveway with my two sisters the morning after we moved in, shouting to Eric as he sped up and down the street on his bike trying to impress us with his skills. All we wanted to do was introduce ourselves to him, because oh boy, here was a potential new friend! Eventually he stopped his feats of daring on his child’s bicycle, came over and talked to us, and the rest is history.

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Most days after morning kindergarten, my twin sis and I could be found hanging out with Eric at his house. In the storage room off of his family’s carport, they had a big deep freezer that, to my kid brain, seemed chock-full of nothing but popsicles (because that’s all I ever saw his mom pull out of it). Among the typical cherry, orange and grape-flavored pops, his favorite always seemed to be the Flintstones sherbet push-up pops. When the weather turned warm, you could rest assured that Eric’s mom would keep him in a never-ending supply of popsicles from the deep freezer.

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mom’s oatmeal raisin cookies

When I was growing up, my mom had several go-to recipes for meals and snacks. Her homemade spaghetti sauce with ground beef was a common sight at dinnertime, as was her braised pot roast with carrots, onions and potatoes for Sunday dinner. For weekend snacks, I fondly remember eating “pigs in a blanket”, halved hot dogs wrapped in pop-open biscuit dough, dipped into obscene amounts of yellow mustard from that little bottle that looked like a barrel.

My favorite treat that my mom would make, one I remember eating for as long as I have memories of eating, was her top-notch oatmeal raisin cookies. She has the Little Yellow Cookbook, our official name for her cookbook filled with sheets of hand written recipe cards, ideas clipped out of yellowed magazines and newspapers, and recipes given to her from her sisters. This cookbook seemed to be ever-present in the kitchen, though recalling it now, I don’t remember her cooking many recipes from it. It’s one item I hope to one day call my own, as I have lots of good memories of flipping through the book’s plastic pages and marveling at all the time-worn recipes.

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