No Bake Banana Pudding

I have to admit, I never liked banana pudding growing up as a kid. Even now being an adult, when I would go to parties, events etc., and if banana pudding was being served for desert, I’d always pass. However, going to culinary school, my pallet was developed to taste! Whether the foods looked appetizing or not. The lesson was to put all flavors in perspective. Basically, that means making a dish, and remembering flavors that I’ve come across to add to a dish, mixing or matching, combining with what taste great together, or not.

During this pandemic, my nice neighbor (again) was kind enough to look out for me, and spot me some groceries that she got from the food pantry. Because, I’m an essential worker, she worries about me and I appreciate it. So I rarely turn her down when she offers. I don’t like letting food go to waste, if y’all remember in my “Happy Fourth of July America” article. The same neighbor that had given me bags of apples, which I used to bake my first apple pie. She blessed me again with a bushel of bananas. What’s strange to me is my first thought was to make banana pudding. Yes, I’ve explain at the top of this article, I don’t like banana pudding. But, my goal was to not let these bananas go to waste.

So the decision was made, banana pudding it is. I told myself if I didn’t like it, my neighbors will have an awesome treat to enjoy. It was so simple, and easy to execute. After it chilled, I actually couldn’t wait to taste it. I swear, I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but it was the most delectable desert I’ve tasted. I was so proud of myself, couldn’t wait to share with my neighbor, and let her know, “this was your doing!”

With Chessmen butter cookies
With Vanilla wafers


  • 12 ounces vanilla wafers (approx. 1 box, may use more for trimming bowl) or Pepperidge Farm Chessmen butter cookies
  • 5 bananas
  • 1 box Jello instant vanilla pudding
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 large tub (16 ounce) Cool Whip

Mix (preferably with a hand mixer) sugar, instant pudding, cornstarch in bowl with milk and vanilla extract. Mix until it thickens.

Add 1/2 tub of Cool Whip. Stir well until fluffy.

Layer bottom of bowl with vanilla wafers.

Next layer is 2 or 3 cut bananas.

Next layer is 1/2 of pudding mixture.

Next layer is vanilla wafers.

Next layer is last 2 or 3 cut bananas.

Pour rest of pudding mixture over that.

Top with final layer of Cool Whip.

Chill for 1 to 2 hours, overnight is even better, and serve!

Cape Town! One of South Africa’s beautiful Cities

View Near Boulders Beach

Well! The travel is back on. I love exploring the world, and Africa was on my list. Yes! It took almost a day to get there, and yes that long flight wasn’t easy. However, I was not disappointed.

Cape Town is full of beautiful people, food, culture, and mountains! I was always in awe of the sceneries, and landscapes. Capturing the beauty on pictures cannot compare to what the eye beholds.


I spent 10 days in Cape Town, which was not long enough. I felt so welcomed by the people, and for me, I needed to touch the “Motherland”.

I experienced tastings of African food, music, and city life. The restaurants, bars, lounges, and malls reminded me of my hometown New York.

Uber is your friend in Cape Town. You can go practically anywhere for way less than what you may expect to pay in the US.

My first tour was the Groot Constantia Winery, which is a beautiful estate. They’ve been in business for over 300 years.

Another tour was a safari. (Real animals y’all). It’s not as dangerous or scary as some would think. However, we were read the rules, and had to sign contracts so the park won’t be held liable. However, it was Absolutely amazing! I love animals, and I did not feel that I wasn’t safe at anytime.

Check out my YouTube channel “Francie Blakes” for travel vlogs of South Africa, and food presentations.

Like and subscribe, so you can get notified when I put up a new blog/vlog.

Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza/made with Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Funny that this dish is the first real cooking I’ve done, since being home from South Africa two weeks ago.

Maybe I am just an all American girl???

This dish is easy, yet it’s made in components. So it’s a little time consuming. The sauce, the sausages, grating the cheese. Cutting vegetables. And, the dough! (Which takes two hours to rise).

Ingredients for the dough:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 Tablespoon active dry or instant yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for pan and brushing dough
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 and 1/4 cups whole wheat flour (spoon & leveled)
  • sprinkle of cornmeal for dusting pan


  • Sausages (cut out of casings)
  • 16 oz mozzarella cheese (shredded)
  • Pepperoni

For the sauce

  • Half of onion
  • Half of green bell pepper
  • Ragu traditionally sauce (2 16 oz jars)
  • Adobo dry seasoning
  • Garlic powder

How to make dough:

Start with warm water (microwave for 15 seconds). Add yeast and honey, whisk let stand for 3 to 5 minutes until you see foaming at the top.

Use a kitchen aid, (it just makes life so much easier). Add the wheat flour, salt and olive oil. If you do have a kitchen aid, use the swirl paddle for mixing dough.

Once the dough comes together, pour on to flat surface and knead for 6 to 8 minutes. Use cornmeal on the surface before kneading. Have an aluminum bowl ready, with olive oil at the bottom.

Mold your dough into a ball. Also, your dough at this time after kneading should bounce into shape, when you poke you finger into it.

Place your dough into the aluminum bowl making sure it’s completely coated with the olive oil.

Cover bowl with a kitchen towel, and place in a warm area in your kitchen.

Wait two hours for the rise. In the meantime cook the sausages in a pan with a little olive oil. Set aside, using the same pan that the sausages were cooked in, add the ragu (both jars). Then add the diced green peppers and onions, and the dry seasonings (adobo, garlic powder) according to taste.

Cut dough in half, or according to how big the removable baking pan you’re using. Then roll it out with rolling pin.

Brush olive oil in pan, shape dough around the pan, then brush whole wheat dough with olive oil. Layer the mozzarella cheese to the bottom, then sausages, sauce, then top with more shredded mozzarella cheese on top, and pepperoni.

Bake at 375 for 25 to 30 minutes.


Spaghetti Carbonara

I just love the simplicity of this dish! If you love one pot meals, than this delicious Italian “poor man’s food is for you. I’ll admit I was watching a cooking show, that explored some regions in Italy. It brought me back to my culinary school days. We had to study where and how foods were used in the different locations of Italy. Like cheeses, wine and certain animals.

Spaghetti carbonara back in the the 1950’s were considered a poor man or working man’s dish. Hell! With the price of eggs nowadays, I’d have to contemplate that. These were simple ingredients that most people had on hand in their homes.


Linguine or Spaghetti 1 box

Bacon 1 pack and a half

*1 large red bell pepper

1 lg eggs

Fresh parsley

Parmigiana reggiano

Salt and pepper to taste

This recipe renders 6 to 8 servings

*Feel free to use any veggies you want ie: peas, green bell peppers etc.

How to make

Remember, I said this is actually a one pot dish. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions (please don’t forget to add salt to the water). Once you get a boil, drop in your pasta.

Once the pasta is cooked, set aside in a separate bowl with about a cup or so of the salted pasta water, then cover with aluminum foil.

In the same pot you boiled your pasta, put the cut up bacon and set flame to medium heat. When bacon is 90% done, add veggies (in this case the cut up red bell pepper). Cook for a few minutes until peppers are medium soft, add a little salt and black pepper.

Add cooked pasta to the pot of bacon and bell pepper, let the pasta soak up the bacon grease, then add the fresh parsley (small dice), and a little shredded parmigiana reggiano.

Let cook for a minute, turn off heat, use a fork to whip the eggs in a bowl. Then pour over in the pot to incorporate ingredients stirring gently to coat.

Serve immediately with a glass of red wine, because, to me it makes such a difference with this dish tasting fresh and hot. Sprinkle a little parsley and cheese over the top on the spaghetti carbonara for presentation.

Easy to make and very filling. I do understand why this dish was popular in Piedimonte, Italy many years ago. Ingredients were simple, yet packed a lot of flavor, and filling enough to get villagers through another working day.

Enjoy this amazing dish! I did 😋

Southern Traditional dishes for a lucky New Year

Happy New Year! The above dish was made by my nephew Michael. And, this goes to show that tradition never fades. This dish was certainly a dish my Mom made every New Years Eve. It signifies lots of luck for the new year. Most families that I knew growing up, always prepared black eye peas and collards for luck all year long, in the next new year. It just really made me proud that my nephew continues my family’s southern tradition, with his family. And, I know my mom, his grandma would be proud!

I love the beautiful plating of this dish, and I know it taste awesome!

All the best to everyone in this New Year 2023!

Roasted Pan Lasagna

A few years ago, before my retirement. I met a elderly Italian woman at work, who became a weekly customer. I really enjoyed seeing her every week, we’d exchange conversation about food, daily life, politics, and jokes. One day during her visit she casually asked, “what’s for dinner?” I told her, “thinking of making lasagna.” Her eyes widened, she told me she makes her “lasagna in a roasted pan.” Then my eyes widened. She said she added everything but the kitchen table in her lasagna. She said by the time the lasagna was ready to be put in the oven, she needed her son to carry it to the oven, because it was so heavy. I remember her saying, she added sweet Italian sausages to the sauce. For once, I actually never thought of doing that. And, my OCD had me thinking, that I know I make the best tasting lasagna this side of the east coast, besides I’ve been making lasagna since I was 17 years old. But, I told her I would try that. However, timed passed, and I didn’t see her as much. But, that’s how life goes.

I’ve made lasagna since, but not the way that Italian Grandma made, until now. First of all, I didn’t own a roasting pan, thank you Amazon! Order one for the holidays for the turkey on thanksgiving. I remember wanting to make something different for Christmas. So I thought of the lasagna. I think I would of made her proud!


Roasting pan

Large pot


Chop meat (1 lg pack)

Sweet Italian sausages (2packs)


Bell peppers (all colors) at least 3 different


Tomato sauce (2 1/2 jars of any tomato sauce you like)

Lasagna pasta (1 and a half boxes)

Ricotta (lg container)

Mozzarella (2 packs)

Dry ingredients

Garlic powder

Onion powder



1/2 cup of sugar to break bitterness of tomato sauce

How to make

Brown sausage and chop meat in separate pans, with a little canola oil. Once cooked, cut or slice sausages about an inch. Add everything together in a pot. Add sauce, peppers, onions, and all dry ingredients.

As it braises, keep tasting a long the way, to make sure flavors are on point.

Cook pasta according to box instructions. Please don’t forget to add some salt to boiling water!

Once sauce is done, and pasta is cooled. Start layering.

* Check for demo in lower paragraphs.

* Layering

Bake for 45 minutes.

I will definitely make this lasagna again. My family loved it! It gave me some joy, passing on a tradition.

Italian Butter Cookies

I’m use to baking during the holidays! But, instead of my usual pumpkin, sweet potato, or tart pies. I decided to go with some cookies. Plus, I felt like giving something personal as gifts this year to family, friends, and neighbors, shows love. God knows this world needs a lot of love right now, more than ever. The pandemic really changed this world in a negative way. So much sadness, death, the world is a much different place, than we knew before.

Ok! I’m gonna admit that this is my first time making butter cookies. However, the recipe that follows was tweeked a couple times, and will make a delicious cookie.


3 sticks of butter

3 to 3 1/2 cups of AP flour and some for kneading

1 3/4 cup powdered sugar

4 egg yolks

2 tablespoon vanilla extract


Pistachio cream*

Pistachio nuts*



Semi sweet chocolate chips

Strawberry preserves (jelly)

How to make the dough

I like to use my kitchen aid with the flat paddle. However, you can use a hand mixer. The butter should be a room temperature. mix butter and powdered sugar, then the flour (add a cup at a time). Then go ahead and add your vanilla and the egg yolks.

Refrigerate 2 hours or overnight is best.

If the dough is too creamy, add a little bit more flour, because the consistency of the dough should be able to form a ball.

After cutting out the dough, place on a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Bake at 325 degrees for a total of 22 minutes, turning them over midway during baking.

*Let cool, and get your creative juices flowing. Some of my cookie toppings I got from Amazon, especially the gourmet pistachio cream and pistachios already out the shell. And of course your local supermarket.

I enjoyed making these cookies, but it gave me real pleasure when my family and friends enjoyed eating them, and said they tasted good.

I got these jewelry boxes from Amazon. These cute little boxes can hold up to 4 to 5 cookies.

Merry Christmas!


Easy as Pie! Holiday edition!

Cheesecake! Yes, I made a strawberry cheesecake! This was not my first time at the rodeo, making cheesecake, however, I bought a 9 inch springform pan, because with my OCD I felt it needed to be perfect!

Auntie Fran’s Strawberry Cheesecake!

Auntie Fran’s Strawberry Cheesecake


Three packs of Philadelphia cream cheese

1 1/2 cup of sour cream

2 cups of sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

3 eggs

Crust Ingredients

1 box of gram crackers

1/2 cup of melted butter

Strawberry compote ingredients

Fresh box of strawberries (leave out about ten to place over the pie)

1/4 cup corn starch

1 cup of sugar

2 cups water

How to make

I love my kitchen aid! Mix cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and vanilla extract in bowl. You can use a hand mixer or kitchen aid. Add the eggs last, after mixture is completely combined and smooth.

For crust, I used my nutra blend to break down the crackers. Added the melted butter, and fluffed it out.

First, evenly pat down the gram cracker crust to your 9 inch springform pan (I put aluminum foil in the pan, for easy transfer to a plate, after bake.

Second, add your beautiful mixture of cream cheese to the pan. Bake for an hour and 10 minutes. Let cool down a bit before putting in fridge.

Cut up your fruit/strawberries in any decoration, shape or size you like and get creative.

To make the strawberry compote, add water, strawberries, sugar and cornstarch in a pot. Boil for 10 to 15 minutes, let cool, then blend.

Check out my holiday pies below. They’ll bring a smile to anyone’s face!

Let me introduce you to my Mom’s southern sweet potato pie, and this delectable fruit tart pie I learned how to make in Culinary school, however, since the holidays that just past, (because I’ve made so many of them), I’ve perfected my fruit tart pies to my own liking. Culinary school just gave me the tools, it’s up to me create on that foundation.

Just let me give you a bit of my Mom’s family history, my Mom grew up in a small town in North Carolina, (Greensboro). My Mom learned everything from her Mom, and I from her. I feel blessed, My Mom and Grandma although inadvertently not knowing, was bringing down tradition. I say that, because in the 1920’s and 30’ there was no time to bombarded with happily passing down traditions, survival was more of a fitting attitude back I those days. Unfortunately, going to work as a cook and housekeeper at a young age for my Ma was a reality. Fast forward to when I was a kid in the kitchen with my Ma, was always fun time for me. Whatever my Ma did during the struggle, or the depression era, her teaching me her crafts in the kitchen overcame what sad feelings, (if she had any) long gone. When my Ma and me cooked, baked, braised, and seasoned, was the best times in my life. My Ma was an eager beaver to show me how to cook. I cherish the memories and the recipes.

Momma Louise Sweet Potato Pie:


5 pounds of sweet potatoes

2 1/2 cups of sugar

3 eggs

1 cup of evaporated milk

2 table spoons vanilla extract

2 table spoons nutmeg

2 table spoons cinnamon

1 stick (half a cup) of butter with or without the salt

This recipe yields 2 pies

How to make:

Boil sweet potatoes until they are soft enough to put a fork through them

When sweet potatoes are done, let them cool. They should be easy to peel at this time

Use a hand mixer, and mix until you have a medium soft consistency, (get out all the lumps, and you may have to add a little more milk to get that medium soft consistency). Add all your ingredients, maintaining your soft consistency (note) you may have to add more sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Fill your pie crust, (I use already made prepared pie crust). Some may consider this cheating, I don’t, because it’s made from real dough, sugar, eggs etc. smooth the top with a spoon or flat frosting spatula. Oven at 350 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes.

Auntie Fran’s delectable sweet tart

Ingredients for the Pastry cream

2 1/2 cups of whole milk

4 egg yolks

1/3 cup of sugar

3 slices of butter

1 table spoon vanilla extract

1/4 cornstarch

1 teaspoon salt

This recipe yields two 9 inch pie or six 3 inch mini’s

How to make:

Bring milk to a boil.

While milk is boiling, whisk together all the eggs, sugar, and cornstarch in a separate bowl.

When the milk starts to boil, remove from heat, pour in half milk into your egg mixture, whisk together, then combine with the rest of the milk that’s in the pot, and add vanilla extract and butter slices.

The mixture should thicken up quickly. Let cool and transfer your pastry cream into a bowl.

To prevent your pastry from forming a film at the sides of the bowl, layer plastic wrap literally on top of the pastry cream, and immediately put in fridge to firm up. Pastry cream can be used in about an hour.

Ingredients for Crust

2 1/2 cups AP flour

2 egg yolk & 1 whole egg

1/2 cup or 1 stick of butter (soft)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Note: if you have a Kitchen aid, this can make all the difference. However, you’ll have to put in the work to mix it all by hand. However, it can be done.

Mix butter and sugar in kitchen aid mixer. If mixing by hand, add flour to bowl first, than add butter and sugar.

Once butter and sugar are combined throughly, add vanilla.

Combine flour and salt and mix with a fork throughly.

Combine all ingredients (may have to add a little more flour) to get a cookie Dough consistency.

On a flat surface, sprinkle some flour and knead your dough, not too much. Wrap your dough in plastic wrap, and put in fridge. Can be used in an hour. Dough will keep in fridge for couple days.

Roll out on a flat surface with a little flour, and start layering and fitting dough in your tart pans. (I prefer to use the removal bottom tart pans).

Oven at 350 degrees. Bake your dough for 20 minutes.

Let cool and add your pastry cream. The fruit you use is totally up to you. I like using as many bright colors as I can. However, you can never go wrong with strawberries.

I make mini’s too!

Baked Lobster Tails in butter and garlic sauce

Ok! This is another dish I made first in culinary school. I would of thought that lobster would of been a dish I’d make years before I went to culinary school. Or, at least right after school, it’s been 4 years since graduating. God knows I’ve been eating lobster since my 20’s. However, it came time to conquer making this dish (live lobster and all on my own).

None the less, I did more than the average of just buying it frozen. I bought them alive had to kill it (in the humane way of how I was taught in school). Cleaned, deveined, shelled, and soaked. However, all jokes aside, I really felt bad killing the lobsters. Didn’t want them to suffer any more than they had too. Plus, I remember the chef/instructor making it clear that killing the animals for consumption, it’s important to remember their giving their lives for your nourishment. So let’s make the killing quick and painless. Or saying something to that affect. And, I agree!

* I posted a video of “how to humanely kill a lobster” on my YouTube channel @francieblakes

Baked Lobster tails with shrimp scampi and vegetables.

This recipe minus the lobster “deconstruction” is easy and not time consuming at all. (Of course frozen is available at food bazaar for $7.99 a pound a week and a half ago)! Live lobster will take some time. However, the fresh taste can’t be beat! This lobster tasted so sweet and succulent, taking the time clean and cut up is well worth it to get it live.


4 Lobster tails

Olive oil



Salt & Pepper



Cutting shears

Brush (kitchen)

How to make the sauce

Butterfly or cut back of tails from open end of the tail, stopping at the wing part of the tail. Pull the meat from the tail sides gently. Also, push your finger under the meaty part of the tail to loosen the meat up at the bottom. Pull meat up and cover it over the tail.

For the sauce to brush over the lobster tails, cut up about 4 cloves of garlic into small dices. Also, cut up 1/2 a bushel of the parsley also into small dice. Pour one cup of olive oil into a measuring cup. Add 1/2 tsp of salt and pepper each, and half the garlic and half the parsley. Mix completely.

Brush sauce over lobsters and bake for 20 minutes.

For butter and garlic dipping sauce, microwave for one minute, half a stick of butter and the rest of the diced garlic. Cut up some lemons and your in business.

Sprinkle the rest of the parsley flakes over your completed dish.

Like I said before this recipe can be easy, but if you really want to impress your family and friends with this elegant dish, it’s worth it to do it fresh. You’ll never forget how good it tasted.