Category: Food Media (Page 2 of 4)

Life Below Stairs Answered Many Of My Questions About Downton Abbey

I haven’t seen very many episodes of Downton Abbey, but the episodes that I did watch left me curious about life during the Edwardian era. When a topic peaks my curiosity, I obsessively search for information and learn as much as I can. I spent many an hour Googling questions such as, “How accurate is Downton Abbey” and “What was life really like for Edwardian servants.” When I found the little book Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants at our libraryI eagerly checked it out.

This book truly is little. Online reviews critique it for not being very thorough, not going into enough detail, and lacking photos. While I can’t really argue with these criticisms, I found this a quick and interesting read. I knew absolutely nothing about life during the Victorian, Edwardian, and post-Edwardian eras and enjoyed reading an overview of the basics. It’s continued to pique my curiosity on the subject, though. I just requested Margaret Powell’s memoir Below Stairs detailing her experiences as a kitchen maid and cook.

Here are some of the most interesting things I learned from reading Life Below Stairs:

Young women who wanted to enter maid service spent years saving for their first uniforms. A “print dress, a black dress and several white aprons” could cost two years’ wage (p. 61). Sometimes families bought their staff fabric each year for a new uniform, but the servant had to either sew an outfit on their own time or pay someone else from their meager wages (p. 67).

Servants in the Victorian period typically worked 16-hour days, yet received one afternoon off a week to attend church. By the 1900’s, households also gave their servants an afternoon and evening off each month. However, this free time coincided with completing their duties after lunch and having to return by dinner or a nine p.m. curfew. Some people saved up for years to return home for a day. In the early 20th century, it was normal to receive a week-long paid holiday, and two weeks after WWI. Because this rare time-off was so precious, taking it away from employees was a common punishment (p. 85).

Lady’s Maids were like fashion consultants and skilled hair dressers. They prided themselves in their signature recipes for hair washes, pomades, boot polish, and face cream. Valets offered their signature boot polishes (p. 30).

The Butler got the least amount of sleep. He held the highest position on the Edwardian servant tree, ranking above the female housekeeper. Sure, he got paid a higher salary than the other staff and a more generous beer allowance. He got to sample the family’s food and received occasional tips (p. 31), but had the worst schedule. The book outlines the schedule of a real man who served as a butler in 1893: His day started before 7: a.m. and he literally had to make himself available until his master decided to go to bed. Dinner started at seven p.m. followed by evening tea at 9:30 p.m. He locked up the house and put out the fire at 1 a.m.

Laundry was a seven-day process, beginning with soaking the clothes on Monday, scrubbing them on Tuesday, hanging them on Wednesday, starching and ironing on Thursday and Friday, and folding on Saturday (p. 100-101).

Dinner parties consisted of up to ten courses and occurred once-twice per week (p. 112). The really wealthy households offered guests three choices for some of the courses and wine pairings.

Land Stewards lived in their own houses on the property and often had families (p. 26). For many female servants, though, marriage was the only social acceptable exit.

More affluent households employed two different types of cooks: A Professed Cook who prepared fine dining meals and Plain Cooks who prepared day-to-day meals and those for staff (p. 36).

Fancy dinner parties were a big ordeal. Often times, the staff was instructed to prepare so much food that leftovers still got thrown away, even when given to the staff (p. 112). It was the role of the footman to greet guests at dinner parties. He would announce each guest’s arrival to the host and hostess who waited in a separate drawing room (p. 117).

In the early 1900’s, a woman named Rosa Lewis rose from a servant to a successful caterer and hotel owner with the help of her cooking skills (p. 127). The book lists a recipe for her Quail and Beef Pudding. All you need is 12 quail breasts, “game sauce” and some beef suet pastry.

I’ve recently set a goal to read more and spend less time online. So far, I’ve accomplished the “read more” part. It seems like many of you share my enthusiasm for food-related literature. I love talking books. This might make me seem like a dinosaur, but I still haven’t taken the e-reader plunge. I like holding paper books and flipping through them, even though they’re a pain to move. It’s not that I don’t want to purchase books, but the truth is that I read so quickly that we don’t have the budget or the space to purchase everything I read.

Do you have any recommendations for books that might thrill a Downton Abbey enthusiast? How do you feel about e-readers? 

10 Favorite Quotes From Jim Gaffigan’s

Food: A Love Story

My neighbors probably thought I was nuts. I laughed out loud during the entire time I read Jim Gaffigan’s book Food: A Love Story. Gaffigan and I are basically food soul mates. Well, except for his opinion on pie. He prefers cake over pie, commenting that pies are just things that people throw in clowns’ faces.

Here are ten of my favorite thoughts on food from Gaffigan’s book:

1. Eating kale: 


p. 104

2. Taco salad:

From What I can tell, the recipe for a taco salad is pretty simple: Dump eight tacos into an edible bowl (98).

3. Whole Foods, or as Gaffigan calls it, “Whole Paycheck.” 

They should just have a garbage can at the entrance of Whole Foods with a picture of a wallet positioned over it. “How many items do I get? Two? I’ll get the grapes for five hundred, and, Alex, I’ll have the loaf of bread made of wood for ten. . . ” (105)

4. The ever-ending stream of “new” Hot Pocket flavors:

A couple of years ago when I saw a commercial for the Chicken Pot Pie Hot Pocket, I just assumed they were messing with us. . . I figured it was just a matter of time before I’d hear someone ask, “Have you tried the Hot Pocket Hot Pocket? It’s a Hot Pocket filled with Hot Pocket. It tastes just like a hot pocket. I’m going to go stick my head in a microwave” (196).

5. The Reuben sandwich: 


p. 150

6. The packaging of fast food burgers:

“Can you have the chef wrap the burger in paper so it feels like I’m opening a present?” (234).

7. Dining in food courts:

If you are over the age of eighteen, it is impossible to eat alone in a food court and not look like a serial killer (266).

8. Muffins for breakfast:

You know the difference between a muffin and a cupcake? Nuffin. A muffin is just a bald cupcake, and we all know it. p. 280

9. Fruitcake:

Whenever I’ve made the mistake of tasting fruitcake I always think, Did I just bite into a Skittle? Or was it a thimble? (285).

10. Ordering ribs:

Ribs are what protect the pigs’ or cow’s lungs and are really great with barbecue sauce. . . It’s amazing how casually we order ribs (116).

If you’ve read this book, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you a cake or pie person? 

Taste Test: Duff Goldman Jeepers Creepers Premium Cookie Mix

It’s time for another product review and taste test. In the spirit of Halloween and second chances, I chose Duff Goldman’s Jeepers Creepers: Where’d You Get Those Peppers Premium Cookie Mix. Yes, it really does say that on the box.

The mix costs $3.99 plus tax at my local Target and calls for the additions of 1/2 cup of butter, two egg whites, and an optional teaspoon of vanilla extract. I wasn’t terribly impressed with his Purple Rain cake mix and Not Your Bagel Cream Cheese frosting (review here). This cookie mix looked fun and since it called for real butter, I felt optimistic.

Duff Box wm

Back of box wm

The box contains the cake mix, candy eyes, and three colors of gel food coloring.

kit contents wm

Here are the ingredients you are asked to provide:


To Charm City’s credit, the mix includes a lot of peepers. I tried an eyeball and found it tasted like powdered sugar. The texture wasn’t too hard, which I had been afraid of, but I didn’t enjoy them enough to eat more. Therefore, I only added two eyes per cookie, which left a lot of leftovers.


The instructions are simple: Combine the cake mix, egg whites, butter, and vanilla in a bowl. Divide the dough into three equal portions, and mix one food coloring packet (orange, purple or green) into each bowl. Portion tablespoon-sized balls onto a cookie sheet two inches a part, and bake at 350ºF for 14-17 minutes or until the edges turn golden brown.


The final step instructs bakers to press the googly eyes into the cookies while they are still warm. This step is especially important because the eyes absolutely will not stick otherwise. I found that I had to tuck the edges of the eyes into a still-warm and slightly gooey cookie crevice to secure them.

finished wm

Taste Test: The cookies looked adorable. They tasted very sweet and like “birthday cake” flavor. I realize cookies are supposed to taste sweet, but, like the Purple Rain cake mix, they struck me as overkill. However, we all have different sweetness thresholds. The texture of the cookie was pleasantly crisp and chewy.

People who like “birthday cake” or Funfetti flavor will probably enjoy these cookies. “Birthday cake” happen to be one of my least favorite flavors in the world. Jake thought the cookies tasted fine, but wouldn’t go out of the way for them. If you don’t mind spending $3.99 for a boxed mix that makes 20 cookies that taste like “birthday cake,” these cookies might be for you.

*When I edited my video, I realized my phone didn’t record my official taste-test of the cookies. The only clip I could find was a candid shot of me returning for a second bite of the cookie. 

Recipe Review: Garth’s Breakfast Bowl Waits For No One

Garth BB GIF

Most people choose recipes that sound good. I choose recipes that amuse me.

When Trisha Yearwood’s Food Network cooking show first aired, I remember watching an episode where she prepares Garth’s Breakfast Bowl. She layered tater tots, sausage, bacon, cheese tortellini, scrambled eggs, and cheese. I watched in absolute fascination as she explained how Garth loves to put cheese tortellini in everything, including breakfast.

This episode’s been rattling around in my brain ever since. After dinner one evening, I turned on a recent episode of Trisha’s Southern Kitchen and described how she made Garth’s Breakfast Bowl to Jake. “On top of the tots, eggs, cheese, and meat, she adds cheese tortellini! How weird is that?” I exclaimed.

“Actually, that sounds pretty good,” Jake responded. “I love cheese tortellini. We should add them to more dishes.”

And so Garth’s Breakfast Bowl came to fruition. I prepared it in the name of science, of course. To showcase the full glory of Garth’s bowl, I served it in the prettiest glass bowl could get my hands on (thanks Beth). The bowl steamed up as I added each layer (or, ribbons, as I like to call them) of breakfast food.

FInal bowl Collage

One of my friends commented that the tortellini-filled breakfast bowl reminded her of the Friend’s episode where Rachel tries to make an English trifle for dessert. She adds beef, whipped cream, peas, custard, and jam, but, alas, no cheese tortellini. Garth would have totally added tortellini.

Screen shot 2015-05-22 at 6.02.16 PM

View the clip on Youtube.

So, how did Garth’s Breakfast Bowl taste? It tasted exactly how you’d imagine tater tots, sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs and cheese to taste. The dish was heavy and didn’t provide much textural contrast, but the sum of the flavor didn’t taste any more offensive than each individual component. I froze the leftovers in little containers for occasions where we need some extra fuel.


Honestly, my favorite part about this dish were those cheese tortellini. I guess that means Garth might be onto something. . .

I’m not sure how I feel about this dish, but in all seriousness, Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood were two of my first favorite singers and “Beaches of Cheyenne” and “On A Bus To St. Cloud” were my first favorite songs. 

Review: Duff Goldman’s Boxed Purple Rain Cake Mix & Cream Cheese Frosting

I enjoy reviewing weird stuff.

One of my goals this year is to incorporate video reviews of food products and kitchen tools into my blog posts. Thanks for bearing with me as I bumble through this video and spill things. I have a voice for blogging, if you know what I mean. Plus, I just ordered a phone tripod which should prevent so many drops and spills in my next videos.

New challenges are fun and keep me on my toes, so I’ll continue to produce simple video reviews on my iPhone. My written review is located below for those who prefer blog posts over video. Check out my first video, a review of the Chef’n Vibe Onion Peeler.

If you’ve wandered the baking aisles in any major supermarket, you may have noticed Duff Goldman’s fantastical line of baking mixes. They’re impossible to miss because they come in bright color and patterns like pink zebra stripes and camouflage. Duff’s mixes are less expensive than the ridiculously priced Crumbs Bake Shoppe Line at Target ($7.99-$9.99!!!) and a couple bucks more than Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines.

With these products’ Food Network celebrity chef endorsement and claims to be “Bakery Quality” and “Premium,” I had to investigate. Do these cake mixes taste “Bakery Quality” and how difficult is it to replicate the patterns? I asked my readers if they preferred I reviewed the camouflage or Purple Rain pattern and they chose Purple Rain.

Purple Rain Cake

Cost: Depending on the store, mixes in Mason City ranged from $2.98-$3.50. I found tins of frosting at Walmart for $2.48 each.

This Purple Rain mix requires water, oil and three egg whites.


The box contained white cake mix and a tiny packet of purple dye.


To begin, the box instructed me to mix the cake mix, water, egg whites and oil together for two-minutes in a mixer or stir by hand for approximately 240 strokes. I divided the batter into two equal portions and added the purple dye to one half.

To get this striped pattern, I dropped 1/3 cups of the batter onto each cake pan, starting with the white batter and alternated between the two colors. I gently swirled and tilted the pan to encourage each scoop of batter to spread towards the edges of the pan.

Cake batter swirl

I baked the cakes for about 30-minutes at 350℉ and cooled them on a rack. Overall, I found it very easy to produce this pattern. You could make zebra stripes with any white cake mix and your choice of food coloring.

Baked cake in pan

While the cakes baked, I tasted Goldman’s Not Your Bagel Cream Cheese Frosting.

I chose the cream cheese flavor because it’s one of the only types of frosting I actually like. My first reaction to the frosting’s name was “Well, duh.” Obviously, I would hope this wouldn’t taste like my bagel’s cream cheese frosting because I don’t want to eat cream cheese frosting on my bagel. Gross!

The second ingredient behind sugar is partially-hydrogenated vegetable shortening. Those who know me know I eat everything from organic potatoes to Chicken Crispitos from Fareway, but the thought of eating something akin to sweet Crisco made me shudder.

I hated it. It tasted like any other cheap, tinned vanilla frosting I’ve encountered, and I couldn’t detect a hint of cream cheese flavor.

I also tried a piece of the unfrosted cake. The texture was light and fluffy and the cake was moist. However, it struck me as overly sweet. Much sweeter than what I remember other boxed cakes tasting like. Even without the frosting, I had difficult time eating a piece.

For photography purposes, I frosted a quarter of a cake. Even if I wouldn’t eat this piece, I knew Jake would be happy to taste test it in all it’s glory. I made a piping bag out of a resealable bag and mixed some extra purple food coloring into the frosting.

Cake Slice

Jake was overjoyed when presented him with a frosted piece of cake just for him. He dug in and gave it a thumb’s up.


“Don’t you think the frosting is icky?” I asked?

“Nope, taste fine to me,” he said. For a boxed mix anad tinned frosting, he thought it produced decent results. However, he did not touch this piece of cake after this initial tasting. It died in our fridge. Before you purchase one of Goldman’s Purple Rain cake mix and cream cheese frosting, consider these pros and cons:


  • The cake mix is moderately priced.
  • The box provides clear instructions and this pattern was simple to prepare.
  • The kit includes the food coloring.

The price of this cake mix isn’t horribly expensive like the Crumbs line, but it’s still more expensive than Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker Mixes and doesn’t taste any better. In my humble opinion, the cake itself was terribly sweet and nothing about the cake’s flavor or texture made it stand out above the other boxed mixes as “premium.” The Bakery Quality claim is ludicrous. Or maybe not so much, depending on how terrible the bakery is.

I thought the frosting tasted horrendous, but, on the flip side, Jake did not find it offensive. It didn’t strike me as any better than the other shelf-stable frostings I’ve tasted, whether from a small tin or commercial pails. However, if you are in the “No frosting is bad frosting” camp, you might like this one.

My bottom line is that this particular cake mix is OK. You could reproduce the same results with a better flavor by using a cheaper boxed cake mix and your choice of food coloring. The Willy Wonka purple color freaked me out even though it tasted like vanilla and created cognitive dissonance between my eyes and taste buds. However, I’ve had friends report this mix was a fun option for children or loved ones fond of the color purple.

Celebrity-endorsed food products make me go hmmm. . . I’ve seen Rachel Ray broths & stocks, Giada pasta sauce at Target and remember trying the Tyler Florence menu at Applebee’s during the 00’s. How involved is the celebrity in quality control or the claims made about the product? Are these products actually worth the extra dollars because they carry a celebrity chef’s name? I’m curious about your thoughts on any celebrity food products you’ve tried.

What would you like me to review next? 

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