Tag: baking (Page 2 of 5)

Product Review: Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit Boxed Mix

The world of strange, kooky boxed baking mixes intrigues me.

They draw me in with their colorful packaging and wildly varied price ranges. I stand in the baking aisle and try to make sense of their antics: Tie-dyed cake patterns, Auntie Annie pretzel kits, and $7 Milk Bar cookies. Do they taste like the boxes claim and are they worth their price tags?

Unfortunately, I found the Duff Goldman Purple Rain cake and insanely expensive Crumbs Bake Shoppe Colossal Cupcake mixes to be lacking. This time I grabbed a less expensive product that made no claims to be “premium” quality. The Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit Mix called my name during my last Target trip. At $2.24, plus 1/2 cup of cheese and 1/3 cup of butter, I proceeded in the spirit of “What the heck?”

It’s true that we all want what we can’t have. In Mason City there is no Red Lobster in sight and so it doesn’t sound too bad. Believe it or not, a Red Lobster actually went out of business here!

Growing up, my parents stuck to a rotation of three dine-in restaurants for special occasions, none of which included Red Lobster because my mom didn’t like it. I wanted what I couldn’t have, so I begged and pleaded to go and they finally took me. I remember it striking me as just “ok.”

I didn’t return to Red Lobster until Jake and I lived in Fargo. It was insanely busy all of the time. Honestly, the food was fine. Ordering Endless Shrimp, however, was most certainly not fine. I got full 1/2 way into my first plate of shrimp, nullifying the whole promotion.


My first & last endless shrimp experience.

And finally, when I think of Red Lobster, I think of my friend Chelsea. As a high schooler, she once chose to dine here for her birthday. She had always wanted to try eating a lobster. What actually happened horrifies her to this day: The server made her choose a lobster from the tank and give it a name. Then she instructed her to, “Now, say bye-bye. He’s going to boil!” Like many lobsters before him, he suffered a Game of Thrones fate and arrived at the table looking the same, except redder. She’s been a vegetarian ever since.

Frankly, I’m terrified of lobsters. They’re, like, so snappy and pokey. I met my first lobster in culinary school and I’ll never forget this big box of tethered lobsters whose antennas waved wildly from the top.


But, I digress. The Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit Mix contained one packet of baking mix and a small foil pouch of seasoning. All you need to add is 3/4 cup of cold water, 1/2 cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and 1/3 cup of melted butter.

Preparation is simple. Mix together the baking mix, cheese, and water in a bowl until just combined. Place 1/4 cup scoops of batter onto a greased baking sheet and bake at 350℉ for 13-15 minutes until the tops are golden brown.

red lobster mix Collage

I can’t shred cheese and not think of that scene in Napoleon Dynamite where Kip’s grating a giant brick of cheddar with a tiny little grater.

cheese grating Collage

While the biscuits bake, I combined the melted butter with the seasoning mix. It smelled like bouillon and tastes of garlic salt.

butter sauce

The instructions directed me to spoon or brush the butter mixture over the warm biscuits and serve immediately. I ended up with extra butter, so you could get away with only using 1/4 cup.


And the verdict?


Pretty dang good. I found this mix to produce an accurate knock-off of what Red Lobster serves in their restaurants. In fact, Jake and I both dare say these taste better. I felt less crazy when a friend informed me that she just made these at home, too, and also thinks they taste better than the restaurant’s.

I didn’t notice anything wild about the ingredients in the baking mix. The list doesn’t list any seasonings or spices and it might actually just be Bisquick. But, somehow, these really do taste like the real thing and possibly better. Having spent $2.24 for the box and adding my own 1/2 cup cheese + 1/4 cup of butter, it’s a relatively cheap thrill, especially since it tastes like the real thing.

Most Red Lobster biscuit recipes do, in fact, call for Bisquick mix. If you already have this on hand, you could try one of these recipes. Bisquick isn’t an ingredient of which I want to keep a large quantity and don’t plan to make them very often, so I’d be satisfied buying an occasional box when the craving hits.

Baking Pies With Food & Swine + Pork Tenderloin At Goldie’s

You can cry or die or just bake pies all day.” – From “Making Pies” by Patty Griffin

After our friend Amy Hild died in a car crash late February, I baked a pie and wrote this post about baking feelings into pies. Grief can seem like a monster or feel like riding a wave and we’re all dealing with it in our own ways. One thing I learned is that I am not the only one who finds solace in baking. My friend Shannon connected with the post and coordinated a trip to Cristen Clark’s home near Des Moines for a pie baking workshop last week.

Group pies

Cristen Clark writes Food & Swine. She and her family grow crops and raise hogs on their farm. In her free time, Cristen enters baking and cooking contests, frequently taking home blue ribbons. I’ll always remember how she extended a hand of hospitality of friendship soon after we moved to Iowa. There are those people who just get your sense of humor, and she’s definitely one of them. Cristen graciously hosted us at her home for the day and shared her best pie-making tips.

Cristen Jessica aprons

We put on our aprons and Cristen walked us through making pie crust.

Group in kitchen

During this class, we prepared all-butter pie crusts. Pie fillings varied, depending on what fruit each person brought. I combined apples and pears and Cristen helped me add sugar, flour to thicken, lemon zest, lemon juice, and this delightfully fragrant Vietnamese cinnamon she bought from the King Arthur Flour.

baking supplies

One technique we didn’t learn in culinary school baking lab was how to make a lattice pie crust. Cristen mentioned that thicker lattice patterns are “in” and demonstrated how to weave the strips.

Cristen trimming pie

I topped my double-crust pie with horse cutouts.

pie Collage

Cristen treated us to lunch at Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe in Prairie City while we waited for our pie dough to chill. Goldie’s claim to fame is winning the Iowa Pork Producer’s “Best Pork Tenderloin” contest in 2009. The Des Loines blog, my favorite resource for unbiased pork tenderloin reviews, lists Goldie’s tenderloin as a top contender near Des Moines.

Inside, the small restaurant looks like a diner and even has a drive-through window. At lunch time, the place was busy and people filled every stool along the counter.

goldies Collage

Mary and I ordered a pork tenderloin basket while the other bloggers ordered pork tenderloin sandwiches. “Would you like ranch? our server asked in true Iowan style. Of course we said “Yes.”

Our pork tenderloin arrived in thin strips and reminded me of the schnitzel fingers I once ordered at Glockenspiel restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota. The tenderloin was fried well so that the strips were crispy without being greasy and the pork was moist and tender. When I looked around the table, I noticed my dining companions’ sandwiches were accompanied by tangles of thin onion rings. Those generic, pre-frozen rings appear on so many menus that I’ve come to expect them. Thin rings are my favorite and I really regretted not ordering them here. Val let me try one of hers.

pork strips

Cristen also noted that the owner raises cattle on his family farm. The cows are processed at a local locker and the beef is served on Goldie’s menu in the form of burgers and sausage. The Magg Combo sandwich combines a pork tenderloin and burger patty. As a new Iowan, I’m still getting acquainted with pork tenderloin sandwiches, but can claim that this is my favorite fried tenderloin so far.

After lunch, we returned to Cristen’s house and finished preparing our pies to bake at home. The way that one bakes his or her pies is so personal and there’s always something new to learn. Competition pie baking is especially fascinating. It’s a completely different beast than baking pies for home consumption, only. I’m not ready for this world, but will certainly use some of these tips Cristen taught us.

Pie Wisdom From Cristen

  • Use a foil collar to prevent crust edges from burning. To make a collar, cut a piece of foil long enough to wrap around the perimeter of your pie crust and fold it into a thinner strip. Wrap it around your pie crust edges and remove it about ten minutes before the pie’s done baking. I can not believe I’ve never thought of this before. The collar sure beats trying to crunch strips of foil around hot pie edges and hoping they don’t fall off each time you move the pie.

pie crust guard

  • Competition bakers keep their pie chilled. Cristen mentioned that when she makes competition pies, she pops the pie back into the fridge frequently to keep the dough cold for perfect forming.
  • Add an egg to the crust: The pie crust recipe I’ve used at home at in culinary school did not include an egg. We added it to the flour and butter, along with the water. I didn’t notice a huge difference, but it turned out well.
  • On shortening & crusts: Different shortenings produce different kinds of crusts. Last November, Cristen wrote this helpful post explaining how each shortening effects crust. I’ve never worked with lard, but it sounds like the combination of lard + butter is popular among bakers. We also learned it’s possible to make a no-roll “push” pie crust with just oil that’s actually won awards at the state fair, too. I haven’t tried this method yet.
  • You can roll pie crust edges up or down: In culinary school, we always rolled the edges of the pie crust down, which Cristen recommended for apple and pear pie. However, she rolled them up on the berry pies. Now, I know I have two options!
  •  Use a giant dough scraper. I don’t own a giant dough scraper. When I’ve made pie at home, I work as quickly as possible so that the shortening doesn’t melt and sprinkle the dough with a lot of flour when it sticks to the counter. The dough scraper made it easy to lift the rolled-out pie dough from the counter and, as a result, I used less flour.
  • Tapioca thickens berry pies. Cristen says the award-winning bakers she’s encountered thicken berry pies with tapioca pearls. She uses 1/4-1/3 cup per pie.
  • Dab with butter: Just like my culinary school instructor, Cristen places little dabs of butter on top of the pie filling before covering it with the top crust.
  • Look for slow bubbles. We baked our pies for 20-minutes at 400℉ and another 40-minutes at 350℉. Slow bubbles indicate that the juices have thickened into a sauce with an ideal consistency.
  • “Blonde” pies are a thing. Pies without any browning on the crust are called “blonde pies.” Some judges prefer them while some don’t, but I’m with Cristen. I like the appearance and flavor of crust with spots of golden brown color.

And my favorite way to enjoy a slice of apple pie? For breakfast with a cup of coffee and cheddar melted on top of the crust!

group outside goldies

From left to right: Cristen (Food & Swine), Jessica (Belong, Create), Val (Corn, Bean, Pigs & Kids), Me, Mary (Natural Plus Nursery), Shannon (The Field Position).

Special thanks Cristen for hosting us and surprising us with lunch at Goldie’s and to Shannon for coordinating the event and providing transportation.  

Recipe: Vegetable Strudel With Creamy Mustard Dip

It’s Vegetablestrudeltime.

I like this strudel so much, I ate it for dinner, breakfast and lunch.

There’s something special about foods all wrapped up in pastry, whether they are meat pies or vegetable pies. Earlier this winter, I worked briefly in the kitchen of a restaurant before I accepted my current role. The chef made a vegetable strudel for a fancy event and sent the staff home with the leftovers. As people who have worked in a restaurant often know, just because you work around food doesn’t mean you have time to eat it! When I got home late that night, I kicked off my grease-covered shoes, removed my hairband soaked in dishwasher spray and shared my little piece of vegetable strudel with Jake. It was memorably delicious.

When I was flipping through Baking: A Commonsense Guide, a cool Australian cookbook, the recipe for Vegetable Strudel caught my eye. The filling in this strudel contains eggplant and tastes more like caponata. In hindsight, a little splash of balsamic or red wine vinegar would add a lovely tang. Even though this recipe has a lot of instructions, this strudel is easier to make than it might seem. Adjust the vegetable filling however you’d like and don’t worry if the sheets of fillo rip or stick together. Simply fuse them together with butter.


Vegetable Strudel Rolls
Adapted from the recipe for Vegetable Strudel in Baking: A Commonsense Guide.

Cooks Notes: I found a box of Athens brand phyllo dough at Target in the refrigerated section for a few dollars. The box contains two rolls of sheets. Larger purple eggplants may have a bitter note. Supposedly, you can remove some of the bitterness by sprinkling the eggplant with salt and patting the slices dry when they release moisture. The slimmer Japanese eggplants have a thinner skin and sweeter flavor, making this step unnecessary. The strudel is crispiest eaten hot from the oven. As it cools, the fillo will get softer. This might bother some, but we’ve been digging into the strudel anyway. Reduce the filling by half if you’d like to make less strudels. We like lots of leftovers. 

Veg strudel inside

Olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 bell peppers, de-seeded and cut into small strips.
2 small zucchini (or one large), sliced into half moons
1 small/medium eggplant, partially skinned and cubed, or two Japanese eggplants.
2 handfuls fresh spinach leaves
Basil, I used two sprinkles of dried
Black pepper
Pinch sugar
1 package fillo dough
Melted butter, start with 1/2 stick
5 oz (or more) of shredded sharp cheddar (or your favorite cheese)
Sesame seeds

Dijon mustard
Vinegar (or lemon juice)
Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, grated
Sugar, a pinch
Hot sauce


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400℉
  2. To prepare eggplant: If your eggplant is large and has thick skin, remove some of the skin. Cut into thick slices. Sprinkle with salt. Place on paper towels until some of the moisture releases from the eggplant. Absorb moisture in towels and cut slices into small cubes.
  3. Pre-heat a large pan over medium heat. Saute onion in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until it begins to turn brown. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add the bell pepper, zucchini and eggplant. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until tender, adding more olive oil as needed. If you have too many vegetables for the pan, split them between two. You don’t want the vegetables to get too soft because they will bake in the oven for another 30 minutes. HOwever, you do want them to cook down enough to release a lot of their moisture so the strudel isn’t mushy.
  5. Toss in the spinach and toss mixture until the spinach wilts.
  6. Taste the vegetable mixture for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper as necessary. Toss in some fresh or dried basil and a pinch of sugar. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  7. Carefully unpack one roll of fillo dough. Remove one sheet. Gently brush with melted butter and top with another sheet of fillo until you have six layers. *Cover the fillo you are not working with, with a damp towel so it don’t dry out and become brittle.
  8. If your fillo keeps ripping: Depending on your box of fillo, some of the sheets may be hard to separate or stick together. If they are all broken, layer the partial pieces together as you brush with melted butter. Once you stack six layers of sheets, they will be strong enough to roll around the filling.
  9. When you have your six layers of fillo, carefully place filling along one of the long edges, leaving space on all three edges. Sprinkle with cheese. Roll the fillo around the filling, tucking in the edges.
  10. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper seam-side down. Brush with more melted butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Repeat process with remaining vegetable mix and strudel.
  11. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. If the edges brown too quickly, lightly cover them with foil.
  12. To prepare the dip, combine the ingredients, adding more or less of each according to your taste.

Product Review: Crumbs Bake Shop’s $10 “Make Your Own Colossal Cupcake” Mix

*DISCLAIMER: Totally didn’t use any fart sound effects. . . because that would just be crude.  

Crumbs Bake Shop boxed mixes caught my eye at Target for one reason: Their price!

Sure, they come in beautiful packaging, but their $7-10 price tags halted me in my tracks. I wondered how it was possible that a boxed cake mix could cost so much. The first time I spotted these mixes, I examined its instructions. For these prices, I would expect the mix to contain everything I would need. Nope. After spending $8-10 dollars, the customer would also need to supply his or her own butter, milk, eggs, oil, and cream cheese.

For example, the sandwich cookie cupcake mix (on the lower end of the Crumbs price spectrum) displayed a photo of cupcakes topped with whole cookies. However, the mix only contained cookie crumbles for decorating, forcing the customer to also buy the whole cookies in addition to the other ingredients mentioned above.

When I saw these boxed mixes on Target’s clearance shelf, I had to bite. I chose the Make Your Own Colossal Cupcake package for $5 and proceeded with the mission of finding out why it could possibly cost $10, full price. The kit also comes with a tiny, green spatula. I can’t lie, I love this spatula.

The Crumbs cupcake chain began as a mom and pop store in New York City. It eventually grew to become the biggest cupcake chain in the U.S. until it filed for bankruptcy in 2014. An investment group now owns Crumbs and is reopening its stores. According to news articles, the grocery store Mariano’s agreed to test a Crumbs cupcake and brownie bar in one of its Illinois locations and partnered with Pelican Bay Ltd. to produce these boxed mixes.


When I saw this photo of a little girl holding a giant cupcake, I assumed it was Photoshopped. Upon closer examination, I realized the kit really does make one giant cupcake.


Here’s what the kit includes:


  • Cake mix
  • White frosting mix
  • Yellow frosting mix
  • Rainbow sprinkles
  • Plastic piping bag
  • Cake liners
  • Tiny spatula

The cake batter was simple to prepare. I combined the mix with one cup of almond milk (I’m lactose intolerant), 1/2 cup of vegetable oil, and two large eggs. Then I poured the batter into the cupcake liner and baked at 325℉ for about an hour, or until I could cleanly remove a knife from the center.


Near the end of the cooking time, I covered the top of the cake with foil to prevent spots from burning. I prepared the two frostings while the cake cooled.


The white frosting contains the Crumbs powdered mix, cream cheese, butter and milk. The yellow frosting contains butter and the powdered mix.


I frosted the cake and added sprinkles so that it looked like the package. I varied from the instructions by NOT filing the center with more white frosting. If I had done so, there would have been no chance we’d eat the cake.

See the resemblance?

Cupcake Monstrosity

I especially liked making the yellow rosettes.


I carefully cut one slice for taste testing.


My reaction after taking my first bite was that it tasted “OK.” The cake was extremely moist and kind of dense. It had a hint of play dough flavor that I just didn’t like. Jake liked it. He finished his slice of returned for another one the next day. We discarded the rest of the cake after it remained uneaten for a few days.

Jake enjoyed the cake more than I did, but also didn’t understand why it would cost $10 full price. The frostings tasted much better than tinned versions, but they’re also made with real butter and cream cheese. Often times, organic products cost a lot more than their conventional equivalents, but this mix doesn’t claim to contain organic ingredients and included lots of things we can’t pronounce.

For $5, this could be an OK option for the right individual. For $10, I’m going to encourage you to skip this mix all together unless you are a die-hard Crumbs Bake Shop fan. With the additional cost of supplying your own butter, cream cheese, eggs, milk, and oil, you are better off investing that money into your own cake from a bakery or making your one from scratch. I should also note that we did use almond milk instead of cow’s milk. It’s what we keep on hand due to my lactose intolerance (a little dairy is fine, but drinking glasses of milk make me sick). I am unsure how drastically almond milk affected the flavor.

Maybe one of these days, I’ll discover a celebrity-endorsed dessert mix worth your cash. This brand and Duff Goldman’s make me feel a bit jaded and I hope they’re not taking advantage of their fans by charging premium prices for just OK products. I’m open to having my mind changed, though. Do it:)

Recipe: Cara Cara Orange Pudding Cake


I’ve always loved experimenting with new recipes. Growing up, I had many successes and fails. Until my brother and I got older, my parents were cautious eaters and liked to stick to their favorite meals and recipes. I always threw in an extra pinch of something when they turned their backs.

Early cooking fails included “Everything in the Spice Cupboard Mini Pancakes” and a leaning chocolate cake covered in weepy frosting that glimmered with blue sprinkles. I considered it an early success when I convinced my folks to let me prepare scratch-made pancakes. They ended up liking them so much they abandoned their Bisquick. Another early success included my first lemon pudding cake. It was unlike anything I’d ever encountered and the first taste was magical.

There are a million recipes for lemon pudding cake. It’s not a fashionable recipe, but it really should be. The ingredient list is concise and the dessert is easy to prepare. Because it contains only 1/4 cup of flour, a thin layer of cake forms on top of the tangy pudding. Jake and I don’t often go for sticky sweet desserts or chocolate, but we do love tart fruit desserts like this.

I found a recipe for South African orange pudding cake and made adaptations by using Cara Cara oranges and adding more lemon juice for a tarter pudding.

Cara Cara Orange

Cara Cara oranges are a type of navel orange commonly found in grocery stores during this time of year. They have a pinker hue and sweet flavor. A college housemate first introduced me to Cara Cara oranges. She was so excited to find them in our small town Iowa grocery store. Her Cara Cara enthusiasm was contagious and has never worn thin.

Cara Cara Orange Mostly Pudding Cake
Adapted from a recipe for Baked Orange Pudding  Francois Jordan posted on forkd. He writes that he found it in a South African cookbook Kook en Geniet. If you don’t have Cara Cara oranges, substitute naval or blood orange juice and zest. I baked my pudding cake in a large nine inch pie dish. The dessert was thin but tasty. I’d recommend using a smaller pan or dish. Thin or thick, it will taste good!


2 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup Cara Cara orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup flour
Zest 1 lemon
Zest 1 orange
2 tablespoons melted butter,


1. Pre-heat oven to 350℉.

2. Separate two eggs. Be careful not to get any yolk or eggshell in the egg whites. Shell and yolk will prevent the egg whites from becoming fluffy.

3. Grease a pan with butter.

4. In a large bowl, cream together the egg yolks and sugar.

5. Whisk in the milk, flour, orange and lemon juices and zest.

6. Whisk in the melted butter. Make sure the butter is not too hot so it doesn’t scramble the eggs.

7. Beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks.

8. Gently fold the egg whites into the citrus-egg yolk batter.

Cara Cara Cake Egg Whites
9. Pour into a small cake pan. Most recipes instruct the cook to bake in a water bath by place the pan in a larger pan filled with some water. I didn’t have a big enough pan, so I baked mine next to a small pan filled with water that created steam.

10. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Don’t be alarmed that the inside of the cake is liquid. A thin layer of cake will form at the top.

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