Tag: Food Network

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:

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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.

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

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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.

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“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:

Pros: 

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

Cons:
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? 

Six Suggestions For Improving The Food Network’s Programming

The topic of food television is near and dear to my heart, because, frankly, I love it!

The discussion board What would you do to fix the Food Network? keeps getting bumped and people are suggesting ways the network can improve its programming. Supposedly, the Food Network’s ratings have steadily declined since they fired Paula Deen. I feel invested in the Food Network because I’ve probably watched it since its inception in 1993. Here are six changes I would make to improve its programming:

  • Less competition shows, please!

One of the posters on the Chowhound board claims the Food Network offers so many competition shows because they gather the highest ratings.

As a grade schooler in the 90’s, I remember staying up late and watching the original, subtitled Iron Chef, the only cooking competition show I knew of. Now there’s Chopped, Chopped All Stars, and Chopped Canada. Jake and I love Chopped the most, but seriously, we only need one. Sorry Chopped Canada.

The Food Network has also frantically birthed Food Network Star, Guy’s Grocery Games, Food Truck Wars, Food Court Wars (OMG so much war!), Worst Cook in America and Rachel vs. Guy, to name a few.

A recent article on Deadline lists the 35 new shows the Food Network and Cooking Channel plan to add to their lineups. As you can see, a whopping 10/18 of Food Network’s new daytime and primetime shows are cooking competitions and two are undercover shows similar to Bar Rescue.

I haven’t even mentioned the baking-specific competition shows which brings me to my next point. . .

  • Curb the baking competition shows.

I’ll admit, I am a little biased because I lean savory over sweet. However, I do love baking and I do so very frequently. I just don’t find it that interesting to watch people bake for extended periods of time.

Cupcake Wars & Last Cake Standing are two of my least favorite shows. I generally don’t like cupcakes and find Last Cake Standing confusing. Do those cakes even taste good? So much rice crispy sculpting and shiny, weeping fondant. I’d rather eat a hideous-looking but delicious-tasting cake, than a structurally-sound cake with fondant-covered rice crispy sculpting that shoots fireworks.

And what’s up with the judges making the pastry chefs carry their giant wobbling cake sculptures across the room to the podium? That’s just mean.

  • Choose hosts with a good balances between personality & cooking talent.

It seems like Food Network values noisy personalities over cooking savvy, which I don’t’ understand because it’s possible to embody both.

How many Guy Fieris do we need?

Before you think I’m anti-Guy, allow me to share that I have seen every single episode of Drive-ins, Divers & Dives at least twice. I love the concept of the show, and, although his over-the-top presentation can grate on my nerves, he’s mostly ok in this context (although I feel bad for the featured restaurant chefs when he visibly acts nauseated when they prepare traditional dishes with ingredients like offal).

Now, there’s a second Guy. Jeff Mauro won season seven of Food Network Star and his delivery is like a caricature of Fieri with cartoonish reactions and his rhyming, slammer jammer phrases.

There is a subsection of America that is demanding more Guy and more Jeff and now they’re hosting everything from competition shows to The Kitchen talk show. They even have their own specials where they go on vacations with their families and eat stuff.

I want to see people cooking and talking to me like they would in real life. It is possible to find hosts that strike balances between cooking and putting on a show. My favorites include Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson of the Two Fat Ladies series. Their witty banter always kept me on my toes and they also seemed to be so authentically at ease with themselves in all of their quirks. Personalities aside, I can’t watch an episode without wanting to eat everything they prepare.

The same goes for Food Network’s Sunny Anderson, Amy Thielen, Aarti Sequaria and Chin-He Huang of Cooking Channel’s Easy Chinese. Say what you will about Ree Drummond. After watching The Pioneer Woman, not only do I want to eat everything she makes but I feel like I’m actually a part of her family. That’s got to count for a lot, right? I also think Alex Guarnaschelli is wickedly talented and appreciate how she doesn’t seem to put on airs.

I fell in love with Jose Andres after renting his PBS Spanish cooking series Made in Spain from Netflix and, honestly, Anne Burrell and Gordan Ramsey are subdued and endearing when producers let them cook in the kitchen by themselves instead of nudging them to scream at reality show participants for ratings.

  • Continually aim to add more diversity to the hosting talent.

The Food Network likes to feature restaurants of all culture and ethnicities on shows like Restaurant Impossible, Drive-Ins, Diners & Dives, and The Best Thing I Ever Ate/Made. They also like to show their current lineup of hosts cooking a wide variety of foods. So why not increase the diversity of hosts?

For example, I’d like to see them hire more Asian hosts. I’ve seen Guy Fieri feature many Thai restaurants on Drive-ins, Divers & Dives and I’ve watched Giada De Laurentiis, Ree Drummond, Tyler Florence, Rachel Ray, Trisha Yearwood and even flippin’ Sandra Lee make Thai food. So why not hire a Thai host?

The Food Network seems to understand that America loves to watch hosts feature Asian restaurants and prepare Asian food, but it just doesn’t seem to want to hire Asian hosts to prepare Asian food. The same could apply to many other cultures.

  • Rerun the old classics.

The Food Network uses much of its air space to show rerun marathons of Chopped & Diners, Restaurant Impossible, and Drive-ins & Dives. Why not add more variety by airing some of the old classics? I hope I’m not the only one that would tune in to watch Julia Child, Two Fat Ladies, Molto Mario, Door Knock Dinners and Sara Mouton!

  • And then I just don’t get the point of these shows:

10 Dollar Dinners
There’s no way I could make any of these dinners for $10 even if I shopped at Dollar General, Aldi’s, or Walmart. Take a sampling of ingredients from the recent episode Appetizing Savings: Butter, blue cheese, milk, cream cheese, yellow bell pepper, olive oil, white wine vinegar, yogurt, fresh basil, a whole pound of ground turkey, raspberry jam, panko, one egg. . .

Where on earth are you shopping Melissa?

Who’s doing this math?

Hungry Girl
Lisa Lillian cooks like my parents tried to eat healthy in the 90’s.

Real cream and real butter are the devil, but let’s stuff our faces with artificially sweetened desserts and fat-free products.

Her recipes will probably include any given combination of sugar-free hot chocolate mix, garlic powder, FiberOne cereal, Laughing Cow cheese wedges and shirataki noodles, either cooked in the microwave or sautéed in a pan with exactly one spritz of cooking spray.

They’re “guilt-free” of course, because we should all feel really guilty about eating foods like entire eggs (instead of fat-free liquid egg substitute), olive oil, honey and whole milk mozzarella.

I record her shows for the same reason as I do Sandra Lee. Morbid fascination and curiosity. Who knows what strange and fantastical foods they’ll come up with next?

In closing, I’d want the Food Network to embrace the philosophy that variety is the spice of life. I’m not saying they should get rid of Guy Fieri, never feature cupcakes or ditch ALL of the cooking competitions. Just, try to mix it up and add more diversity in programming and hosts. 

How do you think the Food Network could improve its programming or are you happy with it the way it is? Some friends recently shared their thoughts and ideas on my Facebook page

Clearance Grocery Item Taste Test: Giada Di Laurentiis Pork Chop Milanese Box Kit

I like prowling grocery stores for clearance items. You never know what you will find.

Some of my recent clearance finds have included cans of mango nectar for .16 each, cocktail rye bread, cans of seasoned black beans, and random variety of beers by the bottle at the liquor store.

This week, I found boxes of Giada De Laurentiis Pork Chop Milanese Box Kits at Target. I see Target carries her expansive line of food products and I have never tried one so I grabbed a kit for only $1.74 (regularly priced $3.49).

The box comes with pouches of lemon thyme risotto, seasoning mix, and seasoned breadcrumbs. You must add your own meat and suggested lemon wedges. Since I already had boneless-skinless chicken breasts in my kitchen, I substituted them for pork chops and pounded them flat myself.

Giada Kit

I made a few more adaptations:

  • Sautéed diced onion along with the arborio rice before adding the water and seasoning pouch.
  • Added some extra grated parmesan cheese to the finished risotto
  • Instead of following the directions to coat the meat in the seasoned breadcrumbs, egg, and again in the seasoned breadcrumbs, I went the more traditional route. I first dredged the meat in flour I seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Then, I dipped in the egg and into the box’s seasoned flour. Then, I placed the breaded cutlets in the freezer briefly to set up.

So, how did it turn out?

chicken milenesa

Taste
Not bad. The rice really did have a tart lemony flavor that didn’t taste artificial. Although this is real arborio rice, it looks more like minute rice. This may be due to the rice’s seasoning pouch which includes a lot of dried herbs that appear anemic and lend an Uncle Ben’s appearance. Also, the cooking method instructs you  to toast the rice, add all of the water, and simmer until cooked (stirring occasionally).

The breading was actually fine in texture. I found it tasted bland and had to add a lot of salt to the cooked cutlet. If you use this kit, I’d suggested seasoning the meat and also adding salt to the breading. I didn’t love the dried thyme and basil which added kind of a noxious flavor. Not inedible, but a little one-note, though you might like them. Spritzes of fresh lemon juice helped counteract these flavors. 

Final Verdict
Acceptable, especially for the clearance price. The rice tasted better and more natural than it looked and was the most flavorful component to the kit.

Would I buy it again?
No. I like my homemade cutlet breading better because I can season it exactly the way I like. To make this dish, you have to set up your own breading station anyway, so it won’t much extra effort to seasoning your own flour and breadcrumbs. I keep it simple with the flour mixture, but might add salt, pepper, minced fresh parsley and grated parmesan to the breadcrumbs.

Her original Pork Milanese recipe is on the Food Network website.

Have you tried any interesting grocery store clearance items lately?

Brined & Roasted Chicken Legs for Two (Adapted from The Pioneer Woman) + Curry Mayo

I was a hesitant Pioneer Woman fan.

When her cooking show first aired, I wasn’t sure I liked her. Soon, I found myself watching her show with surprising regularity and setting my DVR to record it. And when she made those darn hand cookies, well, I just found myself wishing I could make hand cookies with her, too.

I recently watched an episode where Ree prepared Spicy Roasted Chicken Legs and decided to give them a try even though Jake’s not crazy about chicken pieces with bones. He prefers boneless-skinless chicken breast, which I hate. Slowly but surely, I’m trying to change his perspective by feeding him as delicious chicken thighs as I can prepare. He may still prefer white meat, but at least he doesn’t hate those thighs anymore.

I needed to thaw my chicken legs and remembered how Danelle, of My Total Perspective Vortex suggested defrosting meat in brine. I based my brine on Michael Ruhlman’s Quick Brine Recipe and let the chicken soak for two hours. This was enough time to ensure the meat was juicy and flavorful from the inside-out.

A Cook’s Notes
The excess butter may drip onto the pan and smoke. I transferred the chicken legs onto a clean pan and reduced the heat to 375℉ to avoid setting off my smoke alarms. After they cooked for 1/2 hour, I broiled them until the skin was crispy.

I served the chicken with basmati rice cooked in chicken stock with sautéed onions + sliced brussel sprouts sautéed and then steamed until tender with Asian flavors like ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and a little sugar. I also whipped up a quick curry mayo for dipping. 

Pioneer Woman Chicken Legs

Here’s my take:

Ingredients:
6 chicken drumsticks (1 pack)

Chicken Brine:
5 cups water
2.5 Tablespoons of salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 bay leaf
Tablespoon dried sage

Chicken Butter:
1/2 stick butter
1/3 teaspoon seasoned salt
Cayenne pepper, a good dash
1 teaspoon hot madras curry powder
Lemon juice, about two tablespoons

Our Favorite Curry Mayo for Dipping
Mix together mayonnaise (could substitute greek yogurt, sour cream, or a combination), hot madras curry powder, cayenne, garlic or garlic powder, a spritz of lemon juice, and a little dash of sugar. We like it spicy so I use a lot of curry and cayenne.

Instructions:

  1. Prepare the brine for the chicken by mixing the water, salt, sugar, bay leaf and safe until combined. Mine doesn’t follow Ruhman’s Quick Chicken Brine in exact proportions because I can’t do math, but it’s close enough. Allow the chicken to soak in the brine for a couple of hours. Remove the chicken and pat dry.
  2. Prepare the chicken butter by melting the butter, salt, cayenne, curry and lemon juice in a small saucepan. I love hot Madras curry and add it to everything, but you can use whatever seasonings you like.
  3. Swish the chicken legs around in the butter and place them on a baking rack set on a baking sheet. Baste with butter, again.
  4. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes. You might need to replace the pan underneath and reduce heat to 375 if the butter and juices smoke too much.
  5. If the chicken isn’t browned enough after cooking, broil until the skin is crispy and golden brown.

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