Tag: Video Review

The Ranch Dressing Soda Review You Never Wanted: Lester’s Fixins

Well, know I know there is a limit to my love of ranch dressing.

Everyone knows I like ranch dressing. I’ve often proclaimed the virtue of homemade ranch, also known as “good ranch” vs. the yucky shelf stable stuff. Ranch isn’t the greatest condiment ever, but I do think it’s a very, very good thing.

I always knew I liked ranch, but North Iowa deepened this fondness. In North Iowa, every restaurant seemed to serve ranch with fried food. Dinner outings with friends involved requests for sides of ranch and our table was usually littered with little dishes of the dressing by the end of a meal.

My friend @amycrea recently tweeted me a photo of a bottle of Lester’s Fixins Ranch Dressing soda that she found at Jim’s Apple Farm, home of Minnesota’s largest candy store located in Jordan, MN. The soda sounded repulsive and fascinating and I just had to try it. Read Amy’s Heavy Table article about Jim’s Apple Farm here.

I easily located Lester’s Fixens sodas at a store in the Delmar Loop called Rocket Fizz. There are Rocket Fizz franchises in many states around the country. Lester and his sweeter counterpart, Melba, are the fictional figureheads of two soda lines created by the Rocket Fizz company. While Lester offers freaky sodas in bacon, buffalo wing, and sweet corn, Melba sticks to flavors that come in pie like strawberries & cream, lemon meringue, and apple pie.

Rocket Fizz offers a wide variety of retro candies and sodas in every flavor imaginable. Some of the unusual sodas that caught my eye include a Ghost Busters Ectoplasm energy drink, Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray, and Astropop-flavored line. Most bottles of soda cost $2.19 each. I added Lester’s Pumpkin Pie Soda to chase away the ranch flavor and reach that credit card minimum. I’m not sure how Lester and Melba divvied up the pie flavors but pumpkin is Lester’s territory.


First things first, let’s try the ranch soda.


The ranch soda has an off-white hue. At first sniff, the soda smelled inoffensively ranchy, but the second whiff knocked my head back with its metallic, buttermilk sour, onion-garlic powder scent.



My first and only sip tasted like the smell of powdered ranch dressing mix combined with simple syrup and a strong buttermilk note. I stifled a gag and reached for my glass of water. This soda tastes worse than Ron Burgundy’s tears; It tastes like his back sweat. Someone asked me what alcoholic beverage or liqueur I’d recommend mixing with ranch dressing soda and rubbing alcohol was the only substance that came to mind. You’re a sick man, Lester.

Moving on to Pumpkin Pie Soda. Just look at that color. It’s totally Hi-C.



I smelled pumpkin spice, but tasted more of a root beer-sarsaparilla flavor. It’s not something I’d go back for, but totally drinkable. Ranch dressing, yes. Ranch soda, no.

Not that you needed me to tell you that or anything.

Still 2


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:)

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? 

Video Review: Chef’n Vibe Onion Peeler

Video production has always intimidated me.

I barely passed video production class in college, over-relying on the help of my talented friends. On our final class project, I was assigned to edit the class news production project and goofed up with the timing. I’ve always felt embarrassed about this and avoided video until recently.

I’m proud to say I’m revisiting videos in the form of simple iPhone videos and am having a lot of fun.

In my first edited video, I review the Chef’n Vibe Onion Peeler. My friend Beth of It’s Just Life gave it to me for Christmas as a gag gift. She knows I’m skeptical about expensive, single-use kitchen tools and it was sitting on the clearance shelf at Target. Having never seen this tool, I tested it on an onion following the printed instructions and compared it to peeling an onion with a knife.

This short video is about 2.5 minutes long and with oooo’s like mine, there’s no mistaking me for anything but a Minnesotan.

Jeni Eats Reviews an Onion Peeler Tool from Jeni Flaa on Vimeo.

After posting my video, I found another review of this same tool produced by Sur la Table. Of course, they do sell it for $5.95. . .

Either way, I still think peeling an onion with a knife is most efficient. What do you think?

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