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Food & Drink

Best Box Mixes

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 (Trader Joes)

Have you ever wondered about those mixes or marinades in a jar and thought, "should I try these?"  Sometimes you venture out only to be disappointed by the flavor or the freeze dried factor.  Many times you've concluded that they're just not worth it.   

The holidays are behind us (everyone can breath a sigh of relief), but you eventually will be hungry again.  Don't despair.  You can still eat as well as during the holidays, but without all the work.  

We pulled together a roundup up some of our favorite box mixes to help get you through winter’s doldrums. They're fast, easy and most of the times very reasonably priced.  And they’re pretty enough to make amends if you forgot a gift and delicious enough to treat yourself. 

Williams-Sonoma

Part cookie, part cake, Whoopie Pies, aka “BFOs” (Big Fat Oreos) will be the “cupcakes” of 2012. The soft cookies and creamy inside is actually the state treat of Maine. Williams-Sonoma’s Baked Whoopie Pie Mix (made by Brooklyn’s famed Baked bakery) turns red velvet cupcakes into portable treats with a sweet vanilla cream cheese filling. $14.95. (Use an ice cream scoop and a sheet pan if you don’t have a whoopie pie pan.)  Another favorite is the Baked Brookster Mix tops rich brownies with chewy chocolate chip cookies—a Brookster. Williams-Sonoma, $16.95. 

Williams-Sonoma’s savory shortcuts include Stewsdays Stew Starters with Chicken Paprika, Pumpkin, Lemongrass Chicken or Pozole (a Mexican-based stew). Empty a jar over fresh meat or vegetables in a slow-cooker or Dutch oven and out comes a hearty stew. $16 to $28. Their Poblano Corn Chowder Starter is a simple way to make one of the tastiest soups, ever. Just add chicken broth to the creamy corn and potato starter and simmer. Compelling flavor for $12.99. Serves six. 

Sur La Table

Besides carrying a line of Barefoot Contessa baking mixes (red velvet cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, molten chocolate cake) Sur La Table also carries Stonewall Kitchens products. Their Gingerbread Pancake Waffle and Pancake Mix gives you that warm delicious feeling at breakfast sans rolling pins, cookie cutters and royal icing. $9.95. 

Sure, Apple-Cider Doughnuts usher in fall but this easy mix lets you chow down on ‘em all winter long. Sur La Table. $9.95. Popovers perk up holiday leftovers. Sur La Table’s Traditional Popover Mix makes perfect popovers without a too-doughy middle as often happens with made-from-scratch recipes. Popover pans work best but muffin tins do nearly as good a job. You just end up with smaller popovers. Yields twelve. $6.95. 

Costco

Like most warehouse clubs, Costco is best known for great prices (dor example, 48 ramen noodles packs for $8.45), large portions ($8.80 for a six-pound can of Crisco) and great deals, 72-ounces of Nestle Toll House Morsels for $11.29. But that doesn’t mean that gourmet fare can’t be found there. You just have to look. Terra Fina’s Double Crème Brie en Brioche encases super-creamy Brie in a flaky French brioche crust. Layered with caramelized-apples, cranberries and nuts, use it as an appetizer or put it out for dessert. Bake at 350-degrees for about thirty minutes and let sit for five or you’ll scald the roof of your mouth. Swipe it on slices of toasted baguette or sturdy crackers. At $8.99 it’s about two-thirds less than similar mail-order Brie. 

Costco’s Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix, seven and one-half pounds for an eye-popping $11.42 has the richness and flavor of the great San Francisco chocolatier. Rich chowders are one of New England’s specialties. Get a taste of Boston’s legendary Legal Seafoods Clam Chowder, forty-ounces for $9.89. Items available at Costco Warehouses. 

Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s cheery Hawaiian shirt-clad personnel and cheesy (but in a good way) nautical theme surround vast packaged and frozen food aisles. They produce their own goods customizing names to fit origin. There’s Trader Jose's, Trader Ming's, Baker Josef's, Trader Giotto's, Trader Joe-San, Arabian Joe's, Pilgrim Joe's, JosephsBrau, Trader Jacques'… Trader Joe's Truffle Brownie Mix with Dutch cocoa and premium chocolate chips makes unbelievably rich, dense dark-chocolate chocolate-lover’s brownies. Unbelievable with vanilla ice cream. Includes directions for cookies. An incredible bargain for $2.99. Available in a gluten-free version. 

Baker Josef’s Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake Mix does for coffee cake what their brownie mix does for brownies. It has that Drake’s Cakes smoothness (aficionados know what I’m talking about) but it more grown up. Make it rich with butter and milk or light with vegetable oil and water. $2.99. If you want to impress your guests heat up these bite-size puff pastries filled with mildly tangy feta and sweet, sugary onions. If you want to treat yourself, heat them up at home and eat with loved ones. Comes in it’s own baking tray. Trader Joe’s Pastry Bites with Feta Cheese & Caramelized Onions. $4.99.