Adventures in Nashville at the 47th Pillsbury Bake Off – Part 1

I just returned from my second “dance with the dough boy” as a finalist in the 47th Pillsbury Bake Off contest. For those of you who remember, I was lucky enough to participate as a finalist last year as well in Las Vegas. If you are not familiar with the Pillsbury Bake Off, it is a famous cooking and baking contest that highlights amateur home cooks, Pillsbury and other sponsors’ products, and offers a Million dollars as the grand prize. As you can imagine, Pillsbury receives tens of thousands of entries. (The rumor this year was that it was around 65,000 entries)

Me and the Pillsbury Doughboy in Nashville

This is kind of embarrassingly obsessive, but I entered 27 recipes I total this year. Here is my “top 100” finalist recipe, which is gluten free!

Lauren's Cherry Vanilla Dutch Pancake

Cherry-Vanilla Dutch Pancake

I was pretty excited to be competing with a gluten-free “Dutch baby” pancake that looks gorgeous, is easy to make, and tastes amazing.  Nobody will even know that it is gluten-free, unless you tell them.

So, I flew to Nashville with some hope, a few nerves, and a massive hankering for “hot chicken”, which I had lusted after heard all about on the Food Network.

First, I met a fellow Finalist and her mother in the lobby of the beautiful Omni hotel (the venue for the Pillsbury Bake Off).  We decided to hit the restaurant in the hotel that is famous for having a biscuit bar with all sorts of toppings, but alas, no hot chicken.

I had a lovely salad of arugula, locally grown beets, goat cheese, and candied pecans, topped with a delicious honey vinaigrette.  The piece de resistance was the buttery, flaky sweet potato biscuit with toasted pecans on top!

My Lunch Biscuit

My Lunch SaladAfter lunch, I checked out the famous letterpress print shop that is attached to the hotel.  As a former Printmaking major, my love of prints and the process of printing is near and dear to my heart.  I love that this studio, which is famous for creating posters for the musicians and shows in Nashville, also happened to create the aprons we wore in the Bake Off contest!  I may have bought a few souvenirs there…..

Hatch Show Print Poster

More Hatch Posters

The Hatch Printing Press

At this point, I got a much awaited text from my friend Michele Kusma, who had been in the 46th Pillsbury Bake Off with me in Vegas.  She had brought along her husband and daughter this time, and they were all game for finding the best hot chicken in Nashville, with hopes of hitting the Grand Ole Opry afterwards.  So, we grilled the bellhop on how to find the most authentic chicken in Nashville.  Apparently, there is a saying in Nashville, that goes something like:

“If you didn’t fear for your life, then you haven’t had real hot chicken.”

Well I am here to tell you that I have had the real deal, authentic, best ever “hot chicken.” It was life altering.

Nashville Hot Chicken
Hot Chicken, a Nashville speciality!

Lauren and Michelle Outside the Prince's Hot Chicken

If you have never had it, “hot chicken” is this crispy, almost shellacked, spicy, juicy, fragrant chicken that is unlike anything I have ever had before.  I am quite okay with all things spicy, so I ordered the “medium” spice level.  If you are at all a fan of heat, I would go at least for medium.  It was quite spicy, but not unpleasantly so.  Not really sure who gets the XX-Hot…  I would recommend Prince’s whole heartedly….if you don’t mind a long wait, barely any tables, and a huge line all day (and night) long.  The chicken is totally worth it, and the staff is super friendly!  Warning: the area is a bit sketchy, and I do not want to be held responsible if you are not happy about that.  You might have to physically fight for a table.  Full disclosure and all….

Once we finally convinced a taxi to come pick us up from Prince’s (a monumental task), we headed over to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, which Michele was familiar with from their original store in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio.  Cooling down the residual chicken heat with these inventive ice creams was the best idea ever! After tasting about 8 flavors,  I settled on  the Bangkok Peanut, since I was 600 miles away from my son with the peanut allergy.  I am sneaky like that.  This flavor blew my mind with it’s familiar creamy peanut buttery-ness that was enhanced by undertones of coconut and spice.  Delicious and addictive!

Bangkok Peanut Ice Cream from Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream

Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream

You can see the list of unusual flavor combinations above!  Jeni’s is a true must visit, when in Nashville or any other city that is lucky enough to have one (Please come to Northern VA, Jeni!).

This time we wised up and made our cab wait for us at the ice cream store.  So, we headed directly over to the Grand Ole Opry in Opryland.  Due to the daylight savings time change, our one hour time difference from VA to Tennessee, and our hot chicken adventure taking FOREVER, we missed the last tour of the stage area for the day….We did get to see the outside, hop over to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, check out their beautiful botanical gardens, and shop a bit at the outlets across the street.  I just want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Kusma family, and they made me feel like a part of their group, even though we feared for our lives for large portions of the day.  I just love Michele, and I hope we get to cook together or just hang out again soon.

Some photos from Opryland:

Outside the Opryland Hotel

Inside Opryland 1
Inside the Opryland hotel

Inside Opryland 2

Inside Opryland 3

We returned to our beautiful hotel, stuffed and exhausted.  But since we were only in Nashville this one time, the Kusma’s and I went out to dinner to do more eating.  This time we were accompanied by some more dear friends (fellow finalists as well) from the previous Pillsbury Bake Off – Arlene Erlbach, and Mindy Beaumont.  At the tables surrounding us, there were many other friends from the Pillsbury Bake Off family, and it was kind of like one big, festive party in the restaurant.  We retired to our rooms, ready to face the first official day of Bake Off business, which I will talk about more in part 2…..To be continued!

My room in the Opryland Hotel

My lovely room at the Omni. Good night!

Brisket of The World

I just assumed that everyone had a “go-to” brisket recipe, until the other day when one of my Facebook friends was looking for an easy recipe.  I put my two cents in, since I really just can’t help myself.  I guess my recipe isn’t super simple for brisket novices, but she told me I lost her when I got to “sear the meat.”  However, for those of you who have made brisket once or twice, I thought I would break down my recipe with lots of photos, to make it less daunting.  It is really easy, though it is a bit time consuming.  However, it can be done a day in advance, sliced, and reheated right before serving, and it is truly delicious.  This is for those of you that want something extra special, or for when you just can’t face that old barbecue brisket one more time.

All our food for Rosh Hashanah 2014
Part of my Rosh Hashanah table for 5 adults and 3 kids. Think we had leftovers?

I used two small brisket for this recipe, but it would work with one larger brisket as well (or a single smaller brisket, just reduce everything by half).

First, salt and pepper your meat liberally. Heat a large pan on the stove over medium-high heat. (I use my turkey roaster)

Searing the brisket on the stove, fat side down
Searing on the fat side

After about 5 minutes in the smoking hot pan, flip your meat.  Use tongs, if possible.

The seared brisket

Then cut up some mushrooms, celery, carrots (or just use the baby carrots in a bag!), garlic and shallot (onion can be substituted).

The carrots, mushroom and celery prepped for the brisket

The shallots and garlic for the brisket

Put all of the veggies in the pan and let them cook a bit on the stove top.  They do not have to be done all the way through.  This baby is going to be cooking in the oven for a LONG time.

cooking brisket and veggies in the pan on the stove top

Add your tomato paste, wine and beef stock, a couple of bay leaves, salt and pepper (not too much at this point!), a couple of pinches of sugar to cut the acidity, and thyme.  The liquid should come almost all the way up to the top of the meat without covering it.  Fat side should be facing up.

brisket in pan with liquid and veggies

Cover the whole shebang tightly with some aluminum foil.  Pop this whole thing into a 300 degree oven for 3-4 hours.

Cover your brisket with aluminum foil

After the long braise, remove meat to a cutting board and let cool for about 15-20 minutes.  Slice against the grain.

the sliced brisket

Remove 1/2 vegetables to a separate bowl.  Make sure to discard the bay leaves at this point.

all the cooked ingredients for the brisket

Now, I pour half the braising liquid from the pan and the remaining veggies into a big pot.  Leave the other half of the braising liquid in the roasting pan.  I then blend it as smooth as possible with my immersion blender.  If you don’t have one (run to the store and buy one!) blend in batches in your regular blender.  Seriously, the immersion blender is right up there with sliced bread IMHO.

Blending the braising liquid with an immersion blender

Next, arrange the sliced brisket in the pan with the braising liquid.  Return to a 300 degree oven for about 1-2 hours or until ready to serve.  The meat will be falling apart tender at this point!  Serve with the blended gravy and vegetables the side.  Your guests will go on and on about how wonderful you are.  Be prepared for fawning.

the finished brisket

a perfect rosh hashanah plate

Savory Wine Braised Brisket with Mushroom Gravy

Savory Wine Braised Brisket with Mushroom Gravy


  • 1 large or 2 small beef briskets (about 5-7 lbs total)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 ounces mushrooms, whole or halved
  • 8 ounces baby carrots
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 3 large shallots or 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 bottle dry red wine (I used Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 1 box beef stock (might be a little left over)
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Heat a large roasting pan on the stove (might take two burners) over medium-high heat with the olive oil.
  3. Season brisket(s) with salt and pepper liberally.
  4. Sear fat side down for 5-7 minutes or until a deep brown crust forms.
  5. Flip and sear for 5 more minutes.
  6. Add the mushrooms, carrots, celery, shallots, and garlic.
  7. Brown the vegetables for an additional 3-5 minutes.
  8. Add the bay leaves, thyme, tomato paste, wine and beef stock until liquid comes about 1/2 inch from the top of the brisket.
  9. Season sparingly with sugar and additional salt and pepper (about 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper).
  10. Cover tightly with foil.
  11. Braise in oven for 3-4 hours.
  12. Remove meat to cutting board.
  13. Let cool for 15 minutes.
  14. Slice against the grain, about 1/4 inch slices or thinner.
  15. Remove half the vegetables and braising liquid to a large pot.
  16. Blend well until smooth with an immersion blender to make the gravy.
  17. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.
  18. If gravy is too thick (is this possible?), thin with a little beef stock.
  19. Set aside.
  20. Remove remaining vegetables to a serving bowl and set aside.
  21. Place brisket slices side by side in remaining braising liquid in the roasting pan. (If doing a day ahead, cover and refrigerate all components at this point).
    The next day or when finishing-
  1. Cover tightly with foil and braise for 1 1/2- 2 additional hours at 300 degrees.
  2. Serve hot brisket slices with reheated gravy and vegetables on the side.
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Healthy(ish) Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

I was out to dinner with some girlfriends the other night, when I got into a foodie discussion with a friend of mine who happens to be a doctor (and is very fit and healthy….go figure).  She was telling me about these delicious healthy muffins that she makes that are full of coconut sugar and almond flour.  So, my thoughts instantly went to ‘my muffins are all full of fatty-fat and real empty-calorie sugary deliciousness, so I guess that could be why I am 30 lbs heavier than her.’  Or something like that.  Maybe I should at least attempt to healthify some muffins for my kids to eat for breakfast.  Well, coconut and almond are out of the question in our house, due to severe allergies, so here is my non-trendy ingredient attempt at some pretty yummy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins.  I put the recipe into MyFitnessPal, and they came out to 220 calories each, with the generous amount of chocolate chips.  You could reduce the amount of chips or leave them out completely for a much lower calorie count.  These babies also contain approximately 4 grams each of fiber and protein.

Place the dry ingredients in a bowl, or have some adorable children do that for you:

kids love to help

It will look like this, if everything gets into the bowl:

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins dry ingredients

Then, mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl or large measuring cup and mix wet into dry.  Fold in the chocolate chips, if you are living dangerously.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins batter

Then spoon the batter into 12 muffin cups, top with a light sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar and a few additional chips, if you are really into pushing the health food envelope.  My motto is “Everything is better when covered in chocolate, especially diet food.”  This might be why all of my diets have failed, but nonetheless, they will look like this:

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins in the muffin pan

Time to pop them in the 375 degree oven.  Mine was 350 convection, so either way….this is the end result:

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins finished

Who doesn’t love a pumpkin muffin? My kids actually ate them willingly!

Healthy-ish Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Healthy-ish Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins


  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour)
  • 1 cup oat flour (I blitzed some old fashioned oats in a food processor until very finely ground)
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar (yes, I know this isn't healthy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I love Trader Joe's spice blend!)
  • 1 cup pure pumpkin purée (Libby's is fine)
  • 1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup applesauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips + extra for the tops, if desired
  • cinnamon sugar (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  
  2. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine both flours, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and pumpkin pie spice.  Mix well.
  4. In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, combine the pumpkin, yogurt, applesauce, honey, eggs, and vanilla.  
  5. Stir this wet mixture into the dry mixture.  
  6. Before the mixture completely comes together, stir in the melted butter.  ("A little butter never hurt anyone"- my diet motto #2....See, this blog is cathartic and self-illuminating).  
  7. Stir a few more times, just until everything is combined.  
  8. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  9. Drop batter carefully into the muffin liners, almost all the way up to the top.  
  10. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon sugar, and top each muffin with a few additional chocolate chips.
  11. Bake for 19-21 minutes.  Mine took exactly 20 mins.  
  12. Enjoy without too much guilt.
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Easy Rolo Blondies

Truth be told, my husband does not like sweets very much. Quite a dilemma for someone who loves to bake, but doesn’t want to eat the whole batch of whatever treat is laying around. However, his one sweet weakness is the Blondie. Gooey, caramel-y, salty-sweet blondies. Not even he can resist my Rolo Blondies.

This is my go-to recipe, because it is simple, memorizable (not sure if that is a word. Grammar police?), and delicious. It can be doubled to fit in a 9×13″ pan, which I did this time. Generally though, I make it in an 8″ square pan, which is perfect for a family dessert without many leftovers….

These are dense, chewy blondies. Not for cake-y cookie bar lovers! If you want them a tad lighter, add a teaspoon of baking powder.

First, throw the flour, brown sugar, and salt into a bowl.

Easy Rolo Blondies Dry Ingredients
The dry ingredients

Then, add the eggs, vanilla, and melted butter.

Easy Rolo Blondies wet into dry

Stir until everything comes together in a sticky mess. Let me just say that adding Rolo® candies (chopped) to almost anything is never a bad idea. Rolos® are the favorite here because they are nut free!  You could also use Milky Way bars, but they are not nut free: (

Rolo Blondies Rolo Candies

Add in the Rolos® and the chocolate chips (or really anything you want!)

mix the rolos and chocolate chips into the blondies

Stir the goodness in to the sticky mess.

stir all the ingredients

Spread into a baking pan lined with parchment (or a non-stick pan).

rolo blondies in the baking pan

Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown at edges and golden on top. Let cool completely, slice and serve. That is if you have the self-control to not eat them warm from the pan with a spoon…

rolo blondies after baking

Rolo Blondies

1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar (light or dark, if you want a deeper flavor)
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1/2 cup chocolate chips (any type you want)
2 packages Rolo candies, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Parchment line or non-stick spray an 8″ square baking pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, and salt. (If you want a lighter Blondie, you can choose to add 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.)

Stir in the melted butter, vanilla and egg. Batter will be thick and sticky. Fold in chocolate chips and chopped Rolo candies.

Spread into prepared pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes. Start checking at about 20 minutes for golden brown edges and a golden top. Let cool, slice into squares and serve.

perfect rolo blondies

Easy Rolo Blondies


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar (light or dark, if you want a deeper flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (any type you want)
  • 2 packages Rolo candies, roughly chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Parchment line or non-stick spray an 8" square baking pan.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, and salt. (If you want a lighter Blondie, you can choose to add 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.)
  4. Stir in the melted butter, vanilla and egg. Batter will be thick and sticky.
  5. Fold in chocolate chips and chopped Rolo candies.
  6. Spread into prepared pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes. Start checking at about 20 minutes for golden brown edges and a golden top.
  7. Let cool, slice into squares and serve.
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Dinner On the Fly

My Grilled Chicken Pasta with Roasted Tomato Pepper Sauce recipe is an easy dinner that you can shop for and prepare on the fly.

I don’t know about you, but I find grocery shopping a tad more difficult with my children home for the summer.  There is all the grabbing, begging, sampling, and complaining, and that is only after the fight to get in the car and do something that is not “fun.”  So, in an attempt to just purchase things as quickly as possible yesterday, I grabbed some boneless chicken breast.  Nothing else.

This recipe is the result of what I had in the fridge and pantry, and it was pretty darn good for a Wednesday night with nothing on hand.  Yes, it is peculiar that I had piquillo peppers and goat cheese, but no onions.  I know.

So, first I took a small can of fire roasted diced tomatoes (one of my favorite canned items in the world) and drained a bit of the liquid.  Then I threw the tomatoes and about 4 piquillo peppers (that I had left over) in the blender.  If you have not had piquillo peppers, they come in a can and taste a lot like roasted red peppers, only they are already roasted and peeled for you (and inexpensive!). Easy peasy.  Throw in a clove of garlic and a little salt and pepper.  Blitz it in the blender until very smooth.  Pour into a small saucepan over low heat. I chopped one more pepper for texture and a little basil and oregano from my herb garden. I threw in a pinch of red pepper flakes, but if you don’t like a spicy sauce, don’t! I also added some goat cheese to cut the acidity of the tomatoes and add a creamy richness.

Roasted Tomato Pepper Sauce

Let that simmer away. I ended up adding a pinch of sugar and some more salt, to taste.

I butterflied my chicken breasts for quicker cooking (you could also pound it out or buy the thin slices of chicken). I just seasoned it with salt and pepper and drizzled with a bit of olive oil. I threw the chicken onto a piping hot cast-iron grill pan, my other favorite thing in the world. Cook for 4-5 minutes per side.

Grilled Chicken

Meanwhile, I cooked the pasta. Now, this had to have been the funniest part of my random dinner. I had 4 boxes of different kinds of pasta, each only 1/4 full. So, I threw them into the salted boiling water at various times based on the box directions. It all worked out in the end!


My impromptu dinner was pretty much complete. Just a little chop of the chicken, some noodles, sauce, a little fresh mozzarella (leftover), and some more basil and voila!

Grilled Chicken Pasta with Roasted Tomato Pepper Sauce 2

Yum! Perfect for a quick dinner on a weeknight. This is more of a method than a recipe, though. You could add whatever veggies or protein you had around, or just make it as a sauce for roasted vegetables. It would be fantastic with roasted mushrooms, artichokes, and zucchini…

Grilled Chicken Pasta with Roasted Tomato Pepper Sauce

Grilled Chicken Pasta with Roasted Tomato Pepper Sauce


    Ingredients for sauce:
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes, diced (drained slightly)
  • 4-5 piquillo peppers from a can
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped (optional)
  • 3 ounces fresh goat cheese
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
    For chicken:
  • 3 large chicken breasts, butterflied or pounded flat
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
    For pasta and topping:
  • 1 lb pasta, any shape (rotini, cavatappi, penne, etc...)
  • Additional goat cheese, fresh Mozzarella, or Parmesan for sprinkling on top
  • Additional fresh basil to garnish


  1. In a large blender, combine the tomatoes, all but one of the piquillo peppers, garlic, salt, and pepper.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Pour into a saucepan over medium-low heat.
  4. Let simmer for a few minutes.
  5. Add the sugar, basil, oregano, and goat cheese.
  6. Stir until cheese melts into sauce.
  7. Finely chop remaining pepper and add to sauce.
  8. Reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally until ready to serve.
  9. Taste for salt and pepper. Add red pepper flake, if desired.
  1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
  2. Cook over medium-high heat in a screaming hot cast-iron grill pan for 4-5 minutes per side or until cooked through.
  3. Cut into strips.
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Add a generous amount of salt.
  3. Boil pasta according to package directions.
  4. Drain well.
  1. Serve hot chicken atop the pasta, cover in sauce.
  2. Top with the cheese of you choice and some additional basil and serve immediately.
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For the Love of All Things Dairy (Kugel!)

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I have been wracking my brain, trying to invent a reason to share my Ultimate Dairy Kugel recipe with you, and this week I actually have a pretty good one.  It is Shavuot, a Jewish holiday that is lesser known to some people(we have a lot of those).  I don’t really understand why we don’t talk more about it, because it definitely tops my list of favorite holidays due to the custom of consuming delicious dairy-laden foods such as Blintzes, cheesecakes, and such. The holiday actually commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai and the counting of weeks from Passover until that event. Shavuot means “Weeks”, and there are some interesting ideas about why we eat dairy, but let’s just say it is “Tradition, tradition!” And sing it in your loudest ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ voice while baking my favorite food in the world.

Click here to jump straight to the recipe for this dish!

enjoy the ultimate dairy kugel

Seriously, this would be a side dish to my last meal on Earth if possible. It is kind of like an upside down cheesecake but with buttered noodles in it. There are non-dairy versions, savory versions, matzah versions for Passover, but none hold a candle to the dairy kind (in my humble opinion). This is the best one I have ever made. I have tweaked a few other recipes to create this one. It is very forgiving- you can take out the raisins, you can take out the pineapple, you can do a cornflake crust on top if you wish, but please don’t go fat free dairy on me! It is a special treat, especially cold for breakfast the next day! Enjoy.

Lauren’s Shavuot Ultimate Dairy Kugel

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

First, boil the noodles according to the package directions. Drain and coat with 1/2 stick of butter.  Pour it all into a 9×13 inch baking dish.

Butter Noodles
Buttery noodle goodness

This is optional, but I like to soak my raisins a bit in hot liquid (water, rum, bourbon, or in this case I used the pineapple juice that I drained from the crushed pineapple).

Next, in a blender, combine the cottage cheese and the cream cheese (room temperature, please). If you have a vitamix or a large blender, feel free to add the sour cream, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. If you have a small blender, add the rest by hand, whisking or blending to get a smooth texture.

Ultimate Dairy Kugel mixture in a blender
This is the whole shebang in my Vitamix- best invention ever!

Then mix the drained pineapple, drained soaked raisins, and the cream cheese mixture into the noodles, straight into the pan. Stir everything around gently to evenly distribute the good stuff.

ultimate dairy kugel before cooking
Almost there, baby!

To make the crumb topping, just mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter until it resembles sand.

ultimate dairy kugel topping

Then, just sprinkle the goodness on top of the kugel.  This is a large amount of crumb topping, because I like it that way.  You can cut the amount in half if you wish.

ultimate dairy kugel before the oven

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 325 degrees and bake for an additional 35-45 minutes or until golden brown on top and firm to the touch.

ultimate dairy kugel all cooked

Let cool for at least 30 minutes. I love this slightly warm, at room temperature or cold in the morning for breakfast- Don’t judge.

Ultimate Dairy Kugel Recipe

Ultimate Dairy Kugel Recipe


  • 1 (12 ounce) package wide egg noodles, cooked
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 8 ounces cottage cheese
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
  • 16 ounces sour cream
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar (can reduce by 1/4 cup if desired)
  • 1 (15 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained well
  • 1/2 cup raisins (I prefer Golden raisins)
    For the Topping:
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (or gingersnap crumbs!)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Boil noodles according to package, drain.
  3. Return to pot with the butter and stir until butter melts and coats noodles.
  4. Pour into a 9x13" baking pan prepared with non-stick cooking spray.
  5. Blend cottage cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, vanilla and sugar until smooth (either in a large blender or by hand).
  6. Add in drained pineapple and raisins.
  7. Stir and pour over the buttered noodles.
  8. Combine all topping ingredients until mixture resembles coarse sand.
  9. Sprinkle evenly over top of kugel.
  10. Bake for 15 minutes,
  11. reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake for 35-45 minutes more until golden brown and firm to the touch in center.
  12. Let cool for at least 30 minutes.
  13. Serve slightly warm, room temperature, or cold the next day.
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Pillsbury Bake Off – Part 2

Last week, I basically stopped writing when I was getting to the good part of my Pillsbury Bake Off story, which was pretty cruel. Sorry!

So, the first day of the planned activities (which was the day before the Pillsbury Bake Off contest) began with an introduction to the ovens that we would be using. I felt pretty confident, since I have almost the exact same GE oven at home. Phew!

Then, we had lunch in a big ballroom, buffet style….

Pillsbury Bake Off Lunch Buffet
Great food at the Pillsbury Bake Off

It was yummy! Especially the triangular carrot cake…

Now, the order of events is a bit fuzzy for me, but I believe that following lunch I had a recorded (video) interview with the lovely people at Pyrex which is also known as World Kitchen. They make those fantastic glass baking dishes and measuring cups that you got from your grandma and use everyday. Yeah, big time! This is the video they made:

And this one, too!

Then, I believe we had the famous briefing about all of the rules and regulations pertaining to the contest. And there are a lot of them. The finalists are not allowed to go to bathroom without an escort. They are serious, people! Have I mentioned that a MILLION dollars is at stake?!?

That evening we were treated to a lovely dinner reception. I remember hanging out with the wonderful Janet Gill and Kim Van Dunk and their guests. I was feeling a bit awkward to be solo at this point, but everyone was so nice to include me with their group. I just want to stress that EVERYONE was nice. There was really none of that obnoxious competitive vibe that you would expect at a contest with such high stakes.

Here are some photos of the dinner:

Pillsbury Bake-Off Ceremony Dinner Sculpture
A sculptural food presentation.
Pillsbury Bake-Off Award Dinner Hors d'oeuvres
Of course I only took pictures of the food.
Pillsbury Bake-Off award dinner cheesecake bar toppings
This was the best idea ever! A cheesecake bar with different toppings and sauces. Genius!
Pillsbury Bake-Off award dinner cheesecake
My cheesecake

That night, the most important thing was sleep. A melatonin and a NyQuil later, I was in dreamland. We had an early wake up call for a quick (nervous!) breakfast before the actual Pillsbury Bake Off contest began. We were not allowed to take any phones/cameras on the floor with us. Luckily, Some professionals got some good shots for me!

We marched in to the beat of the Pillsbury band, and I was lucky enough to be #100. The last one. I was also at the last range, which was great, since no one was on my left….Plenty of elbow room.

Pillsbury Bake-off competition room stations
It is truly amazing to think about the task of setting up all these stations!
Pillsbury Bake-off competition Lauren Katz Closeup
Note my gold nails. They were in honor of my sweet, 10 year old friend Gabriella Miller, that had just passed away the week before the trip. Gold is the color of pediatric cancers, and I was trying to raise awareness.

I baked my butt off (not really, it is still there, but you know what I mean). My oven was super-hot! They preheated all of our ovens for us, so I became convinced that my pie was baking too quickly. I messed with the temperature. I second guessed myself. It turns out that having 3.5 hours to bake something that needs a good two hours to cool down was a bit of a mistake. I waited and waited for the darn thing to cool, but alas, I served it a bit too warm. I found out later that a blogger had talked to a judge who said that my pie was too hot when served to them. You can’t imagine how many times I have kicked myself for not waiting until the last moment to serve… Oh well!

Anyhow, the next three hours were the longest of my life. I tried to kill time before the awards ceremony by shopping for souvenirs and looking at the art all around Vegas. I saw:

Las Vegas Scuplture 1

Las Vegas Sculpture 2

Las Vegas Sculpture 3

And of course, this:

Love me some Chihuly glass!
Love me some Chihuly glass!

Then it was time for the main event! I was sitting in the first row, dead center in front of the stage. Was this a sign? Apparently not, but I felt a little sick anyway…

Padma Lakshmi was the host, and I can honestly say that she is stunningly beautiful in person. I stopped her on the way to the bathroom to shake hands and introduce myself. I am such a dork!

Pillsbury Bake-Off award ceremony Padma Lakshmi 1
In my next life, I would like to come back as someone who looks like her…

They excruciatingly announced a couple awards in between each course. The winners received these adorable golden doughboys. I want one, like, seriously. Karen Harris, who quite deservedly won the Eagle Brand award for her amazing Bacon Corncakes with Warm Maple Cream, has one. She is my friend. That will have to be good enough…for now.

Finally, Padma (who was chewing every time she was called up to the stage! She eats….) called the top three, one of whom was about to suddenly become a millionaire. Here is what it looked like:

Pillsbury Bake-Off award ceremony Padma Lakshmi 2

Then, she announced that my friend Glori Spriggs won the grand prize for her Loaded Potato Pinwheels! Here is the recipe, in case you want to taste a million dollars…

Confetti exploded all around me! It was in my dessert, which was gorgeous, btw…

Pillsbury Bake-Off award ceremony dessert
My fancy, schmancy dessert!
Pillsbury Bake-Off award ceremony confetti
This is what a lot of confetti looks like.
Pillsbury Bake-Off Glori Spriggs award ceremony winner
The happy winner!

So, Glori won and I was happy for her. I really didn’t feel jealous at all, and I was proud of myself for that. I am annoyed that I served my pie too hot, though.

The next morning, after a quick breakfast and a ride to the plane, I saw this craziness:

Las Vegas Airport flavored air
It is flavored air. You can buy it to inhale. I have seen it all, now.

Lastly, on the plane home, I switched seats to sit next to one of my fellow contestants, Jen Beckman. This was one of the highlights of my trip. She is amazing, a friend now, and talked me through some wicked turbulence on the way home. Our kids play together, and we have hung out a few times. This is what it is all about! The friendships are the big take away. Not the million. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t turn it away, but Pillsbury made all of us feel like a million, and that is what I will remember.

Here is my recipe, in case any of you are curious.

Pillsbury Bake Off recap Part 1 – New Blog Pour Moi!

Hi friends, I am very excited to (finally) start this new blog, since my last (very short-lived) blog locked me out and threw away the key. Being the tech-challenged right-brained gal that I am, I decided to start a new one rather than bother tech support (otherwise known as my husband, Rob). After wracking my brain over a worthy first post topic, I have decided to talk about my trip to the Pillsbury Bake Off Contest last November.

A tourist in Vegas

So, it is a bit embarrassing that during the months leading up to the Pillsbury Bake Off, the thing I was most looking forward to was to sleep in a hotel room for three nights BY MYSELF. So I went a day early to get acclimated to Vegas time. Good thing I did, because I was likely the only one in Sin City at 8pm drifting off to a re-run of Everybody Loves Raymond. That’s just how I roll. I awoke at the crack of 4am. I stayed at the Aria resort and casino, thanks to General Mills. It is stunning there, and the room had a remote that worked the blinds. After 20 minutes of struggling with how to work the remote, this is what I saw:

Pillsbury Vegas View from my room
The view from my room

So, I have three kids. I am not used to being alone. I thought it would be cool- The freedom, the quiet, the going potty by myself…but it was weird. So I went people watching at the gorgeous Patisserie at the Aria.

Pillsbury Vegas Jean Phillipe Patisserie
The beautiful Jean Phillipe Patisserie at the Aria
Pillsbury Vegas Jean Phillipe Patisserie
More shots of the amazing Pastry Bar
What I got from Pillsbury Vegas Jean Phillipe Patisserie
What I bought at the Jean Phillipe Patisserie

Then I went to the Bellagio to take in the sights. Mostly to see the Chihuly glass and the chocolate fountain and the amazing fall display they had out:

Bellagio - Chihuly glass
The beautiful Chihuly glass at the Bellagio
Bellagio - Chocolate Fountain
The amazing chocolate fountain at the Bellagio
Bellagio - Fall Display 2014
The cornucopia (horn of plenty) from the Bellagio’s Fall Display
Bellagio - Fall Display 2014
Bellagio Fall Display 2014

The first day of the Pillsbury Bake Off

When it was time for me to head to the convention center to check out the 46th Pillsbury Bake Off setup, my nerves took ahold of me. To my surprise, as soon as I went up the escalator, the Pillsbury doughboy appeared like a beacon of hope in the distance. I had to run up and squeeze him. Wouldn’t you?

Pillsbury Dough Boy and me
Here we are. Just the two of us.

Then I looked over and saw this:

Pillsbury 2014 Lauren Katz Recipe
This blew my mind…so cool!
Pillsbury 2014 Recipe Board
Another shot of the recipe board

After signing in and getting some awesome swag (a pillsbury tote bag filled with goodies from various sponsors, the cookbook(!), our schedule, and name tag), I met my first fellow Pillsbury Bake Off finalist Helen Fields. She was as nice as could be, and she ended up being someone who had been to the Bake off before. She gave me lots of tips, and we got to be friends over the course of the weekend, along with some other amazing people. In retrospect, the big take away that I “got” was some amazing, supportive friends that have the same (obsession) interest that I have in cooking, baking, and creating. It was priceless!

Pillsbury 2014 - Lauren Katz and Sandy
Another wonderful woman I befriended, Sandy!
Pillsbury Bakeoff 2014 Cookbook - Lauren Katz Recipe
My recipe in the 2014 Pillsbury Bakeoff Cookbook!

The rest of the experience was kind of a blur, and I realize that this is getting long, so I think it will have
To be continued in Part 2….