Wild Blueberry Hibiscus Breeze Smoothie

By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the Wild Blueberry Association of North America and I am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

As each New Year rolls around, I always have the best of intentions to eat healthy, get fit, and lose a bit (or a lot) of excess weight that has crept up on me.  In my case, this is often accompanied by some sort of overly regimented eating plan that is unrealistic for the long haul.  I diligently follow said eating plan for about a week (maybe two) and then move on to focus on an enlightened eating plan that is more about eating super healthy foods, feeling great, and limiting processed goodies.  I am in that place right now, and it perfectly aligned with this fun smoothie contest that highlights one of my favorite ingredients, frozen Wild Blueberries.

I seriously always have frozen wild blueberries on hand (I usually buy Wyman’s brand at Wegmans, but have also gotten Trader Joe’s brand).  I actually had two bags stashed in my freezer already.  Why do I love these tiny superfoods?  Let me count the ways!

  1.  I love these in smoothies, but also in baked goods.  Because they are tiny, you can add them frozen into your pancakes. Muffins, waffles, etc…and they will cook quickly, but not turn your batter purple.
  2. They have a more intense blueberry flavor than fresh berries. They taste amazing!
  3. They have double the antioxidants of fresh berries.
  4. They are good all year round and keep in the freezer for a very long time, with no compromise of quality.
  5. They are small, so they blend very easily into smoothies, rather than larger chunks of frozen fruit.  No need for ice!

 

Frozen Wild Blueberries

Not to toot my own horn, but I came up with the best smoothie EVER with these gorgeous berries!  Plus it has protein, antioxidants, and probiotics. I think that because it is currently sleeting her in VA, my mind went on a much needed tropical vacation with this recipe… The taste is exotic, but easy for even children to love.  I am in love with this smoothie!  Here’s how to make one for yourself:

First, steep 2 hibiscus flavored herbal tea bags in 3/4 cup very hot water.  The mixture will be very concentrated.  Remove teabags and let cool.  This step can be done ahead of time or you can add an ice cube to chill the mixture quickly.

Next, add 1-1/2 cups wild frozen blueberries to blender.  Chop up one fresh mango and add it to the blender, being careful to remove the skin and pit.  You could also use frozen mango in this recipe.  Throw in one small container of your favorite Greek yogurt.  I recommend coconut flavored yogurt, but vanilla, plain, or  blueberry would also be great!  Pour in your hibiscus tea concentrate, 1/2 cup of coconut milk (or your favorite milk), the zest of 1 lime plus 1 teaspoon lime juice, and blend on High until very smooth.  If you like things a little sweeter, you can add a teaspoon or 2 of honey.  Totally optional though- The Blueberries and mango are already sweet!  Enjoy with a parasol and pretend you are on the beach….

Wild Blueberry Hibiscus Breeze Smoothie

Ingredients:

2 herbal Hibiscus teabags

3/4 cup hot water

1-1/2 cups frozen Wild Blueberries

1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) mango chunks

1 container (4-6 ounces, depending on brand) coconut Greek yogurt

1/2 cup coconut milk

zest of 1 lime

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1-2 teaspoons honey, optional

Pour 3/4 cup boiling water into a heatproof measuring cup.  Steep 2 teabags in the hot water for 3-4 minutes.  Let cool completely or add an ice cube to cool quickly.  Set aside.

In a large blender, combine frozen Wild Blueberries, mango, yogurt, coconut milk, Hibiscus tea, lime zest and juice, and honey (if desired).  Blend on high until very smooth.  Pour into 2 large glasses and enjoy immediately.

 

Kelly’s Cookie Challenge

Tomorrow night, I get to be on the other side of a judging table, for a welcome change of pace.  I’m so honored to have been chosen as a judge for this year’s Kelly’s Cookie Challenge charity bake-off…and I get to taste lots of amazing cookies- Kind of a dream come true.

Several teams of bakers will be there with their best cookie bakes, and three judges (that’s me!  Well, one is me) will pick a winner. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the winning team’s charity of choice.

There are teams representing a number of charities this year including:

And many more!  If you’re at the event, you’ll have the opportunity to join the “Long Shots” team, and make a mystery baked good for charity.

If any of you are in the Silver Spring, MD area, and have some time tomorrow night, stop by to support a great cause! Based on pictures from previous years events, it looks like it will be a great time!  Hope to see you there.  I will try to post photos of the cookies and teams very soon.  I really love the idea of being a judge.  Way less pressure, and lots of yummy desserts-  This might be what I want to be when I grow up!

Easiest Cut Out Sugar Cookie

I have tried many “Roll Out” Sugar Cookie recipes for use with cookie cutters, and I am always surprised that many do not hold their shape or taste very good.  This is my go-to recipe, and I actually found the basic recipe on the tag of a cookie cutter.  Of course, being the weirdo I am that can’t just follow a recipe as written, I have changed it a tad.  Plus, I have about a million ways to make them really special….Hello Tangerine-Chai Sugar Cookies from Cookie Week on The Great Holiday Baking Show!  They really are my favorite thing to make from the show, and it all started with the easiest cut out Sugar Cookie recipe.  They will hold a cookie cutter shape perfectly, are not too sweet and can stand up to some icing, and the dough is easy to roll and handle.

Basic Roll Out Sugar Cookies
Tangerine and Chai Sugar Cookies, all gussied up for Valentine’s Day

Lauren’s Sugar Cookie Dough

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon additional extract, any flavor-almond, lemon, orange, etc… (optional) and/or 1 tablespoon citrus zest or fresh herbs, finely grated or chopped (I love tangerine zest!)
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour*
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 325 degrees convection.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy (1-2 minutes).  Add egg and vanilla to mixer, beating on medium speed until just incorporated.  At this point, if you are using any citrus zest, herbs or additional extracts, add them now and mix for a few seconds.

For the dry ingredients, there are two options:

For basic dough, just add the flour and salt, mixing until the dough just comes together.

*Or for a dry mix in, such as **Chai tea, Earl Grey tea, freeze dried fruit (I love this with freeze dried strawberries!), or dried herbs and spices, run the extra ingredient and the flour and salt in the food processor for a couple of minutes until very finely broken down.  I do this step so that you don’t get bits of tea in your teeth.  Then, add the blended dry mixture to the wet ingredients.  Mix until just combined.

Chill dough for at least 2 hours.  You can chill the dough faster in the freezer, if desired.  Also, this step can be done up to 3 days in advance of baking.  Take dough out of the refrigerator, let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.  Dust counter and dough liberally with flour, roll to just under 1/4 inch, and cut into desired shapes.  Bake for 9-12 minutes or until edges just barely get a hint of color.  Remove to cool on wire rack.  Decorate with glaze, royal icing, or whatever your heart desires!

many different cookies

**To add tea, cut open 3 tea bags and blend in the food processor with the flour.

To add freeze dried fruit, add 1 cup to food processor, pulse, then add flour and blend for a minute until combined.

Flavor combinations I like:

  1. Orange zest and fresh rosemary
  2. Lemon zest and fresh thyme (leaves only, no stems)
  3. Grapefruit zest and Earl Grey tea
  4. Lemon zest and British Breakfast tea
  5. Tangerine zest and Chai tea
  6. Freeze dried strawberries and vanilla bean seeds
  7. Fresh basil and freeze dried strawberries
  8. espresso powder and vanilla bean
  9. mint extract or fresh mint and cacao nibs
  10. Orange zest and ground cloves
  11. Fresh ginger and lime zest
  12. Freeze dried blueberries and lavender (go light on the lavender!)

The sky is the limit.  Let me know if you try any good combinations.  The trick is not to add any ingredients that are soggy or inherently waterlogged.

 

Snow Day Soup!

Here in Northern Virginia, today is a snow day.  The kids are home from school, it is super chilly (even inside), and all I want is my favorite Snow Day Soup and some crusty bread for dinner.  There is some backstory to this soup.

It is not chef-inspired, it has some fresh and some frozen and pre-packaged ingredients, and I am not going to apologize for that.  This is basically a streamlined version of the soup my mom made throughout my childhood.  It is especially memorable, because it was one of the few dishes that she made that was truly delightful.  That alone made it stand out, but it also always followed a trip to the kosher meat market, which was my favorite thing to do…ever.  While I would stand at the meat counter, gazing at the giant beef tongues wagging at me from inside the chilled case, my mom would ask the butcher for the “flanken.”  I am not really sure what the literal translation of this is, but I am pretty sure the Yiddish means the scraps from the better cuts of meat or more probably the meat from the flank of the animal…. The tough cuts that you have to cook for a very long time, so that they will magically transform into fall-apart tender chunks of savory goodness.  Anyway, we always called this soup “Flanken soup,” and it was an event that everyone looked forward to after our monthly pilgrimage to Maryland to buy our kosher meat.  The gigantic poppyseed Hamentaschen from the bakery was my other favorite, but I digress.

The other reason I wanted to share this recipe, is that I wanted to create kind of a tribute to Manischewitz.  You see, I was just lucky enough to win a contest that they offered for one of their products…a do-it-yourself Channukah House Kit.  Thank you so much to Manischewitz!  I am so honored.  Here is my Chanukah House:

Lauren Katz Manischewitz gingerbread house

Anyway, while I was writing back and forth to the company, I realized that many of my early food memories involved their products.  Which brought me to my favorite memory of all…”Flanken Soup”.  It features Manischewitz’s Split Pea soup mix, and sometimes the vegetable soup mix, or both!  You see, this recipe is fluid and flexible, and you can play with it to make it your own.

First, you cube your meat into large but kind-of bite sized pieces.  I used a chuck roast here, but shortribs or stew meat works well.  Note that the fattier the meat, the better.  You don’t want to use lean stew meat…. Do trim any large pieces of fat, however.

Snow Day Soup Ingredients

Here are the soup mixes:  This is for a HUGE pot of snow day soup. If you want to make a smaller amount, just use one split pea soup mix.  These are easily found in the kosher section of almost every grocery store.

Snow Day Soup Mixes

Another gratuitous meat shot!  Approximately 2 lbs, but you could use more or less, depending on how many people you are feeding.

Snow Day Soup Meat

Brown the meat in your soup pot in a little oil on high heat.  If you are in a rush, you can skip this step, but I highly recommend it.

Snow Day Soup Meat Cooked

Cut up your potato (1 large), mushroom (about 10 ounces), and carrot (about 1-2 cups).  I like the mushrooms diced, but sliced works as well.  Baby carrots are fine- sometimes I leave them whole, sometimes not.  Waxy potatoes work well, but I only had a russet today.

Snow Day Soup Veggies

Put them all in the pot, with a couple of bay leaves, a small bag of frozen cut green beans (use fresh if you want, but it will all come out the same in the end…), the split pea soup mix (with the seasoning packet, and the veggie soup mix (I did not add the small pouch of noodles, but everything else).  I added a bit of leftover Lima beans that I had kicking around, but that is optional.

Snow Day Soup Veggies cooked

Now, fill her up with water.  You want it to cover all the meat and veggies plus an extra 2 inches or so.  It will seem watery, but when the peas cook, it will thicken quite a bit.  This is almost more of a stew or porridge consistency when done.

Snow Day Soup In the pot

Once it come up to a simmer, cover for about an hour.  Stir, and reduce heat to medium-low.  Keep pot uncovered and at a low simmer for about 3-4 hours, or as long as possible!  Stir it occasionally.  Season with a ton of black pepper and salt, to taste.  The soup mix has salt in it, so you usually don’t need much (if any at all).

Snow Day Soup ready to serve

Okay, so this is kind of a homey/homely rustic looking stew, but take my word for it.  It is delicious!  Better the second day, if there are leftovers.  It is a full dinner and very hearty, so enjoy with some crusty bread or biscuits and you are done.  Enjoy!

Snow Day Soup. Yum!

P.s.  You could make this in a large crockpot on high, if you put it in early in the morning, and cook it uncovered for the second half of the day.

 

 

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!

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….