America · Arizona · California · Food · Travelling

Post-Flight Jet Lag

I’m back in England now and suffering from the curse of flying west to east – Jet lag! I tried to avoid the worst of it – I slept about four hours on the plane (discovering that eye masks are actually a massive help in sleeping was a game changer!), stayed up until the evening and tried to keep to as normal a routine as possible, but it’s not completely worked, so I’m going to be productive and use this time to write about a few of the final thing we have done, places we saw and food we ate in our final days in Phoenix and San Francisco.

On the final Sunday we all went out for brunch at the Biltmore hotel, which was undergoing HUGE renovations at the time – it looked unrecognisable inside from our previous visits! All the interiors were halfway through being repaired, the main entrance in particular was being redone at the time! However, brunch at Frank and Albert’s was still delicious. I decided on the huevos rancheros, which featured a lot of guacamole, cheese and the most delicious chorizo, all with added black bean purée which is always a bonus!


The Biltmore is also the only place where meat and cheese is a necessary addition to a Bloody Mary. This wasn’t my drink so I can’t vouch for if it added to the flavour, but it definitely added interest!


After brunch we took a wander around some of the grounds of the hotel, Nathaniel did some painting and we enjoyed the sunshine for a short while. The hotel has some beautiful features to it and I can only imagine it must be a lovely place to stay! 





In the afternoon, Chloe and I tried to replicate the Arizona baking-cookies-outside challenge, however we chose the wrong week in which to visit for that! Despite earlier in the year having been unbearable for Phoenix, we hit right in the middle of monsoon season. Thunderstorms, yes. Humidity – oh yes! But temperatures hot enough to bake cookies on the hood of your car? Not so much. We nearly made it with one set on the hood of the car inside the garage, but the heat just wasn’t there (and the batter was disposed of before the experiment could be finished…)


Test site one – by the swimming pool. (The shadow is me – they weren’t in the shade). These were not a success – they were disposed of after being eaten by ants and stood on… 


On the car bonnet in the garage – the one closest to working!


On the car bonnet outside – much cooler than in the garage so not a real success either…

The final evening in Phoenix was completed by night swimming (after a steak barbecue and many cakes!) and water balloons- the perfect way to cool down.


If only this was appropriate in England!

The next day (Monday) we flew back to San Francisco, just for one night. Landing in the late afternoon we arrived at our hotel, checked in for our flight the next day and also realised we had got there just in time for cookies – you know it’s a good hotel when they give you tea and cookies/brownies at 4pm! We then headed out to Chinatown and enjoyed a massive Chinese Szechuan banquet for our final meal (we hadn’t eaten yet!)


Chicken and lemongrass potstickers and fried wontons


Spicy beef and vegetables

Apparently I failed to take pictures of the rest but it also included hot and sour soup, cashew chicken and mixed fried rice – alongside the fortune cookies and tea! Absolutely delicious, particularly the beef, but I definitely don’t feel the need to eat Chinese food again for a while!


San Francisco in the evening

The next morning we walked around through the districts of Mission in order to prepare for the long flight ahead, particularly with regard to food – I do not have faith in airline meals! We started with breakfast at Hayes Valley Bakeworks with this wonder:


Maple-bacon-cinnamon rolls – whoever invented this is a genius. I’m a sucker for that flavour combination anyway and this was simply divine!

After walking through from our hotel to Mission and around the surrounding areas for a few hours, we broke for lunch/brunch at about 11 at El Taqueria Farolito, a recommendation which proved to be an amazing find. Absolutely huge burritos – I had the regular and I dread to think what the large would have been like! We made the rookie mistake of ordering chips as well – not a plan! The proteins were also hugely varied – we went for the safer options of carne asada (steak) and chorizo but we could have had beef tongue, beef head or beef brains! Maybe next time!


Finally to complete I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit Bi-Rite Creamery (also in Mission) – another recommendation which I was happy to receive! After vacillating between flavours such as peach cobbler, basil and watermelon-coconut I finally decided to go with the black sesame and strawberry balsamic combination. Definitely a good final dessert in San Francisco.

America · Brunch · Travelling

Good Food, Arizona Weather and Wave Pools

So, all quiet on the West Coast here – the last few days have been full of the above. Yesterday we went to a wave pool in Tempe featuring a huge mechanical wave every five minutes – great fun yet eerily reminiscent of the arena in ‘Catching Fire’ (Hunger Games II) when it begins!


Max and Chloe both claim the red water slide was amazing – I did not try it…




What has been particularly remarkable this trip has been the weather – for the first time we have landed in Moonsoon season! This means that unlike the usual weather of this…


There has been unusually large amounts of this:


Also there have been huge rain and thunderstorms every evening and this morning I awoke to many flood warnings – my phone sent me at least three warnings of flash flooding in my local area! The storms have been very exciting (when inside obviously!), full of both sheet and fork lightening. However I can tell you that the iPhone camera is not cut out for storm videography as this is the best I got…


The food as usual has been good but enormous – today we went to Eggstacy for lunch and for $11 Max and I split the following:


Greek-style gyro hash with a poached egg – half a portion pictured


Pecan Pie Pancakes – the full portion!

Other examples of an entire day’s calories in one plate include Chloe’s banana Nutella pancakes:


Or Nathaniel’s mango pancakes accompanied by asparagus hash (Hash not pictured)


Finally I leave you with what I originally thought might be the worst cereal ever (thank goodness it’s not real!)




America · National Foods · Salads · Travelling

The Great American Food Trip: Scottsdale, Phoenix

So today was our last day in Scottsdale before heading out into the great unknown, so today we took the time to show my parents a little of the Scottsdale area (having left for Prescott almost straight away they hadn’t seen the city in the day!) We started by visiting the Sanctuary resort, where we had an amazing view of both Camelback mountain (and the Praying Monk) and an overall view of the city. We then dropped into the Phoenician Hotel as it was close by, and the swimming pools are just amazing!

We were then in need of a drink so stopped at Jamba Juice for a smoothie or juice. I had a tropical greens juice, which featured kale, apple, pineapple and chia, which despite dad saying that it looked like a blitzed frog (unsurprisingly!), tasted delicious.

image

For lunch we hit one of our favourite spots, the Wildflower Bread Company. This was high on our list from last year and it did not disappoint! We shared a Thai chicken salad, alongside a blackberry orange lemonade, and for someone fed up with boring salads, this was a truly delicious lunch. If all salads were like this, I would eat them constantly! We also enjoyed the free samples of Red, White and Blue Bread (white bread full of blueberries and cranberries – also delicious!)

image

image

After lunch we visited the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), which is a must see, undoubtedly the best museum I have ever been to. I have so far been twice and I still don’t feel like I’ve seen everything it has to offer. I could happily spend an entire day there and it is an essential place for anyone with the slightest interest in music.

During the afternoon, Chloe and I made chocolate chip cookies, though after realising halfway through that we had no eggs, had to make an impromptu substitution of apple sauce. This worked extremely well in the cookies and is one I would use again. If you want to try it the basic measurement is 1/3 cup of apple sauce for every egg used, mixed in at the same time as the eggs would be. I haven’t tried it in cakes but the result in biscuits is good!

For supper we hit The Cheesecake Factory. Containing my urge to order a barbeque bacon cheeseburger with bacon, cheese and barbeque sauce on the side (Big Bang Theory geeks, you know who you are!), we enjoyed the Louisiana chicken pasta, a spicy pasta with peppers and mushrooms, topped with spicy crusted chicken. As usual delicious and big portions! I also sampled one of Chloe’s chicken potstickers, which were amazing and reminded me of how much I wish to make them again. No pictures unfortunately – it was so dark they did not come out at all, as the following shot of my Oreo Milkshake shows.

image

That is the best I could get so I admit, I gave up. However the milkshake was amazing. So creamy and tasty, basically a dessert in a glass! As a consequence of this, we were in no fit state to eat cheesecake, so instead we bought a piece of Tiramisu Cheesecake to go, which is currently residing in the freezer to be eaten when we get back.

Tomorrow we set off on the road trip, so for the next two nights we’ll be sampling the culinary delights of Kanab, Utah!

Baking Research · Cupcakes

The Great Phoenix Cupcake Challenge, Part 2

Flag of Arizona

Last time on the Great Phoenix Cupcake Challenge we awarded the prizes for storefront, decoration, most random location and range of flavours (for the full details see here). Today however we bring out the big guns, the OSCARS of this cupcake tasting championships. Today we will discuss the results for the best individual cupcakes and crown our overall champion, the queen of Phoenix’s cupcake shops.

In no particular order then, our top three cupcakes:

The Sweet Tooth Fairy – Strawberry Shortcake

I have a confession, whilst I love fresh strawberries, I almost never buy strawberry-flavoured products because they almost never taste like strawberries. Instead what you tend to get is a taste reminiscent of shampoo, bearing very little relation to the delicious fruit from which it supposedly comes. However, this cupcake make me eat my words. Delicious cake with a lovely vanilla flavour, and the frosting! Oh my. Absolutely delicious, wonderfully fruity and not at all too sweet, a common complaint amongst ones we did not like so much. Whilst all the cupcakes from this lovely shop were completely delicious (we did not have a complaint about any one cupcake!), this one stood out particularly.

Strawberry Shortcake

21 Cupcakes – Bacon Maple Vanilla Cupcake

Putting bacon in a cupcake can be a little controversial amongst tasters – you seem to either love the idea or hate it! However, this cupcake defied the expectations of several doubters, and emerged clearly as one of our favourites. The vanilla cake was beautifully fragrant and soft, whilst the maple and bacon combination came through clearly but managing not to overpower the whole cupcake. Possibly my favourite cupcake that we tasted, this cake recipe should be the standard text on how to use bacon in a cupcake.

Sprinkles Cupcakes – Chai Latte Cupcake

Sprinkles Cupcakes have the plainest presentation of any of the shops, but often this plain presentation hides a wonderful interior, and this particular cupcake shows the duckling becoming the swan. A non-descript brown exterior, with perfectly smooth icing provides a wonderful hit of coffee and associated spices, recalling perfectly its namesake drink. A more unusual flavour, but a delicious end result, and one I would happily eat again.

(Image taken from here)

And now, the final award, this time for best in show goes to…

The Sweet Tooth Fairy!

Really from the first bit of delicious cupcake there was no way that The Sweet Tooth Fairy could not have won this contest. Scoring top marks on all categories from storefront to taste, this shop was a pleasure to visit, and it will definitely be one to visit next time I am in the USA.

Baking Research · Cupcakes

The Great Phoenix Cupcake Challenge, Part 1

During our visit to the states this summer, Max’s aunt (who knows my obsession for all things baking) had put together a list of recommended cupcake shops to visit. This soon developed into a full-scale cupcake competition, pitting shops and bakeries against each other in a ‘battle for cupcake domination!’ (Sorry…)

Disclaimer: All of these opinions are my own, and those of Max and his family. There were other shops we didn’t visit, so just because something is not listed here does not make it bad!

In order to fairly compare the cupcakes, we scored them out of 10 on the following categories:

  • Storefront
  • Packaging
  • Range of cupcakes
  • Decoration
  • Flavour/quantity of frosting
  • Flavour/texture of cake

We also then awarded a holistic mark and came up with some overall winners based on their marks in all categories. I won’t bore you with all the data (we had tables, statistics and  collaborative comments), but here are some of the highlights.

Best Storefront and Packaging – The Sweet Tooth Fairy

 

It seems right to start with one of our favourite contestants from the tasting, and this shop hit pretty much all the marks. We loved the pastel colours and English-tea-party decor, and the monogrammed furniture inside. Whilst still rather plain, the pretty stickers on the boxes pushed The Sweet Tooth Fairy’s packaging above the very plain packaging of most of the others, and we also liked the small display of baking decorations and other cake-based goodies as you walked in. The cafe area did not feel to crowded and we fitted six people around one table quite happily.

(Image taken from here)

If we were to be really picky, we felt that it would have been nice to have a better selection of drinks to eat with the delicious cupcakes, however, that would just be the cherry on top of a really delicious cake.

Biggest Cupcake/Most Random Location – Tom’s Thumb Fresh Market

An honourable mention for this diner, which presented us with the largest cupcake we had ever seen – it looked like it had eaten two of the other cakes. At $2.95 it was great value for money, and good quality food considering this was the one entry not from a dedicated cupcake business. And all for a restaurant in a gas station. Much respect.

(Image taken from here)

Best decoration – The Victorian Cake Company and Candyland Cupcakes

This bakery has already been mentioned with regard to their completely delicious cronuts, but also deserve a mention for the pretty delicate decoration featured on their cupcakes. This was one feature we felt disappointed with overall, that decoration was very plain, and often non-existent. The flowers and toppings on these cakes made them an easy winner of the decoration award, really making them stand out from the crowd.

(Image taken from here)

Best Range of Interesting Flavours – Sprinkles Cupcakes

Going around a lot of cupcake shops, you soon find that a lot of flavours are baked wherever you go, meaning that when you find new flavours, it becomes quite exciting. The range of flavours on display at Sprinkles really impressed me, and small menus on display showed many other flavours if we were to come back on a different day. We sampled the Chai Latte and Pumpkin flavours, but was also very excited about the ginger lemon and mocha. I could have happily eaten any of their flavours, but more importantly was intrigued by some of the combinations – a success.

(Image taken from here)

That’s the first part of the contest then! Tune in later to find out our favourite individual cupcakes and our favourite overall shop!

Baking Research · Nation Cake Challenge · North America · Pastry

Hunting for Cronuts

Arizona Flag

When visiting America, one of the items on my ‘must-eat’ list was the wonderfully strange hybrid pastry that has been taking America by storm. That’s right, I wanted a cronut! Now there was a slight issue with this – I was visiting the west coast and Phoenix, whereas the original trademarked pastry is from New York, the creation of the renowned chef Dominique Ansel. However, small details right?

So anyway, I got to Phoenix, and we were planning out our cupcake tasting challenge (more on that to come!), and wondered if there was anywhere that did the elusive cronut. So being a modern person, I turned to the Internet, asking on twitter if anyone could recommend a location. Lo and behold, I got two suggestions, and one in a good location! Sold!

The next morning we piled into the car to head over to the Victorian Cake Company and Candyland Cupcakes for a cronut breakfast. Despite the suggestion that as we could get them at Dunkin’ Donuts (which was closer to home) we persevered, and arrived, preparing to queue up for the elusive cronut! However, excitingly, there was no queue! Less excitingly, this was because it was not open yet… However the owners were lovely, and let us come in, order our cronuts and get them hot out of the oven!

Cronuts 1

The cronut itself was less a combination of the two pastries, and more a completely different cake. a round pastry, consisting of layers of a fried pastry. The croissant influence was evident in the buttery taste, though the doughnut element was harder to identify – possibly the fried element of the pastry? The pastry was then halved and filled with a flavoured cream, and a small amount of icing was added on top. The bakery made three flavours so naturally we sampled all three! The flavours were (from the top) strawberry champagne, french vanilla and cookies and cream. We were pleasantly surprised by the whole concept – it was far less greasy that predicted, and the creme patisserie filling was a great contrast to the fried layers of flaky pastry. Or favourite by far, was the French vanilla cronut, which had a really beautiful fragrant vanilla flavour – I could have eaten the cream with a spoon!

Cronuts 2

Overall conclusion – very good! I can’t honestly say that I would be one of the people who queues up every morning to buy a cronut (they are just so rich!), but as an occassional treat – and in this case holiday breakfast! – they were completely delicious. If you are in the vicinity of Phoenix, The Victorian Cake Company is worth a visit juts for these lovely things!