Thursday 27 September 2012

Land of the Free, Home of the Cheesecake Factory

I've just got back from an amazing two-week road trip across America - well, eight states of it anyway - and needless to say, have come back with a bagful of baking goodies! I also had some amazing meals so if you don't mind, will indulge myself in a little trip down memory lane and share a few photos with you as well!

Our first meal in America was breakfast and that was pretty cool - trying all the things I've heard of but never had before, like biscuits and gravy - which is actually what we call scones and a kind of creamy, cheesy sauce. Grits are basically porridge, and all American chain hotels seem to have a waffle maker in the breakfast area - I want one now!

Our second meal was actually one of the best, which was pretty unexpected. We were in a small town in Wyoming called Lusk, and needed somewhere to stop for lunch, and picked the Triangle 4 Cafe at random. I ordered chicken strips which turned out to be two huge chicken breasts, fried in delicious breadcrumbs - the quality and taste of the chicken was far better than what you would find in most places at home. Then we saw the pie cabinet....

As my lunch had been about twice the size I'd expected, I couldn't manage a whole dessert but had to try one of these pies! I decided to share with my boyfriend and let him pick - he went for a cookies & cream cream pie. It had a cookie crust and the filling seemed to be entirely cream, I'm not sure exactly what goes into a cream pie but I am going to have to try to make one!

(Don't worry, I didn't take photos of all my meals... not many at all in fact, but I'm beginning to wish I had!)

Incidentally, Lusk and the cream pie was on our way to this place... which was awesome.

Another meal I must mention was cooked by the hosts at our first bed and breakfast, Peregrine Point in Rapid City. This is breakfast, South Dakota style!

(barbecued steak, served with hash browns and French toast).

As we were on the road and had a lot of ground to cover every day, meals were often grabbed on the go and whatever there was going - on one occasion, crisps and chocolate from a garage (as we were running really late after our hire car broke down!). I also got to try some American chains I'd heard of but never been to before, like Denny's and In & Out Burger. We always had a good breakfast in our B&B, often involving pancakes and syrup, which was really nice.

Here are a couple of the other places we visited: (well, I did say this was a bit of a self-indulgent post!)


View from the front porch of our b&b in Wyoming. The owners let me feed the horses their breakfast... which was really exciting until we stayed at a place in Arizona that had llamas, and I was allowed to feed them!

Salt Lake City - Temple Square

Moab, Utah - where most of the films that are set in the Grand Canyon are actually filmed (including the cliff Thelma and Louise drive off). This place also doubles as Mars in quite a few sci-fi films, most recently John Carter!

We went to a rodeo in Jackson Hole

Possibly the most perfect backdrop to dinner, ever! This is also in Moab, at the Red Cliffs Lodge, where we had a fantastic meal at sunset.

Sunrise this time, at Monument Valley. My boyfriend took this photo, he's very talented!

Did I mention the llamas....

Finally I spent a few days in Las Vegas. This is the view from a bar at the top of the Mandalay Hotel at night.

Anyway where was I.... back to the food! I'm a huge fan of the Big Bang Theory so just had to go to the Cheesecake Factory. I was quite disappointed to find the staff uniforms are white, rather than yellow like they are in the TV show! But the food was absolutely amazing. They have a whole menu of cheesecake! I thought it would take me forever to decide which one to have but in fact it took about three seconds, when I saw this Oreo cheesecake on the menu! It has an Oreo cookie base, Oreos baked into the cheesecake part, then a creamy Oreo topping and chocolate on top of that. And it was served with whipped cream topped with crushed Oreos! I couldn't finish a whole piece as it was huge!

Oreos seem to be pretty popular in the US... this is the menu from a Dairy Queen where I had a delicious chocolate fudge milkshake (no wonder I put on nearly half a stone!)

In Las Vegas I found a Coca-Cola store selling all sorts of memoribilia and gifts. They also had a cafe, where for only 7 dollars you could taste a selection of Coca-Cola products from around the world - 16 in all! I had great fun tasting them all and deciding what I thought. Some were sickly sweet, some were quite nice, and one of them was the most disgusting thing I have ever tasted!

I couldn't resist going back to the Cheesecake Factory a second time. On my first visit I had a small snack as I wanted to save room for cheesecake, but there was a main course on their menu I was dying to try. Called the Macaroni and Cheeseburger, it was a burger with a ball of deep fried macaroni cheese sitting on top. It sounds so wrong... and it tasted so right! Seriously, it was amazing - the taste of the cheese of course went perfectly with the burger, but while I thought the texture of the pasta would be weird, it was amazing! I really liked this and am going to have to recreate it at home. I'm not sure I can deep fry a ball of macaroni cheese but even if I have to just open a tin of Heinz macaroni cheese and dump it on top of a burger, I'm doing it!
The drink in the photo was an iced mango concoction of some sort, which was delicious. Restaurants in the US seem to have a much better selection of soft drinks than we do here - and don't get me started on the free refills! (Note to my US readers: not something that we have in the UK!)

Ah yes, who can forget the legendary Las Vegas buffets? All the hotel/casinos have a buffet restaurant, where for a set price- which varies, depending on the restaurant and whether you are there for breakfast, lunch or dinner - you can eat as much as you like. I decided I couldn't miss out on the experience so on my last night in Vegas I went to the buffet at the Mirage where I was staying.

In my defence, I want to point out that these photos are close-ups and the portions are very small, and secondly before anyone makes a comment about there being starving children in Africa, I donate every month to a third world development charity... and I think this food would just have been thrown away otherwise! I have a horrible feeling though that I'm going to get at least one comment on this blog calling me a pig, but for those of you who haven't experienced an all-you-can-eat buffet, I want to show you what it's like!
My first course - I skipped the salad - was seafood. Some prawns, a small piece of salmon, something that I think was a prawn wonton, and a couple of crab legs. The guy next to me had a plate piled so high with crab legs it was a wonder he could see over the top!

Second course: one very small slice of chicken and broccoli pizza, some broccoli stir-fried in garlic, and some pasta - literally two spoonfuls, as I just wanted to try it.

Third course - some amazing beef prime rib, some carrots, horseradish sauce and what turned out to be a bread roll which I didn't eat. I was trying to visit each food area in turn (they were divided according to type of cuisine) and thought it was a shame I couldn't see any potatoes to go with my beef.

Fourth course - aha, found the potatoes! Mini fried potatoes and mash. And I figured I may as well have some chicken to go with it... which was a mistake as I realised by this point I was really full!

And finally dessert (which is the fifth course, but who's counting?!). Both of these are tiny - on the right is a cheesecake in a shot glass, on the left a tiny but very rich chocolate mousse. By this point I had to admit defeat!

Does that make me a total pig or a terrible person? I hope not! And if I didn't eat it, the food would just go to waste, right...? Anyway it's not like I'm in Vegas every day!

At the end of the holiday I managed to squeeze in a trip to Walmart, which I was very excited about. Which probably sounds pathetic to any Americans reading this - it's like someone getting excited over a trip to Tesco - but I was looking forward to buying some of the brands that we can't get over here.

I spent almost exactly 100 dollars and it's lucky I had a second bag allowance on the flight home! I don't think I could have gotten many, possibly even any, of the things I bought here in the UK and if I could, they would probably have cost five times as much! So here's my haul:

2 bars of Hersheys Cookies and Cream chocolate, earmarked to make The More Than Occasional Baker's amazing brownies; and four types of Hersheys Kisses (some of which were gifts): standard, Air Delight (which seem to be like Aero), Cookies and Cream and Caramel.

From left to right, top to bottom: Double-stuffed Oreos with mint and chocolate (a cunning plan as I don't like mint, so won't eat these!); pumpkin shaped jumbo marshmallows; Reese's Pieces peanut butter mini cups; Nestle butterscotch morsels; peanut butter M&Ms (which are amazing - do we have these in the UK?!) and mini M&Ms.

I've always been curious about ready-made baxing mixes; there are a few available in the UK (e.g. the Betty Crocker brand) but the selection is far greater in America. Also, I've always wondered what "yellow cake" is, exactly, and whether it really does come out yellow! So I bought a box of yellow cake mix and a box of white cake mix (is it really white? how weird is that?). To go with it, I bought a can of whipped vanilla frosting, which I discovered is actually white and tastes more like marshmallow fluff than buttercream. It turned out to be very useful for some cakes I was decorating, now if only I knew how to get homemade buttercream to come out white...!

I also bought a box of red velvet cake mix. I've made red velvet cake before but it didn't come out particularly red (or even a little bit pink!) so I thought I would see what this mix was like.

Graham Crackers are something that have always intrigued me... US recipes often specify using these to make crumbs for pie or cheesecake bases, but we don't have Graham Crackers in the UK. I always use digestive biscuits in these recipes as I assume they are pretty much the same thing, but was on the lookout for some Graham Crackers while I was in Walmart. I didn't see any, but what I did find was this box of Graham Cracker c rumbs - perfect for my next cheesecake, and in any case if I had bought biscuits, they probably would have been crumbs by the time I got them home!

Finally in the picture above is a Fry Bread Mix. My boyfriend is a huge fan of Navajo fry bread, which he's eaten on a previous trip to New Mexico. This time we found it in Utah and Arizona. The kind I ate was made from blue corn so the bread had a slightly blue-grey tinge; the sort my boyfriend had before was more of a golden brown. The bread puffs up and the piece we ordered as a starter at the View Hotel in Monument Valley was absolutely huge! They serve it both sweet and savoury - I had a turkey sandwich that was made using the fry bread whereas they also bring it as a starter or side dish with honey and icing sugar. But when my boyfriend told our waiter he thought it was a savoury dish, he said they serve it with honey and sugar for the American visitors to the hotel as they like everything sweet! We were in a gift shop in Arizona and I happened to see a packet of the fry bread mix, and since my boyfriend loves it so much decided to give it a go. You have to deep fry it though, and I don't have a deep fryer and am not a fan of big pans of oil, so I'm not entirely sure what I will do with it yet!

In this picture above, we've moved on to cake decorating goodies. There was so much I could have bought but I couldn't get everything! I got a packet of pretty cupcake cases and cake toppers - which were much cheaper than they would be at home - and a packet of tulip cake cases, which I've also seen in the UK but again were much more expensive.

In the middle of the photo you can see some edible decorating paper. I came across this on the internet and had a look around to see where I could buy it, and found it on Amazon for £13 plus £5 postage. That seemed rather much, even though I thought the zebra design would be perfect for my sister... so I was very excited when I stumbled across it in Walmart, and found it only cost $3.50 - about £2! Unfortunately they had run out of the zebra design and there was an empty spot on the shelf where it should have been, so I bought this pink one instead. I have no idea how you use it and whether it's particularly easy but it will be fun to try!

And now on to baking equipment... first, top left, is a Halloween jello (jelly) mould that came with two packets of jelly. I thought I might be able to use the mould for chocolates or something similar as well (though not baking as it's plastic), though the main reason I bought it was because it was only $2.50. For a similar reason, next to it is a round silicon cake pan that's indented with the shape of a flower - I found it in Walmart's $1 bin!

Next to that is a set of three dog-themed cookie cutters that are so cute (you get a paw, a bone and a dog).  You'd generally pay a few pounds each for a cookie cutter of this size, and I would expect to pay anything from £5 - £8 for a set like this... and it was $2! Seriously, can I go back to Walmart with an empty suitcase please?

The other two items are the only things I bought in Williams Sonoma. I loved all their products and they had some beautiful cake tins, but they were metal, huge and heavy - and also pretty expensive. So I restricted myself to something I had seen on their website and thought might be fun for my boyfriend's next birthday, as he's a bit of a Star Wars fan - a Star Wars cookie cutter set! Best of all, it was reduced from $20 to $10. I also found some Star Wars cupcake stencils, which allow you to sprinkle icing sugar or cocoa over cakes and have certain shapes come out, such as the Star Wars logo or the big space ship thingy Millennium Falcon. That was $10 as well.

And on that note, I happened to go into the partyware aisle and found a whole range of Star Wars-themed goodies! So sorry honey, it looks like you're having a Star Wars birthday party next year, whether you want one or not! I got some paper plates, cups and napkins, and for good measure threw a few of the Marvel Avengers themed stuff into the trolley as well, all at a fraction of the price I normally pay for themed tableware in the UK.

Finally this picture above shows the scrapbooking items I picked up. The first set is from the Mount Rushmore gift shop and contains paper and stickers themed on major American landmarks, many of which we visited on this trip. In the centre is a pack of printed papers featuring American designs (stars and stripes and various backdrops) and finally a packet of American-themed stickers. I'm planning to do a few scrapbook pages based on our trip so these will come in very handy, and again are more expensive/ harder to find in the UK.

Overall I'm very pleased with my haul and want to go back to America to stock up on more goodies already!


  1. Your trip looks fantastic!! The backdrop to that meal looks like Radiator Falls - home of Disney's Cars. Talking of Disney, when we go over to Florida and Walt Disney World, we try and get to Cheesecake Factory, mainly because the portions are HUGE and well, they sell cheesecake. You did good picking the Oreo one... YUM. I also like to stock up on scrapbooks and material while im in the US, got 2 postbound albums for like $10 each last time, £40 over here. Enjoy!

    1. Funny you mention Cars, I was also at Seligman (AZ) on Route 66 where they are some old cars covered in dirt that have eyes drawn on the windscreen, apparently that was the inspiration for the movie! Wish I'd had time to go to a proper craft/scrapbooking shop, Walmart had a small range (which is better than UK supermarkets that wouldn't have anything like that) but I would have bought more if I could!

  2. Looks like you have had an amazing time! I am very jealous of your baking haul and that cheesecake looks fantastic!!

    1. I want to recreate this cheesecake, it was amazing! Quite rich though and it would have been better to share between two people but I was there by myself at that point of my trip.

  3. What a wonderful vacation! You really squeezed in a lot of fun and great food!

    1. Too much food, unfortunately - I put on 6 and a half pounds! Oh well, it was worth it...

  4. Sounds like you had a fantastic time! I'm very jealous but will have to console myself with looking forward to my holiday to Florida next year. Glad you had a great holiday! Can't wait to see what you make with your haul. :)

    1. I've got a few ideas in mind but am not sure yet what I will do with most of it! I've never been to Florida, would love to go there :-)

  5. Sounds like an absolutely brilliant holiday. And I would in no ways judge you for eating loads. You're on holiday! In America! Of course you're going to try loads of different, amazing food. That oreo cheesecake looks insanely good. So jealous you got to visit the cheesecake factory! Looking forward to seeing what you bake with all your tasty American goodies :)

    1. I wish we had a Cheesecake Factory over here - I think they would do really well in the UK, especially now everyone has heard of it thanks to the Big Bang Theory!

  6. OMG wow Caroline :) I didn't know that you were in the US for a holiday! I was in New York at the start of the year and regret not buying more confectionary and cake mixes sigh they are so amazing! :)

    Seems like a great holiday so glad you enjoyed yourself ~

    1. Yep, I was on a roadtrip with my boyfriend and his mum, we covered 8 states in 16 days! I bought about as much as I could carry home but am still wishing I had got more, hopefully I will get a trip out to the US with work next year (though they've been promising that for a year already!) so I can buy more!

  7. yummy food,and good photos.

    1. hello mum :-) You got a sneak preview of the best pics, I have still only put up photos on Facebook from day 1 and 2 of our trip - I'm meaning to do days 3 and 4 tonight. Didn't want to overload everyone with too many photos at once!

  8. Wow wow wow love it all! I have been waiting for this! it looked like you had the most awesome time! The cookies and cream pie looked amazing and the Oreo cheesecake! And I'm so jealous of all your specialized stash of Mint Oreos and Pumpkin marshmallows! Turns out Canada doesn't get that seasonal stuff the way the states does which I did not know beforehand! And I'm so glad you found scrap booking stuff, I have made awesome America road trp scrapbooks using cool embellishments from the states. Can't wait to see what you bake up with all your goodies! p.s what nationality were the sisters who showed you around Temple Square?

  9. great info there...thanks a lot for the post


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