Going into my second year attending and writing about the Pillsbury Bake-Off, I can sum up the experience in one word: magical. It’s also a ton of hard work, filled with busy days and nights, and no worry whatsoever that you’ll go hungry during the four days there but I think the latter goes without saying!

If you’ve never been to the Bake-Off before, it breaks down like this. From a pool of thousands of recipes submitted to the contest, 100 contestants and their recipes are selected as finalists for the cooking competition. This year, the Bake-Off was held in Las Vegas – here’s an insider’s look at what it means to bake it like you mean it.

1) Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas!

What happens in Vegas gets baked! For four days, the Aria Resort and Casino had more than just tables of blackjack and slot machines on deck – the convention center had 100 oven ranges in place and the perfect finishing touch to an outfit was an apron. As an added bonus, the Strip was right outside with easy walkability access to Caesar’s Palace, Paris and New York, New York. Bake hard; play hard (that’s how the saying goes, right?)

2) “How do you grow life in Vegas? One seed at a time.”

Notorious for its dry desert climate, you might wonder how a garden can ever begin to grow in Las Vegas. Luckily, Rosalind Brooks from the Vegas Roots Community Garden had all of the answers during the Food News Seminar on what it takes to bring caliche to life. She was also incredibly quotable. “We’re always wanting something from everyone else as though everyone else knows more about our own life. We only live once – the sky is only limited by your mind.” Still kicking myself over not starting a slow clap up over this great bit of food for thought.

3) #MMMillennials, or how I got caught “selfie handed.”

I once saw someone taking a selfie in a Starbucks parking lot and laughed and thought to myself, “Really? In public? That will never, ever be me.”

WELP, as it turns out it would happen to me, but in a really fun way and with a whole lot more people watching and tagging me on Instagram than what would happen in a parking lot. During the Smuckers sponsored “Millennial Cravings” seminar, I whipped out my iPhone to take some pictures of chef Jon Ashton on stage speaking. He noticed I was taking a photo (sitting in the front row in a bright red coat didn’t help hide me either) and brought me up on stage in front of everyone for a selfie with him. I have a grin ear to ear in that photo – traditionally selfies require several shots but this one just naturally and spontaneously happened on the spot!

4) Pots + pans + spoons = marching band.

Time to give the Bake-Off Grand March a twist! Bright and early Monday morning, the lifesize Pillsbury Doughboy and last year’s Bake-Off winner Christina Verrelli arrived to the convention center followed by a marching band. But this band passed up trumpets and drums for pots, pans, and spoons to lead the procession of contestants in with – which you can watch here.

5) “Bake It Like You Mean It!”

The motto of the day, along with “Spatulas at the Ready!” and “Make it Pop!” written on banners hanging high on the walls of the room as 100 ovens, and the contest itself, began to heat up. And while everything I was able to taste test was the, I gotta give an extra special shout-out to a few of my favorite samples – the Thai Shrimp Pizza from Kim Doyle Wille and Sandy Reiter’s Easy Chili with Twisted Cheesy Cornsticks. Bury me in a crockpot, please.

6) The 1966 Bake-Off winner was there!

Cheering on the contestants was the winner of the 1966 Bake-Off, Mari Petrelli – awesome!

7) Padma Lakshmi gives the Doughboy a poke.

Super insider’s note – upon meeting him, the “Top Chef” host, and Bake-Off MC, gave the Doughboy a bear hug so big it almost knocked him over!

8) Walking the “blue carpet” with the Golden Doughboy.

The Bake-Off equivalent to the Academy Awards trades the red carpet for a blue one and an Oscar for a Golden Doughboy award, with five small statuettes made up for the winners and one extra large statue outside to pose for pictures with before the awards ceremony and celebration dinner.

9) Loaded potato pinwheels were the million-dollar recipe winner!

Glori Spriggs took home the big money for a bite-sized recipe – loaded potato pinwheels! Having tried a sample beforehand, I can confirm that these pinwheels are slated for appetizer staple greatness!

10) And the Bake-Off location for 2014 is…

Before the evening ended, the marching band make a final guest appearance at the awards ceremony to reveal the city the 2014 Bake-Off will be held in. Drumroll please… and the answer is Nashville! The contest launches in January so keep your eyes peeled and rolling pins at the ready to enter for a chance to compete!

Image credit courtesy of my own Instagram, @howveryheather.