2016 Top 10 Reader Faves

2016 Top 10 Reader Faves

As we sit at the precipice of the new year, I can’t help but reflect on what a year this has been for us. For me, my family, the country. I wasn’t planning to create this post this year but out of tradition of t0p recipes from past years and for reflection on this year, I figured I would toss it up here today.

After all, I started this blog almost 10 years ago out of a desire to share my family’s recipes. Smells Like Home became its name because of the overwhelming sense of place I always felt when I walked into my childhood home and smelled a giant pot of Sunday gravy bubbling away on the stove, or a pot roast and gravy gurgling in the crock pot, or a pan of pork chops sizzling under the broiler.

This year, I lost a piece of my identity when my dad passed away over the summer. I wrote a bunch of words down about that when I talked about pie. Both of my parents inspired me in the kitchen but ultimately, it was my dad’s insatiable love for good, home-cooked food and the pride he exuded when his creations reached the table that made me want to be a better cook. The sense of loss I have felt since his passing is almost unbearable at times and though that day in July becomes more distant each day, the aching still survives.

Kyle and I also lost our close friend Ron earlier in the year; one of Kyle’s best friends, of 25 years. As we had just two weeks to prepare and say goodbye to my dad, we had almost no time at all to do so for our friend. He was involved in a motorcycle accident and died 12 hours later. This was a blow to our family and circle of friends that left us reeling.

It’s hard to imagine how you can pick yourself up from the loss we’ve experienced this year. They still hang so close to our hearts. They visit us in our day dreams and our night dreams. They are with us in the little things we do each day and in the big decisions that change our lives forever.

Ironically, the most popular new recipe on the site this year was the first thing I baked after we lost Ron – baking therapy, indeed – and the last thing I ever baked for dad. I loved baking his birthday cakes (see above re: his love of food) and his cannoli cake this year was the most over-the-top cake I had ever made. He flipped out over it and I’ll never forget the expression of pure joy on his face that day. It amazes me to think how one cake can feel like a bridge to so many emotions.

In August, we adopted Jackson in the hopes of helping me to heal from the loss of my dad. I don’t think either of us were prepared for how this pup could have changed our lives. The sense of purpose and infinite amount of love he has brought to our home is indescribable. We thought we were doing good by rescuing him, but it was really Jackson who saved us.

I certainly didn’t mean for this year-end wrap-up to turn into a Judy Blume-esque journal entry but my incredibly introverted self is working on being more open in this space and while this year has been one of sadness and loss, I expect we’ll have some really good news to share with you next year. More to come on that soon! In the meantime, let’s walk back through your top 10 favorites of 2016 (from top-bottom and left-right):

2016 Top 10

1. cannoli cake
2. how to bake the best baked potato
3. the ‘i want chocolate cake’ cake
4. cheesy hasselback potatoes
5. homemade crescent dinner rolls
6. strawberry cream cheese french toast bake
7. peach blueberry pie
8. chicken gyro salad
9. cobb salad for 2 with genius caesar dressing
10. three cheese lasagna roll-ups (not picture above)

Thanks to each and every one one of you for all of your love and support this year. My plan for next year is to be more engaged with you in this space – I hope you love what I have in store for you and that you’ll let me know what you’d like to see here! And as always, Happy New Year to you and your families. Wishing you all the best in the year to come!

Espresso Dark Chocolate Sablés

For the coffee/espresso and chocolate lover in all of us, these espresso dark chocolate sablés are a match made in heaven.

Espresso Dark Chocolate Sables

One of the things I love most about the Christmas season is that there is always a legit excuse to make cookies. ‘Tis the season and all of that stuff, right? My holiday baking list this year was already on the long side but I had to add these espresso dark chocolate sablés from Dorie Greenspan’s newest book, Cookies. Tomorrow’s cookie recipe is another add-on but I need to lament about these cookies first.

Espresso Dark Chocolate Sables

It’s no surprise that I would love another espresso sweet treat (see also: more cookies, brownies, muffins, whipped cream, and ice cream) or that I would adore another Dorie recipe (we go way back: jammers, no-crack cheesecake, sticky buns, snickery squares, peanuttiest blondies, almost-fudge gâteau). So when the two collide? I’m all over it!

Espresso Dark Chocolate Sables

These cookies are nothing fancy, really: flour, sugar, salt, vanilla, cinnamon, lots of butter, homemade espresso extract, and a boatload of chopped bittersweet chocolate. It’s the combination of really good ingredients (helloo Ina!) and a super-secret baking method (not really) that puts them over the top. The dough is rolled out and then chilled (brilliant!) and you’ll pop out 2-inch rounds with a cookie cutter. Bake the rounds in a muffin tin (whaaat??) and each cookie turns out the exact same size – no spreading, leaking, or sad-looking cookies. I absolutely LOVE this method – even more so than the rolled-dough method – and I can see myself using it frequently. Also, want smaller cookies? Use a mini-muffin tin and smaller cookie cutter!

Espresso Dark Chocolate Sables

Anyway…the espresso dark chocolate sablés themselves are rich and deeply flavored. Not overpoweringly coffee-flavored; just enough to remind you of why you love coffee and espresso so much. The bittersweet chocolate, of course, is the perfect match for any baked good containing coffee/espresso. I sneaked a few of these yesterday afternoon with a half-caf double espresso (holla to this year’s Christmas present to myself!) and then we piled these guys high while we trimmed out the tree last night and paired them with a glass of Baileys-spiked eggnog. ‘Tis the season and all those things!

Espresso Dark Chocolate Sables

Espresso Dark Chocolate Sablés

Prep Time: 3 hours

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes

Yield: about 3 dozen


  • 1½ tbsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 tbsp boiling water
  • 8 oz (2 sticks; 226 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into cubes
  • 2/3 cup (80 g) confectioners' sugar
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • Pinch ground cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (272 g) all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz (113 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped


  1. Pour the boiling water over the espresso powder and stir to dissolve to make a coffee extract; set aside to cool.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, salt, and cinnamon at medium speed for 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix in the vanilla and coffee extract at low speed until combined. With the mixer off, add the flour and mix on low until just barely incorporated. On low speed, stir the chocolate into the batter. Scrape the sides of the bowl and give the batter a few good stirs.
  3. Divide the dough in half, shape them into discs, and place one of the discs between two pieces of parchment paper. Roll the dough out to a ¼-inch thickness; repeat with the second disc and two more pieces of parchment. Refrigerate the dough in the parchment (you can stack them) for at least 2 hours or freeze for at least 1 hour.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325° F and ready a 12-well muffin tin. Working with one piece of dough and a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out rounds and drop each into a well of the muffin tin. When the muffin tins are full, bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans from front to back halfway through the time. In the meantime, gather up the scraps, re-roll, chill, cut, and bake. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Cool the cookies in the tins on a wire rack for 10 minutes then slip the cookies out of the tin (a small offset spatula or butter knife works well here) and cool the cookies completely on the rack. Store in a tightly sealed container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
  5. If you're not ready to bake all of the cookies at once, cut all of the dough into discs, freeze the discs on a parchment-lined baking sheet, toss the discs into a zip-top freezer bag, and freeze until ready to bake. At that time, you'll just need to preheat the oven, pop the discs into the muffin tins, and bake!


barely adapted from Cookies by Dorie Greenspan

Booze Balls

These no-bake booze balls make adulting during the holidays so worth it. Chocolate, pecans, and rum, bourbon, Irish cream, whiskey, or Kahlua…win win win!

Booze Balls

The Christmases of my childhood were spent over the river and through the woods at my grandma’s house playing endless rounds of war, kings in the corners, rummy, poker (yes), and tripoley with my brother and cousins. As you could imagine, there was also a fair amount of poking through cookie tins stacked high in the kitchen to see what we could use to gamble with. Don’t ask.

And as much as I loved my grandma, I hated the cookies she made: 90% of her Christmas stash had nuts in them. For a kid who got tricked into eating nuts as a toddler and subsequently swore them off for life, this was torture.

Booze Balls

My brother on the other hand, with his oppositionally defiant behaviors, sought out any treat that had booze it, even as early as the age of 8. These booze balls were his jam. Back then, we called them rum balls. Today, I call them booze balls since I made them last weekend with both rum and bourbon (a half batch for each spirit).

Booze Balls

They’re a no-bake cookie of ground chocolate wafers, pecans or walnuts, confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, and booze, and then rolled in Nestle Quick (keep reading). I leave the choice of booze up to you; Irish cream or whiskey or Kahlua might work well too. You want to choose a booze with some depth and warmth to it. And because I couldn’t leave you hanging at the sound of Quick, I also rolled a few in sweetened cocoa.

Booze Balls

I never actually ate these booze balls, even as an adult, but I made them this year for my brother for when he arrives this weekend for Christmas. We could all use some comfort this year as we muddle through our first holiday season since dad’s passing, and I know he still adores these treats. I did sample a couple of them since pecans are no longer my enemy and I have to say, I really like them – both the rum and bourbon versions. I didn’t taste much of a difference between those rolls in Quick vs. cocoa but the booze is a prominent flavor and the bourbon version packs more of a sneaky punch than the rum version does. Either way, if you’re looking for a different sort of holiday treat to make – and a super easy one at that – look no further. Make them now since they’ll need a couple of days for the flavors to really meld before serving.

Booze Balls

Booze Balls

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: about 3 dozen


  • 1 (9 oz) package chocolate wafer cookies
  • 1 cup pecans or walnuts
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup
  • ¼ cup rum, bourbon, or another booze of your choice
  • Nestle Quick or sweetened cocoa powder (dry hot chocolate mix)


  1. You can make these booze balls with or without a food processor - I found it easier to use one. If you opt not to, crush the cookies very finely in a plastic zip-top bag with a rolling pin and chop the nuts very finely. Otherwise...
  2. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade, process the cookies until they are uniformly fine crumbs. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the nuts to the bowl and process in the same manner, taking care not to process too long or you'll end up with nut butter. Transfer to the bowl. Sift the sugar into the bowl. Add the corn syrup and booze. Stir everything together with a rubber spatula until a dark chocolate dough emerges. This will take a bit of mixing but be patient.
  3. Add the Quick or cocoa powder to a shallow dish. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and drop them into the dish. The dough may seem a little dry (and you should keep the unrolled dough covered with plastic wrap or a damp paper towel while you work) but keep working it in your hands until it comes together. After you've rolled a bunch, swirl them around to coat fully in the Quick/cocoa powder.
  4. Keep the balls in a tightly sealed container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. The balls will deepen in color over time as they absorb the coating. I lined a cookie tin with wax paper and piled them up in layers, allowing the wax paper corners to hang out the top of the tin which helps to seal it, as my grandma and mom always did.


My grandma's recipe

2016 Holiday Baking List

2016 holiday baking list
Holy cow! It’s December 1st! I know there are quite a few of you who have joyfully dusted off your advent calendars (or maybe you’re into the cardboard ones with little chocolate pieces hidden behind the doors – we had those growing up!) or you’ve dreadfully pulled out the Elf – whatever its name may be in your home – positioned it in some crazy-ass way last night, and started sweating over what the next 23 nights will be like. Ah, parenthood.

Peanut Butter Truffles

In any event, I’m doing my best to keep my spirits high this year. The past 4 months have been a complete drain on my emotional self since my dad passed away. Our first Thanksgiving without him was so tough but I’m already feeling Christmastime being infinitely more difficult. To keep my mind busy, I’ve been doing a lot of baking recently – lots of which you don’t see make it here since it’s either eaten too quickly or it’s stuff I’ve already posted. And surprisingly, I’ve already put together my 2016 holiday baking list, something I almost never do until the third-ish week of December.

Lofthouse Style Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies

We’ll be putting up our tree this weekend and I’ll make a couple of these treats to snack on with a few glugs of vanilla bourbon eggnog. The rest I’ll make for work parties, gift platters, and Christmas dinner (we’re hosting this year). Of course, in the interim, there will always be a few to snack on too. Guess I better get my fatter pants out.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
chocolate crinkle cookies. santa’s all-time favorite.
peanut butter truffles. fancified buckeyes!
creamy eggnog crumb bars. maybe spiked with something naughty?
cranberry bliss bars
cranberry bliss bars. blissful indeed. (1000x better than the Starbucks version)
rum balls. and bourbon balls. because adulting at Christmas is really hard.
dorie’s vanilla bean sablés. naturally. (also considering the rosemary spin-off version)
white chocolate gingerbread blondies. hand’s down, my favorite two years running.
oreo truffles. classic deliciousness.
Homemade Peppermint Patties
peppermint patties. because, why not? Kyle LOVES these guys.
thin and chewy oatmeal spiced cookies with brown butter icing. brown butter 4 life.
vanilla bean eggnog bundt cake. #allaboutthatbundt
lofthouse frosted soft sugar cookies. with red and green dyed frosting and covered in Christmas sprinkles. always part of our gift platters.
Pecan Linzer Cookies with Raspberry Filling
linzer cookies with raspberry filling. christmas classic.
coconut cream filled macaroons. not a sleeper cookie.
chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies. i always forget how much i love gingerbread cookies!
peppermint pretzel marshmallow fudge. who knew pretzels + peppermint + fudge was amazing and didn’t tell me sooner?
triple chocolate cheesecake. Christmas day dessert!

And…if you need some extra inspiration, I put together a whole slew of other ideas a couple of years ago. Happy baking season!

Now…what are YOU baking this season? Share your favorites and new ideas in the comment section below!