Jalapeño Cheddar Hamburger Buns + A Giveaway!

I’m not going to lie to you.  As of a couple of years ago, I was a complete wuss when it came to just about any spicy food.  But somehow, somewhere along the way, my tastes have changed (Kyle loves this) and I’m all about spicy foods now.  If you were at our housewarming party a couple of weeks ago, you would have found me next to the antipasti platter popping hot cherry peppers stuffed with prosciutto and provolone into my mouth like they were candy.  Totally addicting.

When I decided to make those tex mex sloppy joes sandwiches a few weeks back, I knew I wanted homemade buns…but not any ol’ bun would do.  I’d had my eye on Shawnda’s jalapeño cheddar buns for months and since the buns aren’t really generalizable to the population foods you put on hamburger buns, because you know, they are made with jalapeños, I plucked this recipe as my first choice for the sloppy joes.  And it was the perfect choice indeed.  The buns are an adapted version of these rocket rolls (which I already adore) and with the addition of sharp cheddar cheese and chopped up spicy peppers, you honestly can’t go wrong.  They are unbelievably soft and plush yet sturdy enough for a messy dinner like sloppy joes and I’ve got a few leftover in the freezer for either another round of “joes” or another idea I’ve been cooking up.  Dare I say I’m excited?!

Before you check out the recipe, how about heading over to enter the first of my Holiday Giveaways 2012?  You’ve got the chance to win 5 of my favorite cookbooks, one of which is a signed copy!


Cheddar Swirl Buns

As we head into the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I’m throwing a wrench into our little Christmas process here.  Many of you know that we moved into a new home last winter and we’re finally ready to host our housewarming party!  Well, we’re almost at the point where we’re ready…but the invitations went out weeks ago so now we’re committed to a date in just less than two weeks from now.  This translates into a life of to-do lists, multiple trips to the hardware store, and lots of making nice after ruffled nerves give way to sharp tongues.  You get my point.

It also means menu planning (my favorite part, naturally) and even though I’ve been planning this party in my head for over a year, you’d think I’d have a better handle on the menu than I currently do.  For reals guys – this menu has been in the works since before this house had windows!  I’m still constantly adding and removing ideas but after a bout of insomnia baking hit me over the weekend and these cheddar swirl buns emerged from my oven after multiple proofs during the wee hours, I’m totally and completely sold on them being a part of our housewarming menu.

Soft and buttery dough envelops swirls of sharp cheddar cheese, grated onion and thyme and I still can’t stop thinking about them.  The onion melts away leaving a little tang behind and the only thing that could make these buns any better, if it’s possible, is maybe a little bacon.  These buns will make breakfast or brunch, cocktail hour, or dinnertime a magical event.  And surprisingly, they reheat beautifully wrapped in some foil in a 250 degree oven…so you don’t have to stand over the counter looking down at a dozen freshly baked cheese-oozing buns and fret that you might have to eat them all in one day.  Like me.  They are unexpectedly and decadently rich savory buns so they’ll be great for a crowd (say, at Thanksgiving) or you can just reheat them over the course of a few days.  We’re not complaining.

Cheddar Swirl Buns

Prep Time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours, 55 minutes

Yield: 12 buns

Give yourself some time to make this recipe; the inactive time for proofing is up to 4 hours total. Are they totally worth the wait? Absolutely. Is it feasible to start them in the morning to serve for breakfast? Likely not. But you can prep the dough up to the first rise and keep it in the fridge for up to 3 days before proceeding with the recipe. It's a great time saver that I'll definitely take advantage of for party prep or weekend guests.


    For the bun dough:
  • 3 cups (13 1/4 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp table salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) instant yeast
  • 1 cup of milk, slightly warmed
  • 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm plus 1 tbsp extra for brushing the rolls
  • For the filling:
  • 1/2 medium onion, grated (about 1/2 cup)
  • 6 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • A few grinds of black pepper


  1. To make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, salt, black pepper, and sugar; stir together on low speed with the paddle attachment. In a 1 cup liquid measuring cup, whisk the yeast into the warmed milk until it dissolves then pour the milk mixture and the melted butter over the dry ingredients. Mix everything together on low speed until they form a shaggy mass of dough.
  2. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for 6 minutes on low speed, until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky. Alternatively, you can knead the dough by hand for about 8 minutes. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm spot (like a barely warm oven) until it doubles, about 2 hours. While the dough rises, make the filling; chill it until you're ready to use it.
  3. To form the buns: Transfer the dough from the bowl to a well-floured counter top or work surface, sprinkle the dough with a little more flour, and pat it down into a rough rectangular shape. With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 12x16-inch rectangle. Spread the filling out evenly over the dough to within 1/2" of the edges of the dough. Starting at the short end (or the long end if it's 6 am and you're still half asleep like I was), roll the dough tightly up into a log. With a serrated knife, cut the dough into twelve 1-inch rolls (or 1 1/2-inch rolls if you rolled it from the long end).
  4. Line the bottom of two 9-inch round cake pans or a 13x9-inch baking dish with parchment paper and lightly grease the paper with baking spray. Arrange 6 buns evenly spaced apart in each pan or all 12 in the large dish. Melt the additional tablespoon of butter and brush the tops of the buns with it. Cover the pans with plastic wrap and let the buns rise in a warm place until the buns just about double in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When the buns have almost doubled, preheat the oven to 350° F.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes (remove the plastic wrap first) until the buns are golden brown and the cheese is bubbling up. Serve immediately. The buns will keep, covered, at room temperature for 2-3 days. Reheat any leftovers (ha!) in a 250° F wrapped in foil until they are just warmed through.


source: barely adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman

Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread

garlic parmesan pull-apart bread

My parents were here to visit us this past weekend with goal in mind: Manhattan clam chowder.  It’s a “fall classic,” so to speak, in my family and we decided this year that we’d make it at our house.  It was a spectacularly laid back weekend filled with a killer Yankees game on the boob-tube on Saturday, tons of coffee drinking (as per usual), my mom reminiscing over her mother’s and grandmother’s recipes, my dad on the hunt for a walking stick in the woods on our property, Wilma chasing the turkeys out of the yard, and lots of cooking.

garlic parmesan pull-apart bread

This garlic Parmesan pull-apart bread happened in the course of Saturday’s waning afternoon light while the soup was finishing on the stove and the Yankees were into the 4th hour of their almost 6 hour game.  My mom and I sat at our 10-year-old Ikea kitchen table where I plucked golf ball-size pieces of dough out of the dough container and she rolled them in garlic herb butter.  Piled up in the Bundt pan and sprinkled with some Parmesan cheese, the dough goes through a second quick rise then puffs up even higher while baking.  Set out in the center of the table, we marveled at this bread: how easy it was to make, how rustic it was to pull apart, and how perfect it was dipped in one of our favorite soups.

Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread

Prep Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours

Yield: 6 servings

I expect this bread would be fantastic served alongside spaghetti and meatballs…and that may be how it makes its next appearance in our house. Also, store-bought pizza dough would work fine with this recipe if you're making this on a whim without a lot of time. Just make sure the dough is at room temperature before you start dividing it.


  • 2 ¼ tsp (1 packet) instant yeast
  • 1 1/3 cups warm water
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tbsp (¼ cup) salted butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley flakes or 2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • ¼ tsp Italian seasoning
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


  1. In the bowl of the stand mixer, stir together the yeast and water. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes until yeast is somewhat dissolved. Mix in the olive oil, salt, and flour. Using the dough hook, knead the dough for 5 minutes, or until elastic. (Alternatively, you can mix the ingredients in a large bowl then knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is elastic, 7-10 minutes.) Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until it has doubled in size.
  2. In a small bowl, combine melted butter, parsley, Italian seasoning, and minced garlic. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  4. Gently push the air out of the dough. Tear off a golf ball-size piece of dough, roll in the butter mixture, and place in the bottom of a Bundt pan. Repeat this process until you have one layer of dough balls. Sprinkle on 1/3 of the Parmesan cheese. Continue layering the dough balls and cheese until you have 3 layers. (Note: We ended up with only 2 layers but the bread still turned out fine.) Cover the pan with a clean towel or plastic wrap and allow the dough to double in size, 20-30 minutes.
  5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bread is golden brown. Let the pan cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes then invert the pan onto a large serving plate and let the bread fall out of the pan. Serve hot.


source: adapted from Pastry Affair

Braided White Sandwich Bread

If you’ve made your own bread, you’ll know the feeling of pure satisfaction in dipping your hands into warm dough that has just been through its first rise.  Soft, warm dough that almost melts between your fingers…dough that feels so delicate yet that’s sturdy enough to withstand gently pushing out the air and shaping.  Most of the time, white bread dough is shaped into a log, and for me, always with a bit of trepidation that all of the rolling and fussing will impede the proof in the bread pan.

This time however, the experts at King Arthur Flour challenged me to a new bread-baking level…a level I had avoided for so long with the fear that I’d totally screw it up.  And frankly, I almost did because I was so caught up with taking notes and photos that I didn’t fully absorb the instructions that I was actually taking notes about and photographing.  Go figure.

But anyway, we baked a traditional loaf and a braided loaf from the same batch of dough (totally made by hand, I might add – no stand mixer!) and I am still tickled pink with how my braid turned out.  And it was so much easier to do than I thought it would be!  Like any loaf of white bread, the braided loaf will make great sandwiches since the bread recipe itself is such a fantastic one.  I froze both loaves when I got home and have been enjoying a piece of the traditionally-shaped loaf in the mornings for breakfast with some butter and either rhubarb strawberry or peach vanilla bean jam.  Homemade bread + homemade jam = perfectly harmonious breakfast.  I plan to use the braided loaf described below for something special that I’ll share with you guys soon!

Deli-Style Rye Bread


A few weeks ago, I ventured into the world of making rye bread.  I had been dying to make it for a least a year and finally had all of the ingredients I needed but somewhere I went wrong.  The flavor of the bread was spot-on – perfect, actually – but something happened to the bread’s rise.  It could have been that I refrigerated the dough overnight after the first proof period but I don’t really know for sure.  So with family visiting over the weekend and a planned St. Patty’s Day meal on Saturday night, I made it my job to make a loaf of rye bread that was worthy of both the killer meal we were in for as well as worthy enough to be shared with you here.  I pulled out my brandy-new copy of Baking Illustrated, cracked open the binding (don’t you love that sound of a new cookbook?!), and found a recipe.  My cousin was visiting again and after emptying boxes and cleaning the floors on Friday night, we quickly threw the recipe’s sponge together and then went the bed.  If you’ve never made yeast recipe with a sponge step before, have no fear!  Simply put, the sponge for this recipe is a quick mix of flour, yeast, and honey and allowing it to ferment for at least 2 1/2 hrs (overnight works best) helps to deepen the flavor of the final bread product and it’s a necessary and easy step.

Deli-Style Rye Bread

This rye bread is perfect!  With a soft crumb and sturdy structure, it’s ideal for sandwiches or buttered-up for dipping in soup, or to be served alongside a hearty meal.  The caraway seeds make this rye bread everything it was intended to be and if you can’t find them in your regular grocery store, consider ordering them from an online source, like Penzey’s.  The recipe yields either one very large loaf or two smaller loaves and considering we have so much leftover, I’ll be slicing up most of the loaf and freezing it for sandwiches down the road…or perhaps for an Irish stew this weekend.  Either way, this rye bread is a keeper and I know we’ll be making it for years to come.

Soft Pretzel Bites with Cheese Sauce


I am a complete sucker for mall pretzels.  And it’s a darn good thing that you’ll only find me at the mall once or twice a year because more trips would like equal more pretzels.  And as much as I love them, I’ve only made them once before, admittedly to great success but since Kyle isn’t a huge fan (crazy boy), I haven’t made them again.  But in all the years since I first made them, there’s been one recipe I’ve been saving and I finally decided to bust it out just in time to share it with you while you’re all getting crazy planning your Super Bowl (or maybe anti-Super Bowl?) party menus.  For the record, we’ll both be watching movies this Sunday, as is our annual tradition, while the rest of the nation is either watching the Super Bowl or waiting for the commercials (rarely both).

So this recipe isn’t any big secret; in fact, it’s probably the most widely adored one out there but if you haven’t made it yet, you need to  Like now!  And don’t be intimidated by making homemade soft pretzels either because this recipe is practically fool-proof.  I not only halved the recipe (something that isn’t always recommended with yeast recipes), but I also refrigerated the dough overnight after the rise (something that is usually done to yeast dough before the rise, if at all).  I let the dough come back to room temperature for about 2 hours before using it and the pretzel bites turned out like a dream.  Seriously awesome soft pretzels.  And dipped in the homemade cheese sauce (no processed ingredients with this recipe!), I was floating through mall pretzel heaven.  Josie made this recipe back in October and suggested brushing the pretzels both before and after baking them and I couldn’t agree more – buttery soft pretzels might just be the perfect snack food!

Soft Pretzel Bites with Cheese Sauce

Prep Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cook Time: PT10-12M

Yield: about 10 dozen pretzel pieces

If one batch of pretzels is too much for your needs or you want to make them in advance for a party, these pretzel bites can be frozen after you cut them and before you boil them. Place the dough pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze then toss them in a zip-top bag. When you want them later, boil them directly from the freezer (add an extra 15 seconds to the boil time) and bake for the time instructed.


    For the pretzels:
  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • Pretzel or Kosher salt
  • For the cheese sauce:
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (not package pre-shredded cheese - shred your own)
  • Kosher salt


  1. To make the pretzels: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the water, sugar, yeast, and salt on low speed for 10 seconds. Switch to the dough hook and add the flour and butter. Mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl and transfer it to a well-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
  3. Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an wide 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
  4. In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Slice each rope into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Place a lightly damp towel over the pretzel pieces to prevent them from drying out while you roll and cut the other pieces.
  5. Using a slotted spoon lower a handful of the pretzel pieces into the boiling water and boil them for 30 seconds, flipping them around in the water with the spoon a couple of times. Remove the pretzel pieces from the water using the spoon, drain as best you can, and place them on the baking sheets. Brush the top of each pretzel with the melted butter and sprinkle with the pretzel/Kosher salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 10 - 12 minutes. Brush with remaining melted butter before serving. Serve warm.
  6. To make the cheese sauce: In a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook for 30 seconds, whisking constantly.
  7. Slowly whisk in the milk until no lumps of flour remain. Stirring constantly, bring the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat until it thickens, about 3-5 minutes. Remove the pan from the stove and stir in the shredded cheese until all of the cheese has melted. Add a pinch of salt, if needed. Serve warm. Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave on medium power at 30 second intervals.


source: pretzels adapted from Alton Brown; cheese sauce is a Smells Like Home original

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread

I’m always looking for the next great breakfast recipe – and if it’s portable, it’s even better.  I know I just posted about this fabulous NY crumb cake: perfectly portable in and of itself, right?  However, while it pairs like peanut butter and jelly with a cup of Joe in the morning, I see crumb cake as the “can we stop by this afternoon?” sort of cake sort of cake.  But I digress. 

This cinnamon pull-apart bread is the sort of thing that makes you excited to get out of bed on a Saturday morning.  It’s butter, cinnamon, and sugar sandwiched between horizontally stacked pieces of yeasted bread.  Needless to say, it’s amazing.  And aside from being totally portable (cool, remove from pan, place on a plate, and wrap it up), you can whip up the dough the night before you need the bread and let it sit in the fridge overnight.  I love getting up early on a weekend morning and working with dough that’s ready to go – no fussing with measurements through bleary, sleepy eyes is always a plus! I ended up bringing this loaf to my girlfriend’s busy newborn- and toddler-filled house for breakfast along with a fruit salad a couple of weekends ago and it was a really nice way to catch up with a great friend.

Note: The instructions below may seem a little complicated as you read them so be sure to check out either Annie’s or Joy’s tutorials in case you need a visual!

Rosemary Asiago Focaccia

This post has been a long time coming.  Since before I started baking any kind of bread, I’ve wanted to make focaccia.  The puffy center and slightly crisp crust of freshly baked focaccia has always excited me.  Yet it’s terrified me at the same time.  How could what I make ever compare to the greatness of some focaccia I’ve eaten?  Folks, that’s what learning to cook and bake is about.  It’s about trying out new things, hoping they come out the way you want, and trying again if they don’t.  Fortunately for me, this focaccia was everything I had hoped it would be.


Since this Italian bread is as much of a blank canvas as pasta is, the possibilities for toppings (or even fillings!) are only as restricted as your imagination.  I topped my first loaf with chopped rosemary and Asiago cheese and served it alongside spinach lasagna and a green salad.  Nothing fancy, just good, homey Italian food for a Sunday night supper.  The focaccia was beyond my expectations and half of the loaf was easily gone after a dinner with four people.  Even after we had finished eating and were sitting at the table chatting before the dishes were cleared, we were still stealing pieces to munch on from the bread basket.  The rosemary lends some really great flavor to the bread and the powerful Asiago is the perfect complement to the punch of the fresh rosemary.  While from start to finish, this focaccia takes nearly 20 hours to make, almost all of the time is inactive, and the overnight starter is a key component to the final flavor, so don’t skip that step.  You’ll be able to find plenty of things to do during the inactive starter/rise/proof time like sleep, make scones, hummus, toffee bar brownie torte, and spinach lasagna.  Sunday was a very busy day for me in the kitchen but it was topped off with a very special accomplishment: my first focaccia.

Pretzel Dogs


As kids, my mom did a great job of putting healthy meals on the table every single night and we ate as a family at the table just about every single night as well.  It’s something that I highly value now and will continue to do when Kyle and I have kids of our own. For a period of time during my childhood, however, my dad was an over-the-road truck driver. There were lots of quiet weekends in our house during the times he was driving and to boost all of our spirits, once or twice a year, my mom declared a “pig out night.” We’d stock the house with food we’d never usually eat – chips and dip, mozzarella sticks, pizza fondue (homemade), pigs in blankets, and ingredients for ice cream sundaes.  It was the pigs in blankets that were the highlight for me so you could imagine my excitement when I came across this grown-up version of pigs in blankets.


There really isn’t much to making these guys and although they’re not as simple as whipping out a can of refrigerated crescent roll dough, they are infinitely more satisfying – both in taste and in the fact that you’re making homemade pretzels!  Don’t shy away from this recipe if you fear yeast – pretzel dough is SO much easier to make than bread or bagel dough!  You’ll toss all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl, let the mixer do the kneading for a few minutes, let the dough rise for about an hour, and then cut the dough and wrap the pieces around the hot dogs.  As far as dough goes, it’s that simple!  Next you’ll quickly boil the dough wrapped dogs, sprinkle with some salt, and bake.  These pretzels dogs are such a treat!  The pretzels are soft and chewy and are just perfect wrapped around your favorite hot dogs.  I made them for our annual anti-Superbowl evening of movies and snacks (and ate probably more than we should have) but I could see them being perfect for kids’ birthday parties, game nights, game days, nights when you’ve got a sitter coming, or even a great snow day food.

Rocket Rolls


While Shawnda laps up the sun in Mexico with a few amazing food bloggers this week, we’re doing a Wildcard Week for Project Pastry Queen.  Now, even though I’d much rather be in Mexico with Shawnda (hope you’re having fun, girl!!), I’m still really excited to share these Rocket Rolls with you because The Pastry Queen has outdone herself with this recipe.  With such a strange name, I thought for the longest time that they would be shaped like torpedo rolls and for that reason, I was nervous about making them.  Roll-shaping, after all, isn’t my specialty but as it turns out, you shape the dough into little boules (balls), place them on the sheet pan, and you’re done.  So simple!

And yet these Rocket Rolls are so unassuming!  Just by looking at them, I expected a pretty regular dinner roll but I underestimated this recipe entirely.  When you pull them apart…to you know, add some butter…it’s like you’re opening a cloud of soft warm goodness…the kind of goodness that feels like warm towels from the dryer on a cold winter’s morning.  Shawnda in fact likened them to the texture of Sunbeam bread but I’ll go ahead and say that while this is a close reference point, these rolls totally blow any store-bought bread out of the water.  There is no comparison!  I actually made these rolls in mid-December before we were supposed to post them in our blogs but Kyle and I loved them so much that we finished them before I could take any photos.  It’s such a shame that I’ve held off for so long sharing them with you but hey, I’m not complaining about having to make them again for some photos!

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

I’ve got a huge list of things I’ve been wanting to make…not unlike most food bloggers.  And since this list continues to grow, there are so many great things that get pushed down to the bottom.  This bread is one of those such things.  I can’t even tell you how long I’ve wanted to make cinnamon raisin bread and I finally pushed it back up to the top of my list last week.  I had the week off from work, just like I do every year but in the weeks leading up to Christmas, this time I made a list of very specific things I wanted to make.  I got to making only two things on my list but boy where they worth it!


Well this recipe was everything I hoped it would be and considering the cinnamon-raisin combo is one of my all-time favorite combos, the stakes were pretty high.  The crumb was perfectly tender and full of cinnamony goodness.  One of the options for this recipe was to add a swirl and I couldn’t resist.  I mean really, what is cinnamon raisin bread without a gorgeous swirl of cinnamon through the center?  If you’re in love with this type of bread as much as I am, you’ll know that it’s amazing toasted with some butter or even better…peanut butter.  mmmm… However, if you’re going to toast this particular bread, I’d suggest toasting it in the oven on a baking sheet rather than the toaster because the swirl filling will easily ooze out.  It’s not the kind of mess you want to try cleaning up in your toaster. If you’re thinking that this type of bread looks too difficult for you, I challenge you to make it yourself.  It’s no more difficult than making cinnamon rolls and I’d go as far as saying that it’s easier than cinnamon rolls since you don’t have to cut the dough…and we all know what a PIA cutting cinnamon roll dough can be!  So go ahead and give this recipe a shot – I promise that you love it!!

Pizza Bites


What a better way to start the new year than with some pepperoni pizza bites?  Look, when there’s bread and cheese involved, diets be damned! Actually, I made sure I made these bites before the annual resolution kicked in today so as to avoid any guilt.  And boy were they worth every bit of anticipation I had about them since Annie posted about them almost a year ago.  Seriously, they were amazing – so good that I’m ashamed to admit that Kyle and I polished off the whole batch by ourselves on NYE.  You could fill them with practically anything but the process is simple: cut pizza dough into 20-24 pieces, press some mozzarella cheese and pepperoni (or turkey pepperoni, or cooked ground sausage, etc.) into the dough, and wrap the dough around the filling.  You’ll bake them for 20 minutes and then watch them get devoured.  I can’t see these lasting very long at any party so go ahead and double the recipe – your friends will thank you.


3 Course Pizza Dinner

~~~Never in a million years would I have thought that I would find myself in the midst of Project Food Blog Challenge #5.  I was thrilled to make it to Challenge #2 and it seems my disbelief continues to grow each week as I move ahead with each challenge.  As expected, they are getting progressively more difficult, but this wouldn’t be a blogging challenge if it didn’t get more difficult.  I have YOU to thank for helping me get here.  Thank you to each and every one of you for your extraordinary support and encouragement each week! I hope I will do this next challenge justice!~~~

When I saw the prompt for Challenge #5, asking contestants “to put your own spin on Pizza“, my heart soared.  I heard birds singing.    Unlike doing a photo tutorial, this challenge was right up my alley.  See, I adore pizza.  It’s one of the two foods I could eat every day.  It’s one of the 3 things I would take with me if I ever got stranded on a deserted island (the other two being bagels and my cat, Wilma). Pizza is in my blood. It was, without fail, my standard meal for every Friday night dinner growing up.  It was my first real job. It’s what I even tweeted about last week. And for the record, I still don’t know how people in CT will wait 40 minutes for a pizza on a Thursday night.  In NY, if you hear 40 minutes, you laugh, hang up the phone, and dial your next favorite place on a list of 25 pizza places in the 3 mile radius of your house.  Maybe it’s the inherent lack of patience NYers seem to possess but I think  it’s more that they know they shouldn’t have to wait so long for such a staple food. And for the record, a 40 minute wait never happens anyway.

All this said, I didn’t think this challenge would be easy.  Making a pizza seems easy on the surface but when you’re pinned up against 72 other fantastic bloggers all looking for the next 60 spots, the stakes are a little higher.  Just a little.  Hundreds (thousands??) of possibilities abound for how to make a pizza.  But when Kyle and I sat down Friday afternoon to discuss what to do, we came to an almost  immediate agreement.  3 courses: appetizer, main course, and dessert. Here is our menu (all recipes are listed below):

Margarita Pizza
Grilled mini tomato, basil, mozzarella pizzas

Main Course
Clams Casino Pizza
Stone-baked white pizza with fresh clams and bacon over a ricotta cheese sauce

S’mores Pizza
Stone-baked graham crust with chocolate ganache sauce topped with toasted marshmallows

The appetizer was a no-brainer for us since we love this combination in so many forms.  Classic tomato, basil, mozzarella. Even after summer tomatoes are well-passed, it’s still one that works great on a pizza since the tomatoes break down a little with the heat.  We decided to grill these mini pizzas.  Grilled pizza is a favorite around here and it’s so much easier to do with little pizzas rather than full-size ones.  And the slight bit of char on the dough really helps to bring out the dough’s flavor.  Grilled pizza is always a winner!

For the main course, I’ll admit that this is kind of out there for most people.  But clam pizza is a local favorite here in CT and most pizza places have it on their menus.  It’s not a topping, however, that a NYer would be used to seeing, though you would think that clams would be a natural choice for this Long Island girl (Suffolk, south shore) since clams in all forms are almost as much of a staple as pizza is.  But in fact, the thought of a white clam pizza made my stomach turn for years even though it’s one of the most popular pizzas sold at one of the most famous pizza places in the country, Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, right around the corner from my first apartment. Kyle has asked me time after time for a clam pizza and I resolutely responded no every time.  Until about a month ago.  Something piqued my interested and for this challenge, I was ready to make the leap to clams. And it turns out that I LOVE clam pizza!  Could it be the addition of bacon (also foreign to NYers)? Or the salty contrast with the savory ricotta cheese sauce? Whatever it may be, I’m in love! And I know this pizza made Kyle happy so that really just sweetens the deal.

Dessert came without argument during our discussion. S’mores pizza sounded outstanding but we wanted it to be a pizza you could pick up with your hands and eat like…well a slice of pizza.  It was Kyle’s idea to try making a yeast crust with graham crackers and I just happened to have graham flour in the pantry for graham crackers I’ve been wanting to make forever.  We added a bit of each to a yeast pizza dough recipe and hoped it would work. The result was amazing! A graham cracker pizza crust topped with chocolate ganache sauce and toasted marshmallows was the ultimate ending to our 3 course pizza dinner.  You couldn’t have had a better s’more from a campfire if you had tried!!

As simple as pizza sounds, the results of new combinations can be extraordinary. Everyone has their favorite but there are so many kinds out there to test out.  So the next time you call to put your order in or think about your next homemade pie, try something different – you may just find your new favorite!



Celebrating Homemade English Muffins with Smells Like Home’s 1st Giveaway!

Welcome to Smells Like Home’s 1st Giveaway! That’s right…after almost 3 1/2 years of blogging, this is my first one and I’m so excited to share it with you!

If you read my Project Food Blog #4 post from yesterday showing you how to make your own English muffins from scratch via a step-by-step photo tutorial, you’ll already know how much I love Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I’ve made a few recipes from this book in addition to the English muffins including NY-style bagels, white sandwich bread, hamburger buns and cinnamon buns and we’ve loved every one of them.

So in honor of making it to Challenge #4 (see more about this below) and for the love of all things bread, I’m giving away one copy of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and a nifty English muffin splitter. We eat English muffins pretty much every weekday for breakfast and this splitter is a life-saver of a gadget.  No more early-morning cursing when the English muffin tears in the wrong spot while trying to wedge your fingers into the muffin!  Plus, it’s a definite nooks and crannies enhancer!

To enter:

  1. Follow Smells Like Home on Twitter then come back here to leave your Twitter name in the comments of this post…
  2. AND tell me about ONE yeast recipe you’d like to learn how to make or perfect.

The rules: Entries must be made by 10pm Eastern on Thursday October 14th, 2010.  One entry per person. One winner will be chosen at random.  The winner will be announced in a post on Friday morning.  If the winner does not respond by Monday October 18, 2010 at 9am Eastern, another will be chosen and notified.  Open to U.S. residents only.

~~~ Voting is now open for Challenge #4! Many, many thanks to all who helped me move forward to this challenge!  It was by far the most difficult one for me yet but I hope you’ll have a look at how I made my English muffins and cast your vote to help me move to Challenge #5.  Maybe you’ll be inspired to make your own! ~~~

How to Make English Muffins

~~~Well, here I am again.  Both surprised (shocked?) and over-the-top excited that I made it to Project Food Blog Challenge #4! It has been an honor to make it this far and to be able to share my experiences with you.  Thank you all for coming along for the ride with me as I push myself to new levels and publicly divulge my struggles and successes.  Without your encouragement and support in the first three challenges, I would not be writing this today.~~~

Let me say it right now…you’re in for a doozy of a post today.  Challenge #4 instructs to “go above and beyond and use photography to create a step-by-step, instructional photo tutorial.” If you’re been reading Smells Like Home, you won’t find a single step-by-step tutorial. Not a one. It’s not my blogging style.  So you could imagine the state of panic I’ve been in since Friday afternoon, not only struggling with the question of how to go about a photo tutorial but what was I going to show through these photos.

After a nearly sleepless Friday night including countless times waking  up with step-by-step photos of eggplant in the forefront of my mind (my third choice, by the way), I finally decided on English muffins, a feat I’ve only attempted once before.  Risky? Probably. But I was determined to make something that not a whole lot of people have attempted themselves so as to highlight the steps through photographs.

When I’m looking for a yeast recipe to make, my first impulse is to go to Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. Oh how I would love to be his apprentice!  For those unfamiliar with this book, it’s the be-all and end-all of bread-baking cookbooks.  My impulse was no different for these English muffins.  After having a so-so result (my fault) the first time I made them for our annual Easter breakfast of egg salad and English muffins earlier this year, I decided to give them another go for this challenge.  Aren’t you excited to watch me make them this time??  Here goes… (PS – the instructions for each step are under its respective photo.)


2 1/4 cups (10 oz) bread flour
1/2 tbsp (.25 oz) granulated sugar
3/4 tsp (.19 oz) salt
1 1/4 tsp (.14 oz) instant yeast
1 tbsp (.5 oz) shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 to 1 cup (6 – 8 oz) milk or buttermilk, at room temperature

Get out your scale, place a bowl on the scale and start weighing your ingredients. (If you don’t have a scale, use your measuring cups, but I’d recommend buying one.  They’re cheap.)

Transfer the flour mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Stir them around a little.

Add in the shortening or butter and pour in 3/4 cup of the milk or buttermilk.

Stir on low until the dough forms a ball.

Switch the paddle out for the dough hook and knead on low speed for about 8-10minutes. Photo on the left is after 4 minutes.  Photo on the right is after 10 minutes. Work that gluten!

When the dough is ready, it should not tear when pulled (left) but pass the windowpane test (right). If it tears, continue to knead for a few more minutes.

Lightly oil a bowl. If you oil it too much…like some people who don’t pay attention while trying to take photos and pour at the same time…wipe out some of the oil and proceed to the next step.

Transfer the dough to the bowl, roll it around the bowl to coat it with oil, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Let ferment at room temperature for 60-90 minutes or until the dough doubles in size.

Wipe down your counter with a damp cloth and divide the dough into 6 pieces, each weighing 3 oz.

Shape the pieces into boules (little round loaves with tapered edges wrapped under the dough).

Mist a parchment-lined sheet pan with spray oil, dust with cornmeal, then transfer the boules to the pan then lightly spray them with spray oil, sprinkle with cornmeal, and loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap or a towel.  And then wait another 60-90 minutes while the dough proofs at room temperature or it doubles in size, swelling both up and out. Patience, Daniel-son.

Heat a flat griddle (or skillet) to medium (350 degrees F) and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with a rack in the center of the oven.  Brush the griddle with vegetable oil then transfer the dough rounds to the griddle with a flat spatula and space them at least 1 inch apart. (Keep any extra dough covered until you transfer them to the griddle.) If you have rings, great.  If not, no big deal.

The dough on the griddle will begin to flatten and spread slightly. And then it will begin to puff up.

Cook for 5-8 minutes or until the bottoms won’t brown any longer before burning; they should be a rich, golden brown (these are a wee too dark).  After this happens, carefully flip them over and cook the other sides for 5-8 minutes.

Transfer the muffins back to the sheet pan and bake for 5-8 minutes as soon as they come off the griddle.

Cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before diving in.

Or you can wait until the next morning and have them with herbed eggs, a fried egg with bacon and cheese, butter and strawberry jam or some pumpkin butter. Mmmm…pumpkin butter.

We adore this recipe and hope you will too! Enjoy!!