Two days after the Pillsbury Bake-Off in Las Vegas, Scottdale's Sheila Suhan felt torn between excitement and disappointment.
One of three competitors with local roots, Ms. Suhan won second prize -- a respectable $10,000 plus some new kitchen appliances, but a paltry sum compared to the $1 million that went home with the grand prizewinner, Glori Spriggs of Nevada, who created Loaded Potato Pinwheels (see recipe).
Competitors are limited to three Bake-Off trips. This was Ms. Suhan's third, so she knew going in that it was her last chance at the million bucks.
At the post-Bake-Off awards ceremony, three finalists are called to the stage, but nobody knows who will be named the top winner.
"I was amazed -- I just couldn't believe it," she said. "I was so excited at the time. When I was called onstage, I just kept thinking I'd won third, and I was just so happy to get something."
She continued all evening to feel nothing but elation with second prize, she said. But the next day, she found herself thinking a bit wistfully, "What a life-changing experience it would have been" to win the $1 million.
Ultimately, however, she's content, planning for a new stove and refrigerator plus some swaps of other appliances to make everything match in her kitchen.
And she's a bit relieved, too, to put the Bake-Off in the rearview mirror.
"I've been obsessed with it for the last eight years," constantly testing recipes and trying to create a winner.
While on the competition floor and preparing her Easy Caprese Pizza Bake (see recipe), Ms. Suhan wasn't nervous. In fact, none of the finalists with local roots said they got a serious case of butterflies.
Post-Gazette Food & Flavor featured former Pittsburghers Anna Zovko and JoAnne Tucker, a mother-daughter team now living in Tampa, after they were named finalists in October. (Search the story and Ms. Zovko's recipe, Chicken Alfredo Brunch Pizza, at post-gazette.com.)
This was Ms. Zovko's second Bake-Off trip and Ms. Tucker's first. Although neither won anything, they both said they had the time of their lives just attending the Bake-Off together.
"Being there before made it easier," Ms. Zovko admitted, but Ms. Tucker didn't experience any first-timer jitters either.
"My recipe [Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Bars, at right] was so simple that I could multitask without a problem," she said, noting how photographers and reporters stopped by to pepper bakers with questions while they worked in the noisy hotel ballroom outfitted with 100 separate kitchen units.
Her fellow finalists were "all winning-type people -- they were positive and exciting and creative," she said; her next-door neighbor at cooking time was a cancer survivor who smiled her way through the whole competition.
The entire experience left Ms. Tucker dazzled: "I am still on cloud nine from that amazing experience, and I can't believe I got to do it with my mother. When I first got out onto the floor, I got a lump in my throat because I could see my mom two rows over, and I just couldn't believe I was doing this with her."
Ms. Zovko agreed: "Being there with my daughter -- that was just like a miracle."
Easy Caprese pizza bake
3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
4 cups pizza sauce
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped, divided
1 can refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
20 fresh mozzarella ciliegine (cherry-size) cheese balls (from 8-ounce container)
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Heat oven to 400 degrees. In 12-inch skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil over medium heat. Add sausage; cook 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until browned.
Stir in pizza sauce, 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup of the basil leaves; cook over medium-low heat, 2 to 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.
Meanwhile, separate dough into 10 biscuits; separate each biscuit into 2 layers to create 20 biscuits. Place 1 cheese ball in center of each biscuit. Carefully stretch dough around cheese; pinch edges to seal completely.
Pour meat sauce into ungreased 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Place biscuits, seam sides down, on top of sauce. Brush tops of biscuits with remaining oil.
Bake 13 to 20 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown and sauce is bubbly. Sprinkle with shredded cheese and remaining 1/4 cup basil. Makes 5 servings.
-- Sheila Suhan for the Pillsbury Bake-Off (This recipe won second place)
Chewy oatmeal raisin breakfast bars
1 package refrigerated oatmeal raisin cookies
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1/4 cup cappuccino-flavored hazelnut spread
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 9-inch square pan with foil, extending foil 1 inch over 2 opposite sides of pan. Let cookie dough stand at room temperature 10 minutes to soften.
In a large bowl, break up cookie dough. Add oats, walnuts, coconut, chocolate chips and dried cranberries; mix with wooden spoon or knead with hands until well blended. Press mixture firmly in pan.
Bake 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown; cool 15 minutes. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Remove bars from pan using edges of foil as handles. Cut into 6 rows by 3 rows.
In small microwavable bowl, microwave cappuccino hazelnut spread on high 30 to 35 seconds or until melted.
Pour spread into 1-quart re-sealable food storage plastic bag.
Cut off tiny corner of bag; squeeze bag to drizzle spread over bars. Makes 18 servings.
-- JoAnne Tucker for the Pillsbury Bake-Off
Loaded Potato Pinwheels
11.8-ounce bag frozen grilled potatoes
1¼ cups finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup cooked real bacon bits (from a jar or package), divided
3 tablespoons milk
1 can refrigerated seamless crescent dough sheet
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion tops (about 3 medium)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray large cookie sheets with nonstick spray.
Microwave frozen potatoes 3 to 4 minutes to thaw.
In medium bowl, with fork, mash potatoes, leaving some small pieces. Stir in cheese, 1/3 cup of the bacon bits and the milk until well blended.
Unroll dough on cutting board; press into 14-by-8-inch rectangle.
Cut into 2 rectangles, 14 by 4 inches each. Spread half of the potato mixture on one rectangle to within 1/4 inch of long edges.
Starting at one long side, tightly roll up dough; pinch seams to seal.
Using serrated knife, cut roll into 14 slices. Place slices, cut side up, on cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
Bake 17 to 21 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheets to serving plate.
Top each pinwheel with sour cream, remaining bacon bits and the green onions. Serve warm. Makes 28 servings.
-- Glori Spriggs for the Pillsbury Bake-Off (recipe won grand prize)
Rebecca Sodergren: email@example.com or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.