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Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers

Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers

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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Microwave the corn as directed on the bag. Cut open the bag; cool 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the corn, ½ cup of the cheese and ½ teaspoon of the Italian seasoning; mix well. Place the cream cheese mixture in a large re-sealable food-storage plastic bag. Cut off ½ inch from the corner of the bag. Squeeze the bag to pipe the filling into each pepper half.

Unroll the dough. (If using crescent roll dough, firmly press perforations to seal.) Press to form an 11-by-9-inch rectangle. With a pizza cutter or knife, cut the dough into 22 9-by-½-inch strips.

Wrap 1 dough strip around each pepper, from the stem to tip. Place the peppers filling-side up on the cookie sheet, tucking in the ends of the dough under each pepper.

Bake until golden brown, 12 to 18 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the melted butter and remaining ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning. Remove the peppers from the oven; brush with the butter mixture. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of cheese evenly over the peppers. Serve warm.

Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers - Recipes

WHAT DOES a million-dollar recipe look like?

A pocket of dough enveloping ham, cheese, pork and pickles?

A swirl of biscuit wrapped around corn-and-cheese-filled sweet peppers?

A sweet cluster of white-chocolate-drizzled peanuts, peanut butter and crispy pie-crust pieces?

Or baked, glazed doughnuts with hazelnut-chocolate filling?

To find out, we at went to stove to prepare the four top recipes of this year's Pillsbury Bake-Off contest and put them up for an informal vote around the office.

But first, some background. Earlier this month, the 100 finalists gathered in a hotel ballroom in Nashville, Tenn., to cook and bake their recipes, which fell into four categories: Doable Dinners, Savory Snacks & Sides, Simply Sweet Treats and Weekend Breakfast Wows.

Judges selected four category winners. (Sadly, none of our Philly-area recipes got the nod.) To choose the $1 million grand-prize winner, Pillsbury put the winning recipes up to a poll on Facebook. The judges' opinions will count for some of the tally, but much of the decision is in the public's hands. Voting ends Dec. 2. The winner will be named on ABC's "The Chew," on Dec. 3.

With that in mind, we divvied up the recipes. photo editor Steph Aaronson, whose oven is not the greatest, grabbed the easiest recipe, the Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters, by Beth Royals, of Richmond, Va., which won the Simply Sweet Treats category.

Product manager Nickki DuBan took what may have been the toughest: Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers, by Jody Walker, of Madison, Miss., winner of Savory Snacks & Sides.

Listings editor Allie Volpe baked Chocolate Doughnut Poppers, which won the Breakfast Wows category for Megan Beimer, of Alexandria, Va.

I made the Amazing Doable Dinners category winner: Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets, by Courtney Sawyer, of Bellingham, Wash.

Into the fire

Aaronson's clusters were a hit and a simple recipe, too, though not without struggles.

"My baking skills have never been great, and my kitchen is not nearly as well-stocked as I thought," she said. "My old oven was creating a lot of smoke and my brand-new fire detectors went off 12 times."

A self-described natural procrastinator and perpetual night owl, DuBan waited until after work the night before the office bake-off to buy her ingredients for Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers.

"Bad move," she said. "This was actually what I considered the most complicated part of the recipe. I went to three different supermarkets to find the sweet peppers. . . . None of the three had the corn called for in the recipe, and none of the stores had the Pillsbury baking sheets" or the correct brand of Italian seasoning.

The most tedious part of the prep was making the crescent strips to wrap the peppers in. To sub for the missing baking sheets, she used cans of crescent rolls and smushed the perforations together.

"Overall, the appetizer took a little longer than I like to prep, so I probably won't put this recipe into my 'to make for friends' folder," she said.

Volpe seemed to have signed up for an easy recipe in Chocolate Doughnut Poppers. "Surprisingly so, actually," she said.

"I found all the ingredients in Walmart. The recipe was as simple as placing a dollop of hazelnut spread onto a square of Pillsbury, baking it and putting a simple glaze on top with some nuts."

Volpe calls herself "a dessert weirdo" who prefers baking - especially easy baking. "Anything that requires minimal ingredients [check], minimal cleanup [check] and minimal time consumption [check], I'm on board for," she said.

I had help for the Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets - my 3-year-old twins, whom I instructed to poke holes into the pastry squares to allow steam to vent.

Gently, I advised. They ignored me. I ended up patching their work.

The recipe was straightforward: cut dough into thirds, spread on a mustard mixture, lay on ham, cheese, ground pork and pickle chips, fold it into a pocket and bake. The hardest part was finding the Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations refrigerated seamless dough sheets. Pathmark had them.

Having attended the Bake-Off and seen these recipes made both by the finalists and the culinary pros at the Omni Nashville for a photo shoot later, I can safely say that ours looked, well, homey.

What mattered was the taste. Even in our amateur hands, they all tasted just as they had at the contest.

That said, no dish emerged as a favorite among our tasters. The peppers certainly looked elegant and colorful, and the filling was rich. The Cuban pockets had the proper zing. The poppers got a great reception. And who doesn't like peanuts and peanut butter and crunchy things bathed in white chocolate?

So we'll call it too close to call - though, as a former judge, I saw an edge to the peppers.

Here is that recipe for the other three, go to You can vote at


1 bag (11 ounces) Green Giant Steamers frozen honey-roasted sweet corn

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon Watkins Italian Seasoning

11 mini sweet peppers (3 to 4 inches long), cut in half lengthwise leaving stem attached, seeded

1 can Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations seamless refrigerated dough sheet or 1 can Pillsbury Refrigerated Crescent Dinner Rolls (8 rolls)

3 tablespoons butter, melted

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line large cookie sheet with Reynolds Parchment Paper. Microwave corn as directed on bag. Cut open bag cool 10 minutes.

In large bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add corn, a half-cup of the Parmesan cheese and a half-teaspoon of the Italian seasoning mix well. Place cream cheese mixture in large resealable food-storage plastic bag. Cut off a half-inch from corner of bag. Squeeze bag to pipe filling into each pepper half.

Unroll dough. (If using crescent roll dough, firmly press perforations to seal.) Press to form an 11-by-9-inch rectangle. With pizza cutter or knife, cut dough into 22 9-by- 1/2inch strips.

Wrap a dough strip around each pepper, from stem to tip. Place filling-side up on cookie sheet, tucking ends of dough under pepper.

Bake 12 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, in small bowl, mix melted butter and remaining half-teaspoon Italian seasoning. Remove peppers from oven brush with butter mixture. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese evenly over peppers. Serve warm.

Panel of Judges for Pillsbury Recipe Contest Includes Southern Miss Professor

Dr. Andrew Haley's discerning palate may help decide who wins the Pillsbury Bake-Off's $1 million grand prize.

Haley, an associate professor of American cultural history at The University of Southern Mississippi, recently participated as one of 11 recipe judges in the famed national culinary event, which narrowed a field of 100 finalists to four on Nov. 3 at the Omni Hotel in Nashville. The overall winner will be announced Dec. 3 on ABC-TV' s “The Chew.”

“All of the entries were good, but some were especially creative,” Haley said. “The judges' decisions were by consensus so after we rated each entry independently, we debated their various merits. Choosing finalists was not easy.”

This year's contest is the 47th edition of the Pillsbury Bake-Off, with the first held in 1949. Among its four recipe categories are “Weekend Breakfast Wows,” “Simply Sweet Treats,” and “Amazing Doable Dinners.” Contestant Jody Walker of Madison, Miss. served up her “Creamy Corn-filled Sweet Peppers” dish to take the top spot in the “Savory Snacks and Sides” category.

The panel of judges was charged with considering taste, appearance, creativity and crowd appeal of the recipes in deciding on the final four. Haley and two fellow judges conducted the preliminary tasting in the breakfast category.

“Ultimately, we chose a chocolate donut popper as the breakfast choice because it was clever,” Haley said. “It seemed like a simple donut hole, but when you bit into it you got this splash of chocolate hazelnut that made you say ‘Wow!'”

Once the entry fields were narrowed, the best recipes were brought before all 12 judges who then selected their favorite in each category. The dishes were then ranked and the judges' votes (55 percent of the total) will be averaged with the online voting to determine the $1 million dollar winner.

The three runners-up will receive $10,000 each, and eight contestants were awarded $5,000 each in special prizes for using brand products, such as Crisco or Reynold's Parchment Paper, to produce the entries.

Haley praised the Pillsbury staff managing the contest. “They gave us as much time as we needed and left the decisions entirely up to us,” he said. “And, amazingly, they stayed up all night with the staff at the Omni Hotel preparing hundreds of the dishes for breakfast the next morning so everyone could try them.”

Special care was also taken by Pillsbury to ensure the integrity of the event. “We could not communicate with the outside world during the judging, and I couldn't tell anyone I was going to be a judge before I left for the contest,” Haley said. “In fact, we had to be escorted by their staff to leave the room or to use the restroom.”

Haley's research expertise includes class and culture in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the history of American cuisine. He teaches courses on popular culture, labor, gender, food and nationalism. In 2012, he won the coveted James Beard Foundation Award for his most recent book, Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the Middle Class, 1880-1920. His current research includes a project focused on Mississippi community cookbooks and food history.

As the only historian among the judges, Haley brought a different perspective to the selection of the finalists. “I saw two trends at the contest that I think say something about American cooking today,” he said. “First, there were a lot of ethnic entries, especially Central and South American dishes. The diverse flavors reflect the diversity of the nation and how that has reshaped its tastes.

“The dishes were also a bit sweeter than I would have expected, but America is just coming out of a recession and the entries seemed to reflect a desire to enjoy life.”

Haley's selection as a judge for the event confirms his reputation as one of the country's foremost culinary historians, said Southern Miss Department of History Chairman Dr. Kyle Zelner.

“It's not every day that a food historian gets to participate in a competition that encapsulates American culinary culture, but Pillsbury obviously recognized Dr. Haley's expertise in the field. His department colleagues are delighted - and a bit jealous - about this, his most recent honor,” Zelner said.

Help choose the $1 million winner of the Bake-Off Contest

For the first time in the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest’s 65-year history, the judges have not yet named a winner.

Instead, they need your input.

Carla Hall, co-host of ABC’s “The Chew,” announced the four category-winning recipes at the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest’s Award Show last night in Nashville:

*Courtney Sawyer of Bellingham, Washington, for Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets, in the Amazing Doable Dinners category.

Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets

*Jody Walker of Madison, Mississippi, for Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers, in the Savory Snacks & Sides category.

Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers

*Beth Royals of Richmond, Virginia, for Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters, in the Simply Sweet Treats category.

Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters

*Megan Beimer of Alexandria, Virginia, for Chocolate Doughnut Poppers, in the Weekend Breakfast Wows category.

Chocolate Doughnut Poppers

One of these four category-winning recipes will win the Bake-Off Contest’s $1 million grand prize, based on the judging panel’s votes, and yours at, through December 2.

The winner will be revealed on ABC’s “The Chew” on December 3 (1 p.m. Eastern/Noon Central and Pacific).

I was able to interview each of the category winners after the Award Show.

They’re thrilled to have a chance to earn your votes.

Sawyer told me she should have listened to her 15-year-old son, who told her ‘“You’re gonna do it.’ It was her first time being a finalist, after submitting recipes in two previous Pillsbury Bake-Off Contests.

“I’m absolutely shocked. You submit your recipe on the Internet … and now it’s real!” said Sawyer. “My family loves Cuban sandwiches and most delis don’t sell sliced pork, so I was trying to think of how to put pork into the recipe. And I thought, ‘You could put ground pork, as long as it cooked.’ So I made really thin patties and it does cook, it cooks real well.”

Walker said her sister talked her into entering a recipe again. The last time was 16 years ago.

“I saw my name and I didn’t believe that was my name. It’s an amazing feeling. I feel very blessed,” said Walker. “My recipe is something that you can use in a lot of different situations. It’s very versatile, innovative and I thought it was pretty creative.”

For Royals, the contest in Nashville was her third try at the grand prize. She was a finalist in the 41st and 42nd Bake-Off Contests.

“There were so many excellent desserts in my category, I was excited just to come and enjoy the experience,” said Royals. “I was just trying to think of a way that pie crust had never been used before … I just thought ‘What if I cut it up into little pieces and do something with it?’”

Finally, Beimer made the contest finals in her first time entering the Bake-Off Contest. Her recipe was inspired by a designer doughnut shop that she and her husband went to often when they lived in San Diego.

“I’m shocked. I still can’t really believe it. It’s very surreal,” Beimer said. “It’s a really simple recipe. It doesn’t use a lot of ingredients but the flavor combinations are classic favorite flavors – the chocolate hazelnut – and it’s a crowd pleaser for all ages.”

Congratulations to the four category winners vying for the grand prize, and to all 100 of the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest Finalists who made it to Nashville!

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Pillsbury Bake-Off Winner Awarded One Million Dollar Prize

This year marked a change in the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest. For the first time in its 47-year history, the winner was determined in part by a vote via the Internet. Announced yesterday, the winner was Beth Royals of Richmond, Virginia. Royals was awarded the grand prize of one million dollars.

In November, 100 competitors were selected to submit recipes in four possible categories: Simply Sweet Treats, Savory Snacks and Sides, Amazing Doable Dinners and Weekend Breakfast Wows. One winner was chosen in every category, and those were the four finalists. Royals' prizewinning recipe, a photo of which is shown above, was from the category Simply Sweet Treats. Her recipe is called "Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters" and is listed below.

1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, softened as directed on box

1 bag (12 oz) white vanilla baking chips (2 cups)

1 tablespoon Crisco Baking Sticks Butter Flavor All-Vegetable Shortening

1 tablespoon Jif Creamy Peanut Butter

1 cup salted cocktail peanuts

Heat oven to 450°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with wax paper.

Unroll pie crust on work surface. With pizza cutter or knife, cut into 16 rows by 16 rows to make small squares. Arrange squares in single layer on large ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove squares from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 5 minutes.

In large microwavable bowl, microwave baking chips, shortening and peanut butter uncovered on High 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds, stirring once, until chips can be stirred smooth. Add pie crust squares, peanuts and toffee bits stir gently until evenly coated. Immediately drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto lined cookie sheets. (If mixture gets too thick, microwave on High 15 seconds stir.) Refrigerate about 15 minutes or until set. Store covered.

The three recipe runners up were Cuban-style sandwich pockets, chocolate doughnut poppers (pictured below) and creamy corn-filled sweet peppers. Get those recipes here.

The Pillsbury Bake-Off: Raspberry Cream Cheese Empanadas

We’ve only been one week into the month of November and it’s already become a whirlwind. Part of that whirlwind was experiencing the baking contest of all baking contests: the 47th annual Pillsbury Bake-off.

Set at the Omni Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, the hotel’s ballroom transformed into an arena of baking enthusiasts abuzz while surrounded by infinite rows of ovens, baking supplies and Pillsbury dough.

Out of thousands of entries, only 100 finalists were selected to participate in this prestigious event. Contestants had 3 1/2 hours to bake their creations and present them to a panel of culinary experts from all over the nation.

The room swarmed with cameras, flashes, members of the media, microphones, curious onlookers and cheerleading family members while country music played in the background. The hours flew by as the aroma of a medley of flavors permeated the air.

After a few hours of deliberating in a closed room, the judges selected four of the most delicious Pillsbury recipes. The 100 finalists were divided into four recipe categories: Weekend Breakfast Wows, Amazing Doable Dinners, Savory Snack & Sides and Simply Sweet Treats. Out of those four categories, one finalist will be selected to be crowned 2014’s Pillsbury Bake-Off winner. Not only will the winner receive a golden Dough Boy and bragging rights to the most prestigious baking contest of the nation, the winner will also receive 1 Million Dollars!

The four finalists: Chocolate Doughnut Poppers, Cuban Style Sandwich Pockets, Creamy Corn Filled Sweet Peppers, and Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters received the highest marks by the judges. Judging was based on taste, appearance, creativity and crowd appeals.

The anticipation and nerves of the finalists will have to continue because the winner will be selected by YOU! If you have a Facebook account, you can help choose the winner. To see a video description of each recipe, visit and VOTE!

Because I’m a big fan of Pillsbury Pie Crust, I am sharing a recipe for raspberry cream empanadas. This family favorite is easy, simple and festive for the holidays. The ingredient list is short and ingredients are a staple and readily available.

Raspberry and Cream Cheese Empanadas
Makes 9, 3-inch empanadas


1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 cups raspberries, rinsed, dried and chopped
2 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, thawed to room temperature
flour for dusting
1 egg beaten

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray.
In a large mixing bowl, combine cream cheese and sugar. Mix until smooth. Continue to mix on low speed, add egg yolks, ricotta, vanilla, salt and lemons zest. Fold in raspberries until all ingredients have combined. Set aside.

Roll out pie dough on a floured surface and extend with rolling pin to approximately 12 inches in diameter.

Cut out 3-inch circles with cookie cutter or rim of small bowl.

Place 1-1/2 heaping tablespoons of cream cheese mixture.

Brush dough circle edges with egg fold in half and crimp edges with a fork to seal

Place empanadas on prepared baking sheet.

With 1-inch star shaped cookie cutter, cut out stars from any left over dough. Brush empanadas with egg, adhere a few stars to tops of empanadas and brush over them with any leftover egg.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden.

Disclosure: I was invited by Pillsbury to attend the Pillsbury Bake-off. All opinions are 100% my own.

Corn grilled in its husk with creamy pecorino dressing (above)

Corn husks are like nature’s little foil packets, only better. They allow the kernels to cook in their own steam and not dry out while they’re on the grill and, at the same time, take on the burning husks’ smoky aroma.

Make sure you use the freshest corn you can find, because this really makes all the difference when cooking them in this way. If you can’t get corn cobs in their husks, blanch them lightly before grilling them and then spread with the dressing.

Prep 10 min
Cook 30 min
Serves 4

4 corns on the cob, husks on
2 tbsp parsley, roughly chopped

For the dressing
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp dijon mustard
1½ tbsp lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 anchovies, roughly chopped
35g pecorino, finely grated, plus extra finely grated to serve
Black pepper
100ml sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing

Make the dressing: add the egg yolks, mustard, lemon, garlic, anchovies, pecorino and a very generous amount of black pepper to a food processor, and pulse a few times until well combined. With the machine running, drizzle in the oil in a slow and steady stream until completely incorporated and the dressing has a mayonnaise-like consistency.

Put a well-greased large griddle pan on to a high heat, or light up your barbecue. Prepare the corn on the cob by gently pulling back the husks, leaving them attached at the base discard the silk by pulling at the threads.

Rub a heaped tablespoon of the dressing on to each of the cobs, smoothing it out to coat the kernels. Pull up the husks to encase the corn again (don’t worry if some of it is exposed) and, once the grill is smoking, grill the corn, turning from time to time, until the husks are completely charred and the insides are tender – 15-20 minutes.

To serve, pull down the husks again, and rub all over with some more of the dressing. Finish with a sprinkling of extra pecorino and the parsley, and serve with any extra dressing alongside.

A Week of Corn-Filled Dinners for Summer

It says "breakfast" in the title, but rest assured this creamy bowl is hearty enough for dinner. Our recipe calls for pancetta, corn, cherry tomatoes, poached eggs, and basil, but you can switch up the toppings based on what you&aposre craving. 

Friday: Chicken In Queso Nachos or Hard-Shell Tacos

Photography by Kate Mathis

Nothing says Friday like a sheet pan of loaded nachos! The chicken gets cooked right in with the queso to make sure every bite is equal parts meaty and cheesy, and a huge spread of toppings—including corny pico de gallo—packs even more flavor and texture. 

Bake it off: 'Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters' recipe wins $1M in Pillsbury Bake-Off

The holiday season is prime baking time, and there are loads of new recipes available from any number of sources for the adventurous among us to try.

It&aposs nice when someone else does the recipe testing – saves us the trouble. And a couple of annual contests did just that, naming their award winners and sharing their recipes. Here they are.

Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest

Beth Royals of Richmond, Virginia, was named the winner of the Pillsbury Bake-Off Wednesday on ABC’s “The Chew,” in New York City for her Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters. The outcome was based on the judging panel at the contest in Nashville on Nov. 3, as well as online voting over the past four weeks.

It was theਏirst time in the Pillsbury Bake-Off&aposs 65-year history that members of the public helpedꃞtermine the outcome.

“They are sweet, salty and have a great crunchy texture," said Jann Atkins, Bake-Off Kitchens manager. “This dish is easy to make and it stores very well, making it a great contribution to holiday parties and potlucks.”

Royals was one of four finalists namedਊt the awards show last month.

The other three were਌ourtney Sawyer of Bellingham, Washington, for਌uban-Style Sandwich Pockets Jody Walker of Madison, Mississippi, for਌reamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers and Megan Beimer of Alexandria, Virginia, for਌hocolate Doughnut Poppers.

Here&aposs a video time-lapse of the bakeoff awards show on Nov. 3.

While online voters apparently thought the recipe was a winner, Star Tribune food columnist Lee Svitak Dean raised a couple of questions about the entry:

  • Is a treat made of packaged ingredients, including premade pie crust, really worth $1 million?
  • Should it really be considered cooking?

She also notes that the recipe is a bit of a takeoff on a Pearson&aposs Salted Nut Roll, with its bits of baked pie crust, vanilla chips, peanut butter and peanuts.

Star Tribune&aposs Holiday Cookie Contest

Judges in the Star Tribune&aposs 12th annual Holiday Cookie Contest solicited recipes from bakers around the region beginning in October, and culled through the original list of 283 of them to settle on 31 finalists.

After baking them all and tasting them all, the judges came up with a clear winner and four really good runners-up.

Sausage Stuffed Sweet Mini Peppers

Sausage Stuffed Sweet Mini Peppers are the perfect appetizer to put out at your next party. Loaded with cream cheese, sausage, garlic, and chives, these bite-size peppers have something for everyone!

I have seen bags of sweet mini peppers at the store for years but had never actually tried one until recently. I’ve been missing out! While great for dipping in hummus, or just snacking in general, these bite-size peppers are also perfect for stuffing. Kind of like a tamed down version of jalapeno poppers…but better.

When I have a party or some kind of shindig at my house, I like to offer an assortment of appetizers so there’s something for everyone. What’s great about Sausage Stuffed Sweet Mini Peppers is that unlike jalapeno poppers, these guys are not spicy at all, so they’re perfect for kids or anyone that doesn’t eat spicy foods. If you do like jalapeno, my Jalapeno Bacon Swiss Cheese Ball is always a huge hit.

Warning: these peppers are addicting!

There are so many amazing flavors going on in these stuffed peppers! The mini peppers themselves are slightly sweet which complements the richness of the sausage and tangy creaminess of the cream cheese. Add some sautéed garlic and freshly chopped chives to pull it all together for a perfect two-bite crowd-pleaser.

Looking for another bite-size appetizer? Try my Spicy Korean Deviled Eggs – a new twist on an old classic.

Madison Bake-Off finalist for $1M win

Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest finalist Jody Walker of Madison, on what she'd do with the $1 million grand prize (after taxes). (Video by Sherry Lucas / The Clarion-Ledger)

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Jody Walker of Madison is one of four finalists in the Pillsbury Bake-Off with her Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers. (Photo: Joe Ellis/The Clarion-Ledger ) Buy Photo

The Pillsbury Doughboy ceramic cookie jar has been on Jody Walker's kitchen counter in Madison for years, but this day he seems as prescient as he is pudgy.

Walker is among four finalists in a heated run toward the finish in the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest and a $1 million grand prize. Her Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers cinched a win in the contest's Savory Snacks & Sides category when Walker was among 100 home cook semi-finalists in Nashville Nov. 3.

Now her recipe will have to muscle out Cuban-style sandwich pockets, peanutty pie crust clusters and chocolate doughnut poppers to nab the big win. She'll go to New York City Dec. 1-3 for the final stage, where she and the other finalists will demonstrate recipes on "The Chew" on Dec. 2. Celebrity chef Carla Hall will announce the winner on "The Chew" Dec. 3.

In the meantime, the public can help boost Walker's chances. For the first time, the public can help select the contest's grand prize winner online at You must be 18 or older, a U.S. resident and have a Facebook account to vote and you can only vote once. The deadline's 9:59 p.m. Dec. 2. Public votes will be combined with the judges' score to determine the winner.

With yearly requests from contest judge wannabes, the Pillsbury Bake-Off added a public voting component to let America weigh in on which recipe should win, said Shera Balgobin, Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest manager. "We are hoping this participation component will get people in the kitchen, trying these great recipes for themselves!" And while Mississippi has boasted several Bake-Off finalists through the contest's history, Walker is the state's first finalist to receive a prize.

Walker recalled that setting of 100 semi-finalists, cooking on the spot in the ballroom of the Omni Hotel in Nashville. She was among only 22 who were first-timers. The rest were old hands, having competed in the Bake-Off two or three times before. "At this point, I'm going, 'Oh, my. I'm way out of my league here,' " but she took her own advice: "Take a big breath and do your best." That's where she found success.

Her category award was a burnished gold doughboy with a guitar. Now, she's focused on getting votes with appearances, interviews and the help of friends and family.

Her older sister (by only 11 months) and "bestest girlfriend," Sandy Ham of Nashville, had urged her to enter. Walker, 59, had followed the contest for many years and even submitted a recipe about 16 years ago. "It's one of these thought patterns of, 'That's never going to happen.' " Now, the pact they'd made years back to split the grand prize should either win — seems a better possibility than ever before.

She'd been reluctant to accept the challenge at first. Then, ideas started cooking. In an aim to eat healthier, she'd been eating a "truckload, I'm telling you, of these little mini sweet peppers." One day, munching on one, it struck her, "These are the cutest things."

She channeled creativity through the contest guidelines and eligible products. Green Giant "Steamers" frozen honey roasted sweet corn caught her eye, calling to mind the "very memorable" hot corn dip from her daughter's wedding. "I got to thinking, corn and cheeses, put some spice in there with Watkins Italian Seasoning . " On the bread end, cut strips of Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations dough sheets did the trick without covering the cuteness.

It fit her bill of an innovative, versatile appetizer that'd make a lasting impression. "I'm about making memories, OK?" This one could go from casual to formal, holiday, tea, luncheon, lunchbox, shower or more. It can be partially made ahead, and "They are a blast" to make with grandchildren or family. Flavor marries sweet and savory, sharp and mellow, creamy and flaky. "It's a party in your mouth."

Walker's husband, the Rev. Phil Walker, pastor at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Madison, said her category win wasn't really a surprise for him. "She's always been a great cook, and she's always been creative with trying different things. . She takes a recipe and makes it her own."

And while she's been known to fondly tease her husband about a Pillsbury Doughboy kinship — "not that he's overweight . he is so squeezable!" — now she's met the real one, too.