The granddaddy of cooking contests is under way with some big changes.

The Pillsbury Bake-Off contest has been redesigned this year, and the public now gets to decide which 100 recipes advance to the finals in Las Vegas in November.

It’s an awesome responsibility, considering what’s at stake: a cool $1 million to the grand-prize winner.

Voting is being done by category, and currently, “Amazing Doable Dinners” entries are being judged. Voting closes Thursday.

The contest will begin accepting entries for “Simple Sweets and Starters” beginning April 4. Judging for that category begins June 13. The final portion of the contest – “Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts” – opens for recipe submissions on July 4, with voting to commence Sept. 12.

To vote, or to enter either of the last two categories, visit

A review of the 60 contestants in the “Amazing Doable Dinners” category reveals one competitor from the region: Sheila Suhan of Scottdale, Westmoreland County, whose Easy Caprese Pizza Bake advanced her to the semifinals.

Here’s Sheila’s recipe:

Easy Caprese Pizza Bake

• Ingredients

3 teaspoons Crisco 100 percent Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4 cups pizza sauce

1 can Pillsbury Grands! Jr. Golden Layers refrigerated buttermilk biscuits

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (1 ounce)

1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

20 fresh mozzarella ciliegine (cherry-size) cheese balls (from 8-ounce container)

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-inch-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.

Drum roll, please: Foodies in the Observer-Reporter newsroom are launching a food blog, “News Bites.”

We will be sharing with readers our take on what’s hot and what’s not in the world of food and drink (Beer Here!), eateries included. We’ll also share our triumphs along with our foibles in the kitchen, complete with recipes and lots of photos.

We’re putting the final touches on the blog and hope to roll it out in a few weeks.

Watch for it online at

Liz Rogers is editor of the Observer-Reporter. She can be reached at

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