Lesson #48: How to Make Your House Smell Like a Home

by Rachel on November 5, 2010

When I woke up on Wednesday to a cold, rainy morning in Houston, I knew the only thing that was going to get me out of bed and out the door was promising myself I could come home and spend the afternoon doing one of my favorite things: making my house smell good.

I’m such a scent person. I’m a sucker for anything — or anyone! — that smells fantastic. I have my favorite non-foodie smells: new house — new carpet, fresh paint, and wood and the smell of girls getting ready, especially blow drying their hair (I know it’s a strange one, but it just smells so clean). Of course, as one would expect, I also love food smells. To me, that is what makes a house smell like a home!

Here’s how to make it happen at your place.

Step 1. Roast garlic.

Just find some reason to cut the tops off a few heads of garlic, wrap them in foil, and pop them in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes. Need a reason? Well…

Step 2. Bake bread.

To achieve the first two steps, I went with garlic and parsley hearthbread, using one of my favorite Nigella Lawson recipes. It’s a bit time-consuming, but it’s not hard — and it is so worth it, for the way it makes your house smell alone.

Step 3. Simmer something meaty.

I don’t have a lot of “things my mom made me growing up” comfort foods, but I do have one: beef stew. Coming home from school and getting hit with the smell of it simmering in the crock pot was the most delightful surprise. I loved eating it with fluffy white bread and a glass of chocolate milk.

For something as classic as homemade beef stew, I turned to Joy Of Cooking for the perfect recipe and was not disappointed.

To make: brown one pound of cubed beef sirloin with 1/2 cup of onions in olive oil and transfer to a soup pot. In a separate skillet, cook 1/2 cup dry red wine over high heat, stirring and scraping until it is reduced by half. Pour over the beef and add one 8-ounce can of tomato sauce, one 10.5 ounce can of condensed French onion soup, 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, three cups of mixed veggies (I used carrots, parsnips, and green beans), and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for ten minutes, until the veggies are tender, and then stir in 1/4 cup chopped parsley.

Step 4. Bake chocolate chip cookies.

I mean, why not? If we’re going to make the house smell good, we might as well go all out.

I used a chocolate chip cookie recipe I hadn’t tried from Eat, Live, Run. It is the easiest chocolate cookie recipe imaginable — yet somehow, I messed it up! I let the butter get too soft and the oven was a bit too hot, so the cookies didn’t look very good. I was so disappointed…until I tasted one. Even though they looked pretty blah, they were the perfect slightly-chewy, melt-on-your-tongue chocolate chip cookies.

Step 5. Welcome someone.

I don’t mind cooking for one, but I had a feeling this was going to be a meal I’d want added to the “You Should Probably Wife Me” Google doc. I e-mailed Eric and told him he was cordially invited to my feast for the nose and mouth.

The food was delicious. For how easy that beef stew was, it tasted pretty damn legit, and we just tore up chunks of bread and put them right in our bowls. Then we finished off with chocolate chip cookies and vanilla ice cream.

Just thinking about it (and eating the leftovers each day) makes me feel all warm inside!

Besides bread, soup, and cookies, I also love the smell of Eggo waffles in the toaster (another childhood favorite), burgers on the grill, cupcakes, melted butter and brown sugar, bacon sizzling, and sauteing onions and garlic! What are your favorite kitchen scents? I know your comments are going to make my mouth water, but I think it’s worth it.

How do you make your house smell good? Any favorite candles or air fresheners? Right now I am loving Yankee Candle’s lavender and lemon — it’s the perfect blend of comforting and clean. But I’m always looking for new things to sniff, so please share your favorites with the rest of the class!

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jessica @ How Sweet November 5, 2010 at 9:00 am

I LOVE this. I am a huge scent person as well. I find the best scents come from anything baking, whether its meat (I’ve usually seared first), cookies, bread, or ever something in the crock pot.


2 Jackie (ananda prana) November 5, 2010 at 9:11 am

Febreeze has these new limited-edition pumpkin air fresheners… I bought two! :)


3 Katie November 5, 2010 at 9:47 am

Pumpkin air freshener??? I’m off to Target now.


4 gene November 5, 2010 at 9:13 am

mmm. cookies are my kryptonite!
i might have to try that bread this weekend. rainy and chilly here, so baking is a great idea!
thank you.


5 caitie November 5, 2010 at 9:15 am

Laundry is by far my most favorite smell!!!!


6 Michele @ Healthy Cultivations November 5, 2010 at 9:21 am

I love the smells of banana nut bread, chocolate chip cookies, marinara sauce, and apple pie!!!


7 Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic November 5, 2010 at 9:22 am

Sauteeing garlic and butter, and baking anything with vanilla. Mmm-mmm.

Is that Chanel Paradoxal on your nails? I am OBSESSED with that shade!


8 Jenn November 5, 2010 at 9:26 am

I LOVE the smell of homemade tomato sauce on the stove, bread in the oven, and anything with chocolate in it! The smell of campfires is amazing as well, especially in Fall!


9 Rachel November 6, 2010 at 4:38 pm

CAMPFIRES!!! Good one…mmmmmmm!


10 Anna November 5, 2010 at 9:27 am

I love the smell of just-blown-out birthday candles (mixed with sugary frosting smell) and TOAST!


11 Katie November 5, 2010 at 9:45 am

Right now we have some homemade pasta sauce with meatballs simmering on the stove and this morning I was frying up onions and bacon for egg sandwiches. Totally agree with you on all those scents. When I would be away from home in CO, I would dream of flying home and walking in to the smell of delicious cooking smells. “Girls getting ready”- yes! I agree! Hair straighner smells sort of smell like burnt hair but it brings be back to my college home.


12 Lindsey November 5, 2010 at 9:58 am

I am obsessed with the smell of homemade apple sauce. Mine is an easy and delicious (and healthy!) recipe that leaves the house smelling amazing for days. I’m not a stickler for measurements – I’m more of a “season to taste” kind of girl. Here’s what I do:

1. Peel and cut up 5-8 apples (depending on size) into eighths.
2. Put apple pieces into a pot with about an inch of water, and squeeze half a lemon over the mixture.
3. Place on the stove on low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring regularly until you have more apple mush than hard pieces left in the pot. Keep checking to make sure there’s always water in the bottom – you may need to add more water if you’ve used very firm apples.
4. Add cinnamon (about a tablespoon), nutmeg and sweet red or cayenne pepper (half a teaspoon of each). Check your concerns about the pepper at the door. Trust me on this. Mix well.
5. Do not add sugar no matter how much you think you need it. You don’t.
5. Continue to cook on low heat, stirring regularly, until desired consistency is achieved.

You’ll get about 4-6 servings, and it keeps in the refrigerator for about five days. And if you want to revisit the smell a couple of days later, just heat up a serving and enjoy!


13 laura November 5, 2010 at 10:02 am

I am an Italian girl and the best kitchen scent that makes me feel like I am home is pasta with homemade meatballs and sauce that my Pop makes! I also LOVE fresh cilantro, basil and rosemary!


14 Emily November 5, 2010 at 10:14 am

The smell of Aussie “Scrunch” spray mixed with my pre-gaming fav Capt. and Coke takes me back! I also LOVE the “smell of snow” the way the air tingles in your nose! LOVE THAT!

As far as food is concerned, I love the smell of Grilled Cheese and tomato soup. The smells of home!


15 Matt November 5, 2010 at 10:21 am

Have I mentioned that I smell good?


16 Rachel November 6, 2010 at 4:36 pm

heh heh


17 Nicole November 5, 2010 at 10:58 am

So funny…I love the smell of “girls getting ready” too. I know exactly what you mean!
I’ve been smelling up my house with a Farmer’s Market scent Yankee candle. It smells like apples and pumpkin and cinnamon and happiness.
Strawberry flavored Lip Smackers remind me of my childhood and I can’t get enough of it.
Foods? I’m Puerto Rican and the smell of onions, garlic, peppers and cilantro cooking in olive oil gets me every time.
Loved this post!


18 Natalie November 5, 2010 at 11:05 am

I just bought a WoodWick candle. Seriously best candle ever, it smells amazing and the wick is really wood, so it crackles like a real fire in the fireplace as it burns! I hate not having a fireplace this time of year! Also, Bath and Body Works Creamy Nutmeg scented oil smells soooooo good.


19 Rachel November 6, 2010 at 10:08 am

Okay so first, I have been hearing about WoodWick candles….I really need to investigate this!! I heard you can get them at TJ Maxx…true or false?

Second, Creamy Nutmeg is the DEAL. When I was in college and was my sorority’s recruitment chair, I had a minor obsession with making our house smell incredible during recruitment…and I relied solely on Creamy Nutmeg! I used the spray but this is totally making me want to go to BBW today and get the scented oil!!


20 Natalie November 6, 2010 at 3:46 pm

I dont know about the candles at TJMaxx, but i was at Target last night snooping around in clearance stuff and saw a different brand of wood wick candles and they had large ones on clearance for 13 bucks! And yeah, im slightly obsessed with the creamy nutmeg, and I just found out a friend of mine just got a seasonal job at BBW, sooooo gonna get the hookup on some oil!


21 Rachel November 6, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Okay this is sweet…I want to go to Target now!! Do all these candles smell the same or are there different frags?


22 Natalie November 6, 2010 at 9:17 pm

There are different fragrances. And, its kinda funny we are talking about these candles today, because my hubby came home and surprised me with 2 new WoodWick candles he picked up at Marshalls! (so Im assuming you can find them at TJMaxx too if he found them at Marshalls)


23 Rachel November 7, 2010 at 9:21 am

How funny! Well I just went batshit crazy at Bath and Body Works last night on stocked up on Creamy Nutmeg, Fireside, and Eucalyptus Mint…I am going to pop into Marshalls or TJMaxx next time I am out and about to hunt down this legendary WoodWick!


24 Retta @ RunRettaRun November 5, 2010 at 11:29 am

I love Yankee’s buttercream candle scent. They are pricey so I switched to scent warmers w/ the scent cubes. I have scents like vanilla walnut, cranberry spice, Christmas cottage . . . soemthing about my home smelling like baked goods or the holidays makes it seem so cozy and welcoming at home.

Also love to bake bread or cookies for the smells. Anything that needs to be fried (like bacon, etc) I cook outside so the smell doesn’t linger in the house. I think it’s an Asian thing but I don’t like that kind of smell hanging out.


25 Lauren at KeepItSweet November 5, 2010 at 11:42 am

eggos do smell so good in the toaster, as does plain toast! i agree, chocolate chip cookies are an amazing way to smell up a kitchen. as long as it isn’t fish, most home cooking generally is!


26 Robyn November 5, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Most “fresh linen” or “fresh cotton” type smells are wonderful when I just want a candle to make my apartment smell clean, but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE apple candles the best. Not apple cinnamon (gross! they’re always way too much cinnamon!), but APPLE candles. Bath & Body Works sells an Autumn Apple candle that is wooooooooonderful. I buy two at a time.

As far as B&BW scents go, apple is favorite, followed by their aromatherapy Lavender & Chamomile, then Clean Linen. Very good smells.

I once found a Water Mint-scented candle at a Papyrus store — I try not to burn it too much because I know it will be gone eventually and I haven’t yet had time to track it down online for more. I also like Illume candles — particularly their Pomegranate pillars.

As for non-candle scents, I’m big on baking cookies, garlicky anything, gasoline, simmering marinara on the stove (love to make it myself), and my cleaning spray (seriously . . . Check it out. I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s scented Lemon Verbena).

I cannot explain this one (at all), but I love the smell of bleach. Or rather (since I’ve never actually opened a bottle of bleach just to smell it), the smell of lingering bleach after you’ve cleaned something with it. Weird, right?


27 zenlizzie November 5, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I think the smell of browned butter is intoxicating.
Seriously, I only experienced it this year and I don’t know how I went 25 years without it.

I also love the smell of garlic, bread, cinnamon buns and apple cider.


28 Caroline November 5, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Whenever I’m back at my parents house and I smell my mom cooking up some traditional Arabic food I’m instantly taken back to memories of huge Sunday family dinners with dozens of my cousins, aunts and uncles….love it! For home scents, I love the smell of anything CLEAN!


29 Smash @ Appreciate The Now November 5, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Great post! I love a good smell, too! My favorite non-food smells: the smell of rain coming and blown-out candles. My favorite food smells: garlic, banana, and melting butter. I love vanilla-scented candles from Yankee Candles: Buttercream and Christmas Cookie are my favorites. :)


30 Janna November 5, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Love this! I love amazing smells!

Non food smells I love: Freshly washed hair, my friends’ apartment which always smells of some amazing combination of incense, the smell of fall.

Food smells I love: the smell of onion and garlic sauteeing, homemade tomato sauce cooking, brownies/cookies baking, something cheesy baking, the smell of the nut stands all over nyc (harhar), the smell of subway restaurant (don’t know why!), coconut, hot apple cider, freshly baked bread

I used to love vanilla candles or Sabon’s home aroma in Paradise for my apartment. But I’m trying use more natural stuff lately. So, to make my place smell good I put my oven on low and sprinkle some cinnamon on a parchment lined baking sheet and leave it in the oven for 15-20 mins. It makes the place smell amazing!


31 Rachel November 6, 2010 at 9:07 am

Mmmm I love everything from Sabon! But the cinnamon idea is a really good one!


32 Jess-The Semi Abnormal Gal November 5, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Lavender and Lemon is my favorite Yankee Candle “flavor” too! I keep the “plug it in” version in my classroom to keep the “natives” calm :) I love the smell of fresh mowed fields, my dad after he has been welding (he is a welder and instructor) fresh laundry and sauteing onions.


33 Tiffany November 5, 2010 at 10:51 pm

I love your nail polish too… what color is it?

p.s. Just started reading your blog a week or so ago, and I already shared it with my best friend. LOVE your sense of humor, I have burst out laughing a couple times!


34 Rachel November 6, 2010 at 9:06 am

Thanks! It’s Chanel Paradoxal…ridiculously overpriced, but I just love the color!!



35 jenna November 6, 2010 at 3:17 am

Nonfood smells: when you hug a special boy and he smells all boy-ish and spicy and nice, fresh market apple soap from bath and body works, how towels smell out of the dryer. I’m addicted to these candles I got at Walmart. One is apple, and the other is spice cake. Soooo good.

Food smells: I’m just like you in that I love the smell of beef stew (but who doesn’t?). My mom cans soup mix (tomatoes, corn, potatoes, green beans, carrots, onion, peas) every summer. In the winter, she’ll brown some chunks of beef and let that and the soup simmer for hours on end. Absolutely mouth-watering- it’s torturous. I also love the smell of ground beef browning. Anything involving bacon is fantastic. My mom’s pumpkin chocolate chip bread smells pretty tasty too. :)

I love Jenna’s cookie recipe! I made them a couple weeks ago, and despite my predilection to burning baked goods, they still tasted great!


36 Alexa November 6, 2010 at 10:45 am

The best smell in the world is definitely soup base: Carrots, onion and celery sauteing in butter.


37 FoodCents November 6, 2010 at 6:49 pm

As much as I do not really enjoy the taste of cocunut, I love when there is a small hint of it in the air. Food on the BBQ makes my mouth water like Niagra falls. The scent of butter being browned, wish they made a candle of that scent. Men-folks with just the right scent & amount of it on, literally make me a lil’ weak in the knees. Certain scents you might have found at a Grateful Dead concert…

I know that we eat with our eyes first, but as long as something tastes good, that is what matters to me. Sometimes we just surprise ourselves with baked goods. “Don’t judge a cookies by how it looks…”


38 Rachel November 7, 2010 at 9:17 am

LOL “scents you might have found at a Grateful Dead concert…” HAHA you are the best.


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