The Pillsbury Bake-Off is serious business and big bucks. Since 1949, the country's most competitive home cooks put their thinking caps on: How can I use one of the designated Pillsbury products in a new, original — and here's the tricky part — outrageously delicious recipe? Contestants can't be professional chefs, can't be graduates of culinary school and can't have been a finalist in three or more Bake-Offs.
Tampa resident JoAnne Tucker came in on that last one just under the wire. She was a finalist in the 46th Bake-Off, cooking right alongside her mother who was also a finalist. Her mom, Anna Zovko, has been a finalist three times (2002, 2013 and 2014) and her aunt was a finalist in 1967. That's Bake-Off royalty.
So perhaps it should be no surprise that Tuesday, Pillsbury announced Tucker as one of four category winners this year, dominating the appetizer category with her Toasted Spinach Pesto Ravioli recipe.
"In 2002, Mom was one of the final hundred with a pizza recipe," Tucker said by phone. "That really started the tradition in my family, I saw all the excitement. I started entering 15 years ago. My mom, being a veteran at this, said spinach seems to be our lucky ingredient. So I thought, why not? I remember an appetizer we all loved, a bread loaf carved down the middle with spinach and melted cheese and a tomato sauce, so I started experimenting. Making homemade ravioli is very labor intensive. It's all day. And the recipes are only allowed to have eight ingredients, so I thought if I use pesto all my seasonings and garlic are already in there. Appearance is 25 percent, so I had to make it look real pretty, so I topped it off with a dab of pesto and a sprinkle of parmesan."
As a category winners, Tucker will be featured in Food Network Magazine, take a trip to New York for an appearance on The Kitchen and receive a passel of GE Appliances and $5,000 in cold cash.
That's a lot of dough (sorry, Bake-Off humor).
Amy Nelson was a winner in the cozy breakfast category for her Bejeweled Cranberry-Orange Rolls, Sandy Reiter won no-fuss desserts for her Cookies 'n' Cream Caramel Candy Bars and Sarah Campbell took the dinners with heart category for her Octoberfest Pizza.
This isn't necessarily the end of the road for Tucker. There's still room for her to rise. The grand prize winner will be announced on Food Network's The Kitchen Feb. 24 at 11 a.m. And if her ravioli becomes the pasta perfect? Tucker gets a full kitchen makeover and $50,000 in cash.
"If it weren't for my mom, I wouldn't be entering this. She inspired me," Tucker said. "If I win, I'm sharing with my mom."
Contact Laura Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.