NEW TAMPA — What began as a mother-daughter bonding experience has turned into an effort to win a national baking contest for two Hunters Green residents.
Anna Zovko and her daughter, JoAnne Tucker, were named semifinalists in the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest two weeks ago. They are now attempting to garner enough popular votes for their recipes to be named finalists and win a trip to Las Vegas where the grand prize winner will receive $1 million.
“That would be a dream come true for us,” said Tucker. “We’ve spent the past 11 years developing recipes and cooking together for enjoyment, but it would be the icing on the cake for us to both win the trip to the national bake-off.”
Born in rural Pennsylvania, Zovko started cooking at an early age, learning how to make apple strudel and other pastries from her Yugoslavian-born mother. Now 80 years old, Zovko still remembers the first dessert she ever baked.
“It was a yellow cake with seven-minute frosting,” she said. “Everyone loved it and insisted I bake it for all of our special occasions.”
Zovko passed on her love of cooking to Tucker, who lives a couple of blocks from her mother in Hunters Green.
“I was probably 11 or 12 when I started helping my mom in the kitchen,” said Tucker. “I have two sisters but I seem to be the one who inherited my mom’s creativity in the kitchen. We both love to try new recipes. It’s a challenge for us.”
And one ingredient that always can be found in Zovko’s cupboard is Pillsbury pie dough.
“Pies are my specialty, and I always use Pillsbury because it makes the flakiest crust,” Zovko said.
However, it was her recipe for bacon-spinach pizza that caught the attention of Pillsbury judges in 2002 when she entered her first bake-off. She became a finalist in the contest and won $2,000 and a microwave.”
“My bacon-spinach pizza is now one of Pillsbury’s all-time favorite recipes,” she said.
More recently, Zovko was a finalist in Pillsbury’s Simple Sweets and Starts Bake-Off in June for her hazelnut macchiato mocha pie. That honor gave mother and daughter the incentive to enter the most recent bake-off.
Following up on her past success with pizza, Zovko entered a recipe for Chicken Alfredo Brunch Pizza.
“I’ve always loved Alfredo sauce so I decided to try it in a pizza recipe,” she said.
Fed up with spending money on pricey breakfast bars for her eat-and-run family, Tucker developed a recipe for her own breakfast bar using one of her favorite Pillsbury products – Deluxe Deluxe oatmeal raisin cookie dough, adding cranberries, nuts, coconut and chocolate to the mix and topping it off with a drizzle of Jiff’s mocha hazelnut cappuccino spread.
“They’re great because they can be frozen until you’re ready to eat them,” she said.
Under the bake-off guidelines, the recipes must contain two Pillsbury products and seven ingredients total. In addition, they must be simple to prepare and take less than 30 minutes.
“When we received emails telling us that we’d both been named finalists, we started screaming,” said Tucker. “They only pick 60 recipes out of thousands from around the country, and we had two of them.”
Pillsbury judges selected the semifinalists based on taste, ease of preparation, appearance and other factors. But now it’s up to the general public to select the finalists bound for Las Vegas. Foodies are invited to vote for their favorite recipes at www.BakeOff.com until Thursday, Sept. 26 at 12:59 p.m.
To ensure a spot in the finals, Zovko and Tucker are using social media to encourage friends, relatives and neighbors to vote. In addition, they have been passing out samples of Tucker’s breakfast bars with instructions on how to vote at the grocery store, health club and other locations.
“I just think it’d be a great opportunity to be with my mother in Las Vegas,” said Tucker. “We’ve worked so hard to get votes. But the real reward is being able to share these special times with my mother in the kitchen.”