A mother and daughter who used to live in Pittsburgh are two of the 100 finalists in this year's Pillsbury Bake-Off, which carries a $1 million top prize and is regarded by home cooks as the cream of the baking contest crop.
Anna Zovko and her daughter JoAnne Tucker now live in Florida. They will join one current Pittsburgh-area resident, Sheila Suhan of Scottdale, at the competition Nov. 10 to 12 in Las Vegas.
Ms. Zovko, who last lived in Glassport before moving to Florida nearly 16 years ago, competed in the 2002 Bake-Off in Orlando, and her daughter went along for the ride. But this time they'll both be baking.
"It's a dream come true for us," said Ms. Zovko, who lives just a few miles from her daughter in Tampa. "She was even crying when she found out."
Ms. Tucker echoed her mother's sentiments, noting she doesn't view her mom as a competitor and the competition aspect really doesn't even matter to her.
"The competition part doesn't faze me -- I hope she wins!" she said. "What's exciting is getting to do this with my mom."
Ms. Zovko is originally from Herminie, but the family moved around the Pittsburgh region. Ms. Tucker grew up in Clairton but also lived in Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon before moving to Tampa 16 years ago. Ms. Zovko followed her daughter to Florida soon thereafter; her last residence in the Pittsburgh area was in Glassport.
Ms. Zovko, now 80, said she taught her kids to cook when they were little, and even a neighbor girl came over to bake a cake once. Ms. Zovko's two brothers, who live on the opposite coast of Florida, love to cook, too, and she shares recipes with them over the phone.
She said her favorite thing to cook is probably variations on pizza, although she loves all cooking and makes a killer ham soup. For the Bake-Off, she created a recipe for Chicken Alfredo Brunch Pizza (see recipe).
On the morning after they had been announced as finalists, Ms. Zovko and Ms. Tucker cohosted a "thank-you brunch" for all their friends and family members who had contributed to the online voting that secured their places in the Bake-Off. About 30 people attended, although 200 people had been invited from all over the country -- Alaska, Texas, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Georgia.
The women served their current finalist recipes for the brunch. Ms. Tucker's recipe is for Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Bars.
They also served the pizza that sent Ms. Zovko to the 2002 bakeoff, plus Hazelnut Macchiato Mocha Pie, a recipe that sent her to the semifinals this year but didn't make the final round.
She said she's excited to return to the Bake-Off because "they treat you royal," but the best part is getting to experience it all alongside her daughter.
Ms. Tucker's recipe for Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Breakfast Bars, Ms. Suhan's recipe for Easy Caprese Pizza Bake, and the other finalists' recipes are online at bakeoff.com.
Chicken Alfredo Brunch Pizza
1 can refrigerated pizza crust
9-ounce box frozen chopped spinach
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon Alfredo pasta sauce, divided
2 cups finely chopped cooked chicken breast
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup French-fried onions, crumbled
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray 15-by-10-inch dark or nonstick pan with sides with nonstick cooking spray. Unroll dough in pan; press dough to edges of pan. Bake 7 to 9 minutes or until light golden brown.
Meanwhile, cook frozen spinach in microwave as directed on box; squeeze dry with paper towels. Set aside. In medium bowl, beat eggs, 1 tablespoon of the Alfredo sauce and 1 tablespoon water with wire whisk until well blended. Heat 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add egg mixture; cook until set but still moist, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
Spread remaining 1/2 cup Alfredo sauce over partially baked crust. Top with eggs, chicken, spinach, cheese and onions. Bake 6 to 10 minutes longer or until crust is golden brown.
Rebecca Sodergren: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @pgfoodevents. First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM