Mary Jo Fletcher LaRocco of North Kingstown didn’t start cooking until she had to. As a young woman, she lived in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she realized the only way to get American-type food was to make it herself.
Flash forward to 2013 and LaRocco is just votes away from joining the finals of perhaps the most venerable cooking contest in the country: the Pillsbury Bake-Off.
LaRocco, mother of two young children and a part-time English teacher at URI, said learning to cook in Sarajevo worked out well.
“All the food in Bosnia is seasonal, fresh,” she said. And there’s a big emphasis on hopitality there – “It became my way to relax and make friends," she said. Over time, cooking and baking became a passion.
“I love to play in the kitchen,” she said. “I sort of use recipes as a guide.”
Cooking contests, especially Pillsbury, are a whole different animal, because the recipe you submit must be exact enough to be easily recreated. This is the first year LaRocco entered Pillsbury, but it’s not her first contest.
LaRocco first entered the Hood Dairy Cookoff in 2009, “just on a whim. I never dreamed I’d get in.”
But she made it to the semifinals and was hooked. Three years and three trips to the semifinals later, LaRocco won the $10,000 grand prize, for her recipe for a cranberry-lemoncello tart with a gingersnap-hazelnut crust.
This year, she decided to give Pillsbury a try only a day before the deadline.
“I went to the grocery store and I’m looking at all these different Pillsbury ingredients and just grabbed five things,” she said. And she starting thinking. The rules were tough. Entrants could only use seven ingredients and two of them had to be Pillsbury products.
Using as inspiration recipes from two friends – a baked brie with apricot preserves, pecans, and a diced jalapeno, and a braided candy cane bread – LaRocco ended up using the Pillsbury pizza crust and a Smuckers marmalade (Smuckers is owned by Pillsbury) to create a Sausage Apple and Brie Stromboli. (Stromboli is a type of turnover.)
The apple and cranberries give the recipe an autumn feel, she said. The sausage – with lots of seasoning already added – helped give the dish a bit more flavor than the seven ingredients might have allowed otherwise. With little time to spare, LaRocco submitted the recipe.
Out of thousands of entries, hers was one of 60 breakfast recipes to make it to the semifinals. Of those, 33 will be chosen to compete in the finals in Las Vegas, to join the semifinalists from two other categories for a chance at the grand prize, a whopping $1 million.
So, what next?
That’s where all of us come in – by voting for LaRocco’s stromboli recipe, we can help her get to Las Vegas in November, one step closer to that $1 million grand prize. Voting goes until Sept. 26.
Here’s the link to vote: http://www.pillsbury.com/our-makers/bake-off-contest/voting.
And here’s a link to LaRocco’s recipe: http://www.pillsbury.com/recipes/sausage-apple-and-brie-stromboli/d5cfbb8c-c896-4d3f-a8db-1cc61db32fb4Good luck, Mary Jo – we are rooting for you!
One more NK-Pillsbury detail ... Nancy Fahey of North Kingstown, competing in the desserts category, is already in the Pillsbury finals. Wow, North Kingstown is some kind of cooking town!